Evaluating Bryce Brown

Evaluating Bryce Brown

He’s eclipsed 160 yards rushing in each of the last two
games. He’s drawn comparisons to the explosive Bo Jackson. Suddenly the Eagles
have options with respect to their backfield, specifically LeSean McCoy, who
signed a five-year contract worth $45 million over the summer.

There is no doubt rookie runner Bryce Brown is bursting with
talent. That’s why the front office took a seventh-round flyer on a kid who
carried the ball just 104 times during a tumultuous collegiate career. But is
Brown really a star in the making, a silver lining in this darkest of seasons,
or are we seriously overreacting after two NFL starts?

Here’s what we know right now: Brown is a naturally-gifted
running back that possesses 4.4 speed in a six-foot, 223-lb. frame, making him
both difficult to catch and to bring down. He can catch the ball out of the
backfield. He is a willing blocker. In many respects, Brown looks like the
total package.

Where I draw the line is that we already know definitively
that this kid is the real deal. As impressive as these recent performances have
been, it is far too early to anoint Brown the next big thing. He certainly has raw
ability, but at this point, there are still more questions than answers.

Small sample size

Two games. Two outstanding games, but only two games
nonetheless. I’m not sure what the exact number of carries is before I become completely
convinced, but I’m not there yet. My apprehension probably has a lot to do with
a specific black mark on these breakthrough performances.

Ball security

As has been well documented, Brown has put the ball on the
turf three times in these last two games, which in my mind overshadows – if not
erases – a great deal of what he accomplished. He lost two against the Panthers
last week, which were converted for three points, but also ended a drive in
Carolina territory, and of course the fumbles against the Cowboys was returned
for the decisive touchdown.

In no way are we laying the blame for either loss on a
rookie running back, but we can all count. Those points would’ve helped. Look
no further than the Eagles’ last two seasons to see how closely turnovers
correlate to wins and losses. The fact is, Brown can run for 6.5 yards per
carry for the rest of his life, but if he coughs up the rock once every 14
carries, he can’t be a primary back in the NFL, or at any level.

We’ve seen notable backs Tiki Barber and Ahman Green get
over their fumbling issues, but in both cases it took years. Brown might be
worth the wait, but a lot can happen between now and whenever he learns to hold
on to the football.

Competition

Another reason I’m not getting too amped up over the last
two games: consider who they have played. Carolina is ranked 25th in
the NFL against the run, and Dallas tumbled all the way to 18th
after Sunday night – plus the Cowboys have been hammered by injuries.

Does that detract from Brown’s efforts? No, but the
information is relevant. Most backs are experiencing greater success against
the Panthers, and increasingly the Cowboys as well. Let’s see what Brown can do
against even an average run defense, let alone a good one.

Improved offensive
line?

It is worth noting that before Brown relieved McCoy, who is
out with a concussion, the All-Pro back was not having his best season. Shady
was averaging 4.2 yards per carry, and managed to cross the goal line just
twice through 10 games. Much of the blame can be heaped on the offensive line,
which has been decimated by injuries, none more integral to the running game
than the loss of left tackle Jason Peters. Philadelphia averaged over seven
yards per attempt on off-tackle runs to the left in 2011.

Yet all of a sudden, Brown is running wild, averaging 6.5
yards per carry, and scoring four touchdowns. McCoy’s long run on the season is
34 yards, Brown’s is 65. So if the line is so terrible, how is it the new guy
is able to find so much space?

Believe it or not, one of the answers might be the offensive
line has been improving. They’re not at the point where anybody should get
excited, but some recent changes are starting to pan out, particularly on the
right side. Fifth-rounder Dennis Kelly moved to tackle after the injury to Todd
Herremans, and looks more competent there than he did at guard. Veteran Jake
Scott was signed off the street a month ago and quickly pushed Danny Watkins
out of his job, whether he was injured or whatever.

The combination is working, so who knows, perhaps McCoy
would have or will look better behind the new look as well. Brown might be
benefitting from good timing.

Character

My concerns extend beyond what Brown has done on the field
the last couple weeks. How did the Eagles come to find this gem of a player in
the seventh round of the draft?

The short answer is he left Tennessee for some reason after
one season, and then quit the team at Kansas State apparently after a dispute
over playing time. He was involved with several NCAA investigations during his
time in college football. Lots of question marks there. I haven’t seen or heard
anything during his time in Philadelphia that would lead me to believe the kid
has a bad attitude or is a problem of any kind, but his strange past ought to
make you wonder.

Putting it all
together

Everything I’ve seen of Brown dating back to the preseason
tells me he has the ability to be a number one back in the NFL, but let’s slow
down. There are enough potential issues here to be worried what we are seeing
could be a flash in the pan.

Plus, how quickly we forget the Eagles already have a star
running back in their employ. Lest you forget, here are the numbers Shady McCoy
piled up just a season ago: 1,309 rushing yards (4th), 5.2 yards per
attempt (4th), 1,674 yards from scrimmage (4th), 20 total
TD (1st).  Obviously that’s
not a knock on Brown, nor does it mean he can’t be useful, but the Eagles are
paying McCoy a ton of money to carry the load, so I suspect he will resume his
role whenever he’s ready to go.

It’s a good problem to have. McCoy is locked up, Brown is
under contract through 2015, and he can’t even receive an extension until the
final year of his rookie deal, so there is plenty of time to let Brown’s
trajectory play out. He’s off to an amazing start, but there is much work still
to be done.

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Eagles players react to Doug Pederson's effort comments

Eagles players react to Doug Pederson's effort comments

Two days after Eagles coach Doug Pederson agreed "not everybody" on his team played hard in a 32-14 loss to the Bengals on Sunday, players were still trying to interpret exactly what those comments meant.

"I think Doug is saying we can all do better," Eagles tight end Brent Celek said on Wednesday. "We can give more effort, we can hustle a little bit harder to the ball, after the ball is thrown on offense, after a ball is ran or caught on defense.

"It's just a team thing. We're just trying to get better."

Now in his 10th NFL season, Celek was one of the few Eagles players we spoke to who agreed with Pederson's premise.

"I think guys are giving effort, but I think we could take it to another level," Celek said. "There's levels to that. You can go hard every single play. I think that's just what he's trying to say is, 'Listen, we can do better.'"

Eagles linebacker Nigel Bradham sided with Pederson, as well, although largely for different reasons. The fifth-year veteran didn't believe effort was an issue, but if the head coach says it is, then it must be.

"It was shocking to me," Bradham said. "It's one of those things where, that's the way he felt, so if we weren't playing hard, we have to play harder."

Yet even as Bradham was attempting to back Pederson, he sounded like somebody who was unclear about the message.

"From what I've seen defensively and watching film, I feel like everybody was running to the ball," Bradham said. "I don't think that was the point he was trying to get across. I think he was trying to say we weren't paying attention to details as far as the effort part. I don't think he was saying work ethic.

"I think it kind of got worded wrong."

Many players offered their own unique takes on Pederson's statements, which might be the bigger story here than what was actually said. Nobody seemed to be especially offended — more like confused as to how anybody who went back and put on the tape could draw such a conclusion.

And honestly, they might have a point.

The Eagles got their butts whipped in Cincinnati. The Bengals could do no wrong on either side of the football, and the game turned into a bloodbath. Anybody could see the outcome was likely decided early into the second half, yet the defense forced fumbles and created turnovers with hustle plays even when almost all hope was lost.

"You look at the end, we had opportunities to lay down, to just say, 'This game's out of reach, we're not going to win this game,' but that's not what we did," Eagles linebacker Jordan Hicks said. "Guys came out.

"You look at the fumble forced by [Bennie Logan] — huge play in the game, and really one of those types of plays that is a momentum shift because then, now you look at it, we're getting off the field again. It's those types of plays that give you that type of momentum. You've got Nigel who comes in, they throw it to the big guy and he knows immediately to go for the ball.

"We had chances to not show effort, but nobody on that film does. I said it after the game, I was proud of the way we finished."

Pederson didn't necessarily imply Hicks, Logan or Bradham were among the "not everybody" who supposedly gave less than 100 percent. There are some high-profile examples of specific plays or individuals under heavy scrutiny this week, which are what was being alluded to when the coach was pressed on his team's effort.

Regardless, another detail most players agreed upon is Pederson never intended to single anybody out. At least that was the sentiment after he had a chance to address the locker room.

"I think it's more of a group comment that he made, and he addressed it," Hicks said. "He told everybody.

"There's plays we all can make if we all just give a little bit more. It's that challenge, that mentality that no matter what, we're going to continue to do what we do, and at the end of the day, every man has to look themselves in the mirror."

"I'm guessing he feels like as a team we probably need to play harder," Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins added, "but I know the intent of the guys that I practice with and play with every day, and I didn't see effort being the issue from my standpoint.

"The guys, they love this game and lay it on the line, so I don't have to coach anybody up on energy or showing up."

Another accusation that was put forth is the Eagles didn't necessarily lack effort. It was a matter of heart, intensity or energy — any of which was also disputed.

"I think I know the difference between the two," Hicks said. "It's tough to have that energy when you're down and you're fighting from such a deep hole. You try, but with energy, you have to make the plays first. When you're not making plays to give you that juice, that momentum, the things that switch the game on to your side, it's tough to have that energy."

"It's hard to have energy when you're down three scores," Jenkins said. "I think guys still played hard, but from just being a human being, it's hard to celebrate a play when you're trying to fight out of a hole.

"Everybody always talks about going out and having fun. Well, you're only having fun when you're winning, and so we have to find a way to get some of the momentum on our side, find a way to get some of the plays and things to swing in our favor, then we can have some fun as a team."

Jenkins also made it clear that questions about effort and energy have nothing to with the job Pederson has done as head coach of the Eagles.

"Me personally, although I love Doug, Doug is not the reason I get up and play and go to work every day," Jenkins said.

"I don't think our effort or how we perform is a direct reflection of Doug. It is his job obviously to lead us and get us prepared to play, but a lot of that onus is on us as players. We're the ones that have to go perform, we have to make the plays, we have to show up, we have to get our bodies ready, get our minds ready, and there's only so much a coach can do.

"Whatever is put on on that tape is going to be a direct reflection of the guys on the field."

That's really all the Eagles can do at this point if they want to dispel any and every notion that there is a single individual giving less than their all. The team's leadership seems to understand what it's going to take to quiet critics and skeptics.

"We just have to keep grinding," Celek said. "It's not easy, life's not easy. If you make a mistake, people are going to try to expose it any way that they can.

"They pay us a lot of money to do this. We all have to pick it up. We all have to do a little bit better, focus on our jobs and get a win. We just need a win."

With that, Celek may have hit the nail on the head, a point that Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox stated much more succinctly.

It's not a matter of effort right now. What would really quiet the noise about effort is performing on the field and earning a good old fashioned W.

"If we're winning, I don't think anybody is saying that," Cox said. "We just have to be better as a team."

Freshman A.J. Brodeur leads Penn to 29-point rout of Lafayette

ap-penn-steve-donahue.jpg
Associated Press

Freshman A.J. Brodeur leads Penn to 29-point rout of Lafayette

BOX SCORE

Steve Donahue has been coaching long enough to know there are always doubts as to how players adjust to the college game.

But as he heavily recruited A.J. Brodeur, the Penn coach began to realize he was looking at as close to a sure thing as there can be. 

So far, he’s been right.

On Wednesday at the Palestra, the Penn freshman continued his torrid start to his college career, exploding for 22 points, seven rebounds and five assists to lift the Quakers to an 81-52 rout of Lafayette.

“I’ve known A.J. since 9th grade,” Donahue said. “I probably saw 100 to 200 of his games. And I was pretty sure we were getting a really good basketball player that was going to fit and really help us build this program.”

Brodeur was actually relatively quiet in the first half, scoring six points as he dealt with Lafayette double-teams. And the Leopards, who never led, pulled within one at 24-23 near the end of the first half.

But the 6-foot-8 forward helped key a 10-0 spurt with two buckets to help the Quakers gain a comfortable nine-point halftime cushion, before accounting for half of the team’s points during a 16-0 second-half run that put things away.

For the game, Brodeur shot 10 for 13 for the field while Lafayette center Matt Klinewski, one of the Leopards’ top players, shot 1 for 10 and finished with four points.

“He’s so much bigger than us,” said Lafayette coach Fran O’Hanlon, who was an assistant at Penn alongside Donahue in the early 1990s. “Matt couldn’t really handle him.”

A lot of players have struggled to handle Brodeur so far this season, no matter the competition level. Just this past Saturday, the Penn freshman scored 17 points against Temple while outdueling Owls star Obi Enechionyia for much of the way.

But although he’s hit double figures in six of his first seven games, including a career-high 23 in his collegiate debut vs. Robert Morris, Brodeur isn’t entirely satisfied yet.

“I’m definitely happy with the way I’ve been playing,” Brodeur said. “Obviously there’s always room for improvement. My game is still not where I want it to be or where I need it to be for us to be a championship team this year.”

Whether or not Penn (3-4) can contend for an Ivy League championship remains to be seen, but it certainly is promising that all three of their wins have been by lopsided margins — something that rarely happened under previous coach Jerome Allen. 

And the Quakers showcased a lot of balance and defensive tenacity against a young Leopards team Wednesday, finishing with 21 assists and 10 steals with 11 different players scoring.

Guards Jackson Donahue and Jake Silpe, last year’s starting backcourt, combined for 23 points off the bench. And senior Matt Howard took over the game in the first half, skying for rebounds, getting his hands in the passing lane and, at one point, throwing down a ferocious one-handed dunk after starting the break with a steal.

Howard, who’s endured three straight losing seasons, finished with 14 points, eight rebounds, four steals and three assists.

“He’s been through ups and downs for three years,” Donahue said. “I think he finally feels that he can really be the best player on the court and help us win games — which probably hasn’t happened before. I think that’s what you saw at the beginning of the game.”