Eagles vow not to lose intimidation battle vs. Pats

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Eagles vow not to lose intimidation battle vs. Pats

The Eagles are headed to Foxboro on Tuesday for the start of joint practices, but unlike last year, they’re bringing some extra motivation.

Apparently, only one team brought the proper level of intensity and intimidation to last year’s scrimmages in South Philly, and it wasn’t the home team. Both teams were warned about getting too physical, but the Eagles felt they were the only team playing by the rules.

This time, there’s just one rule.

“When we strap up, we’re gonna be ready to go,” cornerback Bradley Fletcher. “We want to have a little something to it that maybe we didn’t really have last year, so we’re gonna have a lot more of that this coming week.”

For whatever reason, the Eagles were a little too gracious when they welcomed the Patriots to the NovaCare last August for a couple of practices leading up to their preseason game.

Pats quarterback Tom Brady, in particular, seemed right at home finding his new receivers against an Eagles defense that offered very little resistance -- except, of course, Cary Williams, who was tossed out of one practice for tussling.

That’s another issue, some Eagles acknowledged.

Despite an agreement between coaches Chip Kelly and Bill Belichick to kick jousters out of practice, a message shared by each coach in meetings with his respective team, only one team seemed to tone down on contact and extracurricular activity.

Apparently, it wasn’t coincidence, either.

“I had that same meeting in New Orleans and we got whooped,” safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “We got sucker punched, so I think we’ll have our guard up this time.

“The coaches tell you, ‘Hey you’re going to get kicked out of practice if you fight,’ and all this and you go up there thinking ‘OK, this is gonna be a practice,’ and they’re ramped up. It’s hard to turn that switch on once you turn it off.”

So the Eagles were already dialed up Monday afternoon, even after a routine walkthrough without pads, especially the defensive backs. They had their sights set on revenge and showing the Patriots what’s in their DNA.

No more Mr. Nice Guys.

“The tempo is definitely going to go up some more when you go play against a different team for a few days,” Fletcher said. “We’re gonna have the pads on and it’s gonna ramp it up, so we’re definitely going to be be ready for it.”

About a week ago, Williams made headlines for critical comments about joint practices and about the Patriots, who were once penalized for illegally videotaping an opponent’s defensive signals. Williams expressed concern about another team -- especially the Patriots, citing Spygate -- having an up-close look at their playbook and personnel. He said these practices weren’t beneficial.

Jenkins disagreed. Sure, the Pats get an idea of what the Eagles will do, Jenkins said, but it’s a two-way street.

“Now, there’s things that you have to do. You’ve got to change some of your signals because you’d be dumb not to take notes on what the other team is doing,” he said. “So from that standpoint you don’t want to open up your entire playbook when you’re there.

“But I think it’s good for your team to kind of come together and go against another opponent in practice day after day. I think it brings you closer, because you really got to have each other’s back every day when you’re out there. It gets ramped up and turned up and you really get to really see who likes to compete and who shies away from competition.”

The Eagles didn’t have joint practices in the 14 years Andy Reid coached them, but Reid liked conducting his annual camp away at Lehigh for the same reasons Kelly likes joint practices, for the camaraderie building and intensity.

Reid’s teams bonded in dorm rooms and cafeterias for two long weeks away in the mountains. His practices always featured tackling, so fights frequently broke out and alliances were formed quickly. Kelly’s team bonds through combat against other opponents.

“I think it needs to be that way,” Jenkins added. “It’s competition that’s gonna bring the best out of both teams, and we can always get told to slow down. You don’t wanna ever have to tell anybody to speed up.

“The biggest thing is compete as a team. Go out there and really day in and day out, period in and period out, compete and see where we stand. We definitely don’t want to go out there and get pushed around. We’ve got to start out fast, from practice [until] the game and really just establish ourselves and see what we’ve got.”

Stay or Go Part 8: Ryan Mathews to Steven Means

Stay or Go Part 8: Ryan Mathews to Steven Means

In the eighth of our 12-part offseason series examining the future of the Eagles, Reuben Frank and Dave Zangaro give their opinions on who will be and who won't be on the roster in 2017. We go alphabetically — Part 8 is Mathews to Means.

Ryan Mathews
Cap hit: $5M

Roob: The Eagles have to get better, younger, faster, healthier, more durable and more reliable at running back. I love the way Mathews runs when he’s healthy. The guy runs hard and he runs physical and he's aggressive. Then he always gets hurt. Mathews actually has the third-highest per-carry average among running backs in Eagles history, but they just can’t rely on him anymore. How can you count on a running back who misses significant time every year? Time to move on. Factor in the cap savings — $4 million if the Eagles release him — and it’s a no-brainer.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: The Eagles can save $4 million in cap room to cut the running back who needed serious neck surgery after his season was ended in the Giants' game. Mathews played pretty well in his two seasons with the Eagles, but, as has been the case during his career, health was an issue. And now he’s 29 and will turn 30 early into next season. Time to move on. 

Verdict: GOES

Jordan Matthews
Cap hit: $1.57M

Roob: Matthews is going into Year 4 and I’d still like to see him make a jump and become a 1,200-yard type of receiver. Maybe it will happen with another year under his belt with Carson Wentz. Matthews has the 11th-most catches in NFL history by a player in his first three seasons — 225, or 75 per year — but his 2,673 yards are 50th most. Matthews is as hard a worker and as committed a player as you’ll see. He'll get the most out of his ability. I’d just like to see him take his game up one more level, and I think he will.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: It’s a shame the Eagles don’t have any legitimate threats at their outside receiver positions, because if they did, so much of the burden wouldn’t fall on Matthews. No, he’s not a great receiver, but he’s a very good one who has been solid in his first three years in the league. In his first three seasons, Matthews has 225 catches for 2,673 yards and 19 touchdowns. There have been just 10 receivers in the league to put up those numbers or better: Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, Demaryius Thomas, Odell Beckham Jr., DeAndre Hopkins, Emmanuel Sanders, Doug Baldwin, Mike Evans, Randall Cobb and Brandon Marshall. Matthews isn’t going anywhere and it’s time to think about an extension. 

Verdict: STAYS

Alex McCalister
Cap hit: $557K

Roob: McCalister, a seventh-round defensive end, spent the year on injured reserve but considering the Eagles’ lack of pass-rush potency, he’ll definitely get a look this summer. McCalister had 17½ sacks at Florida, so he’s got that going for him. Still a long shot.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: This is tough because McCalister was a seventh-round draft pick who was placed on IR with a injury that didn’t appear to be serious. The last year was a redshirt season for the defensive end who has some pass-rush ability but needed to work on packing more muscle onto his frame. Haven’t seen enough to think he sticks. 

Verdict: GOES

Leodis McKelvin
Cap hit: $3.45M

Roob: The Eagles have to do better than McKelvin. He made a few plays, gave up a lot more, and as far as I’m concerned, the Eagles should hang onto Jalen Mills and get rid of all their other corners. Not to mention the $3.2 million in cap savings the Eagles would gain if McKelvin is released. See ya.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: The Eagles can save $3.2 million by cutting McKelvin, which will probably happen. If it doesn’t, it’ll be because the Eagles think his lingering hamstring issue played a big role in his play and because defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz goes to bat for him. Ultimately, I think McKelvin’s days in Philly are over. 

Verdict: GOES

Rodney McLeod
Cap hit: $5.6M

Roob: McLeod played really well most of the season, tailed off the last few weeks, and goes into next year a question mark because of that inconsistency. When he’s right, McLeod is a sure tackler, willing run supporter, big hitter and capable in coverage. But those last few weeks raised some eyebrows. There were times you just wondered what he was doing out there. If the Eagles can have the first-10-games McLeod for a full season, they’re fine. But he has to be consistent. He’ll be here through 2017 but after that is anybody’s guess. Another mixed year will likely spell the end here for McLeod.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: There were a few plays that showed questionable effort from McLeod this season, which was shocking based on his past. He was an undrafted rookie who worked his way into the league and into a contract with the Eagles. This ended up being a pretty good signing; he had a nice season. He’s under contract through 2020 and the Eagles hope he hasn’t yet fulfilled his potential. He and Malcolm Jenkins should only get better after more time playing together. 

Verdict: STAYS

Steven Means
Cap hit: $690K

Roob: Means, a veteran journeyman defensive end, played only 36 snaps all year. He did pick up one sack against the Vikings, but as far as his future? Most likely, he won’t be back.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: Means did everything in his power last training camp to make the 2016 roster. He flashed every day and in the preseason games. But in 2016, he didn’t get to play very much and was clearly buried on the depth chart behind Connor Barwin, Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry and Marcus Smith. The Eagles need to upgrade at the defensive end spot, which might be bad news for Means if more bodies come in. But for now, he's a good depth piece. 

Verdict: STAYS

It's official: Eagles reach terms with WRs coach Mike Groh

It's official: Eagles reach terms with WRs coach Mike Groh

The Eagles' only vacant coaching position has been filled.

On Monday afternoon the team announced that it had reached terms with Mike Groh to be the new receivers coach.

“We are excited to add Mike Groh to our coaching staff," Eagles head coach Doug Pederson said in a release from the team. "Mike brings with him a vast array of experience coaching wide receivers in the NFL and college. Over his career, he has demonstrated a great ability as a teacher and as a motivator and we look forward to him getting started in Philadelphia.” 

Earlier this month, after the receivers had a disappointing season, the team fired first-year receivers coach Greg Lewis and have been searching for his replacement. In addition to interviewing Groh, the team also interviewed Bills receivers coach Sanjay Lal.

While Lewis was an NFL position coach for the first time in 2016, Groh has a little more experience at the NFL level. Groh, 45, spent 2016 with the Rams as their receivers coach and passing game coordinator after three years with the Chicago Bears as their receivers coach.

Lewis was the only position coached fired after Pederson's first NFL season. The team finished 7-9 after a 3-0 start.

Groh was seemingly available because of the head coaching change in Los Angeles.

Before he made it to the NFL as a receivers coach with the Bears, Groh had a long coaching career at the college level. He rose to the level of offensive coordinator at Virginia under his father Al, who was the Cavaliers' long-time head coach.

Mike Groh's first coaching job came with the Jets in 2000, when his father had a one-year stint as their head coach.

Mike Groh was once a quarterback at Virginia before his father ever coached there.

While the Eagles' receivers wildly underperformed in 2016, Groh has coached two of the top free agents at the position: Alshon Jeffery and Kenny Britt.

The Eagles' coaching staff will be in Mobile, Alabama, this week to get a closer look at some top draft prospects, among them will be several talented receivers.