Eagles under the radar: Linebacker Najee Goode

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Eagles under the radar: Linebacker Najee Goode

In a five-part series from Monday to Friday, Eagles insider Geoff Mosher and columnist Reuben Frank preview five Eagles flying “under the radar” as the team heads into training camp and the 2014 season. These unsung Eagles have a chance to make a bigger impact this season than people may expect. Camp opens July 25.

Najee Goode
Position: Inside linebacker
Height/weight: 6-0/244
Acquired: Free agent (2013)

Background
The Eagles claimed Goode, a former West Virginia standout, off waivers before the start of 2013 and after the final roster cutdown date. He played 14 games in the regular season, starting one in place of an injured Mychal Kendricks. The week before his first start, he played well after Kendricks left the game, helping to hold Green Bay to just 99 rushing yards and an average of 3.3 yards per carry in a 27-13 win at Lambeau. Goode also sacked Robert Griffin III for his first and only career sack and returned a botched long snap against the Giants for a touchdown.

Geoff's take
Fans were initially ticked off when the Eagles acquired Goode and cut Emmanuel Acho after Acho performed well in the preseason and Goode had just been let go by the Buccaneers. But the staff liked Goode’s coverage abilities and believed he offered more on special teams and in sub packages than Acho (who came back to the practice squad later in the season). Goode looked really good against the Packers, coming in after Kendricks left with a knee injury and joining a defense that held Eddie Lacy to just 73 yards. Now that he’s had a whole year and his first offseason in Chip Kelly’s program, Goode is primed for an expanded role. Defensive coordinator Bill Davis already said he’s looking to scale down snaps for DeMeco Ryans, who played the most snaps of any NFL defensive player last year. In certain nickel downs, Davis can substitute Goode for Ryans and get a little quicker and more athletic across the middle, which is where the Eagles were picked apart last year.

Roob's take
He can really run, and that’s the one edge Goode has on the Eagles' other linebackers, and that’s why Davis and Rick Minter will find ways to get Goode onto the field situationally on defense this year. Goode opened some eyes with the way he played against the Packers in his first NFL start last year, but the thing about Goode is that he wasn’t even with the Eagles during the offseason or training camp, so Davis and the other coaches expect a big jump in what will be his first full year in this defense. Goode’s dad played in the NFL in the mid-1980s -- they’re actually the first father-son combo in Eagles history -- and Najee has that intelligence and savvy of a kid who grew up around the game. Will he ever be an every-down linebacker? Tough to tell. But he’s smart, fast, physical and has good size at 6-4, 244 pounds. Ryans played more snaps than any defensive player in the NFL last year, and Davis has already promised those numbers will go down. Most of those snaps should go to Goode.

Pinpoint touch passes show Carson Wentz has a killer changeup, too

Pinpoint touch passes show Carson Wentz has a killer changeup, too

Now the kid has a changeup, too.

A couple of the most impressive passes Carson Wentz threw Sunday weren’t fired to the receiver. They didn’t show off Wentz’s rocket-launcher right arm.

They were touch passes. Lobs. Looping things of beauty that floated high into the air above the coverage and settled softly into the hands of a receiver on the run.

Wentz, the Eagles’ 23-year-old wunderkind of a quarterback, displayed remarkable touch on a couple of his biggest passes in the Eagles’ 34-3 win over the Steelers at the Linc on Sunday.

It’s just the latest evolution in the development of the remarkable young Eagles quarterback.

He doesn’t just fire it. He floats it, too.

“It is a challenging thing,” head coach Doug Pederson said. “Because in practice, if you’re not working on those types of throws, it just doesn't happen.

“It’s sort of a math problem in your head as a quarterback because you have a receiver that's running away from you at full speed and you are trying to put a touch pass on a 20-, 25-yard throw and so you have to judge it just right.

“That's a lot harder to do than just zipping it right at your target.”

On the 73-yard touchdown pass to Darren Sproles, Wentz stood in the pocket, looked to his left and started scrambling to the right when he spotted Sproles racing down the right sideline with a step on Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier.

In full stride, running to his right, Wentz threw across his body and lobbed the ball from the Eagles’ 25-yard line to a point near the 50-yard line. Sproles caught the ball without breaking stride and did the rest, eventually scoring a TD that turned a 10-point lead into a 17-point lead early in the third quarter.

In the third quarter, Wentz connected similarly with tight end Brent Celek on a 24-yard gain, this time lobbing the ball above linebacker Vince Williams and in front of safety Sean Davis for a first down inside the Pittsburgh 30-yard line to set up another touchdown.

After three games, Wentz is 3-0 with five touchdown passes, no interceptions, 65 percent completions and a 103.7 passer rating. He's the first quarterback in NFL history to open his career with three wins without an interception.

A lot of young quarterbacks want to fire every ball as hard as possible. But Wentz’s ability to change up and lob the football to his receivers makes him even more dangerous. Kind of like a young fastball pitcher who suddenly shows up in spring training with a killer changeup.

“It can be hard because you are so geared on throwing everything fast and hard,” Pederson said. “That throw to Celek was a thing of beauty. The week before, the Monday night (game), to Jordan Matthews, the little touch pass was great. The little floater to Darren for the long touchdown run was another one that was a touch pass with accuracy.

“Those are hard throws to make. Having been in that position before, those are hard. The guy is running away from you and you are trying to put air on a throw but still judge the distance and the speed of the receiver. Those are tough things to do. He really has a good feel for that and it just makes him an all-around solid quarterback.

“That’s just who he is and (shows) his ability to make really all the throws.”

As Eagles enter bye, Doug Pederson aims to thwart complacency

As Eagles enter bye, Doug Pederson aims to thwart complacency

The Eagles are 3-0. They’re alone atop the NFC East and have been the biggest surprise of the young NFL season.

Doug Pederson’s message to his team: You haven’t done anything yet.

Although the Eagles are riding high, Pederson doesn’t want his team to change its outlook or hard work. That’s what teams have to worry about once they’ve found some success.

“The biggest thing is complacency,” Pederson said Monday. “You think you've arrived. You think you are all that. When that creeps in, that's when you get beat. It's my job not to let that creep in. I've got to keep the guys focused and grounded. I told them this week they're going to travel and go home and people are going to pat them on the back and say how great they are.

“But next Monday, I'm going to tell them, ‘Hey, we're back to work. We're 0-0. This is Game 1 and let's go.’ That's just the way it has to be. You are building for one ultimate goal and that's a few weeks down the road. That's what you are trying to get to. But you can't get there unless you take care of the next opponent. It's my job to keep them focused that way.”

Being 3-0 (they’re one of five 3-0 teams) gives the Eagles a head start, but it certainly doesn’t guarantee them a playoff spot. This is the ninth 3-0 start in franchise history. They’ve made the playoffs just five times in the previous eight. And they recently missed the playoffs after starting 3-0 in 2014 under Chip Kelly.

In NFL history (before this season), there have been 276 teams to start with 3-0 records. Of them, 200 (72.3 percent) have made the playoffs.

“We just have to approach it the same, one day at a time,” Pederson said. “That's the way this business goes. You are on top of the world one minute, and you can be at the bottom of the heap the next. Just got to keep things even-keeled and can't get too high, can't get too low. Approach it the same. Like I mentioned earlier, you can't substitute for hard work. That pays off on Sundays. We just have to stay the course. Again, a lot of football left.”

While the Week 4 bye comes pretty early, the Eagles have a couple key players who will use the time to get healthy. And Connor Barwin pointed out that the bye is coming about closer to the halfway point between when the team started its tough training camp and the end of the season.

Pederson told his players to use the week to get away from football and free their minds. Meanwhile, Pederson and his coaches will use the extra time to self-scout and prepare for the final 13 games of the regular season.

With a first-year head coach and a rookie quarterback who was thrust into action a week before the opener, expectations outside (and perhaps inside) the building were tempered.

The Eagles aren’t an underdog anymore.

“We kind of enjoyed flying under the radar, but obviously a win like this against a team like the Steelers will open some eyes around the league,” Malcolm Jenkins said. “For us, nothing different. We’ll keep our preparation the same. We’ll stick our heads down and focus on the work day to day and understand what’s gotten us to 3-0.”

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