The Search for Consistency

Posted: August 3rd, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 74 Comments »

The Eagles offense has played very well so far in Training Camp. The defense finally had a good showing on Wednesday. While encouraging, a good day doesn’t mean a whole lot. Doug Pederson has talked about the need for players to “stack practices”. He wants a good practice to follow a good practice. And then a good practice after that. And then the next day. That’s consistency.

The overall defense has been fine. We’re really talking about the CBs. Unfortunately, that’s a critical position in the modern NFL.

The CBs played better on Wednesday. They showed that they do have some talent. They can make plays. They just don’t do it consistently. To be fair, Jim Schwartz pointed out in his press conference that you can sometimes get a false read out of watching practice. There are some drills where the defense has to play a certain coverage so the offense knows what they’re facing and that gives them an advantage. There are some drills where there is no pass rush. That is a big advantage.

Even with that taken into consideration, the CBs have not been good enough. Then comes a day like Wednesday when you see potential. Can they build on that with another good day? Was Wednesday the anomaly that the coaches will be chasing through a sea of mediocrity?

Jalen Mills has been the team’s best corner so far. He’s not great, but has had a good offseason. Rasul Douglas was good in the spring, but has been wildly inconsistent this summer. His highlights are terrific, but he makes too many mistakes. C.J. Smith is a player on the rise. He might steal a starting spot from Patrick Robinson. Smith isn’t doing his Troy Vincent impression, but he’s been better than Robinson. He’s also cheaper and younger.

Let’s see if the good showing on Wednesday gives a confidence boost to the CBs. One good day can have a big impact.

Just don’t count on it.

*****

Go read the PE.com write-up of the defense shutting down the offense in a Red Zone drill. Here’s a couple of the plays.

5. You can sense that the energy and confidence are building for the defense. As the offense lines up and shifts formations, there’s great communication in the secondary and with the linebackers as they change assignments and make checks. Safety Rodney McLeod, cornerback Aaron Grymes, and Mills all lock up their receivers to the side Wentz is looking after the snap and force an incomplete throw.

6. On the next throw, Mills makes a great play at the goal line, jumping a route from tight end Trey Burton and nearly intercepting a pass that hits him right in the numbers. You’d like to see Mills come away with the pick there, but it was an outstanding example of anticipation and route recognition on the goal line, where things happen very fast.

Mills played very well in the overall series and was key to those two plays. He does need to get better at catching the ball. Mills didn’t have any picks last year. For a CB who likes to take chances, he needs to start coming up with INTs and not just pass breakups.

*****

Here are Jimmy Bama’s notes. C.J. Smith got his attention.

• C.J. Smith has gotten substantial work with the first team defense, and is legitimately challenging Patrick Robinson for a starting job, absent the acquisition of another cornerback outside the organization. Jim Schwartz said he was very encouraged by the play of Smith so far.

Today Smith had some good moments and some bad. He was beaten a few times in red zone drills by Nelson Agholor, though Agholor made some legitimately nice plays on the football. We’ll get to those in a second. On the bright side, Smith made a had a nice pass breakup on a deep post way down the field to Mack Hollins. He was also able to stick to Zach Ertz like a glove in the red zone and break up a pass intended for him.

The Eagles are completely unproven at CB, but I do like the fact they are mostly young. Smith might develop into a solid player. He might not, but I still think this is better than the last decade where there were so many mediocre veterans in the lineup. Take a chance on young guys and see what happens. Smith is definitely a player to keep an eye on.

*****

Jeff McLane is up next. OL/DL stuff.

  1. The defensive line-offensive line one-on-ones weren’t as spirited as they are in full pads, but there were highlights. Jernigan vs. Isaac Seumalo has been a noteworthy matchup. The defensive tackle may have gotten the better of the guard on this day, but Seumalo has been steady throughout camp, or at least that’s been my impression since I haven’t felt compelled to write about him specifically. Defensive end Vinny Currysprung to life with a bull rush vs. Gordon, who lost his balance. Guard Chance Warmack anchored well against a Gabe Wright power move. Defensive end Steven Means slapped tackle Taylor Hart aside on their first encounter. But the latter rebounded and stood the former up vs. his edge rush. Derek Barnett continued to work on his spin move. It still needs work. He took too long to turn on his counter move and tackle Victor Salako stoned him.

Seems like Vinny Curry has quietly had a good summer. He’s not dominating practices, but is consistently disruptive. That’s what you want from him.

I forgot Gabe Wright was on the team. He has not gotten mentioned much at all this summer.

Barnett is using camp as a time to work on his pass rush moves. He’s not just flying off the edge, play after play. I think he would have more of a buzz on him if he did that, but instead he’s using practice as a time to experiment and hone his game. Will be interesting to see how he does in next week’s game.

*****

Brandon Lee Gowton has some good quick hitters.

• Burton had a number of good receptions today.

• Agholor continues to look a lot better than he did last year. He won a number of one-on-one matchups due to crisp route-running and good hands.

• Aaron Grymes came away with an interception in one-on-one against Agholor. He was able to get in front of the wide receiver not unlike Malcolm Butler picked off Russell Wilson in the Super Bowl a few years back. Impressive play by Grymes.

• Torrey Smith got illegally held by defenders during a few reps in one-on-ones but made some tough catches anyway. He did have one drop.

• Bryce Treggs dropped at least two passes. Marcus Johnson had one.

• Hollins made a tough catch with Mills draped all over him. Looked like it might have been a penalty in a game. Mills got frustrated and punched the goal post.

• JMatt struggled to create separation in red zone drills. He did make a nice one-handed catch at one point, though.

• To no surprise, Robinson got beat like a drum in one-on-ones.

• Meanwhile, Rasul Douglas logged a few pass breakups.

• Billy Brown made a sweet over the shoulder catch during a red zone drill. He’s really smooth for a big guy. With Denham struggling, Brown’s stock should be going up.

• Timothy Jernigan continues to look explosive. He fired into the backfield to stop Sproles for a loss.

Trey Burton had a good showing on Wednesday. The overall receiving corps is much better than last year. That means getting passes thrown your way is going to be tougher. Burton might not post big numbers, but he can be a good situational player for the Eagles. He has to take advantage of any time the ball comes his way.

Billy Brown has caught the ball well this summer. He has NFL potential as a receiver. I’m interested in his blocking and STs play. Struggle in those areas and he’s got no shot to make the team. Ideally, you would put him on the practice squad and let him develop for a year.

Always good to read about Aaron Grymes making plays. He’s got a strong chance to make the team.

_


Let’s Get Physical

Posted: August 2nd, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 106 Comments »

Tuesday’s practice brought some actual tackling into Training Camp for the first time. Coaches have a tough balancing act. They want to get their players ready for real football, but also fear getting players hurt. Doug Pederson believes that some tackling is needed to prepare his guys for both the preseason and regular season. Football, after all, is a contact sport (Unless you prefer the description of former player and coach Bill Curry. He said dancing is a contact sport. Football is a collision sport.).

Let’s get to some of the highlights.

Here is Fran Duffy on Tim Jernigan.

10. The real star for me in the live periods, however, was Tim Jernigan. He made a huge stop where he split a double team in the first series, but he saved his best for the last period of the day. On the third snap for the first-team defense, Jernigan defeated a block and made a stop of Marshall at the line of scrimmage, screaming, “Let’s go,” with excitement as he got off the ground. Two plays later, he once again split a double team and worked himself free to make a play in the run game. On the next rep after that, the offense ran his way and he again engulfed the running back and threw him to the ground at the line. Jernigan has proven to be one of the toughest to block in pass protection drills, and when the team went live he was outstanding against the run. – FD

No one disputes the fact that Bennie Logan was a good player for the Eagles. The problem is that he wasn’t as disruptive as Jim Schwartz wants a DT to be. Jernigan has that skill set and has shown it off this summer. The best part of Fran’s notes is that Jernigan was winning in different ways. He wasn’t beating a rookie in 1-on-1’s. He used quickness and strength. He split double teams a couple of times. That is a DT who can penetrate and make plays, just what the Eagles needed up front.

With Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith out, some receiver had to step up. Bryce Treggs did just that.

3. Treggs waited until the middle of practice to get going, but his plays came in a flurry. On a fourth-and-1 pass that he caught right at the sticks, Treggs made the catch, made two men miss, and picked up the first down. A couple of plays later, Treggs took an end around for a first down against the starting defensive unit. Shortly after that, he caught a pass from McGloin on a crossing route for another first down, this time in tight coverage between linebacker Najee Goode and safety Rodney McLeod. – FD

It is easy to overlook Treggs with the rookies making plays and Nelson Agholor coming to life, but remember that Treggs played last year and showed NFL ability. His speed is legit. Treggs has an uphill battle to make the team, but he’s got enough speed and experience that he can’t be ignored.

*****

Jimmy Bama focused on RBs.

The standout of the day was second-year running back Wendell Smallwood. Yesterday, in our first 53-man roster projection of camp, we noted that Smallwood could be pushed for the fourth running back spot by undrafted rookie Corey Clement.

Undrafted rookie Corey Clement has looked good at times and could push Smallwood for that fourth running back spot. I think the preseason games are likely to determine if Clement deserves a roster spot over Smallwood.

Running backs LeGarrette Blount(personal reasons) and Donnel Pumphrey (hamstring) were both out today, and Darren Sproles did not participate in the live sessions. As a result, Smallwood ran with the first team offense, and he helped himself bigly, as he rattled off several long runs during the live periods, often finishing his runs with authority.

His highlight of the day came on a run around the left side in which he absolutely trucked safety Terrence Brooks, who is built like a house. Late in practice, Smallwood once again had a long run around the left edge for about a 20-yard score.

Running backs are tough to evaluate in practices other than these live tackling sessions. Today, Smallwood looked hungry. Very encouraging day.

A few people have questioned Smallwood this spring/summer. I don’t get it. Smallwood didn’t have some great rookie year, but he showed legit NFL talent. I’m glad he had a strong day. I think some people were too down on him. Smallwood had a much better rookie year than Brian Westbrook did. I’m not saying Smallwood is anywhere close to the level of player Westbrook was, but I think Ezekiel Elliott’s success may have affected people and their expectations for a rookie RB. Zeke was a freak. Smallwood ran for 312 yards and returned a KO for a TD. There is nothing wrong with that from a 5th round pick who was the #3 RB for his team.  Read the rest of this entry »


Big Jump

Posted: August 1st, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 68 Comments »

The Eagles were 16th in the league in scoring and 22nd in yards gained last year. They had a Top 10 run game, but the passing attack was another story. There were too many dropped passes and errant throws. And guys just didn’t get open. Things had to change.

The Eagles focused on improving the passing game during the offseason. I wrote about how the changes are working so far in my PE.com column.

The biggest disappointment to this point is the fact 5th round pick Shelton Gibson has struggled with drops. Just about everything else has been good, if not better. Multiple rookies have been good. The big free agents have been very impressive. The holdover receivers look worlds different.

I guess you could say DGB was a disappointment, but I’m not sure expectations were all that high for him. And he’s ancient history now so the only negatives among current players would be Gibson’s drops and maybe Matthews’ knee. That’s a pretty good offseason.

You have to give credit to three main men. First, Carson Wentz. He has to do his job in getting the ball to his receivers. Wentz has played better this year and that improvement has helped the receivers. Think about how erratic QB play the last couple of years hurt Torrey Smith and played a part in his struggles. A good QB makes a big difference.

Next would be Alshon Jeffery. His level of play seems to be infectious. Teammates see a guy catch everything thrown his way and it has an effect on them. It gives them confidence, but also something to aspire to. Jeffery makes highlight grabs and teammates want their turn to try to do that.

Finally, I think you have to give Mike Groh a lot of credit. Greg Lewis was a young WRs coach last year and it showed. He didn’t know how to really connect with his players and bring out the best in them. Groh has a strong track record and you can see that in the level of play of his receivers this year. He is tough and demanding, but in a positive way. You have to know how to push players to get the right results. Just yelling at players doesn’t work.

The real test for the passing game will be the regular season, but too much has gone well to ignore this as just bad Eagles CBs or a few good practices. The passing game looks like it has taken a major step forward this year.

*****

The Eagles added CB Tay Glover-Wright to replace Randall Goforth, who tore his ACL.

The 6-0, 180-pound cornerback previously spent time with the Atlanta Falcons, Green Bay Packers, and Indianapolis Colts. He played in two games for the Colts in the 2015 season.

After playing quarterback and wide receiver at the junior college level, he transferred to Utah State and was moved to cornerback. He started 10 games as a senior in 2013 and was signed by Atlanta as a rookie free agent following the 2014 draft. He landed on Green Bay’s practice squad in October of his first season. He spent 2015 Training Camp with the Packers, but was released and went to the Colts’ practice squad. He was promoted to the active roster at the end of the season and played in regular-season games against Houston and Tennessee. He began 2016 on the Colts’ practice squad, but was waived and is now an Eagle.

One thing to note. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.36 seconds at his Pro Day.

As Jimmy Bama noted in his piece, The Glove is the Colts corner who DGB went over when he caught a fade pass for a TD last summer. That’s not ideal. Before you make a big deal of this, TGW is now the 89th or 90th man on the roster. He is here to compete, but reality tells you he is more camp body than anything else.

*****

Paul Domowitch wrote a piece on LB Joe Walker, trying to make it back from a torn ACL.

Walker said he has fully recovered – both physically and mentally – from the injury.

“I feel good out there,’’ he said. “My body feels good. Mentally, I feel good. I’m not thinking at all about my knee when I’m out there. So that’s huge. I’m running around full speed, which is huge.’’

The door to a roster spot is open for Walker and some of the other young linebackers in camp, including Villanova product Don Cherry, rookie fifth-round pick Nathan Gerry and Kamu Grugier-Hill. Beyond their three starters – Hicks, Nigel Bradham and Mychal Kendricks – the Eagles have precious little experience at linebacker.

The other six linebackers in camp have played a grand total of 233 defensive snaps. Two hundred thirty-two of them belong to veteran Najee Goode, though he’s played only 39 defensive snaps the last three seasons.

If you have to go young somewhere, backup LB is a good choice. You can’t have great depth everywhere.

Besides, if Walker or Gerry or Grugier-Hill pans out, you could have good, young depth for a few years. I’m looking forward to seeing Walker in a game so we can get a better feel for if there are any issues with his ACL or if he’s truly moving around like he did last summer.

_


Coverage Questions

Posted: July 31st, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 95 Comments »

Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith have looked terrific. Jordan Matthews is playing well, as always. Nelson Agholor is having the best summer of his career. Second year players Marcus Johnson and David Watford are doing everything they can to make the team. Rookies Mack Hollins and Greg Ward do not look like rookies. Receiver might have gone from a huge question to a position of strength.

While it is great to see the receivers lighting it up, there is a downside as well. They are beating Eagles CBs. A lot.

Jalen Mills has been the best of the CBs, but even that is good and bad news. Mills is more of a #2 CB. You don’t want him going up against the best receivers in the league, week after week. Patrick Robinson has been erratic in his career and unfortunately the good version of him hasn’t shown up yet. He is a veteran player so the light could go on for him at any moment, but there are no guarantees that happens.

Rasul Douglas has struggled in Training Camp. He showed promise in the spring, but the complexity of the NFL game has caught up with him. Douglas can still turn things around, but he’s struggling right now.

Fans have started to ask about going after Darrelle Revis, or whatever big names are still on the street. I don’t think the Eagles are going to make a move. The players on the street are generally there for a reason. They are declining. They want too much money. They aren’t completely healthy. Or some combination of those factors.

Sidney Jones has the potential to be a shutdown corner, but he’s a long term solution. He might play this year. He might sit until 2018. The Eagles want to be smart with him because they like him so much. Douglas might also be a long term answer. He’s not the first rookie to struggle with a big playbook and all the techniques the coaches want him to use.

The Eagles are looking for a “good enough” solution for 2017. That might be Mills, Robinson and Ron Brooks in the slot. Maybe playing in games will bring out the best in Douglas. C.J. Smith and Aaron Grymes have each had good moments. They will battle for jobs and playing time.

One bright spot is that the Eagles do have some young players they are trying to develop. Previously the team was cycling through veterans who weren’t that good today and didn’t have a lot of potential for the future.

I am curious to see how the CBs play in the preseason games. Practice normally favors the offense. Games will give us a better idea of whether this group can be effective in 2017.

*****

On to practice. Wentz to Agholor for a long TD.  Read the rest of this entry »


Big Day For Wentz

Posted: July 30th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 39 Comments »

You never want to make too much of one practice, good or bad. Carson Wentz was erratic early in the spring. He played better in the last few spring practices. He wasn’t a bust because of the bad days or headed to the Hall of Fame because of the way he finished. Wentz is a young player and there will be ups and downs.

Good players are consistent. Coaches don’t want erratic players. They want guys who can perform at a consistent level.

Wentz has been good so far in Training Camp, with Saturday being his best showing of the summer. Everyone at practiced raved about his performance.

PE.com has the details.

1. During the final 7-on-7 period, Carson Wentz was a perfect 15-for-15. Here’s a breakdown of those 15 plays.

A. Wentz completes a quick 5-yard pass to wide receiver Alshon Jeffery.

B. Wentz connects with Ertz, who caught the ball 16 yards down the field.

C. Ertz is the target again on a short crossing route.

D. Tight end Trey Burton gets in on the fun with a quick out and a gain of 5 yards.

E. Wentz throws a perfect touch pass for a gain of 30 yards to wide receiver Jordan Matthews. Wentz had the ball in the air as soon as Matthews passed linebacker Najee Goode, but it was placed in an ideal spot where neither safety Rodney McLeod nor safety Jaylen Watkins could get it.

F. Wide receiver Torrey Smith catches a 10-yard pass from Wentz.

G. Wentz goes to Burton, the underneath option, for 6 yards.

H. The play of the day. Wentz hits Ertz with a back shoulder throw along the right sideline for 29 yards. Ertz caught the ball and got both feet in as he was falling to the ground. Watkins had good coverage on the play. Amazing anticipation throw. Note that wide receiver Nelson Agholor was creating confusion for the defense running a go route.

I. A quick pass to Matthews in the flat.

J. A dig route by Smith goes for 20 yards.

K. Wide receiver Marcus Johnson turned cornerback Patrick Robinson around faking in before going out for a 17-yard gain.

L. Ertz was the recipient on a shallow cross.

M. Agholor caught the ball on a quick out route.

N. A hitch route by Smith gained 13 yards, although cornerback Jalen Mills read the route and had good position.

O. Burton finishes off the drill with an out route for a short gain.

Wow. That is an impressive performance. The Eagles secondary isn’t great by any stretch, but that was a mixture of throws to a variety of receivers and spots. It wasn’t Wentz picking on one guy or area.  Read the rest of this entry »