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.

Eagles O-Line: Not That Young

Jimmy Kemspki provides us with a great master list of offensive line ages around the NFL:

Philly has the 13th oldest OL in the league, but their situation is a little odd, in that 4/5 of their line has very low mileage.  Todd Herremans has 92 career regular season starts.  The next highest total?  Evan Mathis, with 37, or a little more than two full seasons worth of games.

This is one of those moments when you remember that even though the Eagles will start two sophomores in the interior line, Danny Watkins is only six months younger than 28-year-old tackle Demetress Bell.

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.

Post-Draft Position Breakdown: Offensive Line

Eagles Offensive Line

What the Eagles did: In Howard Mudd we trust.

That sentence basically sums up where the Eagles stand in relation to their offensive line right now, in the post-Jason Peters 2012 continuity. (I like to think that somewhere out there is an alternate timeline where Julian Vandervelde, not Peters, tore his Achillies. Asante Samuel fetched a first round draft pick, too.)

Peters had one of the best seasons for an offensive lineman that I’ve ever seen. He was dominant in every phase of the game. It will not be possible to replicate his performance, and the Eagles offense will undoubtedly suffer significantly from his absence. Either King Dunlap or Demetress Bell, most likely the latter, will try to step into Peters’s shoes, but we shouldn’t hope for anything more than average play.

On top of that 6’4”, 340 lb. hole, Mudd also has to turn Jason Kelce and Danny Watkins into good offensive linemen. I’m not sure that any topic inspired more argument among fans last year than the Eagles rookie linemen. There are lots of people who insist that Kelce and Watkins were above average, even worthy of Pro Bowl considerations. That’s just not true, as far as my eyes and stats could tell.

Finally, there are the two starters I’m not worried about: Todd Herremans and Evan Mathis. Neither player is particularly dominant, but continued solid performance will be of paramount necessity with the rest of the line questionable.

What I would have done: Despite my reservations about the Eagles line, I don’t think I would have done anything differently. After Peters’ injury, Howie Roseman pounced on Bell and made sure to retain Dunlap. Neither is a sure thing, but at least there are two reasonable options in the wake of that shocking development. Long term, assuming Peters recovers, the line is locked up, so a high draft pick wasn’t strictly necessary.

Way-too-early prediction: Do I trust Howard Mudd? At the end of the day, the answer is yes, so I’m willing to be optimistic about Kelce, Watkins, and even Bell. I wouldn’t be surpised, however, if Mathis falls back to earth a little bit without a dominant tackle at his side.

Photo from Getty.

Low Expectations for Demetress Bell

Demetrius Bell

I’m a big believer in the market economics of the NFL. If 32 NFL teams pass on a player until the sixth round, he doesn’t have a particularly high chance of success. It’s the same with free agents who don’t receive serious interest on the market.

Derek Landri, who re-signed with the Eagles yesterday, would be in the latter category. He was a productive back-up with the team last year, but even after perhaps his best season as a pro, no other team offered him a long term deal — and the Eagles weren’t anxious to get him back either. He seems to still have an uphill battle to make the roster, especially if the team jumps in with a first round defensive tackle.

The same thought process leads me to question Demetress Bell’s value as well. Bell shopped himself around quite a lot, visiting a handful of different cities in order to seek a long term deal. But he was never offered one, even by the suddenly desperate Eagles.

Technically, Bell’s contract is 5 years, $35 million, but everyone knows he’s not coming back after 2012. The $8.5 million roster bonus in 2013 makes that a foregone conclusion. What does it say about Bell that in the modern NFL where left tackles are one of the top two or three most important positions on the field, he couldn’t find one team to give him a legitimate multi-year deal? Is he really any better than King Dunlap?

On the other hand, he was undoubtedly the best player the Eagles could get when they learned that Jason Peters was lost for the year. That has to count for something. And over the last two seasons, he’s been as good or better than Todd Herremans according to Pro Football Focus’s pass blocking efficiency statistic:

Tackles Pass Blocking Efficiency

Maybe Bell will play up to his potential this season, or even exceed his past performance now that he has Howard Mudd as a guru. Maybe he’ll manage to stay healthy the whole year. Or maybe he’ll give the Eagles exactly what they paid for, a questionable veteran on a relatively meager deal.

Impossible to say for sure, but I’m not really looking forward to finding out the answer.

Photo from Getty.

Howard Mudd is the 'Real Deal'

Bo Wulf, for the Eagles Website:

"After the visit (with the Eagles), I talked to him and I said, ‘Jason, what do you think about coach Mudd?’" said Bell. "He said, ‘He’s the real deal … If you want to be a Pro Bowler, come here and you have coach Mudd and me behind you and you don’t have a choice.’ So that’s a great business decision for me."

You don’t get much better endorsements. Apparently, Mudd is also the reason Demetress changed the spelling of his name.

(via Derek)