NFC East: Trevor Laws

Breakfast links: Emmitt rips Cowboys

December, 30, 2011
12/30/11
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Oh baby. Just two more days until... well, if you don't know, what are you doing here? Mooching links? That works. Plenty for everyone.

New York Giants

Even all these years later, the Giants carry the legacy of Lawrence Taylor and the urgency to play like crazed dogs. For that reason, Ian O'Connor writes, it's up to Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora and Jason Pierre-Paul to set the tone and win the must-win game against the Cowboys this Sunday night at MetLife Stadium.

Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell believes the Giants' defense played pretty well in the 37-34 victory over the Cowboys in Week 14 in Dallas, and that the problem was just a couple of specific breakdowns in the secondary. As you'd expect, Fewell and the Giants' defense believe they have those things corrected.

Dallas Cowboys

Emmitt Smith, one of the greatest and toughest players in the history of the NFL, wonders whether the Cowboys have the mental toughness they need to be champions. Tony Romo says they do. In other news, sometimes I miss covering baseball, where there's a game every night and people have less time to jabber about senseless garbage.

As for Romo, his bruised right hand remains an issue, as he's been practicing and throwing but has yet to take a snap from center since banging his hand on Jason Babin's helmet last Saturday. My feeling on this is that Romo will undoubtedly play Sunday, but that we won't know until we see him try to throw how much the hand injury really is affecting him.

Philadelphia Eagles

Jeff McLane takes a look at the 12 pending free agents the Eagles have and the decisions that will, won't or should be made on each of them. Jeff thinks DeSean Jackson, Antonio Dixon and Derek Landri should be back, and that Trevor Laws and Owen Schmitt should not. You take a look and let me know what you think.

Eagles defensive coordinator Juan Castillo thinks Eagles safety Nate Allen will be a Pro Bowler some day. The first thing everyone who reads this is thinking is: "Will Castillo be his coach when that happens?"

Washington Redskins

Mike Shanahan says he has no doubt he'll be back next season as coach of the Redskins, quickly adding that he hopes owner Dan Snyder feels the same way. Shanahan is two years deep into a five-year contract and certain to get a chance to see it through. As you already know, I will be talking with Shanahan today. I appreciate all of the questions I have received from you guys, and will endeavor to ask as many of them as I can.

One thing that's working the way Shanahan hopes and expects it to is the running game, where there seems to be a different star every week and rookie Evan Royster was the star this week, as it seems we can add him to the list of very good running backs on whom the Redskins plan to rely in 2012.

The Eagles have ditched the blitz

November, 2, 2011
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The Philadelphia Eagles honored the late Jim Johnson, their longtime defensive coordinator, at halftime of Sunday night's victory over the Cowboys. But the way the Eagles play defense now is dramatically different from the way they played it under Johnson and the last two years for his successor, Sean McDermott. Jeff McLane writes of the conscious decision by Andy Reid and his defensive staff to move away from the blitz-heavy defenses of Eagles past and into a mode where their front four is responsible for pressuring quarterbacks:
All 22 of the Eagles' sacks this season -- they are fourth in the NFL in sacks per pass play -- have come from defensive linemen. Jason Babin has nine, Cullen Jenkins five, Trent Cole four, Darryl Tapp two, Trevor Laws one, and Mike Patterson one.

This was by design.

After firing McDermott in January, the first coaching move Andy Reid made was to lure defensive line coach Jim Washburn away from Tennessee. Washburn had said before that if a team has to blitz more than necessary, then its front four isn't doing its job.

A few weeks after Washburn was hired, Castillo was named coordinator. At an introductory news conference in February, it became clear that Castillo would adopt a more conservative approach than his predecessors.

Simplification was the buzz word.

"If you blitz all the time," Washburn said then, "you'll get killed."

There was a lot of talk in the Eagles' locker room late Sunday night about how they all expected it to take time for all of the new players and all of the new coaches to get together on the same page in the new defensive system. There was a lot of change in the offseason and a lot asked of a lot of people in a short period of time. But in Sunday night's game, everything the Eagles wanted to do on defense (and on offense, for that matter) seemed to work. One of the keys has been the ability of the coaching staff to get the players to continue buying into the new ideas even when they weren't working and the team was losing four games in a row.

The Eagles beefed up on the defensive line in the offseason because, if you're going to rely on your front four to create pressure, you need to have a great front four. The talent and depth they acquired with guys like Jenkins and Babin allow them to put Washburn's theories into practice. You may still see the Eagles blitz every now and then, but when they do it's going to be to throw a changeup. It's no longer the basis of their defensive philosophy. This would seem a far more efficient way of doing things. Time will tell if the Eagles can make it an effective one long-term.

Breakfast links: Eagles moving up

October, 31, 2011
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By popular demand, we have been presenting the breakfast links in standings order, rather than alphabetical order, for the past few weeks. The Eagles jump from fourth to second place this week because they hold the head-to-head tiebreaker edge over the Redskins and now the Cowboys. But right now in the NFC East it's the Giants and then it's everybody else. So our first stop this morning is in the Big Apple.

New York Giants (5-2)

Ohm Youngmisuk writes that the Giants keep escaping because Eli Manning keeps finding phone booths and turning into Superman at just the right time. There's no doubt that Manning is having a season to silence his critics. He's playing mistake-free and making big throws when he has to. He's been the division's best quarterback all season, and he and the defensive line are the two main reasons the Giants have been the division's best team.

Dave D'Alessandro provides the reality check, though, in a column that looks ahead to what now remains of the Giants' schedule -- the tough part, by a large margin. As great as Manning and the D-line have been, the Giants would do well to run the ball better, to stop the run better and to shore up some of the sloppiness that forced them to have to come back to beat one of the worst teams in the league Sunday.

Philadelphia Eagles (3-4)

Defensive lineman Trevor Laws, in the Eagles' postgame locker room, summed up the feelings of pretty much every Eagles fan when he said, "Sitting here after we played a game like this, it’s like, 'how in the world did we lose those games at the beginning of the year?' It makes no sense to me."

Rich Hofmann writes that, at long last, the real Eagles finally showed up Sunday night in their big, big victory over the Cowboys.

Dallas Cowboys (3-4)

Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, who called the Eagles the "all-hype team" in training camp, took the blame for the loss and said that Andy Reid "kicked my ass." We usually don't like to use that kind of language here on the NFC East blog, but if we held to those strict rules, we'd probably never be able to quote Rob Ryan.

The lone bright spot in the game for the Cowboys was DeMarcus Ware and his four sacks, which raised his season total to 12 sacks through seven games. The league record for sacks in a season is 22.5 by Michael Strahan. Ware is on pace to record 27 sacks this season, which would (in case you're not up for simple subtraction this morning) break that record.

Washington Redskins (3-4)

Jason Reid writes that it's all up to Mike Shanahan now to save this Redskins season, because when things are falling apart, a team needs its leader to bring the players all back together. And while Jason's right within the context of this particular season and the Redskins' ability to contend, Shanahan is in the second year of a five-year contract and the Redskins are in rebuilding mode. That's not to say Shanahan can or would or should give up on this season -- just that the long view is the important thing to keep in mind when evaluating Shanahan's job performance in 2011. The Redskins are (they hope) at rock-bottom right now, but I don't think (as some were saying Sunday) that they'll lose all the rest of their games. I had them at 7-9 preseason and I'm sticking to it.

We did a bright spot for the Cowboys, so we'll do one for the Redskins too. No surprise, it's the amazing London Fletcher, who's the steadiest guy in the Redskins' room.

Observation deck: Eagles-Jets

September, 2, 2011
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The Philadelphia Eagles used only one offensive starter in their final preseason game, a meaningless 24-14 victory over the New York Jets, and so I thought I'd focus on him. He was Danny Watkins, the first-round pick out of Baylor and the Eagles' starting right guard. He played about 20 snaps against backup Jets defenders, looked good on some, looked lost on others, and I came away with no idea how prepared he is to help protect Michael Vick once the real games begin.

The good: Watkins generally looks strong enough to hold his blocks once he gets his hands on his man. He got good second-level push on one of Dion Lewis' runs on the second offensive series of the game. And he did an excellent job getting down field to make a block on a defensive back on the screen pass to Lewis on the play right before the Eagles' first touchdown. (Oddly, he appeared to be beaten on the touchdown play, but it didn't matter since Vince Young made the throw before the pressure got there.)

The not-so-good: There was a three-play sequence on the first offensive series where he looked very much like a rookie. On the first, his man beat him to the outside and got into the backfield. On the next play, he made some progress into the second level, as Howard Mudd is trying to teach his linemen to do, but got knocked to the ground quickly. And then on the next, he was kind of swimming around in the crowd, blocking no one and looking as though he didn't know where he was supposed to be. Two plays later, he failed to pick up a blitzing Aaron Maybin, who got to Young but was unable to sack him because he's Aaron Maybin and so Young completed the pass anyway.

Watkins is a rookie who didn't have an offseason, and as such he's a work in progress. He'll almost certainly be better by Week 4 and Week 9 and Week 17 than he will be in Week 1. The key is that he has to be good enough, consistently, from play to play, to keep Vick from getting crushed and help the Eagles' offense put points on the board early in the season. Because the Eagles are one of these teams, due to the offseason they had, that can't afford to get off to a slow start unless they're happy with the whole world jumping on their backs about it.

Anyway, some more stuff I saw in the Eagles' final preseason game:

1. Dion Lewis! Oh, I don't have any idea how much he can expect to play -- if at all -- in an Eagles offense that features as many dynamic options as it does. He's the No. 3 running back behind LeSean McCoy and Ronnie Brown in an offense that passes more than it runs. So we might not hear much more from him the rest of the year unless they're going to use him on kick returns as they did Thursday. But if we do, man, is he fun to watch. Good burst at the line. Doesn't need much of a hole to squeeze himself through. Fast. Shifty. Patient. Balanced. Tough to bring down. Yeah, against second-teamers. But he's got some obvious skills, and should be a nice option for the Eagles if they suffer an injury or two at that position.

2. Vince Young is the backup quarterback, and a very good one. The idea that Mike Kafka could beat out Young for the backup quarterback spot was rooted in the idea that Young would take a long time to learn the West Coast offense. And Young may not have it all down yet. But he looks more advanced by leaps and bounds than he did in the first preseason game and in the early training camp practices. And his pure athletic ability and experience as a quarterback making throws in the NFL puts him well ahead of Kafka in terms of being a guy the Eagles can put in, should Vick get hurt, and ask him to win them a game. Young did end up leaving this game with a hamstring injury (on a play that wouldn't have happened but for a botched field goal snap on the play before, incidentally), and Kafka with a rib injury, so there's no way to know what the depth chart looks like at quarterback for the opener. But if everyone's healthy, what Andy Reid said after the game about Young being the backup sounds obvious at this point.

3. Defensive backups. Linebacker Brian Rolle looked good, and defensive lineman Trevor Laws had some nice moments after missing the bulk of the preseason due to injury. Defensive end Phillip Hunt also had a sack, and he's an interesting guy as cuts loom, because he made a big-time name for himself in the CFL and is someone who obviously knows how to play the game and the position. But he's so small for his position that you wonder if he can have any impact at all in a real game against first-team offensive linemen. Hunt has been very good this preseason, but nothing is assured for him yet. The Eagles have to decide if his playmaking ability outweighs his measurables.

4. Alex Henery doesn't look great. And hasn't all month. And you do wonder if going with a rookie kicker is the wisest move in the world for a team with expectations as high as the Eagles' expectations are. Henery missed his first field goal attempt of the night -- a 43-yarder -- very badly. He made a 49-yarder late in the game, which is fine. But there's no doubt he can make a kick from almost any distance. What the Eagles would like to know about him is whether he's reliable enough to make every kick they need him to make. And the first-quarter miss is the kind of thing that makes you wonder. On the plus side, rookie punter Chas Henry looks excellent.

Anyway, four games, none of which mattered, and now the Eagles have a week and a couple of days before they need to beat the Rams in St. Louis or everybody starts yelling that the sky is falling. The spotlight -- and the bulls-eye -- will be on this team all year, and fun time is over.

BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- Call Andy Reid impatient if you want, but like most NFL coaches, the Philadelphia Eagles' head coach is no great fan of the walk-through practices that have taken the place of what used to be the second of his two training camp practices per day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

THREE HOT ISSUES

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

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

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

D-LINING THEM UP

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

O-LINING THEM UP

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

OBSERVATION DECK
  • Assuming Nate Allen's knee is healthy, he'll start at one safety spot, but it'll be interesting to see how the other one shakes out. It looks as though the Eagles would like to give rookie Jaiquawn Jarrett a chance to start, but it's tough to evaluate Jarrett during practices that don't allow hard hitting, because that's his thing. Also in the mix are Kurt Coleman, Marlin Jackson and newly signed veteran Jarrad Page.
  • As many weapons as the Eagles already have on offense, and as good as Brent Celek is, it'd be easy to overlook the signing of tight end Donald Lee. But when I was there, they were lining Lee up one-on-one with defensive ends like Babin and having him block them without help. He did a pretty good job, and if you're wondering how he might be deployed, that could be your answer.
  • Vince Young looks very much like a quarterback with a lot to learn about his new team's offense. So much so, in fact, that you wonder whether Young or Mike Kafka would be the starter if Vick were to suffer an injury early in the season.
  • Fourth-round draft pick Alex Henery has a great big leg. But after all the work they did in free agency and everything that's riding on this season, it does seem a little odd for the Eagles to potentially leave the outcome of a big game in the hands (or on the foot) of a rookie place-kicker.
  • Chaney played middle linebacker last season when Bradley was hurt. And when you ask which he'd prefer, he answers that he'd rather be back there than outside. But the Eagles think that his speed is his greatest asset and that having him on the strong side makes the best use of that. He could be the middle linebacker of the future or a fall-back option if Matthews can't handle it. But right now they appear to prefer him on the outside.
BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- Big Saturday morning crowd here at Lehigh, and they were treated to quite a show as the Philadelphia Eagles offered one of the more spirited training camp practices I've seen.

One of the highlights came late in the practice when defensive end Darryl Tapp jumped, deflected a Mike Kafka pass into the air, caught it and ran it back about 70 yards for a touchdown. The play was good enough on its own to be a highlight, but what really made it memorable was the sight of a red-shirted Michael Vick racing off the sideline and chasing Tapp to the end zone.

"I saw him out of the corner of my eye and thought, 'I'd better run'," Tapp said. "He's ... a little bit faster than I am."

[+] EnlargeDanny Watkins and Moise Fokou
AP Photo/Alex BrandonThere were a few scuffles at Eagles practice Saturday, including one involving Danny Watkins and Moise Fokou.
It was that kind of high-energy day for the Eagles. The sun hid behind clouds and kept the heat at bay, so the practice ran long and no one seemed to tire out. There were three fights (all quickly broken up, one by hyperenthusiastic defensive coordinator Juan Castillo), several circus catches, plenty of patented Asante Samuel trash-talking and an especially bouncy performance by newly signed defensive tackle Anthony Hargrove, who practiced as if he'd had four extra cups of coffee before taking the field.

"I don't know what happened out there today," Vick said. "Just something in the air, I think. Just one of those days where, on both sides of the ball, we were like, 'We're going to win every down,' and guys played that way."

A couple of thoughts:
  • Vick was goofing off when he ran after Tapp, obviously, but when he was at quarterback he looked absolutely stellar, threading throws into tight spots, picking up blitzes and staying confidently in the pocket and behind the line of scrimmage rather than taking off for runs. Considering the receivers to whom he's throwing (i.e., not DeSean Jackson or Jeremy Maclin) and who's covering them (i.e. Samuel, Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie), Vick's practice performance Saturday was extremely impressive.
  • Asomugha missed the latter part of practice with a calf injury that both he and the team said wasn't serious. Other injury absences included Nate Allen, who missed the practice with a knee injury, Trevor Laws, who has a hip injury, and Marlin Jackson, whose groin is hurt.
  • There were a couple of offensive sets on which the tight end was assigned to block a defensive end one-on-one. Donald Lee held his own against Jason Babin when called upon to do that. Brent Celek did not fare as well in his attempts to handle Babin, who is another of the high-energy fellows.
  • Howard Mudd seems still to be tinkering with the starting lineup on the offensive line. Ryan Harris played right tackle with the first team Saturday, while rookie Jason Kelce more or less split first-team reps with Jamaal Jackson at center. No reason yet to think Kelce is a threat to Jackson's job, but it bears watching. Rookie Danny Watkins is taking reps with the first and second teams at right guard because he's sure to be the starter there and they want to get him up to speed after a spring and summer that featured no OTAs or minicamps.
  • Vince Young is learning, and it appears he has a ways to go before he knows the offense. But Marty Mornhinweg coached Vick to excellence from a backup role, and the Eagles and Young feel it's worth the shot to see if the same can happen for him.
  • Jason Avant, whose one-handed touchdown catch with Asomugha draped all over him was one of the practice's highlights, said he's not worried about the time that Jackson (holdout) and Maclin (undisclosed illness) are missing. "Those guys know the playbook like the back of their hand," Avant said. "As soon as they're back, they'll jump right in without any problem."

I'll have more on the Eagles in the coming days, as my notebook and recorder are loaded. Much of it will appear in the Eagles edition of "Camp Confidental," which is currently scheduled for Monday. It looks as though my next stop will be Giants camp either Sunday or Monday. I'll keep you posted.
Our position-by-position series on potential four-year unrestricted free agency in the NFC East took the weekend off, but it's back, baby, and better than ever with a look at the defensive tackle position.

NFC East teams in need

Redskins: Not sure if you heard or not, but Albert Haynesworth balked last year at the idea of playing nose tackle in Jim Haslett's new 3-4 defense. And since they weren't able to find a non-Haynesworth answer in 2010, the Skins remain on the lookout for someone who can fill that crucial role on their defensive line. Haslett's scheme puts a premium on versatility, which means he likes to be able to shift the defensive linemen around depending on the play and the responsibilities it requires. But that said, a big, dominant nose tackle would be a nice anchor for the pieces that are still being put in place.

[+] EnlargeAubrayo Franklin
AP Photo/Paul SakumaIf the Redskins want to spend the money, Aubrayo Franklin would be a nice fit for their 3-4 defense.
Giants: Linebacker remains a bigger need, but if the Giants don't bring back free agent Barry Cofield, they may need to add someone at this spot. Linval Joseph (2010 draft pick) and Marvin Austin (2011 draft pick) represent (the Giants hope) their future at the defensive tackle spot. But unless you're Ndamukong Suh, it takes a little while to develop into a top-flight NFL talent on the interior of the defensive line. If Cofield leaves, the Giants cold use some veteran help there.

Eagles: Antonio Dixon is an emerging star, and the team believes new defensive line coach Jim Washburn will coach improvement out of Brodrick Bunkley, Mike Patterson and Trevor Laws. I don't get the sense that Philadelphia considers this a position of need, though there has been some noise about Washburn wanting to reunite with Haynesworth, who was a star for him when both were in Tennessee.

Top five potential unrestricted free-agent defensive tackles.

1. Aubrayo Franklin. The top available 3-4 nose tackle in this class, Franklin would be a perfect fit for Washington and is almost certainly at the very top of its wish list. The 49ers will attempt to keep him, but the Redskins have money to spend.

2. Cofield. It's unclear what the Giants intend to do about Cofield, who believes the drafting of Austin is a sign that they plan to move on. It could be, or it could have been just a way to give them coverage in case he leaves and some leverage in their contract negotiations. With Mathias Kiwanuka and offensive keys such as Ahmad Bradshaw, Steve Smith and Kevin Boss needing new deals, the Giants will have to make some tough choices, and parting ways with Cofield could be one of them.

3. Brandon Mebane. A 4-3 run-stopper who showed enough as a pass-rusher to play on three downs in Seattle last year, Mebane will have to prove his legs are fully healthy. But assuming he does, he'll be right there with Cofield as 4-3 teams look to beef up inside.

4. Anthony Adams. He might not be on the open market for very long. The Bears' decision to cut teammate Tommie Harris in March was likely tied to their efforts to re-sign their best run-stuffing defensive lineman.

5. Pat Williams. He's 38 years old and this time last year was talking retirement. But there's no doubt that the longtime Vikings star could help a contending team that could put him into a rotation that would ease the burden on his body. You also have to think he could help as a mentor for young defensive linemen. At the right cost, he might fit what the Eagles or Giants are looking for, if those teams do end up looking for defensive tackle help.

Predictions that mean nothing: Redskins sign Franklin, Giants bring back Cofield, Eagles add a cheaper veteran such as Williams (if he's cheap) or Remi Ayodele.

Breaking down the DLs: Philadelphia

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

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

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

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

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

Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.

It's official: Eagles stars will ride pine

January, 2, 2011
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I just had a look at the Philadelphia Eagles' inactives list, and it's a star-studded cast: Running back LeSean McCoy, right tackle Winston Justice, wide receiver DeSean Jackson, defensive end Trent Cole, defensive tackle Trevor Laws, middle linebacker Stewart Bradley, cornerback Asante Samuel and quarterback Michael Vick will all be in street clothes for today's game against the Dallas Cowboys.

Tight end Brent Celek and receiver Jeremy Maclin will be quarterback Kevin Kolb's best options -- if they take the field. It will be interesting to watch running back Jerome Harrison in a feature role. I'm sure he and Eldra Buckley will get plenty of touches.

Wrap-up: Eagles 34, Texans 24

December, 3, 2010
12/03/10
12:05
AM ET
The Eagles coughed up a 20-10 halftime lead, but quarterback Michael Vick led them to a 34-24 comeback win in the fourth quarter Thursday night. Let's take a closer look at how it happened:

What it means: The Eagles are in sole possession of first in the NFC East (at least until Sunday afternoon). Philadelphia (8-4), which plays at Dallas in 10 days, will have a great opportunity to be 9-4 when it faces the Giants in two weeks. It was a gut check for the Eagles after they dominated much of the first half. The Texans came roaring back to take a 24-20 lead, but Vick calmly led a touchdown drive early in the fourth quarter. He took way too many hits in the first half, but he managed to stay on his feet and make some huge plays down the stretch. Vick threw for 302 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He also ran for a touchdown. I'm still not sure why Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg allowed Vick to take so much punishment. They could've run the ball more in this game, but that's nothing new.

The real McCoy: Eagles running back LeSean McCoy was too much for the Texans to handle in the open field. He had eight catches for 86 yards and destroyed Houston in the screen game. The Texans dropped seven players back in coverage, but none of them could tackle McCoy in space. He added 44 rushing yards on 12 carries, but he did most of his damage in the passing game. He has become one of the best pass-catching backs in the league. It looked like the Texans weren't adequately prepared for his quickness. It was just a brilliant performance by McCoy, who reminds me a lot of Brian Westbrook when he gets in the open field. He makes defenders look really bad.

A huge play by Brent Celek: Clinging to a 27-24 lead with 6:36 left, the Eagles faced a third-and-19 from Houston's 24-yard line. Vick threw a short pass to Celek, who was ruled down after an 18-yard gain. Replays showed that he was able to whip his body around and reach past the first-down marker, and Celek campaigned for Reid to throw the challenge flag. Reid, not known for his game management skills, wisely let the clock tick before challenging. The Eagles won the challenge and scored two plays later on a 5-yard touchdown pass to Owen Schmitt.

The drive: The Texans put together a 13-play, 86-yard scoring drive in the third quarter to take a 24-20 lead. But after a ridiculous squib kick by Neil Rackers, the Eagles had good field position at their 40-yard line. (Were the Texans scared of Jorrick Calvin?) Vick quickly hit DeSean Jackson on a gorgeous 33-yard pass that set up the go-ahead touchdown early in the fourth quarter. Jackson finished with three catches for 84 yards, and something tells me he won't get chewed out by Reid following this performance. He and Vick connected on the Eagles' first play from scrimmage, setting the tone for the offense. Philadelphia scored on its first three possessions and it was 2-of-4 in the red zone in the first half, a big improvement over the past two weeks.

Laws makes a nice grab: Texans quarterback Matt Schaub tried to dump the ball to Arian Foster late in the first half, but Eagles defensive tackle Trevor Laws reached up and snagged the ball for an impressive interception deep in Houston territory. The Eagles settled for a field goal and a 20-10 halftime lead. It was the first takeaway of Laws' NFL career.

Allen was exhumed from the goal line: The Eagles did a fairly nice job on Texans running back Arian Foster, but he ran over rookie Nate Allen on a touchdown reception in the third quarter that trimmed the Eagles' lead to 20-17. It looked like something Herschel Walker would've done to a defensive back (Bill Bates, anyone?) when he was at Georgia, and Allen had to be a bit embarrassed.

What's next: The Eagles will get an extended break before heading to Dallas for a Sunday night game. I'm sure Reid will give the Eagles Friday through Sunday off . That should give them a chance to finish strongly. There's a decent chance the Eagles and Giants will be 9-4 when they play in two weeks, setting up a great Dec. 19 matchup at New Meadowlands Stadium.

Draft Watch: NFC East

March, 10, 2010
3/10/10
12:00
PM ET
NFC Recent History: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)

Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: Recent history.

Dallas Cowboys

One of the reasons the Cowboys don't have any glaring needs (other than place-kicker) is that they hit on some picks in '07 and '08. And of course, you can't discount what Bill Parcells and Jeff Ireland accomplished in stocking this team with talent from 2003 to 2006. Owner Jerry Jones has spent a lot of his money on defense, and in the first round in '07 he turned to Purdue outside linebacker Anthony Spencer, who was brilliant down the stretch in '09. In 2008, the Cowboys found a running back and a cornerback in the first round. Felix Jones and Mike Jenkins could both be stars in the league for years. Because of the Roy Williams trade in '08, the '09 draft was pretty much a wash. The Cowboys tried to land special-teams standouts who could hopefully play their way into larger roles. Other than kickoff specialist David Buehler, the '09 draft is still a mystery. With the 27th pick in next month's draft, the Cowboys don't have to reach for any position. I know they're hoping to see a couple of cornerbacks slip in the first round and it would be nice to add a linebacker. But there are no glaring needs heading into the draft, and that puts Dallas in an enviable position. But if you study trends over the past seven years or so, you'd have to expect the Cowboys to go with a defensive player in the first round.

New York Giants

The Giants can't rest on their laurels of that outstanding class of '07. When you land a quality running back such as Ahmad Bradshaw in the seventh round, you're on a roll. And general manager Jerry Reese will always be remembered for a class that included Aaron Ross, Steve Smith and Kevin Boss. It was an immediate impact draft, and the Giants need another one in April. In '08, the Giants took a safety and cornerback with their first two picks. Safety Kenny Phillips out of Miami has the talent to become a Pro Bowler if he can recover from a serious knee injury, and cornerback Terrell Thomas was one of the few defenders who played well in '08. The Giants selected wide receiver Mario Manningham in the third round, but the '08 draft was about creating depth on defense. It's hard to nail down a trend with Reese and his scouting staff because they're pretty patient about waiting for the right players. They rarely get obsessed with a certain position, although linebacker is certainly a big need in April. I expect the Giants to stay right where they are at No. 15 and select a talented player. But I promise you that Reese hasn't committed to taking a linebacker.

Philadelphia Eagles

In the 2007 draft, the Eagles drafted their future (presumably) quarterback in Kevin Kolb. Then they landed starting middle linebacker Stewart Bradley in the third round and superb tight end Brent Celek in the fifth. Defensive end Victor Abiamiri has never really lived up to his second-round status and running back Tony Hunt was an outright bust from the start. The Eagles tried to bolster their defensive line in '08, but Trevor Laws has been a disappointment and Bryan Smith is nowhere to be found. The draft was saved by a wide receiver out of Cal named DeSean Jackson. He's become one of the most feared offensive players in the game. The Eagles continued to covet speed and quickness on offense in '09 by drafting wide receiver Jeremy Maclin and LeSean McCoy. They also hit on late-round pick Moise Fokou, who could emerge as an outstanding special-teams player -- if he'll stop getting penalties. The Eagles haven't done enough in the draft to bolster their secondary over the past three years. It's time to start drafting cornerbacks and safeties a little earlier. Macho Harris and Quintin Demps have been decent finds, but you can't just throw them out there as starters. It's time for the Eagles to use premium picks on the defensive side of the ball if they want to close the gap with the Cowboys. To be clear, it's time to find someone who can cover Jason Witten and Miles Austin.

Washington Redskins

With new coach Mike Shanahan and general manager Bruce Allen, this organization is headed in a different direction. We haven't seen any of the splashy moves in free agency that owner Dan Snyder loved. In the past, the Redskins rarely had a lot of picks in the draft. They took safety LaRon Landry in '07, but he's never really met expectations. He obviously has a lot of physical gifts but his habit of biting on double moves gets the Skins in big trouble. In '08, Snyder and Vinny Cerrato turned to the offensive side of the ball and spent their three second-round picks on two receivers and a tight end. The verdict's still out on the '08 draft, but tight end Fred Davis emerged as a consistent threat when Chris Cooley was injured last season. And Devin Thomas has rare speed and quickness as a wideout. Now, he needs to continue showing maturity. With the addition of pass-rusher Brian Orakpo in '09, the Redskins landed a Pro Bowl player. Now it's time to start drafting offensive and defensive linemen. That's the trend that stands out over the past decade. The Redskins didn't build in the trenches, and they've paid the price. With the No. 4 pick, Shanahan will be tempted to take a left tackle. Especially if Sam Bradford's already gone. And it's hard to go wrong with either Russell Okung or Bryan Bulaga.

Draft Watch: NFC East

February, 24, 2010
2/24/10
2:00
PM ET
NFC Busts/Gems: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)

Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: Busts and late-round gems.

Dallas Cowboys

From a bust standpoint, let me offer up the '09 draft class. But that's not completely fair because the class was pretty much wiped out by injuries last season. The one unquestionable gem is USC kickoff specialist David Buehler. Some of us laughed when the Cowboys spent a sixth-round pick on a player who wasn't supposed to compete for the place-kicking job. But Buehler led the league in touchbacks and participated on the punt and kick return units. Another gem is 2008 fourth-round pick Tashard Choice. When offensive coordinator Jason Garrett has gotten him on the field, Choice has produced in a big way. In 2008, he appeared to be the most complete back on the roster at times. From a bust standpoint, go back to the '07 draft and look at third-round pick James Marten out of Boston College. You could tell pretty quickly that Marten wasn't a player. And in the fourth round of that same draft, the Cowboys got cute in taking former University of Washington quarterback Isaiah Stanback to play wide receiver. Stanback was a shoulder injury waiting to happen and he didn't take advantage of numerous opportunities.

New York Giants

They'll be talking about the '07 draft for years. The Giants have four starters from that class and they found the ultimate gem in seventh-rounder Ahmad Bradshaw. The former Marshall running back had some off-the-field issues that caused him to plummet in the draft, but he was a valuable part of the Giants' march to the Super Bowl in '07. The Giants also landed cornerback Aaron Ross (first), wide receiver Steve Smith (second) and tight end Kevin Boss (fifth) in that draft. And don't forget about starting safety Michael Johnson (seventh). That's the draft that put new general manager Jerry Reese on the map. In '08, the Giants were able to land starting safety Kenny Phillips late in the first round and Terrell Thomas late in the second. Phillips appeared to be on his way to stardom but a season-ending knee injury in '09 has tempered those expectations. Thomas was forced into a starting position in '09 and performed admirably. We're still waiting to find out what mid-round picks Bryan Kehl and Jonathan Goff turn out to be. Those guys aren't really gems or busts. The verdict's still out on 2009 second-round pick Clint Sintim. Certainly not a bust, but he needs to show something this season. And for all the time we spent bragging on Cal Poly wide receiver Ramses Barden, the guy couldn't get on the field. If he can't get on the field in 2010, he'll be trending toward bust status. North Carolina State running back Andre Brown had gem potential, but he suffered a season-ending injury in training camp.

Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles found two gems in the '07 draft. Stewart Bradley is a quality starting middle linebacker who was selected in the third round and the Eagles took Pro Bowl-worthy tight end Brent Celek in the fifth round. The two players have become close friends and they're a huge part of the Eagles' future. In fact, Philly has already signed Celek to a contract extension. From a bust standpoint, the Eagles wasted a pick on Penn State running back Tony Hunt in '07. It's hard to believe that they took Hunt in the third round. And it's not as if Victor Abiamiri has been some type of standout second-round pick. Obviously, we're still waiting to see what becomes of the Eagles' top pick in '07, Kevin Kolb. In '08, the Eagles landed DeSean Jackson in the second round. But two picks before Jackson, they selected defensive tackle Trevor Laws. So there's your boom and bust scenario. The rest of that class is pretty forgettable. Fourth-round selection Quintin Demps has been serviceable, but I wouldn't refer to him as a hidden gem or anything. From the '09 class, wide receiver Jeremy Maclin and LeSean McCoy were excellent value picks. They should both be a huge part of the offense for several years. Moise Fokou was a gem in the seventh round. He has the potential to be a special-teams standout and he eventually cracked the starting lineup, although that was predicated by a string of injuries. Still, it's obvious the Eagles like Fokou. He's constantly around the ball.

Washington Redskins

The '07 draft was pretty much a waste of time. The Redskins barely had any picks, but they did manage to select safety LaRon Landry sixth overall. The tragic loss of Sean Taylor meant that Landry had to become the main man at safety. He wasn't ready for that type of responsibility and he's never really lived up to his immense potential. We'll see if Jim Haslett can help him reach the next level. In the second round of the '08 draft, the Skins took wide receivers Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly. Neither player has really distinguished himself, although Thomas took some important steps in '09. Kelly won the starting job coming out of training camp, but he didn't do anything with it. Sandwiched between those two picks was former USC tight end Fred Davis. He came on strong in '09 once Chris Cooley was lost to injury. It looks like Davis will be a player. Thomas and Kelly could go either way. Unless there's a dramatic change this offseason, third-round pick Chad Rinehart will be a bust at guard. Seventh-round pick Chris Horton was a great story early in 2008, but his star has faded a bit. Until he reclaims his starting safety spot, it's hard to call him a gem. The '09 draft was another one-hit wonder. It looks like first-round pick Brian Orakpo will be a perennial Pro Bowler. He's an excellent pass-rusher and I think he'll flourish in Haslett's 3-4 scheme. No one else in the class stood out.

Cowboys-Eagles inactives: Vick the backup

January, 9, 2010
1/09/10
6:54
PM ET
ARLINGTON, Texas -- As we've already told you, Michael Vick is active for tonight's game and I would expect for him to play a fairly significant role in the game plan. The Cowboys spent more time in the film room preparing for Vick this week because they felt like the Eagles would be in more of a desperation mode in this game. Now let's take a look at the inactives for both teams:

Cowboys: QB Stephen McGee, S Pat Watkins, CB Cletis Gordon, LB Jason Williams, G Montrae Holland, C/G Duke Preston, T Pat McQuistan, LB Curtis Johnson

Eagles: QB Kevin Kolb, CB Geoffrey Pope, FS Quintin Demps, T King Dunlap, C Dallas Reynolds, WR Kevin Curtis, TE Martin Rucker, DT Trevor Laws

Vick suits up as emergency QB

December, 27, 2009
12/27/09
3:24
PM ET
PHILADELPHIA -- Eagles quarterback Michael Vick (quad) will serve as the emergency quarterback today against the Broncos. Kevin Kolb will replace Vick as the backup to Donovan McNabb.

The rest of the Eagles' inactives: CB Geoffrey Pope, S Quintin Demps, G/T Stacy Andrews, G Mike McGlynn, WR Kevin Curtis, TE Martin Rucker, DE Trevor Laws

Broncos inactives: Emergency QB Tom Brandstater, WR Eddie Royal, CB Ty Law, RB LaMont Jordan, S Vernon Fox, ILB/FB Spencer Larsen, G Seth Olsen, DL Chris Baker

Former Eagles safety Brian Dawkins will be introduced last for the Broncos. I'm sure there will be a huge roar from the crowd, but the Eagles haven't planned any formal ceremony to honor their former star.

No surprises on Eagles' inactives list

December, 20, 2009
12/20/09
3:46
PM ET
The Eagles' inactives list has a lot of familiar faces this afternoon. Tight end Martin Rucker, who was just signed off the practice squad is inactive, which indicates that Brent Celek's back must be feeling pretty good. As we've been reporting all week, there was no way Celek was going to miss this game.

The snow's still being shoveled at the Linc but all the reports I've seen indicate the field looks fine. I'll be discussing the Eagles-49ers game on NFL Nation Live all afternoon. Look forward to hearing from you.

Here are the inactives for today's game: CB Geoffery Pope, WR Jeremy Maclin, RB Brian Westbrook, G Stacy Andrews, OL Mike McGlynn, TE Martin Rucker, DT Trevor Laws and third quarterback Kevin Kolb.

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