Despite big effort, bench awaits Curry, Graham

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Despite big effort, bench awaits Curry, Graham

CHICAGO -- It seems backwards, doesn’t it?

Vinny Curry and Brandon Graham are two of the Eagles’ best pass rushers, but they both come off the bench. Curry’s four sacks last year ranked third on the defense. Graham, who played in very small doses, had three sacks last season, but Pro Football Focus rated him as one of the best pass-rushing outside 'backers per snap.

Graham and Curry were disruptive forces again in Friday night’s preseason opener against the Bears at Soldier Field (see Instant Replay), with Curry sacking Jordan Palmer and Graham’s pressure leading to an interception.

And both came off the bench.

And they’ll continue coming off the bench.

In a game that’s all about the quarterback -- and the guys who hit quarterbacks -- the Eagles are keeping ceilings on two of their most promising quarterback-hitting weapons. This is team that ranked 31st last year in sacks per pass attempt against them.

“We’ll see,” Curry said. “Right now, it don't matter what it is. My thing is, man, when I step on the field I want to help my team win and just keep showing I’m a key player.”

It was impossible not to notice the difference in defensive intimidation when the second unit replaced the first against the Bears.

The starters barely touched Jay Cutler, who converted three 3rd-and-longs on a 13-play, 69-yard touchdown drive in the first. Cutler completed 7 of 10 passes on the drive for 80 yards and connected with tight end Zach Miller (not the former Raider and Seahawk) on a 10-yard touchdown on 3rd-and-7.

Then Cutler left, Palmer entered, the Eagles subbed in their second team and suddenly the complexion of the game turned.

On the very first play of the second quarter, Curry barreled through scrimmage and ransacked Palmer on 3rd-and-8 for an eight-yard loss. On the Bears’ next possession, Graham bolted around left tackle Michael Ola and clobbered Palmer as the quarterback heaved a pass downfield that wound up in Nate Allen’s hands.

Strangely, when asked about his second string’s effort, coach Chip Kelly mentioned rookie Beau Allen and practice squad incumbent Brandon Bair as two guys who stood out. He called Allen a “disruptive force” and said Bair seemed to be “flying around.”

Graham and Curry?

When asked about them, Kelly said he needed to see the tape.

“There was one time they didn’t block Vinny at all,” Kelly said. “A couple of times they let a couple of guys come free. Travis Long, they called him hitting the quarterback in the head, but he was unblocked on a couple plays.

“There was one play I think Brandon and Vinny were in the backfield after the snap, I don’t think either of them got touched, but it could have been a move by them. I’ll have to check that out.”

Curry’s personal scouting report seemed slightly more enthusiastic.

“I feel like I was awesome,” the third-year pro said. “For the most part I felt like technique was really, really good. I think I played really hard, but I also think the whole unit played hard.”

Graham said his pressures were a byproduct of having Kevin Greene, a five-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker who played 15 NFL seasons, helping out the coaches this past week in camp.

“It’s definitely a good feeling,” Graham said. “I wish I could have sacked [Palmer], (caused a) fumble. But it was still was a turnover, no matter what.”

No matter how well they play this preseason, Graham and Curry probably won’t get any closer to the starting lineup. Curry is behind defensive ends Cedric Thornton, an outstanding run defender, and 2012 first-round pick Fletcher Cox. Graham is stuck behind veterans Trent Cole and Connor Barwin.

But if they keep hitting quarterbacks, it’ll be hard to keep them off the field on all passing downs.

“I don't want to get ahead of myself,” Graham said. “I’m trying to go harder than I was last year. Consistency is the big thing with me. If I can stay consistent … I’ve got a spot. It’s just all about me staying consistent.”

Dallas Cowboys bus involved in fatal crash in Arizona

Dallas Cowboys bus involved in fatal crash in Arizona

KINGMAN, Ariz. -- Four people were killed Sunday when bus carrying Dallas Cowboys staffers but no players collided with a van on a northwestern Arizona highway.

The fatalities were passengers in the van, Arizona Department of Public Safety spokesman Quentin Mehr said. But the bus occupants emerged uninjured.

"All on the bus came through OK with some bumps and bruises," Cowboys spokesman Rich Dalrymple (DAHL'-rimp-ul) said in an email.

Dalrymple said the bus was only carrying members of the franchise's staff but would not say how many. There were no players on board.

The two vehicles collided in the afternoon on U.S. 93, about 30 miles north of the city of Kingman, according to DPS.

The crash shut down at least one lane of the highway that serves as the main route between Phoenix and Las Vegas.

The bus was on its way to a Dallas Cowboys fan event in Las Vegas. Charles Cooper, manager of GameWorks entertainment center in Vegas, said the session with 50 to 75 fans was scheduled for 3 p.m. PDT. People were already waiting when the president of a Las Vegas Cowboys fan club called to relay news of the accident. The event was subsequently canceled. Cooper says the team mascot was supposed to appear.

After the Las Vegas stop, the bus was scheduled to go on to Oxnard, California for the team's training camp. Members of the organization typically take a bus two weeks before the camp starts and make stops along the way.

Previewing Eagles 2016 training camp: A to Z

Previewing Eagles 2016 training camp: A to Z

The Eagles officially kick off training camp on Monday morning, when rookies, select veterans and quarterbacks report to the NovaCare Complex. 

The rest of the team will show up on Wednesday, which leads into the first full team practice on Thursday afternoon at 3:30. From there, things don’t really stop until the season ends in January. 

But every season starts with training camp. This will be the first under head coach Doug Pederson and the first as Eagles for many rookies and free agent pickups. 

Let’s take a look at this year’s training camp from A to Z: 

A – Nelson Agholor: Agholor wasn’t charged with sexual assault stemming from an incident at a South Philadelphia gentlemen’s club in June, but that doesn’t mean he’s past it. The second-year receiver will undoubtedly be asked about the incident the first time he fields questions from reporters and likely won’t say much. He’s lucky most of the incident is behind him, however, because the last thing he needs is a distraction. Agholor is coming off an extremely disappointing rookie season and has a chance to turn things around by earning a starting receiver job. He could be one of the biggest keys to the Eagles’ offense in 2016. 

B – Bucs. Mark it on your calendars, folks: the first preseason game of 2016 is on Aug. 11 against Tampa Bay at the Linc. It’ll be our first chance to see a ton of new players – including the No. 2 pick – in game action. 

C – Cornerback. One of the more intriguing position groups on this team for a few reasons. It looks like one of the starting corner jobs is going to belong to free agent pickup Leodis McKelvin. But the other? Well, it could belong to Nolan Carroll or Eric Rowe or Ron Brooks or even rookie Jalen Mills. And then one guy will have the opportunity to play the slot. During the spring, Brooks played outside and slid into the slot in the Nickel. 

Aside from the top of the roster, there’s intrigue among the last few corners on the roster. Simply put: there are too many talented young players than there are roster spots. 

D – Days off. There aren’t many. Training camp is a brutal few weeks. From the start of camp until the first game on Aug. 11, players have off just two days (Aug. 2, Aug. 9) and 15 practice days. 

E – Early mornings. If training camp isn’t brutal enough, practices are starting mighty early. Once the entire team gets to camp, practices will start at 8:15 a.m., which is when Andy Reid used to hold his camp practices. 

F – Fullback. Under Doug Pederson’s offense, a fullback will be used. Now, the Eagles don’t have a traditional FB on the roster, so this job will belong to either Trey Burton or Chris Pantale, who are both listed as tight ends. Pantale worked with the first team at fullback in the spring, while Burton got some second-team snaps, but Pederson made sure to note that he wanted to see both of them play the position when the hitting started at training camp. Here’s his chance. 

G – Chris Givens. If you’re looking for an under-the-radar player to become a fan and media favorite during camp, look no further than Givens. He had a very good spring and his rapport with starting QB Sam Bradford was clearly on display. Givens can catch short passes, but his ability to stretch the field will be more fun to watch. With a base salary of just $760,000, he could be a huge bargain. 

H – Hitting. It’s something we didn’t see a lot of during the last three years of training camps under Chip Kelly. He preferred to keep things lighter, in terms of hitting, to prevent injuries. Pederson’s philosophy is different and more like Reid’s. The Eagles will hit at training camp. At times, they will have live (tackle to the ground) periods. It will much more closely resemble actually football than what Kelly had the team doing for the last three years. 

I – Isaac Seumalo. Through no fault of his own, the rookie third-round pick missed all of OTAs this spring because of the NFL/college graduation rule. Seumalo was able to stay in touch with his coaches through the marvels of modern technology, but he still missed a ton. And now he’s playing catch-up. Will he have enough time to wrestle away the starting left tackle job from Allen Barbre? Not sure. First, though, he’ll need to surpass top backup Stefen Wisniewski, who also has his eyes set on that starting left guard spot. 

J – Jason Peters. For whatever reason, Peters declined to talk to the media all spring. We’ll try again during training camp. Perhaps it’s because he wasn’t thrilled about all the talk of his decline in play, which, while it might be unpleasant for him, is hard to argue. Peters is 34 and his eventual successor Lane Johnson signed a long-term deal this offseason. Still, Peters is a big key to the Eagles’ offensive success in 2016. 

K – Kicker. Caleb Sturgis or Cody Parkey will win this job and you may not care. But you probably should. Sturgis looked better in the open practices this spring, but Parkey is recovering from a serious injury and will have every chance to win his old job back. 

L – Linebackers. This is perhaps the scariest position on the roster in terms of depth. Jordan Hicks and Mychal Kendricks have lengthy injury histories and Nigel Bradham is somewhat of an unknown. Still, it might be a solid starting group. But after them? Najee Goode, Deontae Skinner, Joe Walker and a few undrafted rookies. Yikes.  

M – Most at stake. There are several players who can earn a roster spot or even a starting job over the next few weeks. I outline them here

N – NovaCare Complex. For the fourth straight year training camp will be held in South Philadelphia and it doesn’t look like it’ll be heading back to Lehigh University anytime soon. This is sad in some ways because it was a lot of fun up there, but it’s hard to blame Pederson for choosing convenience over team-building. 

O – Open practices. This is the part of having camp at home that really stinks. When it was at Lehigh, fans could get a really good look at their team and I know many took the opportunity to make a mini vacation of it. This year, there are just two open practices, on July 31 at 10 a.m. and Aug. 14 at 7 p.m. 

Both open practices are at Lincoln Financial Field and do not require tickets. Seating is first-come, first-serve. Parking for the practices is free in K Lot, which will open at 7 a.m. (gates open at 8) on July 31 and 4 p.m. (gates open at 5) on Aug. 14. Keep in mind, the NFL’s clear bag policy will be in effect. Concessions will be open during those practices. 

P – Doug Pederson. Obviously, a lot of eyes are going to be on Pederson as he enters his first year as a head coach in the NFL. We got a sense of what his practices are going to look like from OTAs, and they’re going to be much different from the ones Kelly ran. Slower pace, more teaching. Really, a more traditional look. 

Q – Quarterbacks. In case you’ve been living under a rock for the last few months, the Eagles have invested a ton of money and resources into the quarterback position. They re-signed Sam Bradford, signed Chase Daniel, then moved up from 13 to 8 to 2 to draft Carson Wentz. Pederson and his offensive coordinator Frank Reich, both former NFL QBs, have obviously put a ton of stock in the position. How will it all shake out this season? We’re not sure yet, mostly because injuries are impossible to predict, but we’ll certainly be watching. 

R – Rookies. Wentz is the first quarterback the Eagles have taken this high in a draft since Donovan McNabb. Yeah, people are going to be watching him. But the Eagles have plenty of other draft picks and undrafted rookies in camp, 26 in all. Now, not many are considered to be candidates to make impacts this year, but a few could. 

S – Jim Schwartz. The Eagles’ defensive coordinator is almost as important as the head coach. He’s charged with turning around a unit that has been very bad for the last few years. He has some new pieces to go along with his 4-3 scheme. If nothing else, it’ll be fun to watch. 

T – TV. The first two preseason games will be simulcast on CSNPhilly and COZI TV. The last two preseason games will be on NBC10. CSNPhilly will also replay all the games (see story)

U – Under the microscope. For the last few years, Fletcher Cox has way out-performed his rookie contract. To out-perform his new deal, he’ll have to become a perennial Pro Bowler. He’s clearly the best player on the team – and the Eagles paid him like it – but now it’s time for him to show he’s worth the money. And Cox isn’t the only one. Lane Johnson, Zach Ertz and Vinny Curry also got big money in long-term deals. 

V – Destiny Vaeao. Aside from linebacker, the position with the biggest depth concern is probably defensive tackle. After starters Cox and Bennie Logan, there’s Mike Martin, who is probably the top backup. Then there’s Beau Allen and Taylor Hart, who are questionable scheme fits. That leaves the door open for an undrafted rookie to make the team here, and the top one this spring was Vaeao from Washington State. Now, Aziz Shittu from Stanford might push for a roster spot, but he missed all spring because of the NFL/college graduation rule.  

W – Carson Wentz. The No. 2 pick’s first training camp. Everyone’s gonna be watching. The thing we really have to look forward to is seeing Wentz playing in the preseason games, where he should get significant snaps. 

X – X’s and O’s. Since training camp will actually resemble real football, the X’s and O’s will be important. We’ll see if Pederson’s offense will have some downfield influence from Frank Reich. And then we’ll get a chance to see what Schwartz’s defense is all about. How quickly will the returning players figure it out? 

Y – Year 2 and 3 players. Plenty of folks will be watching the rookies, specifically Wentz, but there are several players entering their second and third years in the league who need to make more of an impact. To name a few: Agholor, Josh Huff, Marcus Smith. All early-rounders who haven’t hit their potential. 

Z – Zoo. Under Kelly, there just seemed to be much more media hype around the Eagles, especially last year. Plenty thought the Birds were legitimate Super Bowl contenders, Kelly was always intriguing, and the team made some major offseason moves. This year, there’s Wentz, but not nearly the expectations in 2016. With the headlines and radio airwaves the Sixers have gotten in town recently, the Eagles have been on the back burner. Don’t expect this to last long though. After all, this is a football town.

Eagles re-sign QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson

Eagles re-sign QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson

The Eagles are bringing back a familiar face at quarterback, and no, it's not Tim Tebow. 

The team will re-sign quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson. The signing was first reported by ESPN's Adam Caplan

With the addition, the current roster is capped out at 90 after the signings of former Villanova LB Don Cherry and Alabama S Nick Perry (see story).  

The Eagles first signed Bethel-Thompson in February to pair with Mark Sanchez at the lone quarterback on the roster. A lot has changed since then, with the team re-signing Sam Bradford and drafting Carson Wentz. Bethel-Thompson was then cut by the Eagles in May. 

Bethel-Thompson has been in the NFL since 2011, after going undrafted out of Sacramento State. The 6-foot-4, 230 pounder has spent time with the Dolphins, the Vikings twice, Patriots and the 49ers three times. He has never played in a game. 

It'll be an uphill battle for the 27-year-old to make the roster with the quarterback position locked up with Bradford, Chase Daniel and Wentz.