NFC East: Jamar Chaney

Cowboys work out veteran LBs

November, 18, 2013
11/18/13
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IRVING, Texas -- With Sean Lee and Justin Durant out at least two more games because of hamstring strains, the Dallas Cowboys took a look at two veteran free agent linebackers on Monday.

Durant
Jamar Chaney, who was cut by the Atlanta Falcons last month, and Jonathan Goff, who has not played since 2010, worked out for the Cowboys at Valley Ranch. Chaney spent three seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles before his release over the summer. He was cut by Atlanta last month.

Goff had his 2011 and ’12 seasons ended after tearing his right anterior cruciate ligament twice. In 2011 he was with the New York Giants. In 2012 he was with the Washington Redskins.

With three division games left in the final six weeks, it can’t be a coincidence that both players have NFC East ties.

The Cowboys added linebacker Taylor Reed to the practice squad to provide some depth in case of emergency. He was among the Cowboys' final cuts over the summer.

Coach Jason Garrett would not rule out Lee from Sunday’s game against the Giants, but that’s more because of how he deals with injuries than a significant improvement by Lee. Garrett acknowledged that Ernie Sims would play inside linebacker in Lee’s absence.

“He had a productive weekend,” Garrett said of Lee. “When everyone else was on a bye, he was working hard to get himself back. He was in good spirits today. We will see how he does as the week goes on.”
I have attempted another "all-22" breakdown using the NFL Game Rewind app, and this time I went through Sunday night's game between the New York Giants and the Philadelphia Eagles with a specific focus on the left tackles. I will have a post up later today on the Eagles' Demetress Bell, but this post here focuses on the very strong work by Giants left tackle Will Beatty, particularly against Eagles star defensive end Trent Cole.

Beatty, you may recall, was the Giants' starting left tackle for the first 10 games last year, and had some mixed results before an eye injury ended his season prematurely. Back injuries plagued his offseason, and his inability to get healthy cost him his starting job at the start of this season. But an injury to David Diehl forced the Giants to reshuffle, and it appears Beatty has reclaimed the starting left tackle role as a result.

[+] EnlargeWill Beatty
Howard Smith/US PresswireGiants tackle Will Beatty (65) blocks during the first quarter against the Eagles in their Week 4 game.
To me, he looks considerably stronger and more confident as a blocker than he did in 2011. I saw a lot of reaching and grabbing and late-reacting last year. Sunday night against Cole, his footwork was consistent and he held up very well strength-wise against one of the toughest defensive linemen in the league. Cole has a variety of moves out of his Wide-9 four-point stance, but the one that really stands out is the one on which he tries to go through the lineman, bursting off the line and into the tackle with shocking force. There are plenty of tackles in the league Cole can knock over with this move, and at the very least he can rattle them and beat them around the edge while they are dazed. Beatty wasn't having any. He took those big shots from Cole (I noticed it specifically on a seven-yard Eli Manning pass to Domenik Hixon toward the end of the first half and again on a five-yard pass to Ramses Barden on the Giants' first play of the second half) and stood his ground.

Some of the numbers from what I saw:

  • Beatty plays 68 snaps. On 26 of those, he has a tight end lined up next to him. On two others, he has two tight ends with him. Which means he was by himself on 40 of his 68 plays.
  • He ends up blocking Cole by himself, without any help or chipping from anyone else, 31 times. He should get hazard pay for this. Cole is a relentless nightmare to block. However, I only counted five plays out of those 31 on which I'd say Cole beat him. And there were only a couple of those that matters to the outcome of the play. Their final matchup of the night, which will go down as the Barden offensive pass interference play, has to be a satisfying capper for Beatty on a tough but very good night, as he flattens Cole and takes him to the ground.
  • He ends up blocking Darryl Tapp one-on-one eight times, and Tapp has no chance against him.

My favorite Beatty sequence is the Giants possession that begins with 9:55 left in the third quarter and results in the Victor Cruz touchdown catch. There are eight plays on the drive, and he's by himself on the left side for seven of them. The only exception is the second play, when Bennett motions to his side and Beatty goes inside and dominates Derek Landri. He gets Cole five times and Tapp twice on the drive, and the only play on which he doesn't dominate is the touchdown pass, on which Cole beats him a little bit with a spin move but Manning releases the ball too quickly for it to matter.

Beatty's best play on that drive is the first-and-10 from the Eagles' 34 on which Manning completes a 13-yard pass to Hixon. He's by himself on the left side, with Cole lined up super-wide with both hands on the ground. As the ball is snapped, Beatty keeps his eyes upfield for a moment to make sure the linebacker isn't coming. But as he does so, he's swinging his left leg and rotating his arms and shoulders out to anticipate Cole's wide rush. This enables him to get back in time to disrupt and block Cole while Manning finds Hixon on the left side of the field. The play showed instincts, intelligence and an ability to multi-task. This looks like the player the Giants believe can be their left tackle of the future, and he's leaps and bounds better than he was a year ago.

I did mark seven "bad plays" and one other possible mistake on Beatty's 68 snaps. But all seven of the bad plays were in the first half, so he seemed to get better as the game went along. And the bad plays were often the result of poor decisions and not his being overmatched. For example:

  • On the second play of the game, he goes the wrong way and ends up having to grab at linebacker Jamar Chaney, who assists on the tackle of Andre Brown.
  • Cole flat-out beats him on third-and-five on the Giants' second possession and again on third-and-three on their fourth, and Beatty reverts to his grabby ways. The first was called holding. The second could have been.
  • The Eagles successfully confuse Beatty on third-and-four from the Giants' 39-yard line in the second quarter. Cullen Jenkins is lined up as the defensive end on that side, and tight end Martellus Bennett handles him. Beatty kinds of drifts that way as if to help when he should be picking up linebacker DeMeco Ryans, who gets to Manning and helps force an incomplete pass.
  • And the possible mistake was on a first-and-10 run two plays before the Bear Pascoe touchdown. It looks to me as though he should be helping Bennett with Cole on the edge instead of helping Kevin Boothe with Landri inside, and Cole indeed beats Bennett to disrupt the play. But I don't know what the assignment was there.

All in all, though, a very good night from Beatty against as tough an opponent as he'll ever face. His improvement over 2011 is an outstanding sign for the Giants.
And welcome to another fun week in the NFC East. This is a very cool week for a number of reasons. First, the predictions for which you guys have been asking me for months now will come out ... Thursday? Pretty sure it's Thursday, but I'll be sure to make a big fuss and let you know when it happens. Second, it's the final week of preseason games, and I'm sure we can all agree that's a good thing with which to be done. And third, it's the final full week of the offseason. Yes, next week there's an actual NFL game, and it's in our division. I know, right? Chills. And links. Don't forget the links.

New York Giants

Prince Amukamara says what he has is a "mild high ankle sprain," which is a lot of adjectives for one injury, but what he's trying to get across is that it could be worse. Nevertheless, it's hard to imagine him recovering from any sort of high ankle sprain in time for the regular-season opener, since that is only nine days from now.

Oh yeah. The other thing that happens this week is the final roster cuts, and I know how obsessive everyone gets about those. So here's a Star-Ledger story on Adewale Ojomo and his chances.

Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles have decided to go with Akeem Jordan as the starting weakside linebacker. This is a bit of an upset and represents a terrible missed opportunity for Brian Rolle, who didn't play well enough, and Jamar Chaney, who couldn't keep his hamstrings healthy enough. I imagine Chaney can win the job eventually, once he's healthy. But the Eagles' opener is in 13 days, and it's time to start making decisions about who's going to play.

One of several other issues the Eagles need to sort out is nickel cornerback, and Sheil Kapadia's breakdown of the defensive backs' performance in Friday's game talks about the competition there between veteran Joselio Hanson and rookie Brandon Boykin.

Washington Redskins

The surprise return of Tim Hightower, the surprise injury to Evan Royster and the strong performance by Alfred Morris in Saturday's preseason game all added a great deal of intrigue to the Redskins' running back situation. Washington opens in 13 days in New Orleans and still has not settled on a starter at running back. The key thing to watch this week is the news on Hightower's knee and how it's recovering from its first game action in 10 months.

A couple of interesting nuggets in Rich Campbell's thorough film review of the offense's performance Saturday, including high marks for Pierre Garcon's downfield blocking and some questions about Will Montgomery's shotgun snaps. A worthy read all the way through.

Dallas Cowboys

Jean-Jacques Taylor writes that the new restrictions the Cowboys are putting on Dez Bryant's off-field activity remind him of those they once placed on Pacman Jones and that a major violation could lead to Bryant's release. There are some pretty obvious differences between Bryant and Pacman, not the least of which are the age at which these restrictions were put in place and the severity of the off-field trouble in question. But Jacques' central point stands, which is that the Cowboys have set up a situation in which they will have to take drastic action if the young man does not abide by the standards they've set for him. The good news is that Bryant seems to be on board with the new setup.

The Cowboys' offensive line was terrible in Saturday night's preseason game, and their hope is that starting center Phil Costa can return to practice this week and maybe shore some things up. Maybe. I guess. But it's worth remembering that Costa was the team's worst offensive player last season, and if you're counting on him to shore things up, you may be in more trouble than you're willing to admit.

Breakfast links: Cooley's chances

August, 17, 2012
8/17/12
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Good morning. There were preseason games last night, but not in our division, so I watched some baseball instead. Starting to think it might not be the Phillies' year.

Friday links are presented in order of the current winning percentage of the baseball team (or teams) that play in the same market as the NFL team in question.

Washington Redskins

Chris Baker had to lose more than 20 pounds before training camp (to get to 331) or the Redskins said they were going to fine him per pound. Here's how he did it, and became one of the surprise standouts of camp on the defensive line.

Chris Cooley's relationship with the Redskins and their fans, and his feelings about the team for which he plays, are unique among NFL players. For that reason, he is willing to accept any role at all that keeps him in Washington. Remember, three things had to happen this preseason for Cooley to stay -- he had to prove himself healthy, be willing to accept a reduced role and likely take a pay cut. So far so good on the first two, and I assume he'd agree to the third. But that first one is the one that's most important.

Dallas Cowboys

Here's a very interesting story by Todd Archer on Brandon Carr and the importance of the lower body in cornerback technique. You haven't heard much about Carr this camp, which is probably a good thing if you're a Cowboys fan, since a lot of the news on other people has been bad. Carr has been quite good.

Randy Galloway is worried about Tony Romo's safety and thinks he shouldn't be playing in these preseason games until the Cowboys get their offensive line situation figured out. I can see where he's coming from with this.

New York Giants

Prince Amukamara knows opposing offenses are going to be targeting him until he proves he can stop them. He says that's fine with him. Best way to learn and get better and all that.

The biggest question area for the Giants at this moment is offensive line, and the biggest question on the offensive line is left tackle Will Beatty, who can't seem to get or keep his back healthy. The Giants' fallback plan for Beatty is not well defined. They could move David Diehl from right tackle to left tackle (where he played during the Super Bowl run last year) and use James Brewer or Sean Locklear at right tackle. Or they could always re-sign Kareem McKenzie, though obviously if they'd wanted to do that they probably would have by now.

Philadelphia Eagles

With Nnamdi Asomugha back at practice but not back to full strength following his collision with Nate Allen earlier in the week, the Eagles are a little light at cornerback. Curtis Marsh is supposed to be the next man up behind the starters there, but he's out with a hamstring injury, so you could see Brandon Hughes starting at corner on Monday if Asomugha can't go. In the end, Asomugha is likely to be fine in time for the season, so this would be a chance for Hughes to show what he's got.

Jamar Chaney impressed coaches early in training camp before he got hurt. He has to work his way back to where he was at the time of the injury and fight for playing time at linebacker.
I gathered a lot of notes, information and interviews in my trips to the NFC East's four training camps over the past few weeks, and not everything can fit into the "Camp Confidential." So, periodically, I will go through my notes from the camps and see if I can come up with any interesting posts for you guys on those specific teams. Due to the extenuating circumstances of last week at Eagles camp, this effort has been delayed. But I haven't forgotten you, my Eagles fans, and I do have a few things left in the notebook from my time at Lehigh. I hope you enjoy.

BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- The question many Philadelphia Eagles fans and observers have had about DeMeco Ryans (other than, "Why did the Texans give him up for so little?") is whether he'd be able to play all three downs at middle linebacker. Ryans came off the field in the Texans' nickel defense last year, and he's a year removed from a serious injury, so people have wondered.

[+] EnlargeDemeco Ryans
AP Photo/Brian GarfinkelDeMeco Ryans will be a leader on defense for the Eagles.
Well, Ryans was a three-down linebacker when he was in the game Thursday against Pittsburgh, and neither he nor the Eagles have been wondering whether he can handle it. He was a three-down 4-3 middle linebacker before his 2010 Achilles injury, and the plan is for him to be just that in Philadelphia.

"It's good to be back in the 4-3," Ryans told me after a recent practice. "The 3-4 wasn't something I couldn't handle. I think I played well in the 3-4, and we had a good defense there. But it's cool being back in the 4-3. It's comfortable."

Ryans has looked comfortable on the field in practice, identifying offensive formations and calling them out for the defensive linemen and his fellow linebackers to hear. He played fairly well in the preseason opener against the Steelers, helping out on a couple of tackles but missing a key one on running back Jonathan Dwyer after forcing him outside. But one of the big reasons the Eagles brought him in was to improve their communication on defense with a seasoned leader in the middle. GM Howie Roseman said the Eagles identified Ryans as a potentially available guy because Houston had undergone a defensive scheme change and was going to have salary cap issues, but he said his conversations with Houston GM Rick Smith fortified his opinion of Ryans as the answer to the Eagles' problems.

"Rick told me in our first conversation, 'My owner calls him "Cap." He considers him the captain of our team,'" Roseman said. "So we just felt like it was very important that we get the quarterback for our defense, that we had somebody that was able to take control and calm things down."

Part of Ryans' challenge is getting used to playing linebacker behind the Eagles' Wide 9 defensive line arrangement, which leans on the linebackers to take responsibility for gaps and control the opposing running game. Ryans said the Wide 9 isn't completely unfamiliar to him, but that it does require some practice.

"When you're in the Wide, sometimes you can get an offensive lineman up on you quicker, versus the 3-4 under front we played in Houston," Ryans said. Sometimes the 4-3, with the guys being wide, the tight ends will have free releases up the field. So you have to be cognizant of those guys getting up on you a lot faster than they would if the end was in tight. Once you recognize the formation and see how they're set up, depending on where the end is playing, you have to kind of understand how that tight end is going to release. And with the end being out wide, the tight end definitely can't go wide. He has to come up and inside on you, and most of the time he has free release."

Ryans understands the concepts and his responsibility within them. His job now is to practice so that they become second-nature, and to work with the younger linebackers on either side of him -- guys like Mychal Kendricks, Brian Rolle, Jamar Chaney and Casey Matthews -- to help make it second-nature to them.

"He's a savvy vet," cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha said of Ryans. "He's so even keel -- never gets too up, never gets too down. And when he speaks, everybody listens. He's in the perfect position. The MIKE linebacker is where I think he's supposed to be. And he's a run stuffer who can also play in coverage, so it's good having him."

It might have been the greatest need position for the Eagles to fill this offseason, and they believe they found the perfect guy to fill it.
BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- A year ago, as excitement swirled around the free-agent-happy Philadelphia Eagles and preseason predictions called for big things, something didn't feel quite right.

"I didn't think the expectations were too high, but I knew that the timing might not match up as quickly as everyone wanted it to," cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha said after practice last week. "Because you would hear, 'Oh, they're going to be this, going to be that,' and then you'd come out in practice and you could see us blowing plays. Yes, we could be there, but we weren't there yet. That's what I was feeling in training camp. Right now in training camp, it feels completely different."

Last week, before the Eagles' training camp was rocked by Sunday's news of the death of coach Andy Reid's son Garrett, the atmosphere was serene and businesslike. The players have been practicing together since February, when Asomugha and quarterback Michael Vick were organizing players-only workouts at the University of Pennsylvania. Late July welcomed them to one of the hardest-hitting camps in the NFL. Their motivation is clear and simple: They were 8-8 last year and believe they should have been better. They admit to being downright angry about the way the 2011 season went.

"I think there's a determined effort to try to maximize our opportunity," Eagles general manager Howie Roseman said. "You see it from the players. You see it from the coaches. You see it from the support staff. And I think last year, maybe you underestimated how long it takes to acclimate."

No such issues or excuses this time around. This is basically the same group as last year, with new guys at middle linebacker and left tackle. All of the coaches who were new to the team or their roles last season are back. All of the new schemes implemented last year by defensive coordinator Juan Castillo, defensive line coach Jim Washburn and offensive line coach Howard Mudd are familiar by now, and everybody should be more comfortable in them. If the Eagles flop again, there won't be anywhere to look for explanations other than within. That's why this August's focus is internal, on the things that are important rather than any hype they might be attracting.

"I don't want anyone buying into anything," Asomugha said. "I just want us to get into this season and just play the way we know how to play. I'll be completely honest with you: Our team looks very good. Obviously it's camp. We're not playing against anybody, but we're under specific instruction. Don't talk. Don't blow this thing up. Don't nothing. Let's just get in the season, and let's just start playing football."

Once they do that, the Eagles believe that this time around, everything will be just fine.

THREE HOT ISSUES

1. Can Vick lead them to greatness? No player in the league is under more pressure in 2012 than Vick. The brilliance of his 2010 season disappeared under the disappointment of his injury- and interception-riddled 2011, in which he failed to take that critical next step in his late-career development as a leader and a quarterback. The popular narrative is that this is the first time since 2006 in Atlanta that Vick has had a real offseason as a team's starting quarterback. He began 2010 as the Eagles' backup, and the 2011 offseason was wiped away by the lockout. The result, everyone says, is that Vick has spent more time at the team facility, working out, studying film and applying himself to details in order to get better.

"It's all evident," Vick said of his 2011 film review. "A lot of the turnovers I had, I think eight of them, were on balls that got tipped, so I need to try and release the ball a little higher, do something differently. There's nothing more gratifying than learning from a mistake. Interceptions are going to happen, but you try to keep them to a minimum and think about ball control."

The more focus on detail, the better for Vick, who has long relied on his unusual and considerable talent to carry him through. As last season proved, being a quarterback is about the little things, much more than just what you can do with your arm and your legs.

"I see him just being smarter," wide receiver DeSean Jackson said of Vick. "He's taking a leadership role where he can be coached and be taught by other people as well. He's not at a point where he doesn't feel like anybody can tell him anything. He interacts, and he wants to know what it is that he's doing something wrong. And if he is doing something wrong, you can just get on him, just like a regular individual, a regular player."

[+] EnlargeDemeco Ryans
AP Photo/Brian GarfinkelThe Eagles believe veteran DeMeco Ryans will provide the defense with stability at linebacker.
2. The "quarterback of the defense" The big acquisition of the Eagles' offseason was middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans, whom they acquired in a trade with the Houston Texans prior to the draft. Ryans is a well-respected veteran who was emerging as one of the top linebackers in the league before his 2010 Achilles injury.

A misfit in the 3-4 defense the Texans implemented during his rehab, Ryans is more comfortable playing the middle linebacker spot in the Eagles' 4-3. He is healthy and looking like the player who was universally loved and respected by Texans teammates, who called him Cap. The Eagles' defense, which started unprepared rookie Casey Matthews at middle linebacker last September, should benefit from Ryans' veteran presence.

"You see that stability there," Reid said. "The game's slower for him than it would be for a rookie. So he's able to just kind of get everybody lined up, get everybody settled and calmed down."

Roseman said it was a priority for the Eagles to find "the quarterback of our defense," and Ryans is aware that he was brought in to correct 2011's biggest defensive flaw. Ryans is trying to keep those expectations as calm as he's trying to keep his defensive teammates.

"It's not going to take one person to fix all the problems," Ryans said. "It takes everybody working together and finding out how we can make all 11 guys play better and have a better defense."

What the Eagles like about Ryans is that he can teach everybody just how to do that. And he can play a little too.

"It's not like we just got a guy off the street who has some experience," Asomugha said. "This guy is a big-time player."

3. Replacin' Jason Left tackle Jason Peters may have been the best player on the Eagles' roster last season, and that's no slight to anyone else. Peters was a monster blocker who was critical to the success of the offensive line and to the breakout season of running back LeSean McCoy. But Peters injured his Achilles in the offseason and is out for the season.

His replacement is free-agent signee Demetress Bell, who is athletic like Peters and has the potential to be an adequate replacement. Bell's issue has been staying healthy and on the field, but so far his teammates say he is looking good and picking up Mudd's complex blocking schemes.

"He's one of the best options we could have had to replace Jason," left guard Evan Mathis said. "He displays great athleticism. He has a hunger to learn and a hunger to get better. And what's good for him is, Jason had a monster season, so he can go look at the film of Jason having a monster season, take what he's learning from Howard, apply it to what he's doing on the field and just try and replicate that and do exactly what Jason was doing. He's making strides daily."

REASON FOR OPTIMISM

For all that went wrong last season, the Eagles managed to finish 8-8 and weren't eliminated from playoff contention until Week 16. Had they managed to hold just one of those blown fourth-quarter leads -- against the 49ers, Falcons or Giants, say -- the discussion of their 2011 might be very different. They played well enough at the end of last season, and in the first three quarters of their September games, to prove to themselves they can be as good as they think they can be. If they can cut down on the costly mistakes, and if they get the mental boost they say they got from their season-ending four-game winning streak, it's not a long journey from where they were to a division title.

REASON FOR PESSIMISM

So much comes down to Vick. With a backup corps that comprises Mike Kafka, Trent Edwards and rookie Nick Foles, it's more important than ever for Vick to stay healthy. He hasn't played 16 games in a season since 2006, and the Eagles were 1-2 in the three games he missed last season. When he is at his best, Vick gives the Eagles advantages at the position over any team in the league. He can do things with his arm and his legs that other quarterbacks can't. But his relatively small size and all-out style of play have created a history of injury that can't be overlooked when forecasting his -- and the Eagles' -- season. If he doesn't play well, or if they lose him for an extended period of time, it's going to be difficult for them to compete with the top teams in the NFC.

OBSERVATION DECK
    [+] EnlargeJeremy Maclin
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesNow fully healthy, WR Jeremy Maclin has the tools to have a career season in 2012.
  • Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin is a breakout candidate. He was sick at this time last year and wasn't able to get a lot out of training camp, and he had injury issues throughout the season. He is 100 percent healthy now, and he gives the Eagles a speed threat opposite Jackson in the wide receiver corps. Don't be surprised if Maclin has a better statistical season than Jackson.
  • I think McCoy will miss Peters at left tackle. The Eagles ran outside a lot last season, and Peters' upfield blocking was a huge help to McCoy's ability to break long runs. Having watched the Eagles work on their inside running in camp, I get the impression they're so strong in the middle of the offensive line -- especially given how much better 2011 first-round pick Danny Watkins looks at right guard -- that McCoy will be able to run successfully between the tackles more than he did a season ago.
  • Brandon Graham is the 2012 Eagles in microcosm. Fans are sick of hearing how good he is supposed to be and just want to see it. The 2010 first-round pick looks fantastic in the early going and should be able to make a contribution as part of the rotation at defensive end. Reid says the plan is to rotate eight guys on the defensive line and "throw fastballs, if we can, at the offensive line." A healthy, productive Graham subbing in to give Trent Cole or Jason Babin a breather would go a long way toward enabling that.
  • Jamar Chaney was playing well enough to look like the starter at weakside linebacker before a hamstring injury in the second week of camp sidelined him. The starter could be Matthews or Brian Rolle if Chaney can't keep his momentum going. Rookie Mychal Kendricks is supposed to start on the strong side, but the Eagles are taking things slowly with him. Don't be surprised if, as with Watkins a year ago, his role is bigger in the second half than it is at the start.
  • Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, the starter at cornerback opposite Asomugha, looks spry and comfortable in his new role. He played the slot cornerback position last season, which he never had before, and should be better on the outside.
  • Rookie Brandon Boykin could win the slot corner job ahead of veteran Joselio Hanson. Boykin is also helping as a kick returner.
  • It's possible the Eagles could go without a fullback. They didn't use one much last season, and they like what backup tight end Brett Brackett has been showing in camp. Philadelphia could use him or Clay Harbor along with Brent Celek in multiple tight end sets.
Friday links. They are in a particular order, but I'm going to make you guess what it is. Winner gets absolutely nothing. Go.

Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys have big problems on the interior of the offensive line, as they did last year and actually kind of did before all of this year's injuries set in. So they're bringing in a bunch of guys they had last year for workouts and to see if they can help. I wish them luck with that.

The good thing the Cowboys have going for them on the offensive line is second-year tackle Tyron Smith, who was a complete animal last year as a rookie right tackle and is, in practices, impressing the league's best pass-rusher.

Philadelphia Eagles

The additions of DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks, the late-season development of Brian Rolle and Casey Matthews and the strong training camp performance so far of Jamar Chaney made some of the linebackers the Eagles used last year expendable, so they traded Moise Fokou and Greg Lloyd to the Colts for cornerback Kevin Thomas and a pick. They needed the cornerback depth more. Trade happened while I was in the car on Route 78 East, so that's why I didn't mention it until now.

Special teams coach Bobby April says the punting competition is dead even between Chas Henry and former Cowboys punter Mat McBriar. They need to see these guys punt in games. McBriar looks great. The only question is if the health of his foot holds up. If it does, he's likely to beat out Henry.

Washington Redskins

John Keim's Thursday practice report is characteristically comprehensive, and includes notes on the cornerback situation as well as that of Chris Cooley.

Mike Shanahan believes that Robert Griffin III brings enough skills on the field and in the locker room to help cover up potential weaknesses in other areas of the team, Jason Reid writes.

New York Giants

The Terrell Thomas injury situation has reached a confusing stage at which even Giants coach Tom Coughlin says he doesn't know what to believe anymore. And it sounds like there's no definitive answer coming until the middle of next week.

Eli Manning is a funny guy. He said he told David Carr to take his shirt off while running post-practice sprints so the Giants could get some of the same coverage the Jets are getting. The Giants like to bag on the Jets. The Jets make it easy. And yes, Manning really is a funny guy.
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BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- Real quick, before I head home...
  • Thursday's Philadelphia Eagles practice wasn't as hard-hitting as Wednesday's was, but it was much hotter and there was a parade of guys leaving early with cramps and/or injuries. Those included running back LeSean McCoy and safety Nate Allen (cramps), safety O.J. Atogwe (groin) and linebacker Jamar Chaney (hamstring). Chaney was headed for an MRI, but none of the other issues were thought to be serious. It seems as though Andy Reid is trying to see how much his players can take, perhaps in an effort to make sure they don't lack toughness or stamina once the season begins and there are fourth-quarter leads to protect.
  • I thought DeSean Jackson was very active in Thursday's practice, and after speaking with him in the morning I took notice of the variety of routes he was running, including the underneath ones. "Defenses game plan on me," Jackson told me in the morning. "So all the downfield routes, all the deep routes that we always had success with, last year teams tried to prevent that and started backing up deeper. So I think whatever it is as far as underneath routes, getting the ball in our hands earlier and faster just so we can catch and make runs, I think that's going to be huge for us this year as well. Just not always trying to go deep for the home run."
  • Middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans looked like the proverbial "quarterback of the defense" as he called out the offense's formations and ordered the players around him into different looks and coverages depending on what he saw. Ryans left practice briefly with some kind of physical issue, but he only missed a play or two and was able to finish without any problems.
  • Once McCoy left, running back Dion Lewis ran with the first-team offense and looked good. I thought he was particularly impressive in traffic, whether it was catching the ball with a crowd around him or skittering around and finding a hole. He's clearly the primary backup to McCoy. As for the rookies, Bryce Brown still looks like the better, quicker and more decisive runner than Chris Polk, though he needs to do some work on his blocking.
  • Chaney was working as a first-team linebacker before he got hurt. His injury could result in an opportunity for Brian Rolle or Casey Matthews to assert himself as a possible starter along with Ryans and rookie Mychal Kendricks.
  • The defensive linemen who are playing as the first-team unit with all four starters out -- Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox, Darryl Tapp and Derek Landri, made life difficult for McCoy as the Eagles worked on their inside running in 9-on-7 drills, though it should be noted that the defense is the side that has nine in that drill.
  • Second-year safety Jaiquawn Jarrett made a nice play to close on and break up a deep pass from Michael Vick to Jackson in team drills.
  • Cox, the first-round draft pick, got through the line a few times against third-team offensive linemen, but in general he looks like a rookie tentatively working his way through drills as he learns. He's massive and athletic, but he definitely looks like someone who's learning. Which is to be expected.
  • That's it for me from Eagles camp, though you will see plenty more posts based off of the interviews I did while here. Eagles Camp Confidential is currently scheduled for Monday, so look out for that. And I will complete my NFC East training camp tour with a stop in Oxnard, Calif., on Monday and Tuesday to see the Cowboys. That's all for now. Heading up the highway. Enjoy your evening.
BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- Yeah, they hit pretty hard at Philadelphia Eagles training camp. They go at it for about two hours in pads and in anger. When they're not in 11-on-11 drills, they're off to the side hitting each other. The most entertaining drill in camp is the ferocious one-on-one work the offensive linemen and defensive linemen do against each other, though part of the entertainment is the coaching duo of Howard Mudd and Jim Washburn.

Too much hitting? Too hard? Maybe. The Eagles have a bit of a walking-wounded thing going on. Starting defensive ends Jason Babin and Trent Cole are out (though Babin's injury isn't a contact injury), and defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins left practice Wednesday with a hamstring injury and is scheduled for an MRI on Wednesday night. Backup quarterback Mike Kafka took a hard shot from the first-team defensive line as he dove for the end zone in goal-line drills. And wide receiver Jeremy Maclin sat out a few plays after injuring his left hand on a hard hit he took in 11-on-11 drills, though he went back in and said afterwards that he was fine.

Yeah, if you need your football fix in early August, I'd say come on out to Lehigh and watch the Eagles pound on each other for a couple of hours. It was certainly the most lively and entertaining practice I've yet seen on my trip.

[+] EnlargePhiladelphia's Michael Vick
Evan Habeeb/US PRESSWIREMichael Vick didn't have his best day during training camp at Lehigh University on Wednesday.
Some other thoughts from said practice:

  • Michael Vick didn't have his best day. He threw into double coverage too often, was picked off twice and didn't dazzle the way we've seen him dazzle in training camp practices in the past. I doubt it's any cause for concern, but I know some people are going to ask how he looked, and the answer is I've seen him look better. And expect that I will again.
  • Backup quarterback Mike Kafka shows a decent command of the offense, but they reason the Eagles are in trouble if he has to go into a game is that he really can't throw the deep ball very well. And it's not as if this offense is going to want to live on dump-offs to the backs and tight ends and short passes over the middle. Maclin and DeSean Jackson are on this team, which makes the offense about field-stretching speed. Kafka's shortcomings in the deep passing game would be an issue if he had to play extended time.
  • Sticking with the quarterbacks for a second, it's easy to see what they like about rookie Nick Foles. First of all, he's 6-foot-6 and 243 pounds. But he has a big arm that really stands out when he takes the field with the third-team offense after Kafka's had his turn. He hit Mardy Gilyard with a beautiful deep pass down the right sideline at one point in practice, and while he can look scatter-armed at times, you can see the raw ability.
  • The first-team defense had a rough time against Kafka and the second-team offense in team drills, as the offense went down the field and scored on a Kafka touchdown pass to tight end Brett Brackett from the 1-yard line. (Brackett beat rookie linebacker Mychal Kendricks in coverage.) Of course, that first-team defense was without Cole, Babin and Jenkins, so that has to factor in. But it's not as though the replacements for those guys are no good. It suffices to say that the linebackers and defensive backs weren't thrilled with the way that series went.
  • I saw a fair bit of the two rookie running backs, and to my untrained eye Bryce Brown looks better than Chris Polk. Brown needs to get his pads lower, but he's running forward with burst and some power while Polk seemed to me to be running side-to-side too much. At some point, you need to go forward. They used Brown at the goal line.
  • With the injuries on the defensive line, the first-teamers up front were Brandon Graham and Darryl Tapp at the ends and Derek Landri and Fletcher Cox at the tackle spots. Graham looks fantastic. He was the star of those one-on-one lineman drills and looked good in the 11-on-11s as well.
  • Kendricks and Brian Rolle were the first-team linebackers flanking middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans. Kendricks also got some work with the first team, along with Jamar Chaney.
  • As expected, Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman are working at the starting safety spots. When I spoke with Andy Reid this morning, he called O.J. Atogwe the backup at Coleman's spot and Jaiquawn Jarrett the backup to Allen. Curtis Marsh and Brandon Hughes were the second-team corners, with Brandon Boykin in on nickel packages.
  • A lot of people have asked me about rookie receiver Marvin McNutt. He's big (6-2, 216) and there was at least one play on which he was able to use his size to beat Marsh on an inside route by shielding the ball with his body. So it looks as though he has good instincts.
  • I'm back for one more day here tomorrow, then I'll head home for a couple of days before completing my NFC East training camp tour with a trip to Oxnard to see the Cowboys early next week.

Why today matters for the Eagles

July, 28, 2012
7/28/12
9:46
AM ET
You guys know by now that I'm not one of these frenzied maniacs who's going to be all like, "I'm so excited to see guys finally hit each other today!!!!! AHHHH!!! Football!!!!" I mean, I'm not opposed to hitting in football practice in general. There are just things about the game that fire me up more than the crunching of bones and pads. And I also think it's important to keep in mind that we're still six weeks away from the start of the actual season.

[+] EnlargeNate Allen
Howard Smith/US PresswireNate Allen and his fellow Eagles safeties will get to be physical for the first time in training camp on Saturday.
All of that said, though, I think this afternoon's Philadelphia Eagles practice over at Lehigh is significant. It's the first practice of this camp in pads. And for the Eagles, who have question marks at safety and need to establish a hierarchy in their running game as well as their linebacker corps, that provides a fresh opportunity for evaluation.

This is what Kurt Coleman, who's vying for one of the starting safety spots, had to say about it to the Eagles' team site:
"When you put the pads on, it really separates the boys from men -- people who want to hit, and people who are scared to hit," Coleman said. "In this game you can't be scared to hit anybody. So I think that’s what the fans get to see, and it's a fun time for us to go out there and really knock some heads."

Now, clearly, Coleman is not in agreement with the thesis behind my first paragraph. But that's OK, because as an NFL safety he shouldn't be and because his point applies in particular to his position. Coaches everywhere will tell you that it's impossible to evaluate the safety position without watching players practice in pads. So much of what the safeties do is keyed around their ability to hit. And to this point, since OTA and minicamp practices were all non-contact and all training camp practices have been so far, the Eagles' coaches haven't seen their safeties hit anyone yet. So they don't know how Coleman or Nate Allen or Jaiquawn Jarrett or newcomer O.J. Atogwe really look.

Today, they can hit each other. Jarrett, the second-year safety whose reputation coming out of college was that of a fearsome hitter, can actually start showcasing some of the ability that led the Eagles to draft him. Atogwe, who was banged up for most of last season with the Redskins, can start trying to prove he can hold up physically under the strain of contact. It is these full-pad practices, and perhaps the preseason games even more so, that will allow the Eagles to determine who their starting safeties should be and how good they should expect to be at that position.

Similar points can be made about linebacker, where rookie Mychal Kendricks is looking to nail down the strongside linebacker spot and Brian Rolle, Casey Matthews and Jamar Chaney are competing at the weak side. To this point, the Eagles likely have been able to evaluate their linebackers in coverage and gauge their speed and their ability to react to what the offense is doing. But the linebackers in the Eagles' schemes are going to have to make some plays, and putting pads on them will help allow them to make more.

And if you've been to training camp and watched running backs in a non-contract drill, you know it's kind of anticlimactic. Yeah, they look good whizzing through that line, but ... well, no one's allowed to really try hard to stop them. Starting today, the Eagles can see more clearly how Dion Lewis, Bryce Brown and Chris Polk handle the rigorous part of their assignment as they compete for the backup running back job behind LeSean McCoy.

So that's why I think today's Eagles practice matters a little bit more than those that have come before it -- because the positions at which they're taking the closest looks are the ones you really need to watch in pads.
Good morning. Precisely seven weeks from tonight, the Giants and Cowboys will play a game that counts. I dunno. To me, that still feels like too long. But training camps start next week, so real news is just around the corner. Right? Links.

New York Giants

Ohm's looking at linebackers as his camp preview series rolls along, and I guess one of the big questions is whether Keith Rivers can force his way into a starting spot. Chase Blackburn is the most vulnerable of the current projected Giants starting linebackers, but he plays the middle and Rivers really hasn't, so it's a big "we'll see" at this point. Regardless, as we've discussed multiple times, the Giants look much better at linebacker than they have in a while.

Marvin Austin discusses his recovery from the injury that cost him his rookie season and the music he's been making since he got kicked off the North Carolina football team in 2010. Austin, who hasn't played a real football game in more than two years, is someone to watch on the Giants' defense this fall -- a potential difference-maker but still a major question mark.

Philadelphia Eagles

Marcus Hayes writes that the Eagles' "Wide 9" defensive line formation should work just fine as long as Trent Cole is a healthy and productive member of it. Cole may have gotten a bit lost amid the monster sack season Jason Babin had, but he's still the best player on the Eagles' defense.

There are some position battles to watch in Eagles training camp, including the one for the starting weakside linebacker spot between Brian Rolle and Jamar Chaney. Les Bowen's breakdown discusses that and more, including which rookie running backs and wide receivers have a chance to stick.

Washington Redskins

I continue to have no doubt that Robert Griffin III will sign his contract before training camp starts, and I continue to believe this is a non-issue, as none of the top eight picks in the draft has signed yet. But many of you guys are concerned, and wondering what the holdup is, so here's Mark Maske to explain it to you. And yeah, if you or I were in the same situation, we'd want our agents working to make sure we get the best deal possible, down to the penny, so there's absolutely nothing wrong with what Griffin, Andrew Luck and the rest of these guys are doing. It'll all be fine.

Wide receiver is a critical position for the Redskins as they get set to open camp, and they have a jumble there. John Keim takes a look at what looks good and what doesn't. Much of how this all shakes out will depend on the health of Leonard Hankerson and Josh Morgan.

Dallas Cowboys

Michael Irvin has some strong and heartfelt thoughts on the Dez Bryant situation, and they seem to be focused the correct way -- on the idea that Bryant is a young man who needs help getting control of his life before things get even worse. The facts of the case, and the extent to which the 23-year-old Bryant should be punished for his Monday arrest for allegedly assaulting his 37-year-old mother, depend on the credibility of his mother as a witness. And there's plenty of reason that credibility could potentially be called into question. But regardless of the details, the fact remains that Bryant cannot continue to find himself in these situations and must take responsibility for avoiding them and/or acting differently when they do occur. And it's obvious he needs more help with that than he's received to this point in his life.

And because I know Cowboys fans don't want (or deserve) everything to be about Bryant's mess right now, here's our man Aaron Schatz on Victor Butler's chances of being a breakout guy for Dallas this year at outside linebacker.
We continue our position-by-position analysis of the four NFC East teams with a look at the Philadelphia Eagles' linebacker situation.

Projected starters: MLB DeMeco Ryans, SLB Mychal Kendricks, WLB Brian Rolle

Reserves: Jamar Chaney, Keenan Clayton, Moise Fokou, Akeem Jordan, Casey Matthews, Greg Lloyd

[+] EnlargeDeMeco Ryans
Kim Klement/US PresswireDeMeco Ryans topped 100 tackles each season from 2006-09.
Potential strength: A unit that lacked any kind of experience in 2011 gets a big jolt of veteran leadership from the acquisition of Ryans. He was one of the best middle linebackers in the game until an injury prematurely ended his 2010 season and a scheme change in Houston limited his production last year and led the Texans to deem him expendable this offseason. Assuming he's healthy enough to be the player he was in 2009 and early 2010, Ryans will bring speed, tackling ability and badly needed competence to a linebacking corps that was one of the teams' most destructive weaknesses in 2011.

Potential weakness: Rolle is working with the starters at the weakside linebacker spot, but he's going to have to show improvement as a tackler in training camp if he wants to hold onto that job. Chaney, who has been a starter at the strongside and middle spots the past two years, has the speed and size to claim the spot if he takes to it in practice and Rolle keeps whiffing on tackles. The linebackers in the Eagles' "Wide-9" defensive scheme need to have enough speed to cover tons of room, but they also need to be able to wrap up in the open field. If Rolle is a liability in that area, the Eagles could find themselves mixing and matching at linebacker again.

Keep an eye on: Kendricks. It was his speed and athleticism that led the Eagles to select him in the second round of the draft in April, and they see him as an ideal fit in their defense. He will get every opportunity to win the starter's job on the strong side, and early reports from OTAs indicate that he's been one of the fastest players on the field and shown a nose for the ball. The Eagles obviously aren't afraid to throw a rookie into the mix as a starting linebacker. They did it last year, to their detriment, with Matthews. But Kendricks has more going for him right off the bat than Matthews ever did, and if he is the starter in Week 1 it won't be by default. It will be because the Eagles are excited about what he can do for them on defense right away.
Remember the video mailbag? Well, we're upgrading it a bit. Or trying to, anyway. At 2 p.m. ET today on this blog, we will be doing a live video mailbag through something called Vokle. The fantasy baseball guys have been using it for live video chats, and we're going to try it here on the NFC East blog and see how it works. Ideally, you'll be able to join the chat (right from the blog, and I think you can sign in through your Facebook or Twitter account so you don't have to go to Vokle.com and set up a Vokle account if you don't want to) and ask me questions. You can type in the questions as you normally would during our Tuesday chats, and I'll read them and answer them aloud. Or, if you have a webcam and a headset (please, only if you have a headset, as without it the echo is really bad) you can ask a live video question and I'll answer it. It'll be just like when I talk to my mom and dad while they're in Florida, only it won't be 25 degrees here this time.

Anyway, swing by around 2 p.m. ET to try this out with us. Assuming it works, it could help us take the blog to unprecedented heights of technological glory. Also, should be fun. Links.

New York Giants

The Giants start their OTAs today, and it's a chance for guys like Matt McCants, a tackle the Giants took in the sixth round last month, to get at least some sense of what it's like to try to block some of the best pass-rushers in the league.

Paul Schwartz writes that Rutgers product Joe Martinek is hoping to make a case for himself as a fullback on the Giants' roster, kind of the way Henry Hynoski did last year when he was an undrafted free agent in camp with the Giants. I guess you never know.

Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles continue to move Jamar Chaney all around their linebacker rotation. With Brian Rolle and rookie Mychal Kendricks apparently battling for the strongside linebacker spot, it appears Chaney is now the favorite to start at the weak side with DeMeco Ryans in the middle. Chaney, who played the middle in 2010 when Stewart Bradley got hurt and in 2011 when Casey Matthews proved ineffective, continues to roll with it.

And yeah, the offseason storyline has begun to focus on quarterback Michael Vick and what he needs to change about his game in order to help the Eagles achieve their very lofty goals for the 2012 season. As I've written before -- not about changing style of play but more about changing his sense of responsibility about how he plays the position. Decision-making, study habits, things like that. As he has for the past three years, Vick is saying all of the right things. So we'll see.

Washington Redskins

Redskins.com is breaking down some position battles as the Redskins engage in OTAs this week. I like the rundown of the wide receivers especially, but you know it's a team website when you read something like, "the Redskins have arguably the best tight end duo in the league." I mean, they played the Patriots last year, right? So they know about those guys?

Mike Shanahan was back at work a day after being run over on the sideline by two Redskins players. The players who saw it happen said it was a scary sight, but apparently Shanahan is showing no ill effects.

Dallas Cowboys

Jerry Jones says the window may be closing on the time the Cowboys have to win with their current veteran core, including Tony Romo, Jason Witten and DeMarcus Ware. Of course, lest anyone think this means trouble for the coaching staff, Jones is quick to assert that Jason Garrett feels the same way. Those two are BFFs, I'm telling ya.

Our man Herman Edwards says the Cowboys have "a Super Bowl offense," and I agree with him in terms of the talent at the skill positions. I think we still need to see Super Bowl-caliber performance out of positions like center and guard before we start talking that way, though. And of course, none of that matters if the defense doesn't improve. Which I'm pretty sure is part of Herm's point. You play. To win. The game.
The draft used to be the part of the offseason that confused me. Not why it happened, but the extent to which the hype exceeded the quality and the value of the thing itself. And while that may still be the case with the draft, it is no longer the most confusingly overhyped part of the offseason. The schedule release is, and it's happening tonight at 7 p.m. ET. We have a three-hour TV special on it, so whatever team you root for, you can be sure its schedule will get its full share of the attention.

Never mind that we've all known for more than three months which teams every other team will be playing in 2012. Tonight we get to find out the dates of these games. In my experience, and to my everlasting confusion, fans get excited about this. Hence, three-hour special. Plus plenty of coverage here on the blog. But that's not for 11 hours. By then you may well have forgotten about all of the knowledge and nutrition you derived from your daily links. But I know that, without them, you'd never have made it that far.

Dallas Cowboys

So, Anthony Spencer's skipping the the start of the conditioning part of the voluntary offseason program, which is fine because it's voluntary. We're not about ripping guys for skipping voluntary workouts on this blog. Other people can do that if they want. Here, words have meaning. But Spencer's also making it clear he wants a long-term deal, which is ... well, it's unlikely. And if the Cowboys use the No. 14 pick in the draft (which is nine days from now) on someone like Alabama's Courtney Upshaw, then Spencer's short-term and long-term role on the team could be affected in a negative way. Something to think about, as Upshaw says how excited he'd be to play at Cowboys Stadium in Rob Ryan's defense.

Nick Eatman has a list of the five guys he thinks the Cowboys could take with that No. 14 pick. Upshaw isn't among them (though he does get an honorable mention), and Nick's still putting David DeCastro on the list. I guess it's possible they could take a guard in the first round. I just thought we'd reached the point where we all agreed it wouldn't make sense.

New York Giants

So after they traded for linebacker Keith Rivers, the Giants re-worked his contract so he's only due $1.25 million this year instead of the original $2.16 million. For their next trick, the Giants will pull a rabbit out of their hat. I hope it's the one that's been digging up my lawn.

Eli Manning says he's "a little nervous" about hosting "Saturday Night Live" on May 5. Yeah, this is the third thing I've written in two days about Manning and "SNL." No one who's excited about schedule release day has a right to criticize me about what I find interesting. (Funny thing is, there's no way I'm staying up to watch "SNL" on May 5 or any other night. I used to watch it, sure, but that was before I had kids who didn't understand how important it is to sleep in on Sunday mornings.)

Philadelphia Eagles

Jeff McLane lists some of the teams that could be interested in trading for Asante Samuel, and he says he thinks a third-round or fourth-round pick would be fair value for the star cornerback, who says he wants to stay. Jeff also raises the possibility of a training camp holdout for running back LeSean McCoy, who wants a new deal but is working out this week with his teammates anyway. My guess is that these two things go together. If the Eagles trade Samuel and wipe out a $10.5 million 2012 cap hit, maybe McCoy is more likely to get his new deal. But that's just me guessing, which is usually not a great way to go.

Eagles linebacker Jamar Chaney went to a hockey game and apparently loved it. Someone told me it's hockey playoff season. I told them I already knew that because I'd been spending time in the comments section under my blog posts and noticing that people were talking about hockey in there. They were like, "That's good, you need to build some nap time into your day."

Washington Redskins

Tracee Hamilton writes about the way in which the re-signing of London Fletcher has contributed to the burgeoning good feelings around the Redskins this offseason. "Burgeoning" is your word of the day. You can feel free to look it up and use it, if you like, in your hockey smack-talk. I'll have to take your word that you tried.

Of course, the main reason for all those good feelings is the impending (presumed) arrival of Robert Griffin III, likely to be taken by the Redskins with the No. 2 pick in the draft nine days from now. Rich Campbell writes about how Griffin revived a football program at Baylor and wonders whether he'll be able to do the same in Washington, D.C.
PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Don't you just hate it when football coaches start talking in ultra-technical football jargon and expect us all to understand it as though we're in the meeting rooms with them every day? Like Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid this morning at the NFL owners meetings, explaining what went wrong on defense with his team last year.

"I goofed on that one," Reid said.

[+] EnlargeAndy Reid
AP Photo/Derek GeeIn evaluating the Eagles' 2011 season, coach Andy Reid admits that his team's defensive strategy could probably have used better execution.
This is a new one on me, this "goofed." I'm not sure I've studied enough football to truly understand the complexities of this analysis. Let's back it all the way out and examine the full quote from which this one was plucked.

"The plan I had, I didn't execute it very well, right?" Reid said. "I goofed on that one. I expected the young guys on defense to get where they were getting towards the end of the season sooner, particularly the guys in the middle of the defense -- the linebackers and safeties."

So "goofed," then, appears to have something to do with a plan gone awry. The Eagles loaded up last year at cornerback and on the defensive line, brought in a new defensive line coach, converted their offensive line coach to defensive coordinator and believed their strengths -- on defense and on offense -- would overcome their deficiencies. Instead, the defensive deficiencies were a big part of what did the Eagles in during a 1-4 start from which they were unable to recover. Their "Wide 9" defensive front was very good at getting to the quarterback, but when teams attacked the middle of their defense with the run or were able to give their quarterbacks enough time to throw, those teams found major weaknesses at the linebacker and safety spots that were charged with protecting the middle part of the field.

"I expected the offense to carry it through, and that part didn't take place," Reid said. "But yeah, your linebackers -- the more gaps you open up, the more physical they have to be."

The Eagles patched the linebacker corps together with unprepared late-round rookies like Casey Matthews and Brian Rolle and second-year man Jamar Chaney, and it showed. Reid said the group demonstrated improvement and played well late in the year, when the Eagles won their final four games. But the weakness was still glaring enough that the team decided it needed to make a trade for veteran middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans last week, and it's possible they could still look to add at that position this offseason.

Listening to Reid talk Wednesday morning, the thing that seemed to bother him the most about the 2011 season was the high number of turnovers his offense committed. The 25 interceptions the Eagles threw in 2011 led the league, and when you add in their 13 fumbles, it brings their total number of 2011 giveaways to 38, which was second-highest in the league behind Tampa Bay. So no matter what happens on defense, the Eagles will need to make far fewer "goofs" on offense next year in order to get where they need to go.

But with an entire season under the belts of last year's new players and coaches, the addition of Ryans and a full offseason with which to prepare, the Eagles will enter 2012 with high hope that the "goofs" of 2011 are a thing of the past. Reid answered in the affirmative when asked if he believed he had a Super Bowl contender.

"That's what makes it exciting," Reid said. "We have a good group coming back. Every year is different, I understand that. But we've got to take that momentum that we finished with and build on it an continue to get better."

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