Redskins uncertain on Bowen's return

August, 21, 2014
Aug 21
ASHBURN, Va. -- The Washington Redskins still remain uncertain about whether or not defensive end Stephen Bowen will return for the season opener. With a little more than two weeks before that game, Bowen is on the physically unable to perform list.

Bowen continues to work his way back after having microfracture surgery on his right knee in early December. Bowen still says he’ll be ready for the opener at Houston, but he’s running out of time to make sure those words hold true.

The coaching staff isn’t quite as certain.

“That’s hard to say,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “Nothing would surprise me with him.”

The decision, Gruden said, will be up to Bowen and trainer Larry Hess. But if Bowen wants to have a realistic shot at being ready for the opener, Gruden said he would like him to practice as soon as possible after the fourth preseason game to see if he’s ready.

“Watching him out there today, he looked better,” Gruden said. “He looks better than what I’ve seen him, but how he feels after the workout, with the soreness, does it swell up, how he’s doing with the more workload he gets, how he can handle contact -- that’s to be determined. ... We’ll just have to wait and see.”

Bowen had his contract reduced last week, taking his cap hit from $7.02 million to $4.69 million this season. He gets a roster bonus of $46,875 for every game he’s active (up to $750,000).

Tony Romo ready for season

August, 21, 2014
Aug 21
IRVING, Texas – How much Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo plays Saturday against the Miami Dolphins has not been finalized, but Romo feels like he is ready for the regular season.

Romo saw 16 snaps of action last week against the Baltimore Ravens in his first action since undergoing back surgery in December, completing 4-of-5 passes for 60 yards and a touchdown. Typically the Cowboys’ starters do not play in the final preseason game, which means this will be Romo’s final action before the Sept. 7 opener against the San Francisco 49ers.

“You play through a lot of stuff when you’re playing,” Romo said. “Obviously right after the surgery it would’ve been a different story but at this point, yeah there’s no question you’d be playing a football game. I mean I don’t know that you would go to play in the preseason if you didn’t think you could play football. I mean, it’s football.”

Romo returned to practice on Thursday after sitting out Wednesday as he continued a conservative practice plan through his recovery from surgery.

“This feels like I’ve got a ton of time compared to last year,” Romo said. “Last year really, sitting out the entire offseason [following his first back surgery], that part of it, I’ve been a part of a lot more even though it might not seem like it to you guys.”

Romo went through parts of individual drills on Thursday for the first time this summer. Coach Jason Garrett said Romo’s fundamentals have not been an issue.

“I think you’re always doing that with guys, and you do those every day drills for a reason -- to make sure everybody at every position is handling the fundamentals of the game the right way,” Garrett said. “Tony is no different than anybody else, and like with anybody coming back off of an injury, you want to make sure you’re doing stuff that’s not going to hurt them.

"He’ll work his way back into getting the full complement as we go, but there are plenty of ways to evaluate that. I think he’s done a really good job technically and fundamentally. His footwork and his ball carriage and getting the ball out have all been really good.”
In truth, there is very little to tie Eli Manning and Tony Romo together. One was the No. 1 overall pick, the other undrafted. One has won two Super Bowl MVP awards, the other has become the poster child for blowing it in big games. They play in the same division and are about the same age, but their stories are divergent.

Yet there they sit right next to each other, Romo at No. 61 and Manning at No. 62, on this year’s #NFLRank list (see chart, below right). And when you see it like that, you start to imagine where they’ll be on this list a year from now. It’s easy to realize that this is a pretty big season for both of these guys. For different reasons, each faces the question of whether he’s in decline.

Romo is 34 years old and has had back surgery twice in the past two years. He’s set up to produce big numbers as the quarterback of a Dallas Cowboys offense loaded with skill position weapons. For the first time in his career, it appears he has enough elite offensive line talent to protect him. Given the sorry state of the Cowboys’ defense, Romo is going to have the opportunity and responsibility to put up a lot of points.

So the question is whether he can, physically, or whether the back issues will continue to be a part of Romo’s story from here on out. If they are, the rest of the story likely gets a lot shorter and a lot more uncomfortable to watch.

Cowboys people say they’re happy with the progress Romo has made from this year’s back surgery and that the priority now is to make sure there are no further setbacks. If there aren’t, there’s no reason to think there’s reason for long-term worry with Romo. He’s up one spot from his place in last year’s rankings, which indicates that perception of him as a player hasn’t changed much. He’s set up to succeed on the field as long as he can stay there. For Romo, this season is about proving he’s healthy enough to make the next chapter of his career a substantial one.

Manning is in a different spot. As consistently healthy a quarterback as the NFL has, Manning had ankle surgery this spring and missed almost no practice time. He’s fully healthy and expecting to play all 16 games, as he has in every season since 2005. The question with Manning is not whether he’ll play, but how he’ll play.

Manning led the league last season with a career-high 27 interceptions. The Giants’ offense fell apart around him so completely that the organization engaged in a full-scale overhaul, bringing in a new offensive coordinator, installing a new offensive system and making sweeping personnel changes at running back, wide receiver, offensive line and tight end.

While some pieces (Victor Cruz, Justin Pugh) remain in place around him, the most critical constant is Manning, whose 2013 performance was alarming enough to drop him from No. 17 to No. 62 in these rankings. The question hanging over his tousled head as 2014 dawns is whether he was a victim of a system meltdown or an active creator of the mess. Manning is 33, and the way the league is built to preserve quarterbacks now, as long as he’s healthy, there’s no reason to think he can’t play five or six more years, easily.

But Manning has no contract beyond 2015, and the fact that the Giants didn’t extend him this offseason, when doing so would have helped them significantly on cap room, indicates that there are questions about his future. They have said, publicly and privately, that they don’t consider Manning to be a quarterback in decline. They believe he has and will continue to take to the new offense and help everyone else with the ease of the transition. He’s eager to put 2013 behind and play better going forward. He acknowledges his role in the mess and is working to make sure he doesn’t repeat it.

However, another bad year could easily change the narrative here. There’s no doubting Manning’s ability to elevate a team to greatness over a one-month or two-month span, as he has twice, to the chagrin of Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. But can Manning be a consistent-enough performer in the regular season to shorten the Giants’ rebuilding phase and return them to annual contender status? Or are his best days behind him?

The Cowboys and the Giants could be in for rough seasons. Dallas’ defense appears noncompetitive on paper, and the Giants’ offense is a work in progress that might not be ready for the start of the season. It would be a mild surprise if either team contended for the division title, though it’s important to note that the NFC East always surprises to some extent.

Within that framework, though, Romo and Manning face important seasons from individual standpoints. Regardless of their teams’ final 2014 records, each is going to emerge from this season having addressed a major question about what to expect from the remainder of his career. Five months from now, we’re going to have a lot more information on which to base future expectations for these franchise quarterbacks. Based on the manner in which these players answer these key questions, their teams will either be breathing sighs of relief or addressing huge new questions about the most important position on their rosters.
ASHBURN, Va. -- Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III didn’t quite understand the penalties and neither did his coach. But Griffin said he’ll try to fix whatever the officials say he’s doing wrong.

Against Cleveland, Griffin was flagged for two false starts after using a hard count to try and draw the defense offside. Griffin’s shoulders thrust forward a little bit, prompting the flag.

Griffin and coach Jay Gruden remain baffled.

“I can yell at you guys and I’ll move a little bit,” Griffin said. “I don’t want to say whether a good call or not. He called it and he threw the flag. For me I have to make sure I’m standing still as a statue, if they’re paying that much attention to it.”

Gruden said he’s not sure why it would even be a penalty.

“My point is when you yell, ‘Hut’ real loud your shoulder might move a little forward,” Gruden said. “If the defense doesn’t jump I don’t know why it would be a penalty. It’s just another point of interest. They’re trying to bear down on it for some reason. To me that was a ticky-tack call.

"If the defense jumped then maybe they talk about it and maybe the quarterback did a sudden movement to bring him across. In a loud stadium in order to annunciate your words sometimes you have to move your chest to yell. That’s what he was doing. You have to make sure there’s no sudden movement with his hands or move his head and shoulders. That to me is a little insane.”
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- First-round pick Odell Beckham Jr. was on the sidelines for the second consecutive day Wednesday, but fellow wide receivers Corey Washington and Marcus Harris continue to impress.

Washington and Harris both got some first-team reps and caught practically everything thrown their way. Washington continues to use his height (6-foot-4) to his advantage, hauling in a couple of touchdown passes on fade routes in the back corner of the end zone.

Washington did have one glaring drop during a two-minute drill at the very end of practice.

Harris made several catches as well on a day in which the Giants' offense looked crisper than it has for much of the summer.

Here are a few other observations from Wednesday:
  • Beckham was joined on the sidelines by cornerback Prince Amukamara (groin), cornerback Jayron Hosley (foot), running back Peyton Hillis (ankle/foot), wide receiver Trindon Holliday (hamstring), tight end Xavier Grimble (hamstring), offensive lineman Charles Brown (shoulder) and offensive lineman James Brewer (back). None of them are expected to play Friday night against the Jets. Coach Tom Coughlin also revealed that injured safety Cooper Taylor (foot) will be having surgery, and it's possible he'll be placed on injured reserve.
  • The Giants continue to do some shuffling on the offensive line. We saw a new configuration at one point Wednesday, with Justin Pugh shifting from right tackle to left tackle, rookie Weston Richburg at left guard, J.D. Walton at center, Brandon Mosley at right guard and Geoff Schwartz at right tackle. Pugh also got some snaps at left tackle on Tuesday. Schwartz, the presumed starting left guard at the beginning of training camp, played some right guard on Tuesday and moved over to right tackle for the first time on Wednesday. "We just want to mix them around, make sure that guys can be flexible enough to move," Coughlin said. Part of the reason for these shifts is the absence of both Brown and Brewer, who are second and third on the depth chart at left tackle, behind Will Beatty. But the Giants' offensive line alignment is clearly not settled at this point, which is a little worrisome.
  • The Giants' tight ends continue to be underwhelming as a whole, but undrafted free agent Jerome Cunningham made a couple of nice plays Wednesday, earning praise from Coughlin. An undrafted free agent from Southern Connecticut State, Cunningham signed with the Giants just two weeks ago, and has a neat back story. More on him on the Giants blog Thursday.
  • Eli Manning did throw one interception Wednesday, and it was to Jay Bromley, of all people. The 6-foot-3, 306-pound rookie defensive end took a pass to the chest and held on, the latest good play by the third-round pick, who's having a good preseason.
  • In the highly competitive position battle at place-kicker, incumbent Josh Brown took a step back Wednesday, missing a long field goal attempt on the last play of practice -- not the kind of taste you want to leave when you're trying to hold off a strong challenge from the very strong-legged Brandon McManus.
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The annual preseason game between the New York Jets and New York Giants may not actually count, but you wouldn't know that for all the verbiage -- and regret -- that comes with it every season.

Jets coach Rex Ryan picked up on Giants running back Andre Williams' comments that the Giants were the "real New York team," and then Ryan shot back at the rookie. The teams square off on Friday night.

[+] EnlargeRex Ryan
AP PhotoCoach Rex Ryan and the Jets say they're fired up for Friday's preseason game against the Giants.
"Last time I saw him he was getting smoked by Clemson," Ryan said Wednesday, referring to an Oct. 12 game between Williams' Boston College Eagles and Clemson, the team Ryan's son Seth plays for. The Tigers won that game 24-14 and held Williams to 70 yards on 24 carries.

"I will say that kid's a good back, though. He is," Ryan said. "I was like, 'Is anybody going to tackle him?' It's great. I have a funny feeling he's going to get some Riddells [helmets] on him, but we'll see. I have a feeling he's going to be pumped up and trust me, our guys are going to be pumped up, too."

Ryan said the back and forth just shows once again that the matchup between the two New York teams means a little more than other preseason games.

"This is the only time you get to play each other," Ryan said, "and I think it amps up a little bit. I really do."

As if to back his coach up, Jets defensive lineman Damon Harrison called out Williams via social media.

"See you Friday Mr. Williams...#JetLifeeeeee," Harrison tweeted.

Now for the regret.

Last year, Ryan put likely starter Mark Sanchez in during the fourth quarter of the Jets-Giants game. The quarterback took a hit from Marvin Austin that resulted in a season-ending shoulder injury.

During his postgame news conference, Ryan got so frustrated by one persistent line of questioning that he turned sideways to answer.

"I got a lot of flak from you guys," Ryan said Wednesday. "Let's face it, they [wanted to] run me out of here. Was that my proudest moment? Probably not. It's kind of funny, I forget who I was sideways with. But you know what? I think I just got a little tired of [the questions]."

The question that got to Ryan that night: Was he ready to name Geno Smith as the starting quarterback, given the injury to Sanchez? Ryan said then he wasn't going to answer.

"Sometimes after games," the coach said Wednesday, "we tell our players to cool off a little bit, but sometimes I need to cool off, too."

Ultimately, the Jets put Sanchez on the reserve/injured list as the one player designated to return. Now he's playing backup for the Eagles, and looking a lot better.

Given an opportunity to redo the news conference, Ryan said he would do it differently.

"There's a lot of things you'd take back in life," he said. "That's probably one of them."

Redskins injury report: Cofield sits

August, 20, 2014
Aug 20
ASHBURN, Va. -- Here's a look at the Washington Redskins' injury list, including two new ones: nose tackle Barry Cofield and cornerback Tracy Porter. The latter was easing back into playing after after having shoulder surgery in the offseason, though he did play against Cleveland. Porter's durability has been an issue throughout his career.
  • Cofield (groin) sat out practice Wednesday. Gruden said Cofield could have practiced, but they opted to hold him out.
  • Running back Chris Thompson (ankle) was limited, as expected. Gruden said he still “has a ways to go.” Thompson hurt his ankle in the Aug. 7 preseason game vs. New England. He was in a good position to win a roster spot before his injury. Here's a story on Thompson from earlier Wednesday.
  • Porter (hamstring) sat out practice and Gruden called him questionable-to-doubtful for Saturday’s game at Baltimore.
  • Linebacker Darryl Sharpton (high ankle sprain) remains sidelined and is doubtful for Saturday.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants' first-string offense has looked terrible thus far in the preseason, but one of its stars sees better things ahead.

In fact, he's seen better things already, in the team's three practices this week.

[+] EnlargeEli Manning
Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY SportsGiants QB Eli Manning has mostly struggled with his passing during the preseason.
"You can see a renewed energy out there on the practice field," wide receiver Victor Cruz said Wednesday. "Everybody’s getting things done at the right pace, everybody has an energy about themselves to know that we've gotta change the current mood that’s around here offensively. We've gotta get things going, we've gotta get on the right track."

The offense did look crisper Wednesday, with quarterback Eli Manning connecting with his receivers more often than he has in many practices thus far.

More telling will be Friday night's game against the New York Jets, in which Giants coach Tom Coughlin plans to play his starters the entire first half, or close to it.

"Based on last week I would hope that there is a significant production and better quality of play from our [first string], certainly," Coughlin said.

He was very unhappy with that unit following the team's game against the Indianapolis Colts last Saturday. Manning completed just 1 of 7 passes for 6 yards, and is 7-for-16 for 49 yards in three preseason games. Cruz has yet to catch a pass in three games.

The coach wants to see more, and "we got the message," said Cruz.

"He has a way of saying it that makes it very loud and very clear," Cruz said, smiling. [But] he didn’t even have to say anything for us to know that we had to play better and we had to perform better."

The slow start is a little less surprising given that the team has a new offensive coordinator, Ben McAdoo, installing a new offense.

That being said, the Giants have played three games now, and the regular-season opener is only 19 days away.

The Jets game will likely be the starters' final extended chance to show what they can do, since coaches typically don't play first-stringers much, if at all, in the final game of the preseason.

Learning a new offense isn't the only challenge the Giants are facing. Rookie wideout Odell Beckham Jr., expected to be a major contributor this season, continues to be sidelined by a hamstring injury. He didn't practice again Wednesday, and has already been ruled out for the Jets game.

Coughlin continues to tinker with his offensive line. Right tackle Justin Pugh played some left tackle again Wednesday, for the second straight day. Geoff Schwartz, the presumed starting left guard, shifted to right tackle at one point, after playing some right guard Tuesday. The starting five, and their alignment, is far from set in stone.

And the Giants currently have six tight ends on the roster with a grand total of six catches in the NFL last season, and none have emerged as a clear-cut starter or likely major contributor to the passing game.

When asked Wednesday if the tight end picture has become any clearer, Coughlin's response was, "Well, they’ve all contributed, so we’ll keep asking them to do that."

But the Giants still have Manning, a two-time Super Bowl MVP, and Cruz, a two-time 1,000-yard receiver. And Cruz says the Giants still believe in themselves despite the lackluster start.

"We definitely have enough confidence in ourselves, knowing that everybody’s gonna be OK," Cruz said. "But from an offensive standpoint, we definitely want to make some plays [Friday], have some success to kind of build on that confidence."

Dez Bryant craves hard coaching

August, 20, 2014
Aug 20
IRVING, Texas -- The contested, leaping, juggling catch on the sideline didn’t count, but it served as yet another example of Dez Bryant's rare physical gifts.

It also served as an example of the 25-year-old Pro Bowl receiver’s room for growth.

Want to guess which the Dallas Cowboys' coaching staff emphasized during film sessions following Saturday night’s preseason game against the Baltimore Ravens.

[+] EnlargeDez Bryant
AP Photo/LM OteroDez Bryant continues to work on his routes as he strives to improve. "I feel like I have a lot of room to grow," he said.
Bryant was spectacular in his two series, catching three passes for 59 yards, including a 31-yard touchdown on a jump ball that he made look easy. But head coach Jason Garrett and receivers coach Derek Dooley gave Bryant an earful about the one opportunity he didn’t seize, a play negated by a holding penalty anyway.

They pointed out to Bryant -- and the rest of the receivers in the room -- that he had to try to make a miraculous catch because he ran a bad route. They showed the film of Bryant releasing too wide on the fade route and allowing the cornerback to push him near the sideline, giving quarterback Tony Romo a tiny window in which to fit the ball.

Bryant soaked up the criticism, truly appreciating the coaches' commitment to pushing him to reach his immense potential.

"If it’s not right, tell me it’s not right because I want to do my best to fix it," Bryant said. "I’ve always been that way. I want to know. I want to know if I’m doing it right or if I’m not. They're doing a great job of telling the guys, just being complete, straight-out honest."

Bryant believes he’s one of the five best receivers in the game and has statistics to back up his claim. He ranks tied for first in touchdown catches (25) and sixth in receiving yards (2,615) over the past two seasons.

But it isn’t hard for Bryant to put his ego in check when he arrives at Valley Ranch each morning. He is determined to find out how much better he can be -- and understands that requires the ability to receive constructive criticism and consistently apply it to his craft.

Bryant craves the kind of hard coaching he needs to help him maximize his unique talent.

"You should never be satisfied. Nobody," Bryant said. "Never get comfortable. That’s when you start falling downhill. Like I said, you’ve got to always have room to grow. I have a lot. I feel like I have a lot of room to grow."

The coaches have identified the finer details of route running as a facet of the game that Bryant can improve significantly. He thinks he’s progressed from average to good as a route runner.

He's willing to work to be great, inviting Dooley’s harsh critiques of his releases, breaks and every other imaginable route-running intricacy.

"He wants to be great," Garrett said. "He’s always been someone who accepts coaching, and he understands it. The film is a great tool. It doesn’t lie, and there’s rarely an instance when you as a coach put something up on the screen and say, 'What do you think? You coach yourself.' These guys know when it’s right and when it’s wrong. It’s our job to point it out to them and highlight the stuff that’s good, and make sure we recognize the stuff that’s not quite so good, either, and how we can make it better.”

"He’s a pro. He wants to be great. He listens to coaching, and he really gets better each and every day."
Justin Durant said he learned soon after arriving in the NFL that versatility equates to a long career.

That approach has earned Durant, who played some strongside linebacker last season, a starting job with the Dallas Cowboys. It'll take another week or so to learn whether he'll be starting at weakside or middle linebacker.

"Wherever they need me is fine," he said. "They're all a little different. Strongside is the unglamorous spot because you're playing the run and battling those tackles and tight ends. Middle linebacker is nice because you're making the calls and you feel like it's your defense. And weakside is fun because you just chase the ball and make plays."

The Cowboys would prefer for Rolando McClain to earn the job at middle linebacker so Durant could play weakside linebacker, which is considered his best position.

He played in just 10 games last season, starting six, after signing a two-year, $1.96 million deal with the Cowboys. He's poised to have a much bigger role this season.

"Wherever they need me is fine," he said. "I just want to be on the field helping us win games."

Chris Thompson returns to practice

August, 20, 2014
Aug 20
ASHBURN, Va. -- Running back Chris Thompson returned to Washington Redskins practice Wednesday, though he anticipated being limited. Still, after spraining his ankle in the first preseason game Aug. 7, Thompson knows he must return soon or fall further behind.

Thompson said he’s feeling “a whole lot better” and is hoping he’ll be able to play at Baltimore on Saturday. The Redskins like Thompson -- even though coach Jay Gruden did not draft him -- and hoped he could play a role in the passing game.

But questions about his durability have shadowed him since his Florida State days thanks to back and knee injuries followed last season by a torn labrum in his shoulder.

His absence has allowed backs such as Silas Redd and Lache Seastrunk more opportunities. It’s uncertain how many backs the Redskins will keep, whether it’s four or five (including fullback Darrel Young).

“It’s very frustrating,” Thompson said of his injury. “Throughout training camp I was doing so good. Everything seemed to be going in the right direction.”
IRVING, Texas -- When the Dallas Cowboys start their regular-season preparation, quarterback Tony Romo is expected to practice each day, according to coach Jason Garrett.

Romo has not practiced three straight days in training camp and sat out of Wednesday's practice as he and the team continue to be careful with his return from back surgery. Romo will practice on Thursday and play in Saturday’s preseason game against the Miami Dolphins.

Garrett said the coaches have not yet divvied up the playing time for the Dolphins' game, but the starters typically play the first half in the third preseason game. Owner and general manager Jerry Jones said he anticipated Romo would play a similar amount to what he did last week against the Baltimore Ravens when he saw action in two series.

The tenor of practices change once the regular season starts. Players are only in pads one day a week, typically Wednesday, and the amount of physical play is less than in training camp.

“Again, that's a couple, three weeks out (but) we do anticipate him being able to handle the load of a work week leading up to the game," Garrett said. “It’s important for him to get reps. At the same time, we’ll listen to what his body is saying and we’ll respond accordingly. He had a good practice (Tuesday) got a lot of good work in and thought it was probably best for him to not be out on the practice field today, just get the mental work in, and hopefully come back and practice tomorrow."
IRVING, Texas – When the preseason ends, Dallas Cowboys cornerback Orlando Scandrick's second training camp will begin.

Scandrick will be banned from using the team’s facilities during his four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy, the result of a positive test for amphetamines from an April night of partying in Mexico, when he used MDMA. The seven-year veteran vows to return in game shape, so he plans to return to his home in Los Angeles and work with the personal trainer he uses during the offseason.

Scandrick said he would go through two-a-day workouts throughout the suspension. He’ll have strength and conditioning sessions each day. He’ll also do defensive back drills and catch tennis balls out of a machine.

“I’m not going to do anything but train and prepare myself to play every day,” Scandrick said. “I’m going to come back ready.”
IRVING, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett is changing up his team’s in-season practice schedule in 2014.

After using the traditional schedule of having the players off on Tuesdays during the regular season, Garrett will have them off on Mondays instead, after conferring with several coaching staffs, including the Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers.

Chip Kelly and Jim Harbaugh brought these schedules with them to the NFL after coaching at Oregon and Stanford.

“It’s different than anything I’ve ever done,” Garrett said. “It’s kind of the college schedule and there are probably a handful of teams who are using it now. Some guys on our staffs have used it on staffs they’ve been on. I’ve just heard some really positive things from a lot of different people about this schedule. I think everybody initially is like, ‘You’re really doing that?’ because it’s different for everybody who’s been in the NFL. But there are so many positives that come from it that people have argued on its behalf. So we just decided to go ahead and do it.”

The noted 24-hour rule will be extended to 36 hours with the players off on Monday. They can continue to come in for a workout but will not be required to show up at Valley Ranch unless they are injured. The coaches will have more time to examine the previous game instead of being rushed and the preparation for the next opponent will begin with a walk-through on Tuesday afternoon.

The idea is that the coaches and players will have a jump on the upcoming opponent by working Tuesday to Saturday instead of getting a day off in between.

“Everyone I’ve talked to, they’ve really liked the rhythm of it,” Garrett said.
PHILADELPHIA -- When the Philadelphia Eagles play the Pittsburgh Steelers Thursday night at Lincoln Financial Field, it will likely be the final significant work for most of the starters on offense and defense. The fourth and final preseason game will be about making final evaluations on the 53-man roster.

But one starter who probably won’t get a lot of work on Thursday is starting inside linebacker DeMeco Ryans. The 30-year-old Ryans is the Eagles' signal-caller on defense. He calls the audibles.

Since being acquired in a trade with Houston in 2012, Ryans has started all 32 games for the Eagles. Last season, he posted double-digit tackles in 11 of 17 games, including in the Eagles' playoff loss to New Orleans in a game where his interception of Drew Brees set up a Philadelphia touchdown. His 177 tackles, four sacks and two interceptions last season were all career highs.

Eagles coach Chip Kelly called Ryans a “tremendous football player (with) tremendous instincts." He called Ryans “the quarterback of our defense.”

Ryans is so valuable to the Eagles' young defense that Kelly does not want to risk him getting injured in a relatively meaningless preseason game.

“I think we feel very, very comfortable in terms of what DeMeco does,” Kelly said. “That’s why he didn’t play a ton in the first preseason game against the Patriots because I think we know what we have in DeMeco, and we need him.

“The big thing is, who else do we have at that position, and that is where that depth at inside linebacker is a key situation that we’ll continue to look at in these last two preseason games.”