Adventures at Summer Camp: Lehigh Day 2

Because someone has to read all the news coming out of the Eagles training camp.

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When double-negatives attack. Bobby April told the press, in as roundabout a way as he could manage, that DeSean Jackson won’t be the primary punt returner anymore, now that he has his big contract:

"I don’t think that we’re not going to use him," April said. "I just don’t know if he’s going to be the primary guy. … He’ll continue to work at the positiion. He just won’t get as much work as he normally does."

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Can’t lower the bar enough. April also said that while he was looking to bring in competition for Chas Henry, the former Florida punter did well for a rookie. That is simply not true. Among his fellow rookies, Henry had the second-lowest net average and tied for the lowest ratio of punts inside the 20 yard line to touchbacks, a rough measure of placement and touch. Needless to say, those stats look even worse compared to veterans.

UPDATE: Eagles signed former Cowboy Mat McBriar.

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My kingdom for a Washburn post-game press conference. Jim Washburn is so candid. He talked to the press yesterday, and the quotes were flying. On Mike Patterson coming back from brain surgery:

"Mike Patterson might be one of the best people I’ve ever had," said Washburn. "He doesn’t have to come to these rookie meetings at night and in the afternoon, he doesn’t have to be there, but guess what? He’s there. I said, ‘Mike, you don’t have to be here,’ and he said, ‘I like to be here.’ He likes football. He’s a good one. God dang, we miss him now."

On Antonio Dixon:

"I was so disappointed," said Washburn. "I couldn’t tell if he had any talent… I couldn’t tell if the guy was a good player or not. I couldn’t tell if he was a good athlete. He weighed 365 or something like that. His back was killing him. He was out of shape. I couldn’t even tell if he was a player. This spring, he worked his butt off. He’s down, I don’t know how much he weighs, he’s maybe 330 from 360 or whatever it was. He’s in so much better shape and I went, ‘Wow, this guy’s got some quickness.’ He likes to play and he’s tough, but he’s got ability."

On Trent Cole:

“He told me when I first got here, ‘I ain’t rotating,’” Washburn said Tuesday at Eagles training camp. “Said it right up there in that meeting room. I said, ‘Yes, you are … or your ass ain’t going to play.’ He’s a great kid, Trent.”

On Brandon Graham:

"He changed some of the habits in his life, I think," Washburn said. "He got serious. … I don’t know, [he’s] a mild-mannered guy. He was a good player in college, he was. I watched every game he played in college for a year or two. He was a good player. Should be a good player here. Lost his weight. Got too heavy.” Graham, of course, is coming back from knee surgery after losing most of 2011.

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Tearjerker. If you’re not rooting for lifelong Eagles fan Vinny Curry before, you will Be after you read Jeff McLane’s article about him. Plus, bonus Washburn quotes!

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Mini-Asante? Multiple reports talked about UDFA Cliff Harris picking off a few passes during yesterday’s practices, putting him out to an early lead in the Training Camp Darling category. But let’s not go crazy here. There are no good wide receivers at camp, and some of the picks just demonstrate how bad Trent Edwards is.

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On the other hand, I’m starting to let the continued positive reports on Mychal Kendricks get to me. He seems much more prepared than Casey Matthews was, at any rate.

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Poorly Written Articles Edition. Bill Barnwell gives us what he pretends to be a statistical analysis of the top running backs in the game, but somehow concludes that Ray Rice is better than LeSean McCoy without demonstrating any number that backs that up.

Even less insightful was the book excerpt in Fast Company about how Jeff Lurie turned around the Eagles. What a waste of time.

Mining the New Football Outsiders Almanac 2012

The Football Outsiders Almanac appeared online yesterday, and you should obviously go get yourself a copy. With apologizes to our esteemed local publication, the FOA 2012 is the gold standard for the NFL offseason. The amount of statistical detail Aaron Schatz and everyone else at Football Outsiders puts into their work is nothing short of awe-inspiring. With that in mind, I’m going to highlight a few pieces that stuck out to me.

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The Almanac jokes that, “of course we’re predicting a Philadelphia rebound,” but I don’t actually see it. They give a mean projection of 8.6 wins in 2012, which is barely more than the Eagles amassed last year. Moreover, it’s the lowest projected win total going back to at least 2009. The 2011 optimistic outlook pegged them at 11.7 wins. Oops.

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FO marked Demetress Bell down for only five blown blocks in his last 20 starts. If he can stay healthy and Howard Mudd can work some magic, maybe there’s reason for some optimism at left tackle after all.

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The Eagles dropped from third to eighth in offensive DVOA, but the Almanac suggests that “half” of that decline came from Vince Young’s poor play. Let’s hope Mike Kafka proves to be a better backup.

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Two running backs and one tight end was the Eagles’ third most common offensive formation, but the Eagles ran the ball from it only one third of the time — the lowest percentage in the league by a long shot. On the other hand, this is the first year since 2009 that the offense ranked higher than 23rd in overall run percentage. The mantra appears to have been, “run, just not behind Owen Schmitt.”

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The Almanac attributes only 12 sacks to blown blocks, the lowest figure in the league. Moreover, three of those are in LeSean McCoy’s column.

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Despite those 18 sacks, I wonder if Jason Babin might be playing himself into a platoon job at left defensive end. Runs to his side averaged 4.91 adjusted line yards, second-worst in the NFL. On the other side, Trent Cole was second-best in the league, allowing a paltry 2.4 yards.

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For the second year in a row, the Eagles defense ranked near the tail end of the league defending running backs coming out of the backfield. This is what’s colloquially known as the Casey-Matthews-covering-Brandon-Jacobs problem.

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Bobby April is universally hailed as a special teams maestro, but his unit has declined in DVOA each year since he arrived. This year’s biggest problems came in the form of kick returners (Dion Lewis plus a down year for DeSean) and Chas Henry, who FO estimates cost the Eagles 11.5 points over the course of the season in field position alone. Yikes.

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The Almanac is very optimistic about Michael Vick’s chances to rebound all the way back to his 2010 form. In fact, despite assuring us that his interception rate jump from 1.6 percent to 3.3 percent in 2011 was a normal regression to the mean, FO predicts he’ll go back to a 1.9 percent rate this season. Among starters, that would put him among the top five in the league.

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There’s tons more where this came from, so go buy the book and share what stands out to you.

Coaches as Experts

Tommy Lawlor, in a well-argued column critiquing Juan Castillo:

I’ve been re-reading parts of Bill Walsh’s brilliant book Finding The Winning Edge. He talks about the need for a coach to be an expert. He must be so thoroughly trained that he knows everything that’s going on and can coach/teach the players appropriately. I don’t doubt that Juan understands the role of all 11 players and can theoretically explain things. The problem is that I don’t know if he can teach those concepts well.

It’s worth noting that this applies across Andy Reid hires. When he has brought in a veteran coach like Mornhinweg/Mudd/April/Washburn, those went well. When he promoted Castillo/McDermott/Segrest, things didn’t work out. Current defensive assistants Mike Caldwell and Michael Zordich likely fall into the latter category.

Notes on a Bizarre, Boring Start to Free Agency

Donovan McNabb Washington Redskins Trade 2011 NFL Free Agency

So Kevin Kolb didn’t fly out the door on Tuesday at 10:01 am. Looks like it will take at least another day to iron out the details. While the smart money is still on Kolb ending up in Arizona, both the Cardinals and Eagles seem to be doing some last minute maneuvering for leverage.

Some reporters have argued that the Eagles are losing leverage as potential suitors, like Seattle, move on other options. I don’t agree. The Eagles may be losing the ability to jack up the price even higher, but Kolb’s value seems fairly set based on previous trades. The Eagles main leverage is derived from their ability to simply reject any deal and keep Kolb as an inexpensive backup, as well as Arizona’s obvious need for a legitimate long term answer at quarterback. None of critical facts have changed.

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Early yesterday morning I published a post ranking the Eagles free agents based on how likely they were to return. That is now moot.

Jonathan Tamari reports from an extra anonymous source that the Eagles won’t resign any of their free agents:

The Eagles will not pursue any of their own free agents, including starters such as Stewart Bradley, Quintin Mikell and Sav Rocca and backup running back Jerome Harrison, the Inquirer has learned.

As I said yesterday, this move is surprising, but not particularly shocking. None of the Eagles free agents were brilliant, must-keep stars. The only two guys I said even had a 50 percent chance or more of returning were Stewart Bradley and Sav Rocca. Both of those players would only have been convenient to resign. There are other free agents out there with at least equal talent.

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With that said, I hope the front office grabs some veteran competition at some of these spots like linebacker. The offense has Super Bowl talent. Would hate to see mistakes by rookies cost them.

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This thought probably deserves a full post, but I think we’re just now seeing the full impact of Bobby April, special teams ace. It’s not a coincidence that one year after April arrived both Akers and Rocca are out and the Eagles picked up both the top rookie kicker and top rookie punter (arguably) to replace them.

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I’m excited for Noel Devine. The Eagles have had plenty of success with pass-catching, punt-returning, fun-sized speed demons

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As I write this, Donovan McNabb is on the verge of being traded to the Vikings for a 6th round pick in 2012 and another 6th in 2012. Wow.

If the Cardinals are looking for a reason not to deal for Kolb, this is it. Andy Reid knows when to sell high on quarterbacks.

Photo from Getty.

Jim Washburn, Eagles Coaches, and Beyond

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There’s plenty to like about the Eagles new defensive line coach, Jim Washburn.

Formerly of the Tennessee Titans, Washburn has been praised as one of the best in the business. Various NFL reporters have called the move "a game-changer" and a "great hire". SI’s Peter King told a cool story about Washburn’s work style.

Statistically, Washburn’s defensive fronts have been very productive. The Titans defense had the seventh-most sacks in the league since he arrived in 1999 — and they weren’t known for an aggressive blitzing philosophy. More impressive is that Washburn has gotten good results with players of low expectation like Kyle Vandenbosch and Jason Babin. And when he worked with first rounders, both became Pro Bowlers: Jevon Kearse and Albert Haynesworth (neither of whom had as much success after leaving Tennessee).

This great track record should sound familiar to Eagles fans. It’s everything we heard about special teams coordinator Bobby April when he joined the team last offseason — best in the league, great upgrade, fabulous hire.

The quick lesson is that no one should expect immediate results on the defensive line. A year ago everyone was hopeful that April would engineer a quick turnaround, but Football Outsiders ranks the 2010 group behind Ted Daisher’s 2009 squad.

But the more interesting note, to me anyway, is to look at the evolution of the coaching staff. Simply put, we’re seeing a new trend emerge: bringing coaches in from the outside. This is both natural and necessary.

As the Andy Reid era extends into its second decade, we’ve seen almost a complete bleed of coaching talent from the team as Reid’s coaching tree expands. Former assistants Brad Childress, John Harbaugh, Leslie Frazier, Ron Rivera, Steve Spagnuolo, Pat Shurmur have all become head coaches. Pete Jenkins, among others, retired. Jim Johnson, of course, passed away.

All of this assistant turnover is normal for a head coach tenured for so long. Take a gander at Bill Belichick’s staff in New England. There are only three or four guys who’ve been with the team even as recently as the Patriots 2007 Super Bowl appearance.

Ultimately, the question is, can Reid cope with this talent brain drain? Apparently the first strategy was to continue to promote from the bottom of the internal barrel, as Reid did with Sean McDermott and Rory Segrest. Clearly that wasn’t the right philosophy.

So Reid appears to be moving on in a positive direction, combing the NFL for highly-regarded coaches to add to his staff. Finding talent is a different skill than developing it, but with April, Washburn, and whomever Reid picks for the defensive coordinator spot, it certainly appears that he’s trying.

Originally published at NBC Philadelphia. Image from Getty.

Maybe Bobby April Isn't a Genius

In the offseason Eagles fans were excited by the addition of a new special teams coach Bobby April. He was hailed as perhaps the best special teams coordinator in the league, an upgrade from Ted Daisher — even after the Eagles had the number two unit in the league last year, according to Football Outsiders.

Unfortunately, things haven’t gone quite so swimmingly and people are starting to question April’s coaching skills. But could we just have expected too much in his first year?

Let’s check out the Football Outsiders DVOA rating for special teams at each of the organizations April has coached at since 1994: …