Game vs. Bears a big night for Eagles' rookies


Game vs. Bears a big night for Eagles' rookies

There are 22 rookies on the Eagles’ roster. That’s 22 youngsters who’ve dreamed most of their lives about playing in the NFL. That’s 22 youngsters who are working desperately to live out their dream. That’s 22 youngsters who are now just a few hours from playing professional football for the first time.

The Eagles open the 2014 preseason at 8 p.m. Friday at Soldier Field against the Bears.

And those 22 kids can’t wait.

“I’m very fired up, I’m excited,” said Kevin Graf, an undrafted rookie offensive tackle from USC. “I’ve been waiting -- this has been my dream my whole life.

“I’m on pins and needles, can’t wait for game time. Just an exciting moment for me and my family.”

For high draft picks like Marcus Smith and Jordan Matthews, these games aren’t crucial. They’ve got the team made.

For guys like Graf, Beau Allen, Kadron Boone and Henry Josey, nothing is guaranteed beyond today.

“I’ve been excited just being here, and now that the moment’s come and it’s actually about to become reality, just trying to stay relaxed and just stay focused and make sure I go out there and just do what I have to do to keep making these coaches trust in me,” said Josey, who ran for 2,771 yards with 30 touchdowns at Missouri, despite missing a year with a knee injury.

“It’s something you love doing so much and then the moment’s here again, it’s time to play football. The competition level and playing against somebody different than ourselves makes everything so much more exciting. I’m just ready to play.

“It’s going to be pretty big for me. It’s another emotional step probably for some people in my life just for everything I’ve been through, but it’s just another football game and that’s the way I have to look at it. I can’t take it as some big moment. I have to stay focused. I’ve always been a patient guy. I’m not going to hit any home runs off the bat. I’m just hoping to have a good game.”

With Riley Cooper and Jeff Maehl unlikely to play Friday and Jeremy Maclin iffy, all the rookie receivers should get a lot of snaps.

That means a kid like Boone, who played at LSU, should have a chance to show what he can do.

“Friday night is going to be a big night, a childhood dream coming true, but it’s a job and you can’t let it get to you,” Boone said. “Just have to go out there and do my job.

“A lot of kids, they dream about this moment, but for me to actually have it come true, just soak it all in and enjoy the experience, but once it’s kickoff, just have to get in the zone and do my job. At the end of the day, you just have to be locked in. You can’t let that overwhelm you.”

There’s a ton at stake for a kid like Allen, a seventh-round pick out of Wisconsin who’s gotten a ton of first-team reps at nose tackle because Bennie Logan has been banged up.

With a strong preseason, Allen has a good chance to survive final roster cuts. It begins Friday night.

“I’ll be excited,” he said. “But at the end of the day, you’re playing football, and I’ve been playing football for 10 years and it’s no different whatever level you’re in, and I just have to remember that and just go out there and do my assignments.

“I want to play well and use the techniques that I’ve been coached every day. I don’t want to lose my head and get caught up in it.”

Although Smith isn’t battling for a roster spot, he is battling for playing time at outside linebacker.

Smith, the 26th player taken in this year’s draft, has been getting good reviews for his work at practice, but this will be full-speed, full-contact, against guys he’s not familiar with.

“I’m going to have butterflies, of course, that’s every game,” Smith said. “But once I get out there and once the first play happens, they’ll be gone. But I’m ready to play. I’m ready to show people what I’m all about.”

Eagles-Vikings Week 7: What they're saying

Eagles-Vikings Week 7: What they're saying

Riding a two-game losing streak, the Eagles (3-2) return home Sunday for the first time in nearly a month and welcome a familiar face to the confines of Lincoln Financial Field. 

Sam Bradford and the Vikings (5-0) will come to Philadelphia fresh off a Week 6 bye and, most notably, as the league's lone unbeaten team. Minnesota boasts one of the league's top defenses, ranking first in points allowed (12.6 per game) and second in yards allowed (287.6 per game), and is looking to improve to 6-0 for the first time since 2009.

The last time these two franchises met was back in December 2013, when Matt Cassell and the Vikings put up 48 points in a win over Chip Kelly's Eagles.

To get a better handle on this year's Vikings, here's what they're saying about the Eagles' Week 7 opponent.

Brian Robison poses yet another challenge for Big V
Making his NFL debut in a start against the Redskins last week, Halapoulivaati Vaitai struggled mightily. Ryan Kerrigan beat Vaitai and got to Carson Wentz for 2½ sacks, all of which came in the first half.

It won't get any easier for the rookie right tackle this week either, as he'll likely be lined up against Brian Robison for most of the afternoon. Robison has four sacks and two forced fumbles on the season and, according to Andrew Krammer of the Star Tribune, the versatile 10-year defensive end could be difference maker on the defensive side of the ball Sunday.

"Whether his hand is in the turf at left end or he’s standing over a guard or center as the defensive tackle, Robison could be dropping back to cover a tight end or running back," Krammer wrote. "At the line, he’s given responsibilities to call stunts or twists depending on their own play call. Sometimes he’s setting the pick to free another teammate. ... And on Sunday against the Eagles and their rookie right tackle, keep an eye on Robison when he lines up at his traditional spot of left end. All four of his sacks this season, including two strip-sacks, have come from there."

Makeshift offensive line remains a question mark
The Vikings may be undefeated, but by no means are they made up of perfect parts. As the midway point of the NFL season approaches, Minnesota's injury-battered offensive line is still a work in progress. 

Starting tackles Matt Kalil and Andre Smith are both sidelined with season-ending injuries. Starting guard Brandon Fusco suffered a concussion Week 5 against the Texans, but is expected to return against the Eagles. Center is the only position on the line the Vikings haven't had to replace because of an injury at some point this season.

But despite the constant changes up front, Minnesota has been stout overall in protecting the quarterback, allowing eight sacks and 27 quarterback hits across five games. According to Brian Murphy of the Pioneer Press, the performance of that makeshift offensive line is going to be key in the Vikings' potential success down the road. 

"What’s best for Bradford and the Vikings’ standing as the NFC’s top dog is better pass protection," Murphy wrote. "He was sacked twice when Houston defenders turnstiled Clemmings and hit hard in the pocket other times. ... Offensive line intrigue never is a sexy storyline, but how well the Vikings manage the unit week to week figures to be an underlying factor to their continued success."

Strong away from home
The Vikings are a just a few years removed from going winless on the road, finishing 0-7-1 away from home in the 2013 season. Minnesota secured wins in only two of its first 10 away games under the tutelage of Mike Zimmer, but have since gone on a tear.

Minnesota has won seven of its last eight road games dating back to last season and, in their most recent game away from U.S. Bank Stadium, the Vikings took down the Panthers, 22-10, in Week 3. A testament of a true contender is having the ability to win consistently on the road, which holds true with the Vikings.

According to Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press, the Vikings' vast improvement over the past two-plus seasons has contributed to them becoming a stronger team away from home.

"Facing a tough opposing crowd once was a tall order for the Vikings, but it’s much less of one now. After being one of the worse road teams in the NFL earlier this decade, they’re now one of the best," Tomasson wrote. "Overall, the Vikings have improved, having gone from 7-9 in 2014 to 11-5 last season to 5-0 this year. That’s the main reason the road record has gotten so much better. Still, players say the continuity the team has had has especially helped when entering rugged road environments."

While Vegas has the Vikings as light favorites on the road, national experts have them heavily favored straight up to hand the Eagles their third straight loss.

ESPN: All nine experts picked the Vikings

CBS Sports: Seven of eight experts picked the Vikings

FOX Sports: Three of five experts picked the Vikings 

Eagles need Dorial Green-Beckham’s production to catch up to workload

Eagles need Dorial Green-Beckham’s production to catch up to workload

Dorial Green-Beckham was on the field in Washington for 42 of the Eagles’ 52 offensive snaps on Sunday.

He had one catch for 23 yards.

Green-Beckham, who the Eagles added during training camp via a trade with the Titans, has been brought along slowly since his arrival to Philadelphia. In each week, his playing time has increased.

Now, the Eagles just need his production to catch up.

“[We are] moving him a little bit more around in formations, but still trying to keep it to one position for him,” head coach Doug Pederson said. “Utilizing his strength; I think he's a tremendous slant runner. I think he can run those deeper in-routes, things like that, and utilize his height and strength in the red zone a little bit more. That's him and that's the type of player that he is. Can he be an every-down starter? I think he could eventually probably get there.”

Green-Beckham, who also had a 38-yard reception nullified by a questionable illegal block in the back in Washington, has all the qualities that could make him a special receiver. At 6-5, 237, he has size and strength to go along with his 4.49 speed.

There’s a reason the Titans took him in the second round last year. But there’s also a reason Tennessee was willing to give him up a year later for reserve tackle Dennis Kelly.

There had been knocks on Green-Beckham’s work ethic and consistency. But through a couple months in Philadelphia, those things don’t seem to be problems. In fact, Green-Beckham claims he’s been putting in extra work and asking plenty of questions in an attempt to catch up.

So when can we expect to see DGB targeted 8 to 10 times per game?

“Hopefully that day comes soon,” Green-Beckham said. “But right now, I feel like each and every day we're getting better and better. We just have to continue to do the right things, starting at practice. And then when it comes to the game, everything comes easy.”

Offensive coordinator Frank Reich said there are no more limitations with Green-Beckham because of the receiver’s late arrival, but Pederson made it seem like the team is still bringing him along slowly.

Pederson on Friday said he would love to have an entire offseason with DGB, but that’s a luxury he doesn’t have right now and won’t have until next spring and summer.

For now, Green-Beckham could offer the Eagles an alternative to a group of receivers that has been a clear disappointment over the last couple of seasons.

DGB played 81 percent of the Eagles’ offensive snaps on Sunday against Washington and he thinks that high number is a trend that will continue.

“I feel like every time I'm running a route, I'm always giving my all, giving my 100 percent,” Green-Beckham said. “Quarterbacks see that, coaches see that, players see that. That's why I feel like my reps have increased — coaches see that. And every time I'm out there, I'm just thinking open grass.”

Through five games, Green-Beckham has 11 catches for 131 yards without a touchdown. Thanks to his strength, he also has 65 yards after the catch, which means he averages 5.9 YAC per reception, second on the team to only Darren Sproles.

DGB has clearly surpassed Josh Huff on the depth chart and has a chance to become a go-to receiver for Carson Wentz. With Wentz just getting started, the combination of the two of them could be a mainstay in Philadelphia if they can get on the same page.

And if Green-Beckham can finally live up to his potential.

“DGB is playing very well,” Reich said. “I think he looks fast; he looks strong. We see it every time he gets the ball in his hands, he's hard to tackle. He's a big man who can run fast. He's gaining more and more confidence.”