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.

Eagles camp Day 6 observations: The pads finally go on

Eagles camp Day 6 observations: The pads finally go on

It kinda looked like football today!

After months of watching Eagles run around in shorts, the pads went on this morning. No, the team didn’t go live (tackling to the ground), but the pads were popping some and it actually resembled the real game way more than the previous days' sessions. The plan is to go three days with pads before a day without them.

A few guys – Nolan Carroll, Rueben Randle, to name a few – left practice early thanks to injuries, but it didn’t appear any of the injuries were serious (see story).

Here are some observations from Saturday’s practice:

• The much-anticipated first play of 11-on-11s was won by left defensive end Vinny Curry, who blew past right tackle Lane Johnson and would have had a sack if not for that pesky red jersey Sam Bradford was wearing.

How did Curry feel today?

“Hot," he said. "Hot."

You don’t look hot.

“I got my crop top on, you know what I mean,” he said, showing off his green shirt with midriff showing. “It was fun though, man. I got a lot to learn. I’ve got a long way to go.”

• After Curry got a chance to show his stuff with the first team, Marcus Smith flashed with the twos. Yes, that Marcus Smith. On the first play, he beat Matt Tobin, who has been working at left tackle. It’s obviously early and he’s the fourth-best defensive end on the roster, but the switch to the 4-3 defense could actually make him a serviceable NFL player. He’s better going downhill. Smith looked good in 1-on-1 drills against Dennis Kelly later.

• My favorite drills in training camp are offensive line vs. defensive line 1-on-1s. It’s high entertainment between the two biggest and strongest positions on the field. Fletcher Cox is unstoppable in these drills and will be until Brandon Brooks is healthy enough to practice. He’s used to going against monsters from his time in Houston against J.J. Watt. Today, Cox wasn’t stoppable.

Rookie Alex McCalister looks like a string bean and was no match for Halapoulivaati Vaitai. Rookie Destiny Vaeao had a nice power move on Dillon Gordon. Brandon Graham beat Malcolm Bunche with a sweet move to end the drill, which brought plenty of cheers from his defensive line teammates.

• Play of the day belongs to Randle. He made an incredible one-handed grab on a ball from Sam Bradford during individual drills. Randle has been getting looks with the first-team offense and has looked good. Unfortunately, he left early with cramps.

• If you’re looking for a bunch of quarterback analysis today, I don’t have much for you. All three were certainly better than they were in Friday’s disaster, but didn’t get a chance to really air the ball out. The biggest longball play of the day came in 7-on-7s when Carson Wentz aired it out to a diving Josh Huff, who made a great grab. Huff did have a glaring drop today, though.

Bradford had a really nice pass to Chris Givens during 11-on-11s. Bradford also had a great pass – of about 45 yards – to Xavier Rush, who dropped what should have been a touchdown.

• Trey Burton is the forgotten tight end. Yes, he’s third on the depth chart but Brent Celek isn’t getting any younger and Burton is showing some real pass-catching ability this training camp, especially for someone with just three career receptions. He made a great catch on a high ball today.

• It looks like Jordan Matthews’ struggles catching the ball are well behind him. He’s been very solid this summer. He made a few great catches early. On one, he leaped up and snagged the ball around Jordan Hicks and Malcolm Jenkins. A few minutes later, he made another good catch on the sideline.

• Wentz used a hard count to draw off the defense in 11-on-11s. Hard counts. Remember them?

• Earlier this week, Reuben Frank wrote about Wendell Smallwood and that despite his small physical stature, he plays big (see story). Well, we saw it on Saturday. In the open field, instead of trying to go around Jalen Mills, Smallwood lowered his shoulder and tried to go through him. That’s a nice way to start the practices in pads.

• As the pads went on, Blake Countess’ helmet cam was gone, but one appeared on Chase Daniel. It looks like the Eagles are going to keep testing these things out this training camp. Here’s what the camera looked like when it was on Countess:

• Tomorrow’s practice at 10 a.m. will be open and free for all fans at the Linc. No tickets required, just show up for first-come, first-serve seating. Fans can park in K Lot starting at 7 a.m. and gates open at 8 a.m. Enter on 11th street or Darien Street entrances.

What might you see? Well, things are getting a little feistier now that the players are able to hit each other.

When will they start getting under each other’s skin?

“Maybe tomorrow,” Curry said with a smile. “You never know when. You never know who’s having that hot, sweaty, bad day. You just never know. That’s the beauty of training camp."

Eagles Injury Update: Nolan Carroll, Rueben Randle leave practice early

Eagles Injury Update: Nolan Carroll, Rueben Randle leave practice early

The Eagles' first day of training camp in pads wasn’t without some minor casualties.

Cornerback Nolan Caroll left early with a sore ankle and wideout Rueben Randle left early with cramps. Both are considered day-to-day.

After Carroll left the field, Eric Rowe got some first-team reps with the defense. Randle was having a very good day, standing out with a one-handed grab, before going inside.

Undrafted wide receiver Marcus Johnson, from Texas, went inside early with a quad injury. Corner Ron Brooks (cramps) also went in early.

The Eagles started the day without starting right guard Brandon Brooks (hamstring) and starting running back Ryan Mathews (ankle). Neither have practiced since the whole team got together for the first full-squad on Thursday.

Darren Sproles continues to get most of the first-team reps at running back, with Kenjon Barner filling in. Veteran Stefen Wisniewksi has been taking Brooks’ spot at right guard.

Howie Roseman: Darren Sproles signing about culture, which is expensive to build

Howie Roseman: Darren Sproles signing about culture, which is expensive to build

The Eagles didn’t need to sign Darren Sproles to a one-year contract extension on Friday morning. 

Sproles is 33, not getting any younger, and his production dropped off significantly in 2015, at least from an offensive standpoint. Sure, he’s still quick and elusive and a dynamic punt returner, but he’s a running back well on the wrong side of 30. 

The Eagles could have waited. They could have gambled — with decent odds — that Sproles, by season’s end, wouldn’t be worth the reported $4.5 million extension they handed him on Friday. If they still wanted him after this year, they could have re-signed him then. 

But they didn’t wait. They signed him now (see story).

Why? 

“I think it’s the message that you’re sending to the team and the players,” vice president of football operations Howie Roseman said on Friday after practice, inside the bubble. “That you do the right thing here, and you’re productive, and you have a chance to stay here. And we want people to feel that way on and off the field, that this is a place that, if you do the right thing, you have an opportunity to continue to be here. And when you look around the team, he’s a great example of that. 

“That’s part of it, we’re trying to kind of build that culture of having guys here who feel like, ‘Hey, I can be here if I do the right thing and I play well.’ For us, Darren, we had been having these discussions for a while and to get it done is a great relief on our part.”

This isn’t the first time we’ve heard about the “message” or the “culture” the Eagles are trying to breed by sending it. In fact, since Roseman reascended into his power position, it’s been a theme of the offseason. The Eagles are trying to keep their own, instead of ousting them the way Chip Kelly once did. 

During the offseason, the Eagles went out and signed some free agents; Brandon Brooks, Leodis McKelvin and Nigel Bradham, just to name a few. But Roseman has continually said the most important moves the team made were the ones that brought back their own players, like Brent Celek, Zach Ertz, Vinny Curry, Lane Johnson, and, of course, Fletcher Cox. 

In Sproles and Celek, the Eagles have now extended two players over 30, and they’ve elected to keep Jason Peters, who is 34 (more on Peters here).

“I think we’re kind of looking at each individual case as it comes,” Roseman said. “And when you talk about those guys, we know they still bring to our football team on and off the field. When you’re implementing some young players, it’s good to have a nice mix of guys who have done it before and also understand what it was like when teams have had success.”

With all the contracts the Eagles have handed out over the last several months, they’ll be up against the cap soon enough. As PhillyVoice.com pointed out, the Eagles, as of now, will have the least amount of salary cap space in 2017. 

Roseman is aware. 

“Yeah, I think for us, when you’re looking at this, it’s never in a one-year window,” he said. 

The contract Sam Bradford signed this offseason is pretty easy to get out of this year, but if he goes out and has a Pro Bowl season and the Eagles want to keep him on the roster next year, he’ll have a $22.5 million cap hit. It seems like it would be tough for the Eagles to keep him at that number, but Roseman said there’s “no question” they’d be able to figure out a way to do it. 

Aside from Bradford, several players, most notably starting defensive tackle Bennie Logan, will be free agents at the end of 2016. 

“We love Bennie Logan,” Roseman said. “Bennie Logan’s a heckuva player and a great person off the field. He’s someone that we see here. Just because, like I said, someone doesn’t have a contract right now, it doesn’t mean that they’re not in our plans going forward.”