Friday, June 16, 2017

Key Takeaways from the Eagles' Recent Minicamp

The big news in Philly this week was the Eagles' recent minicamp that ran from Tuesday through this past Thursday. While nothing is ever won or lost in a series of practices that are meant to set the stage for training camp later this summer, they do give us a quick peek at which players might have the biggest impact on turning things around from a 7-9 campaign in 2016.

At the top of the list would be second-year quarterback Carson Wentz. Most NFL experts would call his rookie season an overall success in light of the talent he was surrounded by, but the bar has definitely been raised heading into this season with the addition of Alshon Jeffery at wide receiver and LeGarrette Blount as the new lead running back in the ground game. Both players are major upgrades at their position and they should both work to take some of the pressure off of Wentz to try and carry this team on his own.

The Eagles used the draft to upgrade its defense both upfront and in the secondary, but it is still going to take some time to see if these additions can have a major impact on a unit that ended the 2016 regular season ranked 12th in the league in points allowed and 13th in total yards allowed. Statistically, this was a major improvement from a disastrous showing in Chip Kelly's final season at the helm as head coach; however there are still some major question marks with the team's defensive backfield. First round pick Derek Barnett at defensive end should immediately improve a pass rush that was tied for 16th in the NFL in sacks (34) last season. This, in turn, should also work to take some of the pressure off the secondary if everything goes according to plan.

The biggest takeaway from this week's practices is a renewed sense of optimism that there is enough talent on this roster (on both sides of the ball) to successfully compete for a NFC East title this season or at the very least a wild card spot in the playoffs. As one of the biggest homers there is when it comes to our Beloved Birds, I would have to wholeheartedly agree with this assessment.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Why I am an Eagles Fan

Bleeding Green Nation is arguably the No. 1 Eagles' blog in the game today and one of the most popular sport's websites in the country overall. It is currently asking its loyal readers to send in posts on why they are an Eagles' fan. This got me to thinking of why I am an Eagles' fan and I came up with the following conclusion; I had no choice.

While all the kids at St. Anastasia Grade School in Newtown Square were running around in their Dallas Cowboys and Miami Dolphins jackets given each team's success in the Super Bowl in the late 60's and early 70's, I always came to school in Eagles' green. When Philly did win the NFL Championship in 1960, my father decided to give the local team the kiss of death by becoming a season ticket holder the following year. The Birds went 10-4 that season but it was just a mirage. In the year of my birth in 1962 they only won three games to kick off a run of 14 losing season's in the next 16 years. They did post a 9-5 record in 1966 when Norm Snead was still the starting quarterback and they managed to break even at 7-7 in 1974 with Roman Gabriel under center, but that was it Eagles' fans...and when my older brother stopped going to the games I had the unique privilege of sitting through one miserable loss after another. My fondest memory was our annual ass kicking at the hands of Washington Redskins in the cold pouring rain at Veterans Stadium. My dad never and I mean NEVER left a game before the final gun no matter what the score, no matter what the weather.

The 1996 season was a turning point for the franchise with arrival of former UCLA head coach Dick Vermeil is his first stint in the NFL. This kicked off a seven-year run that saw the Eagles make the playoffs four years in a row including a trip to the Super Bowl in 1980. It was like going to heaven after escaping the gates of hell. The highlight was the NFC Championship when Wilbert Montgomery ran up and down the field against the hated Dallas Cowboys in one of the coldest games ever played at the Vet.

The Eagles would make a few more playoff runs under Buddy Ryan in the late 80's and Andy Reid during his very successful 14-year tenure as head coach from 1999 to 2012. My dad grew ill and gave up his season tickets when Philly made the long awaited move to Lincoln Financial Field. He passed away in 2004 having never tasted the sweet smell of success that comes with actually winning a Super Bowl. We are all still waiting for our beloved Birds to make a championship run while having to watch every other team in the NFC East bring home multiple world titles for their loyal fans.

Washington's last Super Bowl run was back in 1987, but that franchise has two titles to its credit. The New York Giants have had the most recent success with Super Bowl victories in 2007 and 2011 as part of their four world titles and the Dallas Cowboys top the list with five Super Bowl rings after winning it all in 1996. It is pretty obvious that the Eagles have lagged woefully behind their division peers with their 0-2 record on the NFL's biggest stage.

I know why I am an Eagles' fan and why I will always be loyal to the only team I have ever known. Over all of these years, Philly's bandwagon has been empty and it has been standing room only; however the one constant has been the bleedin green, snow ball throwing, knucklehead 700 level fans that still keep the faith. I am proud to say that my entire family is part of this tortured clan. Conversations still revolve around the free agents added in the offseason, the rookies that hold our future in their hands and the rest of the players that we cheer and quickly boo each and every Sunday come fall. It is in our blood, a part of our DNA. It is an affliction that cannot be cured. Super Bowl glory has eluded us for over 50 years, but come September we will all be back on the wagon for better or worse. Face it, anyone reading this post is an Eagles' fan and I personally thank you for your unending faith in the face of far too many disappointing losing seasons. One day that faith will be rewarded and as my dad would always say...I know that this is our year!

Friday, May 26, 2017

The Shining Stars in the Eagles' Recent OTA's

This is the time of the year when the long NFL offseason really heads into a lull. The height of the free agency signing period has come and gone and excitement of last month's draft in Philadelphia is starting to fade. We are still more than two months away from the start of training camp and the regular season opener the Sunday after Labor Day is hardly top of mind heading into the Memorial Day weekend.

The big thing going on this past week was the Eagles' recent OTA practices. The inside scoop from the good folks at Bleeding Green Nation, who actually go to things like this pointed to a couple of players who stood out from the rest based on their performance on the field. The ones that I would be the most interested in would be any of the new free agents as well as the Eagles' draft picks so it is good to hear that wide receiver Alshon Jeffery appears to be ready to make an instant impact in the passing game. Even better is the fact that they were also impressed with running back LeGarrette Blount as one of the newest birds in the nest. Both of these veterans have a chance to improve an offense that was ranked 22nd in the NFL last season in total yards per game.

On the defensive side of the ball, first round draft pick Derek Barnett received high grades from the BGN staff, but I am not really sure what for. These are practices without out pads probably run at three-quarter speed, but if those guys are excited about what they saw, then so am I. One of the most interesting takeaways was that third-year wide receiver and former No. 1 draft pick Nelson Agholor was also highly praised for his performance in the OTA's. It is amazing what someone can do when they are faced with the possibility of losing their spot on the roster. Maybe he is simply responding well to the Eagles' new wide receivers coach Mike Groh.

These early team activities are the first important steps toward building a winner in Philly, but it is hard to get all that excited because a professional football player catches the ball or looks sharp in a running drill. Right now, I am still much more focused on things such as getting my boat in the water or catching a ton of crabs for Sunday's dinner.

Friday, May 19, 2017

LaGarrette Blount Adds Some Much Needed Power to the Eagles’ Finesse-Style Ground Game

Last week in a post on Eagles Lincs, I talked about the team’s need to upgrade the running back position by signing LaGarrette Blount as a free agent after he played such an instrumental part in New England’s run to a Super Bowl title last season. I had no idea that my blog had so much influence on team vice president Howie Roseman and head coach Doug Pederson, who both agreed with my stance by signing him to a one-year deal this week for a reported $2.8 million. Either that or common sense prevailed given what he brings to an offense that had major problems getting into the end zone running the ball last year.

The main reason why I was so high on Blount was the simple fact that he was the best option available at this point of the NFL’s offseason. There were trade rumors flying around for a number running backs including Mark Ingram from New Orleans, but none of these options appeared to be all that feasible when you consider what Philly would have had to give up in return.

The biggest benefit that Blount brings to the table as the newest Eagle is a power running game that can gain yards between the tackles, especially in short-yardage situations. The Birds still have Darren Sproles for outside speed and to catch the ball out of the backfield as well as Wendell Smallwood and rookie Donnel Pumphrey, who both mirror Sproles’ style of play. Signing Blount should give the Eagles’ rushing attack the balance it had been lacking the past few seasons.

With a solid ground game behind Carson Wentz and Philadelphia’s new-look passing attack that features both Alshon Jeffrey and Torrey Smith as major upgrades at the wide receiver position, Roseman and Pederson get high marks from me for their offseason efforts to make this offense much more competitive against the likes of Dallas and New York in the NFC East. If some of their offseason moves on defense pan out as well, we could be looking at a legitimate run to actually winning a division title in 2017.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Eagles' Running Back Situation Still Needs an Upgrade

For the second year in a row under the Howie Roseman & Doug Pederson regime, the Eagles waited until the fourth round of the draft to address the team's pressing need at running back. They missed out on Christian McCaffrey in the first round and were unable to trade up in the second round to land Dalvin Cook. Instead, Philly used its second pick in the fourth round to select San Diego State's Donnel Pumphrey.

Last year the Eagles added Wendell Smallwood out of West Virginia in the fourth round and with what now appears to be a running back-by-committee approach to their ground game , you have to question what the overall plan is to bolster a rushing attack that has now become the team's biggest hole to fill on offense.

It appears that the Birds are going to part ways with last year's rushing leader Ryan Mathews (661 yards) given his current salary and his inability to stay healthy for an entire season. That would leave 13-year veteran Darren Sproles as the team's top rusher after gaining 438 yards on 94 carries last year. Sproles was never a lead back in the NFL even when he was tearing things up for San Diego early in his career and given that he will be 34 by the time the 2017 regular season gets underway, you have to wonder when Father Time will finally catch up with him.

I was really high on Smallwood coming into the 2016 season and he has demonstrated the ability to take another step forward this year after gaining 312 yards on 77 attempts in his rookie campaign. The jury is still out on Pumphrey making a significant contribution in his first season at this level and the only other player on the roster that you can work into this mix would be rookie Corey Clement out of Wisconsin, who was recently added as an undrafted free agent.

In light of current situation at this position, I cannot help but think that Philly should continue to scan the free agent market for a veteran player that can come in and fill that role of an every down back. Trade rumors heated up with New Orleans about the prospect of adding Mark Ingram to the mix, but I do not think that the Saints are ready to go all-in on newly acquired running back Adrian Peterson as their full-time starter. Other possible candidates that have supposedly drawn attention via a trade are San Francisco's Carlos Hyde and Cincinnati's Jeremy Hill, but coming up with a workable deal for either one would be a longshot at best.

The one running back that would make the most sense is LaGarrette Blount, who is currently a free agent after his current contract with New England expired at the end of the 2016 season. Due to the Patriots employing a tender offer to try and resign him, Blount would now come at a price including a compensatory pick in next year's draft. DeAngelo Williams is still out there, but much like Sproles at 34-years old, he would only fill a specialty role in this offense. Some of the other available running backs include Rashad Jennings and Karlos Williams, but there are plenty of issues with both of these players to keep them off Philly's short list of options.

Short of an unknown trade or another free agent signing of a player not on the list above, I believe that Blount is the Eagles' best option to plug this hole. The guy ran for 1,161 yards and scored 18 touchdowns for the Patriots last season and at 30-years old he should still have enough gas in the tank to anchor the Eagles' running game for the 2017 season.