Philadelphia Eagles

Eagles quietly trying to upgrade special teams

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Eagles quietly trying to upgrade special teams

On offense, they ranked fourth in the NFL in scoring, just three points out of second. On defense, they went nine straight games allowing 21 or fewer points.

No wonder 2013 was such a turnaround season for the Eagles, going from 4-12 in Andy Reid’s final season to 10-6 and NFC East champs in Chip Kelly’s first.

Explosive on offense, promising on defense.

Which leaves only … pathetic on special teams.

So while the Eagles’ offseason was dominated by DeSean Jackson’s release, a free agency season absent of big names, Jason Peters’ new contract and a draft heavy in wide receivers and defense, the Eagles quietly have been trying to upgrade one of the NFL’s worst special teams units.

They didn’t land any big names during free agency -- Malcolm Jenkins was the biggest -- but the Eagles did add safety Chris Maragos, linebacker Bryan Braman and nickel corner Nolan Carroll, who are all being counted on to be special teams stalwarts.

They added Darren Sproles to punch up the offense, but he also has a strong track record in the return game.

They added some fast, physical players in the draft who should be contributors right away on special teams -- Jordan Matthews, Josh Huff, Jaylen Watkins and Ed Reynolds and probably even Marcus Smith.

They even brought in an undrafted free-agent placekicker to challenge one-time fourth-round pick Alex Henery.

And the Eagles hope it all adds up to a much improved special teams group.

“We hope so,” Kelly said. “I think it's been a big emphasis. The addition of Chris Maragos, Bryan Braman, guys like that. Nolan Carroll, outstanding special teams players. Bringing Darren in here was the one thing we really thought, besides being used as a running back and as a receiver coming out of the back field, I think his ability as a returner, I think that's huge.”

The Eagles were among the NFL’s worst on special teams a year ago -- 25th in kick return average, 27th in punt return average, 19th covering kicks and 20th in field goal accuracy.

According to Rick Gosselin’s famed annual special teams rankings that appear annually in the Dallas Morning News, which take into account 22 different special teams categories, the Eagles overall ranked 28th in the league in special teams efficiency, ahead of only the Raiders, Lions, Redskins and Panthers.

“It was a concerted effort to get bigger and faster on special teams,” general manager Howie Roseman said.

“I know just in kind of Phase Two [of the offseason workout program] you get an opportunity to see guys run down the field, and you see a guy like Bryan Braman.

"Our fans are going to love Bryan Braman. Bryan Braman, and I say this with all due respect, is out of his mind. He's 6-4 and he's 260 pounds and he's telling me that he can run like a 4.3 but he pulled his hamstring when he ran at the regional workout. I've got to believe him. He is like almost a freak of nature when he runs down.

“[Plus] Nolan Carroll, and you add them to Brandon Boykin and Maragos and then the guys we've gotten here [during the draft]. I think we've certainly upgraded the talent level, and I think that's one of the things that hurts your special teams is [when the] back end of the roster [isn’t] effective.”

For all that’s made about Kelly’s groundbreaking up-tempo offensive philosophy, he’s constantly talking about special teams.

Huff knows how important special teams is to Kelly. He played under him from 2010 through 2012.

“I played special teams a lot,” Huff said. “Coming from Oregon that’s all they preach: ‘If you want to get to the next level, you have to contribute on special teams.’

“I had my opportunity to contribute on special teams and I did everything I could to contribute on special teams. Special teams is a role on any team.”

It’s tough to find a move the Eagles made this year that wasn’t made with special teams in mind.

Whether it was the draft picks, free-agent acquisitions or even the decisions to part ways with core special teamers such as Colt Anderson and Kurt Coleman, everything was done with an eye on special teams.

“That was a real conscious decision that we had to upgrade really our coverage units in terms of how we were doing things,” Kelly said. “We felt like with Nolan Carroll, Chris Maragos and Bryan Braman, with some of these guys that we drafted that that's really going to help us.

“At times when we're looking at players, we have a dot on their tag so that the person with the dot is going to be a core special teams player. ...

“So far with the decisions that we're making, we're erring that way. If there are two guys that are equal and this guy's a better teams player, we're going to take the guy that's the better teams player.”

There's a Chance a change could be coming for Eagles at left guard

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There's a Chance a change could be coming for Eagles at left guard

On Monday, Eagles head coach Doug Pederson said he didn't want to "push any panic buttons" because of his offensive line. 

Turns out, he might be ready to. 

During the portion of Wednesday's practice that is open to reporters, Chance Warmack took first-team left guard reps between Jason Peters and Jason Kelce during individual drills. Isaac Seumalo was no longer working with the first team. It could possibly be a sign of things to come. 

The team portion of practice is closed to media members. 

Seumalo, the second-year offensive lineman out of Oregon State, had a terrible game against the Chiefs on Sunday. He gave up four of the six sacks the Eagles allowed and three of them went to defensive end Chris Jones, who was named the AFC Defensive Player of the Week. 

Seumalo, 23, admitted after the 27-20 loss Sunday that he needed to play better (see story). Meanwhile, Pederson pointed out some of Seumalo's issues — dropping his head, late hands, getting off the ball late — but said they were correctable. 

"So we'll evaluate the whole thing," Pederson continued Wednesday after saying he didn't want to push panic buttons. "It's not — again, it's not just one guy. If you're going to point the finger too, you can point it at me; I'm part of the pie, too. We'll evaluate it and we'll keep evaluating it."

Seumalo was handed the starting left guard job at the start of this training camp. The team decided that and was set to release veteran, and previous starter, Allen Barbre until they were able to get a conditional seventh-round pick for him. Looking back, they might have made that move too hastily. 

For the first two games of the season, Warmack has been inactive. It's the first time in his NFL career that he's been healthy and hasn't played. The former 10th overall pick joined the Eagles this offseason on a one-year deal but has since signed an extension to keep him under contract through the 2018 season. Warmack, after the first game of the season, said he was trying not to read into anything (see story)

In Philadelphia, Warmack has been reunited with his college position coach Jeff Stoutland. That was a big part of the reason he decided to join the Eagles. 

In addition to Warmack, the Eagles also have veteran Stefen Wisniewski available to play guard. 

Eagles Injury Update: 3 more defensive backs miss practice

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Eagles Injury Update: 3 more defensive backs miss practice

The Eagles are pretty light at defensive back Wednesday.

Rodney McLeod and Jaylen Watkins, who both suffered hamstring injuries during Sunday's 27-20 loss to Kansas City, didn't practice Wednesday. 

"Right now, day to day," Pederson said. "Keep evaluating, keep monitoring both of those guys."

Defensive back Corey Graham also didn't practice Wednesday with a hamstring injury of his own. He was on the field wearing a baseball cap, chatting with McLeod, Watkins and Sidney Jones.

The Eagles are down to just six healthy defensive backs without McLeod, Watkins, Graham and Ronald Darby, who is out for at least another few weeks with a dislocated ankle. 

Despite the numbers in the secondary, the Eagles still haven't filled the empty spot on their roster. The Eagles have had the 53rd spot empty since they placed Donnel Pumphrey on IR with a torn hamstring Friday.

Pederson said the Eagles are going to "keep [their] eyes open" but haven't made a decision on how to fill the empty roster spot yet. They have just one defensive back on their practice squad. They signed former Chiefs corner De'Vante Bausby last week.

The Eagles tried to sign safety DeAndre Houston-Carson off the Bears' practice squad, according to Rich Campbell of the Chicago Tribune, but the Bears were able to keep him by promoting him to their active roster.

The Eagles were so light at safety in Sunday's game that defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz admitted the team started to prepare linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill to go into the game. On Wednesday, the Eagles had just two healthy safeties: Malcolm Jenkins and the seldom-used Chris Maragos. 

DT Destiny Vaeao (wrist) also missed Wednesday's practice. He missed the game on Sunday.