NFC East: Phil Taylor

Observation deck: Eagles-Browns

August, 25, 2011

The plan was for the Philadelphia Eagles' starters to play three quarters of Thursday night's preseason game against the Browns. But Michael Vick took such a beating in the first half, and it was raining so hard at halftime, that it just didn't make any sense to run him back out there. And while it's easy to look at the big picture and say the Eagles looked a lot better in this 24-14 exhibition victory than they did last week against the Steelers, the fact is the offensive line's play in the first half had to be extremely disconcerting to their fans and their coaches.

The issues Thursday were at and to the right of center. Rookie Jason Kelce got the start with the first team at center in place of veteran Jamaal Jackson, and he did little to make you think Jackson's job is or should be in jeopardy. Kelce had a holding penalty and a bad exchange with Vick, and he and fellow rookie Danny Watkins were repeatedly shredded by rookie Phil Taylor and the Cleveland defensive line. As a result, Vick was under pressure throughout the first quarter and didn't have time to find his wide receivers downfield.

Running back LeSean McCoy continued to look excellent as a runner and as a great check-down option for a harried Vick in the passing game. And if the line is going to be this shaky all season, McCoy could catch 100 balls. But the line has to get better, or it could sink this promising Eagles season.

Center can be fixed, of course, because they can just put Jackson back in there until Kelce is ready. And King Dunlap is only a fill-in starter at right tackle until Winston Justice and/or Ryan Harris are healthy. But Watkins was the first-round pick, and he's going to start. And he's going to have to block better and communicate better with whoever is out there to his right and left, or Vick is going to be knocked around a lot.

Now, as we keep saying, it's only preseason, and the Eagles still have more than two weeks of practice time in which to fix these problems. I am by no means saying they cannot or will not fix their issues. But while the result of this game doesn't matter any more than the result of last week's game did, there are some specific issues that came up, good and bad, and the poor play of the right side of the offensive line was the one that stood out the most.

Some others:

1. Better work by the linebackers this week. The Eagles' defense this season will be based on aggressive upfield pursuit by the defensive line, which means the linebackers will have to be more effective and responsible in coverage. We saw that Thursday night, especially from Jamar Chaney and rookie middle linebacker Casey Matthews. Last week was rough on Matthews, but the Eagles seem to have done a good thing for him this week, replacing him with Brian Rolle and/or Brandon Hughes on passing downs and allowing him to focus on playing the run more. Matthews' first-quarter highlight was a big stop on Montario Hardesty up the middle, and in general the linebackers in this game seemed to be in the right place and for the right amount of time much more reliably than they were against the Steelers.

2. Mike Patterson helps. Back in action less than a month after suffering a seizure on the practice field, Patterson was a big addition to the defensive tackle rotation. He picked up an early sack, drawing a nice ovation from the pre-rainstorm crowd at Lincoln Financial Field, and along with Cullen Jenkins, Derek Landri and Anthony Hargrove, he helped deliver somewhat consistent pressure up the middle as the game went along. If Antonio Dixon makes it back from his injury, the Eagles are going to have a very deep, very talented defensive line rotation that will allow them to keep everyone as fresh and aggressive as Juan Castillo and Jim Washburn want them to be throughout the games.

3. Vick was better but tough to evaluate. He didn't throw three interceptions, as he did last week, and in general he did a better job of identifying and reacting to the blitz. His inability to get the ball to his receivers wasn't his fault, as discussed above, but he did a good job of finding McCoy and, every now and then, taking off running when all else had failed. We're not likely to see him in the final preseason game, so this was his last warm-up before the regular season. But he'll surely hope Jeremy Maclin is back and fully healthy by then, since that will help matters all around.

4. The cornerbacks all did nice things. Nnamdi Asomugha was his swarming, suffocating self, taking receivers out of the game. Asante Samuel came up with an interception. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie blocked a kick. As they are on the defensive line, the Eagles are deep in the secondary, especially if Jarrad Page and Kurt Coleman can continue to make the contributions they're making at safety. In general, the defense was much more intense and directed this week. Again, we don't know what we're looking at in the preseason. The Eagles might have planned for this game, and the Browns might not have. But from a confidence standpoint, the Eagles had a lot more about which to feel good on defense than they did after Ben Roethlisberger took them apart seven nights earlier.

5. The Eagles are deep at running back, too. Ronnie Brown continues to look like a one-year steal, and Dion Lewis like a guy who could make it not matter if Brown leaves after one year. If McCoy is going to be leaned on heavily, the Eagles can feel good about their ability to give him breaks and keep him fresh.

I also thought both rookie kickers looked good and that in general most of the individual evaluations off this game had to be position. But the offensive line play in the first half was so alarming that it had to be the story of the night, and all eyes will be on the right side of that line once the games start for real.
Five years ago, Danny Watkins was a fireman in Canada.

On Thursday, the Philadelphia Eagles made him the 23rd pick in the NFL Draft. Five of his Canadian firefighter friends were at the draft with him, voicing their support.

Like his teammate, Phil Taylor, Watkins went higher than expected and gives the Bears two first-round picks in 2010 after having just one in Big 12 history (2009, Jason Smith).

Watkins is a solid tackle that some have called the safest pick in the draft. From the hockey rink to the fire station in Canada to junior college in California and eventually major college football in Waco, Texas, it's been quite a ride for the 6-foot-3, 310-pounder.

The next step starts in Philadelphia.

Draft Watch: NFC East

March, 24, 2011
NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: schemes and themes.

Dallas Cowboys

Although Jerry Jones has been reluctant to use early draft picks on offensive linemen over the past six drafts, the Cowboys have a huge hole at right tackle. The interior of this line also could use an influx of young talent. Dallas loves big, mauling, heavy offensive linemen for its scheme. There isn’t a pure prototypical right tackle, per se, who matches up with Dallas’ formula for offensive linemen given where it selects in Round 1, but I contend that USC’s Tyron Smith might be too good to pass up.

Smith doesn’t fit the typical Dallas mold for linemen, but he has put on a lot of weight during the draft process and his upside is off the charts. The Cowboys obviously have a plethora of talent in the passing game, so adding a high-end athlete -- even for the right side -- would be hard to argue with. But if Dallas passes on the offensive line in the first frame, TCU’s Marcus Cannon, Miami’s Orlando Franklin, Florida’s Marcus Gilbert or Baylor’s Danny Watkins all could fit the mold as potential starting right tackles.

New York Giants

Like Dallas, the Giants have not been using their high draft picks on offensive linemen. Their team is traditionally built in the trenches, and it might be time to go back to that way of thinking on the offensive side of the ball. After a rash of injuries last season and a lot of shuffling, New York’s line now has a lot of options and a lot of pieces that can be fit in different spots among the five starting positions. But left tackle isn’t like any other position up front in that typical left tackles have long, athletic builds and are very light on their feet. These types of players usually do not transition well to right tackle or the inside from a power perspective. But a left tackle is the one puzzle piece that is now missing with the Giants’ line and could be their first-round pick.

Although they need to get stronger, Boston College’s Anthony Castonzo, Mississippi State’s Derek Sherrod and Colorado’s Nate Solder leap out at me as players who should fit this mold on the left side. Wisconsin’s Gabe Carimi is more “right tackleish” than Castonzo or Solder. He plays stronger and is more NFL-ready, but his tough-guy mentality would fit right in. Also, although he is not a left tackle prospect, Florida’s Mike Pouncey is New York’s type of lineman. He could be difficult to pass on. It seems like a safe bet that New York will have several options to address this need when it gets on the clock.

Philadelphia Eagles

Like the Giants and Cowboys, the Eagles like rugged offensive linemen. It is a rugged division. But their situation is a little different in that their most pressing need up front is at right tackle, which is quarterback Michael Vick’s blind side. Overall, I think that aspect of left-handed quarterbacks is slightly overblown because the right tackle generally faces lesser pass-rushers than the left tackle. But there is no question that the Eagles are a predominantly passing team. So in this case, finding a right tackle with exceptional pass-blocking skills is a must.

The interior of Philadelphia’s line could use some attention as well, but few superior edge pass protectors are also suited for duty at guard or center. The Eagles might have to add two players to truly fortify their offensive line. The Eagles also have not used many early draft picks lately to select offensive line help. But they did use picks to trade for Jason Peters.

Washington Redskins

Last year the Redskins made the transition from a 4-3 to a 3-4 scheme. For an odd front to be run properly, an impactful nose tackle is simply a must. After putting far too much faith in the battered Maake Kemoeatu, Washington simply did not have that type of nose tackle. Needless to say, the position is now a problem area, and it could be argued that nose tackle is the very top need on this still-transitioning defense.

But where the Redskins pick in the draft, there isn’t a good fit in terms of value for nose tackles. They could perhaps trade down and select Baylor’s Phil Taylor, who has excellent movement skills for such a massive nose tackle body type. Or maybe the Redskins move up a few spots from where they sit in Round 2 to nab Washington’s Stephen Paea, who is more of a penetrator inside but is very strong. Ole Miss’ Jerrell Powe could be an option a bit later in the draft. But overall, this draft doesn’t match up well with the Redskins’ need at nose tackle. Going the free-agent route might make more sense as a short-term fix.

NFC East links: Westbrook open to return

March, 8, 2011
Dallas Cowboys

Bob Sturm says Igor Olshansky is miscast in his role in the Cowboys' defense.

Gerry Fraley is of the mindset that Dallas will regret not going after safety O.J. Atogwe.

New York Giants

Don't count Giants defensive end Justin Tuck among those who would spend the No. 1 overall draft pick on Auburn quarterback Cam Newton.

Philadelphia Eagles

Former Eagles running back Brian Westbrook isn't ruling out a return to Philadelphia.

Quarterback Kevin Kolb remains in high demand.

Washington Redskins

The Redskins were among a host of teams that attended Baylor's pro day to get a look at defensive tackle Phil Taylor.

Redskins looking at DTs in Mobile

January, 27, 2011
With the likely departure of Albert Haynesworth, the Washington Redskins need to bring in defensive linemen via the draft or free agency. Rick Maese of the Washington Post has been in Mobile, Ala., for the Senior Bowl this week and he believes the Skins are intrigued with Baylor defensive tackle Phil Taylor. Maese reports that Taylor has been handling interior offensive linemen with ease this week. And he certainly did the same thing against the Texas Longhorns last season.

Folks believe that Taylor has the ability to play the three-technique or the nose.

"I played both this year," said Taylor. "I played mostly the one-technique. But three or the one -- it's not a big deal for me. ...Wherever they want to put me, I'll play it."

Taylor is hoping to drop 10 pounds before the combine, which would get him down to about 327.

No Shanahan at the Senior Bowl

January, 24, 2011
Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan and his coaching staff won't be stopping by the Senior Bowl practices in Mobile, Ala., according to The Washington Post. You would think Shanahan might want to take a look at the quarterbacks in this draft up close, but he'll apparently leave that up to his scouts.

Rick Maese of The Post thinks the Skins will be focused on Washington quarterback Jake Locker, but he also brought up Baylor defensive tackle Phil Taylor. I had a chance to see Taylor in person at least six times this season and he was one of the most improved players in the Big 12.

He was a disappointment his junior season after transferring from Penn State, but he was dominant at times during his senior year and helped lead Baylor to its first bowl game in 16 years. I also know the Eagles and Giants have watched a lot of film on Taylor.

We'll be talking to scouts in Mobile throughout the week, so let me know if there are certain players you'd like to read about. Here are the 2011 Senior Bowl rosters.