10 observations from Eagles-Packers

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10 observations from Eagles-Packers

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Perfection from Sam Bradford, production from Trey Burton, opposing penalties, the Cody Parkey mystery, rusty middle linebackers … you'll find all that and much more in tonight's edition of Roob's 10 Observations off the Eagles' 39-26 preseason win over the Packers at Lambeau Field Saturday night (see Instant Replay)

Here we go!

1. We have to start with Sam Bradford, and I’m not going to go nuts because it is preseason blah blah blah. But goodness gracious does he look sharp. Any tentativeness we saw Saturday night at the Linc vs. the Ravens was gone. Any jitters that were apparent in his first appearance in a year were nowhere to be seen. He used all his receivers, was remarkably accurate, made quick and smart decisions in the pocket and even threw a touchdown pass to Trey Burton while under heavy pressure from Packers safety Micah Hyde. Bradford played three series in his final preseason appearance, threw three touchdown passes and then gave way to Mark Sanchez. Add in his own series against the Ravens, and Bradford played four series this preseason and put up four touchdowns. His final numbers Saturday: 10 for 10 for 121 yards with three TDs and no INTs. Things aren’t going to come this easily in the regular season — I don’t think — but it’s hard not to be incredibly excited about where Bradford is and how far he’s come.

2. I didn’t like seeing the first defense give up two big plays to the Packers’ No. 2 quarterback, Brett Hundley. Both were really the result of poor tackling more than blown coverages. But any so-called X plays are unacceptable, and after last year — when the Eagles gave up more than any NFL team in a decade — they really do raise a red flag. The first defense has been very good this preseason, but they faced Andrew Luck for only a few plays, Joe Flacco for a quarter and Aaron Rodgers not at all. Those big plays are still a concern until this newly reconfigured defense proves it won’t give them up.

3. I’ve been saying this all summer, but I really like what Trey Burton brings to the offense, and Saturday night we saw a little bit of what we’ve been seeing every day in practice. Burton caught four passes, including two touchdowns, and he just looks quick when he gets the ball in his hands. Great athlete and if anybody can figure out ways to use him it’s Chip. Don’t be surprised if Burton is the Eagles’ No. 2 receiving tight end this year and Brent Celek is a blocking specialist. Burton intrigues me. Just another weapon.

4. It’s interesting to see how many penalties the Eagles’ opponents are committing. The Colts were 8 for 102, the Ravens 17 for 139 and the Packers 14 for 113. That’s 39 penalties for 354 yards in three games. That’s a lot of yards. And it’s not a coincidence. To a great extent, it’s a product of the tempo the Eagles operate at. It takes defenses out of their game, keeps them off-balance, wears them out, and this all takes defenders out of their comfort zone and puts them in position where they’re not using sound technique. That puts them in poor position, and that results in penalties. Crazy.

5. No idea what’s going on with Chip and Cody Parkey. Obviously, Parkey hasn’t been kicking well, but I don’t think anybody believes Kip Smith is a serious alternative. So why is he getting all the kicks? Parkey needs reps to try to fix whatever is going on, and he’s missing them in favor of a guy who isn’t really a threat to replace him. I don’t get this one. UPDATE: Kelly said Parkey has a minor groin injury and would have kicked had it been a regular season game.

6. I wrote last week I didn’t see how the Eagles could find a roster spot for Kenjon Barner, but the kid just keeps making plays, and he just might be making it impossible for the Eagles to not keep him. He had punt return touchdowns in each of the first two preseason games and a couple catches Saturday night, including a short pass that he turned into a 50-yard gain. He’s not the biggest or fastest, but he makes up for it with tremendous field vision, slippery moves in traffic and the toughness to break tackles. Raheem Mostert has been very good too, and he added a 67-yard kick return to open the game tonight. Does this team have running back talent or what? 

7. Fun to watch the Eagles’ run defense, isn’t it? It’s not much of a sample size, but Eddie Lacy — twice an 1,100-yard rusher — managed just two yards on four carries Saturday night against Bennie Logan and company. That group — Fletcher Cox, Cedric Thornton and Logan — has been together 2½ years now and is just so solid. You just don’t see many holes up front when the first group is out there.

8. We talk a lot about the three-headed inside linebacker monster with Kiko, DeMeco and Mychal. But don’t forget Najee Goode. He’s not a bad inside backer either. With Ryans limited against the Packers, Alonso inactive and Kendricks clearly rusty in his first game back, Goode was very active and very good, save a third-quarter personal foul. If he’s your fourth inside linebacker, you should be OK at inside linebacker.

9. I like the way Bradford throws to the backs. Safe throws, quick throws. He’s relying on their speed and playmaking ability to produce big yards after the catch, like with a flip to Sproles that went for 33 yards. The Eagles didn’t throw to the backs enough last year, especially late in the season. LeSean McCoy is a fantastic receiver, but he only had 28 catches last year — only nine the last nine games. Sproles had his shares of receptions, but Bradford likes throwing to all the backs. Only makes a dangerous offense even more dangerous.

10. Was disappointed not to see Alonso out there. No immediate word from the Eagles why he didn’t play. He planned to. So they’ll go into Atlanta getting very limited preseason play in one game from DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks and no reps from Alonso. We’ve spoken a lot about those three guys and how potentially stout the Eagles can be up front with a three-ILB rotation. But Ryans and Kendricks both looked a step slow in their first game of the preseason, and we still haven’t seen Alonso in an Eagles uniform. That’s a real concern.

With high expectations, Derek Barnett knows he still has plenty to learn

With high expectations, Derek Barnett knows he still has plenty to learn

Back near the far hedges of the NovaCare Complex's practice fields, a small group of defensive linemen in white jerseys and shorts participated in some drills. There were barely enough of them to even assemble a defensive line. More than half of the 90 men on the Eagles’ current roster were not at the team’s facilities. 

One of those few defensive linemen was Derek Barnett. On the first day of his first training camp, reporters later crowded around the first-round pick’s temporary locker as if he were the second-coming. Someone asked if he had any issues, considering his high-profile status, with the location of his locker, which is in the middle of the room and not one of the permanent stalls along the wall.

“I ain't made no plays yet,” Barnett said Monday, “so I'm cool with this locker until I make some plays.”

Good point. In terms of both Barnett’s career and this Eagles season, it is early. Very early. And to overhype the magnitude of Monday’s practice with rookies, quarterbacks and selected veterans would be silly. But Barnett knows where he stands, and he took the day as another opportunity to learn. He knows he must.

"Just keep on repping," Barnett said. "I come in and get better each day. It's not a sprint, it's a marathon."

Barnett has never lived anywhere outside of Tennessee. He hails from Brentwood, a suburb of Nashville. He attended the University of Tennessee, where his 33 sacks in three seasons broke Reggie White’s school record. Now the 21-year-old lives in Philadelphia, away from his family — especially his mother, whom he credits as his greatest influence — for the first time. They talk just about every day, and she’s been helpful in his move. Google Maps has been an aid, too. Barnett wants to know more about the city and its history.

He can absorb that knowledge over time, but the Eagles, of course, would prefer that he learns how to beat NFL offensive tackles as quickly as possible. Barnett joined a defensive end unit led by its only clear-cut starter in Brandon Graham. After that, Barnett, along with Chris Long and Vinny Curry, will get time. He might start, he might not. Any pressure that came along with going 14th overall, Barnett said, he doesn’t feel. But an internal force drives him.

“I have very high expectations for myself,” Barnett said. “And that's every year I go into a football season. I'm the biggest critic of myself.”

To get out on the field a few days early was good for Barnett, he said. After spending the time off over the last few weeks at home in Tennessee and working out with former All-Pro end Chuck Smith and Atlanta, he relished the opportunity. Given the limited numbers, Barnett lined up on both the right and left sides of the ball. He said he feels comfortable on either side. It was the not the game action he’s been anxious for, and it didn’t feel “real” without all the veterans, but it was a start.

The vets are on their way, though. The first full-team practice is Thursday, and with that will come the more polished Graham, Curry and Long. That’s three more sets of eyes to critique him, and three more sets of skills for him to watch; Barnett said observing their methods will help him get “mental reps.” The competition won’t hurt either.

The transition appears to be smooth so far. Barnett said he’s had to “unlearn” some of what he did in college, replacing it with a new set of muscle memory. The pace Monday was faster than during OTAs, but Barnett acknowledged that there are no days off in a league where everyone on the field is more capable. You can’t “slack mentally.”

"Coming in today, my coaches said, 'Just play, go, you can make mistakes, and if you do we'll correct them,'" Barnett said. "I didn't feel like there were many mistakes, but I still got some technique things … Things I need to do better."

All of it is new — the techniques, the coaches, the team and the city. Still, familiarity remains.

“It feels like I'm a freshman again, but I'm a rookie,” Barnett said. “I gotta come in and work hard and prove to my teammates that it's important to me and show the coaches they can trust me if they put me on the field.”

Eagles sign Canadian rugby star Adam Zaruba to be tight end

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Eagles sign Canadian rugby star Adam Zaruba to be tight end

The Eagles didn't just look north of the border for their newest player. They looked to a completely different sport. 

On Monday afternoon, the Birds signed undrafted free agent and Canadian rugby star Adam Zaruba to a three-year contract, although the length of the contract is standard. 

Zaruba, a 26-year-old Vancouver native, had a tryout before being signed, Eagles head coach Doug Pederson confirmed earlier on Monday. 

Listed at 6-5, 265 pounds, Zaruba is the Eagles' biggest tight end, even bigger than Brent Celek (6-4, 255). While the Eagles have three tight end spots locked up — Celek, Zach Ertz and Trey Burton — Zaruba will likely need to shine on offense and as a special teamer if he has any chance to make the team. 

While this isn't Zaruba's first time playing football, it is his first time playing football in a while. His last competitive football game came in high school, according to TheProvince

Zaruba redshirted as a football player in his freshman year at college and then never played after that, becoming a full-time member of the Canadian national rugby team by 2014. 

He's apparently made a name for himself in the rugby world. Here are some highlights, including an impressive one-handed grab: 

It likely won't be an easy transition from rugby to American football, but the Eagles were probably impressed by Zaruba's athleticism. On June 29, he posted a video to his Instagram account claiming he ran a 4.49 in the 40-yard dash while weighting 260 pounds. To put that into perspective, that time would have ranked second among all tight end competitors at this year's combine and would have been faster than the time put up by 19th overall pick O.J. Howard. 

Zaruba isn't the first rugby player to attempt the conversion to the NFL. The most famous example is Patriots' special teamer Nate Ebner. The U.S. rugby player has played for the Patriots since 2012 and was a second-team All-Pro in 2016. 

After signing Zaruba, the Eagles' roster is full at 90 men.