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.

When Conspiracy Theories Trump the Party Line

Joe Banner

You can label the Andy Reid-Joe Banner power struggle an unfounded conspiracy theory. And you can buy the general storyline presented for Banner leaving. But you have to admit that there are serious holes in that party line.

According to Jeff McLane’s report, which might as well be the official press release, Banner approached Jeff Lurie a year ago about a succession plan. Why would he want to leave the Eagles, a team he built for the better part of the last two decades, a team owned by his childhood friend and in which he was the unquestioned CEO?

The official line is that he wants to “get involved with the world of buying and selling a sports team with the possibility of becoming part of a group that buys a team.” Geoff Mosher got Banner on the phone and the former team president said that he has been less involved over the last few years:

"I spend a lot of my time right now managing people that report to me and a modest amount of time doing things myself. More passive role than this same job was not long ago. I wanna be so busy I don’t have time to breathe. That’s my personality."

Sorry, but I just don’t buy it. Less than ten months ago, Banner was at the forefront of the Eagles efforts to sign one of the most heralded free agent classes in modern memory. You can’t listen to this interview with Mike Florio and tell me that Banner was not personally involved in every aspect of those decisions and negotiations. “More passive role”? I don’t think so.

The changes clearly began this offseason, as Les Bowen wrote and McLane papered over. The extensions for longtime Eagles, the new willingness to talk with DeSean Jackson, the relatively quick deal struck with LeSean McCoy — all of it was done with Banner completely unseen. Howie Roseman became the point person for negotiations and Reid took an unprecedented, larger role.

Drew Rosenhaus’s comments about his negotiations over Evan Mathis, Jackson, and McCoy set a lot of the Banner talk in motion, and Paul Domowitch went back to him today in a great story:

"Howie really handled exclusively the negotiations for DeSean and Evan and LeSean," Rosenhaus said. "Joe wasn’t directly involved in any of those discussions from the start of the offseason. I actually negotiated (undrafted free agent safety) Phillip Thomas’s contract with Joe. I remember him calling and joking about the fact that he wanted to work on at least one deal with me this offseason."

"We struggled up to this offseason really to get the club to work on an extension with DeSean," Rosenhaus said. "The team really wasn’t aggressive as it related to DeSean’s negotiations until this offseason. I don’t know if there was a power struggle or not. There’s no way for me to know that. But I do know that things changed in terms of the Eagles’ approach to DeSean after the season."

Those comments suggest that Banner has been marginalized since the end of the disastrous 2011 season, a season for which he was directly responsible for many of the controversial decisions — free agency splurge, stonewalling DeSean, angering Asante Samuel (basically everything up to Juan Castillo). You can connect the dots.

Domo reads the tea leaves and argues that Reid wanted Jackson extended and blamed much of last season’s locker room troubles on Banner’s inaction on that front. Les’s piece today takes a slightly different route, arguing that Lurie “was genuinely at his wits’ end over the Eagles’ sour image in Philadelphia, the inability to connect with the fan on the street.” His solution was to isolate Banner and loosen up Reid.

Either theory makes more sense than Banner’s self-proclaimed reasoning. If he had dropped out of football to pursue his philanthropic interests, one might understand. But if you want to stay in football, you don’t leave that job willingly — especially without a new, seemingly better position already lined up.

I’m sure it was painful for Lurie to take the reigns away from his friend, but that’s the kind of decision he has to make as an owner. And by delaying the announcement and concocting an elaborate and not-entirely-convincing exit story, Lurie gives Banner as gracious a departure as he can manage. The new “Special Advisor to the Owner” even has a fall-back job at NovaCare for as long as he needs.

We will never know the full truth, but let’s not be naive. There’s the official story, and then there are the explanations that actually make sense.

Photo from the Philadelphia Eagles.

Post-Draft Position Breakdown: Tight End

Brent Celek

What the Eagles did: Basically, nothing.

Some people are obsessed with the rise of the two tight end formation (cough Domo cough). I’m not, but it’s become a mini-trend around the league, and the Eagles are no exception. In 2011, the Eagles backup tight end was on the field more than twice as much as their fullback.

So, logically, one might expect that the team would pursue some legitimate options to keep a third tight end, or perhaps even someone who could challenge Clay Harbor’s second-string role. But that didn’t happen. Instead, we have the same two tight ends we’ve seen the last two seasons, plus a pair of undrafted free agents — one from this year and one from last year.

It’s not like the two guys they added don’t have some raw athleticism and talent. 6’5”, 246 lb. Brett Brackett was a solid player at Penn State before going undrafted to Miami in 2011. Chase Ford, whom the Eagles signed after the draft ended this year, did next to nothing in two years at Miami after transferring from junior college, but he’s even taller: 6’6”, 245 lbs.

Neither player has the experience needed to serve as a backup in the NFL at this point, meaning their both probably competing for a practice squad spot.

What I would have done: It would be nice to see that the Eagles (a) had a backup plan in case either Harbor or Brent Celek injured themselves and (b) had some competition for Harbor’s job, a backup role that actually requires a good deal of playing time. But it was not to be.

Way-too-early prediction: Celek had a great rebound year in 2011. After a disastrous 57.5 percent catch rate in 2010, he jumped back to 66 percent — and had the highest yards after the catch per reception (8 yards) in the NFL. He’s no Gronkowski, but at 27 he still has more than a few years of above-average play ahead of him. Hopefully he can continue to improve and become more consistent going forward.

As to Harbor, I’m surprised the Eagles seem so confident in his abilities that they haven’t bothered to bring in competition. His play has been fine for a backup, and he’s improved as a blocker, but I haven’t seen anything that made me think he’s more than that. Perhaps the coaches know more than I do, and there’s actually reason to suggest that he’ll have a breakout season.

That would certainly make Domo happy.

Photo from Getty.

Beyond 'I Goofed'

The full transcript of Andy Reid’s interview with McLane and Domo is up, and it has some juicier quotes than just the “goofed” line.

"From a coaching standpoint, we probably gave [Michael Vick] a little too much too soon protection-responsibility wise. You can’t take quite as much as we did early and do that with a guy. Even though he’s been in the league as long as he has, it’s a different (protection) scheme. If I had to go back on it, I would have backed up and just gradually fed him the stuff. You’re talking about a very intelligent guy. Very intelligent. But you can’t dump years and years of things on the table and expect him to go and perform."

That’s the first time, to my knowledge, that Reid has admitted that a lot of the protection/decision issues were on Vick.

"The first thing that happens in this league is, if the coach doesn’t know what he’s talking about, the players are going to let you know. They’re gonna be very verbal about that. But everybody stayed on board with Juan Castillo. I thought that was a tribute to him, his coaching ability and his staff."

In trying to tell us, “Hey, at least the players like him better than that McDermott guy,” Reid actually places Castillo in a category of coach that “doesn’t know what he’s talking about.” Stunning.

Moving in the Right Direction

Paul Domowitch:

Then he accepted the Detroit Lions’ invitation to become their general manager in 2001 and spent the next 8 years proving that just because you were good at knocking the snot out of ballcarriers didn’t mean you had any clue how to build a football team. The Lions never won more than eight games under Millen, who had a miserable 31-97 record when he finally was shown the door.

Which brings us back to Roseman.

No, it doesn’t. For a piece titled, “Young GM Roseman leading Eagles in positive direction,” Domo spends far too much time trying to prove that Roseman’s lack of playing experience isn’t a big deal. Which is odd, because I don’t think anyone that matters actually believes that to be a factor at all. What matters is the results, and despite Domo’s protestations, “three starters” from the last draft is hardly a positive indicator.

"At some point, you get entrenched into what your team needs," he said. "And because we’re so determined to win a championship as quickly as possible, we wanted to address those [needs] as quickly as possible.

"When you look back at the moves, particularly in the draft, that we’ve made successfully, it was situations where we took the best players [rather than the best player at the position of greatest need]. It’s something I believe in."

Now, if Domo’s main point amounted to “Young GM Roseman admits early mistakes,” we would be getting somewhere.

Shady Contract Dealings

Paul Domowitch:

In fact, last fall, McCoy fired Rosenhaus twice, before eventually rehiring him. According to a source close to McCoy, part of it had to do with the fact that Rosenhaus was doing nothing for the running back off the field as far as marketing and endorsement opportunities. But a much bigger reason was the fact that Rosenhaus tried to persuade the running back to accept a $6 million-a-year contract offer the Eagles were dangling in front of him.

Like the unnamed agent Domo talks to in this article, I perceive little leverage for McCoy now that DeSean Jackson signed a long term deal. The 2013 franchise tag is just waiting for Shady, and more importantly the short life span of a running back means he can’t afford to wait for guaranteed money. That said, I find it vaguely troubling that McCoy rejected a $6 million per year deal that Rosenhaus recommended back in October.

By waiting, McCoy unquestionably added to his value, propping up his stats closer to that of Arian Foster and his new $8 million per year deal. Still, back in October I projected that a six year, $32 million contract would have been perfectly reasonable. It makes me wonder what Shady thinks he’s worth now.

Dawkins Considering Retirement

Paul Domowitch:

Brian Dawkins said yesterday that he hasn’t yet made a decision on whether he wants to play a 17th NFL season.

The 38-year-old, nine-time Pro Bowl safety, who has played the last three seasons in Denver after leaving the Eagles as a free agent in 2009, missed four of the Broncos’ last five games, including both of their playoff games, with a neck injury. He will be a free agent in March.

The Eagles defense still hasn’t recovered from losing Dawkins and Jim Johnson after the 2008 season. Those were good times.

'Remarkable Talent'

Paul Domowitch, for the Daily News:

"Oh yeah, I really believe that," Mudd said this week. "If anyone doesn’t think [Peters is the best left tackle in the league], I would categorically ask them to give me one who is as good. I didn’t say better. I said as good. So that puts him in a pretty rarified place.

"The only other guy I’ve coached who’s like him is Walter [Jones]. That’s it. He’s got remarkable talent. Balance. Athleticism. Strength. He’s so fast. You’ve seen him lead screens and things like that. It’s kind of awesome really the physical talent that he has."

Great profile of Jason Peters, who’s arguably the best Eagles player right now. Honorable mention to Shady.

The Eagles Best Case Scenario for 2011

Eagles DeSean Jackson

If yesterday was “bash Andy Reid” day, today seems to be all about finding the silver lining. Tommy Lawlor wants you to know that "the Eagles are closer to being a good team than you think." Paul Domowitch says "the worst is over."

Let me do you the courtesy of quashing your hopes before you get too excited. This team is not, and will not, be a good team this year.

The optimists want you to believe that the Eagles turned a corner in the second half of Sunday’s game against the Bills. That after the demoralizing 10-play, 80-yard touchdown drive to start the third quarter, Juan Castillo’s defense adjusted and finally played up to its potential. They only let up 3 points the rest of the way.

Yet, even beside the fact that the Bills got more conservative in the fourth quarter, we’ve seen this type of one-half improvement before. Remember, against San Francisco the Eagles got out to a 23-3 lead through the middle of the third quarter. But eventually, they collapsed. The fact that in last week’s loss the defensive collapse was in the the first half rather than the second is a pretty weak argument to stand on.

Believe it or not, even a bad defense that gives up more than 26 points per game tends to keep the offense from scoring on the majority of drives. Sometimes those stops are evenly dispersed throughout the game, sometimes you manage to keep the opponent down for two quarters before letting up the lead. But at the end of the day, you’re still giving up too many points. I wouldn’t read much into one fourth quarter shutout by this defense, just because the Eagles took Jarrad Page off the field.

We hope that the youngsters who are now getting a shot, like Kurt Coleman, Nate Allen, Jamar Chaney, Brian Rolle, and Danny Watkins, will be better than the players they replaced. But none of them have shown that they consistently can be even average starters.

Perhaps the turnover rate will revert closer to the mean, but there’s no guarantee of that either. Michael Vick has been especially loose with the ball, whether throwing it to no one over the middle to avoid a sack or holding it out away from his body when scrambling. And drops have been common from every Eagles receiver.

Oh, and lest we forget, Juan Castillo is still your defensive coordinator.

The very best case scenario, in which the Eagles mostly fix their problems and rally for the remainder of the season, is unlikely. But even in that hypothetical, it’s doubtful they’d accomplish more than the 2010 San Diego Chargers, who sunk to 2-5 after some horrible special teams play. That team had a top ten offense and defense, strung together four straight wins, and still missed the playoffs at 9-7.

The 2011 Eagles are remarkably and unexpectedly bad. And it’s not hard to predict improvement when things seemingly can’t get any worse. But do me a favor. Save your optimism for next year.

Photo from Getty.

Overreacting to the Problem at Right Tackle

There’s an important, if often overlooked difference between critic and cynic. The critic questions the current situation thoughtfully and wonders what other options exist. He might second-guess decisions and rethink conventional wisdom. But the cynic overreacts to the most recent information. He might call a good team a "house of cards" or demand that they shake everything up for one questionable improvement.

That’s where we stand at this moment with the Eagles. Some of us are willing to criticize and question, and others are quick to call for changing everything immediately. You can watch this dichotomy play out in the debate about right tackle.

The calls are out for Andy Reid to move Todd Herremans away from his normal left guard spot to shore up the right tackle position. Admittedly, right tackle could be a problem for the Eagles. Winston Justice’s knee injury hasn’t fully healed yet, his replacement Ryan Harris now has back problems, and temporary starter King Dunlap hasn’t proven he can hold his own at this level yet.

But moving Herremans over to tackle is a desperate move, one that many in the media have been pushing for days. They ask Reid whether he’d consider moving Herremans and Andy says the same thing every time: he know that’s a possibility if he needs it, but he has other options right now. To me, that quotation is clear. Herremans can be a last resort if no one else is even adequate, the way a salad is a last resort for Reid after every possible cheesesteak and hamburger option has left the building.

And why would Herremans at right tackle be anything more than that? He hasn’t taken a snap at tackle in almost two years, and hasn’t gotten regular playing time at the position since his rookie year in 2005. We know he can slide over in a pinch, but you don’t sacrifice the only solid thing the Eagles offensive line has going for it - the left side - for a questionable upgrade.

Like every other team in the NFL, the Eagles have problem spots. Injuries at right tackle, a rookie middle linebacker, and a few more. But we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that with these offensive weapons, pass rushers, and cornerbacks, the Eagles on paper rival any team of the Andy Reid era.

Criticism is always good. Cynicism gets old.

Photo from Getty.