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.

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.

What the Eagles Should Not Do in the First Round

Ryan Tannehill

There’s something odd about the run-up to the NFL draft that causes everyone to start shouting out possible players the Eagles could choose in the the first (and every) round. It makes for fun speculation, but ultimately each prediction is little more than a guess.

Perhaps a more fruitful topic for discussion isn’t trying to decide what the Eagles will do or who they should pick — but rather who they shouldn’t. Honestly, while I’m learning more every day about the various options at defensive line and elsewhere, even the early prospects are still mostly a mystery to me. But I have strong opinions on what the Eagles should not do in the first round.

Don’t Draft a Quarterback. I already talked about why the Eagles weren’t a good fit for Robert Griffin III, but now Ryan Tannehill’s name keeps popping up for a first round option. The same argument applies, but especially for a guy who isn’t of RG3’s caliber. Quarterbacks like Tannehill have shot up draft boards in recent years because of the importance of the position and scarcity of franchise players, which makes such a selection in the first round a huge reach.

Don’t Draft a Running Back. I like Trent Richardson as much as the next guy, but even if he fell to a place where the Eagles could grab him, I still wouldn’t be happy. The team already has an elite running back in a league that values them less with every passing day.

Don’t Draft a Wide Receiver. Third or fourth round, sure. I’d like some depth and competition, but they have their starters locked up through the next two seasons at least. Leave it alone.

Don’t Draft a Tight End. There is no clear-cut first round caliber guy here. Case closed.

Don’t Draft an Offensive Lineman. I’m not taking anything for granted at tackle, where Jason Peters will be out for the year, but Demetress Bell and King Dunlap will almost certainly be better in 2012 than what you could find at number 15 overall in this weak class. Unless you worry about Peters’ recovery beyond that, this isn’t a position of need. And please, nothing could be worse than drafting another first round guard.

Hey, look… there seems to be a general trend here.

Photo from Getty.

The Inside Track to a Meaningless Job

In this Eagles website video, Stanley Havili says that he’s put on 25 lbs since he came to the Eagles, up from 225 to over 245 lbs. When he was drafted in 2011, Havili looked more like a large running back than a true fullback. Perhaps the added weight will help him as a blocker.

I mentioned Havili when I discussed the fullback position a couple months back. His versatility as a runner and pass catcher could make him a more valuable contributor than Owen Schmitt. But the irony is that as the second tight end eclipses the fullback in most situations, that player’s ability to excel in other areas actually becomes less important. If the fullback is almost exclusively going to play in short yardage, I-formation sets, it would be better for him to specialize in actual blocking.

Sign Me Up

National Football Post:

[Hayden] Smith went from playing basketball to becoming a rugby star. He is a front liner for the Saracens in the U.K. The 26-year-old is being seriously pursued by four NFL teams now, a process that began in January after the Senior Bowl. Agent Jack Bechta said he hopes to have a deal in place soon even as more teams are curious about seeing Smith.

This is a big puff piece that might as well have been written by the agent (seeing as he owns part of NFP). Still, I’m 110 percent on board with taking a tight end flier on a 6’6”, 265 lb. basketball/rugby player. Brent Celek is an above average starter, but he’s never going to be a major difference-maker in the mold of Rob Gronkowski or Jimmy Graham.

(Via BGN)

The Eagles Future at Fullback

Only five teams in the NFL gave fewer snaps to their fullbacks in 2011 than the Eagles. Owen Schmitt had almost no impact on the offense, registering only 173 snaps — almost half the snaps of fourth/fifth wide receiver Riley Cooper. That’s a sharp decline from 2010, when Schmitt took over for Leonard Weaver after the first game and played in 352 snaps.

Moreover, Schmitt’s contribution on the field was limited. He carried the ball four times, ran passing routes 73 times, and pass blocked 25 times — all tasks that could have been better performed by other players. Even his 71 run blocking attempts, just over 4 per game, were at best at replacement level.

Overall, Schmitt is entirely expendable. Either through free agency or the draft, it wouldn’t be difficult to upgrade the fullback position.

However, the Eagles have long been uninterested in investing even moderate resources at fullback. Leonard Weaver was an exception, but he was also a great change-of-pace running threat. Without him, the Andy Reid has reverted back to ignoring the position. And even more so this year, as he often utilized two tight end formations with Clay Harbor instead of employing Schmitt.

The question is what to do going forward. I have no interest in retaining Schmitt or another player of his caliber. It’s a wasted roster spot that provides special teams snaps and poor offensive return.

Instead, I’d like to see the Eagles turn their diminished use of the fullback spot into an asset, by converting the position into something worthwile. How so? I can think of two ways.

The first would be to find a new version of Weaver, the RB-FB hybrid. Dion Lewis looked like he may be capable of holding down LeSean McCoy’s back up spot next year. However, his running style isn’t exactly bruising. If the Eagles signed someone like the Chiefs Le’Ron McClain, he could fill that dual role of FB-RB, and potentially free up a roster spot somewhere else. Stanley Havili — anyone remember him? — had a redshirt year on the Eagles practice squad. A draft option (taken as the most speculative of recommendations) might be Baylor RB Terrance Ganaway, who happens to be the Jeremiah Trotter’s nephew.

The second option would be to look for a more versatile H-Back. Harbor is already filling this hybrid role somewhat for the Eagles, although he’s more likely to line up as a wide receiver than as a fullback. With the offense going to more and more two tight end sets, it would be nice to keep a third guy on the roster. Having him do double duty as a part-time fullback could be a great way to get value out of the roster spot. National Football Post’s Wes Bunting projects Evan Rodriguez, tight end for Temple, as a late-round H-Back option.

The point is that keeping things as they are wastes a roster spot on a replacement-level player who is outclassed at basically every function he’s asked to perform. Even Schmitt’s role in the run game is being eclipsed. Why not try something new?

Photo from Getty.

How the Eagles Misused Brent Celek in 2010

Brent Celek Play Pass Blocking 2010 Philadelphia Eagles

During Andy Reid’s online chat with fans at yesterday, he was asked a question, “What are you going to do differently this year so that Brent Celek gets involved more?” Andy’s answer wasn’t particularly revealing, as usual. He only said that the team needed to put “more emphasis” on the short to intermediate passing game.

I’ve already talked about Celek’s disappointing season and have laid a large part of the blame on Michael Vick’s shoulders. When Celek was running routes, he just wasn’t being targeted as often. And throwing over the middle was where Vick was most inaccurate.

But the other side was just how differently the Eagles used Celek in 2010 from the previous season. His chances to go run routes as a receiver dropped and he was called on to pass block a lot more.

Brent Celek Play Pass Blocking 2010 DataTake a gander at the table at right. Celek was still a receiver most of the time, but his snaps as a pass blocker increased by more than half. Instead of blocking once for every six times he ran a route, Celek was a receiver only 3.4 times for every play of pass protection in 2010.

A number of factors contributed to this change in how the Eagles used Celek. The offensive line was having trouble, especially the right side with Winston Justice. However, it wasn’t as though the Eagles were constantly trying to help out the offensive line. They had the seventh-least number of blockers per pass play in the NFL. Another problem was the loss of Leonard Weaver, who was a solid pass protector. He blocked more often and more efficiently than both LeSean McCoy and Brian Westbrook in 2009.

Someone had to pick up the pass protection slack. But, unfortunately, Celek is simply a bad blocker — and he didn’t get any better with more practice. Look at the Pass Blocking Efficiency (PBE) statistic in the table above, calculated from PFF. It shows the total pressures allowed per blocking play. While Celek was alright in 2009, last year he was awful. He was the seventh-worst tight end in the NFL, yet the Eagles made him pass block more than all but four other players at his position.

That’s insanity. Wide receivers are the focal point of the offense, but Celek should be a great weapon down the middle, helping to keep the defenses honest. Making him pass block more not only removes that asset, but actually make Celek a liability.

Photo from Getty. Originally published at NBC Philadelphia.

What's Wrong With Brent Celek?

Last year, Brent Celek put up ridiculous numbers as the Eagles’ leading receiver: 76 receptions for 971 yards and 8 touchdowns. Those statistics put Celek among the elite group of NFL tight ends.

Then Donovan McNabb left.

Many people, including myself, didn’t see that as such a bad thing. In fact, I predicted an absolute monster 2009 for Celek, since he would be thrown to by good friend Kevin Kolb, a young quarterback who makes extremely accurate short range passes.

So much for that prediction…