NFC East: Brandon Gibson
With Stewart Bradley coming back from a knee injury and Akeem Jordan likely assuming a starting role, Witherspoon became expendable. The former Rams starter helped the Eagles in a pinch and he showed excellent leadership in the locker room.
The numbers have obviously dipped in recent years because of all of the underclassmen coming out, but the Senior Bowl is still an important part of the evaluation process -- especially for the Philadelphia Eagles. Here's the breakdown from 2005-09:
In 2005, the first six players selected by NFC East teams were all on Senior Bowl rosters. In 2009, only three of the first 11 players picked by NFC East teams participated in Senior Bowl week. As we've already stated, this probably has a lot to do with the spike in underclassmen entering the draft. These players are not eligible for the "Senior" Bowl. We're also seeing some of the big-time seniors sit out the Senior Bowl because they feel like there's more to lose than to gain. That's why I admire a player like USC safety Taylor Mays showing up and competing in Mobile, Ala., this week.
For a somewhat unheralded player such as Idaho offensive lineman Mike Iupati, the Senior Bowl can provide a rare opportunity to compete against athletes from larger schools. Iupati has had a breakout week and some draft experts, including our own Todd McShay, think he could go in the first round.
Over the past five seasons, nine of the 17 first-round picks in the NFC East were on the Senior Bowl roster. That list includes DeMarcus Ware, Jason Campbell, Brodrick Bunkley, Mathias Kiwanuka and Anthony Spencer. Over the past few years, the Eagles have been pretty shrewd when it comes to identifying and tracking players who participated in the Senior Bowl:
Here's a great Excel spreadsheet if you're interested in finding out which players from the NFC East have participated in the Senior Bowl over the past five years. In 2009, the Giants selected linebacker Clint Sintim (Virginia) and offensive tackle Will Beatty (Connecticut) in the second round and Ramses Barden (Cal Poly) in the third. All three players participated in the Senior Bowl. And at least two of the players -- Beatty and Sintim -- could be starting in 2010.
LANDOVER, Md. -- It looks like the Eagles made a pretty strong deadline trade for Will Witherspoon Tuesday. They sent wide receiver Brandon Gibson and a fifth-round pick in 2010 to the St. Louis Rams for the 29-year-old Witherspoon. And in his first game with the Eagles, Witherspoon has returned an interception for a touchdown and forced a fumble.
It's been an awful start for Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell and you have to wonder how much longer Jim Zorn will stay with him. On the injury front, Redskins tight end Chris Cooley has left the game with an ankle injury and his return is questionable.
I don't think you'll find anyone in St. Louis who will speak poorly of new Eagles linebacker Will Witherspoon, but the folks who cover the Rams for a living seem generally pleased with Tuesday's trade for wide receiver Brandon Gibson and a fifth-round pick in 2010.
Longtime columnist Bryan Burwell took Tuesday's trade as a sign the Rams weren't giving up on the '09 season despite their 0-6 record. He thinks it will weaken the defense in the short term, but he absolutely thinks that Gibson can help a struggling receiving corps that features the talented Donnie Avery and a bunch of other guys who can't get any separation. Gibson couldn't get on the field for the Eagles because of their depth at the position, but he was quite impressive during training camp. In fact, he was better than first-rounder Jeremy Maclin throughout much of training camp. Of course, that had a lot to do with Maclin's holdout. Here's what Reid told reporters in Philly about Gibson on Tuesday:
"Listen, I normally don't keep that many wide receivers," Reid said, referring to the fact that he kept seven wideouts entering the season. "But I kept him here. So that I think speaks for itself. I think he's going to have a great career in the National Football League, and that doesn't make it an easy situation."
If Gibson goes on to become a nice player in the league, I'm sure Reid will be second-guessed, but it's hard to blame them for going after a pretty solid linebacker in Witherspoon. Here's what St. Louis Post-Dispatch beat writer Jim Thomas had to say about the Eagles' new linebacker:
"He was a popular, high-character player," writes Thomas. "But his play declined last season, and he had a quiet season despite a switch back to his natural weak-side position. He had no interceptions, no sacks, no forced fumbles (or recoveries), no pass breakups and one quarterback pressure."
Not exactly a ringing endorsement -- but it probably beats what the Eagles have been going with. Regarding Gibson, I hate to see the guy go. He was one of the biggest surprises during training camp and I was curious to see if he can turn into something for the Eagles. But it's not like it was going to happen this season. Barring an injury or two (sorry), Gibson wasn't going to see the field much -- if at all.
Sounds like a win-win to me. The good folks (Jimmy Shapiro) at sportsradiointerviews.com provided a link to the interview Witherspoon did with 101 ESPN in St. Louis.
If you were scarred by watching Eagles linebacker Jeremiah Trotter chase Raiders tight ends around the Black Hole on Sunday, I have some good news for you. The Eagles have acquired 29-year-old linebacker Will Witherspoon from the Rams in exchange for wide receiver Brandon Gibson and a fifth-round pick in 2010.
Witherspoon has been a very productive player since joining the Rams in 2006. He was a third-round pick by the Panthers in 2002 and he made 16 tackles in the Super Bowl for Carolina. The Eagles were in desperate need of a linebacker with Omar Gaither suffering from a foot injury and Trotter trying to get up to speed after being out of the league for two years.
Witherspoon injured his back and hip in Sunday's game, so I'm not sure what his status will be for Monday's game against the Eagles. But if he's anywhere close to healthy, the Eagles need him immediately. Why did the Rams give up a pretty good player for Gibson and a fifth-round pick? Well, obviously they were probably going to release him at the end of the season. Former Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo is in the process of changing that locker room in St. Louis.
Good move by the Eagles.
Biggest surprise: I guess putting quarterback Michael Vick on the commissioner's special exemption list might qualify, but it might only be for a day or two. The Eagles kept A.J. Feeley on the 53-man roster, probably so they can keep trying to trade him. As long as Vick's on that exemption list, he can't practice with the Eagles. But they can take him off the list at any time. The Eagles are known for cutting ties with former draft picks rather quickly if they don't see steady progress. They've done that with cornerback Jack Ikegwuonu and defensive end Bryan Smith. Tom Heckert hinted that the Eagles might try to bring at least one of those players back on the practice squad.
I noticed that some folks had fullback Kyle Eckel and defensive tackle Dan Klecko projected to make the team. Eckel didn't help himself by whiffing on a blitz pickup in the final preseason game and Klecko was one of the reasons a Jets rookie running back ran wild. Biggest surprise may have been the fact that Reggie Brown and Hank Baskett both made the 53-man roster. The Eagles have seven wide receivers right now. But something could certainly change on that front. They're in the same boat as the Giants at wide receiver. I think the Eagles might downsize at receiver if they can find a third tight end they like.
No-brainers: There was no way to keep rookie Brandon Gibson and veteran defensive end Jason Babin off this team. Babin, a former first-round draft pick, performed so well that he received a restructured contract and Gibson simply made plays throughout camp. He outperformed first-round pick Jeremy Maclin. I think Danny Amendola is a fun player to watch, but he's NOT Wes Welker. He's not anywhere close to Welker, but he may be good enough to make the Eagles' practice squad. I think he could be a decent punt returner. Can't hold up as a receiver. The drop in the end zone against the Jets didn't help.
What's next? Well, we have to see how this quarterback situation plays out. I don't think a team's going to give up anything significant for Feeley at this point in his career. It wouldn't surprise me if Vick's back with the team by Wednesday. He's making too much progress right now to suddenly take him out of the locker room.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
|Jim McIsaac/Getty Images|
|Michael Vick ran for a 2-yard touchdown, but was sacked four times Thursday night.|
I know it's hard for many of you to accept this, but the Eagles' preseason has come to a close. In what may have been the most entertaining preseason finale of the evening, the Jets beat the Eagles, 38-27. Michael Vick had several snaps in the first half and then he took over full-time for most of the second half.
He was 7-of-11 for 26 yards and an interception. He also ran for his first touchdown as an Eagle. Vick looked pretty explosive on several running plays, but he got in trouble in the second half when he raced around and was sacked for a 22-yard loss. He fumbled on the play, but he made the recovery. He's still rusty, but he doesn't look that much different than the player we saw in Atlanta in 2006. He's definitely going to be a weapon for the Eagles.
How did you guys think Kevin Kolb looked? I thought he looked solid at times, especially when he threaded the needle on a touchdown pass to former Cowboys tight end Tony Curtis. Excellent throw. I think the Eagles may have been showcasing Kolb tonight in case a team's interested in trading for him.
Here are some things that caught my eye regarding Vick's evening:
- I think Vick looks pretty comfortable on those little swing passes and wide receiver screens. He and Brandon Gibson have already developed a nice chemistry. Unfortunately, running back Lorenzo Booker has a difficult time winning one-on-one matchups with safeties in the open field. Vick does a good job of getting the ball to Booker in spots where he doesn't have to slow down.
- On a third-and-8 early in the second half, Vick tried to hit Danny Amendola on a deep ball down the left sideline. It's not like Amendola's a big target, but Vick could've done a better job of disguising where he was going with the ball. It's obvious he hasn't lost any arm strength, but he hung the ball up too long, allowing the Jets safety to race over and make a play on the ball. Vick had the one interception in the first half. He was trying to make a play. I can live with that in his first extended action since Jan. '06.
- On the 22-yard loss, Vick simply tried to do too much. He's still one of the most exciting players in the league to watch, but when you've raced around for 25 yards or so, you have to throw the ball away. Vick took a huge loss on the play, and the Jets ended up with great field position after a nice punt return. One of the announcers said, "The electricity of Michael Vick can come back to haunt him." I don't know about that, but it wasn't a good play. The other huge mental mistake he made came in the second half when he took a delay of game down near the goal line. He simply didn't have good awareness on the play, but Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg need to help him there. Why do the Eagles have so much trouble getting into plays in the red zone? Feel free to answer.
- On a third-and-6 in the third quarter, Vick drove the ball to Amendola on an underneath route. Vick's getting a lot of zip on his short passes, and that's allowing the receivers to quickly get upfield. Late in the first half, Vick rolled left and lofted a pass to Gibson in the end zone. It was almost a great play, but Gibson couldn't get his feet down. The ball seemed to float a little bit on Vick, but it was still an athletic play.
- On his touchdown run, Vick faked the handoff and simply raced up the middle. Even on a short play like that, you can tell how much pressure he puts on a defense. I think he's going to be highly effective inside the 10-yard line, where the Eagles have really struggled. We'll see how Donovan McNabb reacts when he's replaced by Vick inside the 10-yard line.
- Early in the fourth quarter, Vick didn't see anything and he took off running. He ended up with 16 yards and he froze at least one defensive back. I just keep thinking about how much time opposing defensive coordinators are going to spend getting ready for Vick. And that will take time away from preparation for the Eagles' base offense.
- I'm not sure who missed the Jets' MarquesMurrell when he blitzed off the end. No one had a clue he was coming. He nailed Vick and caused a fumble. Vick has to do a better job protecting the ball, but he really didn't have much of a shot on that play.
- If not for that big sack, Vick would've ended up with more than 50 yards rushing. Even after the two-year layoff, he's once again the best running quarterback in the league.
- Vick took some punishment in Thursday's game. Fullback Kyle Eckel completely whiffed on one play, allowing Vick to get sacked in the fourth quarter. Eckel has to be better than that. It was a delayed blitz and he just didn't see the linebacker coming. The good news is that Vick took that hit and another hard one from a safety, and he jumped up pretty quickly after both of them. He needs to be more decisive when he's in the pocket. He took a couple hits that weren't really necessary.
- All in all, I was pretty impressed with Vick. The decision making will get better. The athleticism is already there. If used properly, Vick is going to make some big plays this season. Will there be a quarterback controversy at some point? I would never bet against it.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
Now that we finally know when Michael Vick will make his regular-season debut, let's focus on what we're going to see tonight. I'll be watching every play and then I'll file a report after the preseason game against the Jets. Here's what I'm looking for:
- In the first half, I'm interested to see if the Eagles will have Vick throw more from the Wildcat formation. The shovel passes are pretty vanilla. I'm ready to see him sprint toward the line of scrimmage and then backpedal before delivering a deep ball to Brandon Gibson. I used to watch J.J. Joe burn defenses with that play in the SWC, and I'm ready to see Vick try to do that in the NFL.
- We're going to get a good look at what type of shape Vick's in tonight. He'll probably play most of the second half, and I think we'll see him hit a wall at some point. There's no way you can prepare for playing an entire half in practice.
- Vick was upset with himself for making the wrong read on a play early in last Thursday's game. I'll be focusing on his decision-making throughout the game. It will also be interesting to see how Kevin Kolb performs in a rare starting opportunity. Could the Eagles try to trade Kolb instead of A.J. Feeley? I'm starting to hear folks in Philly lean toward that scenario.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
Bob Brookover, Eagles beat writer for the Inquirer, took a stab at nailing the final 53-man roster for the club. Brookover's been known to hit this thing out of the park, so keep his list handy for Saturday afternoon. And speaking of Saturday, we'll be providing full cut-down day coverage on the Beast and several of our affiliate blogs.
I'd take Eldra Buckley over Kyle Eckel at the running back/fullback spot, but Brookover disagrees with me. If Reggie Brown's not traded, Brookover thinks the Eagles will come up with a fake injury and put Brandon Gibson on the IR. I don't see that happening. Gibson could actually make a contribution this season. And with Kevin Curtis' history of injuries, I'd keep Gibson around.
Brooky has Bryan Smith getting cut. I don't think the Eagles are going to do that. Jason Babin's had his moments this preseason, but I'm not convinced he'll be on that final roster. So does Jack Ikegwuonu make the team? That will be interesting to watch. The guy was a fourth-round pick and the Eagles would like to see where he's headed. We'll have to say goodbye to Dimitri Patterson if that happens -- and that's too bad.
What can the Eagles get for A.J. Feeley? Well, we're about to find out.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
In addition to offering his thoughts on the WildVick formation Monday, Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb endorsed rookie wide receiver Jeremy Maclin as a potential starter. Asked whether Maclin was ready to start, here's what the quarterback had to say:
"I think he can," McNabb said of Maclin. "In the preseason games, you’re not going to feature different guys. You want to spread the ball around, get everybody an opportunity. We’ve seen a lot from our receivers. We’ve seen Maclin catch balls and break tackles and get up field and pick up yards. We’ve seen DeSean (Jackson) do it. We’ve seen Brandon Gibson do it. We’ve seen Hank Baskett, Jason Avant, all of our guys. And I think that when you throw guys into a certain situation in this offense, you're not asking them to be the guy. We spread the ball around so much that everybody gets involved. And I think if Maclin was asked to do that, I think that he would be able to do that. You got to remember that Kevin Curtis is coming back and he’s doing well. Reggie Brown is still going to be able to help us and the rest of the guys as well so it’s just important that we continue to stay consistent with what we’re doing."
I have a hard time seeing Reggie Brown making this team. Gibson, the sixth-round pick, has been too impressive -- and he comes at a cheaper rate. The Eagles will have to take a salary cap hit on Brown, but that shouldn't be a big problem.
In other news, I wanted to give you the full context of McNabb's quote from earlier today when he seemed to be somewhat critical of Andy Reid for interrupting the flow of last Thursday's preseason game by "forcing" some Wildcat formation plays in the first half.
"The game of football it’s about, I always believe that before you can come up with gimmicks or come up with something else, you’ve got to get your base offense going. I think in game three of the preseason, that’s something that teams take very important because that’s really the last time that the ones get an opportunity to kick off the rust and ready for the regular season. There a lot of instances that it seemed like we were forcing a lot of different things just to say that we ran it, instead of just running our offense and running how things may go as far as during the year or if we decide to do it. I thought our offense continued to get things going as the game continued on and we got that rhythm that we wanted.”
To me, that's sort of McNabb's passive aggressive way of saying the Eagles overdid it with Vick on Thursday. Thoughts? Comments? Questions?
|Chris Gardner/US Presswire|
|Rampant injuries are threatening the continuity Eagles coach Andy Reid prefers at training camp.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- Despite the serenity and cool air (except for Monday) found in Lehigh Valley, the Eagles can't get out of here fast enough. In addition to dealing with the loss of beloved defensive coordinator Jim Johnson to cancer, the Eagles have seen players carted off the field with injuries at a daily clip.
Celek was particularly concerned to see his training-camp roommate and close friend, Stewart Bradley, suffer a season-ending knee injury during an intra-squad scrimmage at the Linc. But head coach Andy Reid scoffs when asked if he's ever experienced anything like this. In his mind, the injuries are part of football and they've created opportunities for other players.
"I don't get caught up in all that stuff," Reid said. "You're sad for the person who goes through it, but on the other hand, you have to expect these things. Let's go play football."
Most pundits, including this one, have the Eagles as a top-five team in the league. But I'll admit the lack of continuity along the offensive line has me re-thinking my position. Continuity is one of Reid's favorite words, and right now his starting right tackle, Shawn Andrews, might not be ready for the start of the regular season.
|Chris Gardner-US PRESSWIRE|
|Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson has been unstoppable at training camp.|
Maclin is still playing catch-up after his contract holdout, but he's supremely gifted and confident. He bristled at the suggestion that he might not earn a starting job immediately.
"I didn't come here to sit on the bench," Maclin said. "I'm going to make sure I do everything possible to be on the field."
Maclin's trying to learn the nuances of the West Coast offense on the fly, but he's an extremely intelligent player who should catch on quickly. Right now, though, it's Jackson who's drawing the most attention in camp. He's so quick off the line that no one can get a jam on him. That's where Maclin has room for improvement. He wasn't seeing jams at the line of scrimmage against Iowa State or Kansas State in the Big 12 North. He'll have to get stronger and become more aggressive.
Can the Eagles overcome all the injuries from training camp?
Losing your starting middle linebacker (Bradley) and talented rookie tight end Cornelius Ingram isn't a good way to begin the season, but one of Jim Johnson's greatest strengths was preparing young players for moments exactly like this. Joe Mays, a second-year player from North Dakota State, probably will play middle linebacker on first and second down. He'll get help from former starter Omar Gaither on passing downs. Mays, a sixth-round draft pick, is short (5-foot-11), but he brings a lot of power to the point of attack. I don't know how he'll hold up in regular-season games, but he's consistently making plays in camp.
Perhaps the bigger concern right now is Shawn Andrews' back injury. He missed training camp last season while battling depression and then promptly injured his back. Some have questioned Andrews' passion for the game, but the Eagles have insisted that he really is hurt. If he can't go, Eagles fans can get reacquainted with former first-round pick Winston Justice at right tackle.
Westbrook has started to increase his workloa
d on the side and he should be ready to go late in the preseason. At this point, it's not as if he needs a ton of carries in the preseason. I visited with McCoy on Monday until Jackson ordered him to go sign autographs. The second-round pick has looked comfortable in the Eagles' offense from Day 1 of camp. He's an instinctive runner who's already adept at setting up his blockers. I think Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg are looking to get McCoy the ball in a variety of ways. Early in camp, he got behind the secondary for a 35-yard touchdown. He caught a lot of balls at Pittsburgh and his soft hands will give the Eagles another option. I think they want McCoy to touch the ball at least 10-12 times per game -- right from the start.
Who will win position battles at safety and cornerback?
I've been very impressed with veteran cornerback Sheldon Brown's approach to this camp following an offseason of complaints about his contract. He went high to break up a pass in team drills Monday and he's working hard to hold off former Patriots starter Ellis Hobbs. I think coaches will let those players battle throughout the preseason, but Brown's getting the majority of the reps with the first team. Hobbs is learning the Eagles' defense on the fly, so he's not as aggressive right now as he's used to being. But coaches like the fact that Hobbs has a chip on his shoulder after being traded from New England. And with all the injuries, the Eagles need to create as much depth as possible.
At safety, Quintin Demps is getting most of the first-team reps. Sean Jones, signed as a free agent from Cleveland, has been solid, though. Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott hasn't handed the starting job to either player, and that has made for some good competition.
It will be interesting to see how many receivers the Eagles keep on the roster. They have some depth and youth at the position, which leaves players such as Reggie Brown and Hank Baskett on the bubble. It's not helping Brown and Baskett's cause that a rookie from Washington State named Brandon Gibson is having a strong camp. You have to believe that Jackson, Curtis, Maclin and Avant are locks. If the Eagles only keep five receivers, there's a chance they go with a kid like Gibson. Former Texas Tech Red Raider Danny Amendola is a Wes Welker starter kit, but he looks more like practice-squad material to me. At linebacker, keep your eye on Moise Fokou, a seventh-round pick from Maryland. He's making plays all over the field, but we'll see if he can take it into the preseason games.
|Chris Gardner-US PRESSWIRE|
|All eyes are on Eagles first-round pick Jeremy Maclin.|
I'll have my eye on Maclin pretty closely in the preseason. I think he's going to struggle getting off the line at first. And his route running will be something to watch. He's a fluid player who doesn't mind going across the middle, but right now, you can tell that he's still thinking too much. He might be one of those players who sort of comes alive in the preseason. That was certainly the case with Jackson last season.
There's a second-year running back named Eldra Buckley from Tennessee-Chattanooga who could be a good change-of-pace back. I don't think Lorenzo Booker is long for this team despite what anyone tells you. He dropped a pass in Monday's practice and the coaches don't trust him to pick up blitzes. He has been around too long for that to still be an issue. ... I think Celek's on his way to becoming a big-time player. Very humble guy, but he showed up when the stakes were high last December and January. He also has been studying tape of Jason Witten to learn some pointers. I like that Celek takes a lot of pride in blocking too. The NFC East is absolutely stacked at tight end. ... One of the reasons Reid isn't panicking about the offensive line situation is that he has a lot of faith in backups such as Nick Cole and Max Jean-Gilles. The Eagles have done a pretty good job of creating depth along the offensive line and you can bet they're not going to sit around waiting for Shawn Andrews to show up. ... If offensive tackle King Dunlap ever realizes what sort of physical tools he's been given, he could be a good player. Not sure he's there yet. ... The signing of left tackle Jason Peters jump-started the Eagles' offseason. I watched him stone defensive ends on consecutive plays Monday. He's a pretty impressive-looking player. He still has the footwork of a tight end, his position at Arkansas, but he can engulf defenders with his power. I think he'll be the best left tackle in the division -- and he better be for that money. ... McNabb still appears to be having fun in camp. On Monday, he took off running when he couldn't find a receiver. Instead of stepping out of bounds, he tight-roped down the sideline, much to the delight of Eagles fans. ... I've heard good things about Latrobe, but I can't imagine a better setting than this one. Gorgeous green meadows in every direction and great access for fans. It's a shame the Eagles are breaking camp so early (Wednesday), although you won't hear any complaints from them.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
The Eagles aren't wasting any time signing their draft picks. On Saturday, the club announced that cornerback Macho Harris (fifth round), offensive tackle Fenuki Tupou (fifth) and wide receiver Brandon Gibson (sixth) had agreed to terms on four-year contracts.
Harris had 15 interceptions at Virginia Tech and he's also capable of returning kicks. Tupou was a two-time All-Pac 10 performer at Oregon and Gibson is Washington State's all-time leading receiver. Here's the story from the team Web site.