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.

Adventures at Summer Camp: Lehigh Day 1

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

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Confirmed: DeSean Jackson let frustration over his contract hurt his performance:

“Human nature-wise, yes it affected him,’’ Culley said. “It did. He tried not to let it affect him. Sometimes he didn’t do a very good job of that. It affected him in meetings. It affected him on the field. There were days when it didn’t. But it made him inconsistent. And that’s where the human nature part of it comes in.”

“I saw a couple of times last year where I saw him maybe trying to maybe save himself because (he was thinking), ‘I’m not under contract and I don’t want to get hurt,’’’ Culley said. “I don’t think there was a fear factor involved. I think it was more, ‘I don’t want to get hurt because I don’t have a contract.’ The first two-and-a-half years he was here, that wasn’t an issue. A couple of times last year, that came up. And I believe it came up simply because of that.”

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Punters, ahoy. The Eagles brought in not one, not two, not three, but four veteran punters for tryouts yesterday. It’s not that surprising once you understand how bad Chas Henry was last year. Reuben Frank says the most likely candidate to sign is former Pro Bowl Cowboy Mat McBriar. I honestly didn’t realize he had fallen off last year and was cut. Turns out, he couldn’t lift his foot.

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The Felony That Wasn’t. I love how the charges were dropped against Dion Lewis because the DA concluded there was “no evidence a fire alarm was ever pulled.”

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Backup Running Backs Will Push… Who? I absolutely don’t understand where this headline comes from. Sheil’s replacement isn’t looking so hot.

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Speaking of Mr. Kapadia, he brings us a great quote from Howard Mudd on where Danny Watkins is in his second year. Sounds like the mental side of the game is the real roadblock for our friendly neighborhood fireman:

“Comfort in the position, eliminating doubt about himself,” Mudd said. “That just happens to players. That just happens. That’s part of the growing process. I call that the valley of darkness. You get somewhere and then you start doubting yourself, doubting, doubting… and then the ball is snapped and you don’t have a clue where you are. You can be very amateurish, if you will. All of a sudden, it starts to click again and you quit doubting yourself. Do well, and then all of a sudden, for whatever reason, you get there. So Danny, that’s what I think the offseason’s done for him.”

Jimmy Kempski tells us that Mudd also alluded to the Vandervelde-Reynolds backup center competition as the position battle he’s most looking forward too. I’m not sure if that’s positive or depressing. Final Mudd note: I discount every positive thing he says about Demetress Bell by half. There’s only one Jason Peters, and unfortunately he couldn’t keep his balance on a Roll-A-Bout.

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In other meta-reportage, Jimmy needs to stop wasting his time talking to guys like Keenan Clayton after practice. Clayton’s competing with Moise Fokou for the coveted “last linebacker cut” trophy. Then again, at least our favorite NFC bEast blogger didn’t get stiffed like ol’ timer Paul Domowitch.

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Rampant Tight End Speculation! The Eagles have now been linked to Visanthe Shiancoe and (gag) Jeremy Shockey. Raise your hand if you’re shocked that the Brett Brackett hype was purely media-driven. No one? Good.

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Andy Reid Weight Loss Watch. He totally walked home from practice, guys.

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.

The Most Ridiculous Rumor You'll Read, Ever

There is no name attached to this authoritative report:

A rumor has started circulating deep (extremely deep) inside the Eagles organization that talks with the Vikings about the availability of Percy Harvin is picking up.

The Eagles have been working out punter Brad Maynard just in case the Vikings ask for the services of Chas Henry in return, which is highly expected. The Vikings have had an eye on Henry for the past couple hours, but have yet to see tapes. But, from what they’ve heard and seen on league message boards, they can’t go wrong.

Notes on the Rest of the 2012 Eagles Draft

Vinny Curry Marshall Philadelphia Eagles

The NFL draft is now in the books, and by almost all accounts the Eagles did little to complain about. Here are my miscellaneous thoughts on what happened on days two and three:

  • Watch the Vinny Curry interviews, then watch them again and again. His Eagles fandom is clearly as raw as yours and mine, and it’s awesome to see the excitement one of us would undoubtedly have, had we the talent to end up playing for our hometown team.

  • Nick Foles, the big reach. There has been serious quarterback inflation in the last two drafts, something which will be the focus of my post tomorrow. Until then, just consider that Nick Foles was the seventh quarterback selected, at pick 88 overall. Mike Kafka was the fifth off the board in 2010, at pick 122. A round and a half earlier, for a worse quarterback? Maybe. (Also, I’m 95 percent convinced that Russell Wilson was the real target.)

  • The Eagles have drafted defensive players with 9 of their last 11 first, second, and third round picks. So far, the results have been atrocious. Let’s hope this last batch can turn things around.

  • After complaining in recent years that the Eagles had become too safe in the late rounds and undrafted free agency, I certainly can’t complain about the wave of longshot, troubled players the Eagles snagged this time around. I actually like the strategy, especially at running back, where the team took a major athlete with limited production and questionable work ethic (Bryce Brown) and a productive talent who was taken off seemingly everyone’s draft board due to injuries (Chris Polk). Especially at running back, which other than pass protection is relatively easy to pick up, one of these longshots could pay off. A veteran back up would still be nice, though.

  • There are some other interesting names on the UDFA list. Kentucky punter Ryan Tydlacka should give Chas Henry some much needed competition. Another long snapper is a shot across reliable Jon Dorenbos’s bow. And not one but two fullbacks means we’ll have a healthy fight for one of the most marginalized positions on the team.

  • Please direct all your “steal” or “reach” designations here.

  • Two things granted: Brandon Boykin had great college production and the slot corner role is becoming more and more important. That said, I’m a little hesitant about drafting a guy whose size has made every draft expert who has looked at him say, “what a great nickel back.” In some ways, this pick was the opposite of the Curtis Marsh selection last year, when the Eagles went for physicality over refined performance. It will be interesting to watch which pick turns out better for the Birds going forward.

  • There’s a lot riding on Mychal Kendricks being Andy Reid’s first successful second round linebacker — and the results need to show right away. Under no circumstance should more than one of last year’s linebackers start in 2012. Right now Brian Rolle has the inside track on keeping his weakside job, but Casey Matthews could push him there, after ending last season on a relative high note.

  • My draft predictions weren’t half bad, if I do say so myself.

Photo from Getty.

By the Numbers: What an Embarrassment

Eagles Fan

There were a number of awful parts to the latest Eagles debacle. But by far the worst, to my mind, was the utterly embarrassing play of Michael Vick.

Eagles fans are used to Andy Reid refusing to run the ball. They are used to seeing a wide receiver corps that consists of a bunch of 3rd stringers. At this point, the inability of the back seven to provide any deterrence in coverage or protect yet another fourth quarter lead is commonplace and expected.

Vick had his legs yesterday, and made some typically great scrambles. But his passing was atrocious on a number of levels. Certainly the defense deserves a lot of blame today, but a $100 million quarterback cannot be outplayed by John Skelton. That’s inexcusable.

47.1% = Michael Vick’s completion percentage. That was the second-most inaccurate performance Vick has had since he returned to the NFL, and it contributed to his worst quarterback rating since 2006. I know he was missing his two favorite targets, but I’m not sure they would have helped much. Vick kept making terrible decisions, throwing into double coverage more than once. Truthfully, he’s lucky to only have two interceptions.

6 = LeSean McCoy carries in the second half. The second half playcalling was perhaps the worst by Marty Mornhinweg since he assumed those duties in 2006. Vick was having a poor day and was missing both Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson. McCoy was his typical self, running at a 5.8 yard per carry average — much higher than Vick’s 3.8 passing yards per attempt. And yet, with a touchdown lead, the solution was to pass?

8 = Punts by Chas Henry. He only had 20 total through the first 8 games.

3/4 = Cardinals red zone touchdown efficiency. Same as last week.

146 = Receiving yards for Larry Fitzgerald. When Fitzgerald lined up against Nnamdi Asomugha last year against Oakland, the cornerback held him to only 2 receptions for 26 yards. This year, whatever Juan Castillo’s plan was, it didn’t involve copying that successful formula. Both Asomugha and Asante Samuel had key interceptions, but Skelton continued to find Fitzgerald in mismatches against linebackers and even rookie safety Jaiquawn Jarrett.

30th = Cardinals’ Football Outsiders DVOA rank prior to this week. They are a bad team. And they didn’t even have their starting quarterback. So what does that tell us about the Eagles? They are truly disgraceful.

Photo from Getty.

Examining Punter Chas Henry’s Rookie Start

Chas Henry Eagles Punter

It’s common knowledge that the transition from David Akers to Alex Henery hasn’t gone smoothly. After all, Henery’s two missed field goals against San Francisco were a big reason for that loss.

But much less ink has been shed over the change at punter, where Chas Henry replaced veteran Sav Rocca. Back in August I crunched the numbers on Rocca and the rest of the punters in the NFL in 2011, going beyond simple net punting averages to factor in situational field position.

That study showed that Rocca wasn’t elite, but he placed above average among his peers in almost every category. Using the same parameters as last time (please read that one for an explanation), I scored Henry’s punts through his first six games.

Chas Henry 2011 Punting Stats Weeks 1 to 6 At right you can see all of Henry’s punts, with punt distance, return yardage (including touch backs), and the difference between the actual and optimal results. It’s a small sample, but we can start to draw conclusions.

For starters, although this isn’t shown in the table, 16 punts is an exceptionally low number. The Eagles offense has actually punted fewer times than any other team in the league. Leading the NFL in turnovers helps with that.

Second, Henry’s punts have not had the distance of a league average punter. Among players with at least 10 punts, Henery is 27th with a 41.8 yard raw average. That has been his biggest problem so far. Despite allowing fewer big returns, Henry’s average difference from optimal is almost exactly the same as a rookie punter from last season: the Giants’ infamous Matt Dodge, who ranked 33rd among punters.

There is some cause for optimism, however, if you are inclined to grant Henry the benefit of the doubt on his very first NFL start. Of his five worst punts this year, three came in that first game. Since then, Henry hasn’t been good (or even average), but his -8.8 yard difference from optimal would put him closer to 20th in the league.

Hopefully Henry can continue to improve, before he becomes a liability like his fellow rookie specialist.

Photo from Getty

Eagles First Preseason Game: What to Watch For

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The Eagles have their first preseason game on Thursday night. Yes, it is that soon. Despite free agency still underway for a number of players and a grand total of a week and a half in camp, the Eagles will take on the Baltimore Ravens tomorrow night.

For many teams and players, these preseason games are meaningless. For example, I don’t expect to see much from LeSean McCoy, who’s primary goal should be to stay injury free. And Andy Reid has already intimated that none of the starters will play deep into the game. However, there are some things I’ll be looking for:

How is the defensive line embracing Jim Washburn’s attack-first scheme?  I’ll be interested to see what kind of pressure the front four can get in the early going tomorrow. The defense probably wont be blitzing much, so the game will be an interesting first test of Washburn’s system. Even with a number of defensive linemen banged up, hopefully they’ll be able to cause some chaos in the backfield.

Who plays center and right tackle? Rookie sixth round pick Jason Kelce has shared repetitions with injured incumbent Jamaal Jackson in practice, and seems like a leading candidate to usurp the job Jackson once took from Hank Fraley. Keep an eye on that position. Also, check out Ryan Harris, Austin Howard, King Dunlap, and anyone else who gets a shot at right tackle. With Winston Justice on the Physically Unable to Perform list, it would be nice to see that the Eagles have an adequate insurance policy.

How reliable will the new kicking specialists be? While special teams coverage units will be hard to judge, given the ephemeral nature of the roster’s bottom half during free agency, the kicking game itself is basically the same from preseason through the playoffs. I’ll be watching rookie punter Chas Henry and rookie kicker Alex Henery closely.

Will Casey Matthews and the rest of the unheralded young linebacker corps avoid mistakes? As I said yesterday, the best I’m realistically hoping for the linebackers is for them to be average. But even that low level of expectations requires that they play smarter and more experienced than they actually are. The base defenses and relatively simple offenses deployed in the game on Thursday will be a good first test.

Photo from Getty.

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.