Special Player

Posted: June 7th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 51 Comments »

It would be really cool if the Eagles had been able to pull off a deal for QB Marcus Mariota. That didn’t happen and I am glad for one big reason…Fletcher Cox is still an Eagle.

In the lead-up to the draft, we began to hear rumors about the Eagles possibly including Cox in a move to get the second overall pick. He is the team’s best player so I can easily understand teams asking about him, but I don’t believe the Eagles included him in any real offers.

The Eagles have struggled to draft and develop defensive stars for much of the past decade so I think the team would be extremely hesitant to talk about dealing an impact DL. Cox isn’t just good. He’s special.

You see the traits that make him a special player.

* Rare combination of size, speed and strength.

* Able to disengage from blockers on a regular basis using both strength and technique.

* Quick enough to fire off the ball and get into the backfield.

* Very good motor. Chases the ball all over the field. Fast enough to close on QBs that are running in space.

* Regularly disruptive.

* Able to finish plays. Some DL can disrupt, but not finish. Cedric Thornton has 3 sacks in 48 career games. Cox had 4 sacks last year.

* Versatile. Can play left or right side. Can play DE, DT and NT.

And he can still get better.

Cox won’t turn 25 until December. This is a young man who has his best football ahead of him. He is in the final year of his contract so there will be pressure on him to have a big year and pressure on the Eagles to get him extended. It won’t be an easy negotiation because he is a 3-4 DE and they usually don’t have the impact of a pure DT or DE. How much can you afford to pay a 2-gap DE?

Chip Kelly has sung his praises, referring to Cox as the team’s MVP. Kelly values him and will hopefully have the Eagles begin working on a way to keep Cox around.

UPDATE – A couple of readers pointed out the Eagles have picked up the 5th year on Cox’s deal so he will be an Eagle in 2015 and 2016. That gives both sides time to work on an extension.

* * * * *

A bit of humor from Jimmy Bama.

Well done, sir.

_


OL Update

Posted: June 6th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 79 Comments »

We have talked a lot about the OL this spring. The status of Evan Mathis keeps us confused. We’re curious to see what happens at RG. And we have no idea what to think of the backups.

Adam Caplan offered his thoughts on Mathis on a recent interview on 97.5.  Jimmy Bama has the details.

“The Eagles, as far as they are concerned, this player, Evan Mathis, has three years left on his contract, so they don’t need to do anything. They’re not going to do anything do his contract from what I understand. I certainly understand both sides here. From the Eagles standpoint, you have a player, although still very solid in Evan Mathis, he turns 34 in November. Had he been maybe 28, 29, even 30, you may consider what he’s looking for. But it’s hard to find a scenario when you’re the Eagles to give someone more money at that age…

I think from Evan’s standpoint, I clearly understand what he’s looking at. He’s not looking for a lot more money, not very much at all. A slight pay increase is my understanding, and incentives in his contract if he makes the Pro Bowl, which I think is fair to me. If he would hit them, obviously he would be rewarded, but of course the team would be because if he makes the Pro Bowl everyone’s happy. 

But, the fact of the matter is, nothing that I know of is on the horizon here, and I’ve been asked repeatedly about his future, and I would say I would be pessimistic, clearly, for him to be on the (Eagles) this fall.”

That isn’t encouraging, but it goes along with the vibe I’ve gotten this spring, that Mathis is done as an Eagle.

I would still love for things to work out. Mathis is a good player and a fun personality to have as part of the team. No more reports on possible trade destinations at this point. The Eagles have a mandatory mini-camp coming up. It will be interesting to see if Mathis shows, and what the Eagles do with him if he does report. Will he run with the starters or would they line him up with the backups? If Mathis is on the team, he will start. No one questions that. But the team could want Allen Barbre and Matt Tobin to continue getting reps with the starters in hopes of building up some chemistry. We’ll see.

* * * * *

Now for some upbeat OL news, this also from Caplan.

The Eagles like Boyko. He played LG and LT at UNLV. At 6-6, 305, he has the kind of frame they like. He was a QB in high school. Sounds like a Chip Kelly kind of OL. The downside…doesn’t have the footwork to be a LT in the NFL. Also lacks ideal arm, hand size.

Right now Boyko is the LT on the #3 OL. His best spot in the NFL is likely OG. I’m sure the Eagles will get him some work there this summer. There is nothing wrong with playing him at LT for now to see how he handles the spot.

Don’t get too excited about Boyko. There are some reasons to be optimistic about his chances to push for a roster spot, but he needs time to develop.

* * * * *

Another OL nugget from Caplan.

We’ll see if the Eagles show interest in any other veteran OL that shake loose this summer. Everything is quiet for now.

_


Assistants Are People Too!

Posted: June 5th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 179 Comments »

Abiding by the Geneva Convention and seeking shelter from Human Rights groups around the globe, the Eagles actually let their assistant coaches speak to the media this week. We didn’t get any great info this year, but there are always some comments of interest.

Les Bowen wrote about Ryan Day, the new QB coach. The past 2 years the Eagles had established NFL guys in Bill Lazor and Bill Musgrave. Day is a college coach, but he knows the offense very well.

“I’ve played for coach Kelly. I’ve played quarterback for coach Kelly, and I’ve played in this offense before,” said Day, a starter at QB for three seasons at New Hampshire when Kelly was the offensive coordinator there. “I’m able to share a little bit of some of my experiences with [Eagles QBs].”

You wonder if Day’s experience can give an extra bit of info to Sam Bradford and the QBs. As for Day’s take on Bradford and his comeback.

Day downplayed the difficulties Bradford might face, getting a late start in learning a new offense. Bradford did a little seven-on-seven throwing Tuesday, but doesn’t seem close to being able to take a full complement of practice reps. Day said Bradford positions himself behind the QBs and watches intently.

“He’s doing a lot of work in the building, watching film, he’s doing a great job in the meeting room,” Day said. “And he’s a guy who’s been in the fire before, so he’s got some experience to draw upon.”

That isn’t the same as taking actual practice reps, but it is the best Bradford can do right now and it will help him when he does get back on the field. While Bradford isn’t throwing the ball, those mental reps help him to read the defense and to find the open receiver. Bradford is an accurate passer with good mechanics so the mental side of things and finding the right receiver is the big issue for him.

* * * * *

Jeff McLane wrote about Cory Undlin, the most interesting of the new coaches. Undlin had plenty to say.

“Obviously X plays – we do not want those,” Undlin said. “I use the term all the time: ‘We are out of the X-play business.’ We’re not doing that. I believe every X play that is given up . . . was a result of poor technique somewhere in the down. . . . My focus has been on, ‘Here’s how we’re not going to give these plays up.’ “

Those big pass plays killed the Eagles last year. Just take away a couple of those and the Eagles were a playoff team. Instead, the plays led to points and losses. There isn’t one player or position at fault. The CBs need to cover better. The Safeties need to be smarter. And all the DBs need to communicate better.

One of the issues with the CBs is that they didn’t always use the proper technique. There were times when they were supposed to get a good jam on a receiver, but didn’t and let the guy get a clean release. Undlin is not going to let that happen this year.

“We’re looking for non-impostors,” Undlin said. “The ball is snapped and then they open – I use the term ‘open the gate’ – and then they just let the guy run down the field. We don’t want that. So my job is to get them to believe in themselves and believe in the technique.”

Trust the technique. That is Coaching 101. Good coaches actually get their players to do it.

Undlin has brought change to the secondary.

Undlin has completely revamped how the defensive backs practice, according to Boykin and others, so that every detail isn’t missed. Cornerback Nolan Carroll said that many of the drills are mirroring-receiver drills, “because a lot of things they do we have to do, as far as dropping your hips and getting in and out of breaks, we have to match.”

The defensive backs are now responsible for knowing what every defensive player is doing on any given play, to keep everyone on the same page and avoid confusion. Undlin has also instituted a points system that offers rewards for hustle plays or interceptions and subtracts for loafing, for example.

“He’s intense. He’s always got you on your toes,” Carroll said. “He’s asking us questions in the meeting for us to be alert. He’s always demanding excellence.”

We don’t know if this will lead to better results, but Undlin has me as a believer. John Lovett was a veteran football coach, but he was new to the NFL and it doesn’t sound like he handled Chip Kelly’s style of practicing all that well. Undlin knows the NFL. Now he has to adjust to the Eagles tempo and style of doing things. Luckily for him, Undlin also has better players to work with.

* * * * *

Zach Berman wrote about Pat Shurmur, who got lots of Sam Bradford questions. Remember that Shurmur was Bradford’s OC when Bradford was a rookie.

Shurmur was Bradford’s offensive coordinator in 2010, when Bradford was offensive rookie of the year and almost led the Rams to the playoffs. Then Shurmur accepted the head coaching job in Cleveland, and Bradford went through two more offensive coordinators while dealing with injuries in three of the next four seasons.

“Really what I did was talk about the experience I had with Sam, and . . . I was able to give some insight to him, how he prepared, how hard he worked, what he was like as a quarterback behind center, what he was like as a leader,” Shurmur said Wednesday in his first public comments since the trade for Bradford.

That relationship was not the reason the Eagles dealt Nick Foles and a second-round pick in a package for Bradford, a former No. 1 overall pick who missed most of the last two seasons with two tears of the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. But Bradford had an advocate in Shurmur, who called plays when Bradford passed for 18 touchdowns, 15 interceptions, and 3,512 yards while completing 60 percent of his passes in an offense that had only one Pro Bowler.

Shurmur remains a big fan of Bradford and his talent.

“I certainly have a very strong, good opinion of what he can accomplish,” Shurmur said. “Had he been able to stay healthy, he wouldn’t have been available for us. When the deal was getting made, I had my fingers crossed in the background that it was going to get done.”

Shurmur scouted Bradford coming out of Oklahoma, where Bradford excelled in a no-huddle system. Shurmur said the Rams “tried to incorporate some of those things” in 2010. Although this is Kelly’s offense in Philadelphia, Shurmur has said that his influence is incorporated. He said Wednesday that the Eagles offense has concepts similar to some Bradford has worked with before.

“He can function very well, he can get rid of the ball quickly, he’s very smart, he prepares and trains like all the great ones do, and we feel like he’s an outstanding thrower,” Shurmur said. “Not to mention he’s a terrific athlete. There’s kind of a three-prong challenge for him – get better physically, learn what we’re doing mentally, and get out here and do it on the field tactically – and in our minds he’s doing a good job.”

Are you buying in?

* * * * *

PE.com has a wrap-up with 8 revelations from the assistants. This covers a lot of ground.

* * * * *

June is the time for optimism. The coaches know their players. They see the upside in the young guys and are excited by what the new veterans bring to the table. Almost everybody looks good out there in a helmet and pair of shorts.

Things will change in August. Practice starts and you start to see who is getting the job done and who isn’t.  For now, life is pretty good. Enjoy it while it lasts.

_


OTAs Talk

Posted: June 4th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 135 Comments »

The media was able to take in another practice session on Tuesday. Nothing dramatic happened on the field. There was no Chip Kelly PC. Still, there are plenty of little things to discuss.

Sheil Kapadia has up some good practice notes, as usual.

1:10 – The inside linebackers continue to rotate. During this teach period, it’s the defense against trash cans. Mychal Kendricks and DeMeco Ryans are lined up with the first team. If you only look at one side of the secondary, it looks promising with Malcolm Jenkins and Byron Maxwell.

The other side is where there are question marks. Nolan Carroll continues to line up with the first team. But there’s a change today. It’s Walter Thurmond opposite Jenkins at safety. If I’m naming a favorite to start on June 2, it’s Thurmond.

I wrote about Thurmond on Tuesday. Now he’s running with the starters. Other than the OL, the secondary is the group who needs chemistry the most. It would be great if the Eagles could have the same guys out there each day, working with each other and learning to play as a group.

As good as competition sounds, you really do value chemistry with DBs. But that only works if Nolan Carroll and Thurmond play well enough to stay on the field. If some other CB or S is better, you have to put them into the lineup. The ultimate goal is finding the best players.

One of the guys who was going to be in the mix to start at S is Jaylen Watkins.

1:50 – Back to 7-on-7s. Jaylen Watkins gets matched up with Agholor on the outside. Tim Tebow goes the rookie’s way, but Watkins climbs the ladder and breaks up the pass to force an incompletion down the sideline. The defensive players erupt in celebration. That’s as loud as I’ve heard them so far this spring.

Watkins is seeing action at both corner and safety. I thought he’d get more of a look to earn some playing time, and maybe he will. But it hasn’t happened yet. He’s been practicing mostly with the third team as far as I can tell.

I hope the coaches don’t keep Watkins bouncing around too much. Young players need to settle in at one spot. I prefer Watkins as a CB because I don’t love his tackling, but he has the skill set the Eagles like in a Safety. It will be interesting to see how they use him between now and late July.

Onto the OL.

1:13 – During the team run period, your starting guards are Allen Barbre (LG) and Matt Tobin (RG).

The second team from left to right is Andrew GardnerJulian VanderveldeDavid MolkKevin Graf and Dennis Kelly. The third team is Brett BoykoJosh AndrewsMike CocciaCole Manhart and Malcolm Bunche.

Interesting move with the backups. Dennis Kelly goes from LG to RT, with Kevin Graf moving from RT to RG. I think Graf is better suited to play OG. I just don’t think he has the footwork to play outside.

Kelly has the build of an OT. He is huge and long. He has okay footwork. The potential is there for him to at least be an effective backup, if not more. Something just hasn’t clicked with him to the point where he’s a guy you want on the field.

I am curious if the move was made because the team wanted Kelly outside or Graf inside.

* * * * *

Jimmy Bama offered his take on practice. Insightful and entertaining.

* * * * *

More than a few of you have asked about the Eagles trading for Eric Weddle, the Chargers FS who is in the middle of a contract dispute. I’m more than a little interested in him, but there are issues.

He’s 30 and wants a new deal. You have to be willing to pay an older guy good money.

The Eagles best trade bait is Mychal Kendricks, but SD just used a high pick on an ILB and they already have Manti Teo in place. I don’t know that they have any interest in Kendricks. I don’t know their CB situation well enough to know if they might like Brandon Boykin.

How high of a draft pick are you willing to give up? The Eagles are already missing their 2nd rounder from the Sam Bradford deal.

There is a tremendous lack of good Safeties in the NFL. My guess is that some other team might overpay for Weddle. Dallas is in win-now mode and might be willing to part with a high pick. Of course, they’d have to find a way to fit his cap number in there, but Dallas always seems to be able to get Romo to restructure when they need room.

While the Eagles are desperate for S help, I don’t get the sense that Chip Kelly is willing to trade away key picks and make the team older.

I do think Kendricks could be traded for the right veteran player (OL or DB), but I have yet to find the right situation. Never say never, but I doubt Weddle becomes an Eagle.

_


Potential Playmaker?

Posted: June 2nd, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 305 Comments »

Walter Thurmond has a chance to start at Safety for the Eagles. The first reason for that is simply that the Eagles don’t have a very good situation at the Safety position. Right now you might label the group Malcolm Jenkins and the 5 Heartbeats. After all, having a pulse is about all it takes to be in the mix for a starting gig there.

I’m fascinated by Thurmond as a Safety. The more I think about it, the more he reminds me of Damarious Randall, who the Eagles supposedly liked a lot. Randall played in the slot a lot in college. Thurmond has played outside corner and in the slot. They can cover. Both lack ideal tackling skills. Both have good ball skills.

Thurmond was a big time playmaker in college, but hasn’t been one in the NFL. It is harder to be a playmaker at CB, since you don’t spend as much time watching the QB. As a Safety, Thurmond would be able to watch the QB on a regular basis.

Thurmond picked off 12 passes at Oregon. He was a very good PR and KOR. He knows how to catch the ball and he’s dangerous with it when he does get it.

I could see Chip Kelly pushing Thurmond to try Safety because he would like more plays being made from that spot. Nate Allen picked off 4 passes and deflected 5 others last year. With the amount of plays being run against the Eagles, those aren’t compelling figures.

I need to do more tape study on Thurmond, but there is no question that he’s more athletic and more instinctive than Allen was. That gives him a chance to be a playmaker. Obviously the first key for Thurmond is staying healthy. That hasn’t happened much in his NFL career so the Sports Science group has their work cut out. If they can keep Thurmond on the field, he has a chance to be Kelly’s kind of Safety.

* * * * *

Zach Berman wrote a good piece on Thurmond.

Walter Thurmond received an offer from Eagles coaches four weeks ago. He could stay at cornerback, where he has played his entire five-year career, and compete at a position that became crowded this offseason. Or he could move to safety, where the Eagles’ glaring need has been ignored.

The decision was left to Thurmond. He is now a safety.

“I chose to go to the safety because of the defense we play – there’s going to be a lot of opportunities to make plays on the ball,” Thurmond said. “They felt confident in me to be able to move to that position.”

Thurmond said better access to a starting job was not part of his consideration, but “that’s probably something [the coaches] looked at.”

And

Thurmond practiced at the position in college and has done scout-team work at safety in the NFL, but he has never played it in a game. He believes it’s not much different from his duties as a nickel cornerback, where he made a living in the NFL.

“He’s always around the ball,” Kelly said. “I think he’s had a lot of experience playing nickel, so he’s been an inside guy. He can see things. He’s very intelligent. He’s an intuitive football player. He is the first guy out of that corner mix that is getting a shot at inside.”

I’m glad the Eagles took a chance with someone. I was worried about relying on Earl Wolff (coming off an injury) and Jaylen Watkins (little experience) as the frontrunners.

Thurmond is far from a slam dunk, but he has started on a great NFL defense (2013 Seattle) and knows how to play DB. There is a serious adjustment from CB to Nickel to S, but he at least has some idea what he’s doing. Wolff and/or Watkins could outplay Thurmond and win the job. That’s fine. You don’t mind them winning the job. You just don’t want to hand it to them.

The Eagles don’t need another Dawk or Wes. At this point, they’d settle for Greg Jackson. We’ll see if Thurmond can be that guy.

_