NFL Draft: Saturday's prospect watch


NFL Draft: Saturday's prospect watch

If you're an Eagles fan looking toward the 2012 draft, here are players to watch on Saturday:
Brandon Boykin, CBKR Georgia, No. 2

Auburn vs. Georgia (CBS, 3:30 p.m.)

With Asante Samuel grumbling and Dominique Rodgers-Cromarties subpar showing, the Eagles might be in the market for a CB come April. Boykin is a pure athlete that has the speed to play on the outside and quickness to play in the slot. His size isn't ideal (5-9, 181) and he gets nicked up often, but he has no fear and plays physical football. Boykin would also bring some much needed pep to a very moribund return game. He is extremely dangerous returning kicks, and would probably contribute more readily there early on in his career.

Marvin McNutt, WR Iowa, No. 7

Michigan State vs. Iowa (ESPN2, 12 p.m.)

Who knows what the Eagles are going to do with DeSean Jackson and his expiring contract, but if they do indeed let D-Jax hit the open market, receiving depth will need to be found. McNutt is a big receiver (6-3, 215), who can jump out of the building. Pair that leaping ability with soft hands and you've got the makings of a dangerous red zone target. McNutt has 57 catches for 959 yards and nine scores this season, and is coming into Saturday with three consecutive 100-yard receiving games. McNutt's lack of breakaway speed hurts his stock, but he should be off the boards by the middle of the third round.

T.J. McDonald, S USC, No. 7

Washington vs. USC (FX, 3:30 p.m.)

Nate Allen in 2009. Jaiqwuan Jarrett in 2010. The Eagles have been trying to find solid safety play in the early rounds since Brian Dawkins left two seasons ago. Well, the jury is still out as Allen can't stay healthy and Jarrett just got on the field for the first time last week. McDonald is more talented than both. He's an outstanding athlete and looks just as comfortable playing the deep ball as he does inside the box. McDonald has great size (6-3, 205) and bloodlines (his dad was former Pro Bowl safety Tim McDonald), and if the junior decides to come out, he'll be a surefire first-round pick. If the Eagles continue to play the way they have been, they may have a shot at him in the middle of the round.

Tech's Wilson is the real deal
Watched Virginia Tech RB David Wilson Thursday night and came away impressed again as he piled up 175 yards on 23 carries against Georgia Tech. Wilson cuts back as well as any back I've seen this year and just explodes up the field. I don't think his moves in the open field are quite like Shady McCoy's, but Wilson's the closest I've seen in college ball this season. The one thing he doesn't do though and maybe it's just the Tech offense is catch the ball. Wilson has only 16 catches this season.

Eagles react to new study showing CTE found in majority of football players' brains

USA Today Images

Eagles react to new study showing CTE found in majority of football players' brains

CHICAGO -- Research on 202 former football players found evidence of brain disease in nearly all of them, from athletes in the NFL, college and even high school.

It's the largest update on chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a brain disease linked with repeated head blows.

But the report doesn't confirm that the condition is common in all football players; it reflects high occurrence in samples at a Boston brain bank that studies CTE. Many donors or their families contributed because of the players' repeated concussions and troubling symptoms before death.

"There are many questions that remain unanswered," said lead author Dr. Ann McKee, a Boston University neuroscientist. "How common is this" in the general population and all football players?

"How many years of football is too many?" and "What is the genetic risk? Some players do not have evidence of this disease despite long playing years," she noted.

It's also uncertain if some players' lifestyle habits -- alcohol, drugs, steroids, diet -- might somehow contribute, McKee said.

Dr. Munro Cullum, a neuropsychologist at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, emphasized that the report is based on a selective sample of men who were not necessarily representative of all football players. He said problems other than CTE might explain some of their most common symptoms before death -- depression, impulsivity and behavior changes. He was not involved in the report.

McKee said research from the brain bank may lead to answers and an understanding of how to detect the disease in life, "while there's still a chance to do something about it." There's no known treatment.

The study came out just days before Eagles' veterans report to training camp, causing Chris Long and Brandon Brooks to react on Twitter.

The strongest scientific evidence says CTE can only be diagnosed by examining brains after death, although some researchers are experimenting with tests performed on the living. Many scientists believe that repeated blows to the head increase risks for developing CTE, leading to progressive loss of normal brain matter and an abnormal buildup of a protein called tau. Combat veterans and athletes in rough contact sports like football and boxing are among those thought to be most at risk.

The new report was published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

CTE was diagnosed in 177 former players or nearly 90 percent of brains studied. That includes 110 of 111 brains from former NFL players; 48 of 53 college players; nine of 14 semi-professional players, seven of eight Canadian Football league players and three of 14 high school players. The disease was not found in brains from two younger players.

A panel of neuropathologists made the diagnosis by examining brain tissue, using recent criteria from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, McKee said.

The NFL issued a statement saying these reports are important for advancing science related to head trauma and said the league "will continue to work with a wide range of experts to improve the health of current and former NFL athletes."

After years of denials, the NFL acknowledged a link between head blows and brain disease and agreed in a $1 billion settlement to compensate former players who had accused the league of hiding the risks.

The journal update includes many previously reported cases, including former NFL players Bubba Smith, Ken Stabler, Junior Seau and Dave Duerson.

New ones include retired tight end Frank Wainright, whose 10-year NFL career included stints with the Miami Dolphins, New Orleans Saints and Baltimore Ravens. Wainright died last October at age 48 from a heart attack triggered by bleeding in the brain, said his wife, Stacie. She said he had struggled almost eight years with frightening symptoms including confusion, memory loss and behavior changes.

Wainright played before the league adopted stricter safety rules and had many concussions, she said. He feared CTE and was adamant about donating his brain, she said.

"A lot of families are really tragically affected by it -- not even mentioning what these men are going through and they're really not sure what is happening to them. It's like a storm that you can't quite get out of," his wife said.

Frank Wycheck, another former NFL tight end, said he worries that concussions during his nine-year career -- the last seven with the Tennessee Titans -- have left him with CTE and he plans to donate his brain to research.

"Some people have heads made of concrete, and it doesn't really affect some of those guys," he said. "But CTE is real."

"I know I'm suffering through it, and it's been a struggle and I feel for all the guys out there that are going through this," said Wycheck, 45.

In the new report, McKee and colleagues found the most severe disease in former professional players; mild disease was found in all three former high school players diagnosed with the disease. Brain bank researchers previously reported that the earliest known evidence of CTE was found in a high school athlete who played football and other sports who died at age 18. He was not included in the current report.

The average age of death among all players studied was 66. There were 18 suicides among the 177 diagnosed.

Eagles training camp Day 2 observations: Barnett's inside moves

Eagles training camp Day 2 observations: Barnett's inside moves

It's the middle of summer but the Eagles got plenty of cloud cover and a cool morning for Day 2 of training camp on Tuesday. 

If only they could bottle up this weather and bring it to next week. 

Still just quarterbacks, rookies and select veterans at camp — just 34 players. The 35th would have been new tight end and Canadian rugby star Adam Zaruba, but he wasn't in camp yet. He still needs to get a visa. 

Let's hop into the observations: 

1. Derek Barnett has already shown flashes early in training camp of what made him a first-round pick. The former Tennessee star has had his trademark bend around the edge on display, beating Dillon Gordon on Tuesday. But Barnett needs to develop more. 

On Tuesday, as defensive linemen went up against offensive linemen 1-on-1, D-line coach Chris Wilson stressed the importance of Barnett's creating contact with the offensive lineman sooner. Basically, Wilson didn't want Barnett to rely on his speed and get too wide. 

Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said Barnett has been working hard on an inside spin move. Barnett was trying it out on Tuesday. It's still a work in progress. 

"Well it all works off of his edge rush and you have to keep guys honest," Schwartz said. "There's a lot of times in college, you can live off of one move. You get to the NFL and guys are going to take away that one move and you're going to have to have that counter to it."

2. Schwartz wouldn't say if he feels confident about his linebacker depth, but that unit did some good things on Day 2. First, Don Cherry, a practice squad player from a year ago, picked off a pass intended for Mack Hollins in 7-on-7s. Sure, the pass from Matt McGloin was a little behind his target, but Cherry made a good play and Schwartz said Cherry is a different player from a year ago. 

A little while later, middle linebacker Joe Walker pulled in an interception of his own after a ball was tipped straight into the air near the goal line. Veteran cornerback Ron Brooks made sure to make fun of rookie corner Randall Goforth for getting out-jumped by a linebacker. 

And Nate Gerry, who has been predominantly working at the outside linebacker spots -- mostly weakside -- got a few reps at the MIKE in the team's nickel package when Walker took a breather. That should help him understand the defense better. 

3. While McGloin threw behind Hollins for that interception, he followed it up with a 20-yard dime to tight end Billy Brown near the left sideline. Walker had tight coverage on the play, but McGloin dropped it in. 

4. Speaking of Brown, there's not much of a chance for him to make the roster. Zach Ertz, Brent Celek and Trey Burton are virtual locks to make the roster and it seems unlikely the team would keep four tight ends. But Brown might have a chance at earning a practice squad position. A converted wide receiver, Brown is a big guy at 6-4, 255 pounds, but has shown some decent hands and good strength throughout the spring and now early in the summer. 

5. Dane Evans has made some good plays early in camp, but he made a bad decision in the first competitive period on Tuesday. He tried to force in a deep ball but went to the side of the field that had a safety. That safety, Tre Sullivan, picked him off over his shoulder.

6. During the spring, we had seen the Eagles trot out their "pony set," which included Darren Sproles and Donnel Pumphrey. But on Tuesday, big back Corey Clement was in the backfield and Pumphrey was used in the slot. So far this offseason, it really seems like that is going to be Pumphrey's role, working as a receiver out of the backfield and in the slot. 

Carson Wentz, when asked, admitted it's sometimes hard to pick up the 5-foot-9, 176-pound Pumphrey when he runs a route. 

"It can be," Wentz said. "Every guy has their pros and cons. It's just like Sproles. Sproles and I were on the same page a lot last year and develop that chemistry and just trust those guys. And I think we're developing that as we speak." 

7. Hollins and Rasul Douglas had some good battles on Day 2, both coming out victorious on different occasions. Douglas has continued to show his toughness at the line. He's not afraid to use his size and jam. It'll be interesting to see how that works once the veterans come to camp. And it will be even more interesting to see how that works when Doug Pederson brings referees to camp. 

8. The Eagles' secondary spent time in the red zone working in man coverage and then spent time in zone. When the offense used some bunch formations, the corners got a little tripped up in man, as expected. While these practices aren't good for a lot of things, this is an area where the secondary can get better. Douglas was beaten by Marcus Johnson for a touchdown on one of those plays. 

9. While Sidney Jones isn't close to practicing yet, he's staying as involved as he can. He spends every moment of practice with the defensive backs and really seems locked in. At times, he mimics a backpedal and the shoulder motions of cutting. He's not allowed to actually back pedal or cut yet, but he's getting the mental reps on the field. 

10. If you've been expecting a ton of Wentz observations, they'll come later in the week when the entire team reports. For now, his reps have been limited as Nick Foles, McGloin and Evans take most of the snaps. Basically, the team is getting those guys reps now because once real training camp starts, it's the Wentz Show. 

Stupid observation of the day: Without a long-snapper or their emergency long-snapper (Celek) in camp, Mack Hollins spent some time long-snapping the ball to punter Cameron Johnston. Hollins actually did it pretty well.