Cary Williams: Eagles' D will be 'much improved'

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Cary Williams: Eagles' D will be 'much improved'

Heading into 2014, Cary Williams has one number stuck in his head: 32.

That was where the Eagles ranked as a team in pass defense last season. Last in the league, allowing 289.8 yards per game.

“Look at the numbers, we were the [32nd] pass-ranked defense,” Williams said after Monday’s practice during OTAs. “To me that’s not very impressive. I don’t think that’s impressive to anybody out here. We have to do better than that. We have to improve.”

Williams has reason to expect they will.

Defensive coordinator Billy Davis’ 2014 unit will have a good mix of veterans and newcomers in the secondary, including free-agent signee Malcolm Jenkins, who has already received high praise from coaches and teammates (see story).

“I think it’s going to be a good defense,” Williams said. “As a matter of fact, we’re going to be much improved from last season. We’ve got guys who have been in the system now for a year now and have that under their belt. We understand what’s expected of us and what we need to do.”

There’s already one noticeable difference, and that is Williams’ presence at OTAs. His absence last year to be with his family and check on his sconces was heavily criticized and was just one part of a shaky start. He was booted from practice with the Patriots for fighting and then questioned whether anyone feared the Eagles' D.

All that came before he played a game. 

But he impressed in the Eagles' Week 1 win over the Redskins with an interception and a sack, and earlier this offseason pledged to think before he speaks.

“Last year was last year,” the 29-year-old said. “We’re over that. Coach [Chip Kelly] understood and my teammates understood that once we started playing that first season, that first game, all of those things went away.

“I’m here now and I’m ready to start off on the right foot.”

A seventh-round pick of the Tennessee Titans in 2008, Williams, who figures to start at corner opposite Bradley Fletcher, has two years remaining on his three-year contract. His first season with the Eagles was solid; he finished with three interceptions, and the Eagles ranked eighth in the league with 19.

They finished an impressive 10-6 in Kelly's first season -- and did so despite a 4-4 home record. The Eagles lost their first four, won their next four but saw their season end with a tight playoff loss to the Saints at the Linc.

“I just think that everybody is hungry,” Williams said. “I think we left a bad taste in our mouth losing at home -- we lost a lot of games at home. Those are the things we want to right this season. Being at practice is important, especially for establishing relationships with guys, establishing a camaraderie.

“It starts here in OTAs. We just have to continue to work and doing what we’ve been doing, and hopefully everything will run right for us this season.”

Wideouts Rueben Randle, Chris Givens among 8 players cut by Eagles Sunday

Wideouts Rueben Randle, Chris Givens among 8 players cut by Eagles Sunday

The Eagles released Rueben Randle and Chris Givens on Sunday, ending the brief and disappointing Eagles careers of both veteran wide receivers.

The two receivers were among eight players released by the team on Sunday evening.

Randle caught five passes for 26 yards in the preseason and Givens caught one for 19 yards.

The Eagles tried to bolster their receiver corps by adding the two receivers this offseason, signing Randle to a one-year, $1,025,000 contract and Givens to a one-year $760,000 deal.

Randle got $500,000 guaranteed and Givens $180,000 guaranteed, so the two moves will count $680,000 against the Eagles’ 2016 adjusted salary cap of $161,570,362.

The moves leave the Eagles with eight wide receivers: Jordan Matthews, Nelson Agholor, Dorial Green-Beckham, Josh Huff, Paul Turner, Marcus Johnson, Cayleb Jones and David Watford.

Barring any other personnel moves, Matthews, Agholor, Green-Beckham, Huff and Turner appear headed for the final 53-man roster.

Randle’s decline is fairly astonishing.

Two years ago with the Giants, he caught 71 passes for 938 yards, and last year he caught 57 passes for 797 yards and eight touchdowns. He had four catches of 40 yards or more in 2015, fourth-most in the NFL. In four seasons in New York, he caught 188 passes for 2,644 yards and 20 TDs.

Yet the Giants had no interest in re-signing him. Now the former second-round pick’s career is in jeopardy at the age of 25.

Givens, a fourth-round pick of the Rams in 2012, was with his third team in two years this summer. His once-promising career could be over at the age of 26.

Most notable among the six other players released was offensive tackle Andrew Gardner, who started 11 games in an Eagles uniform.

Gardner, who had also spent time with the Dolphins and Texans, started eight games at right guard and right tackle for the Eagles in 2014 and was the Eagles’ opening-day starter last year at right guard. He suffered a Lisfranc injury in his left foot during a Week 3 game against the Jets at the Meadowlands and missed the rest of the season.

Also released was a member of last year’s draft class, sixth-round pick Randall Evans out of Kansas State. Evans spent most of his rookie season on the practice squad but was activated for the Pat Shurmur season finale against the Giants at the Meadowlands and got into the game on special teams.

The Eagles also released veteran defensive tackle Mike Martin, who played in 46 games for the Titans the last four years, including five starts. Also released were long snapper John DePalma and cornerback Denzel Rice, the latter of who played in five games last year and got 20 defensive snaps in the season finale against the Giants last year.

The Eagles also placed linebacker Joe Walker (knee) and defensive end Alex McCalister (calf), two rookie seventh-round picks, on season-ending Injured Reserve.

Teams have until Tuesday to reduce rosters to 75. The Eagles’ roster is currently at 73, and they have to reduce it to 53 by 4 p.m. next Sunday.

The Eagles finish the preseason on Thursday night at the Linc against the Jets.

NFL Notes: Chiefs S Eric Berry signs franchise tender

NFL Notes: Chiefs S Eric Berry signs franchise tender

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Chiefs safety Eric Berry signed his franchise tender and reported to camp Sunday, though he is almost certain to miss Kansas City's preseason finale against Green Bay this week.

Berry was given the franchise tag early in the offseason but had not signed the deal, which means he could skip all of training camp without being fined. The deal will pay him just over $10.8 million this season, making him the league's highest-paid safety.

Kansas City plays its first regular-season game Sept. 11 against San Diego.

Berry played in every game last season, less than a year after he was diagnosed with cancer. He made 55 tackles, a pair of interceptions and resumed his role as the heart and soul of the defense.

Falcons: 2-time Pro Bowl safety Dashon Goldson signs
ATLANTA -- The Atlanta Falcons signed veteran free-agent safety Dashon Goldson on Sunday.

The Falcons will be without rookie starting strong safety Keanu Neal, the first-round pick, for at least the first two regular-season games with a right knee injury. He will have arthroscopic surgery on Monday.

Coach Dan Quinn has said that backup Kemal Ishmael would fill in for Neal as the starting strong safety.

Goldson, a 2012 All-Pro with the 49ers, had 110 tackles in 15 starts with the Redskins in 2015. He spent his first six seasons with San Francisco and played with Tampa Bay in 2013-14 (see full story).

Bills: Ryan says standing for anthem pays respect to military
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills coach Rex Ryan believes standing for the national anthem is a way for NFL players and coaches to show respect and give thanks to members of the armed forces.

Ryan says he can appreciate how some players have personal or religious beliefs that lead them to not stand for the anthem. However, he adds people should appreciate the "gift" they have in playing football, which is the result of "the men and women that serve our country."

He was asked about his opinion before practice Sunday, a day after San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick said he is refusing to stand for the anthem because he believes the United States oppresses African Americans and other minorities.

Ryan did not specifically reference Kaepernick in his response (see full story).

Colts: Former Patroits RB Steven Ridley signs
INDIANAPOLIS -- Free agent running back Steven Ridley signed with the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday.

Ridley was cut Thursday by Detroit, which had signed the sixth-year veteran in April.

Ridley, 5-11, 220 pounds, has played in 60 career NFL games with 26 starts. He went to a Super Bowl with New England in 2011, his rookie year, when he was a third-round selection, and again in 2014, when he was hurt.

Indeed, he's been injury prone, appearing in six games for the Patriots in 2014 and nine for the Jets last year.

He has 685 carries for 2,907 yards and 22 touchdowns in his career.

Indianapolis also waived wide receiver Justin Berger, safety Alden Darby, guard Eric Herman, defensive tackle Ricky Lumpkin, tight end Mike Miller, running back Chase Price, cornerback Winston Rose, defensive end Delvon Simmons, wide receiver Josh Stangby and inside linebacker Junior Sylvestre.

Dorial Green-Beckham shows why Eagles traded for him against Colts

Dorial Green-Beckham shows why Eagles traded for him against Colts

INDIANAPOLIS — The first time they tried the fade, last week in Pittsburgh, Chase Daniel underthrew it, and Dorial Green-Beckham never had a chance.
 
The second time they tried the fade, in the first quarter at Lucas Oil Stadium on Saturday night, Green-Beckham got himself turned around on a perfect Sam Bradford pass and the ball sailed over his head.
 
The third time they tried it?
 
We all got our first glimpse of just what this 6-foot-5 kid is capable of.
 
Touchdown Eagles.
 
Green-Beckham, who the Titans gave up on two weeks ago after just one season, soared high over Colts cornerback Tay Glover-Wright near the sideline in the left side of the end zone and brought in a perfectly lobbed Bradford fade for his first touchdown in an Eagles uniform.
 
“It felt natural, me being a big target and having a height difference, going up and making plays like that,” Green-Beckham said.
 
“It is different for me because I know I’ve got to take advantage of those opportunities in the red zone and I feel like for me to go out there and do that, all my teammates see what I’m capable of doing, and that is all I came here to do.”
 
Eventually, the plan is to incorporate Green-Beckham more fully into the offense. But he hasn’t even been here two weeks, and the fade is an easy route to learn, an easy route to perfect and an easy route to build up chemistry with your quarterback.
 
At 6-5, Green-Beckham is the second-tallest receiver in Eagles history.
 
“Yeah, he is a big, physical receiver, the kind of the receiver that comes to mind when you think of fades in the red zone,” Bradford said.
 
“Any time that we can get him matched up, 1-on-1 in the backside, we want to take advantage of that. It’s huge for us. It just gives us another weapon, another play down there. Being able to trust him to go make a play, it is nice to have someone like that down in the red zone.”
 
Most encouraging was the improvement and adjustment DGB made during the game.
 
He got himself awkwardly turned around the wrong way on the first fade attempt in Indy and never had a chance.
 
That’s just a lack of familiarity with his quarterback, he said. Remember, DGB has had only one week of practice with Bradford, and this was their first preseason game together.
 
“Just not knowing where the ball will be placed at,” he said. “We came back and made it happen the second time. Just have to get used to the quarterback, know who is out there throwing balls, and just have to use those opportunities that are given.”
 
The combination of disappointing training camps and preseason performances from Nelson Agholor, Rueben Randle and Chris Givens combined with the promise Green-Beckham shows has changed the Eagles’ wide receiver outlook behind Jordan Matthews.
 
Green-Beckham in a matter of two weeks has gone from Tennessee Titan castoff to a potential major contributor for the Eagles.
 
He played only eight snaps Saturday night but caught two passes, one for a first down, the other for a touchdown.
 
“I still have to compete,” he said. “I can’t take any steps backwards. I still have to get into the playbook, study more and just use those opportunities that are given to me. With my receiving group having my back for everything and knowing that they will always be there for me.”
 
Remains to be seen just how much of a factor DGB can be once the regular season starts in two weeks.
 
He is still working just in the slot, where Josh Huff also lines up most of the time, and the coaches plan to gradually give him more and more outside receiver work, where the Eagles are really desperate for help.
 
Maybe this won't work out. There has to be a reason the Titans gave up on a promising 23-year-old second-round pick a year after they drafted him. 

But Green-Beckham could wind up being a steal. And all it cost the Eagles was Dennis Kelly.
 
“Just keep getting better each and every day,” he said. “Having that mindset of coming in early, getting extra film in, doing those little things right. … Just try to do better than I did the day before."