NFC East: Juqua Parker

PHOENIX -- The NFL announced the ever-popular compensatory draft picks Monday, awarding extra picks to 16 teams whose net losses in free agency last year were deemed by the league's formula to have outpaced their net gains. The Philadelphia Eagles and the New York Giants each added a seventh-round pick. The Eagles' extra pick will be the 239th of the draft. The Giants' will be the 253rd.

Neither the Dallas Cowboys nor the Washington Redskins, who were both very active in free agency last year, received any compensatory picks.

The formula for determining these picks is not strictly a 1-for-1 equation. For instance, the Giants got a pick even though the number of compensatory free agents they lost (Mario Manningham, Aaron Ross and Dave Tollefson) was equal to the number they signed (Martellus Bennett, Sean Locklear and Shaun Rogers). The reason is that, according to the formula, what the Giants lost in free agency was more than what they gained. The formula, the league's official release says, is "based on salary, playing time and postseason honors."

The Eagles got the extra pick because they lost Juqua Parker and Steve Smith and signed Demetress Bell. It's safe to assume they wish Bell had performed well enough to prevent them from getting an extra seventh-round pick this year.
Unless you were in Buffalo, NFL free agency seemed to hit a bit of a lull Thursday. Maybe everybody was watching basketball. Hard to blame them, but come on. I watched a ton of basketball and still managed to spend the day working my tail off for you, my loyal blog followers. I care about you. And it is in that spirit that I feel compelled to ask this question:

How was your day...

Dallas Cowboys?

"Can't talk. Too busy." Yeah, Dallas was another place where free agency was in full swing Thursday. Nothing like the Mario Williams extravaganza up by Niagara Falls, but the Cowboys are grinding it, filling need after need with players they've targeted for their own reasons. Unlike some past years, when the Cowboys could seem captivated by the market's biggest names, they are employing a focused, systematic approach and generally landing the guys they want. Thursday saw them come to terms with inside linebacker Dan Connor, who will help their run defense and allow Bruce Carter more time to develop if he needs it, and safety Brodney Pool, who played for Rob Ryan in Cleveland and likely replaces free agent Abram Elam. That's six unrestricted free-agent signings in two days for Dallas, and the Cowboys were working on a deal with guard Nate Livings, though he was said to be drawing interest from other teams as well. What they do the rest of the way in free agency -- whether they succeed in getting another lineman, another defensive back or more linebacking help -- could determine what they do in the first round of next month's draft. But the Cowboys are having a very productive offseason and addressing many of their myriad needs.

Philadelphia Eagles?

"Kinda slow." Still can't shake the feeling that the Eagles, who I think are still about $19 million under the salary cap, are saving up for something at least somewhat major. Maybe it's a new deal for LeSean McCoy. Maybe it's one or more of the good linebackers still available on the slow-moving linebacker market. Maybe it's for something no one's thought of yet. But the day after signing DeSean Jackson to a long-term contract and clearing much of that cap room, the Eagles sat patiently and made no noise. They'd like to bring back guard Evan Mathis, who played very well for them in 2011, but they seem okay with him testing the market, and he met with the Baltimore Ravens on Thursday. Defensive end Juqua Parker left, which was no real surprise, to sign with the Cleveland Browns. But the Eagles' biggest needs are linebacker and a backup running back, and the market doesn't seem to be requiring anyone to hurry to fill either of those positions.

Washington Redskins?

"So-so." They signed safety Brandon Meriweather (and I learned how to spell his name!), a former first-round pick who was cut twice last year and becomes a low-risk, high-reward project for new defensive backs coach Raheem Morris. But they saw Ben Grubbs, in whom they'd be interested for guard, sign with the Saints. And they saw wide receiver Eddie Royal, whom they thought they had signed Tuesday, sign instead with the Chargers. So they're not getting everyone they want. The Redskins do seem to be focused now on offensive line and defensive back (they were scheduled to have Aaron Ross in for a visit Friday), but with Royal out of the picture, watch to see if they look for another speedy wideout who can help in the return game. The biggest looming question for Redskins fans is the status of linebacker London Fletcher, who remains unsigned and on whom there has been almost no buzz. They definitely want him back, but it hasn't happened yet.

New York Giants?

"Blissfully boring." I think the Giants feel about free agency the way Ron Swanson feels about municipal government. They accept that it's there and they have to deal with it, but they don't seem to be very impressed. Sure, they signed tight end Martellus Bennett on Wednesday. But Thursday was dead boring. They agreed to terms with former Redskins safety Chris Horton, a special-teams candidate who was out of the league last year. They had Cowboys receiver/returner Kevin Ogletree in for a visit but did not sign him. While Ross, Mario Manningham, Jonathan Goff and Brandon Jacobs are out shopping for jobs, the Giants are sitting by and waiting things out. Ross and Manningham are sure to find bigger deals elsewhere, and Jacobs is likely to find something as well, the Giants would be fine with either welcoming those guys back at their own price once they strike out or replacing them with cheaper or internal options. It's how they roll, and they believe the Super Bowl trophy they just won after doing very little last offseason validates their approach. They make a pickup or two, but don't expect things to get hot and heavy with the Giants any time soon.

My day? Wonderful. I always enjoy the first day of March Madness, even when my bracket gets crushed and there aren't any big upsets. And I am still energized by free agency and the pace we're all keeping here at to keep you all up to date with it. I'll be up bright and early in the morning again, in case anybody has any questions. But for now, I bid you good night.

Eagles could lose Evan Mathis

March, 15, 2012
Evan Mathis was one of the pleasant surprises of the Philadelphia Eagles' 2011 season. Picked up in one of their least trumpeted offseason transactions, he stepped into the starting left guard job in training camp and performed as one of the top guards in the entire league. He learned Howard Mudd's blocking schemes quickly and provided reliability and leadership on the offensive line. The Eagles would like to have him back.

But the Eagles have not been paying attention to unrestricted free agents -- even the ones who could be on the way out of their own locker room. Defensive end Juqua Parker signed with the Browns on Thursday. And, as Jamison Hensley tells us in his daily AFC North wrap-up, Mathis could be closing in on a new deal with the Baltimore Ravens.
"I think it's a good fit," Mathis told the Carroll County (Md.) Times. "We had a good meeting."

Asked if a deal is imminent, Mathis said: "We're not at that point yet."

Now, just because Mathis is going to dinner with the Ravens doesn't mean the Eagles are out of it. First of all, Baltimore's only about an hour's drive from Philadelphia, so he could easily get back and see the Eagles on Friday even if he wakes up in Baltimore. Second, he played for the Eagles this year, so it's not a place he'd have to visit before signing. And third, these things can be handled on the phone. But the fact that the Ravens are putting a big push on, and that Mathis is talking so positively about them, makes you think the Eagles are in danger of losing a key piece of their very good 2011 offensive line. And with the top guards on the market already having signed elsewhere, they could have a hard time finding a sufficient replacement.
Andy ReidAP Photo/Derek GeeSunday's penalties, turnovers and all-around sloppy play can be blamed on Andy Reid.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- With 1:23 left in Sunday's game, fourth-and-inches to go from midfield and a seven-point lead, the Buffalo Bills had a choice. They could punt the ball away and force the Philadelphia Eagles to go the length of the field to tie the score, or they could go for it, knowing the game would be over if they picked up those couple of inches. They called a time out to talk it over and chose a third option -- let the Eagles make a critical mistake.

Good call.

The Bills lined up as though planning to run a play, but quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick just sat behind center barking out his cadence. He barked and barked, and finally ...

"They got me," Eagles defensive lineman Juqua Parker said.

Parker jumped offside, and the penalty gave the Bills the first down that clinched a 31-24 victory that dropped the Eagles to 1-4. It was the Eagles' fifth penalty of the game and third of the fourth quarter. And while it was the mistake that ultimately decided the game, it had plenty of help from its friends.

In addition to the penalties, Philadelphia committed five turnovers -- four Michael Vick interceptions and one lost fumble -- dropped a couple of key passes, missed enough tackles that Bills running back Fred Jackson got 59 of his 111 rushing yards after first contact, and generally played the kind of loose, undisciplined game we've become used to seeing from the 2011 Eagles.

"There's nobody to blame but me," Eagles coach Andy Reid said. "That's how I look at it."

Funny. That's how I look at it too. Reid has been an outstanding NFL coach since taking over the Eagles in 1999, but he's doing a lousy job coaching this season's team. The Eagles have electrifying talent all over the field, but the players play as though they haven't been coached on how to handle game situations. They don't take care of the ball in spots where it needs to be a priority. They don't make good decisions. They look like a team that either didn't practice or didn't pay attention in practice all week, and that's on the coaches, no matter what the players say.

"I think, at this point, it's out of the coaches' hands," said Vick, who rushed for 90 yards and threw for 315 but said he'll remember this game for those four interceptions. "Coaches can stress ball security all week, but the coaches are not out there in the moment. We've got to control it as players, in the moment."

[+] EnlargeMichael Vick
AP Photo/David DupreyMichael Vick was picked off a career-high four times in Philadelphia's loss to Buffalo.
There's a fair point in there, and Vick rightly took his share of the blame for this loss. But a head coach's job is to establish a team-wide culture in which the kind of sloppy play that's killing the Eagles is not tolerated. The players have to buy into the idea that the most important thing they can do is not beat themselves. They have to have it drilled into their heads, to the point where it becomes instinctive, "in the moment," to throw the ball away, to take a sack instead of throwing an interception. Jason Avant has to know, when he's in the defender's arms at the end of the 35-yard catch that gets the Eagles out of the shadow of their own goalposts, to go down, protecting the ball and not try to fight for extra yards with 20 minutes left in the game.

"Everyone took turns making mistakes," defensive end Jason Babin said.

And every player on the defense has to know, when the Bills are lining up looking as though they'll run a play on fourth-and-inches from midfield with 1:23 left on the clock, that the single most important thing they can do is not get caught offside. If the Bills run and pick up those inches on their own, at least they did something to beat you. But what you can't do in that spot is hand it to them, and that's something the coaches need to (A) make sure the team knows before the plane's wheels touch down on Saturday night and (B) expressly tell every single defensive player during the timeout just before that play.

"Every Saturday, we line up and practice it," Bills coach Chan Gailey said of that final play. "You don't think it's going to work, but the one time it does, it wins the game for you."

Asked if Fitzpatrick was planning to snap the ball, Gailey said, "I'll never tell." Everyone laughed.

There was no laughing in the visitor's locker room, where Parker said the receiver in motion made him think a play would be run and Reid and the rest of the players refused to lay blame at Parker's happy feet.

"I think guys are just trying so hard to make a play," Vick said. "We know what we're capable of, and guys all want to be the one who makes the play, want to be the game-changer. And I understand that. We're desperate for a win. So I can't fault guys for trying too hard."

No, but we can fault Reid and the Eagles' coaching staff for their failure to foster an environment in which their players prioritize smart decisions and sound fundamental football over the urgent desire to change the game. The game, by the time the fourth quarter rolled around, was going very much the Eagles' way. They were moving the ball at will on the Buffalo defense, Vick and DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy showcasing that game-changing speed that was supposed to propel the Eagles' offense to such great heights. Heck, their defense was even forcing the other team to punt for a change. All they had to do was avoid the game-changing mistakes, and they couldn't.

This Eagles team never does. No matter how good they look in stretches, they always find a way to screw it up. A holding penalty here, a face-mask penalty there, an offside penalty at the worst possible time. Well-coached teams just don't play that way.

If Reid really, truly, sincerely wants to take the responsibility for what's going on here, he's welcome to it. When you have this many players making this many inexcusable mistakes in this many critical situations, you have no choice but to seek the common thread. This season was to have been Reid's most glorious yet -- his best opportunity to win a Super Bowl. The front office gave him everything he needed and more to make it happen, and so far he has failed miserably.

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- With star defensive end Trent Cole inactive Sunday due to a calf injury, the Eagles are happy to welcome back defensive ends Darryl Tapp, who missed the previous two games with a torn pectoral muscle, and Juqua Parker, who sprained his ankle in Week 2 and hasn't played since. Tapp starts in place of Cole.

The Eagles also announced Mike Kafka as one of their inactives, which leaves Vince Young as the only active quarterback besides starter Michael Vick. With starting left tackle Jason Peters out with a hamstring injury, King Dunlap will start at left tackle. First-round draft pick Danny Watkins finally gets his first NFL start at right guard in place of Kyle DeVan, who is inactive. And tackle Winston Justice is active for the first time this season and will help with depth on the offensive line.

I'll be here at Ralph Wilson Stadium all afternoon, and you can join in our live chat of the game here starting at 1 pm ET.

The complete list of inactives for today's Eagles-Bills game:

QB Mike Kafka
S Jaiquawn Jarrett
CB Curtis Marsh
DE Trent Cole
OL Kyle DeVan
T Jason Peters
G Julian Vandervelde


CB Aaron Williams
CB Terence Wheatley
LB Chris White
G Colin Brown
T Demetrius Bell
LB Chris Kelsay
NT Torell Troup

Vick to start for Eagles vs. Giants

September, 25, 2011
PHILADELPHIA -- Quarterback Michael Vick is active and listed as the starter for the Philadelphia Eagles' game here this afternoon against the New York Giants. Also active for the game are backup quarterbacks Vince Young, who was inactive for the first two games because of a hamstring injury, and Mike Kafka, who replaced Vick last Sunday night when Vick left the game with a concussion. It's unclear which quarterback would come in if Vick gets hurt again today, but the Eagles appear to have two options.

For the Giants, as expected, wide receiver Mario Manningham is listed as inactive because of the concussion he sustained Monday night against the Rams. Combined with the season-ending knee injury Domenik Hixon suffered in the same game, that leaves the Giants with Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz, Brandon Stokley, Devin Thomas and rookie Jerrel Jernigan as their options at wide receiver. Cruz is listed as the starter along with Nicks.

The Eagles have two reserve defensive ends -- Darryl Tapp and Juqua Parker -- listed among their inactives, which means they only have three active defensive ends for the game -- Trent Cole, Jason Babin and Phillip Hunt. Expect defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins to move outside and play end if they have an injury at that position, since he has experience playing defensive end as well.

For the second time in three games, Eagles first-round draft pick Danny Watkins is among the inactives.

I'll be here at Lincoln Financial Field all day, and you can join our live chat of the game on starting at 1 pm ET by clicking this link right here.

The full list of inactives:


RB Da'Rel Scott
G Mitch Petrus
T James Brewer
WR Mark Clayton
CB Prince Amukamara
DE Osi Umenyiora
WR Mario Manningham


S Jaiquawn Jarrett
CB Curtis Marsh
DE Darryl Tapp
G Danny Watkins
G Julian Vandervelde
T Winston Justice
DE Juqua Parker

Scouts Inc.: Eagles' D-line is top 5

September, 22, 2011
Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. has an Insider post up in which he ranks the top five defensive lines in the NFL. The only one on the list from the NFC East is that of the Philadelphia Eagles. Detroit, Baltimore, Chicago and New England claimed the first four spots. Matt says he nearly gave the No. 5 spot to the New York Giants but gave it to the Eagles because of what they've done to augment their pass rush:
Philadelphia's run defense and power at the point of attack is a drawback, but its ability to rush the passer is out of this world. The Eagles rarely have to blitz. Adding Cullen Jenkins and Jason Babin really has taken this group to new heights. The stalwart here, though, is Trent Cole, who -- in case you didn't know -- might just be the best 4-3 defensive end in the entire league.

Cole is off to a brilliant start to the year, as we've seen and discussed here, but the key to this ranking is the depth the Eagles have at the end and tackle positions on the defensive line. As Matt points out, Darryl Tapp and Juqua Parker are strong backups for Jenkins and Babin, and it's not out of the question to think that Brandon Graham could come back at some point this year.
But the player that I am especially high on is Antonio Dixon, although he probably fit the Eagles' former scheme better than the one Jim Washburn brought from the Tennessee Titans that stresses penetration and getting upfield. The depth here is superb across the board, and the Eagles can simply wear out their opponent. They play the run on the way into the backfield. My concern with the Eagles is that they are not young on the D-line, so their window might not stay open as long as the other teams on this list.

For now, though, I agree with Matt that the Eagles' defensive line gets the edge, if ever so slightly, over Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul and the Giants' excellent bunch. We'll get to see them both Sunday afternoon in Philly.

Let's look at some depth charts

August, 9, 2011
I have here on my laptop screen three "unofficial depth charts" -- one each for the Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins. They arrived as part of the media game notes in advance of preseason games, which begin the day after tomorrow. On Monday, I got the ones for the Cowboys and Eagles, who open preseason play Thursday. This morning I got the one for the Redskins, whose preseason opener is Friday. I am assuming that the Giants, who play Saturday, will send theirs tomorrow. (See what I did there? I incorporated simple addition and knowledge of the calendar. My sons' elementary school teachers would be so proud.)

Anyway, these don't, technically, mean anything. The teams call them "unofficial" just so we remember that. But they are fun, and here at the NFC East blog we're all about having fun. So let's take a look at a couple of things I noticed about each of the three I have so far that you, my dear readers, might find interesting. (And don't worry, Giants fans, you'll get your turn when I get your depth chart.)

Dallas Cowboys

Not a lot of surprises here. The Cowboys don't list their injured players as front-line starters, so Phil Costa is listed as the first-string center with Andre Gurode listed in brackets at the back of the depth chart as an injured player. They still have Montrae Holland listed as the starting right guard even though he's hurt, too, and David Arkin started there in Sunday's scrimmage. Arkin is listed as Kyle Kosier's backup at left guard, but we know that the alignment was changed Monday so that Arkin was starting with the first team at left guard and Kosier moved over to the right to start next to rookie tackle Tyron Smith.

Felix Jones is listed as the starting running back, though Tashard Choice and DeMarco Murray are listed in brackets because of injury and therefore pose no unofficial-depth-chart threat at the moment. Jones' backup on the depth chart is Lonyae Miller. Kevin Ogletree and Jesse Holley are the wide receivers listed immediately behind Dez Bryant and Miles Austin at those two positions, for what that's worth. Brings into focus the fact that they could use help at that No. 3 receiver spot.

On defense, they have Marcus Spears and Igor Olshansky starting at defensive end, and Sean Lee starting next to Bradie James at inside linebacker with Keith Brooking hurt. Orlando Scandrick is the starting cornerback opposite Mike Jenkins and in place of the injured Terence Newman, and Alan Ball is listed as Jenkins' backup. Free-agent signees Gerald Sensabaugh and Abram Elam are the starting safeties.

And David Buehler is still listed as the kicker ahead of Dan Bailey, but as I understand it that's not yet settled. Overall, it's tough to get a clear picture of the Cowboys' depth chart because of all the injuries.

Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles still list Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson, neither of whom has yet had a full practice, as their starting receivers. So the Dream Team rolls a bit differently, depth chart-wise, than does America's Team. Their backups are listed as Riley Cooper and Jason Avant, who are obviously more likely to play Thursday than are the listed starters. Ryan Harris is listed as the starting right tackle and Winston Justice isn't listed at all (presumably because he's on that PUP list). Jamaal Jackson is still listed as the starting center, though you need to keep an eye on Jason Kelce and how much he plays against the Ravens. They also list Vince Young as the No. 2 quarterback, ahead of Mike Kafka.

On defense, the Eagles' first-team line is listed as Trent Cole, Antonio Dixon, Mike Patterson and Juqua Parker. Obviously, Patterson's health concerns have taken him out of the mix for the time being, and Dixon has been limited due to injury. So you're more likely to see Cullen Jenkins and Anthony Hargrove at those defensive tackle spots, with Trevor Laws in the mix once he's healthy. Deep rotation on the line, where free-agent signing Jason Babin is a second-team defensive end along with Darryl Tapp. They're listing Casey Matthews as the starting middle linebacker in between Jamar Chaney and Moise Fokou, and Asante Samuel and Nnamdi Asomugha are the starting cornerbacks. Kurt Coleman is listed as the starting free safety opposite Nate Allen and in front of rookie Jaiquawn Jarrett.

Johnnie Lee Higgins is listed as the kick returner and as Jackson's backup punt returner.

Washington Redskins

Rex Grossman is listed as the starting quarterback, which is a change from the depth chart Mike Shanahan had on the wall of his office last week and could have something to do with John Beck's groin injury. It'll be interesting to see, if Beck is healthy, which one starts and how much they play. I think they'd like Beck to win the job but are prepared to go with Grossman if Beck falls on his face.

They're also listing Tim Hightower as the starting running back with Ryan Torain injured. But even if Torain were healthy, I believe they prefer Hightower assuming he can control his fumbling problem. Jabar Gaffney is listed as the starting wide receiver along with Santana Moss. Anthony Armstrong and Leonard Hankerson are listed as the backups. No surprises on the offensive line.

On defense, they have rookie Ryan Kerrigan starting at outside linebacker opposite Brian Orakpo and Rocky McIntosh starting inside along with London Fletcher. That puts Lorenzo Alexander in a bench/utility role from which he can help in multiple ways. Stephen Bowen and Adam Carriker are listed as the defensive ends on either side of nose tackle Barry Cofield. They have Josh Wilson starting at cornerback opposite DeAngelo Hall, and it'll be interesting to see if Wilson holds that job through and after Phillip Buchanon's four-game suspension. Reed Doughty starts at strong safety with LaRon Landry injured, and they're still listing Graham Gano as the kicker ahead of Shayne Graham, though it's possible that whoever shows up first when Shanahan yells "Graham!" will get to kick.

Have fun with it, folks. I'll take questions here and in the chat, at noon ET.
BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- Call Andy Reid impatient if you want, but like most NFL coaches, the Philadelphia Eagles' head coach is no great fan of the walk-through practices that have taken the place of what used to be the second of his two training camp practices per day.

[+] EnlargeAndy Reid
Jim O'Connor/US PresswireHead coach Andy Reid enters the season with a roster full of Pro Bowlers and high expectations.
"It's like being stopped at a red light with a bunch of cars in front of you," Reid told me after Friday's walk-through. "You want to just hurry up and get where you're going, but there's nothing you can do about it."

The Eagles, you see, have big plans. Reid is in his 13th season as their coach, and although the first 12 have been mostly excellent, each has ended without a Super Bowl ring. The team's urge to change that this season is obvious and inescapable. It's on the ever-shifting roster, which added five Pro Bowlers during a wild first week of free agency that made the Eagles the talk of the league. It's in the eyes of quarterback Michael Vick, who knows last season proved he was good enough to deliver and therefore ratcheted up the pressure to do just that. It's all over the high-energy practices that have featured fights and trash-talking worthy of a Week 16 division matchup. The Eagles know what's at stake and what they must do, and they're eager to get to it.

"This town wants a Super Bowl," linebacker Jamar Chaney told me, referring of course to Philadelphia, not Bethlehem. "The Phillies win. The Flyers win. They want the Eagles to do the same thing. And not just win, like, have a good season. They want you to win a Super Bowl."

The players and coaches hear the fans and would like them to know they feel the same way. Juan Castillo, who's in his first season as defensive coordinator after 13 as the team's offensive line coach, has a cut just above his nose from where he actually head-butted linebacker Keenan Clayton while yelling at Clayton to make a point during practice last week. Yeah, Clayton was still wearing his helmet. Yeah, Castillo wants this pretty badly.

"Coach Reid has been to the playoffs nine out of 12 years," Castillo said. "That's tradition, but it's not good enough. Before we finish here, we want to win the Super Bowl. Because we don't want to be sitting around when we get older, watching ESPN and having them talk about how we were so close and we never got it done."

So yeah. If it's not too much trouble, the Eagles would like to get this thing going as soon as possible.


[+] EnlargeNnamdi Asomugha
Howard Smith/US PresswireThe addition of Nnamdi Asomugha, 24, gives the Eagles three starting-caliber cornerbacks.
1. Can you have too many cornerbacks? When the Eagles signed Nnamdi Asomugha the day after acquiring Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and they already had Asante Samuel, the first question everybody asked was whether they'd keep all three excellent cornerbacks. The answer, to this point, seems to be yes. Rodgers-Cromartie has made it clear he doesn't mind sitting behind either of the other two, and Asomugha has made it clear that he's happy to play slot corner when all three are on the field if the other two would prefer to play outside. So although there was some early talk about possibly dealing Samuel (and that remains a possibility if somebody blows them away with a great offer), the odds favor the Eagles' keeping all three and just making triple-sure that all the receivers they play against are covered.

2. Will Vick have his receivers? As exciting as things have been during the early practices, you can't escape that Vick is throwing to second-string and third-string receivers. Sure, Jason Avant has looked like a star. But he's supposed to be the No. 3 wideout behind DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. Jackson just showed up Monday after missing the first week-plus in a contract dispute. Maclin has been in camp for a week but has yet to practice as he continues to recover from an illness that neither he nor the team will discuss. If the team can't get Jackson happy and Maclin healthy soon, their top two receivers run the risk of starting the season behind or maybe not on the roster. No matter how many new defensive players they've signed, that would be impossible to overcome.

3. Who are the linebackers? The Eagles have beefed up on the defensive line and in the secondary. They've even added a couple of starters on the offensive line and Pro Bowl backups at quarterback and running back. But they did nothing at linebacker except allow Stewart Bradley to leave via free agency. That means rookie Casey Matthews, the team's fourth-round pick in April's draft, is currently the starting middle linebacker with Chaney and Moise Fokou on the outside. The coaches have been saying very nice things about Matthews, but no pre-draft projection I know of had him as a 2011 starter -- especially on a team that expects to win the Super Bowl. Don't be surprised if the Eagles bring in a veteran to add a little depth and/or experience at the position. Matthews could start Week 1, but it's hard to imagine that the Eagles don't have a backup plan.


[+] EnlargeTrent Cole
Howard Smith/US PresswireNew defensive line coach Jim Washburn, left, brings an attacking style that end Trent Cole, right, is excited about.
For all the talk about the rotation at cornerback, the Eagles have put together remarkable depth on the defensive line as well. New defensive line coach Jim Washburn has been using Trent Cole and Juqua Parker as his starting defensive ends in early practices, with newcomers Cullen Jenkins and Anthony Hargrove at the defensive tackle spots. But one would have to think that Antonio Dixon, who has been missing practice with a knee injury, would start in Hargrove's place if healthy, which means Hargrove would join newly signed defensive end Jason Babin on the second-team defensive line. Add in Trevor Laws, Darryl Tapp and, if healthy, Mike Patterson, and Washburn has plenty of options on a line that will have a different mission this year than it has in recent seasons. "We used to do a lot of reading, and now we're attacking, getting after the ball a lot," Cole told me. "Go to the ball every time, get the quarterback every time. I think they took a lot of the thinking out of it. Just go play ball."


The offensive line also has a new coach in Howard Mudd, and he has changed the way they play line on that side of the ball, too. "It's a whole new thought of blocking your man," guard Todd Herremans told me. "Instead of meeting him at a spot, you're going to get to them before they get to that spot. It's more of an aggressive approach." Herremans said he's working on changing his ways, and left tackle Jason Peters and center Jamaal Jackson must as well. Rookie right guard Danny Watkins and right tackle Ryan Harris are new, and rookie Jason Kelce could wrest the starting center spot from Jackson. So there's a lot going on with the offensive line, and it bears watching, because keeping Vick healthy is probably the key to the entire Eagles season.


  • Assuming Nate Allen's knee is healthy, he'll start at one safety spot, but it'll be interesting to see how the other one shakes out. It looks as though the Eagles would like to give rookie Jaiquawn Jarrett a chance to start, but it's tough to evaluate Jarrett during practices that don't allow hard hitting, because that's his thing. Also in the mix are Kurt Coleman, Marlin Jackson and newly signed veteran Jarrad Page.
  • As many weapons as the Eagles already have on offense, and as good as Brent Celek is, it'd be easy to overlook the signing of tight end Donald Lee. But when I was there, they were lining Lee up one-on-one with defensive ends like Babin and having him block them without help. He did a pretty good job, and if you're wondering how he might be deployed, that could be your answer.
  • Vince Young looks very much like a quarterback with a lot to learn about his new team's offense. So much so, in fact, that you wonder whether Young or Mike Kafka would be the starter if Vick were to suffer an injury early in the season.
  • Fourth-round draft pick Alex Henery has a great big leg. But after all the work they did in free agency and everything that's riding on this season, it does seem a little odd for the Eagles to potentially leave the outcome of a big game in the hands (or on the foot) of a rookie place-kicker.
  • Chaney played middle linebacker last season when Bradley was hurt. And when you ask which he'd prefer, he answers that he'd rather be back there than outside. But the Eagles think that his speed is his greatest asset and that having him on the strong side makes the best use of that. He could be the middle linebacker of the future or a fall-back option if Matthews can't handle it. But right now they appear to prefer him on the outside.
Our position-by-position look at potential four-year unrestricted free agency rolls along, with a look at the defensive end position and the way the free-agent field could impact the NFC East. Now, with two 3-4 defense teams and two 4-3 defense teams in the division, we could be talking about a wide variety of types of defensive ends. But from here it looks as if the division's 3-4 teams have more of a need at the position than do the 4-3 teams. The Giants, for example, aren't going to need defensive end help unless they trade Osi Umenyiora and lose Mathias Kiwanuka in free agency. I don't expect either of those things to happen, let alone both. So...

NFC East teams in need

Cowboys: Marcus Spears, a starter last season before his injury, will be a free agent. So will Stephen Bowen, who took his place, and Jason Hatcher, who played in 13 games and started one. Even if they're counting on a bounce-back year from Igor Olshansky, the Cowboys will absolutely need to address the other defensive end spot. New defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has said he doesn't want to move nose tackle Jay Ratliff to end. But you have to wonder, if the better options are interior linemen, whether the Cowboys would go that way and rotate Ratliff and one or two new guys in and out of the nose tackle and end spots.

Redskins: Washington likes Adam Carriker at one of the end spots, and it's possible that second-round pick Jarvis Jenkins could emerge at a starter at the other one eventually. But asking Jenkins to start right away might be a bit too much, and if Kedric Golston is leaving as a free agent, they're left with 35-year-old Vonnie Holliday and 38-year-old Phillip Daniels. Depending on what they see out of Jeremy Jarmon and his knee, they could be in the market for some depth at this position.

Eagles: Trent Cole is a monster on the right side, but the question is on the left, where Juqua Parker is still penciled in as the starter and 2010 first-round pick Brandon Graham likely won't be healthy in time to start the season. There has been lots of talk about the Eagles adding a veteran pass-rusher opposite Cole, and it's possible new defensive line coach Jim Washburn has some ideas for potential targets.

Top five potential unrestricted free-agent defensive ends

1. Ray Edwards. After playing a strong second fiddle to better-known defensive stars Jared Allen and Kevin Williams over the past few seasons, Edwards is looking for a place to shine on his own as a pass-rusher. He'd be a great fit in the Eagles' defensive line rotation and would dramatically upgrade Philadelphia's pass rush.

2. Jason Babin. Lots of talk in Philly about a return for Babin, especially after he posted a career-high 12.5 sacks last season in Tennessee under Washburn. Babin is probably the kind of guy who needs to be in the right system to succeed, and there is concern that 2010 might have been the exception rather than the rule when it comes to Babin's ability to produce.

3. Charles Johnson. Nobody could have expected Johnson to replace Julius Peppers as well as he did in 2010, and for that reason it's probably very important for Carolina to retain him. If he hits the market, his 11.5 sacks from last season will catch plenty of teams' eyes.

4. Kiwanuka. When healthy, he's a versatile, frightening force who can be a pass-rushing 4-3 end or an outside linebacker. He's high on the Giants' priority list, but they have a lot of guys to re-sign and they probably aren't going to be able to get them all. Would Kiwaunka on the Eagles be among Giants fans' worst nightmares?

5. Shaun Ellis. Couldn't do this list for this division without putting a 3-4 end on it. Ellis had a brilliant playoff performance for the Jets and, even at age 33, likely has something to contribute for the short term. Might be a real nice fit in Washington with those younger guys.

Predictions that mean nothing: Eagles sign Edwards, Redskins sign Spears, Cowboys get a couple of guys, including Kansas City's Shaun Smith, who can be a run-stuffing 3-4 end and also rotate inside if they decide to move Ratliff around.

Breaking down the DLs: Philadelphia

April, 19, 2011
Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson examines the defensive lines of each NFC East team. Today: Philadelphia Eagles.

Trent Cole is one of the very best defensive ends in football. He is a tremendous all-around player. But he did wear down as the season progressed. A year ago leading into the draft, the Eagles obviously fell in love with Brandon Graham, trading up quite a ways to land him to complement Cole. I remain very high on Graham, but he did have an up-and-down rookie year and ended the season with a serious knee injury. If the knee comes around quickly, Graham might be the ideal bookend to Cole.

Maybe adding one more end -- a guy with size - makes sense here as insurance for Graham and to help spell Cole. Juqua Parker also is an all-around defensive end who played really well for the Eagles’ in 2010. But he wore down late in the season, too. In fact, Philadelphia recorded just 15 sacks in its final eight games. Darryl Tapp also could figure in as a part-time player, preferably using his pass-rush ability off the edge. Adding one more end could leave restricted free agent Victor Abiamiri as the odd man out.

The Eagles are loaded at defensive tackle. Mike Patterson is built low to the ground and is difficult to move in the run game. He also has some quickness. But Patterson has just four sacks in three seasons and won’t contribute much on passing downs. Brodrick Bunkley has a lot of ability and can contribute well in both phases, but he also could step up his game. Trevor Laws has been a solid contributor since joining the team and could be ready to take the next step forward. But the player who has just demanded playing time is Antonio Dixon. He is an animal versus the run and also has the athletic ability and quickness to develop more as a pass-rushing force. If you don’t yet know about Dixon, it is time you learned.

This line -- Bunkley and Graham in particular -- also should benefit from the addition of new defensive line coach Jim Washburn, who comes over from Tennessee. But Philadelphia is already stacked up front, and I was tempted to rank them ahead of the Giants.

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Titans' Washburn headed to Eagles?

January, 19, 2011
One of the most highly respected defensive line coaches in the league could be joining the Philadelphia Eagles, according to Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean. If the Eagles can land veteran assistant Jim Washburn, it would be quite a coup. And Jeff McLane of the Inquirer is reporting that a deal is imminent.

I had the good fortune to spend a lot of time talking to Jim Schwartz when he was defensive coordinator with the Titans. He always praised Washburn's work with the defensive line, and the results over the past 12 seasons have been remarkable. AFC South blogger Paul Kuharsky thinks the Titans are making a big mistake by not keeping Washburn.

There's a reason players across the league swear by Washburn, who is known for his fiery approach. Wyatt notes that 11 defensive linemen left the Titans during Washburn's time to sign free-agent contracts elsewhere at a total value of more than $355 million.

It was Washburn who helped prepare Albert Haynesworth to cash that huge check from Redskins owner Dan Snyder. And the Eagles watched one of their castoffs from the '09 season, defensive end Jason Babin, have 12.5 sacks for the Titans this season and make his first Pro Bowl. In his previous six seasons in the league, Babin had 17.5 sacks.

No offense to Rory Segrest, but this would be a huge upgrade for the Eagles just in terms of experience and credibility. I believe that Trent Cole, Brandon Graham and even Juqua Parker could flourish under Washburn. And Parker would hit the ground running since he's already worked with him.

Check out this testimonial from former Titans defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch as he was preparing to sign a lucrative free-agent contract with the Lions:
"To me, personally, football and career wise, he has had the biggest influence on my career,’’ Vanden Bosch told The Tennessean. "The main reason is he understands his players, he cares about players. As a fan that comes out for training camp practices, you see him yelling and think it must be tough to play for him. But he does it because he truly wants to get the best out of his players and cares about his players."

Quick Take: Packers at Eagles

January, 2, 2011
Three things to know about next Sunday’s Packers-Eagles wild-card game:

1. Can the Philadelphia Eagles recover from two consecutive losses to end the season? I don't think a season-ending loss to the Cowboys on Sunday will have a major impact because the Eagles left most of their stars on the sideline. In fact, it was pretty impressive that a bunch of backups nearly handed the full-strength Cowboys a loss. But the loss to Minnesota last Tuesday is still baffling. The Eagles actually had something to play for in that game, and they didn't show up. If Michael Vick continues to recover from his quadriceps injury and DeSean Jackson's foot heals, the Eagles should regain their devastating speed. Resting the starters against the Cowboys was the right move. Now, the Eagles will face one of the best quarterbacks in the league in Aaron Rodgers. The Chicago Bears held the Packers down for much of Sunday's game, but Rodgers was able to connect with Greg Jennings on a gorgeous throw to set up the winning touchdown.

2. Michael Vick began his remarkable season against this team. When Kevin Kolb left the Eagles' season-opener against the Packers with a concussion, Vick was sensational in relief. He threw for 175 yards and a touchdown to go along with 103 rushing yards. He famously said after the game that he thought the Eagles would've won had he been on the field the entire time. Andy Reid ended up making Vick the starter, and the rest is history. But this week, the sixth-seeded Packers will be game-planning for Vick. Cornerback Charles Woodson may be headed to the Pro Bowl, but I believe that Tramon Williams has had the better season. The Packers' defensive backs will try to be physical with Jackson and Jeremy Maclin at the line of scrimmage. The Packers held Jay Cutler and the Bears to a field goal Sunday in bailing out what is normally a prolific offense. Why did the Bears play their starters when nothing was on the line? It's probably because they desperately wanted to keep a dangerous team such as the Packers out of the playoffs. I think the Eagles would've preferred playing the Giants a third time to playing the Packers again.

3. The Eagles' secondary is about to encounter perhaps the best group of receivers in the league. The Packers' receivers do a tremendous job of running after the catch, as the Giants learned last week. If Rodgers gets in a groove early, the Eagles could be in trouble. The Eagles have given up 31 passing touchdowns this season, which ranks them right behind the Cowboys in terms of worst in the NFC. Rodgers thrives on finding his receivers on crossing routes and watching them add 20 or 30 yards to the play. The Eagles' defensive backs must do a much better job tackling against this group. The Eagles have the offensive firepower to keep up in a shootout, but Reid doesn't want it to come to that. Philadelphia's biggest flaw is its defense, and the Packers have the weapons to expose it. Fortunately for the Eagles, the Packers' offensive tackles have struggled at times. This is the type game when defensive end Trent Cole's ability to get leverage will help in a big way. And the Eagles must figure out a way to keep defensive end Juqua Parker from playing too many snaps. D-end Darryl Tapp made some nice plays against the Cowboys on Sunday and the Eagles need him to continue his strong play. But I can't imagine a better first-round matchup than this. If you can think of the last No. 6 seed that looked this scary, let me know.

Wrap-up: Vikings 24, Eagles 14

December, 29, 2010
Well, at least Michael Vick doesn't have to worry about any Vikings asking for his autograph after this game. Here are some thoughts following a 24-14 loss and a lackluster performance by the Philadelphia Eagles:

What it means: The Eagles didn't look all that interested in playing this game. After a 48-hour delay because of a snowstorm, it was the Vikings who acted as if they had something meaningful on the line. A rookie quarterback named Joe Webb came out and showed a great deal of poise and ability in sticking it to the Eagles' defense. Philadelphia (10-5) had an opportunity to stay in contention for a No. 2 seed in the playoffs, but now they won't have a playoff bye. There were conspiracy theories that the Eagles wanted to wait for the snow to clear because they thought a slow field would help the Vikings. But in a rare Tuesday night game, the Vikings ran circles around Vick and his dynamic wide receiver DeSean Jackson. It was remarkable to watch the Vikings cornerbacks simply bully Jackson (two catches, 32 yards) at the line of scrimmage and then lock him down when he tried to go deep. The Eagles are still a dangerous team, but Vikings interim coach Leslie Frazier showed just how vulnerable this team is to the blitz.

What happened to Vick? I think it's safe to say that Tom Brady now has the MVP in hand. Coming off a brilliant comeback against the Giants, Vick was running for his life against the Vikings. They came at him in waves, and when he escaped the first blitzer, he usually encountered a huge defensive tackle. I zeroed in on Eagles Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters in the second half. He didn't have a chance against defensive end Jared Allen and he could've been called for holding several times. But it was Vick who made the key mistake in the game. With the Eagles attempting to add to a 7-0 lead just before the half, Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield blitzed off the corner and poked the ball away from Vick. He scooped it up and returned it for a touchdown to tie the score. Vick was 25-of-43 for 263 yards and one touchdown, an interception and two fumbles lost. The Vikings did a brilliant job of surrounding him throughout the game. Vick ran for 63 yards and a touchdown, but he was limping around the field in the fourth quarter. Frazier knows Andy Reid as well as anyone because he coached for the Eagles. You could see the influence of the late Jim Johnson with several of those blitz calls. And Frazier may have earned himself the full-time gig in Minnesota with the way his team performed.

Broken record alert: Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg are so enamored with the passing game that they go long stretches without feeding the ball to running back LeSean McCoy. The Vikings didn't have to respect the play-action game when they know McCoy is rarely going to touch the ball in the running game. He was probably the Eagles' best option in this game, but he only touched the ball 17 times.

Gashed by the run: The Eagles had held teams to an average of 89.1 rushing yards per game, but the great Adrian Peterson had 22 carries for 118 yards and a touchdown. And on the game-clinching drive, Peterson toyed with the Eagles' defense. When rookie safety Kurt Coleman took the wrong angle toward Peterson on a counter play, the running back exploded outside for a big gain. Then he bulled his way into the end zone.

What a tangled Webb: You'd think the Eagles would be used to mobile quarterbacks after seeing Vick in practice, but Webb baffled defenders with his legs. On a touchdown run in the second half, he froze defensive end Juqua Parker with a nice move and then he made linebacker Moise Fokou look silly before waltzing into the end zone.

What's next? Andy Reid will have the opportunity to rest Vick and some of his other starters against the Dallas Cowboys, but I think he'll try to play them for at least a half. I heard one broadcaster suggest late in this game that the loss to the Vikings could be a good thing for the Eagles because it would open the door to Reid resting some of his players. But I assure you Reid would rather not have that "luxury." The Giants were actually rooting for the Eagles to win this game because it meant the Bears might try harder to beat the Packers next Sunday. I received the following text from Giants defensive tackle Barry Cofield in the fourth quarter: "It looks like Philly is gonna [hurt us] even when we aren't playing them."

Maybe Eagles fans can find something positive out of Tuesday's game, but I'm at a loss right now.


Monday evening blitz package

December, 13, 2010
While we watch Giants-Vikings, let's take a peek at some of the issues that came out of Sunday's games in the Beast:

Dallas Cowboys
  • The running game took a major step back against the Eagles. Felix Jones averaged 3.2 yards on 13 carries. He repeatedly slammed into Eagles defenders and had a hard time finding any creases. Part of that is Antonio Dixon and Mike Patterson playing so well in the middle, but the interior of the Cowboys' offensive line did a really poor job moving their feet. Tashard Choice and Jones never really had a chance to get a head of steam. And a week after having a breakout performance against the Colts, Choice only had eight touches against the Eagles. That really doesn't make any sense.
  • I'm not sure what has happened to Miles Austin. The Cowboys are now paying Austin like a No. 1 receiver, but he's faded ever since Jon Kitna took over as quarterback. I realize that Kitna doesn't throw the ball down the field as much as Tony Romo, but it's not like Austin is only a vertical player. That looked like a hot read over the middle last night that glanced off Austin's hands for an Eagles interception. The ball appeared to surprise him, and I'm not sure why. He has too many drops and he's not taking advantage of his few opportunities. Jason Garrett has to figure out a way to get Austin going again. Surely the receivers haven't fallen apart because Dez Bryant's out of the lineup. It's not like he was putting up huge numbers over the past month.
Philadelphia Eagles
  • I have to mention this every week. Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg have to do a better job protecting their quarterback. I realize that some of that's on reserve right tackle King Dunlap and right guard Max Jean-Gilles, but the Eagles might want to mix in a few more runs in the first half. Everyone waits to see if Vick is going to get up when he takes those huge hits from DeMarcus Ware and Jay Ratliff. If the Eagles want to make a deep playoff run, they have to find better ways to keep their quarterback clean. And by the way, I agree with Reid that a flag should have been thrown when Vick was hit out of bounds. That's about as angry as you'll see Reid on the sideline.
  • LeSean McCoy is becoming one of the most complete backs in the league. McCoy is nearly impossible to tackle in the open field. He has excellent hands and he does a superb job making defenders miss. But he showed late in Sunday night's game that he can also put his head down and run with power. This guy deserves to be in the Pro Bowl.
  • The Eagles have lost two big-time players in middle linebacker Stewart Bradley and defensive end Brandon Graham. Juqua Parker can step in and take a lot of Graham's plays, but it's going to be tough to replace Bradley. The Eagles will put Graham on injured reserve, but they'll wait for Bradley (dislocated elbow) to return for the playoffs -- if they qualify of course. Seventh-round pick Jamar Chaney out of Mississippi State will get the first crack to replace Bradley. He did a pretty nice job against the Cowboys in emergency duty Sunday night and I think he'll be able to hold the fort. Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott was smart to get Chaney some reps with the first-team defense last week. I think that paid off in Sunday's 30-27 win over the Cowboys.
Washington Redskins
  • The Redskins have to wonder if they're cursed. Just when you thought things couldn't be any more agonizing for the Skins, Hunter Smith drops a snap on a conversion attempt that would've sent the game to overtime. The Redskins have to deal with special teams gaffes on a weekly basis. They had another great return by Brandon Banks wiped out by a penalty and kicker Graham Gano missed 24 and 34-yard field goals. The Redskins didn't cut him, but it's probably a matter of time since he's injured.
  • Ryan Torain ran for 158 yards in the first half. The running back, who had been out with hamstring issues, was virtually unstoppable. But the Skins faltered in the red zone. The Bucs apparently made some significant adjustments at halftime and Torain was a non-factor in the second half. Kyle Shanahan needs to keep calling Torain's number the rest of the season and test his durability. If he runs like he did in the first half, he can be part of the solution next season.
  • You have to feel bad for LaRon Landry going on injured reserve. He just couldn't turn the corner with this Achilles' tendon injury. And he was having the best season of his career by a long shot. Landry had really flourished in Jim Haslett's new 3-4 scheme and was on the verge of earning a Pro Bowl invitation. He'll likely still be the defensive MVP for the Redskins.