C.J. Mosley: The next DeMeco Ryans?

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C.J. Mosley: The next DeMeco Ryans?

DeMeco Ryans is the catalyst of the Eagles’ defense. The heart and soul. The glue that holds it together. He played the most snaps on defense last year -- in the NFL -- so you can easily argue that Ryans is the defense’s most important player.

But he also turns 30 this summer, is slated to make nearly $14 million over the next two seasons and doesn’t have the range in pass coverage that he once had.

If the Eagles are looking in the first round of May’s draft to find Ryans’ successor, they could feasibly pounce at the opportunity to take C.J. Mosley, an inside linebacker who played at Alabama, the same school that produced Ryans.

Daniel Jeremiah, a former Eagles scout who now serves as an analyst for the NFL Network, expects Mosley to be off the board when the Eagles pick at 22. But if he’s there, or if the Eagles trade up to land him, Mosley would fit snugly into the team’s scheme, Jeremiah said.

“C.J. Mosley is somebody who doesn’t get talked about enough,” Jeremiah said during a draft conference call hosted by the NFL Network. “We talk about guys being clean players on tape. I don’t have a lot of negatives when I watch him. I think he’s very good in coverage. I think he’s an excellent blitzer.

“But the most impressive aspect of his game is his instincts. I remember scouting DeMeco Ryans at Alabama, and that’s what set him apart was his instincts. I personally think he’s a better player than DeMeco was coming out, and DeMeco has had a nice career.”

The book on Mosley reads just like Ryans’. He’s considered a film junkie and natural leader, a defensive quarterback with an exceptional football IQ and humble. Mosley is excellent in coverage against both tight ends and pass-catching running backs.

This past season, he won the Butkus Award given to the nation’s top linebacker and shared the Southeastern Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year award with Missouri linebacker Michael Sam.

With his athletic prowess and high character, Mosley sounds exactly like the kind of guy Chip Kelly wants leading his defense.

But let’s hold off on sending out “Save the Dates” for this potential marriage.

First, several analysts -- including Jeremiah -- believe Mosley will be drafted in the top 15 picks. Some see Mosley as an ideal middle linebacker for a 4-3 defense even though Alabama’s front more resembles the Eagles’ 3-4 scheme.

Second, and more significantly, the Eagles have a known allergy to drafting linebackers in the first round. A familiar refrain every April is the team’s 1979 selection of Jerry Robinson in the first round out of UCLA. Robinson remains the last linebacker drafted by Eagles in the first round.

Thirty four years … and counting.

Third, for whatever reason, although Alabama’s defense is annually among the nation’s best and the foundation of coach Nick Saban’s three championships with the Crimson Tide, several of its players picked in the first round lately haven’t dominated at the NFL level.

Another former Tide linebacker, Rolando McClain, went eighth overall to the Raiders in 2010. Then considered one of the best overall prospects in the entire draft, McClain managed just three seasons with Oakland before getting released.

He tried to latch on with Baltimore last year but retired abruptly after his arrest for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.

“I know there’s been recent Alabama big linebackers that haven’t played up to capability perhaps,” said NFL Network draft analyst Charles Davis, who joined Jeremiah on the call. “But I don’t think that C.J. Mosley is one of those guys. I really like him a bunch.”

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.”

Eagles sign Canadian rugby star Adam Zaruba to be tight end

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Eagles sign Canadian rugby star Adam Zaruba to be tight end

The Eagles didn't just look north of the border for their newest player. They looked to a completely different sport. 

On Monday afternoon, the Birds signed undrafted free agent and Canadian rugby star Adam Zaruba to a three-year contract, although the length of the contract is standard. 

Zaruba, a 26-year-old Vancouver native, had a tryout before being signed, Eagles head coach Doug Pederson confirmed earlier on Monday. 

Listed at 6-5, 265 pounds, Zaruba is the Eagles' biggest tight end, even bigger than Brent Celek (6-4, 255). While the Eagles have three tight end spots locked up — Celek, Zach Ertz and Trey Burton — Zaruba will likely need to shine on offense and as a special teamer if he has any chance to make the team. 

While this isn't Zaruba's first time playing football, it is his first time playing football in a while. His last competitive football game came in high school, according to TheProvince

Zaruba redshirted as a football player in his freshman year at college and then never played after that, becoming a full-time member of the Canadian national rugby team by 2014. 

He's apparently made a name for himself in the rugby world. Here are some highlights, including an impressive one-handed grab: 

It likely won't be an easy transition from rugby to American football, but the Eagles were probably impressed by Zaruba's athleticism. On June 29, he posted a video to his Instagram account claiming he ran a 4.49 in the 40-yard dash while weighting 260 pounds. To put that into perspective, that time would have ranked second among all tight end competitors at this year's combine and would have been faster than the time put up by 19th overall pick O.J. Howard. 

Zaruba isn't the first rugby player to attempt the conversion to the NFL. The most famous example is Patriots' special teamer Nate Ebner. The U.S. rugby player has played for the Patriots since 2012 and was a second-team All-Pro in 2016. 

After signing Zaruba, the Eagles' roster is full at 90 men.