NFC East: Chris Clemons
In fact, Orakpo said he never viewed rookie Trent Murphy as anything other than a guy who could help now. He said he did not wonder if Murphy was drafted to be his eventual replacement.
Orakpo said Murphy's addition was necessary. So, too, was outside linebackers coach Brian Baker's. And Orakpo said both can help him -- and Ryan Kerrigan -- have more of an impact this season.
First, Baker. Here's the list of pass rushers he's worked with in the past: Charles Johnson, Julius Peppers, DeMarcus Ware and La'Roi Glover. How much did he mold their games? Tough to say, but clearly Baker can pass along tips he picked up working with those players onto the Redskins' linebackers.
"Just pass-rush concepts, man," Orakpo said. "Not just being an athlete. All kinds of different stuff he learned coaching guys throughout his years. Hand usage. Hand placement. I'm a momentum type of pass rusher. Now he's trying to teach a guy like myself proper hand placement and not being so wild at times when I'm rushing.
"We've been doing a lot of techniques. Any time we got a break, me and Baker are going at it doing different techniques, working different hand placements, working half of the offensive tackle or the tight end. Just trying to get better."
"I haven't done this before," Orakpo said. "This is brand new for me. I'm excited. It will get all of us better and get all of us to another level. It comes with years of experience, always trying to incorporate something new in your game. I'm excited Baker is here and also that [Kirk Olivadotti] is here because he's teaching the inside linebackers a lot of new things as well that we were accustomed to my first year. Those guys are huge assets."
That's how Orakpo views Murphy, chosen in the second round last month. Orakpo said one word came to mind when they picked him: Depth.
While many will debate whether Murphy was the right choice, the bottom line is the Redskins needed another pass rusher. Just adding Jason Hatcher in the offseason would not provide enough of a boost, or depth, in this area.
"It's all about getting another guy to come in and create havoc," Orakpo said. "Depth is huge. You need three or four pass rushers that can go. This team has relied on me and Ryan doing the dirty work. But every other team has three to four guys ready to rock and roll. You saw what Seattle did bringing three or four guys, moving my boy Michael Bennett around. Cliff Avril on one side, Chris Clemons one side. Just moving guys all over the place. ... We finally got the big picture and got someone in here."
It's no secret what the Redskins want to do: tap into the three linebackers' versatility. That's evident in practice as each of them has lined up all over the place. The goal: pressure with four or, at most, five. You can be aggressive without always having to blitz. Washington blitzed more in 2012 in part because it lost Orakpo and Adam Carriker to injuries. But it left a weak secondary susceptible.
"If you pressure with four guys, you have a much better chance," Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. "You saw the success Seattle had -- they very seldom blitz. We have the ability with four, five guys that we have being able to rush the passer, keeping them fresh -- that we can get pressure."
If that's the case, then Orakpo likely would receive the sort of long-term contract he desires from Washington. He made it clear a long time ago he'd still like a long-term deal and that not having one wouldn't impact his approach, or desire to attend workouts. He'd still like one before the season, but Gruden said long ago he's fine with letting him play the season out on the franchise tag. Other members of the organization said it's conceivable the Redskins will keep all three pass rushers beyond this season.
For now, Orakpo's concern is 2014.
"Don't look into the one-year-left-rookie-drafted [storyline]," Orakpo said. "We have to look at this year and trying to get to that Super Bowl. Forget about the future. That's just business. Business will take care of itself. We're trying to make noise this year."
On the roster: Brandon Meriweather, Jose Gumbs, Trent Robinson, Bacarri Rambo and Phillip Thomas.
Added in free agency: None.
Left in free agency: The Redskins haven't lost any safeties in free agency.
Still unsigned: Reed Doughty. The Redskins backup strong safety, who is always pressed into a starting role, might return. But there's definite division over whether or not that should be the case. The real problem has never been Doughty, but the organization's inability to find a full-time starter ahead of him.
Still on the market: Thomas DeCoud, Chris Clemons, Mike Adams. Really, the list is not long and not impressive. Atlanta cut DeCoud after a poor season; he's best suited most likely near the line of scrimmage. With Meriweather back that's not necessarily what the Redskins need. Clemons has not drawn a lot of interest on the market. The Dolphins opted for Louis Delmas, who barely practiced last season. Adams wasn't anything special for the Broncos, but can play in the box, too. They signed T.J. Ward, but he's more of a strong safety whereas Adams is a free safety. The Redskins clearly did not view the other safeties as better than Meriweather. But they failed in their quest to land Mike Mitchell, who ended up with Pittsburgh. I don't know how close the money was, but it's clear they're not as aggressive as they once were and, as one agent said, general manager Bruce Allen likes to "slow play" this process.
What it means thus far: It's not that the Redskins didn't view safety as a problem, but perhaps not to the extent that others did. By that, I mean almost everyone else. It's also true you can't solve every issue in one offseason. But they signed Meriweather to a one-year deal and it's hard to imagine Clark getting anything other than a one- or two-year deal. So that means Washington will be back in this spot relatively soon. However, it also gives them another year to see if one of the young players can develop -- or to draft someone in the second or third round and groom him for 2015. Perhaps one from among the group of four young safeties can develop in another year or so. Thomas must overcome a tricky Lisfranc injury; not impossible, but tough and it's not as if he was on the cusp of starting before getting hurt. In talking to several who scouted Rambo at Georgia, the problems he showed last year were the same he showed in college that caused NFL teams pause. Not a good sign. I can't imagine, though, that something else won't be done at this position.
Here are six safeties of note still on the market:
Thomas DeCoud: Atlanta, which needs secondary help, cut DeCoud after a rough 2013 season. He’s also probably best in the box.
Mike Adams: Again, Denver struggled in the secondary and decided to let him leave, signing T.J. Ward instead. Adams is rather average.
Nate Allen: Philadelphia selected him with the second-round pick obtained in the Donovan McNabb trade with Washington. The Eagles let Allen walk and signed Malcolm Jenkins. I can’t imagine Allen is the answer. He’s better against the run.
Roman Harper: He’s 31 and coming off a knee injury that cost him nearly half the season. That is a tough combination. But he’s a two-time Pro Bowler best used in the box. Here is what ESPN Saints reporter Mike Triplett had to say about him in a recent article: “I think Harper still has some gas left in the tank and should land somewhere as either a starter or a rotational guy. He’ll fit best as a true strong safety who plays closer to the box in run support, occasionally blitzing and covering tight ends in short space. If used the right way, I still see Harper as an asset. And his experience and leadership will only enhance his value.”
Ryan Clark: If the Redskins had a young free safety worthy of grooming, I’d consider Clark as a mentor. But he’s 35 and the Redskins don’t have that player (I don’t view Bacarri Rambo as that guy).
Key free agents: QB Michael Vick, WR Jason Avant, S Nate Allen, P Donnie Jones, S Kurt Coleman.
Where they stand: By keeping wide receivers Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin off the market, the Eagles assured their starting offense would look very much as it did in 2013. There are no obvious positions of need on that side of the ball that would likely be addressed in free agency. The defensive side is another matter. That unit made fine progress in its first year with coordinator Bill Davis’ 3-4 scheme, but the Eagles need playmakers there, especially in the secondary. Having $20-25 million in salary-cap space gives them the flexibility to do whatever they choose.
What to expect: GM Howie Roseman has repeatedly said he does not want to overpay in free agency, but the Eagles might have to go that route with a safety like Jairus Byrd, T.J. Ward or Chris Clemons. Going for bargains at that position just has not worked, and Roseman has acknowledged he doesn’t want to get to the draft in dire need of a safety. There isn’t a lot of depth at outside linebacker -- teams do their best to hold on to effective pass-rushers -- but Roseman could look for a second-tier guy there. It would not be surprising if the Eagles re-signed Jones and added a kicker in free agency to compete with, or flat-out replace, Alex Henery. Keep an eye on a return man, perhaps Devin Hester or Dexter McCluster.
The media-produced rankings of potential NFL free agents may not tell us much about what the Eagles are thinking. But the wide range of evaluations can provide insight into how wildly divergent different teams' opinions can be.
Let's take a look at the safety position, which figures to be an area the Eagles try to address. Buffalo's Jairus Byrd is generally considered the best safety available, but there are dissenting opinions.
Over at NFL.com, Byrd is listed as the No. 1 free agent available regardless of position. He is the only player tagged as a “difference-maker.” On ESPN Insider, former NFL executive Bill Polian and his team have Byrd as the fourth-ranked safety. Antoine Bethea of the Colts, the only safety with an A grade, is rated the best safety on the market.
Polian has Miami's Chris Clemons as his second-ranked safety, with Cleveland's T.J. Ward third. NFL.com calls Clemons “a league-average starter,” which would still make him an upgrade for the Eagles.
Over at Pro Football Focus, Byrd is rated the top safety and No. 2 free agent overall, behind only Seattle defensive end Michael Bennett. PFF rates Ward as the second best safety (No. 8 overall), while Clemons is No. 30 overall. Bethea, the top safety and a Grade-A player for Polian, is No. 61 overall on PFF's list and No. 51 on the NFL.com list.
PFF places Byrd in the same category as Seattle safety Earl Thomas. Considering the Seahawks just won the Super Bowl with Thomas as a key defensive player, it is likely many teams will make a run at Byrd in hopes of recreating that success.
Ultimately, Roseman and his personnel staff have graded players based on their game tape and how they project players in the Eagles' scheme. Cleveland's Ward is considered a better run defender, more of a strong safety type. Byrd is better at playing deep and at coverage, which was a huge problem area for the Eagles. Their pass defense was dead last in the NFL.
Malcolm Jenkins of the Saints, a converted cornerback, might be a better fit than Ward, from the Eagles' perspective. And that's the bottom line here: The Eagles' perspective is the only one that will matter to them, and they haven't published their opinions on the Internet.
Washington linebacker Brian Orakpo had the franchise tag placed on him. That takes him off the list of possible targets for the Eagles, but the odds were against them making a play for Orakpo. He is exactly the kind of free agent -- a guy who could command more money than his production warrants -- that general manager Howie Roseman has said the team is not interested in.
(That said, he's also exactly the kind of player that fans and media like to speculate about. Orakpo would be a perfect edge pass rusher in the Eagles 3-4 defense and signing him would mean not facing him twice a year.)
If the Eagles were planning to take a shot at Worilds, that shouldn't slow them down. The Steelers do not have the cap space to match a carefully designed offer sheet. Indeed, to keep Worilds, Pittsburgh may have to release other players to create cap space. If LaMarr Woodley is a casualty, he could be a nice consolation prize. Bottom line: There just aren't that many pass rushers worth pursuing in free agency.
Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis has often cited the Steelers' Dick LeBeau-coached defense as his model. It stands to reason Davis could use a big-time player who is already schooled in that style of play.
Neither of the top safeties were tagged, which makes for an intriguing scenario when free agency opens. Buffalo's Jairus Byrd and Cleveland T.J. Ward will be on the market. Both are 27. Both have been to the Pro Bowl. Either would be the Eagles' best safety since Brian Dawkins.
Is Roseman willing to make Byrd the highest paid safety in the NFL? That's what it will take? Would he make a run at Ward, who knows Davis from his stint in Cleveland?
Even if Ward and Byrd are not on Roseman's list, their presence in the market has a ripple effect. They will attract immediate attention from teams desperate for safety help. That will leave the next tier -- safeties like Miami's Chris Clemons and Carolina's Mike Mitchell -- for the Eagles to approach if that's the way they choose to go.
He still can't. But as other teams clear roster spots (and cap space) and with the window open for using franchise and transition tags now open, there is more clarity every day.
Two of the elite safeties due for free agency, Cleveland's T.J. Ward and Buffalo's Jairus Byrd, could be tagged. That would not only take them off the market, it would have a domino effect on the players who do hit free agency. A guy like Miami's Chris Clemons might command more money than he would if Ward and Byrd were in the market.
And then there's San Francisco's Donte Whitner. The 49ers want him back, but it might be tougher to negotiate a new deal without using a tag on him if he is by far the best safety available.
Judging by Roseman's comments, he isn't likely to get in a mad bidding war for the hot commodity. The Eagles' recent approach has been to look for value among players in the second tier, after the market settles a little bit.
In that sense, the picture has improved for the Eagles in recent days. New Orleans released Roman Harper and Detroit parted ways with Louis Delmas late last week. Whether they are good fits in Philadelphia or not, they add to the pool of available talent and create more options.
Delmas is an interesting possibility. He is only 27, same as Ward and Byrd. He is a relatively physical player who has had some knee trouble. That could actually help keep his asking price down, which might make him that much more appealing to the Eagles.
Delmas was taken one pick ahead of Patrick Chung in the 2009 draft. But then, the Eagles took Nate Allen one pick ahead of Ward in the 2010 draft.
Allen and Chung finished the season as the Eagles' starting safeties. Rookie Earl Wolff had taken Chung's starting job before injuring his knee in Green Bay in October.
Allen will be an unrestricted free agent, as will safeties/special-teamers Kurt Coleman and Colt Anderson. With the Eagles lukewarm on Chung, there could be as many as four roster spots open for safeties.
Roseman said recently that he doesn't want to go into the draft with a gaping hole on his roster. That, he said, leads to mistakes as teams reach for a position of need. So it is likely the Eagles will look to add safeties in free agency. The market is shaping up.
Put another way: The Eagles got by with their secondary in 2013. Elite defenses do better than get by. Their safeties and cornerbacks are impact players.
Let’s look at the more dire safety situation first. We’ll address the cornerback position in a separate post.
Good safeties have been as elusive as unicorns for the Eagles since Brian Dawkins' unfortunate departure five years ago. (Say that out loud: Dawk's been gone for five years.) They have tried nearly everything to fill that void: second-round draft picks, second-day draft picks, midlevel free agents.
That should be viewed as an opportunity more than a problem. By doing nothing, the Eagles can start the process of turning over this part of their roster. They can really turn the page if they release Patrick Chung, who lost his starting job twice during the season.
That would leave Earl Wolff, last year’s fifth-round draft pick and the guy who took Chung’s job before getting hurt, and Keelan Johnson as the only two safeties on the roster.
When we said the Eagles have tried nearly everything, it’s because the one thing they haven’t done is sign a top-level free agent. For years, the Eagles rated the safety position fairly low on their list of priorities. Dawkins was a homegrown superstar who transcended the position, but their emphasis was always on edge pass-rushers and cornerbacks.
General manager Howie Roseman has said the team will avoid splurging on big-ticket signings, and that is a reasonable position. But one reason the team has struggled to resolve the safety problem is its insistence on mediocre, small-ticket free agents. Chung and Kenny Phillips were last year’s additions to a list that includes Sean Jones, Jarrad Page, Marlin Jackson and O.J. Atogwe.
Maybe Buffalo’s Jairus Byrd or Cleveland’s T.J. Ward will demand too much money to be options, but this might be the year the Eagles have to pay full-market price at this most challenging of positions. Miami’s Chris Clemons might be a better value signing.
You could make a case for retaining Allen, who had his best season. Maybe spending more time in Bill Davis’ defense will help Allen continue to grow. But the feeling here is that Allen personifies the concept of just getting by at the safety spot. The Eagles are not going to be a tough, hard-hitting, intimidating defense like Seattle or San Francisco by just getting by.
Sign one starter (Ward, preferably) and at least one veteran who can compete for playing time. Hope Wolff can lock down one starting position with a full offseason and some experience under his belt. Give Johnson a chance to earn a roster spot with special-teams play.
The timing is treacherous. If the Eagles allow Allen, Coleman and Anderson to walk, they will have to move quickly in free agency to fill at least a couple of those spots. They can hang on to Chung as security until they do. But the worst-case scenario is going into the draft in May with a desperate need for safety help.
The Eagles have done that before, and it has not ended well. But then, nothing they’ve done at safety has gone much better.
Plus from a Dallas Cowboys’ perspective, they have already allocated their cornerback resources in Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne and Orlando Scandrick. So scratch that possible remodel.
Where the Cowboys can attempt to emulate the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks is with their defensive line.
Seattle’s defensive line accounted for 33.5 sacks from eight players. The Cowboys defensive line had 28 sacks from six players.
Michael Bennett led the Seahawks with 8.5 sacks. Fellow free-agent pickup, Cliff Avril, was second with eight. Clinton McDonald had 5.5, and Chris Clemons had 4.5
Jason Hatcher led the Cowboys with 11, followed by George Selvie with seven and DeMarcus Ware with six. Kyle Wilber had two sacks from his defensive end spot before he was switched to outside linebacker later in the season. Everette Brown and and Jarius Wynn each had one sack.
The Cowboys want to rotate defensive linemen as much as possible to keep them fresh. That is a great approach when you have players worthy of being in the rotation. In the Super Bowl win against the Denver Broncos, the Seahawks had four linemen take at least 41 of 69 snaps, led by Bennett, who played 47. In the NFC Championship Game against the San Francisco 49ers, they had four linemen take at least 31 of 55 snaps. In the divisional-round win against the New Orleans Saints, they had five linemen take at least 43 snaps.
That rotation kept opposing quarterbacks Peyton Manning, Colin Kaepernick and Drew Brees under pressure. The pressure could come from the inside or the outside. And it would come with mostly just four rushers, which allowed that back seven to be even more aggressive.
For far too long the Cowboys’ pass rush has been Ware and nobody else. This past season it was Hatcher, and sometimes Selvie and Ware. The Cowboys hope Tyrone Crawford can develop after missing last season with an Achilles injury, but the defensive line needs a ton of help.
For the Cowboys to make a jump in the defensive rankings -- forget being a top-five or 10 unit -- they need a better pass rush. For a better pass rush, they need better players. To get better players in free agency they need to hope the defensive line market is as slow as it was in 2013 when Bennett received a one-year, $5 million deal, and Avril received two years and $15 million from the Seahawks. That could allow Dallas to either keep Hatcher (unlikely), or get lucky with some other prove-it type deals. The easier way to get better players is the draft, but will the right players be available at the right time?
If the Cowboys get a better pass rush, their secondary will look a lot better.
- The Seahawks had two first-round picks in 2010 while the Redskins had two picks in the first four rounds. Seattle landed two excellent starters in tackle Russell Okung and safety Earl Thomas. Washington took tackle Trent Williams and linebacker Perry Riley. Williams is a Pro Bowler and Riley is a starter, good in some areas but who struggles in others.
- The Seahawks hit on lower-round picks in 2010, selecting cornerback Walter Thurmond in the fourth round and safety Kam Chancellor in the fifth. Chancellor’s physical style sets a tone in the box, and Thurmond is an excellent slot corner and might as well be considered a starter. Seattle also took starting receiver Golden Tate in the second round. The Redskins whiffed on the rest of their 2010 class, none of whom were on the roster this past season.
- In 2011, the Seahawks had nine picks (the Redskins had 12). Seattle found three more starters in guard James Carpenter (drafted as a tackle in the first round); corner Richard Sherman (fifth round); corner Byron Maxwell (sixth round; a replacement for the suspended Brandon Browner) and outside linebacker Malcolm Smith (seventh round). Eight of the nine remain on the roster.
- Meanwhile, the Redskins drafted 12 players, finding one good starter in linebacker Ryan Kerrigan and another starter in end Jarvis Jenkins. It wasn’t a bad draft, but it wasn’t a game-changer either. Nine of the 12 remained on the roster in 2013.
- WilsonBoth teams found quarterbacks in 2012, with Seattle getting Russell Wilson in the third round and the Redskins trading two future first-rounders and a second-rounder to swap positions with St. Louis to get Robert Griffin III. I agreed with the move, so I’m not going to second-guess it; besides, it’s not as if Ryan Tannehill, a player they liked, has torn it up in Miami (though, yes, they would have had more picks). There is no way Seattle could have anticipated what Wilson has become, and the Seahawks had also traded for Matt Flynn. But they quickly saw what they had in Wilson.Griffin
- Both quarterbacks obviously made tremendous impacts as rookies. Griffin’s knee injury and other issues led to stumbles in 2013. But when he struggled, so, too, did the Redskins. When Wilson struggled, he could rely on the run game and defense to win. Big difference when you don’t have to carry a team -- and that’s because of how both were built.
- Seattle drafted 10 players in 2012 -- eight played defense; three are starters (end Bruce Irvin, linebacker Bobby Wagner, and J.R. Sweezy, an end in college but now a starting offensive guard). The Redskins also hit on running back Alfred Morris in that same draft, and quarterback Kirk Cousins looks like a good backup who might yield a draft pick in return some day. But aside from them and Griffin? So far, nothing.
- This past season, of the Redskins' top five defensive backs (including No. 3 corner David Amerson), four were picked in the first two rounds of their respective drafts. Of Seattle’s eight defensive backs, only one was drafted before the fourth round.
- In the 2013 draft, Seattle added no starters, but that’s not a surprise given the Seahawks’ talent level. The Redskins added Amerson, who was their No. 3 corner. But nobody else provided any help. Even on special teams.
- All totaled, of the starters listed on Seattle’s current depth chart, 16 were drafted by them or signed as an undrafted free agent. That includes nine defensive starters, and the lone two who weren’t drafted by them were acquired in trades, including end Chris Clemons. Of the four offensive players not drafted by Seattle, one was signed off a practice squad; another was acquired in a trade (running back Marshawn Lynch) and only one was considered a bigger free agent signing (tight end Zach Miller).
- Seattle built a team that could withstand the loss of receiver Percy Harvin, who has caught one pass this season after being acquired in a trade. He might play in the Super Bowl. They signed pass-rush specialist Cliff Avril, who recorded eight sacks, but was not a starter.
- Seattle is just more proof that you can succeed without having to spend big money. And the Redskins are proof as to what happens when you don’t successfully draft and develop.
Redskins coach Mike Shanahan sounds open to suggestions, on everything from resodding midseason to switching to artificial turf. Whether team owner Dan Snyder is on board remains to be seen, since Snyder doesn't talk anymore, but Shanahan did manage to get an indoor practice bubble built last year even though no one ever thought that would happen, so it's possible he could get this changed too if he insisted.
Bad things happen in life, and especially in football, and the injuries to Griffin and Chris Clemons obviously fall into that category. But if some positive improvement can grow from those unfortunate circumstances, then they aren't a total loss. This is a significant enough outcome and story that it should be able to get the needed changes made. Whether it's FieldTurf or just better real turf, I wouldn't be surprised if the playing surface at FedEx Field underwent a significant upgrade sometime between now and September.
It's a little surprising the Eagles coveted Tapp enough to throw in a fourth-round pick. Tapp's a former second-round pick ('06) who had seven sacks and eight pass deflections for a playoff team in '07 but has sort of fallen off the map since then. He's listed at 6-1, 270 pounds and he should be better against the run than the smaller Clemons. But it's pretty obvious the main reason the Seahawks made this deal was to land that fourth-round pick.
The Eagles will provide Tapp with the opportunity to reset his once-promising career. He only started three games for the Seahawks last season and he simply hasn't been a good fit in their defense. Tapp will have an opportunity to compete for the starting job opposite Trent Cole but his presence won't affect the way the Eagles approach the draft. I still think there's a good chance they'll try to land a pass-rusher.
Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott is looking for more versatile players on defense, so I'd look for Tapp to move inside in some situations. This isn't a blockbuster deal by any means, but it's intriguing that the Eagles thought enough of Tapp to give up a fourth-round pick.
Tapp's career has been in full retreat for two seasons now. Is he an upgrade over Clemons? Probably because of his youth, yes.
Roy Williams has left the game with what appears to be a shoulder injury. We'll keep you updated. The Eagles have the ball deep inside their own territory right now. And on third-and-8, Eagles running back LeSean McCoy did a poor job of picking up the blitz against Bobby Carpenter, setting up an Eagles punt. Dallas ball at its 49-yard line.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- Quite an eventful day here in Lehigh Valley, where even on a Monday morning, thousands of Eagles fans poured into training camp. It has to be one of the most serene places in the league, what with the lush, green meadows and trees dotting the mountainside. Almost made myself cry during that last sentence.
Why don't we get away from my postcard from Bethlehem and actually talk some football. The morning session was dominated by the defense, and there's a rookie linebacker named Moise Fokou who Eagles fans are going to be rooting for. The seventh-round pick out of Maryland is always flying around the ball and he'll be tough to keep off the final roster. For more on Fokou and other players you'll actually recognize, continue reading:
- When I brought up the fact that rookie Jeremy Maclin had muffed one punt and mishandled another at the end of the morning session, he glared at me before saying, "It won't be an issue." In my book, a first-round rookie putting the ball on the ground is a worthy topic -- but that's just me. In my five-minute visit with Maclin, it's obvious that he has a ton of confidence. When I asked him if he'd be OK with the coaches not starting him at first, he quickly replied, "I didn't come here to sit on the bench." I didn't really see Maclin do a lot in the morning session, but a sixth-round pick named Brandon Gibson out of Washington State kept making play after play.
- Rookie free-agent tight end Eugene Bright is sort of an interesting story. He was a defensive end at Purdue, but the Eagles signed him in April to play tight end. He said he played two games at tight end in high school in Pennsylvania, but never thought he'd end up there in the pros. But with the season-ending injury to Cornelius Ingram and Matt Schobel missing time with an injury, Bright is getting a long look. He dropped a couple passes early in camp, so he started carrying a football with him at all times. He says he catches an extra 200 passes a day that way, and that the quarterbacks constantly want to throw to him away from the practice fields. Bright got the idea from one of America's true film classics, "The Program," in which the immortal Omar Epps fumbled so much that coaches made him carry a ball around campus. Playing the role of Darnell Jefferson, Epps held onto the ball in games and eventually attracted the attention of Halle Berry. "I rented the movie when I was at Purdue, and it's obviously stuck with me," Bright said.
- To be fair, I saw Quintin Demps muff a punt, too. But on defense, Demps looked really comfortable opposite Quintin Mikell and made a nice interception on an ill-advised throw from Donovan McNabb. I think Demps will win the starting job, but the Eagles were wise to sign a quality backup like Sean Jones from the Browns.
- Second-year linebacker Joe Mays appears to be making the most of his opportunity now that middle linebacker Stewart Bradley's out for the season. Mays was very active in blitz packages and he showed some really good range in dropping back into coverage. Also the type of kid who's really easy to root for. Not very tall at 5-11, but he's stacked. Sort of built like Skins linebacker London Fletcher.
- I think Brent Celek will be the latest entry in what has to be the best tight end division in football. Martellus Bennett is playing to rave reviews in San Antonio and Jason Witten's the best tight end in football right now. The Redskins' Chris Cooley and the Giants' Kevin Boss are both very productive, although Cooley's obviously the bigger weapon. Celek's a very unassuming guy, but you can tell he's highly intelligent. He's been studying tape of Witten and Cooley to see what makes them so successful. He said the way Witten "sets people up at the top of his routes" is what sets him apart.
- It didn't take long to identify the best player in this camp right now. His name is DeSean Jackson and no one can defend him at this point. He's making All-Pro cornerback Asante Samuel look silly in practice -- on a routine basis. Jackson looks bigger than last season, and I don't think he's lost any speed. Seriously. No one in camp can cover him.
- Former Cowboys practice squad wide receiver Danny Amendola had an excellent morning practice. He runs smooth routes and he made a couple tough catches on low throws.
- Donovan McNabb is still having fun after all these years. On one play, he took off running down the sideline. But just as a defender assumed he would step out of bounds, McNabb tip-toed down the sideline. The fans went nuts, and McNabb had a good laugh as he jogged back to the huddle.
- Defensive end Chris Clemons, the former Raider, broke through for at least one sack in the practice and his quickness in drills was pretty impressive. Still looks too skinny to me, but he had a good practice.
- Former Charges linebacker Matt Wilhelm stuffed the run a couple times and he looks like he could definitely contribute. At the rate they're going, the Eagles are going to need a lot of depth at linebacker. And based on Monday's practice, they might be in better shape than a lot of people think.
- Asante Samuel rarely speaks to the media, but he's the most vocal defender on the field. When cornerback Sheldon Brown made a really nice play on the ball, Samuel came racing in from the sideline shouting at the top of his lungs.
- There's been a Winston Justice sighting early in camp. I think most fans and reporters just assu
med he'd never be heard from again after his nightmare experience against the Giants a couple years ago, but he's shown up with a different mindset in this camp. I don't want to go too far, but it's safe to say that Winston Justice is actually displaying some confidence in this camp. If Shawn Andrews can't go, the Eagles may need Justice.
- When Maclin sort of threw Sheldon Brown to the ground after a pass breakup, someone from the stands shouted, "Maclin, that's our Pro Bowler! Take it easy!"
- Kevin Kolb was throwing the ball pretty well this morning before he sprained his MCL. He'll miss Thursday's preseason game, but the Eagles are saying he'll be day to day after that.
- Rookie cornerback Macho Harris out of Virginia Tech made some nice plays on the ball in one-on-one drills with the receivers. All in all, the defense really dominated the offense. McNabb admitted as much and vowed to change that in the near future. Speaking of McNabb, it's ridiculous how many weapons he has at receiver right now. Watching Jackson, Maclin, Avant and Kevin Curtis go about their business convinces me that this is the best receiving corps in the NFC East.
- I like Eldra Buckley at running back. I don't know if he has a chance to make the team, but he's willing to dole out some punishment when he sticks his nose in the hole. He spent last season on the Chargers' practice squad. Another good underdog story.
- Jason Peters looked fine to me during team drills. Very athletic and he can engulf a defensive end. Watched him do it twice Monday morning. And Stacy Andrews may be the tallest right guard I've seen. At 6-7, he cast a pretty long shadow. And on the left side, reserve offensive tackle King Dunlap is the same way. He's one of those guys who could be pretty effective if the light ever comes on. If memory serves correct, he just didn't want to work that hard at Auburn. I'll ask around and see if he's changed that at all. Pretty impressive looking guy. The Eagles have six offensive linemen on the roster 6-5 or taller.
|Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images|
|Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald torched Philadelphia's defense for 152 yards and three touchdowns.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Philadelphia Eagles spent the past two months digging themselves out of a huge hole. So maybe that's why we weren't surprised that it took an 18-point deficit to rouse their competitive spirit in Sunday's NFC Championship Game.
After a dreadful first half in which the Eagles acted as if they'd never seen film of the best wide receiver in football, they came storming back to take a 25-24 lead over Arizona in the fourth quarter. The Big Toaster fell silent and the Eagles were poised to pull off one of the greatest postseason comebacks this side of Frank Reich.
In the end, though, the Eagles didn't leave themselves enough margin for error. The same defense that had carried the team throughout the postseason faltered at the worst possible moment, and the Cardinals escaped with a 32-25 victory.
At some point, the Eagles will look back and take pride in their postseason accomplishments. But on this day, they weren't interested in providing perspective. They let a golden opportunity slip through their hands because they had no answers for the Cardinals' offense in the first half -- or on its game-winning drive.
"I expected the guys to step up, they expected to step up, but it didn't happen," said coach Andy Reid.
After his team amassed eight yards in the third quarter, Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner dialed up All-Pro wideout Larry Fitzgerald on several key plays on the winning drive, including a remarkable 6-yard catch at the Eagles' 14 with two Eagles defenders hanging on him.
Fitzgerald has emerged as the most dangerous offensive player in the league and the Eagles didn't have anyone capable of defending him. Cornerback Asante Samuel signed a lucrative free agent contract last March because the Eagles thought he could match up with explosive receivers such as Fitzgerald. On Sunday, he wasn't up to the task.
The Eagles should take pride in what they accomplished this season, but Sunday was no time for perspective.
From the start, it was obvious the Eagles didn't respect the Cardinals' running game. Despite their relative success in the postseason -- the Cardinals were last in rushing during the regular season -- Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson flooded the field with defensive backs to account for Warner and the passing game. The Cardinals responded by pounding away with running backs Edgerrin James and Tim Hightower, who combined for 68 yards in the first half.
Fitzgerald had six catches for 113 yards and three touchdowns in the first half. His second score came off a trick play on which J.J. Arrington threw a lateral pass to Warner, who then launched the ball downfield to Fitzgerald. Reserve safety Quintin Demps appeared to be in decent position but got turned around at the last second and fell down at Fitzgerald's ankles. In the somber visiting locker room, Eagles players didn't want to admit they were overmatched, but they were clearly in awe of Fitzgerald.
"He was out of his mind today," said Brown, who was victimized on Fitzgerald's third touchdown. "He's a great player. And I like him because he's not a showman. He does everything in the context of the team."
Later, Brown told me he looked forward to telling his grandchildren about playing against Fitzgerald. Late in the first half, Brown lined up in one-on-one coverage against Fitzgerald at the Eagles' 1-yard line.
In the Thanksgiving game between the two teams, he'd been able to break up a slant route to Fitzgerald in a similar situation. Fitzgerald "started dancing" at the line of scrimmage, and when Brown guessed slant, Fitzgerald caught a fade route for a touchdown.
Even 20 minutes after the game, defensive ends Trent Cole, Juqua Parker, Chris Clemons and Darren Howard sat together near their lockers and angrily discussed the Cardinals' winning drive. A few feet away, offensive line coach Juan Castillo sat alone, his face buried in his hands.
The Eagles insisted they didn't underestimate the Cardinals. They had beaten Arizona by 28 points on Thanksgiving, but Reid stressed all week that they didn't get the Cardinals' best shot.
That didn't happen until Sunday.
Middle linebacker Stewart Bradley spent about 15 minutes attempting to explain what had happened, but he finally settled on a hard reality.
"At the end of the day, they did their jobs and we didn't," said Bradley. "And they're going to the Super Bowl and we're going home."