Philadelphia Eagles

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.”

Let's learn from past, keep Eagles' preseason positives and negatives in perspective

Let's learn from past, keep Eagles' preseason positives and negatives in perspective

It happens this time every year. 

Two preseason games are now in the books and the overreaction portion of the program has commenced. It's only natural. We're seven-plus months removed from the Eagles' last regular-season game. You have an entire offseason of hype and buildup. There's free agency, the draft, OTAs, training camp, and finally there's the wonderful world of exhibition games. We're dying for storylines and answers. And projections based on illusions become reality.

A stroll through some names of training camps past are a stark reminder not to go overboard anointing these guys the next big thing. Here are some blasts from the past: Henry Josey, Jeremy Bloom, JaCorey Shepherd, Gizmo Williams, Billy Hess. Remember them? No points off if you don't, but they were thought to be the answers in years past.   

Remember way back in the day, like Aug. 29, 2015? The Eagles played their third preseason against Green Bay. New Birds quarterback Sam Bradford's line that night: 10 for 10, 121 yards, three touchdowns and a 156.7 passer rating on three drives. They thought they had found their guy. Bradford went on to have a middling season with a 7-7 record as a starter. His individual stats matched the record, and a year later he was dealt to Minnesota. His coach, Chip Kelly, did not last the season. 

Take last year for instance — Paul Turner was Jerry Rice reincarnated. Now, the receiving corps was awful and Turner, an undrafted free agent stuck with the practice squad, eventually got time with the club during the regular season. But we may want to hold off on his Canton enshrinement.

Which brings us to the consternation surrounding the 2017 Eagles' first-team offense and running game. Granted, sans two amazingly athletic plays by Carson Wentz in the Packers game, the first team has not looked ready for prime time. 

But let's take some things into account. Teams game plan minimally for preseason games. Unless, of course, you're Dom Capers and you blitz an entire exhibition game. The Eagles did not prepare for the extra men sent, therefore they didn't handle it well. 

Thursday against the Bills, the Eagles' first-team offense was without left tackle Jason Peters. They were also missing Wendell Smallwood, and Darren Sproles barely sniffed the field. That will hurt production. 

In the Packers game, 5-foot-9, 180-pound Donnel Pumphrey ran the ball off-tackle multiple times. That ain't happening in the regular season. Would you like to see Wentz protected better and the ones be more productive? No question. Is it time to push the panic button? Certainly not.

The flip side is keeping some of the positive performances in perspective. It's beyond encouraging how Mychal Kendricks has looked through the first two games. But let's not lose sight of the non-factor he's been the last couple of seasons when things were real. 

There is no bigger believer in Derek Barnett than me. From the moment I knew where the Eagles would be selecting in the draft, I wanted him in midnight green. I'm a firm believer he will be starting sooner rather than later. And he has not disappointed in the exhibition games. But some of the guys he is facing will be pumping gas in Jersey real soon. Not playing in the NFL.

Perspective and long views are not easily attained. But they're necessary tools when it comes to this time of year.

NFL Notes: Jaguars open up QB competition after Blake Bortles' struggles

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NFL Notes: Jaguars open up QB competition after Blake Bortles' struggles

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Blake Bortles may have started his last game in Jacksonville.

Coach Doug Marrone opened up the team's quarterback competition Thursday night after another inconsistent performance from Bortles, the third overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft.

Bortles completed 8 of 13 passes for 65 yards in a 12-8 exhibition loss to Tampa Bay. All four of his drives ended with punts. The first-team offense now has three points in Bortles' six preseason possessions.

He misfired to Allen Robinson twice Thursday, including a woefully underthrown pass down the seam that drew boos from the home crowd and caused some head-shaking on the sideline.

"It's hard to not hear people booing," Bortles said. "But if they're cheering or booing, it's kind of irrelevant, at least for me it is. I think you've got to treat adversity and prosperity the same way. They're not booing for no reason. They're booing because you didn't do your job" (see full story).

Steelers: LB Shazier returns to practice
LATROBE, Pa. -- On a day when the Pittsburgh Steelers were set to break camp and return home, inside linebacker Ryan Shazier was just glad to be back on the field.

Shazier fully practiced during the Steelers last day in Latrobe after missing the previous two weeks with a slight hamstring pull.

"I was telling the guys on the sideline that I was so thankful to be back in the mix," Shazier said after Friday's practice. "It was great to be back out there, running around and seeing football from the inside of my helmet instead of from the sideline."

Shazier said he isn't playing in the team's second preseason game on Sunday when the Steelers host the Atlanta Falcons. Though he admitted to feeling behind, the fourth-year linebacker believes he can catch up.

Ravens: Zuttah returns after being traded
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The Baltimore Ravens have signed center Jeremy Zuttah, who returns to the team that traded him to San Francisco in March.

Zuttah started every game last year and made the Pro Bowl as an alternate. He was dealt to the 49ers so Baltimore could save salary-cap space and move up 12 spots in the sixth round of the NFL draft.

Zuttah was released by San Francisco last week, and the Ravens signed him Friday to join a depleted offensive line in dire need of a veteran presence in the middle.

The Ravens were counting on John Urschel to play center this season, but he abruptly retired in late July. Ryan Jensen has been playing center, but he could move to guard to replace Alex Lewis, who is out for the season with a shoulder injury.

The 31-year-old Zuttah started 41 games in Baltimore over the past three years.

NFL: Gun charge against linebacker Greene
ELIZABETH, N.J. -- A gun charge against an NFL linebacker has been dropped because the man who said he gave him a weapon admitted he lied, the player's attorney said.

The charge against free agent Khaseem Greene was dismissed by a judge on July 17 after a request from prosecutors, NJ.com reported this week.

His attorney, Joshua McMahon, provided an audio recording to NJ.com of the other man telling detectives he lied about Greene's involvement in a shooting outside a nightclub in Elizabeth last December.

Jason Sanders' admission came the same day he told detectives that Greene was involved, but it wasn't included in a criminal complaint that alleged that Greene was seen on camera handing him a gun, McMahon said. Sanders is accused of firing into a crowd and remains jailed on aggravated assault and weapons offenses.

McMahon said the audio recording proves prosecutors moved forward with charges even though Sanders admitted he lied.