Where They Stop, Nobody Knows

Sheil Kapadia describes the latest movement in Linebacker Musical Chairs™. At least Ryans is back as a three-down player again:

When Juan Castillo asked for the first-team nickel defense, Chaney was the man called on to go in alongside DeMeco Ryans. Up until today, Brian Rolle had been occupying that spot at Lehigh. And in the spring, it was rookie Mychal Kendricks.

“I don’t know what’s going on,” Chaney said, when I asked him if he expected to be part of that package for the next few days. “I just do what they tell me to do. Whether I’m out there with the twos or the ones, I just go out there and do my best. My job is just to make the decision hard on them.”

(Note that I resisted excerpting just the first part of Chaney’s quote.)

Let’s Talk Linebacker

Jimmy Kempski noted the depth chart in the first practices of the year, and linebacker sticks out as a place of concern:

  • 1st team: Kendricks (SAM) – Ryans (MIKE) – Rolle (WILL)
  • 2nd team: Jordan (SAM) – Matthews (MIKE) – Chaney (WILL)
  • Nickel: Kendricks – Chaney

Now, this could be nothing. Perhaps this lineup is just the warm-up lap. But I’m definitely surprised that Ryans wasn’t taking snaps in the nickel defense. If the trend holds up, it suggests that maybe the Eagles’ big offseason acquisition is only going to be a two-down player. Not encouraging. It reminds me of this.

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I agree with the overall sentiment in this BGN post by Eliott Shorr-Parks. Mychal Kendricks should be more talented and more prepared than Casey Matthews, but I worry that the Eagles are once again giving too much responsibility too quickly to a rookie.

That said, I have no idea how Shorr-Parks can write this with a straight face:

Going into Lehigh last season, there was little question that the teams best linebacker was Chaney. Chaney played great late in his rookie season, and despite having some bad games, was still arguably the teams best linebacker last year as well.

First of all, I definitely raised questions about Chaney last offseason, when everyone was quoting Brian Baldinger’s idiot comments. Second, I don’t think Chaney was the best linebacker last year—and even if he was, it’s not really an achievement I’d put up on the wall.

Chaney finished the season with 92 tackles, but more importantly 3 interceptions. Some of the picks were easy ones, but given how hard it has been for Eagle linebackers to create turnovers over the past few years, the fact is he made the plays.

"Some of the picks were easy ones"? He only had three.

Expectations should be even higher for Chaney this year, as he will have a year under his belt in Juan Castillo’s system. Chaney was the teams middle linebacker at the end of 2010, and was moved to the strong side during camp last year. While he was eventually moved back to middle linebacker in Week 4 because of the play of Casey Matthews, he still has more experience at the position than Kendricks does. It makes more sense to slide Chaney back in as the strong side linebacker than it does to appoint Kendricks the starter now.

Why would anyone have high expectations for Chaney this year, let along higher than 2011? It makes about as much sense “to slide Chaney back in as the stronge side linebacker” as it does to slide Juan Castillo back in as the defensive coordinator. Because that would be… wait, what’s that again?

Chaney is a hard worker, one of the best athletes on the defense and deserves to be on the field.

I cannot confirm that a single word in that sentence is accurate.

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.

Post-Draft Position Breakdown: Linebacker

Linebackers Eagles

What the Eagles did: I’m not sure I’ve seen a worse group of NFL linebackers than the ones the Eagles employed last year. The position was an incompetent game of musical chairs. If the defense has any hope of rebounding from that, they’ll have to get a major upgrade from their two newcomers.

DeMeco Ryans comes to the middle of the defense with lots of hype. He was a two-time Pro Bowler in a 4-3 defense in Houston, and will certainly be a huge upgrade. Simply having an experienced veteran leader and sure tackler in the middle will boost the Eagles defense significantly. The question of whether he can return to his elite pre-injury self does remain, though.

The second newcomer upon whom much relies is second round pick Mychal Kendricks. The former Cal star has already been slotted in at the strongside linebacker spot, and so far in minicamps the reports have been nothing but positive. There’s a definite danger in projecting Kendricks to start as a rookie, as Eagles fans know all too well. Still, his pedigree is significantly higher than Casey Matthews — and any other current linebacker on the squad not named Ryans.

After that, all we have is a host of unreliable youngsters — the same players who played so poorly last season. As long as the two newcomers work out, this won’t be too much of a problem. Surely one of the bunch can be adequate enough in the weakside job.

The frontrunner for that spot seems to be Jamar Chaney, a player the Eagles coaches must love, because he’s shown next to nothing on the field. Chaney has the athleticism to be a great linebacker, but he’s a poor tackler and worse at finding the ball-carrier in the first place. A strong coach might be able to get something out of him, but Mike Caldwell and Juan Castillo probably aren’t the men for that job.

Brian Rolle is the opposite of Chaney, smaller but smarter and a better tackler to boot. He held the weakside job last year and was the most consistent of any of the young players. Still, I don’t know that many people would hold Rolle’s overall performance in particularly high esteem. He didn’t embarrass himself, as some of the others did, but judging from his frame and rookie play, Rolle’s ceiling is not particularly high. In the long run, he would be best suited for a backup and special teams role.

Next comes Casey Matthews, who was unfairly thrown into the fire at middle linebacker last year. To my eyes, though, his play improved when he returned later in the season, and reports this year say he put on significant weight, from 230 lb. up to the 250 lb. range. That raises questions about whether he has become too big to compete on the weakside, although getting the best three linebackers on the field should always be the priority. Matthews, despite his disastrous rookie season, seems to have the most upside between him, Rolle, and Chaney.

Finally, there’s Keenan Clayton, Moise Fokou, and Akeem Jordan. Clayton, the LB-safety tweener, has shown nothing in two years that justifies keeping him around (plus he just had sports hernia surgery). Fokou played so poorly last year that he took only seven defensive snaps after week nine and none after week twelve. Jordan filled in at strongside linebacker in his place, proving that he could at least be an adequate stopgap. His best play comes out on special teams, though, as the latest Football Outsiders report details.

What I would have done: On paper, if everything goes right, this linebacker corps can be solid. The problem is, everything doesn’t always go as planned. With some luck, Kendricks will grab hold of the strongside job and prove his worth. But it’s just as likely the rookie will need time to adjust to the faster professional game. And while Ryans has all the talent, he’ll need to prove he can rebound from last season’s down year with the Texans. If anything goes wrong with either or both of the Eagles newcomers, you’re immediately back to where you were in 2011.

With that in mind, I would have been more aggressive in trying to add one or two more potential veterans and backups. Someone like Dan Connor would have made a nice Plan B, or even a lesser free agent. Chaney, Matthews, and Rolle should have to fight to make ther roster, let alone the starting 11.

Way-too-early prediction: I think Clayton gets cut, barring some miraculous display of talent we have so far missed. The fact that he barely found the field last year was not a good sign. Fokou’s fall from grace doesn’t bode well for him either. Greg Lloyd, the middle linebacker prospect drafted in the seventh round last year, and the other camp bodies are at best practice squad fodder. Unless one of the other guys can show their worth there, Jordan could retain his roster spot based solely on his special team play.

As to the rest, I’m optimistic but realistic about both newcomers. I don’t expect either to set the world on fire, just hopefully be above average. The trio of Rolle, Chaney, and Matthews will be where the competition lies during training camp. I’m anxious to see which, if any, can prove their worth.

Photo from Getty.

Grade the Eagles Draft Picks

Philly.com lets you rate each Eagles draft pick, from A to F. Here are the results so far, with A & B grades constituting “positive” ratings:

Fletcher Cox: 98.6% positive
Mychal Kendricks: 95.3% positive
Vinny Curry: 94.3% positive
Nick Foles: 38.6% positive
Brandon Boykin: 93.9% positive
Dennis Kelly: 46.5% positive
Marvin McNutt: 74.6% positive
Brandon Washington: 70.7% positive
Bryce Brown: 60.0% positive

Overall Draft: 94.9% positive

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.