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Linebacker Emmanuel Acho, who originally made the 53-man before being released in favor of Najee Goode, cleared waivers.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.

Ten Eagles On the Roster Bubble

Danny WatkinsBy 6 p.m. Saturday, the Eagles have to cut 22 players and get their roster down to 53. Many of the bubble guys will get a chance to make one final impression Thursday night, as Chip Kelly acknowledged there’s still “a lot up in the air.”

New offensive scheme, new defensive scheme, new coaching staff and new personnel. Kelly’s moves this weekend will tell us a lot about his roster-building philosophy. Keeping that in mind, here are 10 players whose future with the franchise hangs in the balance as we approach cut-down day.

1. Danny Watkins, OG – The 2011 first-round pick got a fresh start with new offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland, but it doesn’t seem like he’s made a strong impression. Watkins is currently a backup guard and has been passed on the depth chart by veteran Allen Barbre. Kelly wants versatility in his backups, but so far, Watkins has only played guard. As T-Mac reported yesterday, Watkins is due $1.1M in guaranteed money. But with Barbre looking like a keeper and the team needing a backup center, Watkins, who turns 29 in November, could still be out of a spot.

2. Michael Bamiro, OT – The Eagles had to compete with other teams to sign Bamiro earlier this summer. Some reports suggested he would have been a mid-round pick had he entered the draft. The question the Birds have to weigh is whether or not they’d be safe stashing Bamiro on the practice squad. The Eagles have some tackle depth. Barbre can play out there, and Todd Herremans could slide over in a pinch. The team also expects Dennis Kelly to return from back surgery at some point. Bamiro might be a nice option for the bottom of the roster. He would likely be a weekly inactive, but has plenty of upside for down the road.

3. Julian Vandervelde, G/C – It’s been a bumpy journey for the 2011 fifth-round pick. He spent his rookie season on the active roster, was cut last summer, spent a couple days with the Tampa Bay Bucs and then returned to the Eagles. He entered the league as a guard, but has been learning the center position the past two years. If the preseason is any indication, he has a good shot of sticking around as Jason Kelce’s backup. The Eagles’ other options for that spot are Dallas Reynolds and Matt Tennant.

4. Greg Salas, WR - The Eagles didn’t make any moves to add receivers after Jeremy Maclin and Arrelious Benn went down with season-ending ACL injuries. Salas had an excellent camp and flashed during the first two preseason games. He could be competing with Russell Shepard for the fifth receiver spot. Or the Eagles could decide to keep them both.

5. Russell Shepard, WR – He showed some good YAC ability during last week’s game, catching two balls for 38 yards. With Shepard, there is once again the practice squad question. There’s no doubt that the Eagles like his talent, but he went undrafted and could probably use some seasoning before he’s ready to contribute. Special teams is a factor here too. Shepard looks like a willing contributor and made a nice tackle in coverage against Carolina.

6. Clay Harbor, TE/WR - Kelly has been trying to find a spot for the fourth-year tight end. He’s been getting reps at wide receiver and has played there each of the last two preseason games. The truth is, when then Eagles spread it out in Kelly’s offense, there’s often not much of a difference between a wide receiver and a tight end. Kelly prides himself on being prepared for every situation. Harbor’s versatility could be enough to make him stick.

7. Chris McCoy, OLB – The CFL product started off the preseason well, but was not good last week against the Jaguars. The Eagles are somewhat thin at the position. Kelly said ideally, the team would keep four outside linebackers. They’ve got Connor Barwin, Trent Cole and Brandon Graham as virtual locks. This one will likely come down to who else is available. McCoy could be an initial keeper, but if the Eagles see an outside linebacker they like cut from another team, he could be released.

8. Casey Matthews, ILB – Kelly said he’d like to keep four inside linebackers also. The starters are in place with DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks. Matthews, Jake Knott and Emmanuel Acho are competing for spots. Knott is probably the favorite among that group. What we wrote about McCoy could apply here too. The Eagles could add an inside linebacker from another team’s cut list. But Matthews’ special-teams production (14 tackles last year) could help him earn a spot.

9. Clifton Geathers/Damion Square, DL – I cheated a bit here and included these two together. And really, they could both end up making it. The plan for the Eagles on gamedays seems to be to rotate six players on the defensive line. Right now, the five most likely are: Fletcher Cox, Isaac Sopoaga, Cedric Thornton, Bennie Logan and Vinny Curry. The sixth could be either Geathers or Square, with the other as a potential inactive. Square drew praise early in the preseason, but did not play well last week. Geathers had his best performance against Jacksonville. Both have played nose tackle, along with defensive end.

10. Kurt Coleman, S – The fourth-year player’s chances of making the roster increased when the Eagles released Kenny Phillips. But he’s still no lock to make it. Coleman hasn’t rotated in with the starters much, and the decision on whether to keep him or not will likely depend on if Kelly is comfortable keeping five safeties. Patrick Chung, Nate Allen and rookie Earl Wolff seem like locks. Colt Anderson has an excellent shot of sticking because of his special-teams ability. That means Coleman could be the odd man out.

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How the Eagles Scored Two TDs On the Same Play

Nick Foles saw five defenders in the box, and so his decision was simple: hand the ball off to Bryce Brown.

Matt Barkley got a 2 vs. 2 matchup he liked on the perimeter, and so he threw the screen outside to Greg Salas.

The play-calls were exactly the same. Yet the quarterbacks made two different decisions, both which resulted in touchdowns.

We talked about run-pass options in this space over the weekend. And Grantland’s Chris Brown explained them further in his terrific piece about Chip Kelly’s offense. After Monday’s practice, we caught up with several players to gain a better understanding of the “packaged play” concept.

Let’s start with the touchdown run to Brown. The Eagles had a first-and-goal from the Patriots’ 8. When Foles got to the line of scrimmage, his eyes focused on how many defenders were in the box to guard against the run.

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“It was a two-safety look, and the inside backers were out,” Foles explained. “So you get a five-man box, you’ve got five guys to block five, you really want to take it. You want to take your O-Linemen on any five any day.”

Foles’ other option on the play was to throw the quick screen to either side. But with two safeties back, the Eagles would have been faced with a 3-on-2 disadvantage on the perimeter.

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Clearly, Foles made the right call, and Brown scampered into the end zone.

But how does the QB communicate his decision to the rest of the players? The answer I got from several Eagles was simple: He doesn’t.

“No matter what, we’re blocking whatever zone play or man scheme, whatever the scheme is for the run blocking, that’s what we’re blocking,” said center Jason Kelce. “Most of the time, I get the running play, and I don’t really know what the quarterback’s doing.

“All the reads for the most part are designed to take advantage of what the defense is giving us, and you never really truly know until after the ball’s snapped. And then guys expose themselves on what gaps they have, what responsibilities they have, and that’s what it’s designed to take advantage of.”

Five blockers against five defenders. That’s a win for the offense.

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Left tackle Allen Barbre has the edge defender. Evan Mathis and Jason Kelce start out with a double-team. Todd Herremans and Lane Johnson get one-on-one blocks.

Mathis then does an excellent job of switching off his double-team, on to the linebacker. Kelce and Herremans open up a gaping hole for Brown.

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Let’s move on to the next play, the Barkley 12-yard screen to Salas.

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The running back is flipped. Otherwise, it’s the exact same look as the first play. But this time, the Patriots have six defenders in the box against five offensive linemen.

Meanwhile, to the top of the screen, the Eagles have two receivers against two Patriots defensive backs.

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That’s just the look Barkley wants to throw the screen to the perimeter.

“It was just a double-screen look with a handoff option,” Salas explained. “So if we have the look that we want on the outside, we can throw it. If it’s light in the box, then they can run it. We had the look for the throw on the outside. He threw it to me, I made a guy miss and scored a touchdown.”

The safety to that side of the field was 8 yards off the line of scrimmage. Executed correctly, Emil Igwenagu blocks the outside shoulder of the cornerback, allowing Salas to get to the sideline where it’s even harder for the safety to get to him. Of course, plays on the field don’t always go according to plan. And in this case, Salas didn’t get much of a block from Igwenagu. But he was able to make three defenders miss on his way to the end zone.

“That’s the preference, two-on-two,” Salas said. “Three, you’re outnumbered. So if you have three out there, the box’ll be light for the run. That’s the way the play’s designed, and it worked well.”

Salas backed what Kelce said above: that the players are never sure what the quarterback’s going to do.

“You just do it, and it’s the quarterback’s decision,” Salas said. “He’s gotta pick the side he wants to throw to or hand off the ball. I just knew I had an opportunity, so you know when to be a little bit more prepared than other times.”

It’s clear why Kelly places an emphasis on all players understanding concepts in his offense. While the quarterback is ultimately the one making the decision, plays are run more smoothly if everyone on the field identifies the numbers and has a good idea of what’s going to happen.

The other factor is tempo. The Salas touchdown was the first play of the fourth quarter, but the Brown score happened just 21 seconds (real time) after the whistle blew ending the previous play. While at its foundation, these plays are based on simple math, the opposition can shift defenders around and try to disguise its look – if given the opportunity.

“Sometimes guys move,” Foles explained. “Guys move at the snap of the ball. There’s blitzers coming in. So you really have to be able to react quickly when the happens. It’s just one of those things where you’re out here in practice, you’re rep’n, you’re rep’n, you’re seeing it. And then when you get in a game, you’ve repped it and you can just react.”

Added Kelce: “It’s particularly hard once you’re doing the tempo when you’re really getting on ‘em and then they don’t have time to get set, notice the situation, the personnel of the offense. It doesn’t give them time to figure all that stuff out. So now all they can do is just get their defensive play and line up where they’re supposed to line up at just before we snap the ball. And doing that repetitively really wears on a defensive player, especially a defensive lineman.”

While the quarterback makes the call, he can have (headset) communication with the coach or offensive coordinator for the first 25 seconds of the play clock. But the onus is placed on the guys on the field.

“When we call a play, we’ve rep’d them numerous times and we trust that everybody on the field makes good decisions,” said offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur. “So when the play goes in, typically when I was calling them, you could give maybe a hint or two to what’s going on. But for the most part, the guys are out there making decisions and running the plays we call.”

Barkley said he’s been running this specific inside run/perimeter screen option play for years.

“You’re looking for numbers,” he explained. “They can’t win because if they put enough guys on the perimeter, then you’re gonna have an advantage if you run the ball. And they had one extra guy in the box so, I mean, that’s a play I’ve run since high school. So you kind of learn to see that and just get the ball out there.

“There should be an answer on every play, and so it’s just your job of making sure that you make the right decision of putting the team in that right play, whether it’s the read on that play or whether it’s an audible where you change into the right play. But there should be a favorable answer on every play.”

Kelce agreed that making the right decisions based on the numbers should make these packaged plays difficult to defend.

“That’s all blocking is, period,” he said. “And that’s all football is really. That’s the whole point of the spread offense, the read offense. It’s all about taking advantage of where the offense has positive numbers. That’s the whole reason pretty much this has come about.”

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Eagles-Patriots Game Review: The Offense

Lane JohnsonWe went over a couple specific offensive concepts on Saturday, and you can click here for a breakdown of the defense.

But below is a position-by-position look at how the offense performed, after having reviewed the game.

QUARTERBACKS

* Michael Vick was sharp on the Eagles’ first two possessions, completing four of five passes for 94 yards and a touchdown. He showed great patience in the pocket, finding Jason Avant for 22 yards over the middle on the first possession, a big-time throw with three defenders closing in. And his 47-yard bomb to DeSean Jackson was a beauty. It’s worth noting that pass came against a blitz from New England. The ball traveled 48 yards in the air and landed right in Jackson’s hands. Later, Vick delivered a strike to Riley Cooper on a rollout to his right. The Eagles slowed things down to start the game, and I don’t recall seeing Vick run a true zone read. But don’t be surprised if we see him go no-huddle next week vs. Carolina.

Nick Foles played well also, although the style of play was different when he was in the game. The Eagles pushed tempo and went with a more controlled attack. While Vick chucked it down the field, none of Foles’ six attempts traveled more than 10 yards from the line of scrimmage. He showed good command in the no-huddle though and completed five of six passes for 43 yards. The Patriots brought a five-man blitz on third down in the second, and Foles got rid of the ball quickly, finding Bryce Brown for 8 yards and a first down. He also did a great job with the play-fake before rolling to his left and finding Avant for a gain of 12. Foles will get the start Thursday vs. Carolina.

* Up-and down performance for Matt Barkley. He underthrew Russell Shepard deep on his first pass attempt and made too many throws that left receivers vulnerable to big hits. There were at least two throws that could have been picked off. Barkley made the right decision on a zone read. The DE crashed inside, and he took off for 8 yards. He seemed to settle down later in the game, finding Clay Harbor for a couple of big gains and leading the Eagles on a touchdown drive.

RUNNING BACKS

* The coaches decided to start Chris Polk since he played well in camp. He carried four times for 7 yards, and none of his attempts picked up more than 4 yards. Polk is the Eagles’ best blocking back, and that showed on the 47-yard touchdown to Jackson. He did an excellent job picking up blitzing linebacker Jerod Mayo.

Chris Polk

polk2

You can see Vick has a clean pocket to deliver.

* I thought Bryce Brown really played well. Five carries for 22 yards and two catches for 19 yards. Brown hasn’t flashed good hands at practice, but he got matched up against a linebacker and had a nice 8-yard catch and run on 3rd-and-5. He picked up 11 on another reception. There were a couple occasions where it looked like he might have missed his blocking assignments. One was when Foles faced an unblocked defender and scrambled for 11 yards. Brown also had the 8-yard touchdown run.

* Felix Jones did not look good. Eight carries for 31 yards. He also had a drop, and it looked like he missed a blitz pickup assignment.

* Matthew Tucker only had 33 yards on 10 carries, but he caught the 2-point conversion. Has a chance to stick if Jones doesn’t improve.

WIDE RECEIVERS

* Not much to add that hasn’t already been mentioned on DeSean Jackson. Vick said he went deep because the Patriots had a single high safety. I’m curious about what his route would have been had the coverage been different.

* Great job by Jason Avant not only going up for the 22-yard catch in between three defenders, but also getting down quickly and avoiding a big hit.

* Riley Cooper got the start opposite Jackson and came down with a 19-yard grab in the second.

* Russell Shepard led the team with six targets, but didn’t get much of a chance to make plays. He had just one grab for 4 yards. Nice effort on the deep ball from Barkley that was underthrown.

* Ifeanyi Momah simply does not look like he’s ready. Poor job as a blocker when Barkley took off on the zone read in the second. Momah then had a false start on the very next play. He got laid out down the right sideline in the third. And Momah was shoved out of bounds by the defender on the next play. Practice squad seems likely for 2013.

* Very nice 62-yard punt return by Damaris Johnson.

* I probably haven’t shown Greg Salas enough love up to this point. I thought Kelly said it best after the game: Salas just keeps showing up. Great individual effort on the touchdown in the fourth. Salas got no blocking on the quick screen, but avoided three defenders and scampered into the end zone. He also made a sensational 35-yard grab on the final drive. He’s got a chance to stick.

TIGHT ENDS

* Per Pro Football Focus, 14 of Zach Ertz’s 22 snaps were pass plays. And Ertz went out into his route on 13 of those 14. He was in the slot on the first two plays from scrimmage. Two catches for 10 yards on three targets. Did not look good as a blocker. Ertz was slow to get to Brandon Spikes on an early Polk run.

Did you see Brent Celek in the backfield on the Eagles’ first play? He fumbled after making a grab in the second. At this point, looks like a much better blocker than Ertz.

* Still not sure if there’s a spot here for Clay Harbor, but he made a couple nice grabs – a 22-yarder and a 20-yarder from Barkley in the second half.

OFFENSIVE LINE

* Really liked what I saw from Lane Johnson as a run-blocker. This was the second play of the game. Johnson is matched up with outside linebacker Rob Ninkovich.

johnson1

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Couldn’t get a good shot of Johnson taking Ninkovich to the ground, but that’s exactly what he did. And afterwards, Johnson used Ninkovich to prop himself up.

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Later, he showed off his great athleticism, starting off on a double-team with Celek, before peeling off and looking for a defensive back to hit downfield. Johnson had some issues in pass protection, but an encouraging start for the rookie.

* Given his resume, there’s probably no need to panic, but Todd Herremans did not play well. He whiffed on his block, pulling to the left side on a Polk run that picked up just 1 yard. And Herremans got beaten badly by Tommy Kelly on the Foles sack/fumble. The bright spot for Herremans was his block on Brown’s TD run.

* As for the rest of the starters, Jason Kelce looked good, especially on Brown’s TD run. Evan Mathis was solid as usual. And Allen Barbre was up and down. No one’s going to confuse him for Jason Peters, and he had some issues in pass protection, but was OK overall.

* In terms of the backups, Danny Watkins had a few good moments. He did a nice job on Barkley’s deep attempt to Sheppard. And later, he switched off his man against a stunt on a Barkley incompletion. Watkins was called for holding in the third. Matt Kopa had issues. And Julian Vandervelde played center with the second team. He got overpowered at times and was called for holding, but otherwise was OK. Looked better than he did last preseason.

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Eagles Sign WR Salas, Release Gilyard

The Eagles made a roster tweak at wide receiver Friday, claiming Greg Salas off of waivers from the New England Patriots and releasing Mardy Gilyard.

 The 6-1, 209-pound Salas was originally a fourth-round draft choice of the Rams in 2011 and had 27 receptions for 264 yards in his rookie season. He was traded to the Patriots in September but played in just one game before eventually being waived.

Salas attended the University of Hawaii and finished his collegiate career with 285 catches for 4,345 yards and 26 touchdowns.

The Eagles could very well be without Jason Avant (hamstring)  Monday night. Riley Cooper (knee) returned to practice on Friday.