Five Eagles We're Watching on Offense vs. Pittsburgh

Five Eagles We're Watching on Offense vs. Pittsburgh

Preseason football gets underway for the Birds on Thursday night, as they are hosting the Pittsburgh Steelers at the Linc. The starters generally only play anywhere from a series or two to the end of the first quarter in game one, so this won't be the showcase for a Michael Vick or LeSean McCoy -- though it will be fun to see those guys finally take the field again.

Believe it or not, there is still a lot at stake in these next four games, just not the final score. Mostly you want to see the team walk away from it healthy, but aside from that, here are five Eagles on the offensive side of the ball who we'll be watching closely once we finally reach kickoff.

Demetress Bell

There aren't many question marks on the starting 11, which looks largely the same as it did a year ago, only with one notable exception: they're missing the best left tackle in football. Andy Reid would say you don't replace a Jason Peters, who is expected to miss the season from a ruptured Achilles tendon, but Demetress Bell was signed to do just that. This will be our first glimpse into how much the offense has lost on their fast ball in the transition.

First, how much will it hamper LeSean McCoy in the running game? Coming off of a stellar sophomore year in which he finished fourth in the NFL in rushing, McCoy was at his best when running off-tackle to the left. According to Pro Football Focus, the Eagles averaged 7.1 yards per carry off Peters' outside shoulder in 2011, which is a full two yards more than what the team averaged on all runs combined. Difficult to imagine they are going to get that kind of production on the outside with Bell.

Second, how often will it alter the offense's look in pass protection? Peters was a rock at LT, so much so the coaches were not afraid to let him go one-on-one with the most dominant pass rushers in the league. Expecting Bell to come into a new scheme and instantly lock down the left side might be a bit much. Watch for a tight end or back to help Bell in certain situations, and what the trickle-down effect will be for Todd Herremans on the opposite end of the line of scrimmage.

One more thing. Bell only appeared in seven games for the Bills last season, and missed eight in 2009. Might want to keep an eye on backup King Dunlap as well.

Clay Harbor

Brent Celek will be held out of the action with a knee sprain, which means Clay Harbor gets the start at tight end. However, it was only a couple of weeks ago when the Eagles were snooping around for the 2010 fourth-round pick's potential replacement. Harbor has the size and athleticism to be a viable target in the passing game, but as the offense has moved to a greater number of single-back sets, his ability as a blocker becomes increasingly important.


The starting fullback is Stanley Havili, the club's seventh-round pick from 2011 who spent last season on the practice squad, but that's not what's interesting. What's interesting is how much we'll see of the fullback position. According to the Football Outsiders Almanac, the Eagles went single back or empty back 81% of the time a year ago. There is a thought process that number could be even higher going forward as we enter offensive line coach Howard Mudd's second season on the job.

All of which has begged the question whether the Eagles will even bother using a roster spot on a traditional fullback, as the Indianapolis Colts often did not with Mudd. We'll be searching for hints in the play calling, such as the offense featuring more two-tight end sets.

Dion Lewis

Dion Lewis is off the hook for the felony-fire alarm fiasco from a month ago, and standing at the front of the line to seize the job as Shady's spell. A fifth-round pick last year, Lewis didn't get many opportunities as a rookie, but ran for nearly 3,000 yards at Pitt. The Eagles are carrying a couple more young backs they really like in Bryce Brown and Chris Polk, but this being his second season with the team gives Lewis the upper hand. As always though, a lot of it rides on pass blocking.

Mike Kafka

Michael Vick has spent a healthy portion of the past two seasons, well, not healthy. If he has trouble staying on the field for a third year in a row, at this point the Birds would have no choice but to turn to their relatively unknown understudy, Mike Kafka.

We say relatively unknown because Kafka did see some action early on in 2011. He replaced Vick in Week 2 at Atlanta, and actually conducted himself quite well. The offense mostly relied on quick, easy passes, but Kafka demonstrated poise and nearly led the team on a game-winning drive. He was 7 of 9 for 72 yards. However, when he replaced Vick again the following week against the Giants, they were ready. Kafka went deep on his first throw and was intercepted, essentially sealing their fate. He finished the afternoon 4 of 7 for 35 yards, two picks, and a sack.

It wasn't enough to be impressed, nor enough to write him off as an effective number two. This will be Kafka's third season in the league, so probably the best takeaway from those outings is at least he has some experience, and can maybe put that to good use should the Northwestern product be pressed into another game. The Eagles are probably going to be in trouble should anything happen to Vick long term, but ideally you would like to see something in these exhibitions that makes you feel confident in Kafka for a game or two.

Mike McQueary calls his ban from Penn State facilities 'wrong'

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Mike McQueary calls his ban from Penn State facilities 'wrong'

BELLEFONTE, Pa. — The former Penn State assistant football coach suing Penn State told jurors Friday he was angered when told he could not return to team facilities after being put on leave the week Jerry Sandusky was charged with child molestation.

Mike McQueary testified in the fifth day of trial in his lawsuit, where he's seeking more than $4 million in lost wages and other claims.

School officials have testified that safety concerns prompted them to put McQueary on paid administrative leave in November 2011, and he never returned to the football program.

"They tell me, the guy who turned in a pedophile," to stay away from team facilities, he testified. "And they let him go around there for years after they knew about it not once but twice. That gets me. That does not make sense to me. It's wrong."

McQueary says he saw Sandusky sexually abusing a boy in a team shower in 2001 and reported it to then-head coach Joe Paterno and two administrators. Another complaint was investigated in 1998 but produced no charges until authorities took a new look at the case starting in 2009.

His testimony helped convict Sandusky of 45 counts of child sexual abuse in 2012, but he has not been able to find a job.

McQueary told jurors he got a sense his status with the program was in trouble in the days after Sandusky was charged with molestation and two high-ranking school officials were charged with perjury and failing to properly report suspected child abuse.

The only university official who offered him words of encouragement during that period was Paterno, he said. He recounted an exchange they had on the practice field shortly before the school's trustees fired Paterno.

He said the aging coach told McQueary he had not done anything wrong and warned him not to trust "Old Main" — the administration building.

"He specifically said, 'Make sure you have a lawyer. You're all right. You didn't do anything wrong.' He was very, the word I want to use is, unselfish, about all of it," McQueary said.

He also recounted seeing Sandusky with the boy in the shower in 2001, slamming his locker door shut and seeing that they had separated.

McQueary did not say anything, physically intervene or call police, but he did contact Paterno the next day.

"I think one of the concerns perhaps in the very first minute is, Who's going to believe me? Who is going to believe when I tell them that Jerry Sandusky was doing this?" McQueary testified. "I didn't know if my dad would believe me. I didn't know if anyone would believe me. And to his credit, Coach Paterno did believe me."

Coach mum on Giants' awareness of Josh Brown's abuse record

Coach mum on Giants' awareness of Josh Brown's abuse record

LONDON -- The New York Giants have yet to decide whether Josh Brown will stay on the team after admitting he abused his former wife, coach Ben McAdoo said Friday in a press conference that raised more questions about the franchise's knowledge of the kicker's off-field behavior.

McAdoo faced repeated questioning about Brown following the Giants' first practice in London for a game Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams.

Brown did not travel to London and the team has yet to say if he will be suspended or cut following the release of county police records in which the player said he physically abused his wife, Molly, over a protracted period. She told police in the documents released by the King County Sheriff's Office in Washington state that the abuse and other threatening behavior stretched from 2009, when she was pregnant with their daughter, to the Pro Bowl in January 2016.

At the Pro Bowl in Honolulu, Brown's wife said she called NFL security to move her and her three children to another hotel to avoid harassment from her estranged husband. She said he had pounded on their hotel door seeking to get in. The allegation is included in the final report filed last month by the local investigating detective, Robin Ostrum.

Brown's former wife did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment from The Associated Press.

A law firm representing the kicker declined comment.

When asked whether the Giants knew about Brown's behavior at the Pro Bowl, McAdoo repeatedly said the Giants were still gathering information on the 9-month-old event. Finally, he said: "I'm not going to answer that."

When a reporter asked McAdoo about his comments in August suggesting he would show no tolerance for players abusive of their family members, McAdoo said his comments then were more nuanced.

"When did I say zero tolerance?" he said, adding: "I do not support domestic violence, if that's what you're asking. I do not condone it."

McAdoo described Brown as a "man of faith" who was trying to improve his behavior and the Giants organization was supporting him in this. But when asked to explain how the Giants provided this or monitored his off-field behavior, McAdoo said he couldn't detail any specific acts of support.

The NFL's official policy is to suspend players guilty of domestic abuse for six games on their first offense. Brown was suspended for one game, the Giants' season-opening victory over the Dallas Cowboys, in punishment for his May 2015 arrest at his family home in Woodinville, Washington, on suspicion of assaulting his wife by grabbing one of her wrists as she tried to reach for a phone, leaving an abrasion and bruising. No charges were filed but the detective, Ostrum, gathered detailed statements from Molly Brown who also provided her husband's written admissions of abuse in diary and email entries.

The NFL said its investigators asked to see these records but were denied.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell suggested in a BBC interview Friday that Brown could face further punishment now that league officials can see the full King County evidence file detailing Molly Brown's allegations of more than 20 episodes of abuse fueled by alcohol and other threatening behavior to herself, her two sons from a previous relationship and the couple's daughter.

"We have asked repeatedly for those facts and the information that's been gathered by law enforcement both orally and in writing. And we weren't able to get access to it. So you have to make decisions on whatever information you have," Goodell said in a transcript of the London interview provided by the BBC.

"We take this issue incredibly seriously. ... When it happens we're not going to tolerate it. So we have some new information here, we'll evaluate that in the context of our policy and we'll take it from there," Goodell said.

The Giants in April re-signed Brown to a two-year contract valued at $4 million. When facing his one-game suspension, Brown in August said he was divorced from his wife, although police documents released Wednesday suggested that civil proceedings remain incomplete.

The Giants have signed kicker Robbie Gould, an 11-year veteran of the Chicago Bears who was cut in September for salary cap reasons. The 34-year-old is expected to practice with the team Saturday.

"I've seen him (Gould) make a lot of kicks against me in the past. He's been successful, and we're hoping that continues," McAdoo said.