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Keeping an eye on the Birds going into final preseason game

Posted by Dany Sloan On September - 2 - 2010

Tonight’s final preseason matchup against the Jets will be one for the hardcore fans. The game, which begins at 8 at the Linc, will be devoid of all of the familiar faces. While you won’t be able to get your fix of Celek, Kolb, or DeSean, there will be plenty of important things to keep an eye on that will have an effect on the team as they head into their season opener on September 12 at home against Green Bay.

With 10 days to go until the season begins, the final 53-man roster is all but wrapped up, but we could see guys slide up and down the depth charts, or if there’s a really remarkable performance, one or two guys sneak on to the team.

These are the things that I looking at tonight:

1. Michael Vick: The backup quarterback has actually looked worse this year. Although his speed seems to be back, lost are his throwing accuracy (not that he was ever the best passer) and his ability to hold onto the ball. There are some people who have it in the back of their mind that Kolb’s success isn’t assured, so the Birds need to have a guy at backup ready to step in. The jury is still out on Vick, and he needs to show tonight that he can make the right decisions under pressure.

2. Macho Harris: While his action has been limited due to a severe hamstring injury, the second-year player needs to make a case for himself at the crowded safety position. He will be competing with Quintin Demps and the so far impressive rookie Kurt Coleman. Admittedly, I’ve never been high on Harris, but this is a position of need for the Birds, so having some extra push and pull could motivate all of these guys to go above and beyond.

3. Wide receivers: In my mind, the guys that are a lock are DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant, and Riley Cooper. Beyond that, it’s anyone’s guess and the last 1 or 2 guys will come down to three guys – familiar face Hank Baskett, Kelley Washington, and Chad Hall. We all know the story with Baskett, and Hall started out training camp by pulling down everything in his sight, but Washington could usurp them both by showing that he is strong enough to play in the NFL.

4. Rookies: Plenty of rookies have really made a name for themselves during the preseason, and none are more obvious than first round pick Brandon Graham and free safety Nate Allen (the Donovan McNabb pick), but how the roles of a few other guys play out will be very interesting. One guy I particularly like is tight end Clay Harbor, especially with the constant confusion surrounding Cornelius Ingram. Harbor has proven that he can catch the ball, but more importantly, he looks to be the blocking complement to breakout
star Brent Celek. Fourth-round cornerback Trevard Lindley will likely hit the field with the starters tonight, and he could continue making his case to the team.

After tonight, the countdown to the 2010 season will be officially underway. While many casual fans will choose to tune out of this contest, this matchup is just as important for the team as the three previous games. The way things shake out with Vick and the rookies will be particularly important for the Birds going into this season.

Don’t measure the Eagles by the preseason

Posted by Dany Sloan On August - 29 - 2010

Taking too much stock in preseason football can make a pessimist out of even the most positive fan. This team has taken their lumps in many of the expected areas, and while the playoffs seem like a longshot this year, things are not all bad.

The outcome of a season can never be based on the results of the preseason, especially when the starters only see action in six quarters over the course of four games. These games are more about figuring out chemistry and fleshing out the roster.

With 75 players still in camp, there’s a lot of trimming needed to be done to get down to 53. We now know that guys like receiver Riley Cooper, defensive end Daniel Te’o-Nesheim, and tight end Clay Harbor will be important additions to the 2010 Eagles team. Training camp and the three preseason games played so far helped these guys rise to the top of a very crowded fray.

Look at the rest of the NFC East and their preseason slate. Things haven’t looked good for “America’s Team” Dallas Cowboys, who all of the experts are already calling Super Bowl-bound. With a terrible offense that has not scored more than 16 points in any game, they’ve looked like shit. I doubt that anyone is worried, especially not their smug fans.

Just down 95, things aren’t so nice in Washington, D.C. Donovan McNabb is – wait for it – injured yet again, and likely will not be ready for the season opener. Offensively and defensively these guys are just not gelling.

Boy wonder Eli Manning has gotten battered, and he and his Giants got absolutely clowned by the Ravens yesterday. Granted Baltimore is a very good team, but judging a team’s worth by the score in the preseason is as ineffective as picking a Cy Young winner strictly on the games won.

As the Birds come home to face the Jets in their final matchup before the regular season begins, the starters will be sitting in lieu of the guys on the bench. Will it be nice to win the game? Sure, but it won’t mean anything.

While some disappointing things have happened this preseason, fans have seen just as many good things go down as well. The Eagles have a tough road ahead of them, so it’s going to take the first team consistent playing time together before we judge this season a bust or not.

Cornelius Ingram to get MRI on left knee

Posted by Dany Sloan On August - 25 - 2010

It wouldn’t be a preseason without an injury to tight end Cornelius Ingram, and almost like clockwork, he’ll be getting an MRI on his left knee this week. He missed several days of training camp and practice with a swollen calf and issues with this knee, and with an overall disappointing preseason, this almost seemed inevitable.

This is the same knee that suffered an ACL tear while he was in college, and as well, one last year during training camp. While you want nothing but the best for a guy that should slot in right behind Brent Celek on the depth charts, it’s gotten to be a little too much by this point.

In typical Andy Reid fashion, the injury was downplayed, relaying to the media:

“He just has some swelling there. It’s just precautionary measures. It’s bothering him, so we’re going to get it checked out.”

While it sounds like this is all speculative, based on history and his excessive time missed already, Ingram is likely going to miss significant time. With rookie Clay Harbor getting plenty of first team reps – and making impressive plays left and right – the team’s backup plan is already in full effect.

What I expect to happen is that the team moves forward with two tight ends – those being Celek and Harbor, and Ingram ends up on injured reserve. This would be his second time time on IR in his two-year career. While there is the off-chance the team would just cut him, it’s hard to throw in the towel this early on a young talent.

For the sake of the team and Ingram, let’s hope I am wrong.

Familiar woes among Eagles preseason problems

Posted by Dany Sloan On August - 24 - 2010

Lots of people have been talking about how bad the Eagles looked on Friday. After looking back at a few key moments and letting things fester for a few days, I agree…and disagree. The key issues remain some of the team’s classic, perennial issues – converting for a touchdown inside the redzone, penalties, and the offensive line’s inability to effectively protect the quarterback.
While the team had other problems, these are the big ones that were apparent in the first half, which was when the first team was on the field.

It’s easy to say that the Birds need to get their shit together and execute these tenets of an upper echelon football team, but many of the issues run much deeper.

The offensive line is not quite decimated, but it’s not the line that the team should be putting on the field. Starting center and keystone Jamaal Jackson is recovering from his ACL tear faster than expected, but he’s still unlikely to play at all during the preseason. Mike McGlynn has been good, but he’s not what the team needs at this point. Jackson knows the line and his blocking skills are impeccable.

Additionally, Todd Herremans sat out once again, presumably not because he can’t play but because the team is being very careful with him due to his recent injuries. He’ll likely be playing against the Chiefs this week in Kansas City. Arguably the strongest member of the interior offensive line, he’ll help to offset issues brought on by the terrible Max Jean-Gilles. While McGlynn and Stacy Andrews have their own spate of issues, but the recently lapband-equipped left guard should not be playing with the first team. Defensive backs all too often run circles around him, and the excellent Bengals defense took advantage of this.

Most importantly, before you decry Andy Reid for abandoning the run, just remember that you would do the same thing if you were getting no support from your O-line.

The penalty situation is a funny one – like not funny as in “ha ha,” but funny in a “this happens all of the time” way and why the hell haven’t
you guys learned from your mistakes yet?

I’ve lived in Los Angeles for just over two years, and each Sunday I watch the game at a Philly sports bar in Santa Monica called The Shack. Not to get too far off track here, but it’s nice to be surrounded by people from back home and fans that understand the complex love/hate relationship we all have with this team and Andy Reid. Nothing exemplifies this more than the stupid penalties the Birds consistently commit. After two years of regularly going to this bar, the hooting and hollering that happens after these blockhead plays is ingrained
in my psyche.

Will this year be any different? While there is hope, I don’t expect the team to flip a switch and make everything better. Just like calling for a pop fly in baseball, this is stuff you learn when you’re a kid. It should be easy.

Over two preseason games, the Eagles have not scored one touchdown. Not one. While penalties can explain a fraction of these red zone failures, and the offensive line question marks likely make up most of the rest, it seems that this is more of a procedural problem than one of culture or mentality.

While sometimes honesty can bring pessimism to the forefront, I am feeling optimistic about the Birds turning things around inside the 20. This shiny new offense will hit their stride soon as Kolb becomes comfortable with who to use when. Also, as the offense line comes together, the run game will improve.

The three things that have held the team back from scoring a TD so far have been penalties, the offensive line, and fumbles, all of which can easily be addressed in practice. I am not worried about turnovers as that has never been the M.O. of this team. If I had to choose one thing that fans needed to seriously worry about, it’s the offensive line. Of course this is fodder for a (much, much) longer piece, but why Reid and company didn’t address this huge issue in the draft is beyond me. When your starting center and left guard are injured, young talent needs to be seriously considered.

The big issue Friday night were the illegal formation penalties which happened not once, not twice, but four times. Completing ignoring the old adage “learn from your own mistakes,” the team even caused a Jason Avant TD to be pulled back. Jason Peters was responsible for two of these penalties. Although this can be attributed to a preseason mindset and just trying to work out kinks, this needs to addressed in practice.

So was there some bright spots from this young team? Of course there were.

Young Captain Kolb looked great under pressure, both scrambling and getting rid of the ball early. Newly anointed starting left defensive end Brandon Graham reacted well to pressure and expertly helped to shut down the run game. All of those early predictions that he could be the Defensive Rookie of the Year don’t seem so far-fetched any more.

DeSean Jackson remains the de facto man at wide receiver. He isn’t pulling down those massive deep catches of yore, but most importantly, he’s using his speed to outrun secondaries and consistently get open. He nabbed four catches for 74 yards this past Friday against a very tough defense.

Other guys that look good include Sav Rocca (early indications point to him having a better season), David Akers (a model of consistency), Trent Cole (often unnoticed, but always great), and finally, Stewart Bradley. His huge hit on Ochocinco got the receiver talking (whining, if you want to be specific) and he’s emerging as a true defensive leader, one that was sorely missed last season.

Strictly looking at the score, last week’s preseason opener against Jacksonville was a win, but digging a little deeper, there are plenty of things the Eagles need to work on. While some of those issues may be new, many of them are long-standing ones that plague the team year-in and year-out. Tomorrow night’s matchup in Cincinnati against the Bengals will be the perfect place to address them.

Phiadelphia’s longest-tenured athelete, David Akers, had plenty of chances to show everyone that he’s still got it last week by kicking five field goal. It’s great to make it in the red zone a lot, but it would be nice if the Birds were converting more of these opportunities into touchdowns. While we’re dealing with a young team with many new parts, this is not a new problem. If there’s ever a time for the first team to break this bad habit, it’s now. Reid and company need to find a better way to mix plays to get the ball into the endzone.

The secondary will be focal point, especially the two safeties that have stood out in camp, Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman. If both of these guys pan out – and this is looking more likely each day – then the team will be set for years to come. Both of these guys will potentially have a special challenge, which is guarding prolific loudmouths/receivers Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco. While the latter is more of a threat, both will provide the test that these rookies need.

The wide receiver corps should continue to play out this week, and surprisingly, Hank Baskett will likely be the odd man out. We all know that DeSean “Nats Hat” Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, and Jason Avant are locks, but the fourth guy on the depth chart is not vets Baskett or Jordan Norwood, but rookie Riley Cooper. He had a great camp, and if he continues to impress on the field, the Florida receiver will be your #4 guy come week 1.

While Jamaal Jackson is off of the PUP list, he won’t be playing in the preseason or at least the first few weeks of the regular season. Nick Cole was the presumptive guy to close out last year, but Mike McGylnn has slotted nicely into the role throughout training camp. If he continues to play well – and he has been better than Cole – it’s his job until Jackson is ready to come back.

As for who will play and how long tomorrow, Kolb and the first team will be in for the first half. Vick will have the third quarter, while Mike Kafka will be in for the final quarter. The second teamers will be in for the third and the third teamers will be in for the fourth quarter.

A few guys are questionable, including Mike Bell and Asante Samuel. Victor Abiamiri, the aforementioned Jamaal Jackson, Nick Cole and cornerback David Pender are all out. Additionally, and most troubling of all, Todd Herremans will be sitting out, presumably as a precaution.

Samuel exits practice with hamstring injury

Posted by Dany Sloan On August - 17 - 2010

With training camp winding down, the Birds have been fortunate not to have any of their key players suffer any significant injuries. Today when All-Pro cornerback Asante Samuel left practice with a hamstring injury, there probably wasn’t any fan whose heart didn’t skip a beat.

Losing this interception machine for any significant time would place a huge burden on a relatively untested secondary, and no one wants to see Joselio Hanson start. While it would be nice if Samuel laid down a tackle every now and then, he is definitely worth the money that the team is paying for him.

The good news, according to the Daily News, is that Samuel’s injury is not serious. He will likely not miss significant playing time, although his status for this week’s preseason matchup against Cincinnati remains uncertain.

It should be noted that when he left the field and later when he exited the field house, he did not have ice or a wrap. Perhaps this was just all him wanting to leave the field early to catch True Blood with Todd Herremanns.

It would also seem that he was ready for the training camp to be over.

“I’m too old for this!” Samuel said, presumably referring to two-a-days.

49ers sign Brian Westbrook

Posted by Dany Sloan On August - 16 - 2010

Although his time in Philadelphia ended months ago, a part of Brian Westbrook will always be an Eagle. While the always active rumor mill reported that he was going to end up in such places as Denver, St. Louis, and even Washington with his brother Byron and another certain former Philadelphia Eagle.

Today Westbrook inked a one-year deal with the San Francisco 49ers for a base salary of $1.25 million which could double with unspecified incentives. With the surprise exit of Glen Coffee, the team needed a back-up for the All-Pro Frank Gore.

In sticking with recent Eagles tradition, the team will be facing the Niners in week 5 in San Francisco, a week after they face the former face of the franchise. Two great storylines in what is already shaping up to be an interesting season.

While I wish Westbrook the absolute best, he has much less left in the tank than McNabb. Since he spent half of last season out of action, this reduced role in a offensive structure that’s similar to the one in Philadelphia should allow him to stay healthy and take on a leadership role.

Good luck to #36…except in week 5.

Football is back: Jaguars come to Philly for preseason matchup

Posted by Dany Sloan On August - 13 - 2010

Although we don’t need the Eagles to save us from the Phillies this year (anyone see that comeback last night?), it’s still nice to have football back in our lives. Tonight’s matchup against the Jacksonville Jaguars won’t see the team’s bonafide starters play more than a few series, but besides the sheer joy at seeing organized football going down in South Philly, many of the players on the cusp will want to go above and beyond to make their case for the final roster.

Additionally, tonight’s game won’t see an announcement of the same caliber as the one that came during last year’s first preseason game. But we’ll see plenty of action from the man in question, Michael Vick, after Kevin Kolb gets his one quarter or less of playing time.

One thing that has been stressed throughout the entire off-season and training camp is that this is a new team, and a much younger team, and some of the faces we could see starting come Week 1 might be surprising. We all know that the look of the offense will be markedly different with Kolb in control, effected by both player turnover and injuries. One surprise tonight will be the inclusion of Mike McGlynn as the starting center. Jamaal Jackson is well on his way to healing, but he’s still a a ways from returning to the offensive line. Nick Cole seems like the logical choice to fill in here, but barring injury, it could very well be that McGlynn has simply made the case to be the starter.

A guy that has gotten a lot of ink in training camp is fifth receiver Riley Cooper. His play has impressed Reid, and although Hank Baskett sits in front of him on the depth charts, continued solid play could make a case for him to see increased playing time. At tight end, the injury prone Cornelius Ingram remains a question mark, so the small yet quick rookie Clay Harbor could climb a rung in the ladder and see significant playing time behind Brent Celek.

When it comes to returns, Chad Hall will be taking punts and Quintin Demps will return kickoffs. The nod towards Hall doesn’t sound like an indictment on DeSean Jackson, but just a chance to see what another guy can do in a quasi-game situation. Plus, DJax is a little banged up, so Reid is going to want him healthy for the season.

How will the Birds fare tonight? Don’t look at the final score – that’s meaningless. We’ll want to watch how the rookies are performing under pressure, how newly-healed players are handling, and
which players on the cusp of increasing their chances of making the team.

Most importantly, football is back!  It will be great to see the Birds’ exciting young talent take the field and fulfill the high expectations that we have for them.

First rounder Brandon Graham inks 5-year deal

Posted by Dany Sloan On July - 29 - 2010

By all accounts, Brandon Graham seems like a good kid. Despite what was technically a holdout likely engineered by his agent, Graham still said the right things and exuded all of that youthful enthusiasm that comes from a star player with a good head on his shoulders. He knows he has talent, and he wants to prove to the coaches and vets that he belongs on the team.

According to the club, the Eagles #1 pick (13th overall) has agreed to terms on a 5-year contract. A monetary figure has yet to be released, but he is just the 7th first rounder to sign yet this season.

While Graham has been anxious to get to Lehigh and begin to practice, Andy Reid has been just as eager for the rookie defensive end to make it to camp. His target date was this weekend, to coincide with the arrival of the vets, so this is perfect timing.

“It feels good,” said Graham in a statement released by the Eagles. “Because I really wanted to get to training camp and Coach Reid really wanted me to get to camp and now it’s time to show them why they picked me. I have a lot of work to do, but I’m ready to go.”

With the rookie set to arrive in camp sometime tomorrow, the work begins for him. Not only do the Eagles have very high hopes for him, but many league experts expect him to make quite the splash this season. While undersized for his position, his above-average work ethic and speed has turned heads.

There’s nothing better than seeing a kid straight out of college being thrilled to get on the field and play the game he loves. His enthusiasm is infectious, and on his Twitter account tonight he spread some of that love to his followers: “Thanks everybody for congratulating me and I can’t wait to go out there tomorrow and get to work!! I’m about to cause havoc and kill QB’s!!”

He’s got the goods and the right attitude, but can his mastery of football translate to the professional level? The Eagles sure seem to think so, otherwise they wouldn’t have traded up 11 spots to get him. If he can bring speed and vigor to the Birds’ stagnant pass rush, then this will go down as a successful pick. I, for one, can not wait to see what this kid can do on the field.

Allen signs, Cooper impresses, offensive line issues

Posted by Dany Sloan On July - 28 - 2010

The first three days of training camp are in the books and what have we seen so far? Honestly, not much. First round pick Brandon Graham still has yet to sign a contract, and contrary to his words from a couple of weeks ago, he’s a camp no- show. While I am still confident that this isn’t going to be an issue beyond the next few days, bear in mind that there are only two first rounders that have signed with their respective teams.

Nate Allen, the other draft pick who was still unsigned, agreed to a 4-year deal late yesterday with the team. He arrived in camp late Tuesday night, and with just four hours of sleep, he was up at 6:15 am and on the field ready to practice. According to coach Reid, Allen is the team’s starting free safety.

Being that he was chosen in the second round at #37, otherwise known as the Donovan McNabb pick, there’s some added pressure. Despite being a bit behind, he’s ready to work with his only objective is to “come in and produce right away and [show] that I was a good pick for them.”

By all indications, Allen spent Wednesday getting acclimated to the system and his teammates, working out, getting involved in 7×7, and spending some one-on-one time with secondary coach Dick Jauron.

To make room for him on the 80-man roster, OLB/DE Alex Hall got the axe. You might remember him as being a throw in from the deal that sent Chris Gocong and Sheldon Brown to Cleveland.

Sticking with the defense, it seems that Reid has been impressed with rookie Daniel Te’o-Nesheim. His play over the first two practices has really stood out, especially in the offensive line / defensive line one-on-ones.

Another guy that has been getting a ton of ink is wide receiver Riley Cooper. Reid likes his speed and his play within the red zone. Right now he’s fighting for the #4 spot with Hank Baskett, and may have an edge with his 6’3″ 222 pound frame. While he’s just duking it out rookies and selected vets, the real test comes Saturday when the starters arrive.

There is still some concern over left guard Todd Herremans’ foot, which was operated in on last year. He missed OTAs with this issue, and he will likely be out the first preseason game as well. While the team insists this is all precautionary, if the injury is bigger than they’re letting on, the domino effect it causes will be damaging.

To end on a good note, according to CSN Philly, center Jamaal Jackson is “a little bit ahead of schedule,” according to coach Reid. You may remember that he tore the ACL in his left knee against Denver last season, which exposed an already weak offensive line.

Photo courtesy of the Inquirer (Yong Kim / Staff Photographer)

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