10 observations from Eagles-Steelers

10 observations from Eagles-Steelers

PITTSBURGH — More big plays from the defense, no big plays from the offense, nothing much of anything from Sam Bradford.
 
The Eagles improved to 2-0 this preseason with a 17-0 win on Thursday at Heinz Field over a Steelers team playing without most of its stars (see Instant Replay).
 
Like the Eagles’ 17-9 win over Tampa last week at the Linc, there were some good things — mainly on defense — and some bad things — mainly on offense. And a few really, really bad things. Mainly on offense.
 
Kenjon Barner, Chase Daniel, Paul Turner, Nelson Agholor, Brandon Graham, Aaron Grymes, Jaylen Watkins? It’s all here.
 
Welcome to this preseason edition of my 10 instant observations!
 
1. I wish Mike Tomlin had played Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams for at least a few series Thursday night because it’s tough to truly evaluate the Eagles’ defense against a Steelers’ offense missing every one of its elite playmakers. Yeah, the Eagles’ defense recorded four interceptions, but they were against Landry Jones, who is a borderline pro. On the one hand, you love seeing that sort of aggressive playmaking, especially in the red zone. Nolan Carroll’s pick-six, end-zone INTs by Malcolm Jenkins and Grymes and a fourth INT by Watkins were all encouraging plays. But we need to keep in mind it was Jones throwing the football. Still, more encouraged than not by the first-team defense. It seems to have an aggressive mentality under Jim Schwartz. It's been solid against the run, it hasn't been allowing big plays and it did pitch a shutout Thursday night against an assortment of Steelers starters and backups. The first-team defense still has much to prove against real quarterbacks. But it's playing fast and aggressive, and that’s a good sign.
 
2. We’re still seeing nothing from the starting offense, and it has just one more chance to figure this out (see story). Since the starters aren’t expected to play in the preseason finale against the Jets on Sept. 1, the first offense has one more chance to come up with some sort of cohesion, some sort of consistency, before opening day against the Browns. That’s a week from Saturday in Indy vs. the Colts. The first offense played just three snaps against Tampa last week, which is the same as not playing at all, and against the Steelers, the unit managed three points and 122 yards in a half against a combination of the Steelers’ first- and second-team defenses. That’s five series and an average of 25 yards per drive. You can’t single out anybody. They’ve all been ineffective. The quarterback, the running back, the receivers, the tight ends, the offensive line. Right now, this is an ineffective offense lacking consistency, explosion and playmaking, and it doesn't have much time to fix it.
 
3. Focusing specifically on Bradford, he did complete 14 of 19 passes, which is good, but those 19 passes only went 115 yards, which is bad. That’s just six yards per attempt. Yeah, offenses are vanilla right now, yeah, his offensive line is in flux, yeah, he doesn’t have many weapons, but we really haven’t seen Bradford get into a rhythm yet, and that’s a concern. One preseason game to go for him and you really want to see him get the ball down the field against the Colts in Indy next week.
 
4. Turner has been the Eagles’ second-best wide receiver this preseason, the best if you consider that Jordan Matthews has been out a couple weeks. Turner has done what you hoped Agholor and Josh Huff would do. Make plays. Flash. His highlight-reel one-hander from Daniel for 23 yards to set up a touchdown in the third quarter is the kind of play we’ve been waiting to see Agholor make. Turner is an undrafted rookie free agent from Louisiana Tech, and Agholor is a second-year first-round pick, but Turner is flashing in a way that Agholor hasn’t. This team is desperate for wide receivers. So far, one guy is making plays. Not only does Turner deserve to make the team, he’s quickly showing that he deserves to play.
 
5. I don’t care if I write this every week, I really like Barner. He just looks like a football player to me. Sometimes you see guys put up big numbers in the preseason but you don’t really expect them to ever carry it over into the regular season. Barner hasn’t done anything since he got here in 2014 to make me think he can’t play in this league. He runs hard, slashes through traffic, has a terrific feel for the defenders around him and is tough enough to run through guys (rushing stats: 7 for 35 vs. the Bucs, 6 for 41 Thursday night). He’s explosive in the return game, picks up the blitz, getting better as a receiver. We all know Ryan Mathews’ injury history. We all know Darren Sproles is a gifted player but not equipped for double-digit carries. We haven’t even seen Wendell Smallwood play yet. It’s pretty clear Barner has to be this team’s No. 2 back. Not only that, he needs to have a role on offense as well.
 
6. Watkins has shown up in both preseason games. Watkins is an interesting guy. Weird story. The Eagles drafted him in the fourth round in 2014, cut him last September, then signed him off the Bills’ practice squad in November, and he’s been here ever since. Can play some corner, can play some safety. He’s never been a great tackler, but he’s shown enough in coverage and playmaking that he’s going to make it tough to cut him. He’s still only 24 and in a secondary with a lot of unanswered questions, he’s got a chance.
 
7. While we’re praising young defensive backs, Grymes is another kid who’s put together two solid games in a row. Grymes, like Watkins, had an INT Thursday night in Pittsburgh and has shown the ability to be around the ball. Grymes has three years of CFL experience, but he’s only 25, so he’s got an unusual combination of youth and experience. He’s another one who still has work to do to survive roster cuts, but he’s done some nice things.
 
8. I don’t know what else to say at this point about Huff and Agholor. You just keep looking and hoping and waiting for the two draft picks to shine and it doesn’t happen. Agholor did have a nice 22-yard catch Thursday night, but he sure hasn’t looked like a special player this preseason, and when you’re the 20th pick in last year’s draft you really should be doing something special at this point. I’m still not ready to give up on him, but with each passing game, I wonder more and more if it’ll ever happen for him.
 
9. It was nice to see Daniel actually look like a quarterback. After that performance against the Bucs, I was starting to wonder about him. Daniel was an unspectacular but not horrific 10 for 16 for 82 yards in the third quarter and most of the fourth quarter. Hey, small steps. It’s still terrifying to think of him as the No. 2 quarterback, but at least he didn’t embarrass himself out there.
 
10. Finally, a quick shout out to Brandon Graham, who we haven’t talked about enough. BeeGee, making that switch back from linebacker to defensive end, has had a solid training camp and has had consistently good pressures in the two preseason games. Graham has actually hung in there against the run, too. Graham is the longest-tenured Eagle on the defense, the only holdover from the 2010 team that faced the Packers in the playoffs. Heck, he’s been here so long he was teammates with Stewart Bradley, Quintin Mikell and Ernie Sims. Graham has been a solid player the last few years, but he’s never put together a full season that you’d want from a first-round pick. He’s now playing under his fifth defensive coordinator in seven years, and if anybody can bring out consistency from Graham, it’s Schwartz. So far, Graham looks like a nice fit in Schwartz's scheme. I’m looking for big things this year from Graham.

NFL Notes: Vikings' Mike Zimmer says he'll coach with 1 eye if necessary

NFL Notes: Vikings' Mike Zimmer says he'll coach with 1 eye if necessary

MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer has had a lot of time on his hands this week while sitting at home on his Kentucky ranch as his team went through optional practices in the Twin Cities.

Zimmer was under strict orders to leave the team and rest his right eye, which has needed eight surgeries to try to repair a detached retina. The lingering issues have led some to wonder if he would be forced to shorten his career.

Zimmer has heard the speculation all week long. The hard-nosed coach said he has reached out to some of those doubters personally this week.

"I'll be back shortly," Zimmer vowed in a conference call with reporters on Friday. "One eye or two, it doesn't matter. I'll be back. We can put that retiring thing to bed quickly."

Zimmer missed one game last season due to the problems with his eye . He tried to work through the issues, but said on Friday that he was told to skip this week's practices and go home to allow his eye to recover.

"It's not much fun," he said. "Usually I love it down here in my place here. But I don't love it too much this week. It was kind of a forced situation. But for the long run it's the best thing for me."

Giants: Smith trying to resurrect career
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Geno Smith didn't catch a break in his final two seasons with the New York Jets, and it seems his chances of resurrecting his career with the Giants are facing obstacles.

Not only does Smith have to beat out incumbent Josh Johnson for the backup quarterback job to Eli Manning, his prospects of making the team took another hit in the NFL draft when the Giants selected Davis Webb with their third-round draft pick.

The 26-year-old Smith doesn't seem concerned.

Speaking after the Giants organized training activities Thursday, Smith sounded confident for a player who had a promising rookie season four years ago and then regressed, in large part due to inconsistency.

"Honestly, I don't feel like I have to prove anything to anyone other than myself," said Smith, who has played in only three games in the past two seasons, starting one. "I am just trying to be my best every single day, focusing on trying to be perfect. I know that is a far goal to try and reach, but just trying to be perfect every day and understanding what is required of me once I step onto the field, and then trying to get it done."

Redskins: Injured Moreau final draft pick to sign
ASHBURN, Va. -- The Washington Redskins have signed the final member of their 10-player draft class, third-round pick Fabian Moreau.

The team announced the deal Friday.

The cornerback out of UCLA tore a pectoral muscle at his pro day in March. He was projected to be a first- or second-round pick before the injury and went 81st overall to the Redskins.

Moreau says doctors told him it was a five-month recovery, putting him on track to be ready by late in the preseason. The 23-year-old was at Washington's practice facility for rookie minicamp and the first sessions of organized team activities.

Coach Jay Gruden says the team is playing by ear the injury situations of Moreau and fourth-round pick Montae Nicholson and hopes they learn the schemes for the secondary as they rehab.

NFL: Judge tosses lawsuit over cheerleader wages
SAN FRANCISCO -- A lawsuit accusing the NFL and team owners of conspiring to suppress wages for cheerleaders lacks evidence to support that claim, a federal judge said.

U.S. District Judge William Alsup dismissed the lawsuit by a former San Francisco 49ers cheerleader. The suit sought class action status on behalf of all NFL cheerleaders.

"To state an antitrust claim here, plaintiff must plead not only `ultimate facts, such as conspiracy, and legal conclusions,'" Alsup said. "The complaint must answer the basic questions of `who, did what, to whom (or with whom), where, and when?'"

An email to an attorney for the 49ers cheerleader, Drexel Bradshaw, was not immediately returned. The cheerleader was only identified in the suit as "Kelsey K."

Alsup gave her an opportunity to amend the lawsuit and refile it by June 15.

The lawsuit was among a spate of legal actions in recent years accusing NFL teams of failing to pay cheerleaders for hours they spent practicing and making public appearances.

ESPN hires Chip Kelly as college football studio analyst

ESPN hires Chip Kelly as college football studio analyst

Former Oregon coach Chip Kelly is joining ESPN as a studio analyst next season.

ESPN announced Friday it has signed Kelly to a multiyear deal.

Kelly will primarily be part of Saturday pregame, halftime and wrap-up shows on ESPN2. He'll also provide NFL analysis on Sundays during SportsCenter.

The 53-year-old Kelly spent the last four seasons in the NFL, coaching the Philadelphia for three years and San Francisco for one. Kelly was fired by the 49ers after going 2-14 last season. He was 26-21 with a playoff appearance for the Eagles.

Before jumping to the NFL, Kelly spent four seasons as Oregon head coach and went 46-7. In 2010, Kelly led the Ducks to the BCS title game and was The Associated Press coach of the year.

"I spoke with a lot of people this offseason about different situations for me -- in coaching and TV," Kelly said in a statement. "I had various opportunities in both. In the end, I have had a relationship with ESPN for many years from when I was coaching and after speaking with them, I decided it was the best step for me to take."

Kelly figures to be in demand at the college level when head coaching jobs begin opening next season. Spending a season or two doing television has been a common path for coaches between jobs. Urban Meyer spent a season at ESPN between resigning from Florida and landing at Ohio State. So did Rich Rodriguez after being fired by Michigan and before being hired by Arizona.

"I have been a coach for nearly the last 30 years," Kelly said. "Working in television will allow me to see the game from a different perspective, but I didn't take the job with the intention it will lead to something specific. I love the game of football and working with good, smart people; ESPN presents an opportunity to combine those two things."

Kelly will fill an opening left by Butch Davis, who became head coach at Florida International.

Kelly was considered one of the most innovative coaches in college football. His up-tempo spread offenses dominated defenses and were mimicked by teams all over the country.

"As a coach, he saw the game from a unique perspective, never afraid to take an unconventional approach," said Lee Fitting, ESPN senior coordinating producer. "We want him to bring that mentality to our college football coverage each week, offering fans a varying viewpoint outside of the conventional thought process."