NFC East: Lorenzo Booker
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
|Jim McIsaac/Getty Images|
|Michael Vick ran for a 2-yard touchdown, but was sacked four times Thursday night.|
I know it's hard for many of you to accept this, but the Eagles' preseason has come to a close. In what may have been the most entertaining preseason finale of the evening, the Jets beat the Eagles, 38-27. Michael Vick had several snaps in the first half and then he took over full-time for most of the second half.
He was 7-of-11 for 26 yards and an interception. He also ran for his first touchdown as an Eagle. Vick looked pretty explosive on several running plays, but he got in trouble in the second half when he raced around and was sacked for a 22-yard loss. He fumbled on the play, but he made the recovery. He's still rusty, but he doesn't look that much different than the player we saw in Atlanta in 2006. He's definitely going to be a weapon for the Eagles.
How did you guys think Kevin Kolb looked? I thought he looked solid at times, especially when he threaded the needle on a touchdown pass to former Cowboys tight end Tony Curtis. Excellent throw. I think the Eagles may have been showcasing Kolb tonight in case a team's interested in trading for him.
Here are some things that caught my eye regarding Vick's evening:
- I think Vick looks pretty comfortable on those little swing passes and wide receiver screens. He and Brandon Gibson have already developed a nice chemistry. Unfortunately, running back Lorenzo Booker has a difficult time winning one-on-one matchups with safeties in the open field. Vick does a good job of getting the ball to Booker in spots where he doesn't have to slow down.
- On a third-and-8 early in the second half, Vick tried to hit Danny Amendola on a deep ball down the left sideline. It's not like Amendola's a big target, but Vick could've done a better job of disguising where he was going with the ball. It's obvious he hasn't lost any arm strength, but he hung the ball up too long, allowing the Jets safety to race over and make a play on the ball. Vick had the one interception in the first half. He was trying to make a play. I can live with that in his first extended action since Jan. '06.
- On the 22-yard loss, Vick simply tried to do too much. He's still one of the most exciting players in the league to watch, but when you've raced around for 25 yards or so, you have to throw the ball away. Vick took a huge loss on the play, and the Jets ended up with great field position after a nice punt return. One of the announcers said, "The electricity of Michael Vick can come back to haunt him." I don't know about that, but it wasn't a good play. The other huge mental mistake he made came in the second half when he took a delay of game down near the goal line. He simply didn't have good awareness on the play, but Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg need to help him there. Why do the Eagles have so much trouble getting into plays in the red zone? Feel free to answer.
- On a third-and-6 in the third quarter, Vick drove the ball to Amendola on an underneath route. Vick's getting a lot of zip on his short passes, and that's allowing the receivers to quickly get upfield. Late in the first half, Vick rolled left and lofted a pass to Gibson in the end zone. It was almost a great play, but Gibson couldn't get his feet down. The ball seemed to float a little bit on Vick, but it was still an athletic play.
- On his touchdown run, Vick faked the handoff and simply raced up the middle. Even on a short play like that, you can tell how much pressure he puts on a defense. I think he's going to be highly effective inside the 10-yard line, where the Eagles have really struggled. We'll see how Donovan McNabb reacts when he's replaced by Vick inside the 10-yard line.
- Early in the fourth quarter, Vick didn't see anything and he took off running. He ended up with 16 yards and he froze at least one defensive back. I just keep thinking about how much time opposing defensive coordinators are going to spend getting ready for Vick. And that will take time away from preparation for the Eagles' base offense.
- I'm not sure who missed the Jets' MarquesMurrell when he blitzed off the end. No one had a clue he was coming. He nailed Vick and caused a fumble. Vick has to do a better job protecting the ball, but he really didn't have much of a shot on that play.
- If not for that big sack, Vick would've ended up with more than 50 yards rushing. Even after the two-year layoff, he's once again the best running quarterback in the league.
- Vick took some punishment in Thursday's game. Fullback Kyle Eckel completely whiffed on one play, allowing Vick to get sacked in the fourth quarter. Eckel has to be better than that. It was a delayed blitz and he just didn't see the linebacker coming. The good news is that Vick took that hit and another hard one from a safety, and he jumped up pretty quickly after both of them. He needs to be more decisive when he's in the pocket. He took a couple hits that weren't really necessary.
- All in all, I was pretty impressed with Vick. The decision making will get better. The athleticism is already there. If used properly, Vick is going to make some big plays this season. Will there be a quarterback controversy at some point? I would never bet against it.
|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.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
After listening to Wade Phillips deliver a lecture on why tackling was foolish for most teams during training camp, I was starting to come around. But then I read that teams such as the Broncos and Eagles aren't shying away from contact at all.
Here's a really good summary of Friday's Eagles practice from Inquirer beat man Bob Brookover. At some point, Andy Reid shouted "Live!" and the Eagles started banging heads. Yes, there's more risk for injury when you go "live" during practice, but there's also a chance that you're team is tougher heading into the season. Phillips acted as if his team didn't have any trouble being physical. But several members of the Cowboys were on the field when the Ravens finished them off with a couple of 80-yard runs last season.
In other news, it looks like running back LeSean McCoy is off to a pretty solid start. Andy Reid was pretty complimentary of his work after Friday's practice.
"I thought he did good," Reid said of McCoy. "He had one play where he lined up on the ball, and he was supposed to be off the ball, but . . . that's a minor thing. If I can only pick that one thing out, that's pretty good. That live period was more of a run period with a play-action pass thrown in every third or fourth play, so it gave him an opportunity to carry the ball a little bit, and I thought he did a good job."
It sounds like McCoy is trying a little too hard to be perfect early in camp. Brian Westbrook, who won't return to action for a couple weeks, told McCoy that "it's just football."
I think it's great for McCoy that Westbrook's not simply hanging out with the training staff right now. He's been on the field giving advice, and that should really pay off for McCoy. Judging by Bob's report, sounds like Lorenzo Booker's not making a lot of progress. At least two dropped passes in Friday's session.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
Thanks once again for planning your weekend around the Mailbag. It's a labor of love -- especially for those of you who read the whole thing. I've been asked to limit the Bag to 3,000 words this weekend. We have lots of ground to cover, so let's cut the monologue short and go right to your questions.
RodeoJones000 left this question in the "comments" section Friday afternoon: Matt, thanks for the blog. It's the first thing (and usually the second through 12th thing) I check online each day. In regards to Westbrook, assuming it's not as serious as some are implying, do you think this could actually be a blessing in disguise for Philly? Westbrook gets another thing done to help ensure his heath, and he gets to rest up for the season. And [LeSean] McCoy then gets to spend training camp running with the first team and learning the offense. Again, this is assuming Westbrook's procedure was just a simple "cleaning" and not a sign of something serious.
And also regarding Westbrook, do you think the Eagles go out and sign someone as insurance just in case he's hurt more than he's saying? If so, any idea who?
Mosley: RodeoJones, we really appreciate your efforts. You doubled our numbers last week with all those clicks. And, no, I don't think it's necessarily a good thing for Westbrook to go through yet another surgery. No matter what spin the Eagles on it, Westbrook's been cut on twice this offseason. And he's nearing that stage of his career when running backs often seen their numbers start to fall off. McCoy would've received plenty of reps whether or not Westbrook was out. And none of the guys out there really do much for me. The Giants have an embarrassment of riches at tailback, but they probably don't want Danny Ware turning into the next Ryan Grant. Lorenzo Booker's still on the roster, but he hasn't been able to get on the field. And that was the case for him in Miami, too. As NFC Beast senior correspondent Sal Paolantonio wrote Thursday, Edgerrin James and Rudi Johnson are names to consider. I don't think James really fits what the Eagles are trying to do. Johnson might be a little better fit. And Warrick Dunn might be a better fit than either one of those guys.
Pete R. is worried about Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett: I'm wondering if Garrett did the right thing staying in Dallas. If they do well, Phillips gets the credit. If they do poorly, most likely they'll both get the axe. I can't see Jerry Jones deciding that after a bad season, he needs to get rid of Wade, but keep his OC. Should Jason have pursued the opportunities that were out there last year?
Mosley: Garrett did pursue the opportunities that were out there after the '08 season. But he did turn down the opportunity to coach the Ravens or Falcons following the '07 campaign. I wouldn't worry about Garrett too much. He's the highest paid assistant coach in football at $3 million last time I checked. And if the Cowboys' offense succeeds without T.O., Garrett's star will be on the rise again. In fact, he'd probably receive more credit than Phillips. If the Cowboys have another poor season, neither guy will be back.
Gilldog41 says it's foolish to be concerned about the Cowboys' secondary: Matt, you ranked the Cowboys' secondary third in the NFC East? They were fifth in pass defense in the NFL and [Terence] Newman wasn't healthy until midseason and he's the best corner in the NFC. [Orlando] Scandrick and [Mike] Jenkins are going to be better than [Anthony] Henry. [Gerald] Sensabaugh will be better than Roy Williams/Pat Watkins/Keith Davis. And Ken Hamlin couldn't play any worse than he did last year. I'm loving their secondary right now. Its comical when fans are concerned about Dallas' secondary.
Mosley: When healthy, Newman is an elite corner. But he's struggled with injuries for two years running and he's in his early 30s. The Cowboys have asked Newman to back off some of his workouts this offseason in an effort to keep him fresh for the season. He's a finely tuned machine, but if one little thing goes wrong, he tends to break down all over. And I think you can make the argument that Corey Webster and Asante Samuel are both better corners than Newman right now. I agree that Sensabaugh's an upgrade, but it has to concern you a little bit that he was allowed to hit the free-agent market. He's an amazing athlete, but I'm not convinced he's the long-term solution. I expect Hamlin to improve this season, in part, because he'll trust Sensabaugh.
Bcohn17 has asked to make a statement: Matt, I just want to thank you for not having my account shut down for all the [grief] I give you. It can't be easy satisfying such voracious fans that are all in competition.That's it...no questions from me.
Mosley: Bcohn, I finally figured out how to pull the plug on your account. Consider this your final comment -- in this mailbag.
Skflogan has a question about the position battle going on at right tackle for the Redskins: With Jon Jansen gone, do you think that anyone that we have will be a good fit? To tell the truth, I'm not sold on [Stephon] Heyer. All signs point to him being the starter since that's what they had planned for last year.
Mosley: It's Heyer's job to lose, Skflogan. I think the Mike Williams comeback story is pretty compelling, but there's no way (in my mind) that he'll be in game shape early in the season. I think his best-case scenario is to make the team as a backup. And don't forget about Jeremy Bridges. He's a guy who's had some off-field issues, but he still has some ability. If Heyer falters, Bridges might be the guy waiting in the wings. Too many of you have bitten hook, line and sinker on this Williams story line. There's almost no way he sees the field in '09.
MJC121 wants to discuss a certain Cowboys wide receiver: Mr. Mosley, I want to know the role of WR Miles Austin this season. He showed signs of greatness last year. Is he going to be a major target for [Tony] Romo this year? And if he is, what kind of impact does he bring to an already diverse offense?
Mosley: At this point, Austin's actually Romo's favo
rite receiver. I'm serious. The two bonded big time in last year's training camp, and Romo has a lot of confidence in him. Romo and Roy Williams still don't appear to be on the same page in the OTAs I've observed. And Williams' insistence on talking about how Romo and him have "broken down boundaries" is sort of embarrassing. There's a chance that Austin is one of the Beast's breakout stars in '09. I had a chance to talk to him for a little while Friday. Everyone keeps asking him if he's going to be the No. 2 receiver. And you can tell it sort of frustrates him. In his mind, he has a chance to be the No. 1 receiver.
ProbablyJason is making things personal: Personal questions on the life of a blogger: Ever gotten to sit down with any of the owners? If so, who's the chillest to be around? Does the new Cowboys Stadium blow everything away or is it pretty standard, just really big? Did you go to school for journalism? Ever think you'd get such a cool job at ESPN?
Mosley: PJ, I've had the opportunity to sit down with several owners over the past seven or eight years. My first NFL gig was covering the Cowboys for the Dallas Morning News/Dallasnews.com, so I've had a chance to spend a lot of time with Jerry Jones over the years. I don't know if I'd call him the "chillest" owner I've been around, but he's had a pretty remarkable career. In my mind, his best trait is his thick skin. He never takes anything personal. and that's why we've continued to have a solid rapport over the years. I've had good visits with Dan Snyder, the late Lamar Hunt and Dan Rooney over the years. I have a tremendous amount of respect for the way Mr. Rooney approaches things. Cowboys Stadium is the biggest venue I've ever been in. Until you see it close, it's impossible to describe the size. I certainly wouldn't call it "pretty standard." It's about what you'd expect from Jones...I only took one journalism class at Baylor (Gould's travels), but I did a lot of writing in my English and History courses. I majored in speech communications with a minor in history. I actually attended law school, but decided pretty quickly that I didn't want to be a lawyer. Most of my professors supported that decision. I never really thought about working for ESPN.com. I grew up in the Dallas area, so the Dallas Morning News was my dream job. But my editor at the DMN took a job with ESPN.com -- and he took me with him. OK, that's enough personal stuff for one mailbag.
Jwuer has a Giants question -- thank goodness: Matt, I hope I can get a question in. I've never been able to. The Giants have something new in their WR corps that they have not had in the past, and it seems to be overlooked by the "No Plax/No Toomer" crowd. They have a ton more speed in their WR group this year. Hixon, Smith, Manningham are all quick guys and Nicks seems to have quick game speed. Do you think [Kevin] Gilbride will be able to effectively deploy this new explosive combination, and will Eli [Manning]be able to be accurate enough to deal with it? Also, do you see [Sinorice] Moss being a Giant at the end of training camp?
Mosley: Jwuer, congrats on your first mailbag appearance. Something you'll be able to tell the grandkids about. Regarding your question, I'm not sure it's breaking news that the Giants have some speed. Manningham, Moss and Hixon were all on the roster last year. I wouldn't put Steve Smith in the "speed" category. He's able to get open because of his route-running and he certainly has good hands. But no matter what he says, he doesn't have the speed to play wideout at this level. Nicks will remind you of Anquan Boldin. Big, thick guy who will do a nice job of running after the catch. He'll also work the middle of the field. So I don't think the departure of Burress means a whole new emphasis on speed. I think what will happen, though, is Manning will have an entire offseason to work exclusively with these guys. Manningham might be the biggest wild card of all the guys. I think the Giants love his potential, but they don't trust him yet. And you're right to ask about Moss. This is sink or swim season for him. He's obviously limited because of his lack of size. If he doesn't shine in preseason, it wouldn't surprise me to see him get cut. I think Smith and Hixon will start. And Nicks might crack the starting lineup midway through the season. Sorry we waited so long to talk Giants. That's my fault.
Jiggybree wants to go back to Westbrook: Are the Eagles hiding the fact that Westbrook's injury is more serious then originally thought? If so, will they look to the free agent market for a replacement, with so many veterans available? (IE- E.James, R.Johnson, W.Dunn)
Mosley: When you isolate the surgery that Westbrook had to remove bone spurs in his right ankle, it's not that serious. And no, I don't think the Eagles have a huge secret with Westbrook that they're "hiding." But the problem is that Westbrook's had a history of knee and ankle injuries. Those things add up. If he didn't have an history of ankle issues, we wouldn't give the bone spurs surgery a lot of attention. But this is a guy who makes his living on being able to cut on a dime and make people miss. We've seen what Westbrook looks like when he's not quite right (see '08), and it's sort of naive to believe that separate knee and ankle surgeries in the same offseason aren't cause for concern. And, yes, I think the Eagles need insurance at tailback. They need an instinctive runner who will perform well in the team's zone-blocking scheme. As I said earlier, I don't think James is the right fit at all. If you determine that Dunn still has a little something left, that's the direction I'd go. Rudi Johnson needs a fresh start, but I'm not sure Philly's a great fit for him either, Truthfully, there's no one out there who excites me. I'd give it some time and see what happens in the other training camps.
OK, we've surpassed 2,100 words. Alarms going off in Bristol. Thanks for your time.
Posted by ESPN's Sal Paolantonio
PHILADELPHIA -- In light of ankle surgery for Brian Westbrook, should the Eagles be in the market for a veteran running back?
Westbrook is having bone spurs in his right ankle removed Friday by Dr. Mark Myerson of Baltimore in a procedure called "debridement," which is essentially a clean-out of dead debris around his joint. Most orthopedic surgeons will tell you that Westbrook will not be able to run on that ankle for about six weeks. Two weeks of running and conditioning puts Westbrook on the doorstep of training camp, which opens for Eagles veterans July 29.
It is not unreasonable to believe that Westbrook will be held out of any contact drills at camp in the early stages and probably will not play for the first two preseason games.
In the meantime, that would be a heavy workload to put on backups Lorenzo Booker and rookie LeSean McCoy. Both are smallish backs: Booker is 5-foot-10, 191 pounds; McCoy is 5-10, 198. Before the season starts, that will be a lot of wear and tear on two backs who have yet to prove they can handle it. The Eagles have six more OTA practices until they break for the summer. Booker and McCoy will report to training camp with the rookies and selected veterans July 26.
Last year, Booker could not get on the field because he was an ineffective blocker and could not break tackles in the interior. He had just 20 carries for 53 yards and no touchdowns. At Pitt, the knock on McCoy was his blocking, which is critical in the Eagles' West Coast offense. If he can't pick up the blitz, he won't stay on the field very long.
And what if Westbrook, who already had offseason surgery on his left knee, has another setback? He turns 30 on Sept. 2. He is coming off his least productive year as an Eagle, especially in the playoffs, when he rushed for just 2.4 yards a carry, well below his postseason career average of 4.6 yards a pop.
So, whom can the Eagles target? They are $23 million under the NFL salary cap, the fifth-most cap room in the league. So, it's financially doable. Here is a list of free agents out there:
- Warrick Dunn: 34 years old, 786 rush yards, 330 receiving yards last season
- Ahman Green: 32 years old, 294 rush yards, 3 rushing touchdowns
- Rudi Johnson: 29 years old, 237 rush yards, 1 rushing touchdown
- Deuce McAllister: 30 years old, 418 rush yards, 5 rushing touchdowns
- Edgerrin James: 30 years old (31 in August), 514 rushing yards, 3 rushing touchdowns
- DeShaun Foster: 29 years old, 514 rushing yards, 1 touchdown
- Chris Perry: 27 years old, 269 rushing yards, 2 rushing touchdowns
- Michael Pittman: 33 years old, 320 rushing yards, 4 rushing touchdowns
Sal Paolantonio is an ESPN bureau reporter based in Philadelphia
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
|Mark Cunningham/Getty Images|
|The Eagles might be better off waiting until the middle rounds to pick a running back. Shonn Greene is one possibility.|
As we prepare to finalize the Beast draft board, which oddly enough looks almost exactly like Todd McShay's, something keeps bothering me. Yes, I know that Eagles fans and their local reporters have all but assured us the club will take a running back in the first round, but I'm still not buying it.
Maybe it has something to do with the Eagles not taking a running back in the first round since Keith Byars in 1986. Or perhaps it's the fact they recently gave All-Pro running back Brian Westbrook, a third-round pick in 2002, a long-term extension. I know he turns 30 this September, but it seems a bit premature to start planning his retirement party.
Even the Philadelphia Daily News' esteemed NFL columnist, Paul Domowitch, has issued a running back guarantee in the first round, although the Eagles had two picks at the time. The thought is the Eagles will select either Georgia running back Knowshon Moreno or Ohio State's Chris "Beanie" Wells with that No. 21 overall pick. My response to that is, "Why?"
If you don't think talented running backs grow on trees, you haven't looked around the NFC East lately. Over the last couple seasons, the Giants have had one of the best stable of running backs in the league. Starter Brandon Jacobs was taken in the fourth round out of Southern Illinois. His backup the past two seasons, Derrick Ward, was taken by the Jets in the seventh round in 2004, and he signed a four-year, $17 million contract with Tampa Bay thos offseason. And the man dubbed "Fire" in the Giants' version of "Earth, Wind and Fire," Ahmad Bradshaw, was the 250th pick in the 2007 draft.
The Cowboys are led by feature back Marion Barber (fourth-rounder), and former Georgia Tech star Tashard Choice (fourth round) appears to be an excellent complementary piece to Barber and first-rounder Felix Jones. When you throw in Westbrook, three of the top four running backs in the division were taken in the third round or later.
|An inside look at tight end Brandon Pettigrew from Oklahoma State.|
And if we're being too provincial, let's take a look at a team like the San Diego Chargers that has hit on backs like Michael Turner (fifth round) and Darren Sproles (fourth round). I could bring up the ultimate second-day guy in Terrell Davis, but this is starting to feel like overkill. (Priest Holmes anyone?)
So, explain to me again why the Eagles have to take a running back in the first round Saturday? In my mind, it would be a luxury pick, which is OK if you don't have a specific need at any position. But I happen to think the Eagles would be foolish to call Brent Celek their No. 1 tight end and just move on down the road -- especially with a potentially elite player such as Oklahoma State's Brandon Pettigrew sitting there. There, I've said it. I would take Pettigrew before either of the top running backs (Moreno and Wells). You might even be able to trade down a spot or two and still end up with Pettigrew.
In his latest seven-round mock draft, Todd McShay has Wells going to the Chargers at No. 16 overall and Moreno going to the Eagles at No. 21. I think most Eagles fans would be pleased with that result, but I think the Eagles would be better off taking someone like Iowa's Shonn Greene in the third round. Both Moreno and Greene have excellent instincts and would be good fits in the Eagles' zone running game. I've talked to scouts who've said that Wells would be much better suited in a power running game that features more angle blocking. And if you don't like my man Greene, take a look at LeSean McCoy in the second round. I just don't see a huge separation between the first-, second- or third-round running backs. Now if you want to refute some of the things I'm saying, check out this Bob Brookover story in the Philly Inquirer.
Though management hasn't admitted as much, perhaps the Eagles are a little gun shy about waiting on a running back this year because of their recent past. Spending third-round picks on Ryan Moats in 2005 and Tony Hunt in 2007 didn't exactly work out -- and so far the Lorenzo Booker experiment (acquired in a trade) isn't faring much better. Maybe they think it's time to end the 23-year streak of not taking a back in the first round.
In my mind, the Eagles are better off waiting at running back. This time of year, I talk to a lot of scouts. But sometimes it's important to talk to the men who are actually going to coach these players. I wanted to know why running backs seem to have an easier time making the transition to the NFL than other position players -- and why you can find so many of them throughout the draft.
"I think it's because that's where you put your best athletes," said the Jets' new running backs coach, Anthony Lynn. "The running back position is more instinctive than any of the other spots. That's something you can't coach. You either have it or you don't. And for whatever reason, the guys who have it aren't confined to the top of the draft."
If the Eagles stay at No. 21 Saturday, they'll have a decision to make at running back. My suggestion is that they stick to tradition -- and wait.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- We're about 30 minutes away from kickoff and Giants running back Brandon Jacobs just called all his teammates over for a spirited discussion in the end zone.
It's in the high 20s, but the players are under bright sunshine. A lot of people were worried about high winds, but right now, it doesn't seem like much of a factor on the field. Sal Paolantonio will be joining me in a moment. We'll see if he has any last-minute information.
No huge surprises there. Lewis was carted off the field before last week's game against the Vikings with an ankle sprain but he returned. Schobel, of TCU fame, was in the lineup last week because of L.J. Smith's absence. We'll see if Smith gets his starting job back. Brent Celek has played really well in his absence.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
Start your mid-morning off right with headlines from around the division. Here's what's happening in the Beast today:
- Jean-Jacques Taylor of the Dallas Morning News addresses the Pacman situation in his weekly newsletter.
- Clarence E. Hill of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram thinks the 2008 Cowboys have more intestinal fortitude than the 2007 team -- based on one game.
- Jason Witten says his ribs are feeling better -- and Adam "Pacman" Jones' attorney is hoping Roger Goodell looks at the "totality of the circumstances."
- Wide receiver Miles Austin could be out 2 to 4 weeks with a knee injury.
- Goose Gosselin thinks 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis could slow down Marion Barber.
- Will Smith and Tony Romo make an appearance together -- two blocks from my house in Lake Highlands.
- Calvin Watkins talks to former Cowboys defensive end Jim Jeffcoat about how his reduced role in the early 1990s extended his career. It's hard to convince Greg Ellis of that right now.
- Star-Telegram beat writer Rick Herrin has some good background on the Cowboys-49ers series.
- Les Bowen takes a long look at what's ailing the running game. It looks like Brian Westbrook is still affected by the high ankle sprain and knee injury.
- Joe Flacco is looking forward to facing his childhood team.
- Bob Brookover has a story on John Harbaugh's relationship with Andy Reid.
- Ben Roethlisberger has rushed to Donovan McNabb's defense.
- Big Ben won't appreciate this Bob Ford column poking fun at McNabb.
- Ralph Vacchiano talks about Brandon Jacobs' status for Sunday's game against Arizona. Jacobs told ESPN's "First Take" that he would probably sit the game out.
- Mike Garafolo has more on the topic in the Star-Ledger.
- Tom Rock has an excellent story detailing Brandon Jacbos and Derrick Ward's contract situations.
- Paul Schwartz of the New York Post talks about how well some former Giants quarterbacks are playing.
- Bob Glauber checks in with a column on "The Fumble."
- Jason La Canfora files a report on the Redskins' anemic pass rush.
- Ryan O'Halloran of the Washington Times says that DeAngelo Hall has fit right into the Redskins' locker room.
- Will we see the rookie duo of Malcom Kelly and Devin Thomas at some point this season?
- Dan Steinberg of the DC Sports Bog says the Redskins have successfully made a mockery out of the Pro Bowl voting process.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
PHILADELPHIA, Pa. -- Just had a cup of coffee with Giants GM Jerry Reese. But more on that in a moment. First, let's post tonight's inactives.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
Eagles head coach Andy Reid decided not to wait until game day to rule out running back Brian Westbrook (ribs) for Sunday's game against the 49ers. He admitted that the upcoming bye week played a role in his decision to rest Westbrook, who was injured in the first quarter of last Sunday's 23-17 loss to the Redskins. Reid:
"Brian wants to go. He's in the mindset that he wants to play, but it's a decision that I've got to make. He's a tough nut and I know that. I've got to do what I think is best for him and the football team down the road. It made the decision a little easier for me than it is for him. Obviously, he wants to contribute and compete."
Reid also ruled out right guard Shawn Andrews and wide receiver Reggie Brown for the game. Defensive end Juqua Parker didn't practice Friday, but Reid thinks he'll play. If you're trying to connect the dots, this means that Correll Buckhalter will receiver the bulk of the carries in San Francisco and Lorenzo Booker will get the leftovers. Booker has been slow to grasp Reid's offense, which is baffling when you consider that he had the entire offseason.
For more information on the Eagles' injury situation, please read our weekly "Audibles" at 4 p.m. ET today.
The Eagles were kind enough to forward us the transcript of Andy Reid's news conference from earlier today. Reid was riveting as always:
"Obviously, we are disappointed by the game. We didn't perform the way we needed to on the offensive side, which is my responsibility. We didn't start the game the way we needed to start the game, that's also my responsibility, both sides of the football and special teams with our kicker and the missed field goals. I thought we were poor in the red zone and poor on third down, which is an obvious statement. We have to do better there, which we'll work on. We have to start faster on the defensive side, I thought we finished very strong. The turnovers that we are generating are tremendous, [and] we have to keep those coming.
Then, obviously, when we have a chance to make field goals, we need to make the field goals. I mentioned before coming out of the Dallas game, I thought this was a mentally tough football team, and I still feel that way. Weeks like this right here, you have be mentally tough and you have to realize that it's a long season. You're just coming off the most important game and you have to get on to the most important game this week against the Redskins. As a coaching staff, we went through the tape, analyzed it, and we are moving on to Washington. We'll teach the players, show them their mistakes, they'll learn from it, and again, we keep it moving forward."
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
Now that we're three weeks into the season, some of you are starting to feel some anxiety about your teams. In some precincts (not in ours), fans are experiencing full-blown panic attacks.
Those poor Patriots were stunned by an ol' SEC trick that Dolphins quarterbacks coach David Lee had in his hip pocket. And Jets fans can't believe the Brett Favre honeymoon phase already has ended.
Teams in the NFC East have a combined 10-2 record. The word "panic" seems a little strong at this point, so we'll focus on potential "concerns."
The New York Giants (3-0) woke up with some concerns this morning. For reasons that we've yet to hear, star receiver Plaxico Burress decided to skip team meetings Monday. He also didn't pick up the phone when GM Jerry Reese and coach Tom Coughlin started calling. He's now been suspended for the Oct. 5 game against the Seahawks.
This is no time to panic, but it's not a good sign when your top receiver decides to flake out. We'll continue to monitor the situation throughout the afternoon.
In Philly, it looks like running back Brian Westbrook will miss Sunday's game in Chicago with an ankle injury. Correll Buckhalter and Lorenzo Booker should do an adequate job filling in, so I don't advise anyone to push the panic button.
The Cowboys are once again missing starting left guard Kyle Kosier, but Cory Procter will do a nice job filling in. The Redskins will be without defensive end Jason Taylor against the Cowboys. You'd love to have your top pass rusher against a guy like Tony Romo, but based on Taylor's play so far this season, this isn't anything to get worked up about.
As I stated recently in a column, this the best division in football. Let's wait a week or two before anyone panics.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
The Beast bureau in Philly has been monitoring the Brian Westbrook situation pretty closely the past couple days. As Les Bowen reports, Westbrook showed up for his weekly radio appearance last night and provided a few details.
He said the injury, which occurred on the first play of the second quarter, is "closer to being a high ankle sprain than anything else."
As you might expect, Eagles coach Andy Reid wasn't exactly tipping his hand on Westbrook's status Monday, saying it was "literally a day-to-day situation, and I'm sure it'll be a race to get him ready for Sunday."
But listening to Westbrook describe the injury doesn't offer a lot of hope for that he'll be ready for the Bears.
"I tried to jump over [Tra Thomas'] legs. My left foot came down on one of his legs, and my right foot got caught in the turf... it was painful, very painful."
Reid might continue to call Westbrook a game-time situation all week, but it's highly unlikely that he'll play him. Correll Buckhalter and Lorenzo Booker will receive the bulk of the playing time in Westbrook's absence. It's a great opportunity for Buckhalter, who knows a thing or three about dealing with injuries. I had a chance to sit down and visit with Buckhalter last month about how he views his career. Now in his eighth season, he's missed three entire seasons due to injury. His best year came in 2003, when he rushed for 542 yards and eight touchdowns. He also caught 10 passes for 133 yards and had a touchdown.
The Eagles drafted Westbrook a year after Buckhalter. It looked like the two players would be a lethal combination, but Buckhalter simply couldn't stay on the field.
"I still think I could be a feature back in this league," Buckhalter told me. "Even now, I still have the ability to be an every-down guy. It just hasn't worked out that way. This team still seems to value what I can give them, though, and that's something I appreciate."
It's remarkable that Buckhalter has been able to retain a lot of his speed despite the knee surgeries. It would've been interesting to see how his career had turned out without the knee surgeries. In 2003, Westbrook rushed for 613 yards, and Buckhalter had 542.
But for at least a week or two, Buckhalter will be the feature back again. It wouldn't surprise me if he puts up big numbers.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
Cleveland Browns at Dallas Cowboys, 4:15 p.m. ET
What you need to know: As my colleague James Walker points out, the Browns have been awful in season-openers (1-8) since returning in 1999. When the schedules were released this offseason, this seemed like a marquee matchup for Week 1, but now conventional wisdom suggests the Cowboys will roll. Even with all the injuries at wide receiver, the two starters Terrell Owens and Patrick Crayton are still available. And rookie Felix Jones and tight end Jason Witten are like having two more receivers.
The Cowboys may have already sent an advance party to Tampa to set up Super Bowl operations, so the season-opener should be a formality. Wade Phillips, who was portrayed as a tender soul on HBO's "Hard Knocks," begins the season squarely on the hot seat. The Jason Garrett coaching family currently outnumbers the Phillips family, 3-2, on the staff, but Bum's always a phone call away. Like it or not, Phillips needs to win at least two playoff games to keep his job, but he'll have to pick up a couple of regular-season wins first.
Prediction: Cowboys 34, Browns 21
Tony Romo torches the Browns' secondary and DeMarcus Ware sacks Derek Anderson three times. The Dawgpound will sound like a golf gallery by the fourth quarter.
St. Louis Rams at Philadelphia Eagles, 1 p.m. ET
What you need to know: This game has blowout written all over it. Who cares if Donovan McNabb will be playing with inexperienced wide receivers. It's not like the experienced ones are world-beaters. He's attempted to temper the enthusiasm for rookie DeSean Jackson, but it's a lost cause for this receiver-starved fan base. With the exception of T.O., McNabb's never known what it is to throw to a superstar, but it's never held him back that much.
And plus, he has a superstar in the backfield. Armed with a new contract, Brian Westbrook is poised to have a huge season. And the addition of Lorenzo Booker gives Philadelphia a nice change-of-pace player. Let's not kid ourselves about the Rams. Even with the addition of rookie defensive end Chris Long, this is still a bad football team. Steven Jackson is a great running back, but his quarterback, Marc Bulger's career is running a fade pattern. Eagles cornerback Lito Sheppard will stop complaining in time to play an effective game in the nickel defense, and defensive end Trent Cole will batter Bulger. This is a great way for the Eagles to begin the season.
Prediction: Eagles 31, Rams 10
Take this one to the bank. Andy Reid isn't fighting the distractions that plagued him heading into last season. He and McNabb think they can make a Super Bowl run, and in the watered down NFC, that's a definite possibility.