NFC East: Brian Dawkins

Nate Allen not looking for handouts

March, 18, 2014
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From the time he arrived, Nate Allen felt the pressure. He's no longer the answer for the Eagles' safety position, but he still hopes to be part of the solution. The Eagles might not be counting on it, but they clearly haven't given up on him either, having re-signed him to a one-year deal.

Ponder
Allen
Allen started every game last season, but he could be challenged this year by second-year Earl Wolff. Or, perhaps, the Eagles could draft a safety though they don't have to do so now. But Allen is used to the pressure, having felt it when he arrived in 2010.

Meanwhile, the Eagles hope that this offseason they've finally started to solve a position that has vexed them ever since Brian Dawkins departed in 2009.

"That pressure, that was there, right when I came in. Everybody was saying, 'You've got big shoes to fill,' [meaning] Brian Dawkins. But like I've said from Day 1, I'm not B-Dawk. He's a future Hall of Famer," Allen told Philadelphia reporters during a break from working out at NovaCare. "I'm going to be Nate and play my game and not put any more added pressure on myself, and just go out and play football."

Allen said he wasn't worried about the free-agent process and compared it to draft day. He said he had expressed his feelings about wanting to return and then he let the market develop. There wasn't a strong demand for him elsewhere, so he opted for the one-year deal with the Eagles, for whom he has started 54 of 59 games he's played since joining the team.

"I'm just going to try to get better this year and improve, whatever I can do to help the team win,” Allen said. “I wouldn't want anything just handed to me. I'm a pretty simple dude, so any amount of money I get is good for me. A lot of times, it's not even about money. I'm just happy to be back here, in a system I'm comfortable in. I've been in Philly for four years. It's all a blessing.

“I just kind of stepped back and let everything fall into place. Knew that at the end of the day, if it was meant for me to be here, I'd be back."
New Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Cary Williams is upset because of the way the Patriots teased and bullied the Eagles' defense during joint practices last week. Williams came from Baltimore as a free agent this offseason, and he insists that such a thing would not have taken place were the Patriots jointly practicing with the Ravens:
"At the end of the day, I've still got to do things the way the coach wants me to do it, and I understand that, but it definitely would have been a different situation in Baltimore. It wouldn't have been a fun practice for the Patriots, I'll tell you that," he said.

...

"I feel like we've got to establish a toughness, a tenacity, a hard-nosed defense, something that's to be feared when it comes out there each and every week. I think [former Eagle] Brian Dawkins alluded to it a couple of times when I spoke to him, he's talking about 'bring that fear back here.' Right now, I don't know if there's anybody out there in the league who fears this defense, especially after last week," he said, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

We talked about this Monday on "NFL Insiders," and I mean, fair enough. But Williams arrived in Baltimore in 2009, nearly a decade after the Ravens' first Super Bowl title and with the culture there firmly established around a dominating defense. The Ravens' defense had some roots down, and had spent a large chunk of time establishing itself as a group with which no one would mess.

To expect the same of the Eagles in August of 2013 is folly. Head coach Chip Kelly has been there for seven months and has never coached in the NFL before. Defensive coordinator Bill Davis has been there for six months, and his assistant-coach resume doesn't exactly read like those of former Ravens defensive coordinators Marvin Lewis and Rex Ryan. Williams himself has been an Eagle for less than five months. He's one of at least four new starters on defense, and many of the holdovers are learning new positions.

Right now, the Eagles' defensive players are consumed with learning the myriad things they have to learn about Kelly and Davis' new defensive concepts. Until they learn them, they can't execute them with consistent confidence. And until they can do that, it's going to be awfully hard to project Ravenesque meanness. The Patriots surely know that and played into it, but that's life. The Eagles were being hazed. Everything is new in Philadelphia, much of it still feels uncomfortable, and as long as other teams know that they will do what they can to take advantage of it.

The Eagles are rebuilding, and while I know that's a dirty word in the NFL, sometimes it's true. This is a team that won four games last year and made a ton of significant changes. Of course they could contend this year. Stranger things have undoubtedly happened. But the likelihood is that the Chip Kelly Eagles will need a lot more time to get from where they were in January -- and even where they are now -- to where Kelly ultimately plans and hopes to take them. Williams is expressing the frustration that comes along with being involved in something that's new and not yet established. Coming from Baltimore, he's not used to that. This probably won't be the last time he or someone else in that locker room is frustrated.
» NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Welcome to Eight in the Box, an NFL Nation feature that will appear each Friday during the offseason. This week's topic: Who should be the primary target (including trades) for each team when free agency begins?

Dallas Cowboys: Louis Vasquez, G, Chargers. Cap-space problems likely price the Cowboys out of the top offensive line names available, but the line is their most desperate need and Vasquez is much more than a fallback option. Pro Football Focus ranked him as the eighth-best right guard in the league last year -- better than either of the midrange free-agent guards the Cowboys signed last year -- and he doesn't turn 26 for another month. He's the kind of free agent in whom it makes sense to invest -- a guy who's proven he can play in the league but is still hungry to prove more and young enough that they'd have him in his prime. I do still believe the Cowboys need to address the offensive line in the draft, but there's nothing wrong with a smart upgrade like this in the meantime to augment that plan.

New York Giants: Dannell Ellerbe, LB, Ravens. Yes, the Super Bowl champs will try to keep him. No, the Giants don't prioritize the linebacker position. If you're asking me if this is a player the Giants will sign, I'd have to say no. But what we're asking today is which player they should sign, and Ellerbe is a perfect fit. He's only 27 and has leadership experience and a championship ring earned while filling in for Ray Lewis this past year. The Giants' defense has drifted in and out too much the past few years in terms of focus and intensity, and Ellerbe would help with that from a position at which the Giants always seem to have a need.

Philadelphia Eagles: Kenny Phillips, S, Giants. So much uncertainty in the secondary, where the Eagles could be looking for four new starters. Phillips is as versatile a safety as there is on the market and would allow them to go in any number of directions with their cornerbacks or their other safety. He can cover. He can move up in the box and play the run. He's got Super Bowl experience. And if you're the Eagles or an Eagles fan, wouldn't it be fun to sign him away from the Giants and play him against them twice a year? Phillips has had some knee problems, which is his only red flag. If he checks out medically, then as a player who doesn't turn 27 until November he's a big-time answer for the Eagles at a position that has been driving them crazy since they let Brian Dawkins leave.

Washington Redskins: Ryan Harris, OT, Texans. Cap constraints will prevent the Redskins from dreaming big free-agent dreams, and I am fully aware that their greatest need is on defense in the secondary. But they need a right tackle as well, and Harris and Mike Shanahan know each other well from their days together in Denver in 2007 and 2008. Harris turns 28 on Monday and has zone-blocking, run-game experience. Best of all, he's not likely to cost much. If Shanahan liked Harris early in his career and still sees something, Harris could be an easy answer at an important position and allow the Texans to commit greater resources to the secondary and other needs.

B-Dawk picks the Cowboys

December, 18, 2012
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Former Philadelphia Eagles great Brian Dawkins, who now does NFL analyst work for us at ESPN, was asked on "SportsCenter" Tuesday morning to predict which of the three teams currently tied for first place will win the NFC East. The former Eagle couldn't pick his own team, which is 4-10 and not in the tie. So he says he's leaning toward the Dallas Cowboys because of something they're doing that they don't normally do.

"Usually, when they have those tight games, they find a way to lose those games," Dawkins said. "But for whatever reason, they're finding ways to win ballgames as of late."

He's right about that. The Cowboys are playing against their reputation -- tough and clutch when they need to be. Obviously, though, this is not an easy call, as they're tied with one team that's won five games in a row and another that won the most recent Super Bowl. I have no idea what's going to happen, but I think what I'll do is a three-part series of posts making the case for each of the NFC East's first-place teams -- the Cowboys, the Washington Redskins and the New York Giants -- and why their fans should feel optimistic about their team's chances. What do you guys think? That sound like a good idea?

Halftime thoughts: Whaddaya know? No TOs

September, 30, 2012
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PHILADELPHIA -- Not exactly an action-packed first half here Sunday night between the New York Giants and the Philadelphia Eagles, but one thing has clearly stood out. Through 30 minutes of play, the Eagles have not turned the ball over. And guess what? They're winning. Weird, the way that works.

The game has been a defensive struggle, with the Giants sending all kinds of pressure after Eagles quarterback Michael Vick and limiting his opportunities downfield while on the flip side the Eagles have covered the Giants' receivers well. But things loosened up a bit in the final minutes of the half. The Eagles shored up their protection a bit and marched down the field for a touchdown drive capped off by a 19-yard pass from Vick to DeSean Jackson. And then Giants quarterback Eli Manning looked as though he was putting together one of his patented two-minute drives in response, but Eagles backup cornerback Brandon Hughes broke up a pass in the end zone intended for Domenik Hixon, and the Giants had to settle for a Lawrence Tynes field goal.

So the Eagles lead 7-3, and as they honor all-time great Brian Dawkins here at halftime, they can feel pretty good about the way things have gone. As much pressure as Vick has faced, after turning the ball over nine times in his first three games this season he has managed to protect it well tonight. If the Eagles can continue to handle the Giants' pressure responsibly, and if the protection schemes continue to improve as they did in the final minutes of the half, they should be able to get some shots downfield. Giants safety Kenny Phillips left the game with a knee sprain, and fellow safety Antrel Rolle is playing in spite of the knee injury he suffered in the Carolina game a week and a half ago. Eagles wide receiver Jeremy Maclin has yet to catch a pass, and running back LeSean McCoy has only two rushing yards on six carries. So there is some potential offense still to come for Philadelphia if it can make some adjustments.

The Giants don't seem to have an inclination to get their run game going, and Manning has been firing the ball downfield all night. With starting wide receiver Hakeem Nicks out, he seems to be favoring Hixon. And with Eagles cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha out with an eye injury, Manning should see more chances in the second half. But the Eagles have been covering well with Hughes, Brandon Boykin and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and they've put enough pressure on Manning to keep him from getting into a rhythm (at least until that final drive). If Philadelphia can continue to manage the offense the way it did on the touchdown drive -- and if it can avoid the turnovers that have plagued its offense all year until tonight -- the defense is playing well enough to win them the Eagles the game against Manning & Co. Those are big "if"s, but who knows? Maybe this Dawkins stuff is legit, and he's got them fired up.
Friday links, in alphabetical order by the team's 2012 training camp site.

New York Giants (Albany, N.Y.)

This is the story of a six-year-old fan who sent Brandon Jacobs $3.36 from his piggy bank in an effort to convince him to return to the Giants. And yeah, sorry, but sometimes I do wonder what it says about pro sports that the parts of it that makes no sense to kids are the parts we no longer even question.

The Giants go to the White House today, and ESPN3 will be streaming their visit live at 2:30 p.m. If you would like to watch it, this is the link. If you're looking to kill time until then, I'd suggest finding the full-length mashup of President Obama singing "Call Me Maybe."

Washington Redskins (Ashburn, Va.)

Wide receiver Leonard Hankerson and cornerback Josh Wilson will both be limited until training camp. Hankerson's coming back from last year's hip injury, and Wilson apparently has a thigh injury. Wilson is also referred to as a safety in that story, which makes me wonder if I missed something or if that's just a slip-up. Which is fine, obviously. We all slip up. I haven't heard anything to indicate a move of Wilson to safety, so don't sweat that one.

Chris Cooley says Robert Griffin III is "consistently getting better" as he learns the offense and moves through offseason workouts, and the reviews on the rookie quarterback continue to be nothing but glittering.

Philadelphia Eagles (Bethlehem, Pa.)

Outgoing Eagles team president Joe Banner mentioned the team's parting with Brian Dawkins among his regrets, and Dawkins had some stuff to say about the matter from his end, too, indicating his belief that parting with Banner and changing some things about the way they negotiate deals could be a good thing for the Eagles.

And I really thought Les Bowen's take on the whole thing was a thoughtful one -- the idea that perhaps the perception of the Eagles as filtered through Banner was starting to bug owner Jeffrey Lurie as much as anything else was. Regardless, interesting day at NovaCare, and we wait to discern what the ultimate implications of it all will be.

Dallas Cowboys (Irving, Texas, and Oxnard, Calif.)

Jean-Jacques Taylor is OK with Bruce Carter not having contributed anything last season, since he wasn't expected to. But he says that if the Cowboys are going to do anything this year, Carter's going to need to be a big part of it. I guess I'll agree that it would help if Carter made big strides and became a starter-caliber guy this year, but it still looks to me as though the Cowboys' plan is not to rush him.

Mackenzy Bernadeau says he's hoping to recover from his hip surgery in time for training camp, which would be nice for the Cowboys, especially if they want to find out if he can play center. Which is something I'd want to find out if I were them.

Breakfast links: Two more days

April, 24, 2012
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Good morning. It's Tuesday. The draft is the day after tomorrow. Let's link.

Dallas Cowboys

I thought about cornerback Stephon Gilmore with the No. 14 pick in Monday's ESPN blogger mock draft, but as you know I went with defensive lineman Michael Brockers instead. I don't think Dallas would be wrong to pick a corner if that's who they believed was the best defensive player available at 14, and here's a look at some possibilities.

I know how much you guys love it when I link to Tony Romo golf stories, so here you go! He's playing quite well, it appears.

New York Giants

It's been about two and a half years since Marvin Austin played in a football game in which result counted in the standings. He knows this, and is eager to end that drought. The Giants' second-round pick in 2011, Austin would be a big help to the middle of that defensive line if he could get healthy.

Be honest: When you heard the story about the New Jersey State Police officers and the high-speed race down the Garden State Parkway, a little part of you -- maybe not even one you could hear -- wondered whether Brandon Jacobs might have been involved somehow. Yeah. There's a report that he was. Wait. That makes this a 49ers link, right? Where's Sando? Ah, slow day. Which March 30 on the Parkway apparently was not.

Philadelphia Eagles

Rich Hofmann says that the numbers don't do Brian Dawkins' Eagles career justice -- that you had to be there to understand what he meant to the team and to the fan base. Dawkins retired Monday, in case you missed it, and the Eagles are honoring him Sept. 30.

Despite Howie Roseman's new best-player-available pledge, Jeff McLane believes we'll learn what the Eagles think about their young secondary players by whether the team picks any new ones in the first three rounds of the draft Thursday and Friday.

Washington Redskins

We all believe the Redskins' draft focus this year will be on offense -- starting, of course, with quarterback in the first round and continuing with offensive linemen when they can start picking again in the third and fourth. But if they do draft defensive players, Mike Jones writes, expect them to be cornerbacks and safeties. They have quantity, but they still need what Jim Haslett calls "stability" in the secondary.

Burgundy Blog has a nice interview with second-year Redskins receiver Niles Paul, who discusses a few things, including why he thinks the coaches have asked him to work at tight end this offseason and whether he thinks he can make that switch.

Former Philadelphia Eagles safety Brian Dawkins, who spent the final three years of his career with the Broncos much to the chagrin of Eagles fans, has announced his retirement from the NFL. Since the news is not a surprise, the accolades began to pour in instantly. Rich Hofmann writes that the next stop for Dawkins is the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. Jeff McLane writes that the Eagles have issued an invitation for Dawkins to come back to Philadelphia and officially retire as an Eagle. Ashley Fox, who was a columnist at the Philadelphia Inquirer before she was our NFL columnist, recalls that newspaper ranking Dawkins the fifth-greatest Eagle of all time when it did an issue some years back on the 75th anniversary of the team.

Davis
"He was the perfect match of personality with the fan base," Ashley said this morning when I called her looking for help on a Dawkins retirement post. "Because he cared as much as they did. He gave it all up on game day and became this hard-hitting enforcer even though that really wasn't his personality off the field."

Eagles fans, players and coaches loved Dawkins. One of the most popular questions I got from Eagles fans over the past year was whether they'd ever consider bringing him back. In spite of drafting safeties in the second round of each of the last two drafts, the Eagles have not been able to fill the on-field and off-field voids left by Dawkins when he was allowed to leave via free agency following the 2008 season.

Players who are parts of championship teams tend to be the players who are universally loved forever by that team's fans. Rare is the player who makes that kind of indelible mark without the aid of a championship ring. Don Mattingly with the Yankees springs to mind, adored by fans for whom he was the one shining light in a rare down era. Maybe Dan Marino with the Dolphins, for his sheer excellence. Dawkins is such a player in Philadelphia. I imagine the ovation for him whenever he shows up at an Eagles game will be deafening. He made his mark in Philadelphia, which has missed him for three years and seemingly always will.
All right, fair is fair, and there's been so much Giants stuff on here the past two days it feels like the first week of February again. So here's a little something on the Philadelphia Eagles' portion of Todd McShay's latest mock draft -- the one that puts forth a number of different scenarios for each team rather than just assigning one player. Todd has four scenarios for the Eagles, who have the No. 15 pick in the first round. So without further ado ...

The first scenario is Iowa tackle Riley Reiff, should he fall that far, but Todd believes he will not, and has him gone to Buffalo at No. 10. If he were there at 15, he'd probably represent too much value for the Eagles to pass up, given the unsettled nature of their offensive line with Jason Peters injured and newly signed Demetress Bell a question mark.

Scenario No. 2 is Alabama safety Mark Barron, since as Todd puts it, "the Eagles have lacked a do-everything, physical presence at safety since Brian Dawkins left town." You can't go wrong in Philly invoking the name of B-Dawk.

Scenario No. 3 is "find a way to get a defensive tackle," but that's complex at this point, since he has Fletcher Cox and Dontari Poe already off the board in his projections. Should one of them be available, getting a defensive tackle would be as simple as picking one of the top two. But if Michael Brockers is the best remaining DT on the board, Todd says the Eagles are better off addressing another need or trading back and taking someone like Jerel Worthy later in the round.

And finally, the fourth scenario Todd lays out is the Eagles taking Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly if he falls to No. 15. This is still the best possible scenario for the Eagles, I think, though Kuechly looks as though he'll go much earlier. Jeff Chadiha has a story on Kuechly, if you're interested in reading about him just in case.

That's it for Todd's scenario mock. I'm not doing one of these for the Redskins. Everybody knows their scenarios.
The Philadelphia Eagles announced Tuesday that they plan to induct former cornerback Eric Allen and their longtime defensive coordinator, the late Jim Johnson, into their Honor Roll during a ceremony at halftime of Sunday night's game against the Dallas Cowboys. Allen and Vick Johnson, Jim's widow, will be present for the ceremony. Allen and Johnson will become the 34th and 35 members of the team's Honor Roll.

Allen's 34 interceptions, amassed between 1988 and 1994, are tied for the most in Eagles history along with Bill Bradley and Brian Dawkins, and he returned five of them for touchdowns. Johnson was the team's defensive coordinator from 1999 until his death from cancer in 2009, and during that time the Eagles' defense ranked second in the NFL in sacks, third-down efficiency and red zone touchdown percentage and fourth in fewest points allowed. Johnson's tenure produced 26 Pro Bowl selections: Brian Dawkins (7), Troy Vincent (5), Jeremiah Trotter (4), Hugh Douglas (3), Lito Sheppard (2), Asante Samuel (1), Trent Cole (1), Michael Lewis (1), Corey Simon (1), and Bobby Taylor (1).

What's in Mosley's Mailbag?

October, 16, 2010
10/16/10
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This is a weekly staple that allows readers to lash out against the author of the Beast blog. We recently topped the 10,000-letter mark, which is apparently a blog network record at ESPN.com and one that is being celebrated in Bristol, Conn., as we speak. You guys have been prolific this week, so let's get right to it:

Stephen from Philadelphia is concerned with something I wrote about in Friday's Final Word column: Yeah, Jared Allen wore out Doug Free to the tune of ... one tackle over almost three quarters. I'm not pretending Free won't have problems -- I don't think Dallas can protect Tony Romo -- but the problem Dallas had in that game was Ray Edwards around the edge and both Minny's DTs DESTROYED the interior of the the Dallas OL (which I think they will do again), meaning Romo had no pocket to step up into. That was the problem, not Allen's one tackle, which actually came when Jason Witten was left one-on-one with Allen.

Mosley: The NFC East blog has taken a blood oath not to blame any sacks on Witten or Eagles tight end Brent Celek, Stephen. But seriously, Free did struggle in that game against Allen, and that's been confirmed by his offensive line coach, Hudson Houck. He was thrown into a tough situation, so I don't think we should hold that against him. And, yes, I agree that Ray Edwards was the bigger problem because he was racing around a gimpy Marc Colombo. The Cowboys must try to establish a running game early to neutralize the noise factor in the Metrodome. This may be one of the best home-field advantages in the league. I'd put Arrowhead No. 1 -- even with all the fancy new additions. (Shoutout to Chiefs coach Todd Haley, who reads this column religiously despite his frustration that I never mention the playoff-bound Chiefs.)


Jakeem from Atlanta wants to talk NFL trivia: Tony Dungy may be the only person in NFL history to make an interception and throw one in the same game. Do you know if this happened in the 1977 game against the Houston Oilers that you mentioned?

Mosley: That's exactly when it happened, Jakeem. Dungy, a former college quarterback, was forced into the game against the Oilers when Terry Bradshaw and his backup were both injured. Dungy was 3-of-8 for 43 yards and two interceptions. And, yes, he also picked off the Oilers in that game. That's a point that Wade Phillips forgot to make when he was belittling Dungy's playing career Friday. I like Wade, but that was not a good moment for him. Dungy's paid to analyze teams and players for NBC. If he questions Tony Romo's leadership, it's not that big of a deal. And honestly, I have no problem with Phillips defending Romo. He just crossed the line with his petty commentary about Dungy's game against the Oilers in 1977.


Andrew from Dallas has a Cowboys-Redskins related question: Why is it that when Dallas switched to the 3-4, Roy Williams (SS) was moved horribly out of position and never recovered, but Washington switches to the 3-4 and LaRon Landry, a very similar player, has a breakout year? I understand schemes are different, but shouldn't coaches adjust to the abilities of their better players?

Mosley: I think we all waited for Williams to develop into a John Lynch/Troy Polamalu type player, but he just didn't have the awareness to be that type guy. Williams really benefited from playing with Darren Woodson in 2002 and 2003. When Woodson was forced into retirement because of a back injury, Williams' game immediately leveled off. He certainly had his moments in Dallas, but his limitations in coverage were too much to overcome. And I'm not sure how much passion he had for the game when you really get down to it. Landry's always had the talent, but it looks like Jim Haslett has finally tapped into it on a week-to-week basis. Playing Landry close to the line of scrimmage allows him to be more physical. The guy is an absolute beast to deal with near the line and he seems a lot more engaged than ever. I'll never understand why former defensive coordinator Greg Blache had him playing so far off the ball. But the arrival of Haslett could turn Landry into a perennial Pro Bowl player. He's playing that way right now.


Greg B from Philly is trying to settle a dispute with friends: In regards to your post about [Eagles safety] Nate Allen, you referred to a Suplex tackle made by Brian Dawkins. I find it interesting because my friends and I were attempting to find out just last week who was on the receiving end of the tackle. We have two suspects, neither of which is James Thrash, who was on the Eagles at the time. But it is either 83 Cliff Russell or 87 Rod Gardner. If you could out who it was, that would help settle a large dispute we are having.

Mosley: Greg, I recently watched video of Dawkins using the Suplex on then-Redskins receiver James Thrash in an '08 game. But he's had several such tackles during his career, so I wouldn't rule out any "suspects' at this time. Based on my exhaustive Google research Thursday while preparing a column on Allen, I ran across at least five Suplexes/body slams. I believe that Dawkins uses the version popularized by the Texas-based Von Erich family in the 1980s. Fritz Von Erich's "Iron Claw" is still used to settle disputes in remote parts of Kaufman County, Texas.


Devin from Sydney, Australia, wants to know what's up with John Clayton and his Power Rankings staff: Matt, I've loved your analysis on the Power Rankings this year. Can you explain the rationale behind Houston -- on a two-game losing streak and looking worse in each -- having a higher ranking than the G-Men who are on a two- game winning streak, looking better each week and befuddled the Texans? It's time we get you on the panel.

Mosley: Devin, ESPN.com removed me from the voting process two years ago, in part, because I begged for two years to be taken off the panel. It's much more fun to write a post each Tuesday poking holes in John Clayton's voting habits. If the Skins beat the Colts on Sunday, I fully expect The Professor to move them into the top five. But thanks for your support. ESPN.com has looked into having my blog syndicated in Sydney. If it makes you feel any better, the Giants would likely rank No. 1 in my NFC East power rankings, which don't currently exist. I want to see how the Giants' linebackers play against Lions running back Jahvid Best tomorrow. I know Best has been banged up, but I think he'll still pose a serious threat. If this game's close, watch out for this Shayne Graham situation at kicker. He wasn't on his game last season for the Bengals (by his standards).

Thanks again for your wonderful e-mails and threats. I'm headed out to the Ballpark in Arlington to see if the Rangers can recover from last night's heartbreak. Then it's on to Minneapolis, where that Viking horn sound goes off every 15 seconds -- especially when the Vikes are playing the Cowboys.

Nate Allen looks like a worthy successor

October, 14, 2010
10/14/10
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Nate AllenAP Photo/Brian GarfinkelRookie starting safety Nate Allen is making a smooth transition to the NFL for Philadelphia.
The Philadelphia Eagles gambled and lost when they allowed Brian Dawkins to walk following the '08 season. An organization that had the reputation of knowing when to fold'em with veteran stars was exposed at Dawkins' old position in '09, which helped contribute to a first-round exit in the playoffs.

The Eagles responded by selecting free safety Nate Allen with the 37th overall pick in the draft. No matter what we heard about former Colts cornerback Marlin Jackson, this was Allen's starting job to lose from the start. Oh, and that 37th pick just happened to be the compensation from the Washington Redskins in the historic Donovan McNabb trade.

Fortunately for the Eagles, Allen seemed almost amused by all the McNabb talk. He quickly bought into defensive coordinator Sean McDermott's philosophy that he was "1/11th" of the defense and didn't need to be a hero.

Allen, the former University of South Florida star who grew up in the Land of Deion Sanders (Fort Myers), has quickly carved out his own reputation as a playmaker in the Eagles defense. He was named the NFC's Defensive Rookie of the Month for September and he now has three interceptions through only five games. The last Eagles rookie to have three interceptions in a season was none other than Dawkins in 1996. And to thicken the plot, Allen intercepted McNabb in the second half of the Eagles' loss.

"I didn't really think about it when we were on the field," said Allen. "But when I got to the locker room and the media started talking about it, it was pretty cool."

Everything about this former high school quarterback seems pretty cool. He looked the part of an NFL starter from his first day on campus. He told me via phone Thursday that being baptized by fire against a loaded Green Bay Packers offense in Week 1 helped speed the maturation process.

"Seeing Aaron Rodgers, [Greg] Jennings, Jermichael Finley and Donald Driver on the same field was one of those early wake-up calls," said Allen. "These are some of the top guys in the league we're talking about."

[+] EnlargeBrian Dawkins
AP Photo/Jim MahoneyIn 2009, the Eagles missed the presence of Pro Bowl safety Brian Dawkins, who is now with Denver.
Allen has never met or talked to Dawkins, but he's studied him for years. Deion Sanders, Barry Sanders, Emmitt Smith and Dawkins were his favorite NFL players. And when asked what he liked about Dawkins' game, Allen sounded like a kid.

"I can't remember which game, but Dawkins picked up a receiver and suplexed him on the sideline," said Allen. "And when they were playing the Giants one time, he dove to tackle a receiver on the sideline and it looked like he was flying. He did a lot of things like that. He was a beast."

For the record, I think Allen was referring to a suplex that Dawkins put on former Redskins receiver James Thrash based on my exhaustive Google research. Eagles fans are hoping Allen can carry on that tradition. Veteran safety Quintin Mikell was asked to do too much last season while lining up next to rookies. You can tell that he's much more comfortable this season.

"He's been my guy," Allen said of Mikell. "He always has the answer when something comes up, and he's made this transition so much easier."

Allen's teammates at South Florida called him "Golden Boy" because he was one of the only players who avoided the fiery head coach Jim Leavitt's ire (Leavitt was eventually fired for allegedly striking a player). I don't think Allen's reached that status with Andy Reid, but he might be headed that way.

"They said I was the coach's favorite," Allen said sheepishly. "I thought I got my fair share of criticism, but my teammates didn't agree with me."

Allen attributes his maturity to his parents, Jackie and Darlene Allen. Jackie, 6-8 according to his son, played professional basketball in France and now coaches basketball and heads up security at a middle school in Fort Myers. Darlene is a business and typing teacher at Allen's alma mater, Cape Coral High School.

"I was raised in a Christian home and I was taught to put the Lord first in everything," said Allen. "They told me to know what my priorities were from an early age."

Allen writes his favorite Bible verse, Philippians 4:13, on his wrist tape before every game. But Allen actually carries two good books with him on road trips. Folks in the Eagles organization have said it's almost comical how often Allen studies his playbook.

"I'd go back to my room during training camp at 9 [p.m.] or 9:30 and try to study until 11," he said. "It's pretty remarkable how complex it is compared to what we did in college, so I needed to put in the time."

And so far, final exams are going pretty well.

What's in Mosley's Mailbag?

October, 2, 2010
10/02/10
9:30
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I'm headed to Philadelphia for Donovan McNabb Day this weekend, but I want to address some of your questions. Some of you are puzzled as to why I'm picking the Washington Redskins to win Sunday's game against the Eagles. Let's get to the bottom of why I'm the only ESPN employee to make this absurd prediction. And let me thank my Eagles audience for some excellent e-mails this week regarding McNabb:

Ryan Z. from Dover, N.H., would like an explanation for my "biased" pick. Why do you let your bias against the Eagles into your writing? I understand being a fan, but as a reporter it should not sway your thinking. None of the experts are picking the Skins. There were no real reasons as to why the Skins would win, just a gut feeling that could be wrong. Give me something to justify it in the future. Overall, I do like your blog and read it regularly, so good work there.

Mosley: Ryan, just because I picked against the Eagles doesn't mean I'm anti-Philly. In fact, I wrote a blog entry Thursday defending Eagles fans. And if you need a reason for my upset special, I love the way Donovan McNabb plays when he has a chip on his shoulder. Don't let the calm demeanor from McNabb fool you. The Redskins desperately need a win to avoid falling to 1-3. And McNabb would like nothing more than to show his former team that he still has plenty left in the tank. I think McNabb's going to have a huge day, and that's why the Skins are going to win this game. Never discount the desperate team theory.


Santa in Philly
AP Photo/Michael PerezThe infamous booing of Santa has left an indelible mark on the image of Philly fans.
Brett from Villanova wants to make a statement, and who am I to stand in the way? Just wanted to commend you on a very well-written and very well-researched article on Donovan McNabb's return to Philly. You seem to grasp what we are about and not just turn your nose up at us as a fan base. We consist of many passionate fans, but when you are dealing with millions of fans for a city, you are going to have some knuckleheads. Most national writers just use any story involving us as another chance to bring us down, and you didn't do that and I really appreciate it. The Santa Claus incident was 50 years ago, but thanks again for not taking the time to bash us and I will cheer Donovan, but he will never be loved like Brian Dawkins, Chase Utley, or AI (prototypical philly favorites because of their heart and attitudes) because he never opened up to us and always took cheap little shots at the fan base.

Mosley: Thanks for the note, Brett. I think every team has its fair share of knuckleheads in the stands. I think Eagles fans may take losses harder than most fans, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. It's a passionate fan base. To keep rolling that 1968 Santa Claus story out there is trite after all these years. If we're going to accuse this fan base of being over the top, let's come up with some more recent examples. And stop accusing me of doing "research."


Saul from Venice, Calif., also wants to get something off his chest regarding McNabb: I think Philly fans have even embraced Mitch Williams after all these years! (I catch him on the local sports channel when I get back to Philly). In general, the media way overplays the animosity toward McNabb. A few bozos went up to New York and booed his drafting at the urging of a radio guy and it somehow paints all of Philadelphia as being against McNabb from the start. Not so. Most fans really liked and appreciated all he did, despite the frustration of never quite getting us there. I agree with you that he will be cheered (and if he isn't, boy am I wrong!). As for Ron Jaworski, the guy could never find a secondary receiver, but I've forgiven him. Froze my tail off from Section 718 at the Vet and watched him beat Dallas to go to the Super Bowl. How can you hold a grudge against a guy after that?

Mosley: I started covering the league in 2003, so I missed out on the Vet. Would've enjoyed seeing at least one game from section 718. McNabb was a lightning rod for all those near-misses. I think most folks were appreciative, but there's not a large portion of the fan base that thought Andy Reid was wrong to trade McNabb.


Josh in Bethesda, Md., wants to know where Devin Thomas has been for the Washington Redskins: Why have they not put Devin Thomas on offense? Are they waiting for him to show himself in practice, or do they just not believe in him?

Mosley: Thomas must have been really bad early in training camp because he's had to climb out of Mike Shanahan's doghouse. From what I can tell, Shanahan and his coaching staff haven't been impressed with Thomas' work ethic, and that's about the worst thing you can say about a player. He's not going to play Thomas based on talent alone.


Scott from Charlotte, N.C., has a Giants question regarding two talented wide receivers: Mario Manningham is leading the Giants in receptions, yards and avg yardage. Hakeem Nicks had 4 TDs but has some awful drops and tips leading to interceptions in all three games so far. Does Super Mario take his starting job at some point?

Mosley: I loved how Manningham bounced back from an early drop to make big plays in the passing game Sunday. If not for that Ahmad Bradshaw chop block call, Manningham would've had another huge play. (Of course, the block may have been the whole reason Eli Manning threw a strike to Manningham.) I think Tom Coughlin's patience is wearing thin with Nicks. He has all the potential in the world, but he loses his focus too often. I think Nicks will hold onto his starting job, but Manningham's definitely nipping at his heels.

Pressure all on Andy Reid now

July, 28, 2010
7/28/10
12:15
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Andy ReidHoward Smith/US PresswireThere are plenty of new faces on Andy Reid's roster heading into the 2010 season.
BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- In the NFL’s often unforgiving circle of life, Philadelphia Eagles head coach Andy Reid has been handed a rare second opportunity -- a chance to hit the refresh button on his team and his career.

And there he was on the first day of training camp at Lehigh University, in his usual command position on the practice field, about 50 yards behind the middle linebacker, all alone, looking at his own reincarnation.

Gone was Donovan McNabb -- Reid’s first training camp in his 12-year head coaching career without the quarterback he drafted in the first round in 1999.

Gone was Brian Westbrook -- the veteran running back who provided much of the late-game heroics and pyrotechnics that often bailed out the Eagles and their head coach.

And there were all the new faces, including Kevin Kolb, who will have the fewest career starts -- just two -- of any prospective starting quarterback in the NFC this year. In all, the Eagles jettisoned 14 players from their 2009 roster -- more than any team in the league.

Kevin Kolb
Howard Smith/US PresswireKevin Kolb takes over at quarterback for the departed Donovan McNabb.
When the veterans arrive on Thursday, there will be 32 new players in camp.

How green are these Eagles? The training camp roster boasts only one non-kicker over the age of 30, the fewest in the NFL.

"There’s a little bit of unknown, which I kind of like," said Reid of his new team, average age 24.1 years old. "I like that."

Now, there is a first. The NFL’s head coaches -- among the planet’s greatest control artists -- rarely embrace the unknown, or at least admit it in public.

Assessing his rebuilt roster, Reid called it "a great challenge." What might be more challenging is convincing his championship-starved fan base that this roster overhaul can work. In Philadelphia, with McNabb now playing for the division-rival Washington Redskins, and so much inexperience wearing midnight green this season, there is little love of the unknown created by Reid.

More like fear.

And that translates into one thing: a whole lot of pressure on Reid. Yes, the head coach was given a three-year contract extension in December. But now failure to bring a Super Bowl title to Philadelphia can no longer be blamed on McNabb’s shortcomings, Westbrook’s injuries or aging veterans such as Brian Dawkins who are long gone.

It’s on Reid now.

"There are some big-name players that have been proven players on this football team that aren’t here," said Reid. "It’s important that the young guys step up and they go."

If they don’t, it will be difficult to try to peddle to Eagles fans that the team was victimized by inexperience. Going young was the franchise decision.

(Read full post)

PHILADELPHIA -- About midway through the Eagles’ practice Tuesday, everything stopped. The only sound was the low hum of the practice facility exhaust fans, sucking the humid air into the steamy South Philadelphia atmosphere.

Jackson
All eyes were on fallen free safety Marlin Jackson, who took off his gloves and threw them to the artificial surface in disgust. Jackson, a former Colts cornerback who is recovering from reconstructive surgery in both knees and trying to adjust to his new role as the Eagles’ starting free safety, then got up and was helped to the sideline, where he leaned his head against the gray wall and starting wailing in frustration and pain.

Practice quickly resumed after Jackson left the field and it was next man up -- rookie Nate Allen, the Eagles’ second-round draft pick. Not an ideal situation.

After practice, the Eagles announced that Jackson had suffered an ankle injury -- not another knee blowout -- which was of some relief. But the way Jackson reacted, it was clear the injury was serious, meaning the Eagles’ first great experiment to fix a defense that underachieved in 2009 has suffered a serious setback. (Note: Jackson ruptured his Achilles tendon and is out for the season.)

Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott was asked what this means for the free safety position. He just shook his head, obviously upset about the injury to Jackson, who was signed to a one-year free-agent deal and attacked his new position with consistent vigor and a constant smile.

"We’ll just have to see what happens with Marlin," said McDermott, not sounding too optimistic.

Without Jackson, the Eagles may be forced to submit a rookie to the rigors of the free safety spot for the second straight year. After perennial Pro Bowler Brian Dawkins was allowed to leave for Denver last spring, the Eagles tried converting rookie corner Macho Harris into a free safety. That didn’t work. Veterans Quintin Demps and Sean Jones were given a shot. Nothing worked.

At least Allen played safety at South Florida. But McDermott’s defense is very aggressive -- the Eagles blitzed on 41 percent of the called pass plays last year, sixth most in the league -- and often leaves the secondary vulnerable to big plays. Breaking down protection only works if you protect the house on the back end, and the Eagles gave up 15 touchdown passes off the blitz last year, second most in the league.

After practice, Allen was surrounded by reporters trying to measure his reaction to Jackson’s injury.

"All I know right now is I’ve got a lot of work to do," said Allen. "I’ve got a lot to learn. I’ve got to learn the whole system. So much of it is blurry. I need to get it down so I can play fast. That’s the point. That’s what you want to do."

The learning curve for Allen just got a lot steeper.

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