NFC East: Jaiquawn Jarrett

The Eagles’ 2011 draft has long been filed under “D” for Disaster – ever since owner Jeffrey Lurie specifically absolved general manager Howie Roseman of blame for the picks made while then-coach Andy Reid had final say on personnel decisions.

It is the top of the draft – first-round pick Danny Watkins and second-rounder Jaiquawn Jarrett – that rightfully draws the criticism. But the Eagles found the anchor for their offensive line, center Jason Kelce, in the sixth round of that draft. Kelce signed a seven-year contract last week that will keep him with the Eagles through 2020.

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.

Eagles should be in win-now mode

January, 31, 2014
PHILADELPHIA -- It is a word the Eagles hated using for years and it's a word that doesn't really apply to the franchise now, just one year into Chip Kelly's tenure.


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.

[+] EnlargeHowie Roseman
Howard Smith/USA TODAY SportsGM Howie Roseman has said the Eagles will avoid lavish free-agent deals.
But it would also be a mistake to go too far the other way. The Eagles are not a rebuilding team right now. They were 10-6 and are defending NFC East champions. They have an offensive team with key skill players in the prime of their careers: LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson and Brent Celek. The offensive line, which is vital to the team's success, has three starters over the age of 30.

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.
Is it impossible to find two competent NFL safeties? The Philadelphia Eagles certainly have made it look that way over the past few years.

The release of Kenny Phillips Sunday afternoon, as first reported by Pro Football Talk, continued a sorry trend that began with the departure of the beloved Brian Dawkins after the 2008 season. A team that once prided itself on dominating safeties -- from Bill Bradley and Randy Logan through Wes Hopkins and Andre Waters to Dawkins and Michael Lewis -- just cannot seem to find anyone to play the position.

The roll call is depressing to Eagles fans: Marlin Jackson, O.J. Atogwe, Sean Jones, Macho Harris, Jarrad Page, Jaiquawn Jarrett, Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman.

The latter two started last year in a secondary that surrendered a league-high 33 touchdown passes. General manager Howie Roseman flipped the secondary after the season, parting ways with corners Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and signing four veteran DBs.

Three of them -- safety Patrick Chung and corners Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher -- started Saturday night in Jacksonville and appear to be the starters going into the regular season.

The fourth was Phillips, who had a history of knee trouble. He was unable to play Saturday because of a quad injury. Like Jackson and Atogwe, he was a known injury risk that backfired on the Eagles.

That leaves Allen, who managed to play in 15 games (13 starts) last season without recording an interception, a sack or forcing a fumble. In three seasons, Allen has two sacks and five interceptions -- which would have been a good month for Dawkins.

Rookie Earl Wolff, a fifth-round pick, rotated in with the first team. But he and Chung were embarrassed on a 63-yard touchdown run by Jacksonville’s Jordan Todman.

With Phillips gone, Roseman has few options on the roster. He can scan the waiver wire this week, as teams cut their rosters to 75 by Tuesday and to the final 53 by Saturday.

Or he can attempt a more ambitious solution. Eagles fans are already clamoring for Jairus Byrd, the two-time Pro Bowler who just signed his franchise tender in Buffalo. If the Bills decide to shop the unhappy safety, Roseman should at least consider it.

Byrd and Chung played together at Oregon, where a guy named Chip Kelly was the offensive coordinator.

With the release of Phillips and linebacker Jamar Chaney, who tweeted about being waived, the Eagles' roster was down to 76. It must be at 75 by Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET.

Breakfast links: 'Jerry Wipes'

September, 13, 2012
Good morning, all. There's a game tonight. No, not in our division, but still. Makes you realize it's time to get fired back up for Week 2 in the NFL. I'll be headed to Philadelphia this weekend to see the one team in the division I didn't catch in Week 1, as the Eagles take on the Ravens. Looking forward to seeing whether Michael Vick has knocked off the rust or if... well, we'll see. We'll get there one link at a time. Or actually eight.

Dallas Cowboys

If Phil Costa's back injury doesn't improve, Ryan Cook will find himself starting at center for the Cowboys, not just this week but potentially for weeks to come. The team likes Costa and wants to develop him, but if he's going to be an injury question mark and Cook is going to play well in his stead, Costa might find the plans for his development slowed down a bit.

Not only does the man who cleaned Jerry Jones' glasses in the season opener have an explanation for why he did it, he's had the idea to sell "Jerry Wipes" (with the proceeds going to charity, of course, since he's Jerry Jones' son-in-law and is OK on money) for $2.99 a pack. It's a world gone mad, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't be able to see it clearly.

Washington Redskins

Rams coach Jeff Fisher is fine with the draft-pick haul he got in exchange for the No. 2 pick in the draft, and he's happy for his friend Mike Shanahan that the player Shanahan took with that pick had such an impressive debut. But that doesn't mean Fisher's looking forward to trying to stop Robert Griffin III when the Redskins arrive in St. Louis on Sunday.

Rich Campbell's defensive game review features several stars, including Ryan Kerrigan, DeJon Gomes and DeAngelo Hall, and very few negatives (Madieu Williams). The Redskins' front seven could have a field day Sunday against a depleted Rams offensive line.

Philadelphia Eagles

Andy Reid says he takes the responsibility for the apparent mistake of taking safety Jaiquawn Jarrett in the second round in 2011. Says he "goofed," which is a favorite word of his. I think the heat he's taking for this is justified. In the salary-cap era, those high draft picks are just too important to whiff on.

Vick is fine throwing the ball 56 times in a game if that's what the coaches want, though he admits it'd be nice to see more balance in the play calling. As I wrote Sunday, the Eagles absolutely needed to try and run the ball more than they did against a weak Browns run defense. I'm not sure trying to run it against the Ravens is the healthiest idea, though. The difference Sunday is that they're not likely to get 88 offensive plays this week.

New York Giants

Will Beatty appears to be healthy again, and now that he is he'd like his starting left tackle job back. It does not sound, however, as though he's certain to get it back anytime soon.

Former Rutgers player Eric LeGrand, who was paralyzed during a game in 2010, will be at MetLife Stadium for Sunday's game and will be involved in the coin toss. LeGrand was at the Cowboys-Giants opener, too, but this game will be extra special. The visiting team is the Buccaneers, who are coached by LeGrand's college coach, Greg Schiano. After taking the job in Tampa Bay, Schiano signed LeGrand to a contract and brought him to offseason workouts so that he could experience life as an NFL player for a short time before he announced his retirement a few days later.
Happy Wednesday. Let's get you caught up on some of the transaction and other news that went down late in the day Tuesday with a heaping helping of your morning links.

Dallas Cowboys

While much of the talk about DeMarco Murray has been about his tough running and his somewhat disconcerting love of contact, Todd Archer writes that it's important to take note of the second-year Cowboys running back's football intelligence, too. Murray is a big key to this offense -- a fearless running back who, like quarterback Tony Romo, can help the Cowboys succeed in spite of their offensive line issues. They need to keep him healthy.

Jerry Jones remembers that the Redskins nearly beat the Cowboys twice last season when Washington's quarterbacks were Rex Grossman and John Beck. And after watching Robert Griffin III's debut Sunday, Jones says he's not looking forward to seeing the Redskins this year or in the years to come.

Washington Redskins

Mike Shanahan says that, when considering the kinds of run plays they wanted to design for Griffin, the Redskins' coaching staff watched tapes not only of Griffin's college games but also 2011 tapes of running quarterbacks Cam Newton of Carolina and Tim Tebow of Denver.

The Redskins have placed long-snapper Nick Sundberg, who played the second half of Sunday's game with a broken left arm, on injured reserve/designated to return. That's the new IR, that doesn't require the player to sit out the season. Sundberg must miss at least eight games. His replacement is former Colts long-snapper Justin Snow.

Philadelphia Eagles

You are now free to call 2011 second-round pick Jaiquawn Jarrett a bust if you so choose. Despite opportunities to contribute at safety during his time in Philadelphia, Jarrett failed to show much of anything, and he was cut Tuesday so that the team might bring back wide receiver Mardy Gilyard. Thin at receiver due to injuries to Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant and Riley Cooper, the Eagles decided it was more important to have an option at wide receiver this week than it was to maintain whatever depth Jarrett might represent at safety. A missed special-teams tackle in Sunday's game may have been the last straw for Jarrett.

Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson donated $50,000 to the Wounded Warrior Project and spent the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks hanging out with some of the soldiers the organization works to help. Good work, DeSean.

New York Giants

Left tackle Will Beatty is hoping he gets cleared to start and play Sunday against the Buccaneers. He says he's ready to go because he's been working against the Giants' excellent defensive ends in practice. But he wasn't OK to start the season opener, at least not according to the team, and so he waits to find out.

Victor Cruz says he knows he's a marked man after his breakout 2011 season. And he understands he had a bad game in the season opener on Wednesday. But it's about looking forward, and Cruz and the Giants insist they're better prepared this week.
Click here for a complete list of Philadelphia Eagles roster moves.

Most significant move: Mike Kafka went into training camp as the favorite to be the backup quarterback behind Michael Vick. But a combination of events led to Kafka's release Friday. First, he broke his hand in the first preseason game. Second, rookie Nick Foles impressed enough that the Eagles are now comfortable with him as their No. 2 quarterback. And third, Trent Edwards played well enough to convince the Eagles to keep him as a backup quarterback over Kafka. Backup quarterback is a significant position for the Eagles, as Vick has a history of missing games due to injury and there exists a strong chance that Foles and/or Edwards will have to start games for them this season. ... The answer to which defensive lineman had to go was defensive tackle Antonio Dixon, who was the final cut announced by the team shortly before 8 p.m. ET. That means Cedric Thornton and Darryl Tapp are still on the team, and the Eagles as of now have 10 defensive linemen.

Onward and upward: Nickel cornerback Joselio Hanson was cut on this day last year, too, but was immediately brought back at a lower salary. This year, that does not seem likely to happen. This time, it appears rookie Brandon Boykin beat out Hanson for the nickel corner spot, in part because he played well there and in part because of his usefulness as a returner and special-teams player. Hanson didn't have a great year in 2011, but he looked like a good nickel corner as recently as 2010 and likely could help someone. I wonder whether the Giants take a look, given their issues with health at cornerback.

What's next: Having cut both O.J. Atogwe (who couldn't stay healthy) and undrafted rookie Phillip Thomas, the Eagles are thin at safety. The only current backup to the starters is still-unproven Jaiquawn Jarrett, and even if they believed him capable, they'd want at least one more. Look for the Eagles to troll the list of other cuts to see whether there's someone out there who can help them beef up their bench a bit in the secondary.

UPDATE: Shortly after the cut deadline, the Eagles announced they'd acquired safety David Sims from the Browns for a conditional 2013 draft pick and released offensive lineman Julian Vandervelde.

Observation deck: Jets-Eagles

August, 30, 2012
Stop for a second. Take a deep breath. Now exhale, all the way. That's it. We're done with preseason football until 2013. Doesn't it feel awesome?

The NFC East's preseason finale was a 28-10 Eagles' exhibition victory over the New York Jets on Thursday night. None of the starters played, which didn't help the game's entertainment value, but kept any of them from getting hurt, which was the point. Those who did play obviously had their eye on Friday's 9 p.m. ET final roster cut deadline, and some of them were holding their final auditions for spots. These are their stories:
  • Trent Edwards, who was dropped by the Bills and Jaguars in 2010 and didn't play in the NFL last year, was an afterthought when training camp began. But he got a lot more preseason reps than expected after presumptive backup quarterback Mike Kafka broke his hand in the first game, and he played very well. Edwards played the final three quarters Thursday (after rookie Nick Foles, who's probably No. 2 behind Michael Vick after his own very strong preseason) and was 22-for-32 for 197 yards and two touchdowns. The Eagles plan to keep only three of their quarterbacks, and with Vick and Foles both locks, that means it's a choice between Edwards and Kafka for the No. 3 spot. This is Kafka's third year in the system, and if the decision is to be based on more than just this preseason, he still has to have the edge. But if they saw enough from Edwards that they think he could run their offense if Vick went down, he could surprise. He definitely looks as though he can run the offense, but he has been playing against backups, obviously. And his reputation in Buffalo was as a "Captain Checkdown" type who didn't make it through progressions. First-team defenses play with more speed and could bring that back out if he were to appear in a real game. Worth considering.
  • Jaiquawn Jarrett played well at safety, and he looks safe as the backup to Nate Allen at strong safety. I think Jarrett has very good physical ability, and in a game like this that doesn't feature any game-planning, a player like Jarrett can look very good, seeking out ballcarriers and delivering big hits without getting tripped up by complex scheme or communication issues. But that's okay. Jarrett needed to show something, and he did. O.J. Atowge, on the other hand, who is slated to be Kurt Coleman's backup at free safety, got hurt again and will have an MRI on his hamstring Friday morning. Atogwe couldn't stay healthy with the Redskins last year either, and it's possible the Eagles will be hunting for safety help after the cuts come in Friday night.
  • I think Bryce Brown has shown enough to make the team as the No. 3 running back ahead of Chris Polk. I also think Polk has shown enough that some other team will pick him up and the Eagles won't be able to get him on the practice squad.
  • Brandon Graham and the defensive linemen getting called for offsides is something I think you should get used to. The Eagles want their defensive linemen to be hyper-aggressive, so they'll be offsides a lot. And some of them (Graham included) are quick enough off the ball to trick officials (replacement or otherwise) into thinking they're offsides even sometimes when they're not.
  • It was interesting that defensive tackle Antonio Dixon didn't play. It was also interesting that -- in his postgame news conference -- Eagles coach Andy Reid said he'd "seen enough of" Dixon. Couple of different ways to read that, and a few of them make you think Dixon is the odd man out when the tough defensive line cuts come Friday night. I have to think they've at least looked into trading Darryl Tapp and his $2.6 million salary. But whether they can pull that off or not, Dixon can't be having a restful night's sleep.
  • I liked Mardy Gilyard as a college player. I liked him in training camp when I was at Lehigh this summer. I liked him last night, when he doubled back and caught that duck Edwards threw into the end zone before anyone else saw it for a duck. With Damaris Johnson likely ahead of him as a receiver and a special teamer, I can't see how Gilyard makes the team. But maybe another team saw something they liked.
  • Something to remember: Derek Landri and Joselio Hanson were among last season's "final" roster cuts, and both ended up back on the team. So some of Friday's moves will be procedural. The Eagles have some high-level decisions to make and will be cutting some good players.

What I'll be watching: Jets-Eagles

August, 30, 2012
The Philadelphia Eagles will kick off their final preseason game of 2012 at 6:35 pm ET on Thursday night against the New York Jets. Here's what I'll be watching...

Most closely: The running backs, I think. There aren't too many position battles on the Eagles' roster, but the one for third-string running back has been interesting between seventh-round pick Bryce Brown and undrafted Chris Polk. It looks to me like Brown has the edge as the better runner, but they like Polk as a blocker, and it's kept his chances alive. Can't imagine either of them would go unclaimed if released, so they're not going to be able to stash one on the practice squad and they'll need to decide which they like better.

On the other side of the ball: The safeties. Their starters are set with Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman, but backups O.J. Atowge and Jaiquawn Jarrett have shown little, and it's possible only one of them will be kept. Atogwe is the veteran who had trouble staying healthy last year in Washington. Jarrett is the second-round pick from 2011 who's been a disappointment so far. If one or both of them were to make an impression in tonight's game, it would help the Eagles feel better about their safety depth. If not, they could be in the market for a safety once other teams make their cuts Friday night.

If I think of it: Interested to watch quarterback Trent Edwards, who's scheduled to play the final three quarters in relief of Nick Foles. Can Edwards beat out the injured Mike Kafka for a roster spot? Has he already?... Who will get the defensive line snaps as the Eagles look to make decisions about how many linemen to keep?... Will Stanley Havili show enough to justify the Eagles keeping a fullback when they very rarely use one?

Observation deck: Eagles-Browns

August, 24, 2012

You want to talk Nick Foles, and that's fine. The rookie quarterback the Philadelphia Eagles took in the third round looked very good again Friday night in a 27-10 victory over the Browns in Cleveland. Foles was 12-for-19 for 146 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. The interception was on his second pass of the night, and obviously he improved after that. The touchdown passes both came from in close and both after turnovers deep in Cleveland territory, but overall Foles looks like a guy who's not scared of the rush, makes good decisions and throws a very nice deep ball.

There is a chance, as Mike Kafka continues to sit out with a broken hand and Foles continues to impress in these preseason games, that the rookie could win the backup quarterback job. And I think that could potentially make sense for reasons that have nothing to do with preseason numbers. The fact is, Foles throws the deep ball better than Kafka does, and the speed-based Eagles offense needs someone with the arm strength to throw deep.

I don't think Foles would be an effective answer for the Eagles if Michael Vick had to miss significant time this year. I think, in a case like that, Kafka would be more likely to be able to manage the game and run the offense, and they could alter the playbook to suit his skills. But if Vick goes down in a game and has to miss a few plays or can't finish, it might make sense to go with Foles. No, he doesn't have Vick's mobility, but they could still run the downfield passing game and feel confident that they had a guy who could get the ball to DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. Something to think about.

Some other things I saw in the Eagles' third preseason game:
  • Foles wasn't the only Eagles rookie who had a good game. Wide receiver Damaris Johnson, who continues to look good in the return game, had two catches for 58 yards, including a 45-yarder from Foles while falling on his back. He also appeared to make a nice touchdown catch, but upon review it was ruled that he didn't have both feet in bounds. On the topic of rookies, linebacker Mychal Kendricks continues to look fast and alert and sure with his tackling.
  • The Eagles' defensive line is no joke. Derek Landri forced a fumble. Darryl Tapp and Brandon Graham had big games. These are guys who might not even be starters, and yes, next Friday the Eagles are going to have to make some tough decisions as they sort through their excellent options at defensive line. But if the Eagles' plan is to run wave after wave of fresh defensive linemen at teams, they appear well equipped to do so.
  • King Dunlap started at left tackle. Demetress Bell replaced him on the second offensive series but was beaten badly to allow LeSean McCoy to take a loss. At this point, you'd have to think Dunlap starts the regular-season opener, which oddly is right back in Cleveland in 16 days.
  • I know it's been criticized a lot in preseason, but I think the Eagles' defense looks fine. They're tackling well. They're covering well. It's just that, because they pursue so hard with the defensive linemen on every single play, there are going to be plays on which it looks like everything broke down. Happened on the Browns' first drive, when Brandon Weeden dumped the ball off to a wide-open tight end and converted a second-and-19. It's going to happen during the season too. It's like the opposite of a bend-don't-break defense. It's more of a "break-every-now-and-then-but-it's-okay-because-we're-making-the-quarterback's-life-miserable" defense. The risk is worth the reward, in other words.
  • There were still too many penalties -- seven for 47 yards -- but it wasn't anything close to last week's epidemic that prompted the Andy Reid-Cullen Jenkins sideline shouting match. There also were no sideline shouting matches this time.
  • Cliff Harris had an interception, Keenan Clayton blocked a punt... it was that kind of night. Everybody looked good, even the guys who aren't sure things to make the roster.
  • Chas Henry got to punt first and did well. Mat McBriar looked good too. Makes you think whichever one doesn't win the job has a chance to latch on somewhere else.
  • O.J. Atogwe sat out with an injury, which made Jaiquawn Jarrett and Phillip Thomas the backup safeties. This is not an area at which the Eagles have any reliable depth. They will lean hard on that defensive line to create pressure and the starting corners to cover and lock down receivers.
  • I like what I see from Brett Brackett, the backup tight end who caught one of Foles' touchdown passes. He was a standout performer in the training camp practices I attended a few weeks ago too. Hard to see how he makes the roster, but you never know.
  • Still like Bryce Brown as a runner better than Chris Polk, though Polk is the better blocker and had the better numbers Friday night. Dion Lewis is ahead of both of them as McCoy's backup, and he had a nifty 22-yard reception.
  • It's worth pointing out that quarterback Trent Edwards has played well this preseason. He was 14-for-17 for 127 yards and a touchdown in this one. I guess he could make it over Kafka if Foles surpasses Kafka on the depth chart. Still lots to sort out there.

What I'll be watching: Eagles-Browns

August, 24, 2012
The Philadelphia Eagles play their third preseason game of 2012 at 7:30 p.m. Friday against the Browns in Cleveland. And yes, they open the regular season in Cleveland against these same Browns 16 days from now. Which is extremely weird. But regardless, here's what I'll be watching ...

Most closely: Nick Foles, of course! The rookie starts the game, with Michael Vick still out because of those banged-up ribs, and gets the chance to work against a first-team defense for the first time in his so-far-very-impressive preseason. Foles has a chance to supplant the injured Mike Kafka as Vick's backup if he continues to impress (and if Kafka continues to sit out) over these final two preseason games. Foles is a big kid with a big arm who does a lot of things on the field that look very good. It's what happens after he inevitably makes bad rookie mistakes that we're still waiting to see.

On the other side of the ball: For me, it's safety play. I'm sold that the defensive line is deep and fearsome, and I think this defense is built to make its linebackers look bad, because they can play well all game and then give up two big third-down plays and no one's allowed to point out that the linemen over-pursued because that's what they're supposed to do. Fact is, they're not changing the way they operate, and the benefit of Wide 9 likely outweighs the detriment. I want to see what they have at safety. I thought Nate Allen played well in the last game and Kurt Coleman in the first one, and it's possible they'll be OK there. But my sense is that they have very little behind those guys, with slow veteran O.J. Atogwe and struggling second-year man Jaiquawn Jarrett. Wouldn't hurt a guy like that to make an impression tonight.

If I think of it: Backup running back is still interesting, with Bryce Brown and Chris Polk scrapping for snaps behind LeSean McCoy and Dion Lewis. Curtis Marsh at cornerback, since he's probably the first guy off the bench to replace one of the outside starters. More from Brandon Boykin and Joselio Hanson in that nickel corner fight, as Boykin has looked very good to this point. And I'm a DeMeco Ryans believer, but he'd do well to convert some more people to his side, I think.

What to watch for: Eagles-Patriots

August, 20, 2012
The Philadelphia Eagles will play their second 2012 preseason game tonight at 8 ET against the New England Patriots in Foxborough, Mass. The game will be broadcast live on ESPN. Here are the things I'll be watching ...

Most closely: Michael Vick's performance. Eagles coach Andy Reid has said he plans to play his starters longer tonight than he does in next week's preseason game against the Browns, since the Eagles open in Cleveland 16 days later and he doesn't want to give the Browns any more help than he has to. That means this will likely be the longest look we get at the Eagles' starters this preseason. And that means a chance for Vick to show us the fruits of all of the hard offseason work he and the Eagles say he's been doing. The Eagles' party line is that this is the first real offseason Vick has had as the starting quarterback since 2006 in Atlanta, and as a result he's worked harder and better on refining his game. Vick says he's watched more film than ever before in his career, and that he's determined to fix the mistakes that led to all of his turnover problems early in 2011. What Eagles fans should want to see from Vick is improved decision-making -- not just with regard to his personal safety, but also in terms of knowing when to give up on a play for the sake of valuing the ball. I'm interested to see whether the offseason classroom work has made him a more proficient reader of the field and the defense, and how it works with him and center Jason Kelce in terms of changing the protection calls at the line. Vick is under the most pressure of any player in the NFL to perform this year, and while it doesn't matter what he does until Sept. 9 in Cleveland, it'd be encouraging for Eagles fans if they could come out of tonight's game convinced something about their quarterback looks different.

On the other side of the ball: Tackling, especially at the second level. I'm willing to believe that the defensive line will be the strength of the team once everyone's healthy, and I'm eager to watch Brandon Graham again after last week. But the Eagles' preseason opener featured some communication and tackling issues in the linebacker corps and in the secondary that were reminiscent of last season. And while I fervently believe that on-field preseason performance is a poor predictor of regular-season results, it can make fans (and, I assume, coaches) uneasy when a preseason problem reflects a prior-season problem you believed your team had solved. The same way a sharp Vick performance could help Eagles fans' optimism for the season, a sharp performance by the linebackers and the cornerbacks could help everyone feel better about the defense.

If I think of it: The backup running backs remain interesting. Does Dion Lewis look like he could be an effective fill-in for LeSean McCoy? Is Chris Polk or Bryce Brown the leader for that No. 3 spot? Could that come down to something as pedestrian as special-teams work or blitz pickup? ... Second-year safety Jaiquawn Jarrett could stand to show something, as the organization appears to be souring on him, if it hasn't already. ... The left tackle position is also one to watch in this game. Demetress Bell is the player they signed to replace injured star Jason Peters, but he's struggled badly enough to get demoted to the second team, and perennial backup King Dunlap has been starting in his place in practice. The coaches will have their eyes on both of those players, and I'm interested to see if McCoy is going to run more up the middle and to the right this year with Peters gone. ... The Eagles also have a punting competition going on between Chas Henry and Mat McBriar.

Breakfast links: Three weeks to go

August, 15, 2012
Yeah, that's right. Three weeks from this very night, the Cowboys will be playing the Giants in the NFL season opener at MetLife Stadium. That's starting to seem pretty close. I don't know how to handle this except with links.

Philadelphia Eagles

Andy Reid said at the close of the Lehigh portion of the Eagles' training camp that he was hoping the team would carry the energy from the final four games of last season into this one, and that he's pleased with the way it has done that.

There's no question that second-year safety Jaiquawn Jarrett is struggling. But veteran safety O.J. Atogwe thinks he's very talented and has some thoughts on what Jarrett needs to do to work through his problems.

Washington Redskins

Speaking of safeties, Madieu Williams is determined to put a disappointing 2011 season behind him and be one of the starting safeties for the Redskins this season. Tanard Jackson is his primary competition in camp and is the more talented player, but he comes with character concerns that Williams does not.

The heat got to be too much, quite literally, for receivers Leonard Hankerson and Josh Morgan on Tuesday at Redskins practice. They should both be fine, and it sounds as though running back Tim Hightower is closer to returning to the field and further complicating the competition at starting running back.

Dallas Cowboys

One of the things the Cowboys are working on after their first preseason game is improving the fits on their run defense. I do think it'll be better once Jay Ratliff, Jason Hatcher and Anthony Spencer are on the field, but they do need to stop the run better than they did when the Raiders' first-team offense was on the field.

Marcus Spears was a bright spot in that Monday night game, and while he knows he may be the odd man out when the final cuts come in, he's taking the healthy attitude that there's nothing he can do about that but play hard and impress people.

New York Giants

The Giants suffered some injury hits on the defensive line this week, and it looks as if surprise camp star Shaun Rogers is out for the year with a blood clot in his leg. One of the potential beneficiaries of this is Dwayne Hendricks, who's in line for more snaps now.

Evidently, the theory among the players at Giants camp is that the rash of back injuries has to do with the mattresses on which they're sleeping in the dorms at SUNY Albany. The Giants provide the mattresses, but NFL players in twin beds ... that's not ideal. My thing is, a lot of teams train at colleges and live in dorms, so this must happen elsewhere, too, right?
Yeah, so, if you just woke up, 3-0 was in fact the final score. I know, I know, but don't worry. I have links.

New York Giants

We already discussed the Giants activating wide receiver Hakeem Nicks from the physically-unable-to-perform list right on schedule, but there are other potentially distressing injury issues with the Giants, including a Michael Boley hamstring injury that has Tom Coughlin annoyed and a Shaun Rogers leg injury that threatens their depth at defensive tackle.

Paul Schwartz reports that safety Antrel Rolle played last season with two torn rotator cuffs, which I guess really means he was speaking from a position of strength Dec. 18 when he called out his teammates for not practicing in spite of minor injuries.

Philadelphia Eagles

Nnamdi Asomugha got a big scare in Monday's practice when he collided with safety Nate Allen, and he appears to be pretty banged up. But the Eagles let everyone know Monday night that Asomugha had no concussion symptoms, which is encouraging news. We'll see how long it takes him to get back to practice.

Jeff McLane says 2011 second-round pick Jaiquawn Jarrett has the look of a draft bust and isn't assured of a roster spot. Jarrett entered camp as the backup to starting safety Allen, but he didn't play well in last week's preseason opener and hasn't shown the Eagles the kind of development for which they were hoping.

Washington Redskins

Rich Campbell writes of the developing bond between rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III and wide receiver Pierre Garcon -- a connection that has to make the Redskins' coaches happy the stronger it grows.

In this Mark Maske notebook, we get information on Trent Williams' foot injury, Chris Neild's knee injury and the battle for the backup quarterback spot, which saw Kirk Cousins getting the second-team reps in Monday's practice.

Dallas Cowboys

The only injury of significance to come out of the Cowboys' preseason opener was the broken left thumb of rookie linebacker Kyle Wilber, who's out four weeks now. I do not know what kind of role they have been planning for Wilber on defense this year, but he got off the edge to force Matt Leinart into a bad throw in Monday's game before the injury.

The Cowboys are going glass-half-full with center-in-progress David Arkin, focusing on the good things he did Monday rather than the bad ones. And he did look better in the game than he did last week in practice, when he briefly got taken off the field after a series of bad snaps. No bad snaps Monday, and the education of Arkin at center continues.
Good morning and welcome to another week in the East, which starts with a preseason football game out West. Every team in our division has played its first preseason game except the Cowboys, who take on the Raiders in Oakland tonight on ESPN. We will of course have full coverage of that game as we did Thursday with the Redskins and Eagles and Friday with the Giants. By the time it's all over, you'll be saying to yourself, "Man, I'm glad I had my links."

Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys didn't sign former Eagles center Jamaal Jackson, apparently because they didn't think he was in good enough shape. Jackson says he's not retired and wants to play this year, but man. The Cowboys are as desperate for a center as any team in the league, and they passed on him because he's not in shape? I mean, if you really want to play ... I don't know ... get in shape?

The book on Cowboys tackle Tyron Smith (who is, amazingly, still only 21 years old) is that once he gets his hands on you, you can't get free. No less an authority on getting free of tackles than DeMarcus Ware says he can vouch for this.

New York Giants

Prince Amukamara and the Giants know he's going to get picked on by opposing quarterbacks. And Amukamara knows he had a bad night Friday. But he says he's developing that short-term memory every cornerback needs in order to overcome his mistakes.

As he tries to make the conversion from linebacker to defensive end and replace Dave Tollefson in that reserve pass-rusher role, third-year man Adrian Tracy has no shortage of examples in the Giants' locker room

Philadelphia Eagles

It seemed an odd time for Andy Reid's agent to be bringing up the idea of Reid's long-term standing with the team. But good agents look for opportunities, and certainly the general feeling about Reid is overwhelmingly positive right now after the grueling emotional week he just had and the love his team and his fans have shown for him in the wake of his son's death. Regardless, Jeffrey Lurie seems to have made it clear that there's been no change in Reid's long-term status, for better or for worse.

Could 2011 second-round draft pick Jaiquawn Jarrett be losing his backup safety spot to Tom Nelson? Certainly, Jarrett hasn't shown what the Eagles hoped he would, and he played poorly in Thursday's preseason opener. And, yeah, it's possible these camp "demotions," like the one they gave left tackle Demetress Bell over the weekend, are designed to light a fire under guys. But there's been a feeling for a while that the Eagles aren't as high on Jarrett as they were in April 2011, and his spot doesn't appear to be completely secure.

Washington Redskins

If there's a stretch of games this year -- two games, five games, 10 games, I don't know -- for which rookie Alfred Morris is the Redskins' starting running back, someone's going to ask you if you're surprised, and you're going to be in the enviable position of being able to say, "No, I'm not surprised. I read the NFC East blog on, and Graziano was writing back in July and August that it could be any one of four guys, and Morris was definitely in the mix." You can say that. You don't even need to ask my permission first.

Trent Williams is going to miss a few days with a bone bruise in his left foot, and he might not play Saturday against the Bears. It does not appear to be a long-term concern, but there's a certain degree of short-term concern about preparing for the season and playing preseason games with an offensive line that could be missing four of its starters.

Observation deck: Steelers-Eagles

August, 9, 2012

The most important thing that happened during a 24-23 victory by the Philadelphia Eagles over the Pittsburgh Steelers in their preseason opener was the result of an X-ray. Starting quarterback Michael Vick left the game in the second quarter after banging his left thumb on the helmet of teammate Jason Kelce while throwing a pass. Vick, who throws left-handed, was in obvious pain on the sideline and spent the rest of the second quarter icing the thumb.

The Eagles announced at halftime that an X-ray taken on the thumb was negative, and cameras caught Vick on the sideline during the fourth quarter gripping a ball with his left hand. Coach Andy Reid said after the game that Vick had a thumb "contusion" and that the issue was a nerve on the top of his thumb that made it numb for a while, but that he was fine by the end of the game. So it appears the Eagles survived a scare, but the scare was a jarring reminder of Vick's importance to the Eagles' hopes and the low point of a very poor first-half performance by the team as a whole.

We make no broad conclusions based on the first preseason game (or any preseason game) -- only observations. The Eagles were playing without three of their starters on the defensive line, and starting wide receiver Jeremy Maclin injured his hamstring in pregame warm-ups. And of course, the Eagles have had a rough week following the death of Reid's oldest son on Sunday morning. All of that matters as we assess what happened -- good and bad -- in this game. So here goes.

1. They need to stretch more. Maclin strained his hamstring before warm-ups even started, Reid said. And defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins strained his during the first quarter. Reid said he didn't think Jenkins' injury was too serious. He sounded less happy about Maclin's. Starting defensive end Jason Babin is already out with a strained calf. Muscle pulls are an August bane for a lot of teams, but this has something of an epidemic feeling in Philly, no?

2. They need to tackle better. I'm sure they will, but after such a poor tackling 2011, this was not the way the Eagles wanted to look in the first half of their 2012 preseason. Missed tackles by everyone from Jaiquawn Jarrett to DeMeco Ryans were a problem as the Steelers marched down the field against them in the first half. The length of the Steelers' drives was the reason Vick was even in the game in the second quarter. The offense got to run only three plays in the first.

3. They're not kidding about that defensive line depth. I thought 2010 first-round pick Brandon Graham played like a star. Which, of course, is exactly what he is supposed to be. Finally healthy after a year and a half's worth of knee problems, Graham should be a significant addition to the pass rush. But overall, backup lineman Derek Landri, Darryl Tapp, Phillip Hunt, et al looked very good, especially on the pass rush. And assuming Jenkins, Babin and Trent Cole can all get back healthy, the Eagles' plans to rotate eight defensive linemen and "throw fastballs at the offensive line" has a good chance to work. They still need to at least pay some attention to the run and toughen up in the middle, but a lot of that is the responsibility of the linebackers in this defense.

4. Damaris Johnson is a factor. He was the starting wide receiver in place of Maclin, which was something of a surprise. But he's been practicing well and is obviously a help in the return game. He had a long punt return wiped out by a penalty.

5. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie needs to find his checkbook. Called for a penalty for launching himself into a receiver, Rodgers-Cromartie can expect a well-deserved fine. Stupid penalty that would have been costly had it been a real game. That play is on every instructional video the league shows players to tell them what not to do.

6. Vick versus the blitz. Vick didn't do much while in the game, but the one play that stands out for me was a negative one. The Steelers showed a blitz look but didn't blitz, and it confused Vick, who was surprised not to find anyone open and took a sack as he tried to leave the pocket. Reading defenses and identifying coverages and blitz schemes has long been a problem for Vick, who says he's working on it and still has a month left before the real games start.

7. Oh yeah. Nick Foles. Everybody on Twitter was all fired up about Foles and his two long touchdown passes. Foles makes a remarkable impression. He's a giant (6-foot-6) with a great big arm. Everything physical about him shouts, "star quarterback." But it's important to remember that he's a rookie who doesn't yet know the offense and still needs to refine his footwork and other mechanics. The Eagles drafted Foles because of his physical tools -- his arm in particular. But he's no threat right now to Mike Kafka as the backup. Unfortunately for Kafka, whose struggles to throw the deep ball are a particularly bad deficiency on the Eagles' speed-based offense, Foles profiles as the better player down the road. But not yet. No matter how good he looked Thursday night, Foles is still the No. 3.

8. The winning kick. No, the game doesn't count. But Alex Henery's 51-yard field goal with 12 seconds left that set the final score is a nice confidence booster for the Eagles' second-year kicker. Also take note that it was second-year punter Chas Henry who held on that kick. Henry also unleashed a 54-yard punt earlier in the game and is trying to hold off a serious challenge from former Cowboys punter Mat McBriar.

OK, that's more than enough off the first preseason game. In conclusion: No, they didn't look good, but it probably doesn't matter, and the most important thing is that Vick appears to have dodged a serious injury. On to preseason Week 2 for the Eagles, whose priority right now is to get everyone healthy.