This week’s roundup of national stories about the Birds:
The Eagles are the best fit for three of the top free agents still available, writes ESPN In$ider’s John Clayton.
3. Louis Vasquez, guard
I guess the guard market just hasn’t moved. Here’s a 29-year-old who hasn’t missed a start in four seasons. He has plenty of experience in a zone-blocking scheme. You would think something will happen soon.
Best fit: Philadelphia Eagles. After Philadelphia traded Dennis Kelly to the Titans, there could be an opening at guard.
7. Brian Hartline, wide receiver
Hartline had a visit with the San Diego Chargers, but they signed James Jones to replace Stevie Johnson, who is out for the season. Hartline is 29 and still has the skills to catch 60 passes a season.
Best fit: Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia Eagles. The Rams need more quality pass-catchers and the Eagles don’t seem happy with their wideouts.
12. William Beatty, tackle
Beatty has been on the workout circuit. Versatility and experience work on his behalf. He can play right or left tackle. The potential Lane Johnson suspension has the Eagles studying him.
Best fit: Philadelphia Eagles. Beatty, who didn’t play in 2015, could be signed soon.
Fletcher Cox is on Robert Mays’ Scheme Change All-Stars list as one of five players who will really benefit from a new system.
Former Philly defensive coordinator Bill Davis used Cox in a lot of different ways, but on a majority of snaps, this is where Cox would line up: as a 5-technique defensive end, head-up on the left tackle. In traditional 3–4 defenses, ends are taught to play two gaps. Rather than slash straight ahead, their job is to control blockers, which both clogs running lanes and provides covering fire to the linebackers behind them.
This approach is inherently passive. The emphasis is less on penetration and more on control. If a defender does get into the backfield, it’s only after he dominates with physicality, not with quickness. And for someone with Cox’s talent, that’s going to happen often enough to make some noise (like on the play above).
On Schwartz’s defenses, the noise isn’t occasional. This shit is turned to 11 on every play. In Buffalo, Schwartz trotted out the Four Horsemen of the Sackpocalypse in Dareus, Mario Williams, Kyle Williams, and Jerry Hughes. With those guys rushing the passer, the Bills were able to deploy a standard four-man rush and still become the stuff of quarterback nightmares. After being hired by the Eagles in January, Schwartz will look to make this defense equally frightening.
NFL.com’s Bucky Brooks gives Isaac Seumalo a B- for his performance in Pittsburgh.
Lane Johnson’s impending 10-game suspension has forced the Eagles to reshuffle the deck on the offensive line. With Allen Barbre vacating his normal starting spot to replace Johnson at right tackle, Seumalo started at left guard against the Steelers on Thursday with an opportunity to win the job with a strong performance. The third-round pick didn’t quite seal the deal on the gig, due to a costly holding penalty and a few failed finishes, but he did flash some strength and power moving defenders off the ball
Sports Illustrated’s Chris Burke was impressed by the Eagles’ defensive line against the Steelers on Thursday night.
Vinny Curry and (especially) Brandon Graham were among the most active Eagles defenders during Thursday’s shutout victory. Graham had a pair of tackles, including one for loss, while only a blatant if uncalled hold kept Curry from a sack. One thing to monitor: Jim Schwartz’s upfield attack can put a ton of pressure on linebackers and safeties to fill holes, if the linemen get caught. It happened once early against Pittsburgh with Connor Barwin opening up a cutback lane, but for the most part the Eagles were outstanding.
Zach Ertz is an underrated fantasy football tight end, writes Vincent Verhei of Football Outsiders.
We’ll be comparing each player’s rank in Fantasy Points Over Baseline (FPOB) to their Average Draft Position (ADP). These numbers will show where each player ranks at their position, not overall.
FPOB rank: 6
ADP rank: 11
Ertz was a top-10 fantasy tight end last year despite catching only two touchdowns, a flukishly low number for a player who gained more than 800 yards receiving. We think he’ll top 800 yards again in 2016, and if he does, he’s almost certain to score more often.
But in Rotoworld’s Rich Hribar’s bold predictions column, he says Ertz won’t finish as a top-12 tight end.
Eagles offensive players could stand to lose in the neighborhood of 100 plus total plays with two to three games worth of passing volume with the departure of Chip Kelly and transition to Doug Pederson. In Pederson’s offense a year ago, Travis Kelce slid in just below Ertz in total targets (103) with over one fewer target per game (6.4). That level of similar per game volume isn’t damaging, but Ertz has been nowhere near as good after the catch as Kelce, averaging just 4.4 yards after the catch compared to Kelce’s 7.5 for their careers.
Also, Ertz has shown over the past two seasons to have trouble finding the end zone regularly. He scored on just two of his 75 catches a season ago and on just seven of 94 receptions over his first two seasons prior. In the history of the NFL, there have been 36 tight ends with a sub 5.0 percent touchdown rate on 60 or more catches. Those tight ends have only seen an average increase of 1.6 touchdowns the following year. The tight end position is driven by touchdowns or inflated volume, things that may be still be elusive to Ertz in 2016.
In ESPN’s ranking of the 100 best NFL players, Jason Peters (No. 84) and Malcolm Jenkins (No. 88) are included in the first half of the list.
Peters has put together a sterling 13-year career (143 starts) that will one day be worthy of Hall of Fame consideration. The former undrafted tight end out of Arkansas is one of the most gifted left tackles the game has ever seen. “He’s a guy that is big, powerful, strong, fast, all that stuff. But he’s a guy that at all times is under control. He has unbelievable coordination and ability,” said center Jason Kelce. Now in the twilight of his career, the 34-year-old is trying to overcome the injuries that hampered him for much of last season.
Jenkins wasn’t the most heralded safety in the 2014 free-agent class, but the Eagles were right to make him their top target. He proved to be a perfect fit, thriving in a role that showcased his versatility. The 28-year-old can play deep; he can be effective near the line; and he thrives when he’s asked to man the slot. He finished with more than 100 tackles last season and added 10 passes defended, two interceptions and three forced fumbles. The Eagles have since moved from a 3-4 to a 4-3, but new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz should make sure his strengths are still maximized. “I have been complimentary to the safeties for good reason. Those guys are good players,” said Schwartz about Jenkins and Rodney McLeod. “They’re great communicators, and we need more guys following suit.”
Quintin Mikell is enjoying his first year as the Eagles’ Director of Player Engagement, reports Mark Eckel.
“This position has been around a while, but it’s changed over the years,’’ Mikell said. “It’s different now in that it used to be a former player who would just kind of be around if you needed something. Now, it’s development, just as it says ‘player development.’ My job is trying to help, not just our young players, but any of our players, develop on and off the field. If it’s a rookie, it’s getting them used to the NFL life, the different stresses and ups and downs you go through; to a guy that’s been in the league for a couple years but still isn’t sure where he is. Maybe he wants to start getting ready for his exit. What should he do? How should he plan? And it goes all the way to the guy who is on the way out and I’m helping them transition to life after the game.’’
Mikell came to the Eagles as an undrafted free agent out of Boise State in 2004. He made his mark on special teams before developing into a Pro Bowl safety. He left as an unrestricted free agent for the St. Louis Rams in 2011, played two years there and his final season for the Carolina Panthers in 2013.
After two years trying to figure out what he wanted to do — he worked in the media for a year, then did the coaching internship with the Eagles in 2014 — he landed the Player Engagement job with the Eagles this spring and couldn’t be happier.
WHAT YOU MISSED
“It’s not going to change the way I play.” Carson Wentz still feels some discomfort, but even with his injury, it won’t change the way he plays.
Doug Pederson confirmed the signing of Stephen Tulloch, noting that the Eagles “just need depth.”
With the probable loss of Lane Johnson for 10 games, Jason Kelce is impressed with the improvement of rookie Isaac Seumalo.
Reviewing the Eagles-Steelers game film from Thursday night’s game.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
Caleb Sturgis returned to practice yesterday, and vows to always wear a helmet, writes Les Bowen of the Daily News.
“As soon as he got hit he fell to the ground, so I went, ‘Oh, (bleep) it’s probably serious.’ I walked over there to make sure he was OK. He was kinda woozy,” [Donnie] Jones said. “But he’s good now. He can’t get too mad; he had a couple extra days off.”
“It didn’t feel good . . . It was like someone dropped a weight on your head,” said Sturgis, who said he has taken some grief in the locker room. One popular joke has been that Cody Parkey, competing with Sturgis for the kicking job, paid Jones to conk his competition.
“If Donnie’s that good . . . ” Sturgis said, laughing.
“Absolutely not,” Jones said.
Sturgis said he will always wear a helmet on the field now.
Jones said the only incident of this type he can remember was several years ago, when he accidentally hit a Cardinals wideout or defensive back in the shoulder with a warmup punt, enraging the player, who wanted to fight.
Time is running out for Josh Huff to prove he can contribute to the Eagles, pens Matt Mullin of PhillyVoice.
The best way for Huff to flip that hourglass and extend his Eagles career is with a strong showing this weekend against the Colts.
Huff has been running with the first team, who typically see the most action of the preseason in Week 3, and while that’s given him plenty of opportunities to make plays in practice.
“Obviously, with the injuries that have occurred, I’ve gotten a chance to get more opportunities to show what I can do,” he said. “I’ve just got to continue to work and put my head down.”
Huff’s action in-game action, however, has been limited, as is the case for all the starters. So far this preseason, he’s caught just three passes for 13 yards on 40 or so snaps, which doesn’t provide a trustworthy sample.
They can expect to see more time this week.
Jim Schwartz and Frank Reich are scheduled to talk to the media around 10:30 a.m.
Chris Jastrzembski contributed to this post.