This time, Eagles' Musgrave has talent to work with

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This time, Eagles' Musgrave has talent to work with

In August of 1998, the Colts released veteran quarterback Bill Musgrave after he was beaten out by Kelly Holcomb in a training camp battle to back up rookie Peyton Manning.

Two months later, Musgrave improbably found himself as the Eagles' de facto offensive coordinator.

Musgrave returned to the Eagles this year to replace Bill Lazor as quarterbacks coach after Lazor was named the Dolphins' offensive coordinator.

These days, Musgrave is a grizzled veteran offensive coach whose job is to work with Nick Foles and the other quarterbacks on a playoff team bursting with offensive talent.

Sixteen years ago, things were a bit different.

The Eagles didn’t have Foles; they had Rodney Peete, Ty Detmer and Bobby Hoying. They didn’t have Chip Kelly running the offense; they had Dana Bible. And they didn’t have LeSean McCoy; they had a running back named Duce Staley.

“It was a difficult situation for Bill,” said Staley, now on Kelly’s staff with Musgrave. “But like the true champ that he is, he was able to jump in there and kind of keep it rolling.”

Musgrave’s first Eagles career lasted just five months. He was hired in August of 1998 as an anonymous entry-level quality control coach soon after the Colts released him, and he was fired along with head coach Ray Rhodes and most of his staff in January.

In between, he was at the helm of one of the worst offenses ever assembled.

“I learned a lot that year,” said the soft-spoken Musgrave. “I learned a lot about the men on that team. The record wasn’t what any of us wanted, especially Coach Rhodes, but it was great to work for Ray Bob, and great to be around those players.

“They never quit, never quit fighting, and stayed competitive throughout. ... It was an experience that I learned from. I learned from all my experiences, and I’m thankful for all of them.”

In 1995 and 1996, the Eagles went to the playoffs under Rhodes, with Jon Gruden running the offense. But by 1998, Gruden was gone, Bible was the overmatched offensive coordinator, there was little talent remaining on offense, and the Eagles found themselves with one of the worst offenses in NFL history.

Those 1998 Eagles scored 12 or fewer points in 10 of 16 games and finished the season scoring just 161 points.

No NFL team in the last 20 years has scored fewer points.

Six weeks into the season, with the Eagles 1-5 and getting outscored by an average of 25-11, Rhodes shuffled his coaching staff, demoting Bible and without changing his title, making Musgrave the offensive coordinator and play caller.

Two months after his playing career ended.

Things didn’t get much better. The Eagles went 2-8 with Musgrave running the offense, averaging 9.2 points the rest of the season.

Musgrave went on to spent two years with the Panthers, then two years at Virginia, before stints with the Jaguars, Redskins, Falcons and Vikings.

Now he’s back with the Eagles, 16 years after being part of the NFL’s sixth-lowest-scoring offense since 1960.

“You rememeber the season we were going through,” Staley said. “I remember the things we were going through. He came straight out of training camp to our staff. He wasn’t that far removed from being a player.

“He was a quality control guy, had some West Coast [offense] background [with the 49ers], so he brought that to the table, and he was a teacher.

“That was a tough year, but Bill ... you know if a guy has it or not, and he’s had it since Day 1.”

That had to be an incredibly difficult year for Musgrave. He wasn’t even with the Eagles in training camp, but by Week 7 he was being asked to call the plays.

But if it left him with a bad taste in his mouth, he isn’t letting on.

“Every season in the NFL is challenging,” he said. “We were putting our best foot forward each and every week. I was really proud of that group because they kept fighting.”

That was a remarkable coaching staff for a 3-13 team. Sean Payton and John Harbaugh both went on to win Super Bowls as head coaches, Emmitt Thomas is a Hall of Famer, Mike Trgovac is a terrific defensive coach, Juan Castillo was a highly regarded offensive line coach, and so on.

“We had a terrific staff,” Musgrave said. “We all worked together. Sean Peyton was the quarterbacks coach, Juan Castillo was here, had just gotten run over by the golf cart, Emmitt Thomas being the defensive coordinator, and Danny Smith coaching the linebackers and John Harbaugh doing the special teams.

“I just think the world of Ray Bob and I learned a lot. I wouldn’t trade the expreience for anything. Not at all. I felt like we had a good coaching staff and good players. We definitely wanted to win more games, that’s for sure.”

These days, Musgrave has a quarterback who threw nearly twice as many touchdowns in 10 starts last year than that entire 1998 team scored all year. He’s with an offense that set records for most yards and points instead of fewest. And now he’s a veteran coach with a decade and a half of experience instead of a recently retired quarterback just starting out.

“It’s a tremendous organization, tremendous coaching staff, and they have talent on the football field,” Musgrave said.

“To see what they did last year -- winning seven of the last eight and have momentum going into the playoffs -- I feel like it’s a program that I can contribute to and also can learn from at the same time.

“I was excited to [come here and] learn this system, learn this culture, be a contributing factor on a team that’s really on the rise.”

Eagles should stay away from running backs in first round

Eagles should stay away from running backs in first round

Ezekiel Elliott was the fourth overall pick by the Cowboys in the 2016 NFL draft.

He went on to have a historic rookie season, leading the NFL in rushing behind the best offensive line in football.

But do you know who finished second in the league in rushing? That would be the Bears' Jordan Howard, another rookie, drafted in the fifth round. 

If you keep going down the list of the league's top rushers last season, nine out of the top 10 on the list were drafted after the first round. Only three backs in the top 10 were drafted in the first two rounds (Elliott, LeSean McCoy, Le'Veon Bell). 

Whether it's LSU's Leonard Fournette, Florida State's Dalvin Cook or Stanford's Christian McCaffrey, the Eagles should stay away from running backs in the first round.

We'll start with Fournette, considered by most to be the best running back in the class. He was also mocked to the Eagles in a trade-up scenario by Sports Illustrated's Chris Burke with the No. 5 overall pick. Burke is an excellent evaluator, but in this case, he's off the mark. Fournette's talent is real. His combination of size and speed is unmatched by any running back in the class and perhaps any running back in the NFL. He'll correctly be the first back off the board and go in the top 10. 

But would the Eagles give up a second-round pick to obtain Fournette? It's just hard to see as realistic. This team has too many holes and not enough draft picks to make a move like Burke suggests. Fournette looks like he'll be a special player, just not for the Eagles.

Then there's Cook, who seems to be the belle of the ball with Eagles fans. Watching the tape, it's undeniable: Cook is an extremely talented player. But evaluations aren't black and white. Cook has issues with injuries (multiple shoulder surgeries) and has had a couple issues off the field. 

He also tested poorly at the combine. In the biggest audition of his life, Cook's numbers didn't match what you saw on tape. That has to make you wonder if he was fully prepared for the combine. If the Eagles take Cook, there's no doubt he'll make their offense better. The biggest concern has to be his long-term success and the value you get taking him at 14 over another player at a more valuable position.

Lastly, there's McCaffrey. It's easy to see the fit here. McCaffrey is an explosive back who runs routes and has the ball skills of a receiver. He's also incredibly dangerous in the return game. Unlike Cook, McCaffrey tested off the charts in Indy. His strength (10 reps at 225) is the only real concern.

From a scheme perspective, McCaffrey is perfectly suited for Doug Pederson's offense. Pederson can use McCaffrey much like Andy Reid used Brian Westbrook over a decade ago. McCaffrey's struggles running between the tackles are a little overblown, but it still has to be a concern for a team that doesn't have a proven, primary back. 

This is also a strong running back class. Toledo's Kareem Hunt would fit nicely in this offense and should be available in the third round. Clemson's Wayne Gallman is a tough, versatile back that could be available in the third or fourth. There's also BYU's Jamaal Williams, Pitt's James Conner and Wyoming's Brian Hill, all of whom should be there in the middle rounds.

When you look at who else could be there at 14, it just doesn't make sense to draft a running back. If you're looking to give Carson Wentz more weapons, either Clemson's Mike Williams, Western Michigan's Corey Davis or Washington's John Ross should be there. Any of them could give Wentz a long-term receiving threat. 

If you're looking to improve the defense, there are plenty of options. In case you've been living under a rock this offseason, this cornerback draft class is crazy deep. Ohio State's Marshon Lattimore is the best of the bunch and will likely be gone by 14. His teammate, Gareon Conley, should still be around at 14. So should LSU's TreDavious White, Alabama's Marlon Humphrey, Clemson's Cordrea Tankersely and Florida's Quincy Wilson. 

Don't count out Tennessee defensive end Derek Barnett as an option if he's on the board. With Vinny Curry's struggles and the Eagles' lack of depth, a pass rusher is a definite need. If Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster slips for a spat he had with a hospital worker during the combine, he's worth a long look. He's a game-changing 'backer.

Elliott was as close to a sure thing as you can get. There's a reason he was taken at No. 4 overall. If Cook and McCaffrey are there at 14, there's a reason for that, too. 

Eagles owner Jeff Lurie rails against political polarization in Washington

Eagles owner Jeff Lurie rails against political polarization in Washington

Eagles owner Jeff Lurie isn't often very outspoken on football or political matters. 

He has apparently made an exception. 

Just a few days before Lurie is tentatively scheduled to speak to Philadelphia reporters while in Phoenix for the league's annual meetings, the Eagles owner authored a story for Time Magazine railing against political polarization in Washington.

Lurie has not spoken to reporters publicly since last March in Boca Raton, Florida, at the 2016 owners meetings. 

The owner's essay was published just hours after House Republican leaders pulled legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act on Friday afternoon. Lurie, for the record, donated money to Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign last year.

Lurie, the Eagles' 65-year-old billionaire owner, in the story, uses football as an example for which Washington should strive. 

Here's how Lurie begins the piece:

"What do football, political polarization and autism have in common? They all illuminate aspects of the human condition, explaining who we are, where we are headed and the hurdles along the way. As a sports team owner I rarely publicly discuss politics, but as a member of a family touched by autism, I often think about the unspoken millions of people who live with the daily challenges of this disorder."

Lurie then goes on to explain why football can act as a guide for Washington when it comes to united for the common good:

"What I have learned from football can be applied to society at large. Just as we intensely game-plan against an opponent in sports, we need to game plan for the reality and consequences of polarization. Extreme polarization is the opponent -- not each other. A football team is made up of players from a wide variety of backgrounds, experiences and political viewpoints. What unites them is grit, determination, and the desire to win. They join in a common goal and do what is necessary to transcend their differences for the greater good of their team.

"What unites Americans is far more negative. We are now in an age where communicating verifiable information becomes secondary to the goal of creating a common enemy that unifies people in fear, negativity and opposition. This masks our inability to solve serious domestic problems (poverty, violence and institutional racism to name three current examples) and diverts our attention from obvious suffering."

Lurie then writes that we, as Americans, have the "necessary resources" to tackle serious problems, like autism, but lack the leadership to put aside differences. 

The whole piece isn't very long and is worth reading in full to gain a better understanding of its context. 

Next week while in Phoenix, Lurie will surely be asked about what motivated him to write the piece.