NFC East: Mat McBriar

Cowboys re-sign Chris Jones

March, 10, 2014
Mar 10
IRVING, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys punter Chris Jones has signed his exclusive rights tender of $645,000.

The move chews up $150,000 of the roughly $2 million worth of salary-cap space.

Jones averaged 45 yards per punt in his first full season with the Cowboys. He appeared in two games in 2011 as an injury replacement for Mat McBriar and four games in 2012 before a partially torn anterior cruciate ligament ended his season.

Jones had a 39.1-yard net average and had 30 of his 77 punts end up inside the opponents’ 20. Teams averaged only 9.2 yards per punt return against the Cowboys in 2013.

Earlier in the offseason the Cowboys signed kicker Dan Bailey to a seven-year extension worth $22.5 million.
Punter links, cornerback links, draft links ... we got em all. Links ahoy!

New York Giants

Ohm Youngmisuk's reaction to the Giants' re-signing of Kevin Boothe is multi-faceted. He believes James Brewer should get the shot at right tackle with David Diehl remaining on the team as a versatile offensive line backup. He thinks it becomes less necessary in the Giants' minds to draft an offensive lineman early (though he still thinks they should). And he thinks the two biggest contract issues the Giants face now are those of their two starting wide receivers. I think Youngmisuk's got it all just about right.

Giants defensive lineman Shaun Rogers had about $500,000 worth of jewelry stolen while he was staying at a very nice South Beach hotel. That stinks.

Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles were not a good punting team in 2012, so they went out and upgraded at punter, bringing in two-time all-pro punter Donnie Jones and saying good-bye to Mat McBriar. Not a lot to say on this. If the guy punts well, it's a good move. If not, they'll go get another punter.

Victor Butler couldn't crack the lineup in Dallas as a 3-4 outside linebacker behind DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer and there doesn't appear to be room for him in the Cowboys' new 4-3 scheme. So the free agent is out looking for a new team, and his next stop is in Philadelphia. Can't have too many pass-rushers, they tell me.

Washington Redskins

Speaking of visits, free-agent cornerback Antoine Winfield, who had a fine year for the Vikings in 2012 but is turning 36 in June and got cut because it's a hard, cruel world out there in the NFL, is visiting the Redskins. Winfield would be a tremendous fit for the Redskins as a one-year stopgap at cornerback while they continue to try not to let their salary-cap penalty problem affect any future seasons. We shall see if they can fit him in the budget. My sense on E.J. Biggers, who signed last week, is that he's more of a No. 3 cornerback, which they also need.

Oh, and in case you're sitting there thinking to yourself, "I'd really like to see some pictures of Robert Griffin III with an elephant and other assorted circus performers," here.

Dallas Cowboys

Talent has never been the question with Dez Bryant. Maturity and understanding of the importance of his character off the field have. But as Calvin Watkins writes, those things may be coming into focus for Bryant at age 24. I mean, he's still only 24.

We have discussed the ways in which the Cowboys' switch to a 4-3 defensive front under Monte Kiffin should benefit middle linebacker Sean Lee and defensive tackle Jay Ratliff, but here's a smart look at the way in which it should lead to big-play opportunities for weakside linebacker Bruce Carter.
Aw, man. I think the other seven division bloggers are laughing at me again. I thought it wouldn't be this way this year. Anyway, links, in updated standings order.

New York Giants (6-4)

The good folks at ESPN Stats & Information took a look at what's wrong with Eli Manning, in light of questions about whether he's dealing with a tired arm. They see a serious downward trend over the past three games in Manning's ability to throw the deep ball, and in particular his ability to connect with Victor Cruz down the field. The big plays have been missing for the Giants, and that's likely to be a focus of theirs during the bye week.

Manning did connect with Cruz on one deep ball in the fourth quarter for a sure touchdown, but Cruz dropped the ball. This is the way things are going for the Giants right now. The most reliable elements of their roster are not playing reliably right now. They have pulled out of these things in the past and likely will again. But in the meantime, they have blown a chance to put the division on ice.

Dallas Cowboys (4-5)

There are good Dez Bryant days and bad Dez Bryant days. And as Tim MacMahon writes, Sunday was the kind of day that helps you realize why the Cowboys are determined to stick with Bryant. He has the kind of talent to make game-changing plays. He made a couple of them in the victory over the Eagles.

Dwayne Harris said he knew Mat McBriar had outkicked his coverage and that he'd have a chance to return the fourth-quarter punt for a touchdown as soon as it left McBriar's foot. It was the play that changed the game, breaking a 17-17 tie and starting a fourth quarter in which the Cowboys would score twice on defense and once on special teams. It also earned Harris the spot as the punt returner on this week's edition of the All-NFC East Team. Doesn't matter if Rueben Randle's been better all year in this case. Harris is the first player in the NFC East to return a punt or a kick for a touchdown in my two seasons running the blog, and I have said since last year that whoever broke the drought would get the spot. So, congrats to Dwayne.

Philadelphia Eagles (3-6)

We do not know yet whether Michael Vick will recover from his concussion and be cleared to play Sunday against the Redskins. But Eagles coach Andy Reid made it clear after the game that, if Vick is deemed healthy enough to play, he will play and remain the starting quarterback ahead of rookie Nick Foles. This is the correct decision as long as the Eagles are not mathematically out of the playoff hunt (which they are not), and I didn't see anything Foles did Sunday to make anyone think otherwise.

Lots of people asking for names of potential candidates to replace Reid as Eagles coach, assuming this is it for him in Philadelphia. Jeff McLane took up this issue and is throwing some speculative names out there, trying to handicap each one's chances. Too early to get any real definition on this, but if you just want fun with names, have at it.

Washington Redskins (3-6)

Through his first nine games as a pro, Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III is "the most well-rounded and talented guy" offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan says he's ever coached. They're disappointed in Washington with their record so far, but they're nothing but thrilled with the quarterback for whom they traded three first-round picks and a second-rounder.

Are the Redskins leaning too hard on the atypical, college-style elements of the offense around Griffin? It's a worthwhile question, and the answer may well be yes. But without Pierre Garcon and Fred Davis, Griffin's best passing-game targets, and with the receivers who are playing dropping passes, it's fair to assume the Redskins can't open things up at this point.

Breakfast links: False starts in Dallas

September, 26, 2012
You got questions, I got links.

Dallas Cowboys

Among Calvin Watkins' observations from Sunday's game is a very interesting suggestion that the false-start penalties might not be completely the fault of the men committing them. Calvin writes that a large part of the problem is that backup center Ryan Cook, who arrived in the final week of preseason and is playing in place of injured starter Phil Costa, is having trouble with Tony Romo's cadence. Man. I know we've discussed the idea of whether Bill Callahan can help this line improve as the year goes along, but there are serious, fundamental problems he's dealing with, and he has some work to do just to bring it up to baseline acceptable. Callahan is coaching a remedial-level offensive line.

With Barry Church done for the season, the Cowboys have signed safety Eric Frampton, a career special-teamer whose presence could free up Danny McCray to play on the defense more. This shows that there are no very good solutions out there at safety at this point in the season, and the Cowboys are going to have to mix and match to replace Church.

Philadelphia Eagles

Second-year punter Chas Henry had a great first week but wasn't good in Week 2 or Week 3, so he's out and former Cowboys punter Mat McBriar (who lost the job to Henry in camp) is back in and fired up about it. People were asking me on Twitter if the Eagles were trying to "send a message" by cutting Henry after their first loss of the year. I think they were just trying to improve their punting.

Jeff McLane went to the tape (and the stopwatch) to address the questions of whether and why Michael Vick holds onto the ball too long. His findings are interesting, and as usual there's plenty of blame to go around.

New York Giants

The Giants hate that the Eagles have beaten them seven out of the past eight times, and the taste of the most recent loss -- last December's home loss to Vince Young -- lingers for an angry bunch that's hoping to take care of business against its rivals Sunday night in Philadelphia.

The expectation among those who cover the Giants is that Ahmad Bradshaw will reclaim his starting running back job now that he's healthy again, but we're all eager to hear what Tom Coughlin has to say, starting today, about how the carries will be divvied and what role remains for super-sub Andre Brown the rest of the year.

Washington Redskins

The NFL is expected to fine Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan $25,000 for his outburst against the officials at the end of Sunday's game. As I wrote here Monday, the league has no choice but to stand behind its officials, regardless of the job they're doing, as long as they insist on perpetrating the replacement-officials farce. Also, Shanahan was way out of line. That combination of stuff means a big fine for Kyle.

One of the big stories this week in Washington is the number of hits rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III has been taking as he's running around and directing the Redskins' frantic-but-productive offense. Stephen Whyno takes a look at the issue.
Mark Simon of ESPN Stats & Information is back this year with his wildly popular "Punter of the Week" feature. Well, all right. I guess "wildly popular" is stretching it a bit. I know I like it, though, and I'm pleased to inform you all that this year's first winner is from the NFC East.

Philadelphia Eagles punter Chas Henry, who boomed three of his six punts at least 60 yards in the Eagles' 17-16 victory over the Browns in Cleveland, is the Punter of the Week for Week 1. From Mark:
Henry set an Eagles record, averaging 55 yards on his six punts, and finished with a net of 42.0 (the Eagles punt coverage unit didn't have the best of days).

Henry's 55-yard average was the highest gross average by a punter with that many kicks since Shane Lechler averaged 56.5 yards against the Jets last September 25.

Henry exceeded the best day of his career by an average of nearly five yards (he averaged 50.3 yards per punt against the Redskins on January 1, 2012. He averaged 42.9 yards per punt last season, with a net of 36.9.

Henry finished with the second-best gross average of the week (minimum three punts). Thomas Morstead of the Saints averaged 55.6 yards per punt.

Not bad for a guy who, as recently as a couple of weeks ago, was pretty sure he wasn't even going to make the team. It was an upset that Henry beat out veteran Mat McBriar for the punting job, and when it happened I assumed it was because McBriar was still hurt. Turns out, it may well have been that Henry has taken a huge leap in his second season. If this is what the Eagles saw in practice, it must have been an easy decision.
I'm all out of witty introductions. The preseason games have broken my spirit. We have one more to go and then no more until 2013. And six days from tonight, the Giants and Cowboys will play for real. Six days, people. Six. We're going to make it. I promise. One link at a time. Well, okay, eight links at a time. Anyway, point is, links.

Dallas Cowboys

Doctors continue to monitor the lacerated spleen of Cowboys tight end Jason Witten, and while things are looking good, he doesn't appear to be out of the woods just yet. (By the way, Calvin Watkins is calling that thing a "slightly lacerated" spleen in this story. I'm thinking a "slightly" lacerated spleen can only be a spleen that isn't yours.) Anyway, no decision yet on Witten for Wednesday's regular-season opener. I can't imagine he plays, right? It's a spleen, not a hamstring. And they have 11 days between Games 1 and 2. I'd have to say sit out. But again, not my spleen, so we'll see.

Cornerback Mike Jenkins has been cleared to practice. Per league rules, he can't do so until Saturday. This news broke late Wednesday night and people were asking if I thought Jenkins could play in Wednesday's opener. How is that even a consideration? If he practices Saturday, Sunday and Monday and the team flies to New Jersey on Tuesday, that would give him a grand total of three practices. Since December. I'd be happy with Week 2 if I were you guys. Plus, setbacks and all.

New York Giants

Hakeem Nicks came out of Wednesday night's preseason finale feeling fine and 100 percent ready to go for next Wednesday. Which is all the Giants wanted to have happen with Nicks this week. It was his first game action since he broke his foot in the spring, and he seemed fine.

The way a couple of their back-of-the-roster guys have played in the preseason, the Giants are facing tougher decisions than they expected to face at defensive end, Mike Garafolo writes. Those final roster cuts are due by 9 pm ET on Friday, so the decisions will be made today or tomorrow, no matter how tough they may be.

Philadelphia Eagles

That backup quarterbacks Nick Foles and Trent Edwards have both been ascendant this preseason is no coincidence, given their relationship. Tim McManus has an interesting story about the way in which Foles and Edwards have helped each other this preseason. They could both make the team over Mike Kafka, who entered the preseason as Michael Vick's backup but has been out with a broken hand.

And it appears second-year man Chas Henry has won the punter competition in Philadelphia over former Cowboys punter Mat McBriar. This comes as a surprise and makes me think McBriar isn't fully healthy. Les Bowen thinks it might be because he isn't a great holder on field goals. I'd probably go with Les on this one, but let's see if McBriar gets a look somewhere else. If not, don't rule out that health thing.

Washington Redskins

When I want instant Redskins analysis -- and lots of it -- I click on John Keim. John's intrigued by Dezmon Briscoe, unconvinced on Brandon Banks and was really, really impressed with the technique Richard Crawford showed on his interception. And much, much more.

If you went to Wednesday's game, you didn't get to see Robert Griffin III play quarterback. But if you got there early enough, you got to see him kick some field goals in pregame warmups. I mean, it's not leaping tall buildings in a single bound. More like Roy Hobbs showing off his pitching arm that one time as he was running in from the outfield after New York Knights batting practice, but not exactly. Still, kind of a cool little thing.

Observation deck: Eagles-Browns

August, 24, 2012

You want to talk Nick Foles, and that's fine. The rookie quarterback the Philadelphia Eagles took in the third round looked very good again Friday night in a 27-10 victory over the Browns in Cleveland. Foles was 12-for-19 for 146 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. The interception was on his second pass of the night, and obviously he improved after that. The touchdown passes both came from in close and both after turnovers deep in Cleveland territory, but overall Foles looks like a guy who's not scared of the rush, makes good decisions and throws a very nice deep ball.

There is a chance, as Mike Kafka continues to sit out with a broken hand and Foles continues to impress in these preseason games, that the rookie could win the backup quarterback job. And I think that could potentially make sense for reasons that have nothing to do with preseason numbers. The fact is, Foles throws the deep ball better than Kafka does, and the speed-based Eagles offense needs someone with the arm strength to throw deep.

I don't think Foles would be an effective answer for the Eagles if Michael Vick had to miss significant time this year. I think, in a case like that, Kafka would be more likely to be able to manage the game and run the offense, and they could alter the playbook to suit his skills. But if Vick goes down in a game and has to miss a few plays or can't finish, it might make sense to go with Foles. No, he doesn't have Vick's mobility, but they could still run the downfield passing game and feel confident that they had a guy who could get the ball to DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. Something to think about.

Some other things I saw in the Eagles' third preseason game:
  • Foles wasn't the only Eagles rookie who had a good game. Wide receiver Damaris Johnson, who continues to look good in the return game, had two catches for 58 yards, including a 45-yarder from Foles while falling on his back. He also appeared to make a nice touchdown catch, but upon review it was ruled that he didn't have both feet in bounds. On the topic of rookies, linebacker Mychal Kendricks continues to look fast and alert and sure with his tackling.
  • The Eagles' defensive line is no joke. Derek Landri forced a fumble. Darryl Tapp and Brandon Graham had big games. These are guys who might not even be starters, and yes, next Friday the Eagles are going to have to make some tough decisions as they sort through their excellent options at defensive line. But if the Eagles' plan is to run wave after wave of fresh defensive linemen at teams, they appear well equipped to do so.
  • King Dunlap started at left tackle. Demetress Bell replaced him on the second offensive series but was beaten badly to allow LeSean McCoy to take a loss. At this point, you'd have to think Dunlap starts the regular-season opener, which oddly is right back in Cleveland in 16 days.
  • I know it's been criticized a lot in preseason, but I think the Eagles' defense looks fine. They're tackling well. They're covering well. It's just that, because they pursue so hard with the defensive linemen on every single play, there are going to be plays on which it looks like everything broke down. Happened on the Browns' first drive, when Brandon Weeden dumped the ball off to a wide-open tight end and converted a second-and-19. It's going to happen during the season too. It's like the opposite of a bend-don't-break defense. It's more of a "break-every-now-and-then-but-it's-okay-because-we're-making-the-quarterback's-life-miserable" defense. The risk is worth the reward, in other words.
  • There were still too many penalties -- seven for 47 yards -- but it wasn't anything close to last week's epidemic that prompted the Andy Reid-Cullen Jenkins sideline shouting match. There also were no sideline shouting matches this time.
  • Cliff Harris had an interception, Keenan Clayton blocked a punt... it was that kind of night. Everybody looked good, even the guys who aren't sure things to make the roster.
  • Chas Henry got to punt first and did well. Mat McBriar looked good too. Makes you think whichever one doesn't win the job has a chance to latch on somewhere else.
  • O.J. Atogwe sat out with an injury, which made Jaiquawn Jarrett and Phillip Thomas the backup safeties. This is not an area at which the Eagles have any reliable depth. They will lean hard on that defensive line to create pressure and the starting corners to cover and lock down receivers.
  • I like what I see from Brett Brackett, the backup tight end who caught one of Foles' touchdown passes. He was a standout performer in the training camp practices I attended a few weeks ago too. Hard to see how he makes the roster, but you never know.
  • Still like Bryce Brown as a runner better than Chris Polk, though Polk is the better blocker and had the better numbers Friday night. Dion Lewis is ahead of both of them as McCoy's backup, and he had a nifty 22-yard reception.
  • It's worth pointing out that quarterback Trent Edwards has played well this preseason. He was 14-for-17 for 127 yards and a touchdown in this one. I guess he could make it over Kafka if Foles surpasses Kafka on the depth chart. Still lots to sort out there.

Observation deck: Eagles-Patriots

August, 21, 2012

The story of the Philadelphia Eagles' 27-17 preseason victory over the Patriots on "Monday Night Football" was one of quarterbacks. Eagles starter Michael Vick was knocked out of the game by an injury for the second time in two weeks, taking a shot to the ribs that required X-rays (which were negative) and raising old red flags about his fragility and the manner in which his style of play contributes to that. That injury, combined with Mike Kafka's absence due to his own injury, pushed rookie Nick Foles into significant playing time, and Foles looked very good.

Foles was 18-for-28 for 217 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. It was his second impressive performance of the preseason. And while it's important to note that he has not played against first-team defenses, it's also worth raising the question of whether Foles could beat out Kafka for the No. 2 quarterback spot behind Vick. He's a rookie, and he'd likely make more mistakes than Kafka would if pressed into fill-in duty. But in practices and games he has shown a stronger arm and better touch on deep throws than Kafka has, and that matters in Philadelphia's speed-based offense. That difference alone could set Foles apart if he continues to impress and Kafka can't get on the field, and Foles showed impressive poise Monday night, along with the ability to handle many different aspects of the playbook.

I don't personally believe the Eagles can contend this year if Vick has to miss a significant period of time. But if he does need to sit out here and there due to injury, the Eagles and their fans have at least seen something from Foles that would make them feel a little bit better if they had to go with a rookie.

Here are some other things I noticed/saw/thought about the Eagles on Monday:

1. What was Andy Reid yelling about? I am certain that, if the Eagles have a great season, the head coach's first-half sideline shouting match with Cullen Jenkins and the defense will be looked back upon as a brilliant bit of motivation and leadership. I am equally sure that, if the Eagles have a poor season, that exchange will be regarded as a sign of insurmountable discord. Of greater likelihood than either of those is that it was an emotional outburst by a coach who was getting sick of dumb third-down penalties. And if you're worried about whatever happened there causing lasting damage to coach-player relationships, Reid's track record more than earns him the benefit of the doubt.

2. That said, penalties are unforced errors and a worthy subject of coaching scorn, even in the preseason. I've written many times here that preseason games are poor predictors of regular-season performance, because we don't know which teams are game-planning for these games and which are not. But penalties have little or nothing to do with whether the opponent is scheming to beat you. They're about discipline, attention and focus. The Eagles had 16 of them on Monday, for a total of 131 yards, and I would not be looking forward to my next practice right now if I were an Eagles player.

3. Mychal Kendricks was a defensive star in this game. He showed speed and instincts closing on running back Shane Vereen on a screen pass early in the game, and he got himself into the backfield to disrupt a couple of running plays. The Eagles' big linebacker addition was veteran middleman DeMeco Ryans, but Kendricks looks as though he could be an asset on the outside. The Eagles' defensive scheme is going to make its linebackers look bad at times. Even at its best, it relies on aggressiveness by the linemen up front. Because of they, they're likely going to get a lot of sacks and pressure a lot of quarterbacks. But an offshoot of that aggressiveness is that sometimes over-pursuit will open them up to the possibility of a big play. That puts a lot of responsibility on the linebackers to limit those plays, and when they don't, it's going to look ugly. The Eagles seem willing to accept that risk in exchange for the long-term reward their pressure schemes bring them. And they appear better equipped this year to limit damage at the second level.

4. Don't forget Brandon Boykin. The Eagles' fourth-round pick is more than holding his own in his fight with veteran Joselio Hanson for the role of nickel cornerback. He also showed explosiveness on a kickoff return and helped cause a turnover with his speed as a gunner on the punt coverage team. Hanson looked good in his turn at cornerback, too, but what Boykin brings on special teams should keep him on a roster and, at the very least, a persistent threat to Hanson's spot.

5. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie looked very active and very good before leaving the game with a shoulder injury. Reid said Rodgers-Cromartie wanted to go back in and didn't sound overly concerned.

6. King Dunlap played the whole first half at left tackle, and Demetress Bell was flagged for a couple of penalties during the second half. At this point, it would not be a surprise if the Eagles opened the season with Dunlap as the starting left tackle. It also wouldn't be a surprise if Bell worked to learn the schemes in a backup role and threatened to take the job back from Dunlap as the season went along, the way Danny Watkins did last year at right guard. Howard Mudd's schemes aren't easy for everyone to get right away.

7. The Eagles have some tough roster decisions at defensive line, but Phillip Hunt is going to be impossible to cut. Say whatever you want to say about his size, but they don't have anyone faster among their pass-rushers (which is saying something), and he's just made too many plays to overlook.

8. Punter note! Mat McBriar averaged 49.8 yards on his four punts. Chas Henry dropped both of his inside the 20 and one inside the 10. I don't think it's a real competition if McBriar proves himself healthy, but it's nice to see that Henry won't go down without a fight.

What to watch for: Eagles-Patriots

August, 20, 2012
The Philadelphia Eagles will play their second 2012 preseason game tonight at 8 ET against the New England Patriots in Foxborough, Mass. The game will be broadcast live on ESPN. Here are the things I'll be watching ...

Most closely: Michael Vick's performance. Eagles coach Andy Reid has said he plans to play his starters longer tonight than he does in next week's preseason game against the Browns, since the Eagles open in Cleveland 16 days later and he doesn't want to give the Browns any more help than he has to. That means this will likely be the longest look we get at the Eagles' starters this preseason. And that means a chance for Vick to show us the fruits of all of the hard offseason work he and the Eagles say he's been doing. The Eagles' party line is that this is the first real offseason Vick has had as the starting quarterback since 2006 in Atlanta, and as a result he's worked harder and better on refining his game. Vick says he's watched more film than ever before in his career, and that he's determined to fix the mistakes that led to all of his turnover problems early in 2011. What Eagles fans should want to see from Vick is improved decision-making -- not just with regard to his personal safety, but also in terms of knowing when to give up on a play for the sake of valuing the ball. I'm interested to see whether the offseason classroom work has made him a more proficient reader of the field and the defense, and how it works with him and center Jason Kelce in terms of changing the protection calls at the line. Vick is under the most pressure of any player in the NFL to perform this year, and while it doesn't matter what he does until Sept. 9 in Cleveland, it'd be encouraging for Eagles fans if they could come out of tonight's game convinced something about their quarterback looks different.

On the other side of the ball: Tackling, especially at the second level. I'm willing to believe that the defensive line will be the strength of the team once everyone's healthy, and I'm eager to watch Brandon Graham again after last week. But the Eagles' preseason opener featured some communication and tackling issues in the linebacker corps and in the secondary that were reminiscent of last season. And while I fervently believe that on-field preseason performance is a poor predictor of regular-season results, it can make fans (and, I assume, coaches) uneasy when a preseason problem reflects a prior-season problem you believed your team had solved. The same way a sharp Vick performance could help Eagles fans' optimism for the season, a sharp performance by the linebackers and the cornerbacks could help everyone feel better about the defense.

If I think of it: The backup running backs remain interesting. Does Dion Lewis look like he could be an effective fill-in for LeSean McCoy? Is Chris Polk or Bryce Brown the leader for that No. 3 spot? Could that come down to something as pedestrian as special-teams work or blitz pickup? ... Second-year safety Jaiquawn Jarrett could stand to show something, as the organization appears to be souring on him, if it hasn't already. ... The left tackle position is also one to watch in this game. Demetress Bell is the player they signed to replace injured star Jason Peters, but he's struggled badly enough to get demoted to the second team, and perennial backup King Dunlap has been starting in his place in practice. The coaches will have their eyes on both of those players, and I'm interested to see if McCoy is going to run more up the middle and to the right this year with Peters gone. ... The Eagles also have a punting competition going on between Chas Henry and Mat McBriar.

Observation deck: Steelers-Eagles

August, 9, 2012

The most important thing that happened during a 24-23 victory by the Philadelphia Eagles over the Pittsburgh Steelers in their preseason opener was the result of an X-ray. Starting quarterback Michael Vick left the game in the second quarter after banging his left thumb on the helmet of teammate Jason Kelce while throwing a pass. Vick, who throws left-handed, was in obvious pain on the sideline and spent the rest of the second quarter icing the thumb.

The Eagles announced at halftime that an X-ray taken on the thumb was negative, and cameras caught Vick on the sideline during the fourth quarter gripping a ball with his left hand. Coach Andy Reid said after the game that Vick had a thumb "contusion" and that the issue was a nerve on the top of his thumb that made it numb for a while, but that he was fine by the end of the game. So it appears the Eagles survived a scare, but the scare was a jarring reminder of Vick's importance to the Eagles' hopes and the low point of a very poor first-half performance by the team as a whole.

We make no broad conclusions based on the first preseason game (or any preseason game) -- only observations. The Eagles were playing without three of their starters on the defensive line, and starting wide receiver Jeremy Maclin injured his hamstring in pregame warm-ups. And of course, the Eagles have had a rough week following the death of Reid's oldest son on Sunday morning. All of that matters as we assess what happened -- good and bad -- in this game. So here goes.

1. They need to stretch more. Maclin strained his hamstring before warm-ups even started, Reid said. And defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins strained his during the first quarter. Reid said he didn't think Jenkins' injury was too serious. He sounded less happy about Maclin's. Starting defensive end Jason Babin is already out with a strained calf. Muscle pulls are an August bane for a lot of teams, but this has something of an epidemic feeling in Philly, no?

2. They need to tackle better. I'm sure they will, but after such a poor tackling 2011, this was not the way the Eagles wanted to look in the first half of their 2012 preseason. Missed tackles by everyone from Jaiquawn Jarrett to DeMeco Ryans were a problem as the Steelers marched down the field against them in the first half. The length of the Steelers' drives was the reason Vick was even in the game in the second quarter. The offense got to run only three plays in the first.

3. They're not kidding about that defensive line depth. I thought 2010 first-round pick Brandon Graham played like a star. Which, of course, is exactly what he is supposed to be. Finally healthy after a year and a half's worth of knee problems, Graham should be a significant addition to the pass rush. But overall, backup lineman Derek Landri, Darryl Tapp, Phillip Hunt, et al looked very good, especially on the pass rush. And assuming Jenkins, Babin and Trent Cole can all get back healthy, the Eagles' plans to rotate eight defensive linemen and "throw fastballs at the offensive line" has a good chance to work. They still need to at least pay some attention to the run and toughen up in the middle, but a lot of that is the responsibility of the linebackers in this defense.

4. Damaris Johnson is a factor. He was the starting wide receiver in place of Maclin, which was something of a surprise. But he's been practicing well and is obviously a help in the return game. He had a long punt return wiped out by a penalty.

5. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie needs to find his checkbook. Called for a penalty for launching himself into a receiver, Rodgers-Cromartie can expect a well-deserved fine. Stupid penalty that would have been costly had it been a real game. That play is on every instructional video the league shows players to tell them what not to do.

6. Vick versus the blitz. Vick didn't do much while in the game, but the one play that stands out for me was a negative one. The Steelers showed a blitz look but didn't blitz, and it confused Vick, who was surprised not to find anyone open and took a sack as he tried to leave the pocket. Reading defenses and identifying coverages and blitz schemes has long been a problem for Vick, who says he's working on it and still has a month left before the real games start.

7. Oh yeah. Nick Foles. Everybody on Twitter was all fired up about Foles and his two long touchdown passes. Foles makes a remarkable impression. He's a giant (6-foot-6) with a great big arm. Everything physical about him shouts, "star quarterback." But it's important to remember that he's a rookie who doesn't yet know the offense and still needs to refine his footwork and other mechanics. The Eagles drafted Foles because of his physical tools -- his arm in particular. But he's no threat right now to Mike Kafka as the backup. Unfortunately for Kafka, whose struggles to throw the deep ball are a particularly bad deficiency on the Eagles' speed-based offense, Foles profiles as the better player down the road. But not yet. No matter how good he looked Thursday night, Foles is still the No. 3.

8. The winning kick. No, the game doesn't count. But Alex Henery's 51-yard field goal with 12 seconds left that set the final score is a nice confidence booster for the Eagles' second-year kicker. Also take note that it was second-year punter Chas Henry who held on that kick. Henry also unleashed a 54-yard punt earlier in the game and is trying to hold off a serious challenge from former Cowboys punter Mat McBriar.

OK, that's more than enough off the first preseason game. In conclusion: No, they didn't look good, but it probably doesn't matter, and the most important thing is that Vick appears to have dodged a serious injury. On to preseason Week 2 for the Eagles, whose priority right now is to get everyone healthy.
Friday links. They are in a particular order, but I'm going to make you guess what it is. Winner gets absolutely nothing. Go.

Dallas Cowboys

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

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

Philadelphia Eagles

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

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

Washington Redskins

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

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

New York Giants

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

Eli Manning is a funny guy. He said he told David Carr to take his shirt off while running post-practice sprints so the Giants could get some of the same coverage the Jets are getting. The Giants like to bag on the Jets. The Jets make it easy. And yes, Manning really is a funny guy.
BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- So yeah, I will be heading home tonight to spend a few days with the family before jetting off to Oxnard on Sunday to see the Cowboys. But before I go, I have another fun and productive day planned at Eagles camp. We also have Redskins Camp Confidential running this morning, and believe it or not I still have more in the notebook from my time with the Giants in Albany last week. I am out here cranking it up for you guys, and I'm having fun doing it. Now, before I head out there today, what should I have? Bacon? Ham? Corned beef hash? Oh no, that's right. I almost forgot. Links.

Washington Redskins

John Keim writes that "the Redskins have a running game; they just don't have their running back," and he goes on to explain that in a way that makes sense and takes a look at the various strengths and weaknesses of the backs in the mix to be Washington's starter. I'm thinking the preseason games help everyone sort this all out.

The players in the mix at the safety position for the Redskins all have something in common -- they're all trying, in some way or another, to recover from some past trouble or resurrect their careers.

Dallas Cowboys

Since it was a day that ended in "Y," Jerry Jones had something to say, and this time he was talking about Dez Bryant. While the Cowboys organization has said several times that it's supporting Bryant in spite of his recent arrest on family violence charges, Jones has been making it clear the past couple of days that he's mad at Bryant for getting in trouble again and that his patience won't last forever. Tough love, I think this is called. Or something.

Running back DeMarco Murray says it's "definitely unacceptable" that the Cowboys only had five rushing touchdowns last year. It suffices to say that Murray will seek to raise that number in 2012.

New York Giants

Our Adam Schefter reports that injured Giants cornerback Terrell Thomas may yet be able to play again this season. Adam says the doctors who have seen Thomas so far don't think his ACL is torn again. He's going to have Dr. James Andrews look at it next week, and obviously everybody's hoping for the best. But the Giants haven't been speaking optimistically about this at all, and they announced it not as a knee injury, but as an ACL injury when they put out a release on it Monday night. So we'll see.

With Thomas (and many other Giants cornerbacks) out last year, safety Antrel Rolle had to move up and serve as the team's nickel cornerback. Rolle has said he's been looking forward to leaving that behind and just playing safety this year. And even if Thomas' injury isn't as severe as it first appeared, they may not need Rolle to do that again this year. But it remains a possibility.

Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles do have a ton of depth on the defensive line, but it's unlikely they wanted to test that out as much as the first two weeks of training camp have. Projected starters Trent Cole and Cullen Jenkins have joined projected starters Mike Patterson and Jason Babin on the sideline due to injuries now, and while none of the injuries (other than Patterson's situation, which is that he's still recovering from brain surgery) appear to be long-term or serious, it's startling to think that all four defensive line starters are already hurt. It's also pretty startling, though in the other direction, to realize that two of their replacements are first-round picks.

Mat McBriar was at practice Wednesday, and he talked about his situation last year in Dallas and why he wanted to come to the Eagles. McBriar has a good chance to beat out Chas Henry and be the Eagles' punter this year if his foot can get healthy.

Yeah, this is a Mat McBriar post

July, 25, 2012
We don't ignore punters or punting on this blog. You should know this by now. It's too vital a part of the game. Think about last year's New York Giants. In an effort to create competition for Matt Dodge after his disappointing rookie season, the Giants signed Steve Weatherford, who was somehow available in spite of being one of the best punters in the league. Weatherford won the job somewhat easily and went on to be arguably the MVP of the NFC Championship Game. (He had a case in the Super Bowl, too, though I don't think it's possible for a punter to win such an award.) The juxtaposition between what Weatherford gave the Giants last year and Dodge's inability to kick the ball out of bounds in the game that killed their 2010 season is dramatic but illustrative.

Perhaps the Philadelphia Eagles were paying attention. They have signed former Dallas Cowboys punter Mat McBriar, whom the Cowboys cast aside because of the foot injuries that limited him so much in 2011. Chas Henry was OK in his 2011 rookie season, but the Eagles have spied an opportunity to get better. McBriar's a two-time Pro Bowler who led the league in punting average as recently as 2010. The question about him -- and the reason he's not still a Cowboy -- is whether his foot is healthy. Andy Reid said today McBriar was "90 percent" as he continues to recover from nerve damage in his plant foot. And while a 90 percent McBriar may well be able to beat out a 100 percent Henry, the decision is likely to come down to whether McBriar can prove himself healthy and remain so.

The main reason I did this post was because Cowboys fans on my Twitter feed seem upset that McBriar would leave for a division rival. But all indications are that the Cowboys are happy with Chris Jones as their punter, and Tim MacMahon writes that after working out for Philadelphia on Monday and Dallas on Tuesday, McBriar liked the Eagles' offer better. Hey, a guy's got to eat.

Breakfast links: Six weeks to go

July, 25, 2012
Yes, six weeks from tonight, the Giants and the Cowboys will begin the NFL season at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. It's coming. It may be coming slowly, but it's coming. Meantime, you can always count on the links.

Dallas Cowboys

Man, Sean Lee sure gets it about Penn State. In spite of his loyalty to his alma mater, Lee actually believes the most important part of this whole sad mess is the victims, and he's fine with the heavy sanctions and the removal of the Joe Paterno statue as long as it all helps make sure nothing similar ever happens again.

Dez Bryant's college coach says "we were with him all the time every step of the way" at Oklahoma State. Obviously, that's tough for the Cowboys to do, but the trick to fixing what ails Bryant is finding ways to better monitor what he's up to when he's not with the team. Not sure how that can work for a grown professional athlete (as opposed to a collegiate one), but that's surely at least part of the team's goal.

New York Giants

Ohm's position-by-position camp preview looks at tight ends, including the possibility that Christian Hopkins is this year's Jake Ballard. We've not touched on Hopkins much here when discussing the Giants' tight ends, but given the team's and Eli Manning's record of developing guys on the roster into productive players, we can't overlook Jerry Reese's assertion that Hopkins might be one this year.

Not catching one single pass during his rookie season is not what Jerrel Jernigan expected, and he tells Paul Schwartz that troublesome stat got his attention. Jernigan understands he's not at Troy anymore, and says he wants to work to earn that No. 3 receiver spot vacated by Mario Manningham.

Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles announced this morning that they have signed former Cowboys punter Mat McBriar to a one-year contract. This is interesting because they appeared to like punter Chas Henry last year during his rookie season and because the reason the Cowboys hadn't yet brought back McBriar was health. One of the best punters in the league before last season's foot injuries, McBriar obviously showed the Eagles he's healthy enough to kick during camp. The move could simply be for camp depth and/or to push Henry. But given McBriar's track record when healthy, it at least raises the possibility that the Eagles could make a change at the position this year.

Special teams coach Bobby April says the team may use DeSean Jackson less as a punt returner this year. Not for nothing, but Jackson's punt-return totals over his four-year career have been, in order, 50, 29, 20 and 17. So it kind of looks as though they've been using him less as a punt returner every year. And honestly, if you're going to cut his returns from 17... why put him back there at all? Personally, I think he's the best in the league and should return every punt. But they just signed him and, I'm sure, don't want to get him hurt if they can help it.

Washington Redskins

Brandon Meriweather says "don't nobody have a job yet" at safety for the Redskins, but the strong safety spot is actually his to lose. As Mike Jones writes, this is a big question-mark area for the Redskins as they open training camp today.

Chase Minnifield's agent says the reason for the move the Redskins made Tuesday to cut Minnifield was related to a procedure he had done recently on his knee, and that Minnifield isn't going to be able to play for anyone this season. The Redskins hope to get Minnifield through waivers and put him on injured reserve so they can try and work him into the mix again next year. They do like him, but they knew his knee was the big question mark going in.
Good rainy Wednesday morning to you here in the East. Let's have some links, shall we?

Dallas Cowboys

Second-year running back DeMarco Murray says he's "back 100 percent" and is enjoying the voluntary offseason program he's on with the Cowboys. All good news for Cowboys fans, as the offense functioned at a considerably higher level in 2011 after Murray got the starting running back job and before he broke his ankle in the first Giants game.

Calvin Watkins ponders whether the Cowboys have more work to do yet in free agency -- specifically at running back, wide receiver and punter. I do think they could stand to add depth at those first two positions and that they probably will, but I don't think they need to do anything splashy or spectacular at either spot. And they claimed punter Jake Rogers off waivers Tuesday, and I guess it's still possible that Mat McBriar could prove himself healthy and return. So, time to work on these things.

New York Giants

Somebody pointed out on the chat Tuesday this story about Hakeem Nicks saying he was looking forward to helping second-round pick Rueben Randle develop as an NFL wide receiver. It's not lip-service. First of all, it's the Giants' way. Second of all, NFL wide receivers don't come much cooler, more selfless or more self-assured than Nicks. I have no doubt that his words are sincere and that he will make good on them.

The Giants are mourning the loss of former wide receiver Stacy Robinson, who was a star of Super Bowl XXI and a member of each of the franchise's first two Super Bowl championship teams. Sad. Robinson was only 50 years old.

Philadelphia Eagles

Draft pick signings are less dramatic than they used to be, here in the second year of the rookie wage scale, and the Eagles somewhat easily got second-round pick Mychal Kendricks locked up on a four-year deal Tuesday. Not that it matters much, since unsigned rookies can still participate in this weekend's rookie minicamp, but it's an opportunity once again point out that Kendricks is in position to be a starting linebacker for the Eagles this season if he looks at all good in the preseason.

I like to joke with the Cowboys fans about how much they enjoy the offseason updates on Tony Romo's golf game, so it's only fair that I offer Eagles fans an update on Michael Vick's offseason efforts at chess. Here's a story in which Vick has his butt whipped by some high schoolers in the game he took up while in prison.

Washington Redskins

The first hearing in the grievance by the Redskins and Cowboys against the league and the NFLPA over the salary cap penalties is scheduled for Thursday, but don't expect much in the way of resolution. This is a hearing to determine jurisdiction -- i.e., whether those teams have the right to grieve this in front of the arbitrator and whether the NFL management council had the right to impose the penalties in the first place. More hearings are likely down the road.

Aldrick Robinson hopes his speed can set him apart in the Redskins' crowded wide receiver corps. The Redskins did promote him from the practice squad when other teams showed interest, so it's not as though the second-year wideout is off their radar. But the competition at those spots is going to be serious.