Eagles Offseason Preview: Secondary

Eagles Offseason Preview: Secondary

This is the first in a four part series counting down the Eagles' biggest personnel needs, and how they realistically can be addressed this offseason. Share your thoughts on prospects, free agents, or other moves in the comments.

Hard to believe a unit with three Pro Bowl caliber players can be considered a serious area of concern, but the Eagles are in a pickle, and they're going to be in a pickle until they find at least a reasonably talented free safety.

Replacing Brian Dawkins remains priority one in the secondary. Safety doesn't necessarily need to be an impact position, but the trio of Demps, Harris, and Jones was a total catastrophe. Too many blown assignments, missed tackles, and stupid penalties, not to mention generally feeble run support. As a result, the play of the entire unit suffered, particularly Quintin Mikell.

The popular choice to fill the void seems to be Taylor Mays, the 6-3, 230 pound safety from Southern Cal. Experts believe he would have been a top ten selection had he declared for the draft last year, but his stock has fallen and he may be available when the Eagles are on the clock. He's expected to run a 40 time around 4.4, but concerns over his ability in coverage are pushing him down the board.

Which doesn't necessarily make him a bad fit for Philadelphia. Dawkins has been largely ineffective in man-to-man for years, but Jim Johnson schemed to his many strengths. He could be a blitzer or extra man in the box, but also play the part of All Star center fielder. Mays could satisfy a similar role in McDermott's defense, which is undoubtedly why he is such a favorite. It would be difficult to pass on this safety at number 24.

There are some persons of interest in the free agent market as well. Unfortunately they all have restricted negotiating rights, and most will be retained by their current clubs. The lone exception might be O.J. Atogwe. The Rams were unable to reach a long term extension with Atogwe last year, forcing the team to slap him with the franchise tag. If the two sides are unable to agree on terms, Atogwe will earn close to $7 million on a one year tender. At 29-years-old, and coming off a dislocated shoulder that ended his season, St. Louis could be willing to part ways without a deal in place.

Then again, it might not make sense for the Eagles to seek a trade for precisely those very reasons. It's still possible Atogwe re-signs anyway. Some lesser known players could be a realistic direction, though their respective clubs are likely to hang on to their services at discount prices. The Birds will almost certainly have to look to the draft for a fix.

There is one more possible solution, unlikely as it is, and that is converting Sheldon Brown to safety. For one thing, Sheldon just completed perhaps the best season of his NFL career at corner, even with a bum hamstring down the stretch. Taking on a new position also gives him one more reason to gripe about his contract. Finally, it may fill one one hole, but simultaneously creates another. The Eagles would be left scrambling to find another corner.

Which shouldn't imply cornerback isn't already a need too. Sheldon will be 31. Samuel recently turned 29. Joselio Hanson is too small to be an every down player, and Ellis Hobbs' suffered a neck injury. The Eagles are serious about replenishing their depth at this spot, so you can bet on some type of addition to this group.

It does not appear to be a situation they can upgrade in free agency either. The best players will wind up staying put. Further complicating the matter, there's not a ton of a first round talent in the draft. After Florida's Joe Haden, a probable top ten pick, it's unclear who even checks in as the number two prospect. Boise State's Kyle Wilson is drawing rave reviews for his performance at the Senior Bowl, and may have leapt ahead of the pack and into round one.

Assuming Sheldon stays put, corner is not the immediate need safety is. The Eagles can go into next season with Brown, Samuel, and Hanson, and they'll be fine as long as they're healthy. However if they go it with any combination of Demps, Harris, and Jones, they'll continue to get inconsistent results.

And even though it's not the most critical chink in the armor, it may prove the toughest to remedy. Mays seems Taylor-made for their defense, if you'll excuse the bad pun, but the talk about his freefall may be exaggerated, and he could be long gone before the Eagles draft. Veteran movement will be severely hampered by the new rules of free agency, which makes prying a quality player like Atogwe away from their club a challenge.

If neither of those come to pass, we're potentially looking at either a massive overhaul of the secondary, or the unattractive decision to stick with what they have now, plus maybe another random veteran to compete. There doesn't need to be a star back there, but if they don't find a suitable replacement at free safety, the secondary will continue to leak.

North Dakota appears to be Eagles country

North Dakota appears to be Eagles country

It appears that Carson Wentz' fanbase in North Dakota is still pretty strong. Before North Dakota State’s game against Illinois State Saturday afternoon, fans were seen walking around the parking lot in Carson Wentz Eagles’ jerseys. 

Wearing Eagles gear at the tailgate was not all, however. A large group of people begun chanting “Carson” over and over to show their love and support for the Eagles quarterback. 

This is not the first time we have seen North Dakota State fans showing how much they adore Carson Wentz. Going back to the NFL Draft, fans were seen on the red carpet wearing North Dakota State Wentz jersey’s and waving flags.

On Sept. 19, when the Eagles played the Bears, North Dakotans traveled to see Wentz play in person.

Clearly, Wentz has a lot of love from his fans back at home, but it is safe to say that Eagles fans love him just as much after he has led them to a 3-0 start.  

It doesn't hurt that Wentz' cousin, Connor, plays for North Dakota State. Connor is a redshirt junior tight end.

John Clark with Connor Wentz

A photo posted by Rob Kuestner (@rkuestner23) on

Expect Sixers to take cautious approach with Ben Simmons

Expect Sixers to take cautious approach with Ben Simmons

Expect the Sixers to take a cautious approach when determining Ben Simmons’ return to the court.

Simmons will undergo surgery to repair a fractured fifth metatarsal bone in his right foot, according to a league source. No date has been set for the surgery. On Friday, Simmons rolled his ankle during the final training camp scrimmage. According to ESPN's Marc Stein, the Sixers believe Simmons has an acute injury that is not related to his weight, which is up to 250 pounds.

The Sixers placed a heavy emphasis on maintaining health and preventing re-injuries during camp. That focus will continue into the regular season. They implemented load management, in which they allocate the best use of a player’s designated minutes. 

The approach was applied to Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor, as they entered the preseason coming off of injuries. Embiid, who is nearing his NBA debut, had been sidelined the past two years with foot injuries. Okafor underwent season-ending right knee surgery last March. Both are slated to play Oct. 4 in the preseason opener. Gerald Henderson also followed load management for rest.  

“There are more variables going on pre-practice,” Brett Brown said Friday. “Before we design our practices and figure out how we’re going to maneuver through the day, the first thing we always do is we put on a digital projector a depth chart and we have the medical staff behind us talking about the circumstances of each player and the restrictions that each player has. 

“Once you understand that world, then you go over to the practice plan and you say, ‘How do you want to spend your money?’ I don’t want to use Joel’s minutes up in a lot of small drills when I could spend it easily and more wisely playing.”

Following this plan, Embiid, Okafor and Henderson did not participate in all of the scrimmages. When they did, Brown utilized Embiid and Okafor in spurts instead of long stretches. 

“Four-minute clumps and really trying to test themselves,” Brown said. “Let’s learn a little bit before we play the Celtics. Let’s just go as hard as you possibly can, let’s see what that means.”

The mapped-out formula allows the players to gauge how they assert their energy on the court. The Celtics took a similar approach with Kevin Garnett during the 2011-12 season. Doc Rivers implemented a “5-5-5” plan in which Garnett played in three five-minute spurts. 

“You kind of know the rhythm you are going to have,” Okafor said. “I think that’ll make it easier for myself and I’m sure for Jo as well knowing that we have four minutes to go as hard as we can, to make an impact on the game, and then we have a sub.” 

The Sixers assessed the length of these segments by comparing them to real-game situations. They want the scrimmage setting to simulate the flow regular season contest. The Sixers are looking to feature an uptempo this season and ranked first in the NBA last season with a total of 1,427.4 miles run. 

“With our sports science program, we’re designing our practice on trips,” Brown said. “How many trips does a normal NBA game have before there’s a stoppage in play? You see, it’s about six, seven trips. You’ve got to go for that … We’re very calculated on how we design our practice to reflect the true pace of a game.”

While there is the eagerness of players to make a comeback as quickly as possible, following the team’s carefully constructed recovery timeline is critical to prevent the reoccurance of injuries. Embiid better understands the importance of waiting after undergoing two surgeries. 

“The main thing I learned about myself is, I could be patient,” Embiid said. “When I was first doing my rehab … the only thing I thought about was getting back on the court. I would try to get back on the court and play more than I was supposed to. After the doctor told me you had to heal well and I needed the second surgery, that’s when I told myself be patient and do whatever I can and make sure I listen to people have to say.”

The Sixers drafted Simmons to be a centerpiece of their team for the future, not just this season. It is worth being careful early on to help him be healthy down the road.