NFC East: Jake Knott


PHILADELPHIA -- The Eagles don't have a problem if offensive tackle Lane Johnson is really suspended for four games, as reported by Paul Domowitch of the Philadelphia Daily News.

They have several problems.

Remember, Johnson was a quarterback in high school and then a tight end when he first got to Oklahoma University. The 6-foot-6 Johnson bulked up to more than 300 pounds to become an offensive tackle good enough to be taken fourth overall in the 2013 NFL draft.

Johnson
Was that physical transformation natural or the result of performance-enhancing drugs? This is more than a theoretical matter for the Eagles. They drafted Johnson based on his size and his physical skills. At the scouting combine last year, Johnson ran a 4.75-yard 40-yard dash, an excellent time for a man of his size. The Eagles drafted him fourth, which meant a contract worth almost $20 million, including a signing bonus of $12 million.

The Eagles made that investment on the assumption that Johnson was clean. He earned his money as a rookie, starting all 16 regular-season games plus the playoff game against New Orleans. But the question becomes, can he perform at the same level if he stops doing whatever earned him a four-game suspension?

If Johnson is sidelined, the Eagles could start either guard Todd Herremans or backup lineman Allen Barbre at right tackle. Barbe performed very well when pressed into action at left tackle last year at Green Bay. Herremans played right tackle in 2012 and 2013 before moving back inside to guard last year.

The other candidates to fill in for Johnson are Dennis Kelly, who was troubled by back pain last season, and Matt Tobin and Michael Bamiro. The Eagles did not take an offensive lineman in this year's draft.

Taking a step back, a suspension would cast doubts upon more than just Johnson.

Head coach Chip Kelly has gotten a lot of attention for his training methods and his sports science-based approach to football. It didn't raise many questions when linebacker Jake Knott was suspended earlier this year. But now, with a first-round pick and starter reportedly testing positive for PEDs, there will be plenty of speculation about what's in those custom smoothies the players drink after every practice.

Johnson would be the fifth Eagles player suspended for performance enhancing drugs. This would be the first time, however, that two Eagles have tested positive in the same year. Instead of a minor player whose absence would barely be noticed, Knott becomes part of a trend for the 2013 NFC East champions. If there are no more positive tests, there will be no more suspicions. But if the trend continues, questions will be asked.

NFL hands Jake Knott four-game ban

April, 4, 2014
Apr 4
4:51
PM ET
Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Jake Knott has been suspended without pay for the first four games of the 2014 regular season for violating the NFL policy on performance enhancing substances.

Knott
Knott, who had six tackles in 12 games last season, is eligible to participate in all offseason and preseason practices and games. Knott earned a roster spot as an undrafted rookie from Iowa State.

“We’re very disappointed to learn of his suspension,” the Eagles said in a statement. “We have spoken to Jake and he is fully aware of the mistake he made and owned it. The key for him, however, is to learn from that mistake and move forward with his preparation for the 2014 season.”

Knott also issued a statement.

“Several weeks ago, I was shocked to learn that I tested positive for a stimulant that is banned by the NFL,” Knott said. “I have never knowingly ingested a banned substance, but like most players, I take nutritional supplements. Unfortunately, I now know that supplements are not regulated and thus may contain things that are not listed on the label. The NFL policy is very strict, so I have chosen to take immediate responsibility.

“I look forward to participating in team workouts, training camp and the pre-season with my team. During the suspension, I will work extremely hard to stay in top football shape and be ready to contribute immediately upon my return. I sincerely apologize to my teammates, coaches, my family and fans for the impact of my mistake on the team.”

Knott played mostly on special teams as a rookie and made his debut in the season opener at Washington on Sept. 9, where he recovered an onside kick with 1:14 remaining to help seal a 33-27 Eagles victory.
PHILADELPHIA -- Eagles cornerback Bradley Fletcher was listed as questionable for Sunday’s game in Green Bay due to a pectoral injury he sustained in Oakland.

Fletcher
Quarterback Michael Vick was listed as doubtful due to his hamstring strain. That would have been the headline in the past, but Vick’s condition has become almost an afterthought five weeks after the original injury. Linebacker and special-teamer Jake Knott is also doubtful with a hamstring injury.

Fletcher’s status would be a bigger issue if the Eagles were facing Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. But even with Seneca Wallace replacing the injured Rodgers, there are repercussions if Fletcher can’t go or is limited.

With Fletcher on the defensive left and Cary Williams on the right, the Eagles don’t move their corners around, or have one of them follow the other team’s top receiver.

“As of right now,” Williams said, “we’re preparing like Bradley’s going to play. Hopefully he does. If he doesn’t, we’ll probably keep to the same formula.”

That could mean slot corner Brandon Boykin moving out to take Williams’ side. Or Roc Carmichael, who was on the field for 20 defensive snaps in Oakland, could play outside with Boykin remaining in the slot.

“Roc’s been impressive,” defensive coordinator Bill Davis said. “Roc came out and competed well and made a couple of plays for us. And I've got all the confidence in the world in Roc, and him out at corner. He's a competitor, he's a bright young man that's picked up the defense well for not being here through the offseason. We’re excited about Roc and feel very comfortable with him out there.”

Safety Patrick Chung, who is listed as probable with a shoulder injury, can also play the slot corner spot. And the Eagles signed cornerback Curtis Marsh early in the week, giving them an extra option.

It’s also possible that the Packers will use more two-back formations with Wallace at quarterback in order to focus on the running game.

And, of course, it’s also possible that Fletcher will play and get through the entire game.

The other players listed as probable were Carmichael (groin), wide receiver Damaris Johnson (ankle), left tackle Jason Peters (pectoral, shoulder), running back Chris Polk (shoulder, knee), defensive end Cedric Thornton (knee) and offensive lineman Julian Vandervelde (knee).
PHILADELPHIA -- The sign posted near the players' exit was unintentionally funny. Read one way, it was a simple reminder of a seminar scheduled for Friday: “Mandatory Rookie Success,” it read.

Read another way: Ah, if only it were that easy.

The Philadelphia Eagles have six rookies dressing for games (most weeks), but this is really only about two of them. That's because, frankly, not all positions are created equal when it comes to learning on the job in the NFL.

Defenses will cover rookie tight end Zach Ertz because he's on the field and he's eligible to catch the ball. Offenses will block nose tackle Bennie Logan when he's in because he's lined up over the center. Linebacker Jake Knott and cornerback Jordan Poyer are playing mostly on special teams.

But being a rookie means being a target for right tackle Lane Johnson and safety Earl Wolff. That's because of who they are and who they are not.

If you're a defensive coordinator, you can line up your best outside pass-rusher across from Pro Bowler Jason Peters, the left tackle, or across from Johnson, who has played four NFL games. It isn't a tough choice.

“They do flip (defensive ends and linebackers),” Johnson said. “It's just kind of the process for rookies. It's like if a quarterback sees a rookie cornerback. He might attack him.”

Same for a rookie safety like Wolff. Quarterbacks can go after veteran cornerbacks Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher or freeze Wolff with their eyes and then throw where he's supposed to be. Wolff made his first start against Peyton Manning and could make his second Sunday against Eli Manning. Even if veteran Patrick Chung (questionable, shoulder) plays, Wolff will see considerable action.

“I feel like I'll be more prepared and more ready, just knowing what happened last week,” Wolff said. “Everything I did wrong -- small things like getting leveraged on a couple plays, not being deep enough in coverage -- I've been working on all that this week.”

Wolff was supposed to be deeper on Peyton Manning's 52-yard pass to Eric Decker on Sunday. Considering deep threats Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks, that is an important area to shore up against the Giants.

“I see improvement in Earl,” coach Chip Kelly said. “But you're not, in the short amount of time since he's been here, able to put him through every single route combination, sets, recognition, all those things that a guy who has been in the league for two or three years can recognize.”

Likewise, Johnson said he has gotten better at studying film of the players he's likely to face. But there's still dealing with that player's quickness and strength in the flesh, and then there's the twists and stunts defenses do to confuse young blockers.

“I think Lane knows exactly what to do,” Kelly said, “but at times, the game has to happen just a little bit quicker for him.”

Every rookie has to go through that process. It's just that, at certain positions, opponents will apply extra pressure on rookies until they prove they can deal with it.

“You have no choice,” Johnson said. “You just have to go through it.”
It started on the bus ride from the Meadowlands to South Philadelphia. Chip Kelly started watching tape of the just-concluded preseason finale, a 27-20 loss to the New York Jets, in preparation for a full slate of meetings Friday.

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.
  • [+] EnlargeChris McCoy
    AP Photo/Bill KostrounLinebacker Chris McCoy (94) turned in a solid performance as a starter in Thursday's finale.
    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.

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.

OFFENSE (26)

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.

DEFENSE (24)

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.

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