Philadelphia Eagles

5 under-the-radar Eagles to watch in 2014

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5 under-the-radar Eagles to watch in 2014

You barely heard his name all season. You couldn’t pick him out of a lineup. You’re the biggest Eagles fan in the Delaware Valley and you still wouldn’t recognize him if he stood right in front of you, with a name tag on his chest pocket.

That was Eagles defensive tackle Cedric Thornton before this season, before he emerged as one of the NFL’s best run-stopping defensive linemen.

It could be someone else in 2014.

The Eagles will continue to build their roster through free agency and the draft this offseason, but they also have several in-house candidates who can emerge from obscurity to carve their niche on next year’s team.

The following is a breakdown of five guys on the current roster who either made little or no contributions in 2013 but should challenge for playing time next year. This is based on interviews with Eagles coaches, players and front office personnel from throughout the season.

Matt Tobin, OT/OG
In all likelihood, the Eagles will return all five starting offensive linemen who cleared the way for LeSean McCoy to lead the NFL in rushing, but Tobin developed nicely during his rookie season and could push Todd Herremans at right guard next camp. If you didn’t notice, Tobin leapfrogged second-year lineman Dennis Kelly on the depth chart and was active three times during the season. Tobin, an unsigned free agent out of Iowa, competed at tackle throughout training camp but started taking snaps at guard in practice during the season. He played guard at Iowa before moving to tackle, so he’s not unfamiliar with the position. The team likes Tobin’s athleticism and teammates say Jason Peters took a liking to the rookie, taking him under his wing and helping Tobin pick up some extra tricks of the trade. He just needs to add some lower body strength this offseason. (By the way, I’m frequently asked about offensive tackle Michael Bamiro and I’m frequently told he’s still a work in progress).

Travis Long, OLB
Long, an undrafted rookie from Washington State, spent the entire season on the practice squad, but teammates rave about his size and upside. They compare the 6-foot-4, 252-pound outside linebacker to Connor Barwin for his ability to play multiple roles in a 3-4 scheme and for his pass rush and hand techniques. Long had 9.5 sacks his senior year at Washington State, where he played defensive end/outside linebacker in the 3-4 front before his season ended early with a knee injury that caused him to go undrafted. With Trent Cole facing an uncertain future and Brandon Graham unlikely to return, Long should be competing for a backup spot in camp and could eventually carve his niche in the sub packages.

Joe Kruger, DE
Kruger, a seventh-round pick in 2013, spent the season on injured reserve with a shoulder injury that he suffered in the preseason. The team could have waived him with a settlement but liked his development at training camp and saw enough potential to place him on injured reserve. Kruger probably won’t unseat Fletcher Cox or Thornton but backup defensive end Clifton Geathers is headed for free agency. Either way, Kruger will compete for a roster spot at camp.

Emil Igwenagu, TE
The team faces a tough decision on No. 3 tight end James Casey this offseason. Casey is due $4 million next season, a steep price for a third-string tight end. With the quick development of Zach Ertz and Chip Kelly’s fondness for Brent Celek, the Eagles could cut Casey and move on with Igwenagu, whose skill set is similar to Casey’s. Igwenagu, in his second season, edged Clay Harbor for the No. 4 tight end job out of camp but didn’t stick around long. He spent six weeks on the 53-man roster before being released and re-signed to the practice squad. The Eagles liked Casey because he played fullback and H-back along with tight end, which are also the positions Igwenagu played in college at Massachusetts. (And you know Chip likes his New Englanders).

Keelan Johnson, S
There should be plenty of job competition at safety, especially with three -- Nate Allen, Kurt Coleman and Colt Anderson -- facing expiring contracts on March 8 and and Patrick Chung likely shown the door. The Eagles promoted Johnson from the practice squad Dec. 17 and played him in two games on special teams. He came over from Miami after the roster cutdown date and needed time to learn Kelly’s program and Billy Davis’ defense. Johnson was a playmaker at Arizona State and will get a better chance to showcase his skills at the OTAs and training camp.

NFL commissioner, players' union angrily denounce Trump

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NFL commissioner, players' union angrily denounce Trump

SOMERSET, N.J. (AP) ??? The National Football League and its players' union on Saturday angrily denounced President Donald Trump for suggesting that owners fire players who kneel during the national anthem and that fans consider walking out in protest "when somebody disrespects our flag."

"Divisive comments like these demonstrate an unfortunate lack of respect for the NFL, our great game and all of our players," the league commissioner, Roger Goodell, said in a statement.

DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFL Players Association, tweeted: "We will never back down. We no longer can afford to stick to sports."

Trump, during a political rally in Alabama on Friday night, also blamed a drop in NFL ratings on the nation's interest in "yours truly" as well as what he contended was a decline in violence in the game.

Smith said the union won't shy away from "protecting the constitutional rights of our players as citizens as well as their safety as men who compete in a game that exposes them to great risks."

Trump kept up his foray into the sports world on Saturday, when he responded to comments by Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors, who has made it clear that he's not interested in a traditional White House trip for the NBA champions

"Going to the White House is considered a great honor for a championship team. Stephen Curry is hesitating, therefore invitation is withdrawn!" Trump tweeted while spending the weekend at his golf club in New Jersey.

It was not immediately clear whether Trump was rescinding the invitation for Curry or the entire team.

Several athletes, including a handful of NFL players, have refused to stand during "The Star-Spangled Banner" to protest of the treatment of blacks by police. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who started the trend last year when he played for the San Francisco 49ers, hasn't been signed by an NFL team for this season.

Trump, who once owned the New Jersey Generals of the U.S. Football League, said those players are disrespecting the American flag and deserve to lose their jobs.

"That's a total disrespect of our heritage. That's a total disrespect of everything that we stand for," Trump said, encouraging owners to act.

"Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, you'd say, 'Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He's fired," Trump said to loud applause.

Trump also predicted that any owner who followed the presidential encouragement would become "the most popular person in this country" -- at least for a week.

The players' union said in a statement that "no man or woman should ever have to choose a job that forces them to surrender their rights. No worker nor any athlete, professional or not, should be forced to become less than human when it comes to protecting their basic health and safety."

The NFLPA said "the line that marks the balance between the rights of every citizen in our great country gets crossed when someone is told to just 'shut up and play.'"

On the issue of violence on the field, Trump said players are being thrown out for aggressive tackles, and it's "not the same game."

Over the past several seasons, the NFL and college football have increased penalties and enforcement for illegal hits to the head and for hitting defenseless players. A July report on 202 former football players found evidence of a debilitating brain disease linked to repeated head blows in nearly all of them. The league has agreed to pay $1 billion to retired players who claimed it misled them about the concussion dangers of playing football.

During his campaign, Trump often expressed nostalgia for the "old days" -- claiming, for example, that protesters at his rallies would have been carried out on stretchers back then. He recently suggested police officers should be rougher with criminals and shouldn't protect their heads when pushing them into squad cars.

It's also not the first time he's raised the kneeling issue. Earlier this year he took credit for the fact that Kaepernick hadn't been signed.

Television ratings for the NFL have been slipping since the beginning of the 2016 season. The league and observers have blamed a combination of factors, including competing coverage of last year's presidential election, more viewers dropping cable television, fans' discomfort with the reports of head trauma and the anthem protests.

Ratings have been down even more in the early 2017 season, though broadcasters and the league have blamed the hurricanes that hit Florida and Texas. Still, the NFL remains by far the most popular televised sport in the United States.

Trump said the anthem protest was the top reason NFL viewership had waned.

"You know what's hurting the game?" he asked. "When people like yourselves turn on television and you see those people taking the knee when they're playing our great national anthem," he said.

Trump encouraged his supporters to pick up and leave the stadium next time they spot a player failing to stand.

"I guarantee things will stop," he said.

Eagles-Giants predictions by our (cough) experts

Eagles-Giants predictions by our (cough) experts

The home opener is here.

And who better than the Giants (0-2) to visit the Linc for a fun NFC East showdown to help the Eagles (1-1) kick off their 2017 home schedule Sunday (1 p.m./FOX)?

Will Eli Manning and company avoid an 0-3 start or will the Eagles improve to 2-1?

Our experts provide their Week 3 predictions:

Reuben Frank (2-0)
The Giants have scored one touchdown this year. They're 29th in the NFL in yards per game, last in rushing yards, 24th in passing yards, 28th in sacks allowed, 25th on third down and 31st in scoring. They've scored just two offensive touchdowns in their last four games at the Linc and I don't think they're going to help that average Sunday. I just don't think they can score against the Eagles.

I like the way the Eagles' defense is playing, and although it's going to be thin in the secondary, it looks like it'll have Rodney McLeod back, which is big.

I see the Eagles' front four dominating the line of scrimmage, recording seven sacks, stomping the run, and leading the Eagles to a win. Shutout. Whitewash. Zippo. The Giants can't score on this defense.

Eagles 20, Giants 0

Dave Zangaro (2-0)
Earlier this week, I asked Giants head coach Ben McAdoo if there was a feeling of desperation within his locker room and within the Giants' building. He said there wasn't. "No desperation," he said. "Guys are hungry and we want to play better." 

I don't believe him. I think the Giants are desperate. They had better be. They're already 0-2. A loss on Sunday afternoon would make them 0-3 and 0-2 in the division. That would be hard to come back from. 

So I think the Giants are going to be desperate. I think they are already fighting for their season. And I still don't think they have much of a shot Sunday. The Giants don't have a terrible roster but they've been a disaster through the first two games, while the Eagles have actually played pretty well, even in their loss to the Chiefs. I just can't get past the matchup of Eagles DL vs. Giants OL. I know the Eagles are light in the secondary and might give up some plays, but their D-line ought to cover some of that up. The Eagles are 5-1 in their last six games against the G-men. That trend will continue on Sunday at the Linc. 

The Eagles will be in a good spot after this game: 2-1 and 2-0 in the division. They'll be in the driver's seat. 

Eagles 27, Giants 16

Derrick Gunn (2-0)
Both the Eagles and Giants have good defensive fronts. Both Carson Wentz and Eli Manning are going to get hit, Manning probably a lot more. The Giants have no run game and their offensive line is a mess. Odell Beckham Jr. is not at 100 percent health-wise but is expected to play.

Speaking of health, the Eagles' secondary is a mash unit right now. Ronald Darby is on the shelf for a few more weeks, but three additional DBs could sit this one out.

Will the Eagles commit to the run game? Don't count on it. The Giants could be without their best cover corner in Janoris Jenkins, who missed the G-men's Monday night loss vs. Detroit.

McAdoo said the Giants will make changes to a lethargic offense, so the Eagles must expect the unexpected. This game could be closer than it should be, with the Eagles pulling away down the stretch.

Eagles 23, Giants 13

Ray Didinger (2-0)
One thing I've learned about pro football: When everyone says something will be easy, it rarely is. That is the problem with Sunday's Eagles home opener. Everyone believes the Eagles will win and win easily. Having seen their opponent, the New York Giants, lose to Dallas and Detroit the last two weeks, it is hard to argue. The Giants look that bad.

But the Giants know their season is on the line. If they lose to the Eagles, they might as well pack it in because they face a brutal gauntlet — Tampa Bay, Denver and Seattle — in October. This could well be Manning's last stand, which provides motivation, but when was the last time Eli played well at the Linc? It has been awhile, and the matchup of the Eagles' pass rush against the Giants' pillow-soft offensive line doesn't bode well for Eli, who already has been sacked eight times.

So this sounds like another this-will-be-a-breeze prediction, right? Not really. The Giants still have a formidable defense and guys like Olivier Vernon, Snacks Harrison and Landon Collins will not go down without a fight. This will be a brass knuckles, back alley brawl. The Eagles will win but it won't be easy or pretty.

Eagles 24, Giants 13

Andrew Kulp (2-0)
The Giants look broken. This isn't a recent development, either. The offense hasn't eclipsed 19 points in the last eight games, including playoffs. Injuries in the Eagles' secondary could open up some opportunities for Beckham and company, but that really isn't the issue. The offensive line is, and that group hasn't given Manning time to exploit a shallow crossing route, let alone chuck the ball intermediate or deep with any precision.

Nor is the Giants' defense as good as its reputation suggests, either. That's not to say Wentz will play pitch and catch with ease — the reality is he'll probably be under duress a decent amount. But there's no reason to think the Eagles can't outscore New York at the Linc, especially with one or two Brandon Graham strip-sacks gifting Wentz and the offense some great field position.

Eagles 27, Giants 17

Corey Seidman (1-1)
Earlier in the week, I saw no path to a Giants victory. That was before realizing just how unhealthy the Eagles' secondary is right now with McLeod, Corey Graham and Jaylen Watkins all sidelined by hamstring injuries.

Still, the Eagles' strength (front seven) matches up well enough with the Giants' weakness (O-line play) that four-plus sacks and a couple turnovers seem like a realistic goal. 

I could see Beckham breaking one big play but Manning otherwise struggling.

Should be another nice afternoon for Zach Ertz against a Giants defense that has allowed a touchdown to a tight end both weeks.

Eagles 30, Giants 20

Andy Schwartz (2-0)
This is a tough one.

On one hand, the Giants have looked terrible and should leave the Linc 0-3. 

I mean, their O-line is horrid.

Done. Easy pick. Eagles 49, Giants 3. End of story.

On the other hand, you know it won’t be that easy. It never is. 

The Giants will be desperate, Beckham should be healthier, the Eagles’ secondary is hurting, and their O-line hasn’t exactly been Tra, Runyan, Fraley, Mayberry and Welbourn. 

But in this case, I’ll go with the rule of thumb I normally reserve for the Eagles after they’ve endured a woeful stretch. 

I won’t believe it until I see it. 

So I can’t pick the Giants to win until I see them beat someone (except for the Jets and Browns).

The Eagles are 6-point favorites. Let’s go with the push.

Eagles 23, Giants 17