Football and fathers go hand in hand. Many people become fans while watching games with their dad. I learned to love the game of football from my dad. He was a little league coach and I attended games in my stroller. I’m sure between sips of Tang (or whatever infants drank in 1970-72) I was yelling for him to run Flip 90, the greatest of all plays.
My parents divorced while I was young so I didn’t grow up watching a lot of games with my dad. We were together each year around Christmas so we watched plenty of bowl games and some NFL action, but for most of the year I was on my own. Sort of.
I was lucky enough to have some Football Dads who helped me to learn and love the game. First and foremost, John Madden. Many of you younger fans will scoff at the idea of John Madden being important to anyone. I learned more about the game of football from listening to him than anyone else. And it isn’t even close. He is the greatest football announcer of all time. I don’t think there is even a 2nd place.
I get the fact that many now think of him as the guy who loved Brett Favre and felt a bit cartoonish with what he said and did. But that’s like judging Johnny Unitas on his time with the Chargers or Donovan McNabb on his time with the Vikings.
In his prime, Madden brought a passion for the game and combined that with an expertise that I had never heard before. He was fun and smart. He talked about OL play at a time when not many people discussed the big uglies. Madden shared great stories and had interesting opinions. Vince Lombardi was the greatest coach of all time. Joe Namath was the toughest QB he ever coached against. The hardest points to score are the first of the game. More than anything else, Safeties must be able to tackle. And so on. Every Madden game was an education for me.
Another huge influence for me was Steve Spurrier. I lived in Durham, NC when Spurrier was hired by Duke in 1980. Duke football wasn’t all that exciting back then, but Spurrier brought an aggressive passing game and suddenly the Blue Devils were interesting to follow. Spurrier opened my eyes to the value of the passing game. Football was different back then. Georgia won the 1980 national title. In the Sugar Bowl, they threw 13 passes, one by a RB.
Spurrier left Duke and went to Tampa Bay in the USFL, which made me a fan of the Tampa Bay Bandits. I watched as many of their games as I could. That was a glorious time.
(best YouTube video I’ve seen in a long time)
Eventually Spurrier returned to Duke as the head coach and I continued to learn the passing game from him. And the greatness of Arby’s.
I’ve written a lot over the years about my love of Tom Landry. I still have no idea why he fascinated me the way he did. It might simply have been the fact he reminded me of someone’s grandad, but was arguably the best football coach in the world. Reading about how he developed the 4-3 defense while an assistant with the NY Giants taught me a lot about the evolution of the game.
Landry made me a fan of the 4-3. Buddy Ryan took things to the next level with his 46 Defense. He made me love X’s and O’s in a way I never had.
Instead of a simple 4-3, you had an Under defense with a LB stack, an eighth man in the box and all kinds of shifting responsibilities. Buddy Ryan was the football version of Beethoven. There was a combination of simple and complex ideas mixed together in such a way as to overwhelm the mind and senses. The 1985 Bears defense was unlike anything I’ve ever seen in sports. They were brutal and brilliant. They were violent and versatile. They were mind-blowing.
Buddy is the first defensive coach (any only one I can think of) whose first goal was for his guys to score. Think about that. Buddy wanted his defense to score. That is so cocky. And unorthodox. And genius. He assumed his defense would stop the offense. He was focused on taking the ball away and then trying to score points.
When Buddy became coach of the Eagles in 1986, that led me to become an Eagles fan. If he hadn’t come to Philly, I have no idea what NFL team I would be following. Maybe I would be writing about the Sixers (my first Philly love) or even the Flyers (my second Philly love). Or maybe I would have moved away from sports and focused my writing on the career of Dennis Farina, the greatest actor of the past 500 years.
I have to also offer thanks to the men who coached me on the game. Gene Brewer, Kim Cain, Melvin Braswell, Randy Ledford and Robert Rice all helped to teach me about the game of football on a personal level. Coach Brewer and Coach Ledford have passed on and the world is a worse place without them.
I was fortunate enough to spend time with coaches like David Knauss, Ruffin McNeilll and John Wiley while I was a student at Appalachian State University. They continued my football education, and at a more advanced level.
I am jealous of those of you who watched Eagles games with your dad and learned to love the team that way. That’s a special bond I’ll never know. At the same time, I am grateful to the men who helped me fall in love with the game of football and learn about it from a variety of angles. I would not be the person I am today (for better or worse) without their wisdom and influence.
If you haven’t watched the 30 for 30 special on the 1985 Bears, do it. The relationship between Buddy and his players is special. Watching Buddy and Mike Singletary is hard to describe. It really is like watching a father and son. There is genuine love between those two. Incredibly moving.
Jordan Hicks had a great rookie year. Until he got hurt. Hicks suffered a pectoral injury and missed the final 8 games of the season. The Eagles went 3-5 in that stretch and allowed 38 or more points in half of those games. The team hadn’t given up more than 27 points in a game with Hicks in the lineup. That’s not all on losing Hicks, but he was a factor in the early success of the defense.
“I’ve been encouraged by Jordan,” linebackers coach Ken Flajole said. “He’s a sharp young man. I think he likes the leadership role that he has to assume as the middle linebacker in this defense. His big deal is just staying healthy. I think he’s worked hard to do that. Hopefully he’ll have a great season and stay healthy. If he can stay healthy, I think he’s going to be ready to have a great year for us.”
What happens if Hicks can’t stay healthy?
The backup MLB for now is Joe Walker, who the team took in the 7th round this year. He’s been up and down this spring, basically looking like most rookies. You can see his talent, but also his issues. The Eagles will be taking a risk if they go into the season with Walker as the backup MLB. He’s new to the NFL. He’s new to the 4-3. And this isn’t exactly the easiest scheme on MLBs. The DL attacks rather than eating up blockers to protect the LBs.
Najee Goode is a veteran backup. He played ILB in the 3-4, but is more of a natural WLB in the 4-3. The Eagles could try him in the middle. Goode isn’t at his best when taking on blockers and playing in traffic. He is more effective when allowed to operate in space.
One option for the Eagles could be going after Stephen Tulloch.
Stephen Tulloch is officially on the Lions' roster, but he's done in Detroit. It's just a matter of when. https://t.co/1v6VynDAUS
That’s a bit of a complicated question. The simple answer is yes, the Eagles should talk to Tulloch. The problem is that they need him as a backup and Tulloch sees himself as a starting LB. After looking at some depth charts, there are teams out there who could offer Tulloch a chance to start.
The Eagles could tell Tulloch he would be competing for a starting job here (and mean it), but it doesn’t take a genius to know the team wants Hicks on the field. Finding MLBs who can make plays isn’t easy and Hicks showed that ability as a rookie, coming up with a FF, 3 FR and 2 INTs. Hicks is also young and cheap so the team wants him to be the MLB.
Tulloch is 31 and about to play his 11th NFL season. He suffered a knee injury in 2014 and that affected his play into last year. The Lions took him out on passing downs and had Tulloch focus on run defense. That (and time to fully recover) helped bring out the best in him in the second half of the season. Tulloch is still a good 2-down LB. He diagnoses plays well. He can shed blocks. He is disciplined. Tulloch still tackles well and has some pop when he hits runners. Between the tackles, Tulloch is just fine.
Tulloch isn’t as effective when the ball goes outside or he has to play in space. He’s just not as athletic as he once was. Think of him as DeMeco Ryans by another name.
It is possible that the teams with “holes” at LB are trying to go the young/cheap route and wouldn’t have interest in Tulloch. If that is the case, the Eagles could be an interesting option for him. Tulloch was drafted by the Tennessee Titans in 2006. Their DC was some guy named Jim Schwartz. When Schwartz went to Detroit as head coach, he signed Tulloch as a free agent. Obviously those two have a good relationship.
Tulloch could also see Hicks durability as a reason to come to Philly. Hicks only played half of last season. He only played in 7 games combined in 2012 and 2013.
I could see Tulloch sitting tight for a while and waiting for some preseason injuries. That might give him better options that what he currently has. Tulloch is a smart, veteran MLB. He can learn a scheme pretty quickly. There is no need for him to run sign a deal with someone the minute he officially hits the market. He would be smart to take his time.
As far as the Eagles and the backup MLB spot, this is not a situation to worry about right now. The team needs to see how Joe Walker looks at Training Camp. If he struggles mightily, they need to make a move. If he’s better, they can roll the dice and stick with him as the backup. One thing you have to remember is that there are going to be weak spots on every team. Having a rookie as your backup MLB is very different than not having a LT or QB or CB.
I’ll be interested to see where Tulloch ends up and also who is the backup MLB for the Eagles. If I had to guess right now, I’d say Tulloch won’t be an Eagle and the backup MLB won’t be Walker. He feels more like a practice squad player right now, but we’ll see. The Eagles are going to give him a chance to show what he can do.
After signing Fletcher Cox to a mega-deal, the Eagles had to have a press conference. That took place on Thursday. Lots of smiles. Lots of congratulations to go around. Fun for the whole family, basically.
Howie Roseman was much more interesting. He talked about the importance of keeping core players together and mentioned continuity as being a huge part of the success the Eagles had from 1999-2008. Howie mentioned there had been too much change in recent years, but rather than have that be a dig at Chip Kelly, took responsibility for some of the change.
You can really tell that Jeff Lurie had a long talk with Howie about what he wanted this year and into the future. Taking responsibility must have been one of the focal points because Howie has done that over and over. Kelly drove us all nuts with the way he used semantics to avoid responsibility or just shift the conversation to a pointless subject. Howie has not done that once this offseason. Just the opposite. He’s been busy praising those around him, even Kelly a time or two, and taking his share of the blame whenever there is a negative issue.
This really is a smart tactic, even when there is no need to take blame for something. You diffuse situations and also look like the better person when you take the blame. Andy Reid did this for years and it got him the respect and loyalty of those around him, both players and coaches.
Someone asked Howie if the Eagles and Cox were ever far apart in negotiations and Howie admitted they were at one point. It almost sounded like the Eagles realized the market was out of whack and just realized that if they wanted to keep Cox around, they were going to have to pay him huge bucks and deal with the consequences.
A couple of people had questions about the Eagles wanting to keep guys off a team that went 7-9 and hasn’t made the playoffs in 2 straight years. Were the players really worth keeping around? Were they that good?
Yes and yes.
The Eagles won 6 and 3 games in the seasons prior to Reid taking over. He could have easily gotten rid of everyone, but wisely chose to build rather than to tear apart. He and Tom Modrak worked hard to identify good players already on the roster and they gave those players new deals or extensions.
Not all of these players were given new deals right away. Some took a year or two. The point is that management was smart enough to understand poor performance by the team didn’t mean the roster was devoid of talent. The same is true now. The Eagles have some terrific players. I think keeping many of them is a no-brainer. Did anyone not approve of Zach Ertz or Vinny Curry getting an extension? The only real questionable deal is the re-signing of Sam Bradford. There is logic to the Eagles decision to pay him, but time will tell if that was the right decision.
Howie did mention to Spadaro the cap situation will be tight over the next couple of years. He also talked about the fact that there are some other young players on the roster the team would like to extend. You have to think he’s talking about Jordan Matthews and Bennie Logan. I’d love to keep both guys around, but we really need to see them in the new schemes to know their true value. I think Matthews will be about the same player, but Logan could play at a higher level now that he’ll be turned loose.
The Eagles made a great move to get Cox’s deal done. He’s happy and ready to go. The team can now relax a bit before getting ready for Training Camp.
Cox and Roseman were asked about the Nelson Agholor situation. Cox stuck by the statement he made the other day. Roseman declined comment since there is an active investigation.
I haven’t said anything on it myself.
I honestly don’t know anything you don’t so there is no point in me speculating on such a serious issue.
Chip Kelly ran football practice unlike any other football coach. He wanted reps. Coaching and teaching were to be done in the classroom. The field was all about reps, good, bad or indifferent.
This isn’t a dumb idea. Kelly likes to keep things basic and then wants his players to perfect their performance by getting rep after rep after rep. It makes sense that the more you do something, the better you should get at it. That may not be true of every endeavor in life, but understand that NFL players are the best in the world at what they do and they have excellent supervision.
I think I enjoyed my day-trip to Philadelphia last week to watch the burgeoning QB competition between Sam Bradford and Carson Wentz and to get a feel for what practices will be like under Doug Pederson, whose coaching style appears to lean closer to Andy Reid than Chip Kelly. No more deafening techno at the NovaCare facility; just modern hip-hop, at a moderate volume. And rather than players going nonstop in five or six groups at once, there’s a lot more standing around and listening. It seems to be a welcome change for the vets. Here’s cornerback Nolan Carroll: “Things are a lot more slowed down this year compared to last year. They don’t want to give us a bunch of information and throw you on the field; that’s like a wasted day. I understand his mindset from last year. He wanted us to not think and just react, but guys need the mental reps first.” I wonder if Chip can hear that 2,500 miles away in San Francisco…
It is especially interesting that these comments come from Carroll. He was a player signed under Kelly. He and Kelly seemed to have a great relationship and Kelly constantly praised Carroll last offseason. Carroll started 11 games and played well for Kelly. These comments aren’t coming from someone with an agenda against Kelly. That gives them more weight.
I think one thing that hurts Kelly is that coaches and players are used to standard football practice. When introduced to his system, there is a bit of a shock factor. Players and coaches have spent all their lives doing something a certain way and now must adapt to an unorthodox system. There is no doubt that not all of them buy in.
You also wonder if coaches who aren’t used to that style can be effective teachers when working like that. It is much easier to do that at the collegiate level, where you don’t have the same expectation levels and other factors. Teaching a college player to beat the man across from him is different than doing that in the NFL. You can teach a DE to beat the Cal LT easier than you can teach a DE to beat Tyron Smith. Covering Kenny Lawler is easier than covering Odell Beckham. And so on. Details mean more in the NFL. Trying to teach details might be tougher in a split field-classroom system than in the standard style of practice.
Or it might not.
It is possible Kelly’s methods felt less effective to some people because there were so unorthodox when in reality, the results were about the same. Kelly went 10-6, 10-6 and 7-9 as coach. It isn’t as if his tenure was some huge failure. It just didn’t turn out as hoped.
I don’t know if there will be any way to truly know which style of practice is better. It will be interesting to see how the players perform this season. That won’t necessarily give us an answer, but it could offer a hint.
I do have a theory that just occurred to me. I need to do a bit of research before sharing it.
This caps off an outstanding offseason. All the key players who needed them got new deals. The Eagles didn’t lose any players that the team wanted kept around. I’m not saying the team made perfect moves and is headed for the Super Bowl, but it sure feels like they did what needed to be done, especially considering the resources they had to work with and which players were available.
The two biggest moves were drafting Carson Wentz and extending Cox’s deal. Wentz is all about the future. We’ll have to wait and see how that move pans out. Cox is all about the present. He is the team’s best player, apologies to my good friend Donnie Jones, and is the kind of talent you build a defense around. Cox can be a special player in Jim Schwartz’s attacking 4-3 scheme.
Take a look at PE.com’s Top 5 plays of his from 2015 and you can see some incredible ability. I can’t wait to see what Cox does now that he can attack off the ball on every play. The sky is the limit.
The Eagles handled this negotiation well. They consistently praised Cox, knowing that every positive comment would cost them another $37 (unofficial estimate). They didn’t play games with him or his agent. Howie Roseman has done a great job when it comes to getting mega-deals done with Eagles stars. He works well with agents, which helps the team and the players.
Joe Banner generally did a good job at negotiating deals, but he sometimes negotiated too well and left players and agents confused. Things would almost have an adversarial feel. The Eagles lost Jeremiah Trotter in 2002. Corey Simon left in 2005. Donte Stallworth in 2007. Brian Dawkins in 2009. Those were tense, tight negotiations that didn’t end well for the Eagles. That’s all changed since Roseman took over negotiations.
Via @VinMasi: most guaranteed money spent since January 1 1 Eagles: $280M 2 Giants: $141M 3 Washington: $114M 4 Ravens: $114M 5 Jags: $104M
Say what you want about the Eagles, but they have been very aggressive this offseason. One of the keys is that the money was well spent. They paid stars “star money”. No Byron Maxwell’s got star money. The Eagles also put big money into young players and guys in the prime of their career. Cox should be a top flight player for the next 4 or 5 years, hopefully more.
It also feels good to be pumping that money into homegrown talent. That means you drafted well and the players have developed as hoped, or better. Remember when the Eagles struggled to find defensive talent in the draft? That seems like a long time ago when you think about Cox, Bennie Logan, Vinny Curry, Brandon Graham, Mychal Kendricks, Jordan Hicks and Eric Rowe.
The short term outlook for the Eagles still isn’t ideal, but there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic.
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