10 observations from Eagles-Bears

ap-eagles-allen-barbre.jpg

10 observations from Eagles-Bears

CHICAGO -- There was some good. There was some bad. There was some really bad. And then there was Roc Carmichael.

It was certainly a tough evening for Carmichael, Jordan Matthews, Allen Barbre, Nick Foles and a handful of other Eagles Friday night in the preseason opener, a 34-28 loss to the Bears at Soldier Field (see Instant Replay).

But it was a good day for Mark Sanchez, Beau Allen, Zach Ertz and Vinny Curry, among others.

It’s the first of 20 (at least), so please welcome back … Roob’s 10 Observations!

1. Can’t say I’m concerned with Foles’ performance, but he was so bad — two interceptions in nine attempts, with a third INT dropped — that it does give the next two preseason games a little more importance. Foles wasn’t great last preseason — he didn’t throw a touchdown and went on to have one of the greatest seasons any QB has ever had. With the pressure of a QB competition off, Foles has the freedom to make throws he might ordinarily not make. It seemed like he was really focusing on getting rid of the ball quickly Friday night, and he got himself into trouble a few times with poor decisions.

2. I am a little concerned with Barbre, who is pegged to start the first four games at right tackle while Lane Johnson serves his suspension. Barbre got pushed around a little bit by the Bears, but this was his first real playing time at right tackle since 2009 with the Packers, so it shouldn’t be all that surprising. But keep an eye on him. He needs to be better.

3. First defense did some good things, but I didn’t like those two third-and-long conversions by the Bears on their second drive — a 3rd-and-11 and a 3rd-and-10 that led to the Bears’ first TD. Billy Davis wasn’t dialing up any exotic stuff, and there wasn’t a lot of pass pressure, but third-and-long was a problem last year. The Eagles allowed 18 conversions on 3rd-and-10 or longer last year, and only the Dolphins (20) and Vikings (22) allowed more. That’s got to change, so something to keep an eye on.

4. Saw some good things from special teams. Damion Square blocked a field goal, Alex Henery’s kickoffs all went into the end zone, and rookie Josh Huff looked fast and decisive on his explosive 102-yard kickoff return touchdown. The Eagles made a lot of changes on special teams this offseason, and it looks like they’re paying off. The return game was awful last year. If Huff can be a quality kick returner, that would really solve a huge question mark facing the Eagles.

5. Loved what I saw out of Beau Allen. It’s tough to evaluate the young defensive lineman, since the Eagles don’t do live goal-line or short-yardage anymore at practice. But Allen was very active in his NFL debut, stout against the run and got great push in the pocket.

6. Good stuff — as you’d expect — from Sanchez. Say what you want, he’s one of the best backup quarterbacks in the league. How many teams have a No. 2 quarterback who’s won four playoff games and has one of the 15 highest passer ratings in NFL postseason history? Put a smart, veteran QB in a preseason game against a second-team defense and you’re going to get efficiency, and Sanchez was sharp, completing 7 of 10 passes for 79 yards, with two touchdown drives. In 19 of the last 23 seasons, the Eagles’ No. 2 quarterback has started at least one game, so it’s a critical spot, and the Eagles are in good hands if Sanchez has to play.

7. Not an auspicious debut for Matthews, the rookie second-round pick. He had three drops in all. The first one was a tough catch, the next two are catches he has to make. Matthews finished with four receptions for 14 yards with a long of five. I’ve always said wideout is the toughest position for rookies to come in and shine. Matthews has all the tools, and I think he’ll be fine, but it’s not going to happen immediately.

8. Was good to see Jeremy Maclin play for the first time since 2012. Foles targeted him once, and he caught a 15-yarder. The Eagles were awfully vanilla offensively, and I feel like Maclin needs a good bit of work before the regular season. He’s been OK at practice but hasn’t flashed. He still looks a little rusty. Good start but a ways to go.

9. The Eagles have some crazy depth at running back. After Shady McCoy, Darren Sproles and Chris Polk, you have Matthew Tucker, who looked terrific Friday night (minus a fumble) and then you saw what David Fluellen can do, with six runs for 25 yards and an acrobatic 14-yard touchdown catch from Matt Barkley. Good production.

10. Was disappointed in Barkley. There’s been a lot of talk about how far he’s come and how much he’s improved, how he’s gotten stronger, healthier, but he just didn’t look sharp at all, going 7 for 16 for 73 yards with the one TD to Fluellen on a play that was really all Fluellen, and one interception. Was looking for a lot more.

'Highly respected' Zach Ertz important piece of Eagles' offense

'Highly respected' Zach Ertz important piece of Eagles' offense

It doesn't take long in any conversation about Zach Ertz in Philadelphia before the words "breakout season" are tossed around.
 
Again.
 
But while a good portion of Eagles fans have been impatiently waiting for Ertz to "break out," the 2013 draft pick has quietly put together an extremely impressive start to his career.
 
In four seasons, Ertz has caught 247 passes for 2,840 yards and 13 touchdowns. He's one of just seven tight ends in NFL history to put up those numbers in the first four seasons of a career. The other six: Jimmy Graham, Antonio Gates, Jeremy Shockey, Tony Gonzalez, Kellen Winslow and Mike Ditka.
 
Not bad company.
 
But for whatever reason, Ertz hasn't become a real fan favorite. Fans have questioned his talent, his play-making ability and even his toughness.
 
Why the indifference?
 
"I don't know," tight ends coach Justin Peele said. "I love coaching him. I think he's good for this team. Every day he comes to work with the right attitude, trying to get better. He's had some success. I don't know. He's a pleasure to coach and I know he's very highly respected in this organization."
 
Ertz, 26, admitted this spring that the constant criticism from fans used to bother him when he was younger. But now entering his fifth season with the Eagles, he's gotten used to it.
 
Does Ertz think he's underrated or overrated?
 
"Whatever people think, people think," Ertz said earlier this spring on Quick Slants on CSN. "I'm not going to get caught up in people's opinions. It's the guys in this building, their opinions of me. I'm really happy with how I progressed this spring and I think I'm setting the stage for a good season."
 
The one thing Ertz admitted he needs to improve is his production in the end zone. He has just 13 touchdown catches in four years and has never had more than four in a season.
 
To put that in perspective, only two players over the last four years — Matt Forte and Jarvis Landry — have had more catches with 13 or fewer touchdowns. 
 
"That falls on me to go out there every Sunday to make plays," Ertz said. "Show I can do it in the spring and in the summer leading into the season and I'm working really hard at it."
 
The height of Ertz criticism came during a 32-14 Week 13 loss at Cincinnati last season. There was an infamous play where Carson Wentz went scrambling and Ertz failed to block a charging Vontaze Burfict, who was in pursuit. The play actually looked like Ertz got out of the way.
 
It was a bad look.
 
And Ertz knew it. He heard the criticism loudly and went out the next week and had a tough, physical game. But the damage was done. A lot of the fanbase turned on him.
 
"One play is not going to define him," Peele said. "The kid played through injury, he came back quick off of surgery a few years ago. He practices every day. This team is important to him. The game of football is important to him."
 
One way Ertz can win back Eagles fans this year is by having a big season. And that isn't out of the realm of possibility for one big reason. He's entering Year 2 with Wentz.
 
Since he entered the league in 2013, he's played with a new quarterback every season. So for this upcoming year, he's worked hard to build a rapport with Wentz and hopes the two of them can build something (see story).
 
How big of a season can Ertz have in 2017?
 
"It just really depends on the health," Peele said. "He's really talented. He can do a lot of things. He can help this offense in a lot of ways. I'm looking forward to it. He's doing well right now."

Seumalo, Vaitai comfortable heading into Year 2 after busy rookie seasons

Seumalo, Vaitai comfortable heading into Year 2 after busy rookie seasons

Had everything gone to plan in 2016, Isaac Seumalo and Halapoulivaati Vaitai would have spent their rookie seasons watching from the sideline. 

Everything didn't go to plan. 

Allen Barbre had a hamstring injury, Lane Johnson was suspended for 10 games and Brandon Brooks lost two games as he dealt with anxiety issues. 

As a result, Seumalo and Vaitai, third- and fifth-round draft picks, respectively, aren't just one year into their NFL careers. They've also played significant NFL snaps. 

And this year, they'll arrive at training camp as seasoned veterans, not green rookies. So which has had the greater impact: the year or playing time? 

"It’s both," head coach Doug Pederson said. "It's a combination of both. But the biggest thing is the actual playing time last year has really put them in good position this year."

Vaitai ended up playing in seven games with six starts. He played a total of 423 snaps as a rookie and filled in for Johnson until he went down with a knee injury. After a rough start — really rough — Vaitai settled in and showed signs that he could possibly be the Eagles' right tackle of the future. 

When asked about the difference in Vaitai from last year to this year, offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland laughed before answering. 

"Night and day, apples and oranges," Stoutland said. "Just his understanding of the position, his balance, his body control, the way he uses his hands. This is a lot faster game than college."

Vaitai found out about the speed of the game first-hand in Week 6 last year. Thanks to Johnson's suspension, Vaitai started at right tackle and didn't have a bad game. He had a horrible game. 

He didn't need to think very long when he was asked what his "welcome to the NFL" moment was. 

"It was that game," he said. "Because in camp I'm going with the threes and twos. I was still a rookie, but when I got thrown into the fire, I learned real quick that if you're not doing great, then you're out. I didn't want to be a disappointment to my family and be that guy who gets drafted and then is out the next year."

Seumalo ended up playing in nine games with four starts and a total of 335 snaps. He played four positions along the offensive line; the only one he didn't play was his most natural spot at center. 

"It's not just the year, it's the playing experience," Stoutland said. "He's played in nine games I think he started four of those games. ... He played a lot of football in his first year. Just that experience in playing those positions and understanding the angles we need to take. He's a very intelligent player. I love coaching players of his magnitude. They have talent, they're smart. Really all you do is coach him one time on something and he pretty much has it."

Seumalo didn't get to play at center last year because veteran Jason Kelce didn't miss any of the 1,133 snaps in 2016. Kelce is still on the team, but it seems like the Eagles are grooming Seumalo to eventually take over. Even this spring, the second-year lineman has been taking some first-team reps at center. 

That's actually how Seumalo thinks he got better. By learning the center position, he gained a better grasp of the offense. That, combined with a year under his belt and significant playing time, have him feeling much more confident heading into Year 2.

"Training camp was tough and a grind and the season is just long," Seumalo said. "Now, I know what to expect a little bit more."