NFC East: Danny Watkins
On Monday, the team signed defensive end Cedric Thornton to a one-year deal. Thornton was in that 2011 class, too. He wasn’t even drafted, signing with the Eagles as a rookie free agent. Over the course of several defensive coordinators and a major scheme change, the 6-foot-4, 309-pound Thornton emerged as a reliable starter at defensive end.
Thornton was an exclusive rights player (the term “free agent” really doesn’t fit), so it was all but a foregone conclusion that he would re-up with the Eagles.
The youth and flexibility along the defensive line give the Eagles plenty of options. They have Thornton, 25; nose tackle Bennie Logan, 24; and end Fletcher Cox, 23, at the top of the depth chart. Cox, their 2012 first-round pick, is the only one making a premium salary. Clifton Geathers, Damion Square and Vinny Curry rotated in and played situationally.
Thornton drew praise all season from coach Chip Kelly and defensive coordinator Bill Davis. He was ahead of the curve in converting from the 4-3 scheme to the 3-4 that Davis brought in. Pro Football Focus ranked Thornton third in the NFL among 3-4 defense ends as a run-stopper. Only Houston’s J.J. Watt and the Jets’ Sheldon Richardson graded higher.
Thornton’s emergence gives the Eagles the luxury of addressing other areas as needed. But his relative affordability doesn’t prohibit them from upgrading at the position if their draft board dictates they should take a defensive end.
The 2011 draft didn’t go well for the Eagles, but that class provided them good players on both lines.
In evaluating the decline of the team in Andy Reid's final years, Eagles owner Jeff Lurie and general manager Howie Roseman have said the big mistake was thinking the team was always one move away from a championship. In trying to make that one decisive win-now move, the Eagles instead made mistakes that weakened their infrastructure.
The goal should be simple: Keep adding talent around those core players until the Eagles are at the elite level of the teams that will play in the Super Bowl Sunday. That means using every tool available, including spending money on free agents when it is warranted.
The Denver Broncos weren't exactly thinking about a five-year plan when they signed Peyton Manning two years ago. The Seattle Seahawks splurged on a quarterback in free agency that same offseason. They signed Green Bay's Matt Flynn to a three-year, $26 million contract.
Manning had one of the great seasons ever and will start for the Broncos Sunday. Flynn is back in Green Bay as a backup. Russell Wilson became Seattle's starter and quickly emerged as one of the top young quarterbacks in the NFL.
If the Broncos had ruled out high-priced, quick-fix free agents, the Patriots would be in the Super Bowl. If the Seahawks had avoided drafting a quarterback that high after signing Flynn, San Francisco or New Orleans would be preparing for Tom Brady.
This isn't to say the Eagles should go crazy and throw big money at every flavor-of-the-month free agent on the market. But they also shouldn't rule out the occasional bold move. Yes, they were burned by Nnamdi Asomugha a few years back, but Reid's era of success was made possible partly by acquisitions like Hugh Douglas (in a trade, with a new contract included), Jon Runyan and, well, let's just admit it, Terrell Owens.
Roseman has said repeatedly that the Eagles will avoid huge free-agent deals. That would seem to rule out difference-making players like Washington linebacker Brian Orakpo and safeties Jairus Byrd of Buffalo and T.J. Ward of Cleveland.
And that's fine, provided the Eagles are able to obtain high-quality players in other ways. Seattle got 16-1/2 sacks in the 2013 season from free-agent pickups Cliff Avril (two years, $13 million) and Michael Bennett (one year, $5 million). Smart shopping is the key, whatever the price tag.
The key point is that the Eagles didn't make a mistake by signing marquee free agents. They made mistakes in player evaluation in both free agency and the draft. You don't stop drafting because you selected Danny Watkins and Jaiquawn Jarrett, so you shouldn't rule out free agency because you signed Asomugha and Vince Young.
The Eagles made huge strides in one year because Kelly made excellent use of the considerable offensive talent he inherited, and because his overall approach in all phases reinvigorated a stale franchise. To make those next steps toward a championship-caliber team will require better players in a few key spots.
If Byrd, Orakpo or some other elite player can further that process, the Eagles shouldn't hesitate to go after him. There is no rebuilding, only building, and that process should be constant. The well-run organizations of the last decade understand that. The Eagles should know -- a few missteps aside, they're one of them.
The bad news?
"It’s a different league," Kelly said. "This isn't recruiting where you can go out and offer and try to get them to come. There's a selection in the draft process and we're not going to pick until the 22nd [spot in the first round]. There's 21 other guys that we may covet, but we don't have an opportunity to get them."
If a team drafted 22d every year and did well, it could be awfully good. Based on the last 10 years, drafting only players taken between No. 22 and No. 32 (the end of the first round), a team could have Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, wide receivers Dez Bryant and Santonio Holmes, running backs Steven Jackson and Chris Johnson, linebackers Clay Matthews and Nick Perry, safety Brandon Meriweather and defensive linemen Cameron Jordan and Sharrif Floyd.
You could do worse. Plenty of teams did do worse. Cleveland took two quarterbacks, Brady Quinn and Brandon Weeden, at No. 22.
Later we’ll look at some possible players the Eagles could consider at No. 22 in this year’s draft. For now, here’s a quick look at the 22nd pick in each of the past 10 NFL drafts, along with a few players that were on the board at the time (I didn’t go beyond the end of the first round out of fairness; just looking at first-round graded players):
2013: Cornerback Desmond Trufant from Washington, selected by Atlanta.
On the board: Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, WR/Returner Cordarrelle Patterson, defensive end Datone Jones.
2012: Quarterback Brandon Weeden from Oklahoma State, selected by Cleveland.
On the board: Linebackers Dont'a Hightower and Nick Perry, running back Doug Martin.
2011: Offensive tackle Anthony Castonzo from Boston College, selected by Indianapolis.
On the board: Offensive lineman Danny Watkins, defensive end Cameron Jordan, running back Mark Ingram.
2010: Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas from Georgia Tech, selected by Denver.
On the board: Wide receiver Dez Bryant, quarterback Tim Tebow, cornerback Devin McCourty.
2009: Wide receiver Percy Harvin from Florida, selected by Minnesota.
On the board: Offensive tackle Michael Oher, cornerback Vontae Davis, linebacker Clay Matthews.
2008: RB Felix Jones from Arkansas, selected by Dallas.
On the board: Running backs Rashard Mendenhall and Chris Johnson, cornerback Mike Jenkins.
2007: Quarterback Brady Quinn from Notre Dame, selected by Cleveland.
On the board: Wide receiver Dwayne Bowe, safety Brandon Meriweather, linebackers Jon Beason and Anthony Spencer, offensive tackle Joe Staley.
2006: Linebacker Manny Lawson from N.C. State, selected by San Francisco.
On the board: Offensive lineman Davin Joseph, wide receiver Santonio Holmes, running back DeAngelo Williams, defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka.
2005: Wide receiver Mark Clayton from Oklahoma, selected by Baltimore.
On the board: Cornerback Fabian Washington, quarterback Aaron Rodgers, wide receiver Roddy White.
2004: Quarterback J.P. Losman from Tulane, selected by Buffalo.
On the board: Defensive tackle Marcus Tubbs, running back Steven Jackson, defensive end Jason Babin.
It’s ironic, because those precise qualities are prized by Philadelphia fans. Instead of winning hearts and minds, Watkins had fans, coaches and Roseman scratching their heads. He was a 26-year-old rookie, a former firefighter from British Columbia, and he seemed lost from the beginning.
“He never let himself go here,” Roseman said. “I don’t know why that was. I told him that was one of the things I was so confused by. It all goes back to the pressure he put on himself here. At the end of the day, for him to have success in this league, we felt he had to have a fresh start.”
That 2011 draft has turned out to be disastrous for the Eagles. Watkins is a bust. Second-round pick Jaiquawn Jarrett, a safety from Temple, was cut last year and is now starting for the New York Jets. Only two players, center Jason Kelce and kicker Alex Henery, from that class are in the Eagles’ starting lineup.
The 2010 draft wasn’t much better. First-round pick Brandon Graham is a backup trying to make the move from 4-3 defensive end to 3-4 outside linebacker. Second-round safety Nate Allen appears to have survived a challenge to hold onto his starting job. Riley Cooper and Kurt Coleman are the only other players from that class on the roster.
When he fired head coach Andy Reid after 2012 season, owner Jeff Lurie made a point of absolving Roseman for those drafts. To his credit, Roseman seized the opportunity to change the way the Eagles do business. That included adding veteran personnel men Tom Gamble, Rick Mueller and Tom Donahoe to his staff.
“We’ve been able to evaluate ourselves and make some substantial changes in how we do things,” Roseman said. “We’ve changed a lot of people in our personnel department. We’ve changed the way we look at things because we have new people in place.”
It was decisions like drafting Watkins, who was already 26 and had been playing football for just four years, that led to the Eagles’ sharp decline in Andy Reid’s final two seasons. Reid crowed that he had a stud who could step right in and dominate at right guard. After 30 months and 18 starts, Watkins is gone.
Versatility is the key. Head coach Chip Kelly and GM Howie Roseman placed a heavy emphasis on versatility in making decisions, especially at the back end of the roster.
Linebacker Casey Matthews, who plays on all four special-teams units, stayed instead of Chris McCoy, who had a good preseason. Tight end Emil Igwenagu, a strong point-of-attack blocker, beat out Clay Harbor, whose skills were similar to the other tight ends. Wide receiver Jeff Maehl, a high school safety, beat out Greg Salas and Russell Shepard because he’s a tougher special-teams guy.
“We were looking for different skill sets, especially at the back of the roster,” Roseman said. “We felt there was room for some role players on our team.”
What’s next. The Eagles have the No. 4 spot when it comes to being awarded waiver claims. Roseman plans to take advantage of that in order to fill some holes that remain on the roster.
“Sometimes that’s hard to do at this time of year,” Roseman said. “[Jaguars GM] Dave Caldwell’s probably thinking the same thing two spots ahead of us on the wire. We have a draft board set up. We spent an inordinate amount of time on guys we thought would be on the bubble.”
The most pressing needs are in the defensive secondary, where the Eagles are thin at cornerback and simply unimpressive at safety, and at linebacker. There were only three outside linebackers on the roster as of the 6 p.m. deadline.
QB: Dennis Dixon, G.J. Kinne. RB: Matthew Tucker. WR: Greg Salas, Russell Shepard, Ifeanyi Momah, Will Kelly. TE: Clay Harbor. OL: Danny Watkins, Dallas Reynolds, Matt Tennant, Matt Kopa. DL: Antonio Dixon, David King. LB: Chris McCoy, Travis Long, Everette Brown, Adrian Robinson. DB: Trevard Lindley (injured), David Sims. Placed DE Joe Kruger (shoulder) on IR.
Wide receivers Greg Salas and Russell Shepard both had very good training camps. With so many injuries at the position, including projected starter Jeremy Maclin, they looked like candidates to make the team. Both were released. That means Jeff Maehl, who played for coach Chip Kelly at Oregon, made the 53-man roster. Clay Harbor, the tight end who attempted a midsummer conversion to wideout, was also released.
Outside linebacker Chris McCoy, who stood out in Thursday's preseason finale against the Jets, was cut. Emmanuel Acho made the team, as did reserve inside linebacker Casey Matthews. Another linebacker, Travis Long, was cut.
While running back Matthew Tucker looked very good all summer, the Eagles kept just three backs. Tucker, Shepard and tackle Michael Bamiro, a 6-foot-8 behemoth, could all wind up on the practice squad.
The 53-man roster looks like this, pending late additions via trade or the waiver wire:
Quarterbacks (3): Matt Barkley, Nick Foles, Michael Vick
Running backs (3): Bryce Brown, LeSean McCoy, Chris Polk
Wide receivers (5): Jason Avant, Riley Cooper, DeSean Jackson, Damaris Johnson, Jeff Maehl
Tight ends (4): James Casey, Brent Celek, Zach Ertz, Emil Igwenagu
Offensive Line (9): Allen Barbre, Todd Herremans, Lane Johnson, Jason Kelce, Dennis Kelly, Evan Mathis, Jason Peters, Matt Tobin, Julian Vandervelde
Defensive line (7): Fletcher Cox, Vinny Curry, Clifton Geathers, Bennie Logan, Isaac Sopoaga, Damion Square, Cedric Thornton
Linebackers (8): Emmanuel Acho, Connor Barwin, Trent Cole, Brandon Graham, Mychal Kendricks, Jake Knott, Casey Matthews, DeMeco Ryans
Defensive Backs (11): Nate Allen, Colt Anderson, Brandon Boykin, Patrick Chung, Kurt Coleman, Bradley Fletcher, Brandon Hughes, Curtis Marsh, Jordan Poyer, Cary Williams, Earl Wolff
Specialists (3): Jon Dorenbos, Alex Henery, Donnie Jones
With the hiring of Chip Kelly, there is no more need to rationalize the mistakes of the Andy Reid era. Watkins, fairly or otherwise, became symbolic of that era’s final unraveling.
His release wasn’t even surprising. The only eyebrows raised Saturday were at the departures of wide receiver Russell Shepard and tight end/receiver Clay Harbor. They both had better preseasons than Watkins. The Eagles also released safety David Sims and offensive tackle Michael Bamiro.
The Eagles were a playoff team in 2010. Going into the 2011 draft, they were looking to fill a few key needs in order to remain a perennial contender. With the 23rd pick, they took Watkins, a guard from Baylor with an unusual backstory: A Canadian, Watkins didn’t start playing football until he was 22 years old. He was a 26-year-old rookie.
The Eagles went 8-8 in 2011. They went 4-12 last year. Reid was fired. Kelly was hired.
Of the 11 players taken in that draft, just 30 months ago, only center Jason Kelce and kicker Alex Henery are in the starting lineup. Fifth-round pick Julian Vandervelde, who was released last year and re-signed, is the backup center.
Second-round pick Jaiquawn Jarrett is long gone. He started at safety for the Jets Thursday night. Third-round cornerback Curtis Marsh and fourth-round linebacker Casey Matthews are on the bubble and could be gone by opening day.
Watkins started 12 games as an overmatched rookie. He started six games last season. He never clicked with Howard Mudd, the coach Reid brought in to revamp the offensive line’s approach. With Kelly and new line coach Jeff Stoutland, Watkins was pretty much a non-entity all summer.
Now he’s gone and, with him, so is another reminder of what went wrong under Reid.
As for other known cuts:
Harbor became endangered in May, when Kelly asked him to work out at linebacker during OTAs. He moved back to tight end, then started taking reps at wide receiver early in camp.
Shepard got a really close look this summer. He seemed like a good bet to make the 53-man roster.
The 6-foot-8, 340-pound Bamiro was not eligible for the draft. The Eagles signed him in July. With his size and natural ability, he will almost certainly be on the practice squad if he clears waivers.
Sims started one game at safety last season. He never really became a factor in what turned out to be a lackluster competition for a starting job.
Kelly will sit down with his Philadelphia Eagles coaches and with general manager Howie Roseman and the personnel staff. By the end of the day, they should know which 22 players will be released to reach the final 53-man roster limit by Saturday at 6 p.m. ET.
This game will be but a small part of the evaluation process. A total of 22 players didn’t even dress; they are the starters held out to avoid injury risk. If anything, this game will serve as a tie-breaker for a few spots at the bottom of the roster.
“It gives us another opportunity to evaluate,” Kelly said. “Some guys are in situations where we haven’t got a ton of snaps for them. Some of those guys played an entire game tonight.”
For those on the outside of the meeting rooms, the game and Kelly’s comments offered a few insights into where some of those competitions stand:
- Matt Tobin, an undrafted rookie out of Iowa, has a better chance of making the team than former first-round pick Danny Watkins. Kelly played Tobin nearly the entire game at left tackle and praised him for having a strong summer.
Watkins? “Danny’s competing like the rest of those guys,” Kelly said. “There’s always some good out of Danny, but there’s always some mistakes out of Danny.”
- Emmanuel Acho made a very compelling case to be the first linebacker off the bench. He and Jake Knott thoroughly outplayed veteran Casey Matthews, in this game and throughout the preseason.
- Chris McCoy is probably the second-most-complete outside linebacker on the team after Connor Barwin. Brandon Graham and Trent Cole continue the transition from defensive end and struggle with the pass-coverage aspect of the job. McCoy looked very good in a starting role.
- Outside linebacker Everette Brown could sneak onto the roster. He recorded a sack for the second week in a row. Kelly volunteered his name when listing defensive players who stood out.
- Nobody really seems interested in claiming the open starting-safety job. Nate Allen, the incumbent, managed exactly one tackle. Rookie Earl Wolff had three. Neither did what McCoy, Acho and Brown did -- make a big play or two in their final opportunities to stake a claim.[+] EnlargeAP Photo/Bill KostrounLinebacker Chris McCoy (94) turned in a solid performance as a starter in Thursday's finale.
So with all that, here’s a somewhat educated guess on how the 53-man roster will look Saturday at 6 p.m. Expect a couple of changes in the next days as Roseman and his staff look for help on the waiver wire.
Quarterbacks (3): Michael Vick, Nick Foles, Matt Barkley. No explanation necessary here.
Running backs (3): LeSean McCoy, Bryce Brown, Chris Polk. It’s a high-attrition position, so it wouldn’t shock me to see Matthew Tucker stick and Kelly go light elsewhere.
Tight ends (3): Brent Celek, James Casey, Zach Ertz. If Casey’s hamstring injury is a problem, Clay Harbor could wind up back in the TE meeting room.
Wide receivers (6): DeSean Jackson, Riley Cooper, Jason Avant, Damaris Johnson, Greg Salas, Russell Shepard. That might be a little high, but Kelly likes to have a lot of options.
Offensive line (10): Jason Peters, Evan Mathis, Jason Kelce, Todd Herremans, Lane Johnson, Allen Barbre, Matt Tobin, Julian Vandervelde, Dennis Kelly, Matt Tennant. Could Watkins edge out Tennant? Sure, but I see Eagles cutting another tie to the Andy Reid era.
Defensive line (7): Fletcher Cox, Isaac Sopoaga, Cedric Thornton, Bennie Logan, Vinny Curry, Damion Square, Clifton Geathers. Went with Geathers over Antonio Dixon, but could go either way.
Linebackers (8): Connor Barwin, Mychal Kendricks, DeMeco Ryans, Trent Cole, Brandon Graham, Chris McCoy, Jake Knott, Emmanuel Acho. It was hard to leave Everette Brown off. It wouldn’t be a shock if Eagles went heavy here: Linebackers make key special-teamers.
Defensive backs (9): Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher, Brandon Boykin, Jordan Poyer, Patrick Chung, Nate Allen, Earl Wolff, Kurt Coleman, Brandon Hughes. This group is subject to the most change after deadline.
Specialists (3): K Alex Henery, P Donnie Jones, LS Jon Dorenbos.
- Maybe the most significant thing that happened for the Eagles was the hamstring injury that sent tight end James Casey to the locker room in the first half. The severity wasn’t immediately known (and given Chip Kelly’s casual approach to dispensing injury info, may never be known), but staying healthy is the No. 1 priority in a fourth preseason game. So an injury to a guy expected to be a key part of the offense can’t be good.
- This one last chance to impress before roster cuts resulted in more impact defensive plays than in the first three preseason games combined. If coordinator Bill Davis is looking for reserves who can step in and make an impact, he had to like what he saw from:
-- Inside linebacker Emmanuel Acho, who sacked Jets QB Matt Simms on a blitz, played solidly against the run and forced a Konrad Reuland fumble in the second quarter. In the first half alone, Acho was credited with eight tackles. Acquired from Cleveland in the Dion Lewis trade, Acho sure looks like the third-best ILB on the team right now behind starters DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks.
-- Brandon Graham, who bull-rushed Simms on the Jets’ first possession and wrapped him up in the end zone. Simms threw the ball away, an intentional-grounding play that resulted in a safety. Graham still needs work on his pass drops (an understatement), but he can get to the QB from the OLB spot.
-- Chris McCoy, who started at the ROLB spot and tormented Jets tackle Jason Smith. McCoy dropped an interception on the first play from scrimmage -- a negative, sure, but he was in position to make it -- and sacked Simms for a 6-yard loss on the third play. McCoy got around Smith and hit Simms from behind, knocking the ball loose.
-- Everette Brown, the guy singled out by Pro Football Focus for his play against Jacksonville, ended the first half by sacking Simms and knocking the ball out of his hands when the Jets were in the red zone. Eagles fans would recognize the failure to get even a field-goal attempt from Marty Mornhinweg’s days as Andy Reid’s lieutenant.
- On the other side, a few of the veterans who are trying to stick just did not impress. Safety Nate Allen gave up a 23-yard completion to Zach Rogers on a third-and-19 play. He had decent coverage on Michael Campbell on a later Jets possession, but did not make any real impact. Of course, neither did fifth-round pick Earl Wolff, who started alongside Allen.
- Inside linebacker Casey Matthews had a very rough night. If he makes the team, it is going to be because he’s that valuable on special teams. Matthews had gap control and a chance to tackle Kahlil Bell in the backfield, but ran into a teammate instead. Bell ran into the end zone for an all-too-easy 8-yard TD. Matthews had a defensive holding penalty two plays before that.
- The only significant competition on the offensive side is for the backup spots along the line. With the starters sidelined, it was interesting to see who Chip Kelly lined up out there. Allen Barbre, who played two games at left tackle in place of Jason Peters, was at left guard. Undrafted rookie Matt Tobin, a 6-foot-6, 300-pounder from Iowa, started at left tackle. With Dennis Kelly expected to miss at least a couple of regular-season games because of a back injury, there is an opportunity for a backup tackle. Michael Bamiro, the massive but raw rookie from Stony Brook, started at left tackle. He looked massive and raw, especially in the early going. Danny Watkins was at right guard. He looked like Danny Watkins. Julian Vandervelde looks very much like he’ll make the team as the backup center.
- There was no reason to ponder whether Nick Foles should have been given a longer opportunity to compete for the starting QB job. He did not have a great game. But then, he was playing behind a dreadful offensive line against a Jets defense that blitzed more than usual in the preseason. It was also clear that Kelly was using as little of his offense as possible. Foles fumbled the ball away on the first series. He succeeded in finishing the game, and the preseason, without an injury.
- By the second half, when Matt Barkley took over at QB, the line had settled in a little bit. Barkley engineered a 16-play, 80-yard touchdown drive. On the downside, he threw the Kevin Kolb-patented pick-six with two minutes left in the game. Barkley didn't get enough on an out to Jeff Maehl. Antonio Allen stepped in, intercepted and returned it for a TD.
- In the midst of a sea of vanilla, Kelly suddenly called one of the triple-option plays the Eagles frequently ran in a recent practice. Foles faked a handoff, started running to his left, then whipped an overhand lateral to wide receiver Greg Salas. Surprised Kelly put that on film. Also, that play seems certain to result in a turnover at some point.
- The injury plague continued at cornerback. Trevard Lindley limped off the field in the third quarter with a right ankle sprain. The Eagles have two corners, Curtis Marsh and Brandon Hughes, sidelined with broken hands. They are so thin there that safety Kurt Coleman was playing corner even before Lindley went down.
- Speaking of which, Coleman would seem to be one of the guys on the bubble here. The fact that he played both safety and cornerback could help his case for making the team. You never know when you’re going to be caught short in a game. On the other hand, it could mean Coleman is so far out of the running at safety that Kelly and Davis weren’t interested in seeing him there.
- If the cutdown to 75 was an indicator, Kelly is likely to do most of his roster work Friday, the day before the deadline to reach 53.
1. Matt Barkley’s summer swan song: Nick Foles will start the game, according to Chip Kelly’s plan. The guess here is Foles will be out of there after a series or two. Barkley, the fourth-round pick from USC, will be next up at quarterback.
That’s probably the last time you’ll see Barkley for a while. For all those five-QBs-throwing-at-once drills Kelly has been running throughout camp, the regular season is about preparing the No. 1 quarterback for each week’s opponent. Michael Vick will get most of the work, while Foles gets enough to be ready in case he’s needed.
Barkley will barely practice unless he moves up the depth chart because of an injury or other catastrophe.
Even more interesting (maybe just to me): Will Kelly play Dennis Dixon or G.J. Kinne at all? It seems strange to expose those two to injury when they are almost certain to be released this weekend. Of course, it seems strange to carry five quarterbacks on a 75-man roster.
How strange? Only two other teams, Jacksonville and Buffalo, have five. Both of those teams have injured starters and real question marks as backups. Ten teams had four quarterbacks as of Wednesday afternoon. Most of the league -- 22 teams -- carried just three.
Seems like a minor thing, but with so much competition at other positions, every roster spot counts.
2. The first-round picks whose pedigree means nothing: Kelly’s clean-slate approach to evaluating players means guys like Danny Watkins didn’t have any strikes against them. But it also means Kelly doesn’t care that Watkins was a first-round pick, or that the Eagles traded up to get Brandon Graham instead of Jason Pierre-Paul.
Kelly is just going by what he sees on the field and in the film room.
Neither of those guys is a starter, which says something, so they should get a fair amount of playing time in the last tune-up game.
Graham, who is making the awkward transition from 4-3 defensive end to 3-4 outside linebacker, appears safer than Watkins. He has made strides at his new position and, frankly, there isn’t a lot of fierce competition there.
“It could be better,” Graham said of his coverage skills. “I’m not a pro at that, but I’m trying. My heart’s in the right direction. That’s all I can manage. All I can do is compete. Whatever happens, happens.”
At worst, Graham could be used situationally to rush the passer from different spots on the field.
There is much stiffer competition along the offensive line. Allen Barbre can play tackle and guard. He’s likely to start at tackle, leaving Watkins to start in one of the guard spots. A poor game really could result in Watkins being released.
3. Keep an eye on Everette Brown: He hasn’t gotten much attention this summer, but Brown is a former second-round pick (Carolina, 2009). He’s another DE/OLB tweener.
He’s worth watching because Pro Football Focus pointed out that, in 22 snaps, Brown had a sack, a hit and two hurries. He earned a +2.6 grade from PFF. Not bad for a guy who has been under the radar. When and how he is used will indicate whether the Eagles coaches were as impressed.
4. The safety position: Yes, yes, you’ve heard way too much this week about Nate Allen and Earl Wolff. They will both get a chance to win the starting safety job alongside Patrick Chung.
Advice: Make a play, somebody. A big hit, an interception, anything. The first guy who looks like he can make an impact should start.
5. The clock: When it hits zero, the preseason is officially over and the countdown to Sept. 9 begins in earnest. Finally.
*Kelly has final say on the 53-man roster. This was always a subject of speculation during Andy Reid’s 13-year tenure, largely because the Eagles were vague about their process for selecting and evaluating personnel. Kelly couldn’t have been more direct when asked if he had final say.
“Yeah,” Kelly said.
“I think he sees big picture and I see big picture.”
*At Oregon, Kelly didn’t have to cut his roster to 53 or decide which 46 players to dress on game days. He did have to decide on reduced numbers for road games, however, and said the same principles apply.
“It’s part of the same thing,” Kelly said. “You still have to look at what guys can be more versatile. I think versatility is the key. You have travel rosters in college. You can only bring X amount of guys to a game. It’s the same thing: Why are we bringing the fourth running back if he doesn’t contribute on special teams when the sixth receiver does contribute on special teams?”
*It follows, then, that versatility will go a long way toward final decisions on the 53-man roster, which must be made by Saturday at 6 p.m. The Eagles will not play their starters Thursday night against the Jets, but Kelly called it a “huge game” for sorting out those final roster spots.
“A lot is up in the air right now,” Kelly said.
His starting five offensive linemen are set, but Kelly will keep four or five reserves. The advantage of playing multiple positions, as Allen Barbre does, could hurt former first-round pick Danny Watkins’ chances to make the team. Watkins only plays guard. One wild card: backup guard/tackle Dennis Kelly is still not recovered from back surgery. Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Kelly will likely be unavailable for the first two regular-season games.
Another big factor on offense: How does Kelly break down his skill-position players? Clay Harbor could be both a wide receiver and a tight end. If Kelly keeps four backs, Matthew Tucker could sneak onto the roster.
On defense, the switch from a 4-3 to a 3-4 means keeping more linebackers than usual. Kelly said the ideal would be “two deep,” or eight LBs, but special teams and versatility could be deciding factors there, as well.
“When you’re not the starter,” Kelly said, “versatility becomes a huge thing. He may be at his position but he also plays on four special teams, so that’s almost like four starting spots.”
*One other thing seems certain. All 53 men who will be on the roster for opening night at Washington aren’t here yet. Kelly said Roseman was working on moves before Tuesday’s cut to 75. The GM will certainly be looking to add help in the defensive backfield and possibly at linebacker.
- Now that he has the starting job, how will Michael Vick fare in what figures to be the closest thing to regular-season action he’ll see before opening day? Chip Kelly isn’t going to unveil his entire playbook, but he does need to see Vick work the no-huddle offense and run some more complex plays. Under new head coach Gus Bradley -- who was in Philadelphia to interview with the Eagles when Kelly suddenly accepted the head coaching job -- the Jaguars' defense will likely show a bit more complexity, as well.‘Twas the blitz that derailed Vick after his 2010 burst of excellence. It is the blitz he is going to have to solve if he’s going to thrive in Kelly’s offense.
- Over the years, the Eagles have had plenty of first-round offensive tackles who looked like they were in slow-motion in their first preseason. Lane Johnson, the No. 4 overall pick, has not. He hasn’t been perfect, but he has been very solid.“It’s great to know where Lane is now is a starting point,” left guard Evan Mathis said. “It’s a great starting point.”
Johnson will have to deal with former Eagles defensive end Jason Babin, who goes all-out for the quarterback on every snap. That should be a good test, since learning to pass-block at this level is the biggest adjustment for a young offensive lineman.
- There is plenty to watch along the offensive line. Jason Peters plays in his first game since the end of the 2011 season. The big left tackle has to get a feel for Kelly’s scheme, as well as rushing to the line of scrimmage after every play. Since he has a knack for getting downfield on run plays, that could be an adjustment. And then there is Danny Watkins. The former first-round pick didn’t play last week because of a concussion. When right guard Todd Herremans missed practice this week because of a sore knee, it was Allen Barbre, not Watkins, who practiced in his place. There’s no other way to put it: Watkins is fighting for his NFL career at this point.
- It will also be intriguing to watch how Kelly deploys his tight ends. They figure to be a big part of this offense, but the entire group caught just four passes for 57 yards against Carolina last week. James Casey, the free agent brought in from Houston, wasn’t even targeted. Kelly isn’t going to show his hand, of course, but we’re hungry for every clue about how this offense is going to look in the regular season. There might be a few more clues in this game.
- And yes, the Eagles have a defense. For all the fascination around Kelly and the offense, Bill Davis’ squad will have much to say about how this season goes. Last week, Davis gave linebacker Mychal Kendricks some opportunities to blitz. He is likely to test a few more of his guys, especially the safeties, in order to see exactly what they’ll be capable of once the real game-planning starts.It would be nice for Davis, and for Eagles fans, to see a big play or two by anyone in the secondary.
Lots of competition this offseason on the Cowboys' offensive line, but Calvin Watkins doesn't expect Ronald Leary to beat out Nate Livings for a starting guard spot.
Randy Galloway writes that Tony Romo is the second-most powerful person in the Cowboys' organization now, after only Jerry Jones. I think a lot of people are overreacting to this whole Romo-more-involved-in-the-offense thing without actually seeing how it's going to work. But that's my opinion, is all.
New York Giants
So Chris Canty, who was a Giant a few months ago and is now a Baltimore Raven, says he prefers Joe Flacco to Eli Manning as a quarterback. Flacco is the quarterback of Canty's current team. Manning is the quarterback of Canty's former team. I don't see why this is a story other than it's May and there aren't any real ones.
Terrell Thomas is feeling optimistic about his latest comeback from knee injury, though he understands why the Giants wouldn't be able to count on him as they make their plans for the 2013 season. A healthy Thomas would be a boost to the Giants' secondary. It's just not one they can count on.
A healthy Jason Peters at left tackle would be a huge boost to the Eagles' offensive line, and it's starting to look as though the Eagles can feel good about counting on Peters' return.
Tim McManus' weekend roundup includes a note on DeSean Jackson's work with the Wounded Warrior Project and some positive stuff about former first-rounder Danny Watkins. I can't tell you what to expect from Watkins, but I do know Jackson is a guy who has a strong handle on the difference he can make off the field.
Since we're on the topic of guys recovering from major 2012 injuries, Nathan Fenno writes that Redskins tight end Fred Davis has much to prove this season as a guy who should be in the prime of his career.
Those who sent Robert Griffin III and his fiancee wedding gifts are apparently receiving very nice thank you notes, which was presented to me last week as one reason someone might send a wedding gift to a multimillionaire they've never met and to whose wedding they were not invited. I say Griffin has class, as we've known for some time, but I'll never understand the rationale behind a fan sending him a wedding gift. Sorry.
New York Giants
Aaron Curry was the No. 4 pick in the entire NFL draft just four years ago, but he couldn't make it work with Seattle or Oakland and is now looking for work. The Giants are looking for linebackers. They will take a look at Curry, Ralph Vacchiano reports.
It's fascinating to me to talk to people around the league and learn about the different ways different teams evaluate quarterbacks. The Giants took Ryan Nassib in the fourth round of this year's draft not because he's some awesome physical specimen with a huge arm but because they like what he showed in college as a leader. This is remarkable because, in the Giants' ideal situation, Eli Manning remains healthy and productive for several more years and Nassib never has to lead them out of a huddle before a meaningful play. But teams view quarterbacks as commodities, and Nassib has what the Giants think are the makings of a good one.
Eagles guard Evan Mathis recently had a minor ankle surgery that will keep him out of action through the OTAs and minicamps. Mathis and the Eagles believe he'll be fine in time for training camp.
This likely means more practice reps this summer for disappointing former first-round pick Danny Watkins, who would take Mathis' first-team reps at left guard with Todd Herremans likely moving from right tackle to right guard to make room for first-round pick Lane Johnson. More reps are a good thing for Watkins, since the Eagles will need depth and would like to be able to count on him more than he's allowed them to so far.
People ask sometimes about suspended Redskins safety Tanard Jackson and whether he might serve as the answer for the team this year at free safety. But as Mike Jones writes in his recent mailbag, the earliest the Redskins can even get a look at Jackson is Sept. 1, and that's if his indefinite drug suspension is lifted on the earliest possible date. They need to move on to other options, and Jackson is not likely to play for them.
It may have been a head-scratcher to see the Redskins draft another tight end, given what they have on the roster at that position. But from the Redskins' standpoint, especially in the third round, Jordan Reed is not just another tight end.
Tony Romo will be playing less golf this offseason, which Calvin Watkins and I agree is bigger news than it should be to those who have operated under the unsubstantiated belief that Romo cares more about golf than football.
There was some concern that the Cowboys needed to take a defensive lineman in the recent NFL draft and didn't. But a deeper look shows that they have more defensive line depth than you might think.
David Amerson's college position coach tells Rich Campbell that the Redskins' second-round pick is only going to get better, and that he likes the pairing of him with Washington secondary coach Raheem Morris.
The latest in the Redskins name controversy is a D.C. city council member who's trying to get them to change the name to "Redtails." But not much has changed on this. The team still doesn't want to change it and the NFL couldn't care less, and this isn't the first government effort to make it happen.
You know Jerry Jones has a soft spot for Jay Ratliff, and the Cowboys' owner is now on record as saying Ratliff will "flourish" as the 3-technique defensive tackle in the team's new 4-3 alignment. That is one of the things to like about the move to the 4-3 in Dallas -- the number of players, including Ratliff, Sean Lee, Bruce Carter and Jason Hatcher, who seem as though they could improve due to their new positions.
With the Cowboys likely to use a lot more two-tight end looks this year, Todd Archer and Mike Reiss chatted about the way the New England Patriots use their "12" personnel package and what that might look like in Dallas.
New York Giants
Ohm takes a look at seventh-round pick Michael Cox, who has less of a college production record than the Giants tend to like but could factor into the picture at running back this year.
Speaking of which, the Giants' interest in former Redskins running back Tim Hightower didn't vanish into thin air. They're still talking about bringing in the veteran, who was Washington's starter in 2011 before a knee injury derailed him.
Third-rounder Bennie Logan doesn't mind if he's the overlooked member of the Eagles' draft class. He's used to it. He was one of eight children in his family.
Sheil Kapadia writes that Eagles fans shouldn't worry about Lane Johnson just because the last offensive lineman the Eagles took in the first round, Danny Watkins, hasn't worked out. The main difference, Sheil writes, is experience.