Making Sense Of the Eagles’ Inactives

The following Eagles are inactive for tonight’s game against the Redskins: Matt Barkley, Shaun Prater, Matthew Tobin, Dennis Kelly, Vinny Curry and Emil Igwenagu.

The Eagles released Brandon Hughes this week so they only need to name six inactives instead of the usual seven.

The big name in that group is Curry. The second-year defensive lineman spent all offseason adding weight to prepare for the 3-4 scheme shift. And he was quite possibly the Eagles’ most active defensive player in the preseason.

But all along, there seemed to be something that didn’t add up. The coaches never offered up too much praise or indicated that Curry was a key part of the team’s long-term plans.

One possibility is that while Curry played well in the preseason, he wasn’t using the techniques the coaches want from the guys up front. The other possibility is that the Eagles are expecting a heavy rushing attack from the Redskins and view Curry as more of a situational pass-rusher.

The active defensive linemen are: Fletcher Cox, Isaac Sopoaga, Cedric Thornton, Clifton Geathers, Damion Square and Bennie Logan.

Barkley is inactive, meaning the team will go with just two quarterbacks (Michael Vick and Nick Foles).

Prater, the new cornerback, won’t dress. That means the Eagles have four active corners: Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher, Brandon Boykin and rookie Jordan Poyer. Safety Patrick Chung could play some nickel corner in a pinch.

The Eagles have five safeties active: Nate Allen, Chung, Earl Wolff, Colt Anderson and Kurt Coleman.

On the offensive line, the Eagles have two backups: center Julian Vandervelde and Allen Barbre. Barbre is capable of playing four of the team’s five positions up front.

The Eagles have five wide receivers active: DeSean Jackson, Riley Cooper, Jason Avant, Damaris Johnson and Jeff Maehl.

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Eagles Release Brandon Hughes

The Eagles released cornerback Brandon Hughes on Saturday, a league source confirmed.

The 27-year-old veteran fractured his hand in the third preseason game against the Jaguars. He had already been ruled out of Monday’s opener against the Redskins.

This could very well be a temporary and financially-driven move.

At 4 p.m. on Saturday the salaries for players that are considered “vested veterans” become guaranteed. By cutting Hughes, who was not going to play this week anyway, the Eagles avoid that guarantee, though he will still be paid for this week. Hughes is scheduled to make $650,000 this season.

The team is not expected to make a corresponding move today to fill the vacated roster spot.

A  fifth-round pick by the Chargers in 2009, the Oregon State product has 27 tackles and a pair of passes defensed over the last three seasons with the Eagles.

Mike Garafolo was first with the report.

Vick: Williams Knows He Has To Control Himself

Michael VickMichael Vick seemed to be choosing his words carefully.

His overall message was clear: The players have put the Riley Cooper-Cary Williams scuffle behind them, and the team is focused on Washington.

“Yesterday, what happened in that 10 minutes didn’t affect us for the rest of the practice,” Vick said. “We all know one another. We’ve got a brotherhood in there, so it extends far beyond football. It’s just something that happened and we cleared it up. We didn’t even think nothing about it.”

Vick was reminded that there have been multiple incidents involving Williams this summer and was asked why he’s confident things will be different going forward.

“I know after yesterday Cary understands that we need him on the football field, not to be hot-headed at times,” Vick said. “We know he’s a guy who’s very into his work and what we do. And he can’t be high-strung all the time. He’s gotta stay even-keel like everybody else just out of respect for the game more than anything.”

After the initial incident Thursday, Vick tried to separate Williams from Cooper. At that point, the cornerback appeared to have words for Vick before he was restrained by an assistant coach.

“Nothing,” Vick said when asked what that exchange was about. “I’d rather not even talk about it. I’m just trying to put that behind us. We’ve gotta focus on winning this game. Cary’s OK. He understands that he has to control his temper sometimes and we all do. But we all are men at the end of the day. Sometimes tempers do flare, and that’s normal.”

PLAYING ALL 16

Vick was asked what it would mean to him to play all 16 games.

“I plan on playing 16 games this year,” he said. “It’s something that I’ve got my mind made up on. Things happen, but hopefully this year will be my year where I can be out there with my teammates for all 16 games and just enjoy this season and try to make the most out of it.”

The majority of his previous injuries were sustained in the pocket. But this year, there’s been plenty of focus on how quarterbacks who run the read option will protect themselves.

“I actually think it’s safer,” Vick said. “You can kind of control what happens. You can dictate how you’re gonna fall, how you’re gonna get hit. You can see it coming. Sometimes you don’t see it coming when you’re in the pocket, and that can be dangerous.”

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Kelly (Predictably) Downplays Williams-Cooper Scuffle

Chip Kelly fielded questions today about the Cary Williams-Riley Cooper scuffle and predictably downplayed it as no big deal.

Asked if there was any fallout from the incident, Kelly said: “No, we went right back to team period after that, and both those guys were lined up and played. As a matter of fact, Mike [Vick] threw the ball deep to Riley on the first play of team period and Cary was covering him, so I don’t see any fallout.”

With Williams, the discussion has more to do with a pattern of behavior and the new cornerback challenging authority.

Williams skipped most of spring practices. When the Patriots practiced in Philadelphia, he mixed it up with Aaron Dobson even after being told specifically that such behavior would result in him getting kicked out of practice. Even in the preseason game against the Panthers, he tangled with wide receiver Steve Smith after the whistle.

This all comes after Williams shoved an official in the Super Bowl back in February.

“We’ve talked to him about it, and hopefully he understands the ramifications and what it is,” Kelly said. “It’s a team game. Like I said, our whole deal, and we talk about it all the time, is you have to play with emotion and not let emotion play with you.

“We address that all the time in meetings. Our coaches do it in the position meetings. I talk about it in team meetings about making sure that you play with emotion and don’t let emotion play with you. You’ve got two competitive guys and it could [escalate] pretty quickly and was squashed pretty quickly.”

A player told the Inquirer that Williams used the N-word during the back-and-forth with Cooper. Kelly said he didn’t hear that and didn’t feel the need to address it with Williams after practice.

He added that he didn’t see any relation between Cooper’s racial slur at the Kenny Chesney concert and what happened with Williams.

“Do I think that was connected to what happened yesterday? No, no I don’t,” Kelly said.

Asked if he took into account Williams’ issues before the Eagles signed him, Kelly added: “I think we take everything into account with everybody we evaluate as a potential Philadelphia Eagle. So yes.”

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Billy Davis Not Exactly Brimming With Confidence

Eagles defensive coordinator Billy Davis was asked today about what he’s expecting Monday night in Washington.

“I am very anxious for the Redskins to show us who we are and where we are,” Davis said. “I don’t know what’s coming. The truth will be at the end of that game we’ll know defensively how far along we are.”

You’ll notice no hint of confidence or bravado in Davis’ response. He seems more than willing to be completely honest about where his defense is and the challenges that await in the next four months.

“They played all 16 games together last year, which is a huge advantage to play in a system,” Davis said, rattling off where the Redskins ranked statistically in 2012. “And we have to face that. We’ve gotta face it using an overhauled defense with new techniques that we’ve taught. We learned in the New England game, we came out there and tried to get ahead of ourselves and play a little bit above the technique. And it hurt us. Hopefully we’ll come out Monday night and play to the techniques that we’ve worked the whole offseason on. But no matter what I wish for or what I want, it doesn’t matter. The game shows who we are.”

The man speaks the truth. The Eagles are transitioning from a Wide-9 4-3 to a 3-4. They eventually want to be able to play more of a two-gap 3-4 like the Pittsburgh Steelers, but it remains to be seen how much of that we’ll see in 2013.

The Eagles have some talent on the defensive line, but it remains to be seen how Trent Cole and Brandon Graham will transition to outside linebacker. They have no answers at safety. And their cornerbacks are question marks as well.

“I know this,” Davis said. “Wherever we start against Washington, good or bad or somewhere in the middle, it has to continue to get better by the 16th game. This season has gotta be about this defense getting to where everybody wants it to be. [The Washington game] is our starting point. And I don’t know where along the scale we are. But wherever that is, that’s the ground level. And we’ve gotta take it a lot higher than it is. And even if that’s a great game against Washington, no matter how you break it, there’s no excuses involved, we are at Stage 1 of a coaching staff, of a scheme, of a major overhaul of a defense.

“From a Wide-9 gap go-get-it to thicker-playing, reading, more patient linebackers, not running through, everything’s different. Safeties not down in the box, safeties a little bit back farther. So all these little foundation things are really what I’m looking at the hardest. Where are we in the foundation? Where’s our communication level? ”

Based on his comments and what we saw in the preseason, you get the sense that Davis would like to help his players as much as he can with scheme and exotic blitz calls. But first, he may have to see how they handle the basics of the new system.

“I don’t want to see anybody running free,” Davis said. “There should be no free miscommunication. I’ll play one defense if that’s what we can play and communicate through. So we’re at that stage and that’s what we’re looking hard at.”

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Cooper, Williams Get In Dust-Up

Riley Cooper and Cary Williams had a heated exchange during practice Thursday morning.

Williams was covering the receiver during one-on-one drills. After the play, they stood toe-to-toe jawing at one another. It turned physical and some slaps were thrown at each others’ helmets. Brandon Boykin jumped in to help separate the two.

As Cooper walked away, Williams ripped off his helmet, tossed it to the ground and began pursuing him, but was blocked by Michael Vick.

The cornerback was sent off the field to cool down and was seen pacing on the sidelines. Cooper was talked to by DeSean Jackson and an assistant coach before rejoining the drill.

While the mind will immediately jump to Cooper’s remarks earlier this offseason, it is unknown whether that had anything to do with this dust-up. We’ll have more once practice is over.

Update: Video below, courtesy of Comcast SportsNet.

Wolff Adds Mystery To Safety Situation

Earl WolffEarlier this afternoon, Chip Kelly said that Nate Allen would start at safety opposite Patrick Chung.

But in the end, that might not end up mattering much.

Kelly conceded that Earl Wolff would see time too, and the rookie safety echoed that sentiment after today’s practice.

“I honestly feel like me and Nate probably will get almost an equal opportunity on the field Monday night,” Wolff said. “He [Chip Kelly] told me I’m gonna play every quarter. Like I said, I don’t know exactly how much I’m gonna play. I’m just gonna be ready to take advantage of every opportunity.”

Asked about how he found out he was starting, Allen said: “I never got a formal, ‘This is what’s happening.’ But I was in with the ones today, and me and Earl were still rotating in and out. So I just heard it from y’all. It’s all good regardless.”

Their comments could mean a few different things. One is that maybe Wolff and Allen will rotate. It’s not as if either guy separated himself in the preseason. Maybe the coaches want to go with Wolff, but don’t want to just throw him out there full-time right away. This would be an unorthodox move, but probably not one we can completely rule out.

Another possibility is that the Eagles could show some three-safety looks. We saw this at practice during the summer with Chung, Allen and Wolff all playing together. The coaches believe Chung has some versatility. He sometimes played the slot receiver and looks like the Eagles’ best defensive back against the run.

“I’m not exactly sure,” Allen said. “I know we have some packages and stuff. But I’m not exactly sure what it’ll be like on gameday and how much we’ll rotate in and out. But we’ve just gotta get out there and make plays.”

The Eagles are thin at cornerback. The plan in nickel is simple: take Isaac Sopoaga out and put Brandon Boykin in. But if Billy Davis wants to go with six defensive backs, that’ll probably mean playing all three safeties.

Asked if he was expecting a rotation or just be involved in some special packages, Wolff said: “Probably both. I’m not exactly sure, but Coach told me to just be ready to go at any time during the game, at the beginning. So I’m just gonna be ready.”

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Kelly: No Favoritism Towards Ex-Oregon Players

0V3J8539Of the 61 spots on the Eagles’ roster (practice squad included), five are occupied by guys who played their college ball at Oregon.

Today, Chip Kelly was asked if his familiarity with the former Ducks can help him build his program with the Eagles.

“If we were gonna sing the Oregon fight song, it would,” Kelly joked.

“Besides that, I’m familiar with them and I know what they do, what Jeff [Maehl] can do as a special-teams player. I know what Casey [Matthews] can do as a special-teams player. I was with Pat [Chung] for a year. Isaac Remington’s a kid that we brought in. We moved him to the offensive line just before we released him. The other guys that we released on the offensive line are not practice-squad eligible. So we think he’s got an upside as an offensive lineman. We’re gonna take a look and see what he can do.”

Maehl, Matthews and Chung are all on the 53-man roster. Remington and defensive lineman Brandon Bair were added to the practice squad.

Maehl was acquired from the Texans and made the squad over undrafted free agent Russell Shepard and veteran Greg Salas. Matthews made the team in favor of Emmanuel Acho.

Asked specifically what role his familiarity with Maehl and Matthews had on his decisions, Kelly said: “None. It’s about special teams. Every backup player on this team, and we’ve said it since Day One, there’s three ways to make this football team: special teams, special teams, special teams. So it’s where did they contribute from a special-teams factor.

“If you’re gonna be the fourth or fifth receiver, and right now that’s Damaris [Johnson] and Jeff [Maehl], it’s the value that they have to Coach [Dave] Fipp and our special teams. And it’s the same thing: Why did we keep three [backup] inside linebackers as opposed to one backup outside linebacker? It’s how those three players contribute on special teams, and that’s kind of where it was. That’s why we made the move to get [Najee] Goode from Tampa Bay. It’s the same thing.”

Kelly had an interesting comment when explaining why he kept five inside linebackers instead of OLB Chris McCoy.

“Right now, at our outside linebacker spot, we had a lot of rush guys, not a lot of drop guys,” he said. “The one drop guy we had was Connor Barwin, so to keep a third rush guy… we kept Vinny [Curry]. We kind of look at Vinny, could play in that spot for us if possible. But to keep another rush guy that’s not contributing on teams just wasn’t gonna help us.”

Of course, Trent Cole and Brandon Graham have been practicing as rush/drop guys all preseason long. Perhaps Kelly’s response suggests they’re not going to be in coverage much once the regular season begins.

ALLEN TO START AT SAFETY

Nate Allen will start opposite Chung at safety Monday night.

Asked how he came to that decision, Kelly said: “Film evaluation, games played, production so far for the preseason camp and OTAs.”

But he also added that rookie Earl Wolff is “pushing” Allen and will see playing time Monday night. Whether he and Allen will rotate is unclear.

“We’ve just got to get him in the game,” Kelly said.

INJURY UPDATE

Offensive tackle Dennis Kelly (back) is officially out for Monday. Cornerback Brandon Hughes (hand) is likely out, although that’s not final. And tight end James Casey (hamstring) is practicing with the team today.

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Practice Squad Tracker: Eagles Add DE Bair

All eight practice squad spots are now accounted for, as the Eagles signed defensive end Brandon Bair on Wednesday morning.

The 6-6, 285-pound Bair played college ball at (you guessed it) the University of Oregon, posting 106 tackles (25.5 for a loss) and five sacks over four seasons in Eugene. He spent some time with the Chiefs and Raiders after going undrafted in 2011 but has not appeared in an NFL game.

Dennis Dixon has practice squad eligibility remaining but the Eagles decided to go in a different direction for now since they are carrying three quarterbacks on the roster.

Linebacker Emmanuel Acho, who originally made the 53-man before being released in favor of Najee Goode, cleared waivers. He could be an option down the road if he stays on the market.

Here is how the rest of the practice squad looks:

OL/DL Isaac Remington

Remington (6-6, 305) played defensive line for coaches Chip Kelly and Jerry Azzinaro at Oregon and was signed by the Eagles as an undrafted free agent this offseason. Towards the end of camp, Kelly had Remington working with the offensive line. He was released when the team trimmed its roster to 53, but is now back in the fold as a practice squad player. When the Eagles announced the move they listed him as an offensive lineman, so the experiment continues there, it appears. As we know, Kelly likes players that can fill multiple roles when called upon.

S Keelan Johnson

The Eagles made this move official on Tuesday.

Johnson (6-0, 209) attended Arizona State and signed with the Dolphins as an undrafted free agent in April. As a senior, he finished second on the team in tackles (88)  and led the squad with five interceptions and 13 passes defensed.

One former Eagles scout is high on him.

S Trenton Robinson

Robinson (5-9, 193) was selected in the sixth round by Niners last season. He appeared in three games as a rookie but did not register a tackle.

The Michigan State alum racked up 229 tackles, nine interceptions and 21 passes defensed in four seasons with the Spartans. Tom Gamble, the team’s vice president of player personnel who came over from the Niners this offseason, helped draft the safety.

The signing was first reported by Lee Thompson of MLive.

WR Greg Salas

The 25-year-old Salas had a fine training camp and made several impressive, acrobatic catches both on the NovaCare practice fields and in preseason action. Many (including yours truly) believed the fifth wide receiver spot would come down to Salas and Russell Shepard (now with the Bucs). Instead, the Eagles went with Jeff Maehl. Salas has 27 career receptions for 364 yards.

 RB Matthew Tucker

A rough start to camp for Tucker, who initially failed his conditioning test. He finished strong, though, scoring a pair of touchdowns in the preseason finale against the Jets. Assuming he doesn’t get picked off the practice squad by another team, he serves as insurance to the promising running back trio of LeSean McCoy, Bryce Brown and Chris Polk.

OT Michael Bamiro

The 6-8, 340-pound Bamiro joined the Eagles in mid-July. The Stony Brook product is raw, but he has ability (read about why he didn’t enter the draft here) and could pan out down the road. The practice squad seems like a good spot for him for now.

LB Travis Long

The 6-4, 245-pound outside linebacker was signed by the Eagles during training camp. He had 9.5 sacks as a senior at Washington State before suffering a knee injury.

Sam Lynch has a list of practice-squad eligible Eagles/former Eagles if you’re interested.

Watkins Responds To Roseman’s ‘Toughness’ Comments

Danny Watkins signed a new deal with the Dolphins and met with the Miami-area media today.

He was asked to respond to comments made by Howie Roseman about how Watkins’ toughness never translated from college to the NFL.

“I got to Philadelphia and it was just a rough go from the get-go,” Watkins said, per the Miami Herald. “I felt like it just got broken down to bones and never got built back. It was more a mental thing. I was very disappointing to myself that it never panned out the way it could. Because I know I can play physical and tough football but it just never … I think it was more a mental aspect than anything.”

Here are Roseman’s initial comments:

“When you watched Danny play, the toughness, the hockey-playing aspect of him never translated to Philadelphia. And that’s one of the things I told him today, was that when you watched him at Baylor and when you watched him at the Senior Bowl and when you met him, he had this innate toughness about him. You felt like you were getting an enforcer. And he never let himself go here on that. And I don’t know why that was. I told him that was part of the thing that I was the most confused by because that was something that everyone at Baylor told you about and you saw in his play on the field. And I think it all goes back to the pressure he put on himself here.”

I would agree with Watkins that his issues were more mental than anything else. Even though he was 26 when he came out of Baylor, he only had two full years of D-1 experience under his belt. Watkins started camp late as a rookie and never seemed to click with Howard Mudd.

When he got on the field, there were way too many missed assignments, specifically in pass protection.

The physical aspect shouldn’t be overlooked either. Watkins turns 29 in November and will be 30 during the 2014 regular season.

He has more hurdles ahead, but will try to bank on a fresh start now in Miami.

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