NFC East: Chris Gocong
» Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)
Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: Draft approach.
Now that Jerry Jones has released left tackle Flozell Adams and safety Ken Hamlin, there's more of a sense of urgency at those spots in the draft. The Cowboys will replace Adams with Doug Free, but they could still take an offensive tackle or guard at No. 27 overall. Safety Nate Allen and cornerback Devin McCourty are two players the Cowboys really like late in the first round.
There's a belief that safeties Alan Ball and Mike Hamlin could get the job done in a pinch, but the Cowboys will focus on that position in the draft. Last year's approach involved saving money -- if you can believe that. The Cowboys' first picks were Nos. 69 and 74. The only true impact player from the '09 draft was kickoff specialist David Buehler. In this year's draft, the Cowboys need to select players who can have a more immediate impact. If an offensive tackle starts to slip in the first round, don't be surprised if the Cowboys are there to catch him.
In the past, the Cowboys have emphasized need over value out of necessity. In this year's draft, I think staying at No. 27 and going with the best value is what the Cowboys are trying to accomplish. Releasing Hamlin and Adams certainly changed the dynamic heading into the draft, but it also provided some clarity.
New York Giants
General manager Jerry Reese almost never gets caught reaching in a draft. He doesn't normally go for project players in the first three rounds, although Ramses Barden is certainly the exception. This year's approach has to be a little different, though. The Giants were exposed on defense in several areas last season.
They can't afford to simply take the "best-player-on-the-board" philosophy. The Giants need help at linebacker and defensive tackle. And another pass-rusher would be nice. I'd be very surprised if the Giants took an offensive player at No. 15 overall. If Rolando McClain out of Alabama is there, look for Reese to take him. He's exactly the type of player Reese and Coughlin love -- remarkably intelligent and a natural leader. After losing Antonio Pierce, the Giants need more players like that.
With the Sheldon Brown/Chris Gocong trade, the Eagles are now thin at cornerback and linebacker. And it's not as if they had an embarrassment of riches at those positions before the trade. In the past, the Eagles have been very open to moving down in the first round. And with the depth of talent in this year's draft, that's certainly a possibility. But at No. 24, something tells me the Eagles will stay right there and draft the best cornerback or safety available. They've taken a long look at Texas' Earl Thomas, but he won't be available at that point.
The Eagles need more firepower at linebacker, so that's also an option in the first round. They've spent the past couple of drafts bolstering their offense with speed at the skill positions. Now it's time to start retooling that defense. I'd be very surprised if the Eagles don't take a defensive player at No. 24.
Mike Shanahan continues to meet with quarterbacks despite the blockbuster trade for Donovan McNabb. I recall McNabb not enjoying a certain draft pick in '07, so it will be interesting to see whether Shanahan addresses the quarterback position in the draft.
Of course, the draft focus now turns to left tackle. The Redskins don't have a viable candidate there unless they sign the aging Flozell Adams. And general manager Bruce Allen said on a local radio show that he's talked to Adams' agent. But I still think left tackle Russell Okung of Oklahoma State is the way to go for the Redskins at No. 4 overall. The Redskins will have to wait until Saturday to pick again unless they somehow land a second-round pick in a trade.
So in reality, the Redskins will only find one immediate starter in this draft. And by the way, Shanahan needs to start drafting some larger inside linebackers. As I've said many times, London Fletcher is not going to hold up in this defense for very long. Part of that is age, but most of it is size.
This deal further confirms a suspicion that I have had for some time. The Eagles are rebuilding. They are not rebuilding like the hapless Buccaneers or Rams are rebuilding, but this is very much a team in transition and by their lofty standards, they are rebuilding. Trading starting-caliber players for draft picks is a move that a team looking to dump salary and get younger makes, which is pretty consistent with how the Eagles have handled the entire offseason. Once Donovan McNabb is shipped out of Philadelphia and the keys to the Eagles’ extremely young offense are handed to Kevin Kolb, that transition will be further justified.
But Eagles fans, rebuilding is not a curse word. Sure, the Cowboys steamrolled the Eagles twice to finish the season, but this is still a very strong organization. In fact, this should be a very exciting time to be an Eagles fan because the organization can further build a terrific young nucleus that should keep them competitive for years to come. Remember, this is an excellent draft class.
Many probably consider Hall a throw-in. But he is a good special-teams player and has upside as an edge pass-rusher. Hall could be a valuable player for the Eagles as soon as next season.
Gocong did some good things with the Eagles, but fell out of favor last season and was actually benched at one point. A defensive end in college, Gocong fits in the Browns’ 3-4 defense better than in the Eagles’ defense. Gocong is much less of a liability in coverage than you would expect considering his background. He plays hard and is aggressive, but he also isn’t as dynamic as the Eagles would prefer from the outside linebacker position. I do contend that if Stewart Bradley had not been injured, the entire linebacking corps --including Gocong -- would have produced at a much higher level in 2009. Philadelphia now could use two starting outside linebackers to flank Bradley.
Brown is a solid starting cornerback and had very respectable season. He isn’t special, but he can play both the run and pass effectively. He also has a history of making plays and getting his hands on the football. Cleveland should be very happy to have him. The Eagles’ pass coverage was a huge problem in 2009, so changes are understandable. But this creates a major need at cornerback.
Needless to say, this month’s draft is huge for the future of this organization -- and more high picks should be on the way with a trade of McNabb. But overall, this deal with Cleveland implies that a rebuilding project is under way in Philadelphia.
Potential unrestricted free agents: G Montrae Holland
Potential restricted free agents: NT Junior Siavii, WR Miles Austin, DE Stephen Bowen, CB Cletis Gordon, DE Jason Hatcher, WR Sam Hurd, T Pat McQuistan, C Duke Preston, G Cory Procter, S Gerald Sensabaugh, DE Marcus Spears, S Pat Watkins, K Shaun Suisham.
What to expect: Anything is possible with Jerry Jones in charge, and the Cowboys could make a big splash after an underwhelming offseason a year ago. But in terms of team needs and what is required to take the next step, Dallas really doesn’t need much. A big-time impact safety makes some sense and could make a very good defense great, but that might be a project for the draft in a trade-up scenario for someone like Earl Thomas. But Darren Sharper might pique their interest. They also need to get younger along the offensive line, particularly at tackle, but that seems like a draft-day project, too. Maybe Jones gets real aggressive in the wide receiver market, as Roy Williams certainly is not living up to his billing, but the Cowboys are still rather stacked with pass-catchers. All in all, this is a team that is sitting pretty and doesn’t have a prominent unrestricted free agent who is poised to leave.
New York Giants
Potential unrestricted free agents: QB David Carr, LB Danny Clark, P Jeff Feagles, DT Fred Robbins
Potential restricted free agents: WR Domenik Hixon, TE Darcy Johnson, DE Dave Tollefson, G Kevin Boothe, S C.C. Brown, DT Barry Cofield, CB Kevin Dockery, WR Derek Hagan, WR Sinorice Moss, T Guy Whimper, LB Gerris Wilkinson.
What to expect: Big things could be in the works here, as there are already rumors swirling that New York could be a prime suitor for linebacker Karlos Dansby. An impact linebacker is certainly near the top of their wish list and Dansby fits the bill. Plus, he is extremely versatile. Getting faster on defense is a huge priority with new coordinator Perry Fewell stressing the ability to cover a lot of ground. However, Dansby isn’t really the thumper they need in the middle and is more of an outside linebacker for this system, although he would be great on passing downs. This is a group of decision-makers who might be starting to feel some heat, so do not rule out a big move or two.
Potential unrestricted free agents: DE Jason Babin, S Sean Jones, LB Jeremiah Trotter, LB Tracy White
Potential restricted free agents: LB Akeem Jordan, P Saverio Rocca, WR Jason Avant, C Nick Cole, LB Omar Gaither, LB Chris Gocong, CB Ellis Hobbs, G Max Jean-Gilles, TE Alex Smith, FB Leonard Weaver.
What to expect: There are questions on the offensive line, but overall, the Eagles are in a prime situation to improve their defense, particularly up front and at safety. Remember, they have quarterbacks to dangle as trade bait and really do not have any unrestricted guys that they need to bring back. This is a possible landing spot for Julius Peppers and he would be terrific on the opposite side of Trent Cole, who is among the most underrated players in the game and could blow up with someone taking pass protection attention away from his side. Count on the Eagles being aggressive in the free-agent and/or trade market. It might just be enough to get them that ever elusive Lombardi trophy. Stranger things have happened.
Potential unrestricted free agents: LS Ethan Albright, DE Phillip Daniels, T Levi Jones, C Casey Rabach,
P Hunter Smith, T Mike Williams, DE Renaldo Wynn, TE Todd Yoder.
Potential restricted free agents: DE Lorenzo Alexander, T Stephon Heyer, LB Chris Wilson, QB Jason Campbell, S Reed Doughty, DT Kedric Golston, LB Rocky McIntosh, DT Anthony Montgomery, C Will Montgomery, CB Carlos Rogers.
What to expect: This is a difficult team to get a grasp on in terms of what they might do in free agency, but I think it is safe to say that ownership will not hold Mike Shanahan and company back from opening up the check book and signing (and even overpaying) players whom they desire. It would be wise for Washington to have an excellent idea of what they are going to do with the fourth overall draft pick in terms of going quarterback or offensive tackle before really devising a free-agency plan. Rebuilding the offensive line is a must and Shanahan needs lighter, quicker (and younger) linemen than are on the roster. A running back they can trust wouldn’t hurt either, although it looks as though Clinton Portis will return, which they may regret. But don’t forget, this is a team that -- unwisely in my opinion -- is switching to a 3-4 scheme, so inside linebacker help is required, as are defensive linemen who fit the new scheme. The Redskins have a long wish list, but also have the ownership to endorse big spending when free agency opens.
In the Meadowlands, Tom Coughlin delivered the bad news that Aaron Ross had re-injured his hamstring. He won't rule him out for Monday's game but it doesn't sound good. Cornerback Corey Webster is also up in the air for Monday's game.
Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 11 in the Beast.
Can the Giants fix their issues on defense? The good news is that this is the healthiest they've been all season. There's even a chance that cornerback Aaron Ross finally returns to the field. The Giants have paid dearly for not having sufficient depth at safety. If Ross could actually move over and help them at safety, there could be a huge payoff. I also think this could be a big game for former Falcons linebacker Michael Boley. The team pretty much gave up on the speedy linebacker. Now, he has a chance to make them pay. The Falcons lose an important player with running back Michael Turner out this week. Quarterback Matt Ryan will have to get the job done, and he's been very shaky in protecting the footbally lately. He managed games so well last season that it's hard to believe that he could throw so many interceptions. The Giants need to get in his face early and not allow him to find a rhythm.
I think the Eagles will be much better on defense this week. And I'm not just talking about the fact that they'll be staring across from the interception-machine known as Jay Cutler. It looks like Joe Mays will step in at middle linebacker, allowing Chris Gocong to return to the strong-side spot. With Will Witherspoon at the weak-side position, I think the Eagles will look like a more athletic team. Mays isn't a star or anything but he's capable of covering running backs and tight ends. If Sheldon Brown can play through a hamstring injury, I think the Eagles will be OK in the secondary. If Brown can't go, the Eagles are going to be hurting. Quintin Mikell and Asante Samuel are both strong players, but they wouldn't have much help with Brown on the sideline. Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott desperately needs his front four to generate most of the pass-rush. You don't want to be bringing a lot of blitzes with the way this secondary looks right now.
Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett needs to re-discover the running game. Garrett said the game plan got "out of whack" last week against the Packers because of some down-and-distance situations. Some of that's true, but he could've done more to establish the running game. What's the point in spending a first-round pick on Felix Jones if you're going to give him three touches in a tight game? Jones is one of the most explosive players on the team and Garrett has to dial him up this week. Owner Jerry Jones pretty much said the same thing this week. He wants to see the other Jones get more opportunities, so hopefully that happens.
Watch this matchup between Cowboys right tackle Doug Free and Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo. I realize that Orakpo's a stand-up linebacker on first down but he'll see plenty of action at defensive end. He's a strong player who loves to use the bull-rush -- and I think that's Free's biggest deficiency. The former Northern Illinois player moves really well laterally and he's what scouts call a good "foot athlete," but he can get overpowered. Look for Skins defensive coordinator Greg Blache to try and get Orakpo in one-on-one situations with Free. The Cowboys will try to counter that by helping out Free with tight ends. If the Redskins pull off the upset, I think Orakpo will have had a monster game. Keep that in mind this Sunday. And have a tremendous football weekend.
Reid also said that running back Brian Westbook is taking it easy this week and will start attending team meetings again next week. The brain injury specialists in Pittsburgh said they wanted to see Westbrook again in 2-3 weeks, so obviously he won't be back in the lineup before then.
"We’re backing him off and letting him rest,” Reid told reporters Friday. “That was on the doctor’s plan that they had for him. Next week he can start going back to meetings and doing some things. We’ll see how he feels. The doctors want to see how he does for the next week, what, if any symptoms he has and evaluate him in 2-3 weeks."
Little fantasy advice: If you have access to LeSean McCoy, I'd find a way to get him on the field in this game. Something tells me the rookie's about to go off. Call it a hunch. Or call it whatever you want to call it.
"He was probably right," Mornhinweg told reporters in South Philly on Thursday.
Mornhinweg said he needed to stop simply focusing on what might work against a particular defense and try to play to his team's strengths, which currently do not include gaining a single yard in the red zone. In other news, Eagles defensive coordinator Sean McDermott may be ready to end Chris Gocong's career as a middle linebacker after only one game. McDermott indicated that Gocong might play at the strongside spot against the Bears on Sunday.
The defensive coordinator also said that cornerback Sheldon Brown (hamstring strain) intends to play Sunday night. If he doesn't, the Eagles will be as thin at cornerback as any team in the league.
I'll be delivering a Winston Justice column at some point this afternoon. Thanks for your patience.
Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 10:
I think the Eagles will ride Brian Westbrook in this game. Yes, I know this is a different team with DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, but the Chargers did a nice job taking away the deep ball against the Giants. Westbrook appears to be healthy heading into this game, and I think he could give the Chargers' linebackers trouble in space. I think Andy Reid needs to get Westbrook involved early so he can take a hit or two. He hasn't played since that violent collision with London Fletcher's knee. Once Westbrook feels some contact, I think he'll be ready to go. I see a breakout game coming for him. And if you know my track record on predictions, make sure you bench Westbrook on your fantasy team immediately.
The Redskins are catching the Broncos at a bad time. After a brilliant start to the season, the Broncos have dropped two straight to the Ravens and Steelers. They can't afford a three-game losing streak. I think Josh McDaniels will take advantage of the Skins' issues in the secondary. With Levi Jones taking over at left tackle and Chad Rinehart possibly getting some valuable time at guard, Washington's offensive line will have a different look. I don't think it can be any worse. Mike Williams was struggling mightily before he was injured. Here's hoping that Jim Zorn and Sherm Lewis discussed ways in which Jason Campbell can get the ball away quicker. Don't waste time sending Santana Moss on double moves 40 yards downfield when there's no hope of getting the protection. And on defense, this is the game where you need Albert Haynesworth to earn his money. I know his legion of apologists has spoken, but it's time for him to take over a game. This would be a good place to start. The Redskins can't afford the turnovers that have plagued them all season. If they get a quick start and a heroic performance from the defense, the Redskins can hang around in this game. Am I predicting a win? C'mon!
The Cowboys must dominate the line of scrimmage on defense. Outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware could have three or four sacks. The Packers' offensive line has been awful this season, but those 37 sacks are also a product of Aaron Rodgers holding onto the ball too long. He won't be able to get away with that Sunday. Packers left tackle Chad Clifton is back from an ankle injury, but it's not like he's completely healthy. He really struggles when pass-rushers try to make an inside charge. At this point, Clifton's just a guy. Someone named T.J. Lang is going to get the start at right tackle. This is a big, big problem for the Packers. And keep your eye on Keith Brooking and Ware in this game. This offensive line has allowed linebackers to come racing through the line of scrimmage in the running game.
I love this Charles Woodson vs. Jason Witten matchup. It looks like the Packers will try to keep Woodson close to the line of scrimmage and let him press Witten. I think Witten's athletic enough to get releases on the long-armed Woodson, but we'll see if quarterback Tony Romo has enough time to get the ball to him downfield. I think it will be one of the best matchups on the field. Romo will be looking for Packers cornerback Jarrett Bush. The Cowboys think he's susceptible to double moves. That's why they hope he jumps on Miles Austin or even Patrick Crayton at times. If Bush gets burned a lot Sunday, remember that you read about it on Final Word, one of America's fastest growing features on the Internet.
"We have a variety of things we can do there. We have a bunch of different combinations that we’re working on and we’ll just play it how we see it once we get out there as far as personnel goes."
In other injury news, left tackle Jason Peters did not practice Friday and he's listed as questionable for Sunday's game. According to reporters on the scene, starting left guard Todd Herremans moved over and took some reps at left tackle during practice.
After trading for former Patriots cornerback Ellis Hobbs on draft day, it looked like the Eagles would have quality depth at that position. With All-Pro Asante Samuel, Sheldon Brown and Joselio Hanson returning for the '09 season, it looked like a pretty talented group.
But on Wednesday, the Eagles placed Hobbs on injured reserve with a neck injury and Hanson was suspended for four games by the NFL for using a banned substance. Now the Eagles will face Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers and his talented group of wide receivers and tight ends without some key players in the secondary.
Coach Andy Reid acknowledged that the Eagles might promote cornerback Jack Ikegwuonu from their practice squad to help provide depth. Right now, it's unclear who would be the nickel corner against the Chargers. Ramzee Robinson played in 13 games for the Lions last season, but that was mostly on special teams.
In other injury news, running back Brian Westbrook didn't practice Wednesday, but Reid said he'd be ready to go Thursday. The Eagles practiced indoors and Reid doesn't like to have Westbrook run on the hard surface.
Starting linebacker Akeem Jordan (knee), left tackle Jason Peters (ankle), fullback Leonard Weaver (ankle) and linebacker Moise Fokou (flu) all missed practice Wednesday. Defensive tackle Mike Patterson was limited with a toe injury. The one piece of good news is that Chris Gocong returned to practice after missing the Cowboys game with quad and hamstring injuries.
In some non-injury news, ESPN 950's Brian Seltzer is reporting that wide receiver DeSean Jackson has fired his agent and plans to sign with Drew Rosenhaus. You can read Seltzer daily on this blog.
PHILADELPHIA -- Eagles running back Brian Westbrook (concussion) is officially inactive for tonight's game against the Cowboys. ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that Westbrook would not play earlier today.
Here are the rest of the Eagles inactives: CB Dimitri Patterson, RB P.J. Hill, RB Brian Westbrook, LB Chris Gocong, G Max Jean-Gilles, G Mike McGlynn, WR Kevin Curtis, DE Victor Abiamiri.
Cowboys inactives: Stephen McGee -- emergency QB, CB Allen Rossum, S Michael Hamlin, LB Steve Octavien, LB Jason Williams, G Montrae Holland, C Duke Preston, T Pat McQuistan
One thing to note is that the Eagles are keeping all three quarterbacks active for tonight's game. For the past couple weeks, Kevin Kolb had been serving as the emergency quarterback. Might be a sign that the Eagles intend on using the Wildcat formation with Michael Vick more than usual. I'll keep you posted.
Update: Here’s a statement from Eagles athletic trainer Rick Burkholder regarding Westbrook’s injury: “On Friday afternoon, Brian began experiencing symptoms of a mild headache. From that point forward, we had Brian reevaluated by [team internist] Dr. Gary Dorshimer and we put him through extensive testing. Even though those tests were determined to be negative, we all thought it would be in the best interests of Brian and the team that he should be deactivated for tonight’s game. We will continue to evaluate Brian this week.”
On Friday, coach Andy Reid indicated that he simply wanted to get running back LeSean McCoy some extra reps. It’s not often we receive a statement from an athletic trainer only minutes before a game.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
- Cowboys assistant athletic trainer Greg Gaither has been released from Baylor University Medical Center, according to the club. By the way, Gaither is one of the unsung heroes for the Cowboys. He's a guy who works ridiculous hours and is constantly upbeat. Players swear by him. Oh, and he reads this blog every morning.
- In other Cowboys news, crews are working around the clock to complete the new stadium.
- Todd Archer wrote about the Nick Folk hip surgery in the Dallas Morning News.
- Donovan McNabb is the most recognizable athlete in Philly, according to John Gonzalez of the Inquirer.
- Linebacker Chris Gocong helps out a local science class.
- The return of Favre would be a bad thing for the Eagles, according to Paul Domowitch.
- Hakeem Nicks is drawing comparisons to Michael Irvin.
- Jeremy Bridges is looking for a fresh start with the Redskins.
- Don't expect H.B. Blades to go in the tank just because Brian Orakpo's on the scene.
- Here's another story on Bridges from the Washington Post.
One Eagles player offered an interesting theory on why the defense had so much success against Giants quarterback Eli Manning in Sunday's divisional playoff game. Peter King tracked down Eagles middle linebacker Stewart Bradley on the team bus after the game.
"We had a pretty good idea of his cadence," Bradley said. "When you play a guy three times in a season, you can pick up certain things. The tempo of his voice, how he puts his head up when he's getting ready to snap the ball ... it helped us [Sunday]."
Chris Gocong and Bradley were jumping gaps all over the place, so maybe Manning's cadence did have something to do with that. Very interesting angle.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
Gregg Easterbrook of TMQ fame had some interesting observations on why the Eagles' blitz had so much success against Tarvaris Jackson and the Vikings. He thinks the Eagles' use of the safety blitz is a sign that Philadelphia didn't have much respect for Jackson. I tend to agree. He also thinks the Eagles' front seven is even with the Giants' front seven. I wouldn't have agreed with that five or six weeks ago, but you can at least make the argument now.
"As for Philadelphia, its front seven -- Juqua Parker, Mike Patterson, Brodrick Bunkley, Trent Cole, Akeem Jordan, Stewart Bradley and Chris Gocong -- are playing as well as the Giants' front seven was when the G-Persons rolled to the Super Bowl last season," writes Easterbrook. "Plus the Eagles' defensive schemes have become less predictable lately, as Philadelphia now shows blitz and then backs off more than it did in the past. If we can't have a Manning-Manning Super Bowl, at least a Pennsylvania Turnpike matchup of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh remains possible."