Combine Wrap: News, notes, rumors and gossip

Combine Wrap: News, notes, rumors and gossip
February 27, 2013, 2:15 pm
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Geoff Mosher had the NFL Scouting Combine covered inside-out. He roamed hotel lobbies, patrolled the Lucas Oil Stadium concourses and scoured the Heartland city last week to gather all the nuggets and rumors surrounding the Eagles and NFL.

Here’s some buzz around the Eagles from the Combine:

Chip Kelly likes tight ends, a lot
Kelly keeps telling the media that his playbook is incomplete and that his schemes and formations will be catered to his talent instead of vice versa, but word is that Kelly is big on keeping as many tight ends as he realistically can for his variation of the spread attack.

It’s possible that Kelly keeps as many as four or five tight ends, a personnel strategy familiar in Green Bay and New England. It makes sense given Kelly’s affinity for spread offenses and his influence on the Patriots’ two-tight end offense. Brent Celek isn’t going anywhere and Clay Harbor, in the last year of his deal, should get the chance to compete. But neither is the field stretcher that we’ve seen matriculate around the league.

This year’s draft is ultra-deep in tight ends, so don’t be shocked if Kelly seeks his version of Rob Gronkowski after Round 1. I’m told they’ve checked out San Diego State’s Gavin Escobar, one of the top five tight end prospects, someone who compares favorably to Aaron Hernandez. One scout told me Escobar reminded him of Baltimore’s Dennis Pitta. Escobar clocked only a 4.84 in the 40 -- 11th among tight ends -- but that could benefit the Eagles if other teams back off.

If the Eagles keep four tight ends (or more), they’ll need to go thinner in other places. The likeliest position would be fullback, which had already become a dying role in Andy Reid’s West coast offense. Looks like Stanley Havili would be the odd man out, and versatile fullback/tight end Emil Igwenagu -- whom the Eagles felt was their best overall blocker among the backs and tight ends but not much of a vertical threat -- could also be headed for the exit unless Kelly needs a short-yardage runner and better pass protection in the backfield.

The secondary will be rebuilt
I asked several GMs which area of the defense -- defensive line, linebackers, secondary -- is most difficult to repair overnight. Each said the same: the secondary. It’s typically hard to find starting-caliber corners and safeties, and even harder to find four new ones. Lucky for the Eagles, this year’s draft and free-agent crop is deep at defensive back. Oh, and Darrelle Revis is on the block. One team source had told me Wednesday that there had been no contact between the Eagles and Jets regarding a Revis trade, but that was Day One of the Combine. The same source didn’t rule out the idea of the Eagles making overtures.

A cornerback tandem of Revis and Sean Smith would sure be interesting and allow the Eagles to address safety in the draft, which has some decent ones. One thing’s almost 100 percent certain: Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique-Rodgers Cromartie aren’t coming back. Asomugha’s agent, Ben Dogra, had said the Eagles are asking Asomugha to take a massive pay cut, but the buzz in Indy was that the Eagles had already made up their minds to move on.

Geno Smith, or trade down?
The Todd McShays and Mike Mayocks of the world have made it clear that this quarterback class lacks the sure thing that we’ve seen the past few years and that two guards would each be suitable top-five picks, but let’s not get carried away. This is still a QB-driven league and coaches always think they have the blueprint for success. Name the last guard to go top five?

Geno Smith, by most accounts, is the best quarterback, and when’s the last time the top QB didn’t go in the top five? Try 2000, when Chad Pennington was the first QB taken at 18th overall by the Jets. Plenty of personnel people believe Smith will be the No. 1 overall pick if Luke Joeckel isn’t. If Smith slips to fourth overall, which became more likely with the news that the Chiefs have acquired quarterback Alex Smith (see story), the Eagles should either take him or entertain trade offers. This is a great draft to trade down, stockpile picks and capitalize on depth. The Eagles wouldn’t land the haul that St. Louis got last year from Washington, but they could easily find a partner (with the Cards at No. 7, Jets at 9 or Titans at 10) to pick up some extra selections and still get an impressive prospect like Dion Jordan, Star Lotulelei or Jarvis Jones, then address the secondary in the second and third rounds.

Back to the basics
Of all the new assistants on Kelly’s staff, the one people seemed to be most impressed with was offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland. The former Alabama line coach is all about smashmouth football and wearing down opposing defensive lines, which contrasts the finesse and deception taught by Howard Mudd. Our own Ray Didinger wrote last month that Stoutland could be the savior of Danny Watkins’ career. Watkins’ athleticism has never been questioned and he has the strongest hands of the offensive linemen. Stoutland is said to have the best chance of getting Watkins to play like a tyrant -- if Watkins has it in him. Also, inside linebackers coach Rick Minter is considered a technician in teaching the art of solid form tackling. The Eagles have become one of the league’s worst tackling teams, so Minter’s education should be embraced by all, not just the inside linebackers.

Etc., etc.
An under-the-radar free agent name is Brice McCain of the Texans. McCain, a sixth-round pick in 2009, emerged as one of the NFL’s better slot corners, a position that becomes more significant each year. If the Eagles think Brandon Boykin has the skill set to play outside, McCain could be one of those low-level acquistions who makes a big impact in 2013. There were rumblings in Indy that the Eagles had some interest. … Defensive end Trent Cole has never played in a 3-4 scheme, but he’s not following the footsteps of Cullen Jenkins and Mike Patterson. Three different sources with knowledge of the situation told me Cole won’t be dealt.

I’m not so sure the Eagles would draft a nose tackle in the first round unless they were convinced he could be a three-down lineman and had pass-rushing acumen. It’s a deep position in this year’s draft (see story) and the Eagles could pick up a run-stuffing, two-gap nose -- like John Jenkins or Jonathan Hankins -- in the later rounds. … Don’t be discouraged if a prospect the Eagles are reportedly targeting ran a bad 40. It could actually scare off other teams and help the Eagles get their man, as long as they’re convinced the game tape is more revealing than a workout time.

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