Didinger: Chance Warmack could rediscover dominant form with Eagles

Didinger: Chance Warmack could rediscover dominant form with Eagles

Give Howie Roseman high marks for his moves on Day One of free agency. He did some pretty slick maneuvering for a guy who didn't have a lot of money to spend and multiple holes to fill.

Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith are the talk of the town today and justly so. It is abundantly clear the Eagles' mission this offseason is to build around quarterback Carson Wentz and with the acquisition of Jeffery, the best receiver on the market, and Smith, a legitimate deep threat, they have begun the process.

But don't overlook the other signing. Chance Warmack could be an impact player as well.

When Warmack played at the University of Alabama, he was a dominant force. At 6-foot-2 and 325 pounds, he was the best guard in college football and it wasn't even close. I had him graded highest -- 9.53 on a 10-point scale -- among all offensive linemen in the 2013 draft. That included three tackles -- Eric Fisher, Luke Joeckel and Lane Johnson -- who were among the top four picks overall.

Guards are seldom drafted high but Warmack was. He was selected 10th by Tennessee and, to be frank, his four seasons with the Titans were disappointing. Perhaps it was moving from left guard, where he excelled in college, to right guard in the NFL. But when I saw him with the Titans he didn't look like the same player. Maybe it was the system, maybe he was slow adjusting to the pro game. Whatever, he wasn't the same confident mauler I saw at Alabama.

But there is reason to believe Warmack can recapture his old form with the Eagles. That's because Jeff Stoutland is the Eagles' offensive line coach and if anyone knows Warmack's strengths it is Stoutland, an excellent teacher who coached the O-line at Alabama. My guess is since the Eagles have Brandon Brooks at right guard, they will move Warmack to left guard, his natural position, and hope that by reuniting him with his former college coach it will unlock his potential.

When Warmack was at Alabama, I spoke to a long-time fan of the Crimson Tide. He said, "Chance Warmack is the best lineman we've had here since John Hannah." Hannah, you'll recall, was a 10-time All-Pro with the New England Patriots. Sports Illustrated once put him on the cover with the title "The Best Offensive Lineman of All-Time." Guards rarely achieve such acclaim but Hannah did. He was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1991.

That's not to say Warmack's career will follow the same trajectory. It certainly didn't in Tennessee. But it is clear he needed a change and it would seem the Eagles represent a great opportunity for a 25-year-old lineman with such a formidable skill set.

I went back to my 2013 scouting report on Warmack and reviewed my notes.

Thick build, natural power...

Dominates at the point of attack...

Strong base, heavyweight punch...

Can pull and block on the second level...

Surprisingly agile for a big man...

Intimidator...

I had 25 pluses in all and only a few negatives, most of them the nit-picking variety. I noted Warmack seemed to tire late in warm weather games so I thought he might need to work harder on conditioning. He was fooled every so often on a line stunt or delayed blitz but mostly it was correctable stuff. Everything else on his college tape was impressive.

To me, several things stood out. One, he finished plays. He didn't just screen off defenders; he put them on the ground. He kept his hands inside, not extended so he was rarely penalized. It was an indication of a well-coached player, something that reflects on Stoutland as well. Warmack was never on the ground. He was always on his feet. He wasn't lunging or diving at shoetops. He had great balance and moved better than his 40-yard dash time (5.49) would suggest.

Signing Warmack one year after signing Brooks indicates a new philosophy for the Eagles' offense. This coaching staff wants more power up front. By retaining Jason Peters (330 pounds), signing Brooks (335) and Warmack (325) to go along with Lane Johnson (320), the Eagles are clearly going to a more physical O-line which raises the question of how soon will center Jason Kelce be giving way to Isaac Seumalo? (My guess is pretty soon.)

For a while now the Eagles have struggled in short yardage. Their O-line couldn't knock the other team off the ball. Adding muscle in the trenches is the quickest way to rectify that.

This was the final entry in my 2013 scouting report on Chance Warmack: Has Pro Bowl tools.

We'll see now if that's still true.

Mike Mayock: Eagles should weigh Gareon Conley vs. offense at 14

Mike Mayock: Eagles should weigh Gareon Conley vs. offense at 14

The Eagles need cornerbacks. Plural. 

It's not a secret that the team's biggest weakness heading into next week's draft is at the cornerback position. So it would stand to reason that their best bet might be to simply take the best one off the board when they're on the clock at 14.

But NFL Network's Mike Mayock, on his annual pre-draft conference call marathon extravaganza Friday, said he thinks they should take a different approach. 

Looking at the top corners in the draft, Mayock is convinced Ohio State's Marshon Lattimore will be off the board well before the Eagles are on the clock at 14. His next rated corner is Gareon Conley. After that, Mayock has Marlon Humphrey but pointed out his major flaw of struggling to find the football in the air. 

So if Conley makes it to 14, the Eagles should pick him, right? 

Not so fast. 

"So I look at it this way, if Conley's on the board at 14, you have to compare him to the best playmaker on offense on your board," Mayock said. "Because I'm not convinced the Eagles should go defense, to be honest with you. 

"If Conley's not there, I think you want to go get your corner in the second or third round and I think they need two corners. But my perspective is, you drafted Carson Wentz. You better support him. You signed two wideouts in free agency (Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith) who are both effectively one-year contracts. Your slot receiver, (Jordan) Matthews is in the final year of his deal. (Brent) Celek, the tight end, is 32 years old. 

"So you might sit there and go, 'This year looks OK,' but get a running back. Get a (Christian) McCaffrey or a Dalvin Cook. Get a tight end, O.J. Howard. Get weapons. Get one of those wideouts you like. So I would be comparing Conley to the highest playmaker you have on the board offensively. And I might be leaning towards offense if it was me." 

Zach Ertz hopes he and Carson Wentz can be NFL's next great duo

Zach Ertz hopes he and Carson Wentz can be NFL's next great duo

Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski. Drew Brees and Jimmy Graham. Cam Newton and Greg Olsen. 

When Zach Ertz looks at the recent history of great quarterback-tight end duos in the NFL, he can't help but notice one thing stands out. 

"Those guys have been together for a long time," Ertz said Thursday afternoon. 

Brady and Gronk have been together for seven seasons. Cam and Olsen have been together for six. And Brees and Graham were together for five. 

"And I think just having that, where you're on the same page regardless of the coverage," Ertz continued. "If they give you this coverage, you know exactly what you're going to do. If they give you that coverage, he knows exactly what I'm going to do. When to expect the ball vs. certain coverages, it might be a little earlier, it might be a little later. So it's just that constant camaraderie where we're able to know what the other person is thinking without thinking about it."

Ertz hopes that's the kind of relationship he can forge with Carson Wentz, who will enter his second NFL season in 2017. 

Ertz and Wentz spend a lot of time together in the facility and away from it. A group of Eagles went to Ertz's wedding earlier this offseason, and of course, Wentz was present. If it seems like Ertz is going to great lengths to build a rapport with his quarterback, he is. 

After going through Mike Vick and Nick Foles and Mark Sanchez and Sam Bradford, the Eagles' starting tight end finally has a quarterback that isn't going anywhere for a while.  

"It's going to be huge," Ertz said about playing with Wentz for a second straight year. "I think when Carson was drafted, from the receivers and tight ends, that was the one thing we were really excited about. That we knew for the next five, 10, 20 years, hopefully, in Philadelphia, we knew who our quarterback was going to be."

Since he was drafted in the second round of the 2013 draft out of Stanford, Ertz has been an extremely productive player. But that has set up huge expectations as fans wait for a "breakout year." Zach Ertz might never be Rob Gronkowski, but the numbers are hard to argue. 

In the first four years of his career, Ertz has 247 catches for 2,840 yards and 13 touchdowns. Since 2013, here's the list of tight ends who have more catches and yards than Ertz: Greg Olsen, Jimmy Graham, Jason Witten, Delanie Walker, Antonio Gates. 

Ertz and Jeremy Maclin are the only two players in Eagles history to put up those numbers in their first four seasons. 

The argument often heard about Ertz's numbers is that they come in garbage time. Ertz has historically been an absolute beast in December. In the last few years, that hasn't meant much to a struggling Eagles franchise, but if they're in the playoff hunt in upcoming years, they'll probably want that trend to continue. 

The one statistic that doesn't seem to match the others: touchdowns. While Ertz has been among top tight ends in the league in receptions and yards, his 13 touchdowns rank 17th among tight ends since 2013. (It's not a stat, but for what it's worth, Ertz would likely be among the league leaders in touchdowns called back for penalties in the last few years.)

"I want to be the guy in the red zone, believe me," Ertz said. "For the first four years in my career, I think the most touchdowns I had in a year was four. So this year, we didn't have a lot of red zone touchdowns and that falls on us as players to get it down when we get down there, make plays when the ball's in the air. That's something I do pride myself on, making those tough and contested catches, whether it be in the red zone or third down. I want to be more of a go-to guy in the red zone, but I've got to earn that this spring and summer, earn that trust of the quarterback as well as Doug (Pederson). It's going to be a process, but when you look at the great tight ends in the league, the first thing that stands out is touchdowns."