Looking Good

Posted: August 9th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 90 Comments »

The Eagles play their preseason opener on Thursday evening. There have been two weeks of Training Camp practices to get the team ready for this. Let’s talk about where the team sits as of now.

For the sake of perspective, let’s first look back to last year. Sam Bradford was having a terrific camp and looked like he would be a solid starting QB. Carson Wentz was showing the talent that got him drafted high, but also making rookie mistakes. The CBs were less than ideal. The receivers were a mess. Reuben Randle was a projected starter at that point. No one had any idea Nigel Bradham would turn out to be a good player. There were unproven rookie backups at key positions: Blake Countess at S, Joe Walker at MLB, Jalen Mills at CB, and Big V and Issac Seumalo on the OL.

A year later things are looking pretty good, as I wrote for PE.com.

Things are far from perfect, but the overall picture looks pretty good, especially if you focus on the development of Carson Wentz. He’s no longer a rookie and has taken his game to the next level. This year it isn’t the veteran Bradford having the strong camp showing, it is Wentz. And he’s making some throws that would make Bradford jealous.

Of course, it helps a lot that the Eagles actually have…good WRs. The hottest topic right now is whether the Eagles should trade Jordan Matthews. A year ago that would have been completely absurd. The problem now is finding a way to keep all the young talent the team has built up at that position. It is crazy to see a position go from so weak to (seemingly) so good so fast.

Obviously we still need to see the receivers in game action to completely feel safe about the group.

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The media peppered Doug Pederson with Alshon Jeffery questions today. Is he healthy? Why isn’t he practicing? Will he play Thursday? Was he on the grassy knoll in Dealey Plaza?

They ask because they want to know. And also need quotes for stories.

My take…Jeffery is going to be a critical player for the Eagles this year. Pederson has seen enough of him this spring and summer that he’s comfortable with what AJ can do. Jeffery did have a shoulder injury that has healed, but there is no reason to risk getting him hurt by playing him right now. There is plenty of time left before the season opener. Don’t get Jeffery hurt in meaningless football.

Risk vs reward.

*****

Some practice tidbits from Wednesday.

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CBs Are People Too!!!

Posted: August 7th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 125 Comments »

I guess the Eagles CBs had enough.

They have been ridiculed, criticized and dissected for months now. On Monday they struck back, having a solid practice. There’s no need to start getting any Hall of Fame speeches ready, but it was a positive sign for a group that has been living in a world of negativity this offseason.

Jeff McLane actually had good things to say about…Patrick Robinson.

4. Patrick Robinson has been steadier over the last week, and on Monday, he might have had the play of the day when he intercepted a Wentz toss. The quarterback went to his left on a quick out, but Robinson perfectly timed his break and jumped Smith’s route. He probably would have gone the other way for a pick-six. Wentz hustled back to track him down, but the play was whistled dead. Agholor continued to come up with catches he might not have made a year ago. He plucked a Wentz bullet out of the air down the middle. Later, Agholor came down with a contested pass that both he and safety Rodney McLeod had deflected.

Robinson has talent. He was very good in college and has had good years in the NFL. Things have just not clicked for him this spring/summer. A lot of it seems to be confidence. If the light goes on for him, he could play much better. For now, one good day feels like a major accomplishment.

Stack practices, Patrick. Stack practices.

Good OL/DL notes in this section.

9. Hamilton used a powerful get-off to push Warmack back a few yards during line one-on-ones. Warmack anchored well against Hamilton’s second push, though. Curry destroyed tackle Matt Tobin during their faceoff. It was the fastest I’ve seen the end get off this camp. Curry brought the hammer Monday. Derek Barnett lined up on the left for the second straight day. The Eagles want their ends to be versatile, but could he rush predominantly from that side moving forward? Barnett had trouble powering up against tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai, who easily pushed the rookie to the ground. Before Alex McCalister was to rush, defensive line coach Chris Wilson said, “Alex, have a plan.” It might seem like a simple suggestion, but there have been moments when the second-year end hasn’t look prepared. Qualls used a swim move to slip guard Aaron Neary.

Good to hear that Curry impressed. A strong season from him would help the defense in a major way.

*****

Jimmy Bama wrote about C.J. Smith.

• C.J. Smith had a nice day. He was physical at the line of scrimmage and had sticky coverage. On one deep ball to Bryce Treggs, Smith had excellent position and had a chance at an interception, but could not haul it in. I would expect to see a ton of Smith in the preseason games so the team can see if he can win a starting job.

Smith has generated a buzz in recent days. He hasn’t exactly set the world on fire, but he’s played the best of anyone other than Jalen Mills. Maybe the emergence of Smith has started to get Robinson’s attention and is bringing out the best in him.

• I’ve been slow to mention him, but former Villanova linebacker Don Cherry has had a nice camp. Today he leaped high for an interception of Matt McGloin, ending the offense’s hurry-up bid for a score.

• At one point today, the Eagles showed a 3-4 look. I thought that was interesting, as it was not a session in which the Eagles’ defense was simply giving the offense a different look for their benefit.

Cherry is battling for a roster spot. Making plays like that will help his cause quite a bit. I expect him to handle run plays okay. Cherry needs to show he can cover and do his part on pass plays.

There is nothing wrong with mixing in some 3-4 looks. A lot of the front seven has 3-4 experience so shifting to that look could be an effective way to throw a curve ball at a coach/QB.

*****

Brandon Lee Gowton has some good nuggets today. DT is an uncertain position so the Eagles need a backup to stand out.

• Gabe Wright is a name to keep an eye on. He was having a lot of success in OL vs. DL drills. Wright even earned praised and a pat on the butt from defensive line coach Chris Wilson. Wright could be the fourth defensive tackle with Cox, Tim Jernigan, and Destiny Vaeao ahead of him. (Note: Beau Allen will likely be the third DT when healthy. His timeline to return is currently unclear.)

Destin Vaeao is currently the #3 DT, but that isn’t set in stone. Wright has to earn a roster spot before there is any talk of where he fits on the depth chart, but it is good to hear he’s flashing. This system is a good fit for Wright so it should bring out the best in him. I expect him to play a lot on Thursday night. Huge opportunity.

• Shelton Gibson update: only one drop! And it was on a tough play where Gibson almost made an impressive catch along the sideline. Unfortunately for him, he couldn’t “complete the process” as he went to the ground. Gibson did come back with a few tough grabs. He’s certainly looking better in the past two days than he has all offseason.

• With that said, I still think I’d have to put Greg Ward ahead of Gibson. The undrafted rookie made a real nice over-the-shoulder catch with Aaron Grymes all over him. Everyone in the practice bubble was pretty impressed. Ward earned a high-five from Jeffery. Ward also had a nice catch over the middle at one point. He’s really pushing to make either the Eagles’ final roster or the practice squad.

I don’t think there is any question the Eagles would keep Ward over Gibson right now. But there are several weeks to go and Gibson has four games in which he can make his move.

I do think it is important that the young man has fought through his struggles. There are more than a few players who struggled and let that overwhelm them. Mental and emotional toughness are critical factors to succeeding in the NFL, whether as a starter or role player.

• Corey Graham and Terrence Brooks took some reps as the second team safeties while Jaylen Watkins lined up at cornerback.

I wondered if Watkins might get more time at CB. We’ll see if he continues to get CB reps or if this was just a one-day situation.

*****

I’m not a Phillies fan, but Dutch was special. And that ’93 Phillies team was so much fun to follow, even for people outside the city. That felt like a true baseball team, a cast of characters that had an amazing season and were better than they ever should have been based solely on physical talent.

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Carson is the Key

Posted: August 6th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 114 Comments »

The Eagles, barring some strange developments, are not going to have good CBs this year. They might be fine in the future with a healthy Sidney Jones, a more experienced Rasul Douglas and a proven Jalen Mills. While that group could be good, 2017 is going to be a struggle at corner.

It is easy to focus on that. CB is a critical position in a league that is based on the passing game.

But CB isn’t the most important position. The Eagles had a pair of outstanding CBs from 1996-1999. Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor were a dynamic duo that did great things for the Eagles. And yet the team went 24-39-1 in that span. Why? Poor QB play. The best CBs in the world don’t do you much good when you have bad QB play.

The Eagles had both good CBs and a good QB starting in 2000 and they were a Super Bowl contender for years.

With Carson Wentz at the helm, the Eagles do have a good QB. Don’t ignore the CB situation, but also don’t lose sight of what is most important. Wentz had a terrific day of practice on Sunday and showed just how good he can be.

All those dimes on the field means…

If you want to forget about Patrick Robinson, focus on Carson Wentz.

*****

Let’s look at some highlights.  Read the rest of this entry »


Movable Pieces

Posted: August 5th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 146 Comments »

The Eagles signed DB Corey Graham. That immediately led most of us to wonder where and how he would be used, as well as what that meant for the other DBs.

Doug Pederson said Graham would play Safety to begin with. Someone asked about CB. Pederson said that Graham hadn’t played there in a couple of years so he would stick to Safety for now. His position isn’t as important as the fact he can help the overall pass defense.

The Giants have a talented group of receivers and a pass-catching TE in Evan Engram. The Skins have good receivers and TE Jordan Reed. Dallas added slot receiver Ryan Switzer to their passing attack. The Falcons and Packers have dynamic passing attacks built on multiple weapons.

If you want to stop these teams, you need more than a couple of good CBs. You need a variety of pass defenders. One of the keys to the Eagles win over the Falcons was Malcolm Jenkins playing the slot against their big WRs and limiting their effectiveness. Jenkins needs to focus on Safety most of the time, but when the Eagles want to move him around, they need help.

Terrence Brooks has played well this summer and looks to be the #3 Safety, but the Eagles saw the chance to add someone with better cover skills. That was Graham.

You can see why the Eagles would like him in those clips. Graham is a smart, veteran player. He understands routes and coverages. Graham has the ability to break on the ball and make plays. He has 15 career INTs.

The Eagles still have issues at CB, but a good trio of Safeties can help them quite a bit. That gives Jim Schwartz a chance to come up with some creative ways to defend good passing attacks.

*****

Daniel Jeremiah talked about the Eagles in a recent podcast and Jimmy Bama has the details. This was probably the most fascinating part.

“Nelson Agholor has had a total rebirth,” he said. “He’s in the slot. He’s going to live in the slot. He’s going to be their slot receiver. I’ll be shocked if he’s not. I don’t know what that means for Jordan Matthews.

“Agholor is a lot more dynamic. Last year against the Seahawks he just turned Richard Sherman inside out, but he dropped the ball. Getting separation was not his issue last year. Just being able to finish, and he was doing a nice job, and it sounds like he’s really focused.

“To me, the interesting thing is when you have a guy like last year with Nelson Agholor, you’re trying to force him to be a No. 2 receiver. You really don’t even have a 1. Maybe he’s trying to be the lead guy. Now you come in and say, ‘Look, you’re No. 3.’ It just puts everyone in the right pecking order and releases some of that pressure on these guys.”

If the Eagles go with Jeffery and Smith on the outside and Agholor in the slot, that would be one talented trio of receivers. Smith has big time speed and is a playmaker. Jeffery isn’t a burner, but uses his size and skill to be a playmaker. Agholor has made a lot of plays this summer. He also had an impressive TD from the slot last season.

Jordan Matthews is a good player, but isn’t as fast or athletic as the other guys. You can see where the Eagles would prefer that trio to be on the field, putting more stress on the defense.

What about Matthews?

I’m sure the Eagles would be interested in trading him, but they won’t give Matthews away for nothing. He is a free agent after this year, but he does have some value for this team. The Eagles want to be a playoff team this year. If anyone gets hurt, Matthews is a good insurance policy.

There is also the fact that Agholor still hasn’t played well in the regular season. If he should struggle once September gets here, Matthews would be a big help.

My guess is that Howie Roseman keeps talking to teams and if he gets the right offer, he would take the chance and deal Matthews. The Eagles want to win this year, but they have some young, talented receivers they would love to keep around for the future.

No matter how this shakes out, it is crazy that a year ago the Eagles were trading for DGB and claiming Bryce Treggs on waivers in hopes of finding any help. Now they are trying to figure out the best way to take advantage of their depth.

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Good Day for Doug

Posted: August 5th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 14 Comments »

One of the things that got Chip Kelly fired is that he failed to connect with his players. Jeffrey Lurie hired Doug Pederson, in part, because he felt Pederson had the “emotional intelligence” the team needed in a new coach. I think you could see that on display Friday.

Alshon Jeffery missed another day of practice. Pederson said he was healthy enough to play, but Pederson gave him the day off to keep him rested. Jeffery has only been with the team for a few months, but Pederson is already comfortable with him. He has seen what Jeffery can do and is trying to be smart. Why push a proven veteran to practice when there isn’t much to gain from it? Spare his body the wear and tear. There are still four preseason games and another month of practice.

Chris Long got the day off. He wasn’t hurt, but Pederson will rest veterans from time to time. Today was Long’s turn to stand and watch.

Pederson is trying to be smart about how he uses his players. Last season he gave Jason Peters a lot of rest and that brought out the best in JP. Pederson is a former player and was in the league a long time. He understands from the player’s perspective how the grind of Training Camp can wear a veteran down. You have to balance the need for players to practice with not needing to push proven veterans the same way you might a rookie or young guy trying to improve his game. What is the point in treating Marcus Johnson and Alshon Jeffery like they’re the same guy?

Players get worn down by the heat and physicality of Training Camp. They also can get worn down by the monotony. You’re practicing the same plays against the same guys on the same field over and over and over. Anything a coach can do to break that up is a good thing. Pederson has embraced mixing in practices at The Linc. He will have joint practices against the Dolphins in a couple of weeks.

Pederson also found a way to bring some fun to practice on Friday.

Pederson made some bets with the players and one of them involved Fletcher Cox and JP catching punts. Both guys were able to pull the feat off and that generated a lot of excitement from their teammates.

There was also something with kicker Caleb Sturgis. Pederson had the team gather around him and shout while he tried to hit long kicks. That’s not quite as fun as watching the big fellas field punts.

Anything a coach can do to keep his players interested and engaged during camp is a good thing. Pederson won’t be mistaken for Bill Walsh anytime soon, but Friday was a good example of how he is helping this team.

*****

Friday was a light practice. Here are links to the notes.

Fran Duffy and Chris McPherson

Jimmy Bama

Jeff McLane

Brandon Lee Gowton

Dave Zangaro

*****

My notes from the #3 preseason game last year.

CJ Smith – Came into the game in the early 2nd Qtr. The coaches wanted to see him play with starters and against starters. Smith had a good game. Had tight coverage of Hilton on 4th/inches throw. Ball was off target, but Smith might have been able to play the ball if there was a good throw. Gave up several completions, but the ball was always in front of him and he tackled well. Plays smart. Doesn’t get beat deep. Takes good angles. Aggressive when the situation calls for it. Making a strong push for a roster spot. Looks natural, instinctive and confident. 7 solo tackles in the game.

And some more thoughts on Smith from last September.

C.J. Smith is another UDFA (like Paul Turner) that surprised me with how well he played. Smith got some good pub during TC, but really got my attention when he picked off the pass in the end zone at the end of the Bucs game. That was an impressive play for a rookie in his first game. He only got better from there. And the Eagles wisely gave him more time and let him play against better competition.

The argument for Smith is that he has good ball skills and showed good coverage instincts. A big part of being a good corner is being smart and knowing what’s going on in front of you. Smith tackled pretty well and carried himself like a veteran. He absolutely looked like he belonged out there. Smith kept plays in front of him and got to the ball quickly. I don’t remember him giving up any big plays.

The downside for Smith is that he did give up a lot of underneath catches. You’d like him to be a bit quicker so he could break on the ball and make more plays. He did have 5 PDs, but that is with a lot of throws coming his way.

I’m definitely looking forward to seeing him play next week.

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