"With the 23rd pick..." What Is the Eagles' Biggest Need?

"With the 23rd pick..." What Is the Eagles' Biggest Need?

Last night, I was all set to fix the final installment of our draft preview, but instead, I called an audible to insist the Eagles trade Kevin Kolb. Sure, it was pure fantasy. The NFL won't allow player trades tonight (swapping picks is LEGAL however), despite the fact that the lockout ended three nights ago. Not sure what grounds they have to prevent teams from doing business now, particularly over rights to a player who is already under contract, but I digress.

The final part was supposed to be about what the team's most pressing need is entering the first round of the draft tonight, and the answer might surprise you. We talked about the black hole at cornerback, and the continued regression on the right side of the offensive line, and a day one pick on either of those positions would be one well used. I can think of one area though where adding a first round talent may have an even greater impact on the Eagles in 2011, and beyond.

Last year, the Eagles jumped up 11 spots to select DE Brandon Graham, and people wondered why that didn't solve their problems pressuring quarterbacks with the front four. Trent Cole recorded double digit sacks for the third time in four years, so why do these problems persist? Was Graham a bust? He didn't record a very large number of sacks, but these stats on hurries suggest he was having a promising rookie season before his injury. So what is it?

Maybe part of it was the technique employed by former defensive line coach Rory Segrest, and is something that will work itself under the direction of Jim Washburn.

I'm not ready to discount personnel yet... but the problem may not be at end.

In '05 and '06, the Eagles used consecutive firsts on defensive tackles, selecting Mike Patterson 31st and Brodrick Bunkley 14th. From that point on, the defense has been solid in the interior, and when they've had any respectable play at middle linebacker, very difficult to run against between the tackles. However, Patt and Bunk both have been largely disappointing as pass rushers, and their inability to get virtually any penetration is making life more difficult on the edges, and really, everywhere else.

Bunkley will be a free agent next year, and so far, he's given management little reason to consider a contract extension. Antonio Dixon was elevated to starter in Week 5 last season, and he played well, but the former undrafted free agent was more effective against the run. And just when you thought maybe the Eagles would consider adding an Albert Haynesworth in free agency, he had a pair of pretty serious criminal charges brought against him.

Everybody can probably agree this is a need position, but greater than corner or right tackle? It's certainly debateable. Still, once free agency begins, the Eagles will have a shot at a number of excellent cornerbacks, and while the offensive line has some issues, better decision making under center can negate those to an extent.

To be fair, Haynesworth isn't the only quality interior lineman that will be available when free agency opens, but there are arguably fewer difference makers there than at any other position in the NFL. With that kind of limited availability, the Eagles should be proactive and draft one... if the right player is there. With all that in mind, my hope for the Birds' pick tonight is either Illinois' Corey Liuget (6-2, 298), Baylor's Phil Taylor (6-3, 334), or Temple's own Muhammad Wilkerson (6-4, 315).

Unfortunately, the top two tackle prospects (Nick Fairley, Marcell Dareus) will be long gone before the 23rd selection, and likely even out of range in a trade up. Even Liuget could go much higher than this, as there is always a premium on defensive linemen in the draft, but the Birds should have a shot at one of the three. Admittedly, I don't know a ton about any of these players, on the count of I often work on Saturdays, and therefore don't get to watch as much college ball as I'd like. All of the above would seemingly fill the general need though.

For what it's worth, I don't think the Eagles could go wrong with either a corner or offensive lineman in the first round, or even another defensive end. However, as the old saying goes, it all begins up front. For far too long, the Eagles have been content with merely not losing the battle at the line of scrimmage. What they need are the pieces to win that fight, and finally give opposing quarterbacks that unsettling feeling when a 300-plus pounder is heading straight for them.

Eagles 2016 training camp schedule features 2 open practices

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Eagles 2016 training camp schedule features 2 open practices

Eagles rookies, quarterbacks, and select veterans will report to training camp on Monday, July 25. 

The rest of the veterans will report on July 27, with the first full-team practice of training camp taking place on Thursday, July 28 at 3:30 p.m., the team announced Wednesday. 

The majority of training camp practices this summer under Doug Pederson will take place at the NovaCare Complex, beginning at 8:15 a.m., which is earlier than the team practiced during camp under former head coach Chip Kelly. The early practices hark back to training camps under Andy Reid at Lehigh, although now the team will have its walkthroughs in the afternoon. 

The Eagles will have two practices open to fans at Lincoln Financial Field: Sunday, July 31 at 10 a.m. and Sunday, Aug. 14 at 7 p.m. Both open practices are free and don't require tickets. Seating will be on a first-come, first-serve basis. 

The Eagles will have several off days throughout camp: Aug. 2, Aug. 9, Aug. 12. And camp ends on Aug. 16, with the preseason opener vs. the Tampa Bay Bucs in the middle, on Aug. 11. 

With rotation gone, Mychal Kendricks preparing for comeback season

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With rotation gone, Mychal Kendricks preparing for comeback season

Getting in a rhythm, getting in a flow, is important for Eagles linebacker Mychal Kendricks. 

Really important. 

“That’s everything,” Kendricks said after Tuesday’s OTA practice. “It truly is.”

That’s why last season was so tough on the veteran linebacker. Under former defensive coordinator Bill Davis and head coach Chip Kelly, Kendricks was forced into a rotation with DeMeco Ryans, Kiko Alonso, and later Jordan Hicks. 

In a year when he did nurse a hamstring injury for a few weeks, Kendricks played just 52 percent of defensive snaps in 2015. After playing all 77 snaps in the opener, Kendricks never got above 90 percent again and didn’t play more than 70 percent of snaps in any of the last five games of the season. 

That’s quite a departure for someone who is widely considered to be a three-down linebacker. In 2014, Kendricks played 100 percent of his team’s defensive snaps in seven games. 

“I just feel like it was too much hot and cold, with all the players rotating in and out and whatnot,” Kendricks said about his 2015 season. “No one was able to get in the flow. It was odd. But I didn’t feel like I played as good or as much. For the time that I was in, I feel that my numbers were OK. But it’s hard to be a force or something to reckon with when you’re not on the field.”

Kendricks admitted the rotation was tough on him, but did what he was told. 

This season, he’s not expected to be in a rotation. For now, he’s the team’s starting weakside linebacker, while Jordan Hicks is in the middle with Nigel Bradham on the strongside. All three, however, are versatile and could be moved around. 

“All of those guys are pretty much interchangeable,” defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. “And you have to be now.”

Aside from the rotation at inside linebacker a year ago, Kendricks also dealt with another injury. He basically missed a total of four weeks in 2015 with a lingering hamstring injury. In 2014, Kendricks missed four games with a calf injury. 

While Kendricks has never made a Pro Bowl, before last season, when healthy, he has played to that level. In fact, making the Pro Bowl is a personal goal for Kendricks this season. 

“I feel like if I stay healthy, you’ll see me in the Pro Bowl,” he said. “Those are things that you can’t control. Unfortunately, a couple times, I’ve fallen short of my personal goal because of an injury. No one wants that. I’m not making any excuses or anything, that’s just what it is. 

“I used to beat myself up over that, but as you get older and you start understanding the game, you know that there’s some things that you just literally do not control. You can’t beat yourself up over it.”

If Kendricks does get named to the Pro Bowl this season, his production will match the four-year, $29 million contract extension he signed before the 2015 season began. 

From the outside, it seems possible that Kendricks’ new contract might have been a factor in his decline last season, but the linebacker doesn’t seem to think it played much of a role. 

“Have I thought about it? Yeah,” Kendricks said. “But then I look back at all the scenarios that could have played an effect. I got paid and I didn’t play as much as I’d like to. It could have went both ways. Who knows, maybe I wouldn’t have played at all. I don’t know. Sometimes the grass is greener; sometimes the grass isn’t greener. I’m not a fortune teller or a future teller, I just go with my gut.”

Sixers draft target: F Ben Simmons

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Sixers draft target: F Ben Simmons

Ben Simmons

Position: Forward

Height/Weight: 6-foot-10/239 pounds

School: LSU

The 19-year-old Australia native was the favorite to be the top pick in the 2016 NBA draft before he ever took the court for LSU. Here we are less than a month from the draft and that still may very well be the case.

It's hard to ignore Simmons' production in his only season with the Tigers: 19.2 points, 11.8 rebounds, 4.8 assists and two steals per game. The 6-foot-10 forward with guard skills was named SEC Freshman of the Year and was named to the conference's first team. But for all his personal accolades, Simmons' team failed to make the NCAA Tournament after taking a 71-38 whooping at the hands of Texas A&M in the SEC Tournament. He's been criticized from everything to his lack of maturity to his inability to shoot consistently from the outside.

Strengths
It's so rare to see a player of Simmons' stature with the ability to handle and see the court so well. Watching Simmons grab the ball off the rim and then go the length of the floor to either finish or find the open man is a thing of beauty. I love how smooth he is. It looks effortless for him. You almost forget he's 6-foot-10. His basketball IQ is excellent. He forces contact down low with his big body and draws fouls. His rebounding ability should translate very well to the next level.

He has the ability to guard multiple positions with his length and athleticism... if he's motivated. His size is going to be a matchup nightmare for opposing teams. A traditional four will struggle with his quickness. He'll be able to take a lot of wings down low and punish them in the post.

Weaknesses
The biggest thing is his shot. It's been well-documented. His three-point output in college: 33 percent. As much as that number reflects a weakness, he's at least self-aware. He knows his weaknesses. His free-throw percentage (67 percent) is just OK. The good news is, if you actually watched him shoot, this isn't a total rebuild.

Are the maturity and competitiveness concerns legitimate? I don't know. It's a 19-year-old kid we're talking about. The Sixers will have to decide if those concerns are something he'll outgrow or a serious red flag going forward. Playing under Brett Brown, who coached Simmons' father in Australia, would hopefully mitigate some of the concern.

How he'd fit with the Sixers
This is a really interesting question that I'm not sure anyone has the answer to yet. At 6-foot-10, he almost has to play the four, but where does that leave Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor, and possibly Joel Embiid and Dario Saric? There could be nights where Brown could get away with playing Simmons on the wing given his ball skills. But it might be a struggle for Simmons defensively depending on the matchup. In any case, Simmons will need a shooter/scorer or two in the lineup to complement his skill set.

NBA comparison
This is next to impossible. How many players have there been that are built like power forwards but handle like point guards? Magic Johnson is a lofty comparison, but Lamar Odom may not be quite strong enough. Much like Simmons, Magic was not a shooter (19 percent from three in his first nine years in the NBA), but at 6-foot-9, Johnson was one of the greatest facilitators in league history. If Simmons is somewhere between Johnson and Odom, the Sixers will be just fine.

Draft projection
I'd be shocked if the Sixers don't take Simmons at No. 1. It's the right call.