NFC East: Jim Johnson
Fast-forward: For most of his career, Romo could expect to see a wide variety of blitzes from the Eagles' defense with the influence of former defensive coordinator Jim Johnson still being felt after he stopped coaching. Romo has yet to go against a Bill Davis-led defense in his career, but he has gone against Davis’ influences in the past that have employed similar schemes. He has had some success but also struggled at times against the confusing looks. Philadelphia, however, is allowing 314.5 yards per game through the air, which is 31st in the NFL. Without DeMarco Murray, the Cowboys' running game figures to be limited at least a little, so Romo will have to make plays through the air.
Mixing it around: The Cowboys have had 12 different players catch at least one pass in the first six games. Rookie running back Joseph Randle became the 12th with two catches against Washington. While Jason Witten is the security blanket and Bryant is the big-play receiver, Romo is at his best when he mixes it around. He had six different receivers versus the Redskins. He had eight different receivers two weeks ago against the Denver Broncos. He’s not afraid to go to Williams or Cole Beasley in a tight spot if needed. Six different receivers have caught Romo’s 14 touchdown passes. The ability to spread the ball makes it that much harder for a defense to key in on one or two targets. By going to so many different players, Romo is making his job a little easier.
Prediction: Romo was held to only 130 yards fewer than what I predicted he would get against the Redskins. In his two road games so far -- losses to the Kansas City Chiefs and San Diego Chargers -- he has thrown for 544 yards. Let’s split it down the middle and say he throws for 272 yards against the Eagles and comes up with two touchdown passes as well. He has yet to throw an interception on the road this year, but that streak will end against Philadelphia. It doesn’t mean the Cowboys will lose though, does it?
So Mike dug up a Star-Ledger story about Spagnuolo from 2008. It's a really good story about Spagnuolo's life and career, and worth the read. But for our purposes at the moment, this is the important part:
The next morning, Giants coach Tom Coughlin called. On Sunday, Spagnuolo drove to Giants Stadium, nailed the interview and was offered the job. When he returned to the Eagles complex, it was to pack up his belongings, not sign a contract, which would have been difficult because Spagnuolo felt Eagles coach Andy Reid had kept him from a promotion.
People close to Spagnuolo say he was in the running to become the Minnesota Vikings' defensive coordinator in 2006, but Reid wouldn't release him from his contract. Reid was worried that longtime defensive coordinator Jim Johnson would take a head-coaching job, and Reid wanted Spagnuolo to move into that slot.
But when Johnson dawdled, then decided he didn't want to interview for any available head-coaching positions, Vikings coach Brad Childress already had hired Mike Tomlin. Spagnuolo was crushed.
"Those were probably the darkest days," said a friend, who requested anonymity. "Working for the Eagles the last year was very tough for him."
So, hey, something else to consider as Eagles fans imagine Spagnuolo (who hasn't been fired yet, by the way, and will be pursued by more than one team if he is) as the answer to all of their problems. A quote from an anonymous source in a four-year-old story doesn't necessarily mean that Spagnuolo wouldn't want to return to the Eagles as their defensive coordinator. It doesn't mean things are bad between Spagnuolo and Andy Reid. But it's at least worth stepping back and wondering if the solution that makes sense in all of our heads looking in from the outside makes sense in the heads of the people who'd actually be making the decision. Call it food for thought, in case the breakfast links weren't enough to hold you.
All 22 of the Eagles' sacks this season -- they are fourth in the NFL in sacks per pass play -- have come from defensive linemen. Jason Babin has nine, Cullen Jenkins five, Trent Cole four, Darryl Tapp two, Trevor Laws one, and Mike Patterson one.
This was by design.
After firing McDermott in January, the first coaching move Andy Reid made was to lure defensive line coach Jim Washburn away from Tennessee. Washburn had said before that if a team has to blitz more than necessary, then its front four isn't doing its job.
A few weeks after Washburn was hired, Castillo was named coordinator. At an introductory news conference in February, it became clear that Castillo would adopt a more conservative approach than his predecessors.
Simplification was the buzz word.
"If you blitz all the time," Washburn said then, "you'll get killed."
There was a lot of talk in the Eagles' locker room late Sunday night about how they all expected it to take time for all of the new players and all of the new coaches to get together on the same page in the new defensive system. There was a lot of change in the offseason and a lot asked of a lot of people in a short period of time. But in Sunday night's game, everything the Eagles wanted to do on defense (and on offense, for that matter) seemed to work. One of the keys has been the ability of the coaching staff to get the players to continue buying into the new ideas even when they weren't working and the team was losing four games in a row.
The Eagles beefed up on the defensive line in the offseason because, if you're going to rely on your front four to create pressure, you need to have a great front four. The talent and depth they acquired with guys like Jenkins and Babin allow them to put Washburn's theories into practice. You may still see the Eagles blitz every now and then, but when they do it's going to be to throw a changeup. It's no longer the basis of their defensive philosophy. This would seem a far more efficient way of doing things. Time will tell if the Eagles can make it an effective one long-term.
Allen's 34 interceptions, amassed between 1988 and 1994, are tied for the most in Eagles history along with Bill Bradley and Brian Dawkins, and he returned five of them for touchdowns. Johnson was the team's defensive coordinator from 1999 until his death from cancer in 2009, and during that time the Eagles' defense ranked second in the NFL in sacks, third-down efficiency and red zone touchdown percentage and fourth in fewest points allowed. Johnson's tenure produced 26 Pro Bowl selections: Brian Dawkins (7), Troy Vincent (5), Jeremiah Trotter (4), Hugh Douglas (3), Lito Sheppard (2), Asante Samuel (1), Trent Cole (1), Michael Lewis (1), Corey Simon (1), and Bobby Taylor (1).
BGN's premise is that, based on some offseason quotes from new defensive coordinator Juan Castillo and the connection that Tommy Lawlor of Iggles Blitz recently pointed out between Castillo and the University of Iowa, the Eagles are likely to move away from the late Jim Johnson's zone blitz scheme and implement a Cover 2 defense, a Tampa 2 defense or some hybrid of the two.
A couple of the more interesting specifics from BGN's very thorough breakdown:
- They like Albert Haynesworth for the defensive line, and they should. I believe he'd thrive in Philadelphia, back in the 4-3 and back with former Titans line coach Jim Washburn. But I don't think Eagles fans are being realistic about this. Mike Shanahan will not trade him to Philadelphia. I'd bet good money against it, and I don't even bet. He doesn't want to give Haynesworth the satisfaction, and he doesn't want to have to play against a hyper-motivated Haynesworth twice a year. Stop hoping for Haynesworth, Philly. He ain't coming.
- The linebackers become very interesting in this scheme. If the analysis is correct, it would seem that re-signing Stewart Bradley would be a priority, since there are concerns about Jamar Chaney's pass coverage abilities at the middle linebacker spot. But if they're forced to go with Chaney, his speed would certainly be an asset in deepening that middle zone that stands as the difference between the Cover 2 and Tampa 2. They'd just have to be sure he can cover a post route and that they have safeties with enough lateral range to get to the sidelines. If Jaiquawn Jarrett were to come quickly enough, this could work. But they don't know yet what they're going to get from Jarrett, so they may have to hunt for a safety and/or a middle linebacker if Bradley bolts. Regardless, everybody seems to like Manny Lawson for that weakside linebacker spot.
Look, you guys wanted to talk real football, so here it is. Sure, it's speculation, and we don't know for sure what kind of scheme Castillo is going to run until training camp starts and we can see it and talk to these guys about it. But if you're an Eagles fan, this is fun stuff to imagine and put together in your head.
Thanks, Damien. Excellent use of the mailbag.
- Wade Phillips is concerned about the lack of depthalong the defensive line due to injuries, according to ESPNDallas.com's Calvin Watkins.
- ESPNDallas.com's Tim MacMahon has some interesting thoughts on offensive tackle Alex Barron.
- Gerry Fraley of DallasNews.com wonders why the Cowboys couldn't convert pass deflections into interceptions.
- Rodney Harrison tells USA Today that he thinks the Cowboys will be a force in the NFC.
- Dez Bryant has seen work on both kick and punt returns early in training camp.
- Clarence E. Hill Jr. of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram talks about Marcus Spears' passion for freshwater fishing.
- Jonathan Tamari of the Inquirer discusses Nate Allen's first day on campus.
- Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott has fond memories of his mentor Jim Johnson.
- Jeff McLane of the Inquirer doesn't think Brandon Graham's contract will get done until next week.
- A.Q. Shipley's ready to prove himself at center, according to Nick Fierro.
- Ralph Vacchiano of the Daily News is anxious to see howOsi Umenyiora looks when camp opens Sunday.
- Kenny Phillips (knee) will likely be limited early in camp, according to Vacchiano.
- Mike Garafolo has an interesting exchange with Brandon Jacobs in case you missed our story Wednesday.
- Here's the story Rick Maese and Jason Reid wrote about Albert Haynesworth making his triumphant return to Redskins Park.
- Redskins might want to rethink Donovan McNabb's "Hell Week" workouts after Malcolm Kelly suffers a hamstring injury.
- Reid talks about the relationship between Haynesworth and defensive coordinator Jim Haslett.
- The morning practices will be quite intense under Mike Shanahan.
The late Jim Johnson benched Gaither in favor of Akeem Jordan late in the '08 season. When Jeremiah Trotter was released before the '07 season, it was believed Gaither would be an upgrade at middle linebacker. But the young player has never looked comfortable as a starter. If he makes the team in 2010, he'll need to be a valuable part of Bobby April's special teams unit.
We'll keep you posted on the players who haven't signed their tenders. The versatile guard/center Nick Cole hasn't signed his tender at this point. I think the Eagles would be wise to pay Cole a little money and lock him up for a few seasons, but it doesn't look like it will happen before the April 15 deadline.
AP Photo/Mike FuentesThe Eagles Asante Samuel may be a Pro-Bowler, but he's not exactly a "shut-down corner."
If the Eagles don't fix their defense, it really won't matter whether it's McNabb or Kevin Kolb behind center. I've already ruled out Michael Vick as the starter despite at least one report that the Eagles are just dying to pay the man his $5 million in 2010. (Since Vick is hosting at least seven NBA All-Star parties in Dallas this weekend, I'll try to catch up with him.)
The Eagles failed spectacularly in December and early January, in part, because they had no answers for Tony Romo, Miles Austin, Jason Witten and Felix Jones. You can blame it on the departure of Brian Dawkins, a season-ending injury to middle linebacker Stewart Bradley or the death of defensive coordinator Jim Johnson. But the Eagles weren't the only team in the league to face adversity in '09.
The club can't afford to obsess about the quarterback position this offseason at the expense of the rest of the roster. There's simply too much work to be done on defense. Eagles president Joe Banner told the club's Web site earlier this week that he didn't think the gap between the Eagles and Cowboys was as wide as those final two games indicated. And that sort of sentiment should scare the hell out of Eagles fans.
The return of Bradley will certainly help the Eagles' cause but this defense isn't one player away from making noise in the playoffs. Everyone wants to talk about letting Dawkins get away, but I'd argue that the lack of depth at cornerback is just as big of an issue. You have to admire Sheldon Brown for playing through pain on numerous occasions, but that doesn't cancel out the fact that he was a liability at times.
Asante Samuel will always go to Pro Bowls based on his gaudy interception totals -- and those are important. But Samuel's reluctance to make contact with ball carriers will continue to be a sore spot with coaches and fans. Let's not act like Samuel's a so-called shut-down corner. I'm pretty sure Deion Sanders was the last man to fulfill that role. Samuel is one of the biggest gamblers in the game, which makes the Eagles susceptible to the big play (Austin on the sideline).
I know it's fashionable to talk about taking the "best player available" in the draft, but the Eagles better make sure that player can cover a wide receiver. Who do you guys trust in the Eagles' secondary? I still think Quintin Mikell's a quality player, but he was exposed when he had to line up next to inferior talent.
I think the Eagles would be wise to either trade for a veteran safety or find one in free agency, like the Cowboys did with Gerald Sensabaugh last March. Sean Jones certainly wasn't the answer last offseason and Quintin Demps is firmly entrenched in Andy Reid's doghouse. I think it's extremely difficult to ask a rookie to make an immediate impact at the safety position because of its complexities.
The Eagles were so desperate in the secondary at one point this season that they signed a former Mr. Irrelevant who couldn't stick with the Detroit Lions. I would identify the best two or three cornerbacks in this draft and try to get one of them at No. 24. I know you're not exactly set along the offensive line but teams such as the Colts (and even the Eagles) have shown that you can find starters in the later rounds.
Then there's this little thing about finding another pressure player to take some heat off defensive end Trent Cole. And for the record, I don't think it would be wise to dump a bunch of free-agent money into signing Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers, who might be asking for Albert Haynesworth money, which sounds ludicrous to me. Haynesworth, who is a couple years younger than Peppers, signed a contract that included $41 million in guaranteed money.
There's no chance I'd make that type of commitment to Peppers, who had 10.5 sacks for a bad Panthers team in '09. The Eagles spent roughly $30 million on defensive end Jevon Kearse before finally cutting their losses following the '07 season. Kearse was younger than Peppers when he arrived in Philly and he was an enormous disappointment even before a season-ending knee injury in 2006.
The ubiquitous scout turned broadcaster/writer Mike Lombardi has suggested the Eagles trading backup quarterback Kevin Kolb for Browns defensive tackle Shaun Rogers. And isn't a 31-year-old defensive tackle with a checkered past exactly what the Eagles need to finally win a Super Bowl?
No, I'm afraid there won't be a lot of shortcuts available in trying to catch up with Wade Phillips and the Cowboys. Andy Reid and his new boy wonder general manager Howie Roseman are going to have to close the gap via the draft. The Eagles have obviously hit big on offensive players such as DeSean Jackson, Brent Celek and Jeremy Maclin in recent drafts.
Now, they desperately need to rebuild a defense that seemed to become old and slow overnight. Or maybe you agree with Banner in that those two blowouts at the end of the season were an aberration.
- Jan Hubbard of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram said it was DeMarcus Ware's courage that sparked this Cowboys run.
- Gerry Fraley from the Dallas Morning News says the Flutie Curse has been lifted from Wade Phillips.
- Bill Nichols of the DMN talks about the most painful Cowboys playoff losses.
- ESPNDallas.com's Ed Werder has the latest on Wade Phillips' contract status.
- Ashley Fox of the Philly Inquirer has a revealing story on Miles Austin.
- Patrick Crayton isn't pleased about Spudcam spitting on the star.
- Eagles defensive coordinator Sean McDermott knows he'll always be compared to the late Jim Johnson as long as he works in Philly.
- Bob Ford of the Inquirer says it's time for Michael Vick to make an impact.
- Steve Patton of the Reading Eagles said we should expect more blitzes from the Eagles' D.
- Philly Inquirer columnist John Gonzalez offers his list of the 10 most hated Cowboys list.
- Dave Spadaro will keep his job after spitting on the star.
- Chuck Bausman has five reasons the Eagles will win Saturday night.
- Frank Fitzpatrick talked to a former Eagles defensive back about Asante Samuel.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
We begin today's column with a simple question: What in the world has happened to the Dallas Cowboys?
In one offseason, they've gone from being the most compelling locker room in professional sports to the most mundane. After watching a couple episodes of "Hard Knocks," I've even looked at real estate in the greater Cincinnati area. Last season, more than 50 reporters would show up at Valley Ranch on days when quarterback Tony Romo and Terrell Owens held dueling news conferences. On Wednesday, I walked into the locker room and noticed a dozen reporters milling around looking for scraps.
With the Cowboys' version of the Rat Pack -- T.O., Pacman and Tank -- gone, the locker room has taken on an entirely different vibe. Romo remains the headliner, but he has disappointed the editors of US Weekly and People with at least one recent decision. Before the Cowboys' quarterback made his weekly appearance Wednesday, reporters flocked to hear what former fifth-round cornerback Orlando Scandrick had to say. Just think what it will be like if Scandrick becomes a starter.
Meanwhile, the rest of the division is in turmoil. In the Meadowlands, Pro Bowl defensive end Osi Umenyiora vanished without a trace after new defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan reportedly had the audacity to criticize him during a film session Monday. In an embarrassing scene, the ultimate disciplinarian, Tom Coughlin, could only tell reporters that his missing defensive end had been found via text. Umenyiora quickly returned to the property and apologized, but it was still an episode that would've fit better at Valley Ranch in '08.
In Philly, the Eagles continue to deliver the "nothing to see here" message as Michael Vick prepares to be the backup to the most insecure star quarterback in the league. Donovan McNabb was complaining Monday that Vick's six snaps interrupted the offense's rhythm in a preseason game against the Jaguars. And in my opinion, that's simply a precursor to Vick interrupting McNabb's hold on the starting job at some point this season. People who think that Vick will be satisfied with a handful of Wildcat plays (and there are plenty in the national media) haven't followed the man's career. He's one of the game's most fierce competitors and he hasn't been shy about stating his goal to become a starter again.
And it's not as if everything was going smoothly in Eagles camp before Vick arrived. The death of defensive coordinator Jim Johnson certainly took an emotional toll on the team, but the impact could also show up on the field. By all accounts, 35-year-old Sean McDermott is a worthy successor to Johnson, but so far the results haven't been there in the preseason.
For their part, the Redskins have spent the past month attempting to restore faith in starting quarterback Jason Campbell. Judging by the actions of owner Dan Snyder and his trusty sidekick Vinny Cerrato, I think it's fair to say that coach Jim Zorn's and Campbell's jobs are both on the line this season. It's playoffs or bust for these two, which is a dicey proposition in what is arguably the most competitive division in the league. Right now, the Redskins are dealing with another adversary: The Washington Post. A story in Thursday's newspaper provides details of how the club has sued more than 100 season-ticket holders who asked to be released from multiyear contracts over the past five years. The Redskins fired off a preemptive press release attacking the story's credibility Wednesday evening.
So what's going on in Dallas? Other than punters aiming for Jerry Jones' gigantic big screen, everything's pretty quiet. Jones thinks the biggest motivating factor in '09 will be his new $1.2 billion stadium. In his annual state-of-the-team address on the opening day of training camp, Jones said he thought his team would "play to the level of the stadium."
And after last year's drama that included allegations of Romo and road-trip roomie Jason Witten having pillow talk behind T.O.' s back, this appears to be the most stable locker room in the division. When I broached that subject with wide receiver Miles Austin on Wednesday, he started laughing.
"It's sort of nice not to have our names in the papers for all that stuff right now," Austin said. "I don't know about all the other locker rooms because I'm only in this one. But this locker room has a much different feel right now. I think guys are all about football, and that's a good thing."
We all remember how the '08 season ended for Romo. He tried to lend some perspective to a loss (to the Eagles) that didn't deserve any, and he's still paying for those comments. But he looked like a different quarterback during training camp in San Antonio. He still played with the same carefree spirit that energized the club in '06, but he also was willing to hold his teammates accountable. Players such as Austin and Patrick Crayton were a little taken aback when Romo got in their face, but they know it's a positive sign. And like Austin, Romo's relishing the fact the Cowboys are flying under the radar -- by their standards.
"In the last few years, this is probably the first time that we feel, not that we're being overlooked, but some of you guys have decided to take other teams in the division or in the conference and things of that nature," Romo said recently. "That's a different role, playing that kind of role -- not that that serves you good or bad. It's just a little different in that regard."
After what the Cowboys went through last season, I think the peace and quiet in the locker room could serve them very well.
|AP Photo/ Louis Lanzano|
|With Plaxico Burress facing a two-year prison term, the former Giant's NFL future is very much in doubt.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
Now that former Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress has pleaded guilty to a weapons charge and agreed to a two-year prison term, you must wonder if his career in the NFL is over. It's important to remember that Michael Vick reported to prison two years ago at age 27, which should've been the prime of his career.
Vick hasn't taken a hit in two seasons and Eagles coach Andy Reid said he was only a couple of pounds overweight when he reported for duty last Friday. I think it's safe to assume that Vick's young enough that his legs didn't deteriorate all that much from two years away from the game.
Burress is a completely different story. He turned 32 earlier this month and even if he gets out in 20 months for good behavior, he'll be 34 by the time the 2011 season begins. It's not like he's going to lose any of his height (6-foot-5) in prison, and that's an attribute that helped make him an elite receiver in this league. Even at age 34, Burress could be a matchup problem for smaller cornerbacks.
Although Burress has never had elite quickness or explosion, those are things that naturally fade as players get older. Will Burress lose his acceleration and burst while sitting in prison? I think we can all agree the answer is yes.
"I don't think there's a lot of margin for error in terms of his speed," said Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. "You have to think some of that's going away while he's in prison."
Marvin Harrison's one of the all-time great receivers to play in this league. By all accounts, he's relatively healthy right now at age 36. But the man can't find a job -- even with his former coach Tony Dungy actively campaigning for him. It's naive to think that Burress could sit in a prison for 20 months and then return to Pro Bowl status. It's not like he's a physical specimen such as Terrell Owens, a man who doesn't seem to age.
At best, I think Burress would come back as a second or third receiver who could help a team in the red zone. I certainly don't think he'll be a player that defensive coordinators will have to devise game plans around anymore. The late Jim Johnson talked about how much easier it was to prepare for the Giants when Burress wasn't on the field. He's not going to have that same impact at age 34.
There's also the question of whether Burress would face a suspension from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. I think 20 months behind bars would be more than enough punishment. He made a serious mistake last November, but at least in my mind, Vick's crime was far more heinous. In retrospect, Burress would've been better off agreeing to this prison sentence seven months ago. That means he could've been out of prison by October 2010 and possibly resumed his career at age 33. But try as he might, he can't turn the clock back now.
Judging by what we've seen with Vick, Burress would be wise to go ahead and put Dungy on retainer. But at this point, I think it's fair to say his NFL future looks pretty bleak.
|Chris Gardner/US Presswire|
|Rampant injuries are threatening the continuity Eagles coach Andy Reid prefers at training camp.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- Despite the serenity and cool air (except for Monday) found in Lehigh Valley, the Eagles can't get out of here fast enough. In addition to dealing with the loss of beloved defensive coordinator Jim Johnson to cancer, the Eagles have seen players carted off the field with injuries at a daily clip.
Celek was particularly concerned to see his training-camp roommate and close friend, Stewart Bradley, suffer a season-ending knee injury during an intra-squad scrimmage at the Linc. But head coach Andy Reid scoffs when asked if he's ever experienced anything like this. In his mind, the injuries are part of football and they've created opportunities for other players.
"I don't get caught up in all that stuff," Reid said. "You're sad for the person who goes through it, but on the other hand, you have to expect these things. Let's go play football."
Most pundits, including this one, have the Eagles as a top-five team in the league. But I'll admit the lack of continuity along the offensive line has me re-thinking my position. Continuity is one of Reid's favorite words, and right now his starting right tackle, Shawn Andrews, might not be ready for the start of the regular season.
|Chris Gardner-US PRESSWIRE|
|Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson has been unstoppable at training camp.|
Maclin is still playing catch-up after his contract holdout, but he's supremely gifted and confident. He bristled at the suggestion that he might not earn a starting job immediately.
"I didn't come here to sit on the bench," Maclin said. "I'm going to make sure I do everything possible to be on the field."
Maclin's trying to learn the nuances of the West Coast offense on the fly, but he's an extremely intelligent player who should catch on quickly. Right now, though, it's Jackson who's drawing the most attention in camp. He's so quick off the line that no one can get a jam on him. That's where Maclin has room for improvement. He wasn't seeing jams at the line of scrimmage against Iowa State or Kansas State in the Big 12 North. He'll have to get stronger and become more aggressive.
Can the Eagles overcome all the injuries from training camp?
Losing your starting middle linebacker (Bradley) and talented rookie tight end Cornelius Ingram isn't a good way to begin the season, but one of Jim Johnson's greatest strengths was preparing young players for moments exactly like this. Joe Mays, a second-year player from North Dakota State, probably will play middle linebacker on first and second down. He'll get help from former starter Omar Gaither on passing downs. Mays, a sixth-round draft pick, is short (5-foot-11), but he brings a lot of power to the point of attack. I don't know how he'll hold up in regular-season games, but he's consistently making plays in camp.
Perhaps the bigger concern right now is Shawn Andrews' back injury. He missed training camp last season while battling depression and then promptly injured his back. Some have questioned Andrews' passion for the game, but the Eagles have insisted that he really is hurt. If he can't go, Eagles fans can get reacquainted with former first-round pick Winston Justice at right tackle.
Westbrook has started to increase his workloa
d on the side and he should be ready to go late in the preseason. At this point, it's not as if he needs a ton of carries in the preseason. I visited with McCoy on Monday until Jackson ordered him to go sign autographs. The second-round pick has looked comfortable in the Eagles' offense from Day 1 of camp. He's an instinctive runner who's already adept at setting up his blockers. I think Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg are looking to get McCoy the ball in a variety of ways. Early in camp, he got behind the secondary for a 35-yard touchdown. He caught a lot of balls at Pittsburgh and his soft hands will give the Eagles another option. I think they want McCoy to touch the ball at least 10-12 times per game -- right from the start.
Who will win position battles at safety and cornerback?
I've been very impressed with veteran cornerback Sheldon Brown's approach to this camp following an offseason of complaints about his contract. He went high to break up a pass in team drills Monday and he's working hard to hold off former Patriots starter Ellis Hobbs. I think coaches will let those players battle throughout the preseason, but Brown's getting the majority of the reps with the first team. Hobbs is learning the Eagles' defense on the fly, so he's not as aggressive right now as he's used to being. But coaches like the fact that Hobbs has a chip on his shoulder after being traded from New England. And with all the injuries, the Eagles need to create as much depth as possible.
At safety, Quintin Demps is getting most of the first-team reps. Sean Jones, signed as a free agent from Cleveland, has been solid, though. Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott hasn't handed the starting job to either player, and that has made for some good competition.
It will be interesting to see how many receivers the Eagles keep on the roster. They have some depth and youth at the position, which leaves players such as Reggie Brown and Hank Baskett on the bubble. It's not helping Brown and Baskett's cause that a rookie from Washington State named Brandon Gibson is having a strong camp. You have to believe that Jackson, Curtis, Maclin and Avant are locks. If the Eagles only keep five receivers, there's a chance they go with a kid like Gibson. Former Texas Tech Red Raider Danny Amendola is a Wes Welker starter kit, but he looks more like practice-squad material to me. At linebacker, keep your eye on Moise Fokou, a seventh-round pick from Maryland. He's making plays all over the field, but we'll see if he can take it into the preseason games.
|Chris Gardner-US PRESSWIRE|
|All eyes are on Eagles first-round pick Jeremy Maclin.|
I'll have my eye on Maclin pretty closely in the preseason. I think he's going to struggle getting off the line at first. And his route running will be something to watch. He's a fluid player who doesn't mind going across the middle, but right now, you can tell that he's still thinking too much. He might be one of those players who sort of comes alive in the preseason. That was certainly the case with Jackson last season.
There's a second-year running back named Eldra Buckley from Tennessee-Chattanooga who could be a good change-of-pace back. I don't think Lorenzo Booker is long for this team despite what anyone tells you. He dropped a pass in Monday's practice and the coaches don't trust him to pick up blitzes. He has been around too long for that to still be an issue. ... I think Celek's on his way to becoming a big-time player. Very humble guy, but he showed up when the stakes were high last December and January. He also has been studying tape of Jason Witten to learn some pointers. I like that Celek takes a lot of pride in blocking too. The NFC East is absolutely stacked at tight end. ... One of the reasons Reid isn't panicking about the offensive line situation is that he has a lot of faith in backups such as Nick Cole and Max Jean-Gilles. The Eagles have done a pretty good job of creating depth along the offensive line and you can bet they're not going to sit around waiting for Shawn Andrews to show up. ... If offensive tackle King Dunlap ever realizes what sort of physical tools he's been given, he could be a good player. Not sure he's there yet. ... The signing of left tackle Jason Peters jump-started the Eagles' offseason. I watched him stone defensive ends on consecutive plays Monday. He's a pretty impressive-looking player. He still has the footwork of a tight end, his position at Arkansas, but he can engulf defenders with his power. I think he'll be the best left tackle in the division -- and he better be for that money. ... McNabb still appears to be having fun in camp. On Monday, he took off running when he couldn't find a receiver. Instead of stepping out of bounds, he tight-roped down the sideline, much to the delight of Eagles fans. ... I've heard good things about Latrobe, but I can't imagine a better setting than this one. Gorgeous green meadows in every direction and great access for fans. It's a shame the Eagles are breaking camp so early (Wednesday), although you won't hear any complaints from them.
BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- Greetings from Eagles camp, where temperatures have risen into the mid-90s today. Right now, I've joined a group of 35 reporters waiting for quarterback Donovan McNabb to show up.
Earlier today I had a one-on-one session with Andy Reid, and you'll be reading more about that later. He's obviously tired of answering questions about all the injuries in camp, although that's pretty much been the main story.
We talked about his relationship with Jim Johnson and what he thinks about the NFC East this season. I've also had quick visits with rookie running back LeSean McCoy and tight end Brent Celek. You might be interested to know that Celek watches film of Cowboys tight end Jason Witten and the Redskins' Chris Cooley. He loves the way that Witten sets up defenders at the top of his routes.
It was an outstanding practice for the defense if you don't count defensive end Trent Cole leaving with a left shoulder sprain. It also looked like backup quarterback Kevin Kolb had someone step on his ankle. He had to leave practice with a sprained left knee.
I was very impressed with the work of linebacker Moise Fokou. He made a couple big hits and looked good in coverage. If you're looking for a darkhorse in this camp, you could do a lot worse. It also looks like former first-round bust Winston Justice is actually showing some fire. He's trying to seize an opportunity created by Shawn Andrews' absence.
He won't come right out and say it, but you can tell Reid is worried about the lack of continuity along the offensive line. Reid looks great by the way. He's lost a ton of weight and he just looks healthier. We talked a little about his weight loss, but then moved quickly into other items.
In large settings, Reid rarely smiles or offers any personality. In private sessions like today's, he can be extremely personable and funny. Halfway through the interview, he stopped to offer an assessment on how I was doing.
We're still waiting on McNabb. The local beat writers are not pleased. The Eagles will hold a special teams practice this afternoon. And believe it or not, they'll break camp Wednesday and return to South Philly. OK, let's talk soon.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
Ask and ye shall receive an NFC East mailbag. This one's been a long time coming and I appreciate your patience -- as always. I've made my annual pilgrimage to this delightful community (Bethlehem, Pa.) about an hour or so north of Philly and I'm prepared to talk all things Eagles for two consecutive days. But in the interest of a wider audience, I'm fielding mailbag questions on all four teams this morning. OK, let's start emptying the bag:
Bernard F. from Grand Prairie is concerned about the Eagles' depth at TE: Hey Matt, I am a huge Eagles fan living in Dallas. I think the Eagles may need to sign a tight end who will be released when the teams begin to cut players. Maybe a veteran tight end who can run down the seam.
Mosley: Bernard, the Eagles acted quickly in signing a free-agent rookie named Rob Myers, but you can bet that they will be watching the waiver wire pretty closely as we go along. No word on whether Jeff Thomason would leave his construction job again to help out the Eagles. But before you get too worked about Cornelius Ingram's season-ending knee injury, I don't believe the Eagles expected him to be a major contributor during his rookie season. For now, Myers is simply a training camp body who can eat up some reps. If the right player becomes available, Andy Reid will make a move. There's a former University of Houston player in Cowboys camp named Rodney Hannah who's probably not going to make the team. The Eagles know about him and they're impressed with his athleticism and 6-6 frame. That's just a thought.
Bill Moseley from Dallas is concerned about a certain former Cowboys receiver being mentioned too much: Matt, why does the media keep making T.O. the story when he's not. Stephen A. did it in 2004 when my Eagles made the Super Bowl while T.O. was hurt and you're doing it now. There are far more compelling stories to write than "Phillips takes jab at Owens."
Mosley: It's tough when your own family members start turning on you! Bill, I believe the Cowboys' release of T.O. was one of the biggest stories of the offseason and now it's interesting to see how the Cowboys compensate for his monster numbers. I don't think we've spent a ton of time on T.O. this offseason -- as evidenced by us pretty much ignoring his television projects. But when the mild-mannered Wade Phillips takes a little jab at T.O., I certainly think it's worth a blog entry. And judging by the response on the Beast, many of the readers agreed with me. But I understand your point. We'll try not to overdo with T.O. But if he says something about the Cowboys -- and you know he'll continue to do that -- we probably need to account for it. Thanks! Tell the other cousins I said hey.
Russ K. from Boston thinks the Beast has been a little Cowboys heavy recently -- and he's not alone: First of all, can you lay off the Cowboys a bit? It seems like every other link and article is about the Cowboys. Is it because the Cowboys get that much more media coverage? I find that hard to believe. Second, as a Giants fan I feel bittersweet about the Eli signing. I'm glad they signed him but I don't see how he got top quarterback money. He's barely a top five quarterback in my opinion. Did the Giants overpaying Eli ruin their chances to re-sign other players like Justin Tuck?
Mosley: I hear you loud and clear, Russ. When I'm in Cowboys camp, you're going to read a ton about the Cowboys. Beginning on Monday, you'll ready two solid days of Eagles coverage followed by my visits to the Giants' and Redskins' camps. We'll try to balance things out a little more for you guys, and I appreciate all the feedback -- even if it's negative. Regarding Manning's contract, I think that's the going rate for a top five or six quarterback in the league -- especially one who owns a Super Bowl ring. Nothing about those numbers surprised me that much. In fact, I thought the guaranteed portion might come in a little higher. Manning basically earned this money during a four-game stretch at the end of the '07 season. And he didn't do anything last year -- at least in my mind -- to lower his value.
Jason from Bryn Mawr, Pa., exceeded our word limit (150), but we'll give him some latitude since he made some interesting points: Matt, while the following statements may be true: "the Cowboys may have one of the most overrated offensive lines in the league", "the scary part is the Cowboys' lack of depth along the line", and "they've done a poor job drafting and developing offensive linemen over the years", the exact same quotes can be used in your pending camp review of the Philadelphia Eagles, yet I believe you ranked the Eagles as the best O-line in the Beast. It's unfathomable that many seem to be ready to return the Andrews Brothers to elite status when both missed all of last season. One (Stacy) was never elite to begin with and the other (Shawn) either has zero desire to play or has a back that won't allow him to play any longer. I am willing to grant Peters some benefit of the doubt, but am I willing to put all faith in a guy that openly admitted to less effort because he was upset at his contract status?! The Eagles' O-line also lacks the tremendous leadership and continuity provided by Runyan and Thomas. If the criteria works for one team, it should consistently apply to all.
Mosley: I admit the Eagles are having some issues on the offensive line right now, and that could certainly knock them down to the second or third best line in the division. But Stacy Andrews didn't miss all of last season. He started 15 games for the Bengals. Shawn Andrews missed most of the season, and you're correct to be very worried about his status. But the Eagles have done a better job of drafting and developing young linemen than the Cowboys. It's not even close. They took Shawn Andrews in the first round in '04 and he's been a three-time Pro Bowler. The Eagles signed Jamaal Jackson to a free-agent rookie contract in '03 and he's been the starter since '06. And starting guard Todd Herremans was a pretty good find in the fourth round of the '05 draft. Winston Justice was obviously a complete bust, but the Cowboys certainly have the lead in that category. They drafted Andre Gurode in '02 -- and that's pretty much it. Peters and Andrews are younger and much more athletic than Thomas and Runyan. But yes, the lack of cont
inuity is a fair point.
Chris from Clinton, Utah, has an Eagles question: Mr. Mosley, seeing that Stewart Bradley is now injured, do you think that the Eagles will pick up Derrick Brooks to play the right outside backer position and move Omar Gaither to the middle linebacker position like he was two years ago?
Mosley: Chris, Jim Johnson and the Eagles always favored younger, faster linebackers. That's why veterans such as Jeremiah Trotter were sent packing despite their leadership qualities. Brooks is an outstanding guy in the locker room, but the Eagles are more concerned about what guys can do on the field. The word on Brooks is that he's lost a step. That's not a good fit for Sean McDermott's defense. I'd be surprised to see a veteran like Brooks show up on the scene.
Nick from Sandy Hook, Conn., wants to talk about the Eagles' secondary: Hey Matt, before starting I'd like to note that Elizabeth Merrill's Jim Johnson piece was great and helped flesh out a man who'd spent most of his life avoiding fame and being known by his work. I'm wondering about that loss and the other tribulations (so many to choose from) and what you think they could do to the Eagles. The loss of Dawkins just excised the defense's emotional center. The loss of Stew Bradley sidelines one of the rising stars, the Maclin holdout makes him even less likely to contribute this year, and all that on top of Johnson. Do you think they're still a Super Bowl team, and does Reid have the leadership to turn those setbacks into determination?
Mosley: Nick, Elizabeth's an outstanding writer and I'm glad you mentioned the Johnson story. He obviously had a tremendous impact on the league. It's hard to project what sort of impact the loss of Johnson will have on the team, but I think he did such a great job teaching his young players that they'll be able to rally behind his replacement, Sean McDermott. I'm not going to overreact to Maclin missing a little more than a week of practices. I think he'll be up to speed by the end of the preseason. He's a highly intelligent guy, and he's a huge talent. And Reid pulled the right strings late in the '08 season, so he deserves the benefit of the doubt. I think the fact that Omar Gaither has been a starter for the Eagles really helps the situation. I'd be more worried if they were forced to lean completely on an inexperienced guy like Joe Mays.
Nirav from a county I didn't recognize wants to talk Redskins: I am a big fan of the Beast and read your blog daily. Thanks for the great work. My question is when the G-men won the Super Bowl two years ago, their defense seemed to get turnovers and create a short field for Eli and Co. With the additions of Haynesworth and Orakpo (who is looking great in camp by the way) and re-signing Hall, plus Landry and Horton at the safties and old reliable London, do you think the Skins have a chance to have a defense that can create turnovers, and thus, a short field for Jason Campbell and the Skins' offense?
Mosley: Well, that's why Albert Haynesworth and Brian Orakpo are in Washington. And yes, I think the Redskins can go from a solid defense to a dangerous defense. Everyone at Redskins Park will tell me this week about last season's top-five overall ranking on defense. But that's an empty ranking. Quarterbacks didn't fear the Skins because they didn't have any true threats coming off the edge. And the lack of pressure made it tough on the secondary. With Orakpo and Haynesworth collapsing the pocket, Hall, Horton, Landry and Rogers can take more chances. So yes, I think an improved defense could help make this a -- wait for it -- Campbell-friendly offense.
Josh M. from Eldorado, Texas, wonders why Miles Austin appears to be ahead of Sam Hurd at Cowboys camp: Why is Miles Austin ahead of Sam Hurd. The only thing I could think of is his speed. I was at training camp this past weekend and Hurd has some of the best hands on the team. I would rather have a guy in the game that could catch everything instead of out run everbody.
Mosley: Both of those guys have had excellent camps, Josh. And you're right about Austin's speed. He's really the only deep threat the Cowboys have, and he's also become a much better route runner. One more thing: Tony Romo absolutely loves him. I agree that Hurd has taken his game to the next level, but I think Austin's still ahead of him because of his big-strike ability. The Cowboys need a wide receiver on the field that teams fear -- or at least respect. The threat of Austin's speed can open things up in the running game.
Rob from Lake Worth, Fla., says I was right about something. Sir, step right up: Hey Matt, I was really hoping you would be wrong about Mike Williams. But Jason Reid is reporting that he is getting beat in drills by almost every defensive lineman he goes up against. Add to that his groin injury and things don't look too promising. Oh well. Keep up the good work.
Mosley: I think Williams' return is a cool story, but he's been out of the league way too long to be sharp at this point. And he carried around 450 pounds or so while he was out of the game. Even after shedding all the weight, your body's still going to suffer the effects of having been that large. Williams has shown a lot of determination, but anyone who thought he could challenge for significant playing time was being rather naive. I still think the Skins' offensive line is a huge concern.
Russell from Fort Worth wants to know about Jimmy Johnson's credentials for the Ring of Honor: How do you feel about Jimmy Johnson not being in the Cowboys' Ring of Honor? I mean...he is responsible for half of the Cowboys' Super Bowl titles. Some might say he is responsible for two or three of them. I say 2.5. Hasn't he earned the right to be enshrined among the greatest Cowboys? Also, why do you think Jerry Jones has decided not to induct anyone new this year? Wouldn't it be a great way to open the new stadium?
Mosley: One of the things that most of the Ring of Honor members have in common is longevity. Jimmy Johnson had an amazing run, but Jones' ego eventually got in the way. Johnson is the second greatest coach in Cowboys history behind Tom Landry, but there are others I'd like to see go in before him. And I agree with you that Jones should've put someone in this season. Before Jones puts Darren Woodson or Larry Allen in, I really wish he'd go back and take care of Drew Pearson. It's something the late Tex Schramm should've done a long time ago. And now Jones needs to right the wrong. Unfortunately, Pearson's penchant for being critical (honest) about the Cowboys hasn't helped. But again, he should go in before any of the younger guys.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
Runyan was in a great deal of pain during the playoffs last season, but he gutted it out like he's always done. If Runyan's cleared to start running again, it sounds like Eagles coach Andy Reid would be very interested in bringing him back.
"I know where he's at," said Reid, who had a chance to speak to Runyan at Jim Johnson's memorial service Friday. "We have a pretty good idea of where he's at and we'll just see how things go. He's working hard at getting back and that's really what his primary focus should be, whether it's here or somewhere else."
It appeared that the Eagles were ready to turn the page on Runyan when they signed offensive tackle Stacy Andrews during free agency and then moved Andrews' younger brother, Shawn, to right tackle. But Stacy is just returning from his own knee surgery and Shawn hasn't practiced in this training camp after injuring his back during a conditioning run. When asked Sunday whether Shawn would be ready to go for the regular season, Reid said he didn't know.
Runyan and Reid have been together for a long time and they have developed a unique player-coach bond. I don't think it will happen right away, but I think Reid would love to sign Runyan. There's just a comfort level there that he doesn't have with a lot of people.
Remember that I'll be visiting with Reid one-on-one Monday morning. If you have a question for the coach, now would be a good time to leave it in the "comments" section.