NFL Nation: NFC East

ARLINGTON, Texas -- In a half-joking manner, Jerry Jones declared this spring that the Dallas Cowboys’ defense would get better because it couldn’t be any worse.

When you rank dead last in the league in total defense, there’s only one way to go, he figured. Of course, it’s completely possible for the Cowboys to have the worst-ranked defense again and give up more yards than last season’s franchise record, but Jones would rather not view the situation that way.

“I think the defense is much improved, much improved,” Jones said after the preseason finale. “Awareness, the player we’re going to ask to do the job, I think we’re much improved from the team that was on the field the last four games when we ended the season. This is a better defense.”

Jones attempts to muster hope for a defense that lost arguably its three best players from last season with linebacker Sean Lee tearing up his knee, defensive tackle Jason Hatcher leaving in free agency and defensive end DeMarcus Ware being released. Plus, Orlando Scandrick will serve a four-game suspension to start the season after performing the best among the Cowboys cornerbacks last season.

The Cowboys certainly upgraded at defensive coordinator by demoting Monte Kiffin, who the game has clearly passed by and promoting Rod Marinelli. The Cowboys have recent evidence that Marinelli is a quality coordinator from his tenure with the Chicago Bears before coming to Dallas last year.

But Marinelli is no miracle worker. Just look at the Detroit Lions defensive rankings from his tenure as head coach: 28th, 32nd and 32nd in yards and 30th, 32nd and 32nd in scoring.

Marinelli needs playmakers to make his scheme work. Where are they on the Dallas defense?

The reality is this defense is in even worse shape than anticipated when training camp opened. They lost rookie defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, who they desperately needed to develop as an edge pass-rushing threat, for several weeks due to a broken foot. Defensive tackles Henry Melton and Terrell McClain didn’t play a down in the preseason due to injuries, with Melton still working to chip off rust after missing the last 13 games last season with a torn ACL. Defensive end George Selvie is dealing wth soreness in his surgically repaired right shoulder. Cornerback Morris Claiborne sat out the entire preseason -- again -- and will need to take pain-killing injections to play with a sprained AC joint in his shoulder. Scandrick is suspended four games.

“We know our limitations,” Jones said. “We know our scheme better, and we got players [who] can execute. We’ve got better players, healthier players to execute the scheme.”

That's the hope for the Dallas defense. But it’s definitely not the reality as they get ready for the regular season.
PHILADELPHIA -- LeSean McCoy has seven spots to go.

 The Eagles’ versatile running back led the NFL in rushing and all-purpose yards in 2013, his first season in coach Chip Kelly’s offense. But McCoy landed at No. 8 in ESPN’s NFL Rank project. That left seven players -- including McCoy’s primary quarry, Adrian Peterson -- ahead of him.

So four of those players are Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks. One is Jimmy Graham, who had to have his position defined by an arbitrator because he’s so productive. One is so good they just call him Megatron.

In other words, McCoy is clearly in some elite company. But part of what makes him so good is that he won’t be satisfied until he has no company. As long as he’s playing football, McCoy figures he might as well be striving to be the best player there is.

“I really try to see the limitations I have for myself,” McCoy said earlier this month. “Can I go past that? How good could this team be? What can I do to help the team be better? Running the ball, controlling the game, making plays does that. I always try to better my teammates and kind of get going.

“The biggest thing is winning. That’s the main goal. Last year, I was successful and productive, and we still were winning. The main goal is always winning. I just like to have fun with it.”

When the Eagles practice against the Patriots earlier this month, McCoy chatted with quarterback Tom Brady (No. 7!) for a bit one day. It was just a friendly talk, McCoy said, wishing each other luck. That sort of thing. But as the NFL Rank chart shows, it was also a show of mutual admiration from a couple of elite players.

That’s the company McCoy is keeping these days. We can quibble about exactly where he should be, but No. 8 is pretty darn good.
With final cuts looming, here's a look at how the Philadelphia Eagles' final 53-man roster could pan out:

QUARTERBACKS (3)
This was always the group. If Barkley had played poorly during the preseason, then maybe Chip Kelly would have gone light at QB. But Barkley's performance against the Jets Thursday night, combined with Kelly's "you-can't-have-too-many-quarterbacks" credo, pretty much assures the Eagles will keep three.

RUNNING BACKS (4)

If Chris Polk stays despite missing the entire preseason with a hamstring injury, that pretty much tells you the other guys were wasting their time out there. Josey played really well Thursday night, well enough to stay. If Polk stays, Josey could be on the practice squad.

WIDE RECEIVERS (6)

Going with six receivers now and dropping an offensive lineman. But this list is probably off because there's no Jeff Maehl. He appears to be bulletproof, even though Benn looked much more compelling Thursday night against the Jets.

TIGHT ENDS (3)
Trey Burton made a strong case for himself Thursday night as both a receiver and a blocker. But with these three in place, it appears Burton could be looking at the practice squad this year.

OFFENSIVE LINE (9)

The ankle injury sustained by Tobin could change this list. The coaches really like Tobin as the four-position backup with Barbre starting for Lane Johnson. As it is, someone is holding a place until Lane Johnson gets back in Week 5.

DEFENSIVE LINE (7)
Damion Square could still go on the practice squad if he doesn't make the cut. He's the one guy who could change this list. But Logan and Allen seem pretty well established as nose tackles right now.

LINEBACKERS (9)

This may be heavy, but Long and Emmanuel Acho are making it pretty tough to cut down to eight. This still has Casey Matthews on the outs, and he's another guy who has appeared bulletproof before now. We'll see.

SAFETIES (4)

One more linebacker means one less safety. It's math, people. Ed Reynolds could be on the practice squad.

CORNERBACKS (5)

This is another tough group to figure out. Roc Carmichael has played well at times and was here last year. Curtis Marsh has gotten a long look this summer. But the addition of Carroll and the rookie Watkins simply makes roster space tight.

SPECIALISTS (3)

It may seem rash to put Parkey ahead of Alex Henery based on one preseason game, even if Parkey hit two beyond-50-yard field goals. But the inclination to upgrade at this position has been building for months, and now is the time to act.
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PHILADELPHIA -- If you blinked, you missed Michael Vick’s return to Lincoln Financial Field. But then, this was not a game for the household names on either team.

Vick played exactly one snap for the New York Jets. Neither Mark Sanchez nor Nick Foles played even that much. This was about the guys on the bottom of the roster competing one last time, and that’s how the Eagles’ 37-7 victory played out.

Quarterback Matt Barkley got a long look, with mixed results. Barkley threw an interception in the end zone, although it appeared wide receiver Damaris Johnson stopped his route. Barkley threw four interceptions and zero touchdowns in his emergency duty last season.

Barkley also had an odd moment in the second quarter. He rolled to his right and jumped, but he didn’t throw the ball. After landing (and no, he wasn’t called for traveling), Barkley overthrew Will Murphy in the end zone.

But Barkley looked sharp on a 43-yard touchdown pass that caught Arrelious Benn in stride. And his back-shoulder throw to Jeff Maehl was good for a 32-yard gain in the second quarter. Barkley later overthrew a wide open Quron Pratt in the second quarter.

Barkley looked most in command on a 15-play, 80-yard touchdown drive in the second half. Barkley finished the drive with a 7-yard touchdown run. He dropped back to pass, but the whole right side of the field was wide open and Barkley took advantage. It was his last play of the game.

Some other observations:
  • Cody Parkey, acquired in a trade last week with the Colts, made a 54-yard field goal late in the first half and hit a 53-yarder in the third quarter. Incumbent kicker Alex Henery’s career-long kick was 51 yards. Henery missed a 31-yarder last week against the Steelers. Parkey also made a 25-yarder on the last play of the first half.
  • Damaris Johnson is a pretty good running back for a wide receiver. Johnson got some carries during the preseason and broke one for a 46-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. Johnson took the handoff from G.J. Kinne, started to his left and then cut back to his right. Johnson’s speed might be enough to keep him on the roster.
  • It wasn’t planned, but Matt Tobin's night lasted just a couple plays longer than Vick’s. The Eagles’ offensive lineman -- their main backup at both guard and tackle -- injured his left ankle on the Eagles’ third play from scrimmage. Tobin did not return to the game, although X-rays on the ankle were negative. Kevin Graf replaced him at left guard.
  • Chris Polk, who was iffy with a hamstring injury, did not play. Polk missed all four preseason games. He will have to hope the coaches have fond memories of his play last season. He was not helped by the performance of the backs who did play. With LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles healthy scratches, Matthew Tucker and Henry Josey ran the ball very effectively. So did Kenjon Barner, who left in the second quarter with an ankle injury. Tucker left with an injury to his left shoulder.
  • It was unorthodox, but the Eagles got quite a punt off in the second quarter. With the ball at the Eagles 12, Donnie Jones punted from his own goal line. The punt travel nearly 60 yards in the air. Linebacker Bryan Braman arrived at the Jets' return man at about the same instant as the ball. With assistance from Emmanuel Acho, they tackled the returner for a 9-yard loss. Throw in a penalty on the Jets and New York started the next drive at its own 15 -- a 73-yard swing.
  • Benn celebrated his 43-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter by leaping into the stands behind the end zone. Benn played in Tampa Bay, not Green Bay, before coming to Philadelphia, but his modified Lambeau Leap looked pretty authentic. Benn’s finest moment -- a leaping catch between two defenders in the back of the end zone -- didn’t count. He came down out of bounds.
  • Two Eagles draft picks got burned on the same Jets touchdown. Cornerback Jaylen Watkins was covering wide receiver Clyde Gates in the third quarter, and safety Ed Reynolds was in the middle of the field. As Tajh Boyd’s pass rifted down, Reynolds seemed to have a bead on it, but the ball went through his hands and Gates was able to catch it as he crossed the goal line.
  • Chris Maragos had the ball in his hands twice. Both near fumbles were ruled incomplete passes, however.
  • Curious moment in the second quarter: The Eagles had a fourth-and-1 deep in Jets territory. Chip Kelly decided to go for it, but a keeper by Barkley fell short. With few opportunities to compare Parkey and Henery, it seemed strange Kelly didn’t try a field goal. Then again, any attempt within 30 yards isn’t going to tell you much, anyway.

W2W4: Philadelphia Eagles

August, 28, 2014
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PHILADELPHIA -- The New York Jets (2-1) and Philadelphia Eagles (1-2) play their fourth and final preseason game Thursday night (7 ET) at Lincoln Financial Field.

1. Worth watching. Chip Kelly has completely abandoned any pretense. This game has no meaning for the men who will start the regular-season opener against Jacksonville on Sept. 7. It is all about competition for spots on the bottom half of the roster, but there is some intrigue there. This will be Matt Barkley's longest exposure at quarterback, for instance. With all the swirling speculation about Mark Sanchez's trade value (most of which is wishful thinking, frankly), Barkley's status is compelling. Can he build a resume that convinces Kelly he can be the No. 2 QB next year, when Sanchez is likely gone? This may be his last, best chance.

2. No Shady. You won't see LeSean McCoy, except in sideline reaction shots. But there is a real competition for one or two backup running back spots. Matthew Tucker has played well this preseason, rushing 18 times for 86 yards and four touchdowns. Chris Polk, who began camp as the favorite to win this job, hasn't played yet because of a hamstring injury. If Polk can play against the Jets, he needs to show Kelly and the coaches that he still has the same burst. Recent acquisition Kenjon Barner and rookie Henry Josey are also in the mix.

3. Sizing up kickers. Kelly was asked if he would try a field goal on first down at the 35-yard line just to see how Alex Henery and Cody Parkey respond. Kelly's response: "Our own 35? That would be an 83-yarder." Funny stuff, but the issue is real. The Eagles have the vagaries of one preseason game to judge whether Parkey, obtained in a trade last week, is more reliable than Henery, who missed a 31-yard try against the Steelers. Keep an eye on kickoffs, too. That's as big an issue here as field goal accuracy.
Most significant move: It wasn’t surprising, but the release of rookie kicker Carey Spear stands out because it wasn’t the result of Alex Henery locking up the kicker position. The Eagles are still looking to upgrade. They traded for Colts rookie kicker Cody Parkey, and will be watching the waiver wire for more candidates in the next few days. The kicking situation is still very much unsettled, which is not a good feeling with the season bearing down. On the other hand, good candidates keep becoming available: veteran Jay Feely and former Temple kicker Brandon McManus, among others.

Shift at center: The Eagles released Julian Vandervelde late Tuesday afternoon with an injury settlement, getting their roster to 75. Vandervelde, the backup to center Jason Kelce last season, had surgery on his back earlier this month. But even before he was injured, Vandervelde’s job was in peril. David Molk, whom the Eagles signed back in January, had impressed Chip Kelly and the coaches with his smarts and his agility. The Eagles have been very pleased with the play of their second-team offensive line, and Molk has been a big part of that.

What’s next: The Eagles held on to all of their running backs and cornerbacks and most of their wide receivers and linebackers. Those cuts will be tougher because of special-teams considerations. The Eagles wanted to give the players one more opportunity to show their worth in the preseason. And with the starters already working on the season opener against Jacksonville, there is plenty of playing time against the Jets available.

Eagles’ cuts: TE Blake Annen, OL Michael Bamiro, OL Karim Barton, WR Kadron Boone, WR B.J. Cunningham, OL Donald Hawkins, TE Emil Igwenagu, LB Jake Knott, DE Joe Kruger, S Daytawion Lowe, DE Frances Mays, S Davon Morgan, K Carey Spear, OL Julian Vandervelde, DE Alejandro Villanueva.
PHILADELPHIA -- Matt Barkley is getting a one-week reminder of what it’s like to be the No. 1 quarterback.

Barkley
For all of his high school and college years, Barkley was the starting QB. Last year, his rookie season with the Eagles, was the first time he was exposed to the diminished practice reps and weekend solitude of a No. 3 quarterback.

For Thursday night’s preseason finale, Barkley is preparing as the starter while Nick Foles and Mark Sanchez have already begun preparing for the regular-season opener against Jacksonville.

“It’s a little different because our ones are getting their looks at the Jaguars,” Barkley said. “It’s kind of a split practice. But the fact that you know you’re going into the game, starting, and getting reps with the guys you’re playing with -- it does kind of feel like it was in the past. Different in ways, the same in some ways.”

The Eagles drafted Barkley out of USC in the fourth round of the 2013 draft. He spent the early part of his tenure here rehabbing from a shoulder injury suffered during the season. He also had a front-row seat for the competition between Foles and Michael Vick for the starting quarterback job.

Twice last season, injuries forced Barkley to finish games started by Vick and Foles. Barkley completed 61.2 percent of his passes (30 for 49), but threw four interceptions and no touchdowns.

When the offseason rolled around, Vick left for the New York Jets, and the Eagles signed Sanchez, the former Jets starter. He was supposed to come in and compete with Barkley for the No. 2 spot behind Foles, but there wasn’t much of a competition. Sanchez has had a very good preseason and locked down the No. 2 spot early on.

For Barkley, then, this game is his last chance to make an impression for a while.

“This is a really good opportunity for Matt,” Eagles offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said. “He’s able to know days in advance that he’s starting, so he’s out here preparing to play the Jets just like it’s a regular-season game. That’s good for him, and we’ll be able to evaluate him in a really good way for a preseason game.”

Sanchez is under contract for only this season, so Barkley is still playing for his NFL future.

“He needs to play a good, efficient game at quarterback,” Shurmur said.

Barkley understands the stakes.

“I don’t have an agenda,” he said. “I want to be consistent, like I try to do every week. I’m going into this game just because I’m starting and getting more reps. I just want to be consistent. I think I’ve made big strides [since last season]. My knowledge of the offense has grown.”
PHILADELPHiA – LeSean McCoy's left thumb was wrapped tightly in a bandage. His sore toe was hidden away in cleats.

“You know I’m durable,” McCoy said after practicing Sunday.

McCoy
Come Sept. 7, McCoy said, both extremities will be fine. He will be at full go for the Eagles’ regular-season opener against Jacksonville.

“Right now,” McCoy said, “I can’t do too much with (the thumb), as far as catching with it. I’ve got another two weeks for it to get better, and it will. The toe’s feeling good.”

McCoy said he won’t need the thumb wrapped by the time the games count.

“Catch with two hands, with one hand, spike the ball, do everything you can do,” McCoy said. “Blocking? Everything.”

The Eagles are counting on McCoy, the NFL’s leading rusher last season, to have another big season. If anything, McCoy should be even more comfortable in his second season in Chip Kelly’s offense. And Kelly has had a full year to think of new ways to unleash his running back.

“One of my favorite coaches was Andy Reid,” McCoy said. “When he left, it was hard to get over that. I was like, `Man, Coach Reid is gone.’ But that’s part of the business. I loved him so much. He pushed me a lot.”

But Kelly has different ways of getting the best from McCoy.

“He never yells,” McCoy said. “Never. He’s always talking, teaching. That’s like a challenge. I want to do it, perfect it so well, I want to get that acknowledgment. You did a good job. He’s very intelligent. He finds a lot of ways to challenge me. That’s why I like him as a coach.”

Ever since his rookie year, when he was just glad to be in the NFL, McCoy said he has sought new things to challenge himself.

“I’m always trying to find a challenge, something to compete against,” McCoy said. “I play against different running backs that people talk about all the time. I want to be one of the backs that people talk about. `How good is he?’ There’s always a challenge as players. You find ways to push yourself.”

McCoy caused a bit of a stir by declaring himself a better back than Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson. Spend enough time around McCoy, though, and you realize that’s ultimately a compliment to Peterson. He’s comparing himself to the back he considers the best of the bunch. Otherwise, there would be no point.

McCoy proved himself among the best backs in the NFL last season. His new challenge is to repeat the accomplishment despite the nagging injuries that are part of the game.

New York Giants' projected roster

August, 25, 2014
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One final projection of the New York Giants' 53-man roster before the final cuts are made Saturday:

QUARTERBACKS (2)
Nassib's performances in the past two preseason games make the Giants far more confident about keeping him -- and only him -- as the backup to Manning.

RUNNING BACKS (4)

Hillis' sprained ankle could help Gaskins and Michael Cox make the team if it lingers, but if they're picking between Cox and Gaskins for that fourth spot, Gaskins looks like the better player so far in camp. Tom Coughlin also keeps saying that the fullbacks can play running back, and they have been using Henry Hynoski all over the formation in practice, so it's possible they could carry just three here, especially if they can get Gaskins on the practice squad.

FULLBACK (1)

It's a camp battle between Hynoski and John Conner, and I don't think the Giants will keep both. There was even some talk early in camp that they could go without a fullback, but the continued poor showing by the tight ends likely has put that to bed.

WIDE RECEIVERS (6)
Marcus Harris is ahead of both Washington and Parker, but he injured his shoulder Friday night and is likely to miss the start of the season, if not more. Parker sneaks onto the list this week because (a) with Beckham's hamstring injury continuing to be a problem, they may need to carry six wide receivers just to have five and (b) Parker is the primary punt returner right now with Beckham and Trindon Holliday laid up.

TIGHT ENDS (4)

Donnell, Davis and Robinson each got exactly 14 snaps in the first half Friday night, and Robinson was the only tight end in the game on the successful two-minute drill at the end of the first half. What's it all mean? Really just that no one has separated himself in this group. Davis was the starter ahead of Donnell for the first time Friday, but there's still no clarity on this situation.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (9)
Geoff Schwartz's injury has created a real mess here, as he projects to miss a significant amount of time due to a dislocated toe. The most likely scenario is that Richburg ascends the starting left guard role, but Mosley remains a question mark at right guard, which is why Reynolds (who can play center or guard) enters the picture here. Jerry could claim one of the starting guard spots, but at the very least, he becomes a more valuable reserve. Brewer, who once appeared gone for sure, becomes more valuable as an all-around backup. And the missed opportunity for Eric Herman, who's suspended for the first four games for a drug violation, looms even larger.

DEFENSIVE LINE (9)

Very few changes here, though if Kuhn's leg injury ends up costing him practice time, it could open up a spot for someone like defensive end Kerry Wynn to make the team. Bromley has looked surprisingly good in games so far and could slide in for Kuhn in the defensive tackle rotation for the short term.

LINEBACKERS (6)

Kennard has been so good so far that, if they only keep five, you wonder about Paysinger's spot a little bit. Williams is the starter at the weakside spot, even in the base defense, as long as he can stay healthy. And Kennard is a first-teamer right now on the strong side, with McClain manning the middle in place of the injured Beason. I wonder if Kennard could keep the spot ahead of McClain even once Beason comes back. Herzlich is on the squad for special teams, where he has great value.

CORNERBACKS (5)

It helps the numbers that Jayron Hosley will be suspended for the first four games of the regular season for a drug violation. If he does make the team, the Giants will have to clear a spot for him in Week 5. This group could also swell if the Giants decide they need to keep sixth-round pick Bennett Jackson and/or Charles James for special teams. It's going to be tough to make the Giants' roster as a corner this summer, though recent injuries to Amukamara and Bowman could result in a short-term spot opening.

SAFETIES (4)
Cooper Taylor's toe injury is serious enough to keep him out for a long time, possibly even the whole season. That's unfortunate for Taylor, but it helps Berhe and likely helps someone at another position, such as Charles James at cornerback or Adrien Robinson at tight end. The Giants like to have a balanced roster -- 25 offensive players, 25 defensive and three specialists -- but that's not a requirement.

SPECIALISTS (3)

Brown isn't home-free yet, as Brandon McManus is hitting bombs in practice and has shown well in games. But Brown hasn't done anything to lose his spot, and as long as he remains reliable, my bet is he keeps it.

Giants have a problem at guard

August, 24, 2014
Aug 24
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- In an offseason in which fixing the offensive line was the New York Giants' clear No. 1 priority, Geoff Schwartz was their first call.

They targeted Schwartz early and signed him as soon as free agency began. They viewed him not as a cure-all but as a foundation piece -- a reliable veteran whose presence at left guard would help make the rest of their line problems easier to solve.

So while injuries happen and you can't fault the Giants if Schwartz's toe injury keeps him out for a significant period of time, it is a major problem for them, and they may struggle more than you think to solve it.

Schwartz
 The "next man up," to borrow from strained NFL parlance, is rookie Weston Richburg, a second-round pick who played center in college but has been working throughout camp at guard behind Schwartz and Brandon Mosley. Richburg obviously has talent. There was some thought when he was drafted that he might be a better option at center than current projected starter J.D. Walton. But he's also a rookie, and even he admits he's not where he'd like to be at this point in his development.

"Oh, no," Richburg said Sunday morning. "If you're content with how you're playing, I think you're cheating yourself. I always want to get better. I made some mistakes in the last game that I know I need to correct."

He may have no choice but to correct them on the fly. The Giants don't like to lean on rookies as starters, but they showed last season with right tackle Justin Pugh that they will if they have no other choice. Pugh played well enough as a 16-game rookie starter that it worked out. Problem is, there's no guarantee that it will work out again. Even if Richburg is an eventual Pro Bowler, no one can be sure he'll develop as quickly as Pugh did.

"What I'm doing best right now is having a short memory," Richburg said. "If I make a mistake, just clap it off and go on to the next play and not let it affect me. I think I'm doing a good job of forgetting about it and just playing fast and continuing."

Great, but the issue is that the understandable rookie mistakes are happening, and that mistakes on the offensive line are hazardous to the health and effectiveness of Giants quarterback Eli Manning. This wouldn't be as serious a concern if left guard were the only spot at which there was concern. But the Giants have had pass-protection issues with Walton, Mosley and left tackle Will Beatty this preseason as well. Adding a still-green Richburg to the starting mix leaves Pugh as the surest commodity, and even he is a second-year player whose growing pains likely aren't all the way behind him. There are still talent evaluators around the league who view Pugh as a guard playing out of position and think the Giants' line will be better once he's moved inside, but at this point they don't have any better options at tackle.

No, the issue here continues to be depth, and that's a failing of the organization's offseason. They brought in John Jerry on the premise that he'd be a quality veteran backup should something happen at guard, yet after Chris Snee retired and Schwartz got hurt Jerry remains in a backup role while Richburg and Mosley line up with the starters. Charles Brown, signed as the veteran depth at tackle, played terribly in relief of Beatty early and is now hurt, which has resulted in Pugh having to take some left tackle snaps in practice with Mosley moved out to right tackle. Reserve guard/center Eric Herman is suspended for four games, and reserve guard/tackle James Brewer is hurt.

It's thin, folks, and it's still very thin at the interior positions that were supposed to be upgraded this year. There's a lot of book from last year on how easy and effective it is to pressure Manning from the A-gap, and if the Giants don't get things figured out in there, defenses aren't going to need to alter last year's plan very much to beat them. After all the work that was done in the offseason, the Giants' biggest 2014 problem may end up being exactly the same as the one that sunk them in 2013.

RG III, Gruden defend progress

August, 24, 2014
Aug 24
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BALTIMORE -- The Redskins didn’t want this sort of a dress rehearsal. The last chance for quarterback Robert Griffin III to display his progression as a pocket passer resulted in more questions than points. Griffin hesitated on throws, was intercepted and struggled -- as did too many of his offensive teammates.

And as a result, Griffin and coach Jay Gruden were both defending his progress after a 23-17 loss to Baltimore on Saturday night.

Griffin
 Though he did not protect himself well against Cleveland the week before, Griffin generally threw the ball well -- except for one big blunder on an interception. Still, there were positives for Griffin and the Redskins to find.

That wasn’t the case Saturday.

“He is further along than it appears he is,” Gruden said. “Based on his production [Saturday], a lot of people would say he’s not further along. He’s a lot further along than he gets credit for. All you have to look at is practice and game tape, and it wasn’t very good from anybody. But I’ve seen him practice, and I’ve seen him come a long way. [Saturday] didn’t show how much he’s come forward.”

On the game broadcast, former Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann was adamant in saying backup Kirk Cousins had outplayed Griffin in the preseason. The Redskins are committed to Griffin; Cousins has made his own mistakes, though he’s more comfortable in the pocket at this stage.

“There will be overreactions all over the place,” Griffin said. “It’s our job to make sure we stay cool, calm and collected and keep fighting on. ... I won’t judge Week 1 to Week 2 to Week 3 in the preseason as a regression on myself or on this team or the offense in general.”

Griffin finished the preseason completing 13 of 20 passes for 141 yards and two interceptions. The No. 1 offense did not score a touchdown in its 10 drives this preseason (though one was a kneel-down to end a half). Saturday, the Ravens generated too much pressure with four rushers, though sometimes they were helped by Griffin’s indecision.

Nor did it help that of the eight third downs they faced, five were for 8 yards or longer. Two of the eight third downs resulted in penalties, one by Washington negating a first down and one by the Ravens. On the third downs, Griffin was sacked twice and fumbled the shotgun snap another time. The Redskins continue to say it will take time for Griffin to improve in the pocket. Like the team’s fans, though, they get frustrated with the growing pains. But it wasn’t just a tough night for Griffin.

“Everybody is going to point at Robert, but it’s a total team thing,” Gruden said. “We had some chances to make plays, and we didn’t make them. Nobody played good enough in that first half to really talk about of note.”

Griffin was 0-for-3 on first-down passes with one interception. Another first-down pass resulted in a pass interference penalty.

“We have to do a better job of getting into a rhythm, get some completions early and get some first downs,” Gruden said. “We did a poor job of first and second down. It all starts with me the playcaller and on down to everybody else. We have to do a better job getting things going.”

Tackle Trent Williams, whose holding penalty wiped out a 29-yard catch-and-run, said of the game, “I don’t know if we can find a positive out of that.”

No, they could not. Not when the offense manages three points out of their first two drives despite getting the ball at the 50 and then the Ravens’ 42. But Gruden, with one preseason game left that will be devoted to backups, said he’s not going to let one game sully the preseason.

“They’ve done enough that I can take a lot of positives to draw from, not just the first half of a game,” he said. “We’re not going to panic and abort ship.”
PHILADELPHIA – Cody Parkey got the call while he was driving from Indianapolis to Auburn University.

Instead of going back to his college facility to stay loose and continue working out, Parkey was flying to Philadelphia and playing in a preseason game the following night. That’s the life of a young kicker trying to land one of the 32 NFL jobs.

The challenge is almost as daunting now that Parkey is in Philadelphia. He has just a few practice days and one more preseason opportunity to convince Chip Kelly and his staff that he’s better than veteran Alex Henery.

[+] EnlargeCody Parkey
AP Photo/Michael PerezCody Parkey will get a brief shot at unseating Alex Henery as the Philadelphia Eagles kicker.
“I had two good games in Indianapolis,” Parkey said Saturday. “I flew in the same day we played the game. I got a few good kicks in that day. I’m just going to take it day by day and try to get better.”

Parkey signed with the Indianapolis Colts as an undrafted free agent. That meant competing with Adam Vinatieri, one of the best field goal kickers of all time. But it was also an opportunity to learn from Vinatieri.

“He was a great guy,” Parkey said. “I really tried to pick up everything he did that other guys don’t do. To be completely honest, he’s not much different from any other kicker in terms of what he does to warm up. But he does take very good care of his body.”

Parkey is walking into an unusual situation with the Eagles. Henery was a fourth-round draft choice in 2011, an unusually high pick for a kicker. He had been solid through his first couple NFL seasons. Last year, Henery made 23 of 28 field goal attempts during the regular season. He missed a 48-yard attempt in the Eagles’ playoff loss to New Orleans.

Special teams coach Dave Fipp said in June that it was a challenge to find a better kickoff man than Henery who was at least as accurate on field goals. The team brought in Vanderbilt kicker Cary Spear to compete with Henery, but that competition never really materialized. So the Eagles made a trade with the Colts to bring in Parkey.

It will be a short competition.

“Shorter than most,” Parkey said. “But I’m going to make the best of it just like I would anywhere else. Whether I have a week or two days or whatever, I’m going to go out and kick like it could be my last day.”

The urgency for the Eagles ratcheted up when Henery missed a 31-yard field goal try in Thursday night’s preseason game. The regular season is approaching fast, and it’s not the best time to be unsure about who the kicker is going to be.

“You have to do it,” coach Chip Kelly said before Saturday’s practice. “We’ll kick today. We’ll have kicking periods during the week and we’ve got a game to play against the Jets on Thursday. We’ll see what opportunities have a chance to express. You can say I want this guy to have six kicks, but you might not have an opportunity to kick, too. Sometimes that’s out of your hands.

“We’ll go figure it out. There’s nothing else we can do.”
PHILADELPHIA -- The plan for Lane Johnson is taking shape.

Johnson
The Philadelphia Eagles right tackle will play most, perhaps all, of Thursday night’s preseason finale against the New York Jets. That will be his last football for a month. During his four-game suspension for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing substances, Johnson will work out at a gym in Cherry Hill, N.J., and try to keep up with his teammates after hours.

Todd [Herremans, the right guard] was thinking about me coming over to his house, I guess on Mondays, and see what’s going on from a practice standpoint,” Johnson said Saturday. “I think I’m still allowed to have my iPad, so I can still watch practice [video] and everything.”

The Eagles’ starters are already beginning to prepare for Jacksonville, the first opponent of the regular season. They will not play Thursday. Their preseason is over, and the regular season has begun. Johnson, who started all 17 games last year, knows his regular season won’t begin until Week 5. So Thursday night’s game is more than a mere chore.

“This game will be big,” Johnson said. “I’ll try to play hard this last game, try to execute well. That’s my biggest thing heading into this week.”

Johnson said it will be “hard to watch” the first four regular-season games. He is not allowed at the Eagles’ facility, and is not allowed contact with the coaching staff. But there’s no rule against him socializing with his friends, who also happen to be offensive linemen.

Herremans helped Johnson arrange the gym in Cherry Hill. And the veteran guard will also be working to help Johnson ease his way back into the lineup when he’s reinstated.

“I’m trying to make the most of it,” Johnson said, “trying to come back strong. The first couple games are going to be hard. The first two games will be the toughest. I’m trying to stay on top of communication, trying to be better than I was last year coming in.”

Head coach Chip Kelly said he hasn’t spent a lot of time planning for Johnson’s return. There are plenty of other, more pressing things on his mind. Allen Barbre will start at right tackle in Johnson’s place. By Week 5, Kelly has no idea who will be available to him.

“We haven’t discussed that,” Kelly said. “That’s long-term, down the road. I know Lane will be gone after the Jets game. I mean, Allen could be gone, too. It’s a waste of time for us to be having this conversation. All of a sudden, we spend three hours in a meeting talking about what’s the scenario and all of a sudden, our right tackle is Matt Tobin, because Allen got hurt. Hopefully, we can keep all five of those guys healthy up front.”

Johnson will be eligible to return for the Oct. 5 game against St. Louis.

“Thank God it’s only four weeks,” Johnson said. “It could be the whole season.”
PHILADELPHIA -- Chip Kelly doesn’t like wasted time or effort. That applies whether he’s calling offensive plays or whittling his roster down.

Jones
Kelly
The Philadelphia Eagles released 14 players Saturday, three days before the NFL deadline to cut rosters to 75 players. The cuts leave the Eagles with 76 players on their roster. They will have to trim one more before Tuesday.

“We just didn’t feel it was beneficial to the players to have them practice with us Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, then cut them in the afternoon on Tuesday,” Kelly said. “We’ll give them a chance – I don’t know if there is – to see if they can catch on with somebody else. It’s tough to bring somebody in Tuesday at 4 o’clock and bring them in and get them ready to play on Thursday. That’s just the approach we took with this group.”

The biggest name on the list was linebacker Jake Knott, who played in 12 games for the Eagles last season. Knott, who played mostly on special teams, was facing a four-game suspension to start the season for violating the NFL policy on performance enhancing drugs.

Defensive end Alejandro Villanueva, the former Army Ranger trying to resume his football career after stints in Afghanistan, was also released. So were defensive end Joe Kruger, offensive lineman Michael Bamiro and kicker Carey Spear.

The rest of the cuts: tight ends Emil Igwenagu and Blake Annen, offensive linemen Karim Barton and Donald Hawkins, wide receivers B.J. Cunningham and Kadron Boone, safeties Daytawion Lowe and Davon Morgan and defensive end Frances Mays.

None of the cuts were especially surprising. The deadline for cutting to the final 53-man roster is next Saturday. The Eagles will use their final preseason game to get a look at the players on the bubble. Kelly said his starters and some second-team players will not play against the New York Jets Thursday night.

Matt Barkley will start at quarterback against the Jets.

Nick Foles cracks NFLRank top 100

August, 18, 2014
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PHILADELPHIA -- Nick Foles' appearance on ESPN's list of the top 100 offensive players at No. 99 in the NFL is not his first time among elite company.

After his breakout 2013 season, Foles was selected to play in the Pro Bowl. Leading up to the game, he spent time practicing and socializing with quarterbacks like Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson.

Foles
"I felt really comfortable," Foles said recently. "It wasn't one of those things where I was pumping my chest out or anything. I just felt comfortable. When I was throwing, I was just myself. I wasn't going to try to outdo anyone because everybody has their different strengths. But definitely a comfort zone. I felt natural.

"At the end of the day, those guys, they're megastars, but they're just guys. They're really just good guys. On the way back from the game, I sat next to Drew, and I've watched Drew since I was in high school, but we just had as normal a conversation as you would have with one of your buddies, just catching up, getting to know him a little more, talking about different things. It was just normal.

The Philadelphia Eagles are counting on Foles to feel comfortable as an elite NFL quarterback. Last season, while throwing for 27 touchdowns and only two interceptions, Foles did more than lead the NFL with a 119.2 passer rating. He made Michael Vick expendable and took a firm grip of the quarterback job in coach Chip Kelly’s innovative offense.

Foles' performance earned him a debut appearance on ESPN's NFLRank list. That places him in the same company he enjoyed during his Pro Bowl experience. Now the challenge is to prove he belongs, just as he did by earning MVP honors in the Pro Bowl.

"I think the big thing is it makes it easy," Foles said. "I've been around my teammates for a couple years now, and the O-line. So when I get in the huddle, it's not what I've done in the past. Like I don't even feel like I played in the Pro Bowl. I just felt like that was something I was amazed by. It just doesn't feel real. I don't even think about it."

Foles, 25, knows that last season's achievements look nice on a shelf somewhere. They won't mean anything once the games this season start to count.

"I guess I was just zoning it out because I don't want to think about it, because I know what happens when you start thinking about all the accolades," Foles said. "You start thinking you're unstoppable and then bad things happen. But where my comfort comes from is knowing my teammates. Those are my buddies."

At the same time, those teammates are counting on Foles to be the quarterback who tied an NFL record with seven touchdown passes in Oakland last season. They need him to be the guy who led them to the NFC East title by going 7-1 in the second half of the season.

"I know this year, people are going to recognize and realize that we did that, and they’re going to be even more ready," Foles said. "I don't even think about it. I'm really hard on myself when it comes to practicing. I hate making an INT or a bad throw or something. I just learn to play the next play, so when it comes to the pressure or whatever it was that I did last year, I just know that I've got to continue to work, and work smart and work hard to give me an opportunity to play at a high level this coming season. I know I say it over and over again, but all those throws that happened last year, the TDs, whatever, it does absolutely nothing. In my mind, I want to do even better."

To Foles' credit, that won't be easy.

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