NFL Nation: Max Jean-Gilles
The team has signed Geoff Hangartner, who spent the past three seasons in Buffalo. Prior to that, Hangartner was with Carolina from 2005 through 2008. He primarily was a backup at center and guard, but got some starts due to injury.
He departed for a big free-agent contract with Buffalo in 2009, but the Bills recently released him. The Panthers likely will choose between Hangartner and Max Jean-Gilles, who also has been signed.
Those are two decent veteran options after the position was decimated by injury. Expected starter Geoff Schwartz suffered a season-ending injury early in the preseason. Garry Williams was supposed to replace him, but he also suffered a season-ending injury.
Although Carolina’s coaching staff has changed since Hangartner last played for the Panthers, he could have the advantage. He was a popular locker-room figure and has familiarity with most of the other members of the offensive line.
There have been some brutal hits in this game. Indianapolis Colts receiver Austin Collie was carted off the field after a helmet-to-helmet collision with Coleman, but he's now alert and has full movement. The Colts said Collie has a concussion.
Poised to boost their lead to 23-7 or at least 19-7 with just under six minutes left in the third quarter Sunday, the Eagles had a first-and-goal from the Tennessee 3-yard line.
But Tennessee right defensive tackle Jason Jones knifed through center Mike McGlynn and right guard Max Jean-Gilles barely touched and got to quarterback Kevin Kolb, disrupting his attempt to hand off to LeSean McCoy.
Cornerback Alterraun Verner pounced on the loose ball to gain possession, continuing the Titans' excellent red zone defense. Tennessee drove 74 yards to a field goal that cut the lead to 16-10 and the flow of the game changed.
Tennessee went on to win 37-19, a score that looked like a rout.
As much as Chris Johnson and Vince Young, Jones and Verner are the kind of players who are making the Titans work and work very well right now.
What it means: It means the Eagles coughed up a game they had under control in the third quarter. The Eagles had a 16-7 lead and were moving toward the Titans' goal line when Titans defensive tackle Jason Jones caused a fumble and gave his team new life. Neither center Mike McGlynn nor right guard Max Jean-Gilles attempted to block Jones, so it's hard to say who blew the assignment. The play completely turned this game around and the Titans drove down and made it 16-10.
The goats: The Eagles had no chance at covering Titans wide receiver Kenny Britt after he missed part of the first half as punishment for a night club altercation last week. Safety Nate Allen allowed an 80-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter when he let Britt race right past him. Titans quarterback Kerry Collins badly underthew the ball, but Allen couldn't recover in time. It was the rookie's worst game of the season. And he didn't get much help from cornerback Ellis Hobbs, who allowed a 16-yard touchdown pass to Britt to give the Titans a 27-19 lead. Britt had seven catches for 225 yards and three touchdowns against the Eagles' secondary. He was brilliant in the second half, but the Eagles also gave him a hand by completely blowing coverages. And just so we don't leave anyone out, what a sad effort by Asante Samuel when Chris Johnson broke his tackle attempt to run for a first down late in the game.
The final nail: The Eagles would have had the ball back with 3:49 left in the game trailing by eight, but Jorrick Calvin fumbled during a punt return. He didn't appear to field the punt cleanly, and then he complicated matters by fighting for extra yardage during the return. It's not like he was going to escape the players who had him in their grasp. It was a back-breaking mistake, but on this day, Calvin had plenty of help.
What's next: The Eagles will have a week off to think about what may have been. This loss could haunt the Eagles the rest of the season as they now fall into a second-place tie with the Skins with a 4-3 record. And remember that the Skins have wins over the Cowboys and Eagles. The Titans absolutely own the NFC East with wins over the Eagles, Redskins and Cowboys. The Giants sit alone in first place in the division at 4-2.
What it means: The NFC East is in a complete mess. The Redskins looked dead in a 30-16 loss in St. Louis last Sunday, but now they're tied with the Eagles for the division lead. The Dallas Cowboys are sitting pretty at 1-2. They were helped by not having to play because of the bye. It's a great win for McNabb, but it's bigger for the Redskins. A 1-3 start would've been tough to overcome. Now they have a legitimate shot at staying in this thing for a little while with a 2-0 record in the division. Those wins will pay off down the road.
The Vick Factor: Just when Michael Vick made his first truly special play of the game late in the first quarter, he was knocked out of the game with a rib and chest injury. He was sandwiched by two Redskins defenders while trying to cross the goal line following a 23-yard run. Vick headed for the locker room and the play was negated because of a holding penalty on right guard Max Jean-Gilles. Kevin Kolb had his moments in the second half, but the Eagles had dug themselves too much of a hole.
The Goat: Eagles coach Andy Reid embarrassed himself at the end of the first half. After a long delay to see whether LeSean McCoy crossed the goal line for a touchdown, the Eagles had a fourth-and-goal at the Redskins' 1-yard line. Reid didn't have a play ready and the Eagles had to burn a timeout. Then they were flagged for a delay of game after the timeout. It forced the Eagles to settle for a short field goal and a 17-6 deficit. Redskins defenders raced off the field pumping their arms after the field goal, realizing they'd been offered a gift.
What's next? The Skins will host the Green Bay Packers next week and the Eagles will go on the road against the 49ers. With these teams, there's no way of predicting what will come next. Everyone will say that the outcome would've been different had Vick remained in the game, but I'm certainly not convinced of that. The Skins raced out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter and I think they were by far the most physical team. Now we'll wait and see how long Vick's out. I'll be back with a postgame column a little later this evening.
If Mike McGlynn runs into trouble at center, Nick Cole will move from his right guard spot and likely be replaced by Jean-Gilles. Because of the offensive line situation, veteran defensive end Darryl Tapp is having trouble finding a uniform on Sundays. And we're still waiting to see third-round pick Daniel Te'o Nesheim take the field in the regular season.
The Eagles and Cowboys are both one loss away from full-out panic mode. I'm in Arlington, Texas, for Bears-Cowboys, but I'll have one eye on Eagles-Lions.
Biggest surprise: At the last minute, the Eagles were able to move Stacy Andrews and his reduced (but still too large) salary to the Seahawks for a seventh-round pick in 2011. Andrews had been a huge disappointment for the Eagles and now they feel fortunate to receive anything in return for him. Of the cuts, safety Quintin Demps was probably the biggest surprise. He ended up in Andy Reid's doghouse last season, but he made strides this offseason in having a better attitude. But with rookie Nate Allen claiming the starting safety spot, Demps apparently became expendable. He was a decent return man, but not good enough to warrant a roster spot. Guard Max Jean-Gilles was released, but he'll be brought back Sunday. The Eagles missed the 6 p.m. ET trade deadline on Andrews, so that's why that happened with Jean-Gilles.
No-brainers: I lot of folks were pulling for Chad Hall as a return man, but he simply didn't have enough success in the preseason. Wide receiver Jordan Norwood catches everything, so he'll be a good practice squad candidate. Tight end Cornelius Ingram will probably make it through to the practice squad as well. You knew it was a bad sign for Macho Harris recently when he was bouncing between positions. Looked like a player at this time last year but he never took the next step.
What's next: General manager Howie Roseman will be on the hunt for safeties and cornerbacks. I like the trade for defensive end Antwan Barnes from the Ravens. He was an excellent fourth-round pick for the Ravens in '07 and he has a lot of explosion coming off the edge. He'll be a good fit in the Eagles' up-the-field pass-rush, according to some AFC scouts I spoke to Saturday. Unlike the Cowboys, I think the Eagles will continue to churn the bottom of this roster. We'll keep you posted throughout the rest of the holiday weekend. It's interesting that the Eagles kept six cornerbacks and the Cowboys three. The Eagles only kept two tight ends, so they'll be looking around for help at that position.
By the time we make it to Lehigh on Tuesday, coach Andy Reid may have to shut things down. This is the second straight year the Eagles have battled injury problems early in camp. But I will say that Samuel provided one of his most memorable quotes when asked when he might return.
"I'm not a mad scientist," Samuel said after practice. "I might be out there tomorrow."
And for those of us who rushed to judgment about Samuel perhaps being a "mad scientist," I think an apology is in order. Samuel rarely addresses reporters, so it's helpful that he brought some clarity to the situation. In other injury news, guard Max Jean-Gilles (dehydration) and center A.Q. Shipley (ankle) also left practice with injuries. Without a mad scientist on hand, it's unclear how much time they will miss.
The Beast will continue to monitor this situation from Albany.
Should the Eagles have done more to fortify their offensive line?
Somewhat surprisingly, despite a wealth of draft picks, Philadelphia didn’t make any major additions to its offensive line. The Eagles must feel quite comfortable with what they have despite Jamaal Jackson’s injury situation and the release of Shawn Andrews. So, let’s examine this situation more closely.
Stacy Andrews has been tough to count on of late, but if healthy, he will start at right guard. He also could move to right tackle if Winston Justice struggles at the position where Andrews’ brother Shawn used to play. Even if Andrews can’t be counted on, the guard depth is pretty strong with McGlynn and Max Jean-Gilles backing up Andrews and left guard Todd Herremans. Herremans is another player who, in a pinch, could slide over to right tackle, but he is quite sound at left guard. McGlynn is a potential up-and-comer who could surprise this year if needed.
Like Cole at center, Justice is better in protection than as a run-blocker. But that isn’t much of a problem in this pass-happy offense and overall, Justice was impressive in 2009. As noted above, there are backup plans in place if Justice struggles, but I fully expect him to hold down the fort at right tackle.
At left tackle, Jason Peters has caught a lot of heat since his arrival in Philadelphia, but I think he is still one of the very best tackles in the business. He has taken too many penalties and does have to be more consistent, but doing battle with the blindside edge-rushers in this division is no easy task. I have no concerns about Peters.
So, all in all, I am in the Eagles’ corner with their decision not to dedicate heavy resources to adding to their offensive line. There are some questions, but there are also some fallback options. I think this group will be fine.
Potential unrestricted free agents: G Montrae Holland
Potential restricted free agents: NT Junior Siavii, WR Miles Austin, DE Stephen Bowen, CB Cletis Gordon, DE Jason Hatcher, WR Sam Hurd, T Pat McQuistan, C Duke Preston, G Cory Procter, S Gerald Sensabaugh, DE Marcus Spears, S Pat Watkins, K Shaun Suisham.
What to expect: Anything is possible with Jerry Jones in charge, and the Cowboys could make a big splash after an underwhelming offseason a year ago. But in terms of team needs and what is required to take the next step, Dallas really doesn’t need much. A big-time impact safety makes some sense and could make a very good defense great, but that might be a project for the draft in a trade-up scenario for someone like Earl Thomas. But Darren Sharper might pique their interest. They also need to get younger along the offensive line, particularly at tackle, but that seems like a draft-day project, too. Maybe Jones gets real aggressive in the wide receiver market, as Roy Williams certainly is not living up to his billing, but the Cowboys are still rather stacked with pass-catchers. All in all, this is a team that is sitting pretty and doesn’t have a prominent unrestricted free agent who is poised to leave.
New York Giants
Potential unrestricted free agents: QB David Carr, LB Danny Clark, P Jeff Feagles, DT Fred Robbins
Potential restricted free agents: WR Domenik Hixon, TE Darcy Johnson, DE Dave Tollefson, G Kevin Boothe, S C.C. Brown, DT Barry Cofield, CB Kevin Dockery, WR Derek Hagan, WR Sinorice Moss, T Guy Whimper, LB Gerris Wilkinson.
What to expect: Big things could be in the works here, as there are already rumors swirling that New York could be a prime suitor for linebacker Karlos Dansby. An impact linebacker is certainly near the top of their wish list and Dansby fits the bill. Plus, he is extremely versatile. Getting faster on defense is a huge priority with new coordinator Perry Fewell stressing the ability to cover a lot of ground. However, Dansby isn’t really the thumper they need in the middle and is more of an outside linebacker for this system, although he would be great on passing downs. This is a group of decision-makers who might be starting to feel some heat, so do not rule out a big move or two.
Potential unrestricted free agents: DE Jason Babin, S Sean Jones, LB Jeremiah Trotter, LB Tracy White
Potential restricted free agents: LB Akeem Jordan, P Saverio Rocca, WR Jason Avant, C Nick Cole, LB Omar Gaither, LB Chris Gocong, CB Ellis Hobbs, G Max Jean-Gilles, TE Alex Smith, FB Leonard Weaver.
What to expect: There are questions on the offensive line, but overall, the Eagles are in a prime situation to improve their defense, particularly up front and at safety. Remember, they have quarterbacks to dangle as trade bait and really do not have any unrestricted guys that they need to bring back. This is a possible landing spot for Julius Peppers and he would be terrific on the opposite side of Trent Cole, who is among the most underrated players in the game and could blow up with someone taking pass protection attention away from his side. Count on the Eagles being aggressive in the free-agent and/or trade market. It might just be enough to get them that ever elusive Lombardi trophy. Stranger things have happened.
Potential unrestricted free agents: LS Ethan Albright, DE Phillip Daniels, T Levi Jones, C Casey Rabach,
P Hunter Smith, T Mike Williams, DE Renaldo Wynn, TE Todd Yoder.
Potential restricted free agents: DE Lorenzo Alexander, T Stephon Heyer, LB Chris Wilson, QB Jason Campbell, S Reed Doughty, DT Kedric Golston, LB Rocky McIntosh, DT Anthony Montgomery, C Will Montgomery, CB Carlos Rogers.
What to expect: This is a difficult team to get a grasp on in terms of what they might do in free agency, but I think it is safe to say that ownership will not hold Mike Shanahan and company back from opening up the check book and signing (and even overpaying) players whom they desire. It would be wise for Washington to have an excellent idea of what they are going to do with the fourth overall draft pick in terms of going quarterback or offensive tackle before really devising a free-agency plan. Rebuilding the offensive line is a must and Shanahan needs lighter, quicker (and younger) linemen than are on the roster. A running back they can trust wouldn’t hurt either, although it looks as though Clinton Portis will return, which they may regret. But don’t forget, this is a team that -- unwisely in my opinion -- is switching to a 3-4 scheme, so inside linebacker help is required, as are defensive linemen who fit the new scheme. The Redskins have a long wish list, but also have the ownership to endorse big spending when free agency opens.
The numbers have obviously dipped in recent years because of all of the underclassmen coming out, but the Senior Bowl is still an important part of the evaluation process -- especially for the Philadelphia Eagles. Here's the breakdown from 2005-09:
In 2005, the first six players selected by NFC East teams were all on Senior Bowl rosters. In 2009, only three of the first 11 players picked by NFC East teams participated in Senior Bowl week. As we've already stated, this probably has a lot to do with the spike in underclassmen entering the draft. These players are not eligible for the "Senior" Bowl. We're also seeing some of the big-time seniors sit out the Senior Bowl because they feel like there's more to lose than to gain. That's why I admire a player like USC safety Taylor Mays showing up and competing in Mobile, Ala., this week.
For a somewhat unheralded player such as Idaho offensive lineman Mike Iupati, the Senior Bowl can provide a rare opportunity to compete against athletes from larger schools. Iupati has had a breakout week and some draft experts, including our own Todd McShay, think he could go in the first round.
Over the past five seasons, nine of the 17 first-round picks in the NFC East were on the Senior Bowl roster. That list includes DeMarcus Ware, Jason Campbell, Brodrick Bunkley, Mathias Kiwanuka and Anthony Spencer. Over the past few years, the Eagles have been pretty shrewd when it comes to identifying and tracking players who participated in the Senior Bowl:
Here's a great Excel spreadsheet if you're interested in finding out which players from the NFC East have participated in the Senior Bowl over the past five years. In 2009, the Giants selected linebacker Clint Sintim (Virginia) and offensive tackle Will Beatty (Connecticut) in the second round and Ramses Barden (Cal Poly) in the third. All three players participated in the Senior Bowl. And at least two of the players -- Beatty and Sintim -- could be starting in 2010.
NFC: Cowboys-Eagles: Mosley » Packers-Cardinals: Sando | Seifert
Three nuggets of knowledge about Saturday's Eagles-Cowboys wild-card playoff game.
2. The Eagles' offensive line will look better this week. It's tough to throw Nick Cole in at center and then drop Max Jean-Gilles at right guard. The Eagles' offensive line wasn't on the same page from the start last Sunday. You'll see them play with a lot more confidence Saturday night. It's hard to imagine Donovan McNabb having back-to-back poor games. He has a knack for bouncing back, and it wouldn't surprise me if he puts up some big numbers.
3. Tony Romo must remain patient in this game. There's a good chance Sean McDermott will try to bring the house on defense early in this game. Romo may need to bide his time and simply protect the ball early. He'll have his opportunities. Cornerback Asante Samuel will try to bait him into making a mistake. Romo has done a tremendous job of protecting the football this season, and I think he realizes that possessions become even more precious in the playoffs. You'll see him stay in his comfort zone early as he tries to get the ball to tight end Jason Witten. The Eagles don't have anyone who can cover Witten outside of Sheldon Brown and Asante Samuel. If they try to cover Witten with Will Witherspoon or Jeremiah Trotter, he'll have at least seven receptions. The Cowboys came out last Sunday and pounded the ball with Marion Barber and Felix Jones. They should stay with that approach.
Cowboys NT Jay Ratliff vs. Eagles C Nick Cole and RG Max Jean-Gilles: For the Eagles to sustain drives, they'll have to account for Ratliff on almost every snap. He has the rare combination of speed and power that makes it difficult to control him for prolonged periods of time. As you've probably heard by now, Cole's making his first start at center for the Eagles. Of course, he's started at left and right guard this season, but that's different than having to call out assignments to teammates. Fortunately for the Eagles, the Lawton, Okla., native is an intelligent player who does a nice job of adjusting on the fly. As long as Cole and quarterback Donovan McNabb have ironed out their snap-exchange issues from last Sunday, I don't think Cole will be much of a downgrade from Jamaal Jackson. Andy Reid would never say this publicly, but I believe there was a time this past offseason when he thought Cole might challenge Jackson for the starting center job. Now that Jackson's hurt, it seems like everyone in Philly is making him out to be some type of elite offensive lineman. He's certainly been effective and durable, but it's wrong to say he's irreplaceable. My bigger concern would be with Jean-Gilles. He and Cole have to be on the same page at all times. The Cowboys like to run a lot of slants with Ratliff, who's capable of jumping the snap and being in the backfield before a guard can get out of his stance. Jean-Gilles is somewhat of a mauler, but on Sunday he'll need to play under control. Ratliff's a highly intelligent player with a nonstop motor. If the Eagles can somehow neutralize him, they'll have a much better chance of moving the ball.
Cowboys LT Flozell Adams vs. Eagles RDE Trent Cole: These two players have had some pretty good battles over the years. Cole's relentless motor and his ability to get underneath Adams' pads gives him the advantage at this point in their careers. Adams is a false start waiting to happen, but he certainly does a better job at staying focused when the Cowboys are playing at home. When he wants to, Adams can still dominate an opposing player. But from game to game, you never know which player's going to show up. I look for Cole to go right at him with the bull-rush early in Sunday's game in order to set him up for some outside moves. I'm glad to see that players and coaches recognized Cole's ability and put him in the Pro Bowl. It's not like he needs to have two or three sacks to be effective. He simply needs to get as many knockdowns or hurries on quarterback Tony Romo as possible. If Romo starts thinking about the rush too much, the Eagles will have succeeded. I think this will be a matchup that folks are talking about Monday morning.
Tony Romo vs. Sean McDermott's blitz package: Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett had no clue how to protect Romo against Jim Johnson's blitzes in last season's 44-6 loss. It was another masterful performance by Johnson and it was a game that haunted Romo throughout the offseason. He and Garrett have done a much better job this season of taking advantage of pressure. In the first matchup between the Eagles and Cowboys, Romo was sacked four times. But he also beat the Eagles on a 49-yard touchdown pass to Miles Austin that changed the game. If you don't get to Romo right away, he'll find Austin streaking across the middle. And with the way the Eagles' secondary tackles, that's a dangerous proposition. McDermott loves to line up nickel cornerback Joselio Hanson in the slot and send him on blitzes. He had some success against the 49ers and Broncos with that approach. McDermott doesn't blitz as much as Johnson, but he does seem to choose his spots well. And don't forget that former Cowboys defensive coordinator Brian Stewart is coaching the Eagles' secondary this season. Stewart has a great feel for the Cowboys' offensive personnel, so that could be a factor on Sunday.
Cowboys TE Jason Witten vs. Eagles defense: Witten absolutely loves facing the Eagles. For whatever reason, Jim Johnson never really found an answer for the Pro Bowl tight end. He has 70 catches for 835 yards and three touchdowns in 12 games against the Eagles. He's the master at setting up routes and he always did a nice job of exposing middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter, who now rotates with Akeem Jordan at middle linebacker. The Eagles will try a variety of things against Witten. They may try to figure out how to get Hanson on Witten or they may even chip him with a linebacker before passing him off to safety Quintin Mikell. McDermott has a ton of respect for Witten and that's where a lot of his preparation will be leading up to the game.
Eagles TE Brent Celek vs. Cowboys defense: Celek arrives in Arlington, Texas, with a chip on his shoulder after not making the Pro Bowl team even though he has seven more touchdowns than Witten this season. It's not like he begrudges Witten, though, because he's studied and learned from the Cowboys tight end ever since he entered the league three years ago. Celek is an extremely intelligent and physical player. He caught a touchdown pass against the Cowboys in the last game but he only had three catches for 39 yards. Last week, he had three catches of 30 yards or more and he's averaged 19.1 yards per catch over the past three games. If the Cowboys focus too much on DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, Celek will make them pay. And since I brought up Jackson's name, I think the Cowboys will play him straight up and not have Mike Jenkins follow him around the way Champ Bailey did last week. Jackson didn't have a big game against the Cowboys earlier this season, but he's obviously capable of going off at any moment.
Happy New Year! And enjoy the game.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
Three quick hits on the Philadelphia Eagles:
1. Continuity on the offensive line could be an issue: Left tackle Jason Peters may be an elite player, but he struggled in his first preseason game. He's playing next to left guard Nick Cole right now, but at some point Todd Herremans (foot) will return to the starting lineup. Herremans has told reporters he'll be ready to go for the regular season. This offensive line has been in a state of flux throughout training camp. And if Shawn Andrews (back) can't get things figured out, he'll be replaced by former second-round pick Winston Justice at right tackle. Fortunately, the Eagles have decent depth along the line with players such as Cole and Max Jean-Gilles.
2. Who will be the backup quarterback once Michael Vick is fully reinstated? No matter what Andy Reid's saying right now, Vick will eventually be the No. 2 quarterback. And I think it will happen sooner than later. Vick will require some time to get into football shape, but I think his arm strength and speed are still there. Kevin Kolb will be the third-string quarterback by midseason.
3. The Eagles should be fine at middle linebacker: Losing Stewart Bradley (knee) for the season was tough news, but the late Jim Johnson did a great job of preparing some of the other linebackers. Last year's seventh-round draft choice, Joe Mays, is a high-motor player who's looked really good in coverage during camp. The Eagles also have the luxury of bringing in Omar Gaither to play in the nickel package. And the fact that Gaither has been a starter in the past gives the Eagles some comfort.
|Chris Gardner/US Presswire|
|Rampant injuries are threatening the continuity Eagles coach Andy Reid prefers at training camp.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- Despite the serenity and cool air (except for Monday) found in Lehigh Valley, the Eagles can't get out of here fast enough. In addition to dealing with the loss of beloved defensive coordinator Jim Johnson to cancer, the Eagles have seen players carted off the field with injuries at a daily clip.
Celek was particularly concerned to see his training-camp roommate and close friend, Stewart Bradley, suffer a season-ending knee injury during an intra-squad scrimmage at the Linc. But head coach Andy Reid scoffs when asked if he's ever experienced anything like this. In his mind, the injuries are part of football and they've created opportunities for other players.
"I don't get caught up in all that stuff," Reid said. "You're sad for the person who goes through it, but on the other hand, you have to expect these things. Let's go play football."
Most pundits, including this one, have the Eagles as a top-five team in the league. But I'll admit the lack of continuity along the offensive line has me re-thinking my position. Continuity is one of Reid's favorite words, and right now his starting right tackle, Shawn Andrews, might not be ready for the start of the regular season.
|Chris Gardner-US PRESSWIRE|
|Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson has been unstoppable at training camp.|
Maclin is still playing catch-up after his contract holdout, but he's supremely gifted and confident. He bristled at the suggestion that he might not earn a starting job immediately.
"I didn't come here to sit on the bench," Maclin said. "I'm going to make sure I do everything possible to be on the field."
Maclin's trying to learn the nuances of the West Coast offense on the fly, but he's an extremely intelligent player who should catch on quickly. Right now, though, it's Jackson who's drawing the most attention in camp. He's so quick off the line that no one can get a jam on him. That's where Maclin has room for improvement. He wasn't seeing jams at the line of scrimmage against Iowa State or Kansas State in the Big 12 North. He'll have to get stronger and become more aggressive.
Can the Eagles overcome all the injuries from training camp?
Losing your starting middle linebacker (Bradley) and talented rookie tight end Cornelius Ingram isn't a good way to begin the season, but one of Jim Johnson's greatest strengths was preparing young players for moments exactly like this. Joe Mays, a second-year player from North Dakota State, probably will play middle linebacker on first and second down. He'll get help from former starter Omar Gaither on passing downs. Mays, a sixth-round draft pick, is short (5-foot-11), but he brings a lot of power to the point of attack. I don't know how he'll hold up in regular-season games, but he's consistently making plays in camp.
Perhaps the bigger concern right now is Shawn Andrews' back injury. He missed training camp last season while battling depression and then promptly injured his back. Some have questioned Andrews' passion for the game, but the Eagles have insisted that he really is hurt. If he can't go, Eagles fans can get reacquainted with former first-round pick Winston Justice at right tackle.
Westbrook has started to increase his workload on the side and he should be ready to go late in the preseason. At this point, it's not as if he needs a ton of carries in the preseason. I visited with McCoy on Monday until Jackson ordered h
im to go sign autographs. The second-round pick has looked comfortable in the Eagles' offense from Day 1 of camp. He's an instinctive runner who's already adept at setting up his blockers. I think Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg are looking to get McCoy the ball in a variety of ways. Early in camp, he got behind the secondary for a 35-yard touchdown. He caught a lot of balls at Pittsburgh and his soft hands will give the Eagles another option. I think they want McCoy to touch the ball at least 10-12 times per game -- right from the start.
Who will win position battles at safety and cornerback?
I've been very impressed with veteran cornerback Sheldon Brown's approach to this camp following an offseason of complaints about his contract. He went high to break up a pass in team drills Monday and he's working hard to hold off former Patriots starter Ellis Hobbs. I think coaches will let those players battle throughout the preseason, but Brown's getting the majority of the reps with the first team. Hobbs is learning the Eagles' defense on the fly, so he's not as aggressive right now as he's used to being. But coaches like the fact that Hobbs has a chip on his shoulder after being traded from New England. And with all the injuries, the Eagles need to create as much depth as possible.
At safety, Quintin Demps is getting most of the first-team reps. Sean Jones, signed as a free agent from Cleveland, has been solid, though. Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott hasn't handed the starting job to either player, and that has made for some good competition.
It will be interesting to see how many receivers the Eagles keep on the roster. They have some depth and youth at the position, which leaves players such as Reggie Brown and Hank Baskett on the bubble. It's not helping Brown and Baskett's cause that a rookie from Washington State named Brandon Gibson is having a strong camp. You have to believe that Jackson, Curtis, Maclin and Avant are locks. If the Eagles only keep five receivers, there's a chance they go with a kid like Gibson. Former Texas Tech Red Raider Danny Amendola is a Wes Welker starter kit, but he looks more like practice-squad material to me. At linebacker, keep your eye on Moise Fokou, a seventh-round pick from Maryland. He's making plays all over the field, but we'll see if he can take it into the preseason games.
|Chris Gardner-US PRESSWIRE|
|All eyes are on Eagles first-round pick Jeremy Maclin.|
I'll have my eye on Maclin pretty closely in the preseason. I think he's going to struggle getting off the line at first. And his route running will be something to watch. He's a fluid player who doesn't mind going across the middle, but right now, you can tell that he's still thinking too much. He might be one of those players who sort of comes alive in the preseason. That was certainly the case with Jackson last season.
There's a second-year running back named Eldra Buckley from Tennessee-Chattanooga who could be a good change-of-pace back. I don't think Lorenzo Booker is long for this team despite what anyone tells you. He dropped a pass in Monday's practice and the coaches don't trust him to pick up blitzes. He has been around too long for that to still be an issue. ... I think Celek's on his way to becoming a big-time player. Very humble guy, but he showed up when the stakes were high last December and January. He also has been studying tape of Jason Witten to learn some pointers. I like that Celek takes a lot of pride in blocking too. The NFC East is absolutely stacked at tight end. ... One of the reasons Reid isn't panicking about the offensive line situation is that he has a lot of faith in backups such as Nick Cole and Max Jean-Gilles. The Eagles have done a pretty good job of creating depth along the offensive line and you can bet they're not going to sit around waiting for Shawn Andrews to show up. ... If offensive tackle King Dunlap ever realizes what sort of physical tools he's been given, he could be a good player. Not sure he's there yet. ... The signing of left tackle Jason Peters jump-started the Eagles' offseason. I watched him stone defensive ends on consecutive plays Monday. He's a pretty impressive-looking player. He still has the footwork of a tight end, his position at Arkansas, but he can engulf defenders with his power. I think he'll be the best left tackle in the division -- and he better be for that money. ... McNabb still appears to be having fun in camp. On Monday, he took off running when he couldn't find a receiver. Instead of stepping out of bounds, he tight-roped down the sideline, much to the delight of Eagles fans. ... I've heard good things about Latrobe, but I can't imagine a better setting than this one. Gorgeous green meadows in every direction and great access for fans. It's a shame the Eagles are breaking camp so early (Wednesday), although you won't hear any complaints from them.