10 observations from Eagles-Patriots

ap-eagles-curtis-marsh.jpg

10 observations from Eagles-Patriots

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Curtis Marsh, Allen Barbre, Beau Allen, Brandon Graham, Alex Henery, Mark Sanchez and much more in 10 observations from the Patriots’ 42-35 preseason win over the Eagles Friday night at Gillette Stadium (see Instant Replay):

1. Yeah, I’m concerned about the starting defense. I know it was Tom Brady, and I know he does this to a lot of people, and I know the Eagles aren’t dipping too deeply into Billy Davis’ playbook. But still. Not good. I really would just like to see a higher level of competition from this group, especially on third down. Cary Williams’ INT was a good sign, but I just don’t see anything special yet in terms of pass rush, run defense or coverage. The first unit has been on the field for six drives in two preseason games and allowed three touchdowns. I expect the starters to play well into the third quarter next week against the Steelers, and they need to stop somebody and just put together a consistent game against somebody.

2. I still think the Eagles are going to be deadly on offense. Nick Foles, playing without either of his starting wide receivers, bounced back from that Chicago debacle with a crisp 8-for-10, 81-yard performance, including a touchdown pass. He looked really sharp. The first offense still lacks consistency, but I’m not concerned. They’ll be fine.

3. I am growing increasingly worried with Barbre. Based on the way he played against the Packers in place of injured Jason Peters last year, I thought he’d be performing at a much higher level. I’d consider getting Dennis Kelly some work at right tackle with the first group. I like the way he battled at the end of 2012. Barbre is scaring me.

4. Was encouraging to see Jordan Matthews really raise his level of play after a disappointing debut in Chicago last week. Matthews caught nine passes for 104 yards after a two-drop, 14-yard debut against the Bears. Matthews just didn’t look comfortable in Chicago, which is understandable considering it was his first NFL game. Looked like a different guy Friday night. The kid’s got all the tools. The kid is going to be special.

5. He’s the longest of longshots, but was really happy to see Henry Josey with a big game. The undrafted rookie missed all of 2012 at Missouri after tearing his ACL late in 2011 but bounced back with a big 2013 season. You always root for those kind of guys. Josey thought his career was over a couple years ago, but there he was Friday night with a huge game -- 8 for 56 rushing along with a shifty 27-yard touchdown reception. That’s 83 yards from scrimmage, all in the third quarter. With three other backup running backs hurt, Josey earned a long look, and granted it was against the Patriots’ backups, but he looked really good. Hey, get him on the practice squad. Keep him around. Maybe the kid can play.

6. Was just excruciating to watch Marsh. He has been better at practice this summer, but he looked absolutely lost out there against the Patriots, allowing three touchdowns (to three different quarterbacks) and committing two penalties. Got to the point where you just felt bad for him. I mean, he was worse than Roc Carmichael, and that’s not easy to do.

7. Let’s talk Allen. This kid shouldn’t just make the team, he should play. He’s a beast. He’s strong, tough, quick, physical. Every time I watch him, he’s blowing somebody up. Davis has to find a role for him.

8. It’s a shame that two of the Eagles’ best pass rushers -- Vinny Curry and Graham -- just don’t fit into Davis’ scheme. Graham isn’t going anywhere, just because the Eagles can’t afford to give up depth at outside linebacker. But it would be nice to see the Eagles trade Curry to a 4-3 team where he could really contribute. I would think he’s put enough good film together that a team would give up a conditional late-round pick for him. Curry can get to the quarterback, but he just can’t play in a 3-4. Hope he can find his way to a team where he’s a better fit.

9. He did have a bad interception Friday night, but overall I really like what I’ve seen from Sanchez in the two preseason games. With his 11-for-12, 117-yard, two-TD performance Friday night, he’s now a combined 18 for 22 this preseason for 196 yards. That’s 82 percent accuracy. And he’s generated four touchdowns in seven drives so far. He just looks confident, in control, accurate. If something happened to Foles, the Eagles are in good hands with Sanchez. He’s been impressive.

10. I wish I could tell you the Eagles will be able to find a better option that Henery, but they can’t. His miss Friday night was from 47 yards, and those are the tough kicks he has to make. He’s not the worst kicker in the league. He’s still 11th in NFL history in accuracy at 86 percent, and he’s 85 percent for his career in that key 40-to-49 range. The numbers look fine, but I don’t think anybody trusts him on a big kick, late in the game, beyond about 42 yards. I just don’t think there are any better options.

Shelton Gibson needs to boost his confidence to boost his play

Shelton Gibson needs to boost his confidence to boost his play

There's no need to sugarcoat or pretend things have gone perfectly. 

They haven't. 

Through the first couple months of Shelton Gibson's NFL career, there have been more bad days than good, more dropped passes than impressive plays, more reasons for the coaching staff to wonder than to be encouraged. 

"He's coming along," head coach Doug Pederson said bluntly about Gibson on Monday after practice. "He's by no means where he wants to be or where we want him to be, but he's learning our system."

Gibson, for his part, agreed with that assessment. He didn't try to hide from his struggles. 

After a mostly lackluster spring, Gibson started his training camp on Monday morning with a few more drops during practice. 

"It's just confidence," Gibson said about his dropped passes. "It's the only thing it is. Everything is about confidence. You go out there and know your plays, you're going to be confident." 

Gibson thinks learning his plays and getting extra reps will help him to get over the hump.

"This game is about how you can bounce back," he said in mid-June. 

At that time, it looked like Gibson was ready to bounce back. After a mostly disappointing spring, the last two days of the mandatory minicamp were a different story for the rookie fifth-round receiver. It seemed like he was turning a corner, not dropping as many passes and starting to make some plays. 

And while it seems like the long layoff between minicamp and training camp, after seemingly turning a corner, might have been tough for Gibson, he claimed it wasn't. In fact, getting a chance to go home to Ohio built his confidence up even more. 

"You know, you go back home, you're that guy," Gibson said. "When you come back here, you step back to reality."

Reality was a little harsh to him on Monday. But the good news is, there's plenty of time left in training camp. Plenty of time for him to master a playbook that's significantly different and more complex than the one he had at West Virginia. And plenty of time for him to start making plays. 

While Gibson has struggled since entering the NFL, his fellow rookie wideout Mack Hollins, who was drafted the round before Gibson, hasn't. In fact, Hollins has been pretty impressive so far. 

"We all have days where we drop balls," Hollins said. "You drop one and you drop another and then it's like nothing's working for you. Having teammates that just turn their backs, walk away and don't say anything, it doesn't make it any better. It doesn't matter if you're a rookie or a vet, being a good teammate is saying, 'Hey, you're good. You got it. You're here for a reason. 

"'Shelton, you got drafted for a reason. It's not like they just flipped a coin and said let's go to this name. You're here for a reason, because you can catch the ball and play well as a receiver.' Just encouraging him like that. The same way I would want it from him if I was having a bad day."

Aside from getting a chance to go home over the last month, Gibson also got a chance to join some of his fellow receivers in North Dakota for team workouts and bonding with quarterback Carson Wentz. 

The trip was beneficial in terms of Gibson's on-field progress, but also allowed him to become closer to some of his teammates and enjoy some new life experiences. 

Gibson tried a bison burger (it was good), ate seafood for the first time (he liked that even more) and attempted water sports on a lake.  

"I can't paddle board," Gibson said. "I suck at it."

But he thinks he can play receiver. And he has a couple weeks left of training camp to prove it to his coaches.  

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.”