The Matchup: Eagles Vs. Packers

JJF_8100.jpgEditor’s Note: This feature will post every Friday. We’ll bring you nuggets from the locker room, scouting reports on the upcoming game and more.

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It’s Wednesday morning at the NovaCare Complex, and Jeff Stoutland is fired up.

Practice has just started, and the pads are on. Eagles players line up row-by-row in one end zone. When the whistle sounds, the first group gets started with their warm-up routine.

First it’s knees up to their chests, followed by a light jog to the other end of the field. Then they slide like basketball players working on their defensive stances. On and on, just as they’ve done during the start of every practice since the spring.

“Pick it up today!” Stoutland shouts, watching his players’ every move as if they’re competing in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl.

The 51-year-old chews his gum with authority. He claps and spits and then claps some more. Behind his dark glasses are eyes that have seen a lot since he first started coaching 29 years ago. Read more »

Johnson, O-line On ‘Chasing Ghosts’

0V3J9665The offensive line hasn’t faced many exotic looks through the first four games. In fact, when asked about the need to change protections at the line of scrimmage to account for extra rushers, Jason Kelce‘s mind traveled all the way back to one specific play against San Diego, when the Chargers brought a free safety on the weakside. There obviously weren’t a lot of examples in his mental Rolodex to choose from.

“With the type of offense we have, it’s very tough to be able to blitz and blitz effectively, because if you’re getting guys out of position, if you’re too many to one side, then all of a sudden you’re leaving things open,” Kelce said.

So the looks have been vanilla. Communication has rarely been an issue. The line has consistently been in the right calls, according to the center. Everyone understands their assignments.

So why the issues in pass protection? Read more »

Eagles Wake-Up Call: Kelly Expecting Kelce To Lead O-Line

Jason KelceJason Kelce has not spent much time away from the NovaCare Complex this offseason. The Eagles’ center estimated that the longest stretch he’s gone without stepping foot in the practice facility has been one week.

“I’ve always been a guy that’s around here a lot,” Kelce said earlier this summer. “Part of that is I think we just have great facilities, and I try to make sure that I’m in shape year-round, trying to improve my physical abilities. And obviously for this year, it was really important just to try to hone in on the quad strength in particular to get back to where it was before the injury.”

Kelce is coming off a torn ACL which he sustained in Week 2 of the 2012 season. The third-year player watched from afar as his teammates labored through a disastrous 4-12 campaign.

Now playing for a new coach, Kelce has earned praise from Chip Kelly all offseason for the work he’s put in at the team’s facility. And Kelly knows the O-Line will play a major role in determining how quickly his offense can get on track.

“I would think what we do helps him,” Kelly said. “I think there are a lot of double teams. …I would think what we do caters to Jason’s strength also. He’s extremely quick. He can get on 3-techniques pretty fast. He does a great job because he is such a smart player of reading double teams and who is coming off on the linebacker.

“So a lot of what we do… they ran a lot of zone plays here last year, so I don’t think it’s drastically different from a run game standpoint than what they were doing last year.”

Aside from actually executing blocks, Kelce is also in charge of setting the Eagles’ protection up front. The pre-snap routine requires communication between all of the offensive linemen, and the quarterback has the ability to change the call at the line of scrimmage. But it’s Kelce’s job to identify the front and put the offense in position to successfully block the play.

Earlier this summer, offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland used terms like “tremendous” and “off-the-charts” to describe Kelce’s football acumen. Kelly seems to agree.

“He’s really the leader of those guys up front,” Kelly said. “I think our O‑line calls start with him. It’s between him and the quarterback and making sure the protection is set the right way. He’s got a great football mind. He’s one of those guys that I would say when he’s done playing, he’ll be a great coach because I think his attention to detail, how much film he watches, how much he studies the game. I think he’s done a great job so far.”

WHAT YOU MISSED

T-Mac talks to Lane Johnson about his big week – both personally and professionally. Do yourself a favor and click on the pic of Johnson’s baby’s monster hands.

Eagles players explain how they scored two touchdowns on the same play last week, using a run-pass option concept. No-22 shots included!

From playing time to the D-Line rotation to the addition of WR Jeff Maehl, here are three practice leftovers from Tuesday.

Billy Davis breaks down the Eagles’ breakdown on defense vs. the Pats.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

LeSean McCoy is expecting big things from DeSean Jackson this year, writes Reuben Frank of CSNPhilly.com:

“I think he’s back,” said McCoy, who led the NFL with 20 touchdowns two years ago. “I think the DeSean Jackson that we always knew about and saw and missed is back.

“I think Coach Kelly has a lot to do with it. I think [Jackson's] attitude is different. Just the way he’s working in the weight room, conditioning wise, the way he’s practicing, I think he’s back.

Great post by Jimmy Kempski over at Philly.com on Vinny Curry’s first step:

There were times in which Curry was lined up along the interior DL and he got doubled in the run game. In those situations, he had difficulty anchoring against the run. That’s understandable, and it’s probably best for the Eagles to try to keep him out of those situations whenever they can. However, it seems pretty clear that Vinny Curry absolutely has a role in this defense as an interior pass rusher, and he can be a very effective one.

COMING UP

The Eagles’ walk-through is closed to the media, but we have plenty to get to.

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Jeff Stoutland And the ‘Fellowship Of the Miserable’

When Chip Kelly hired Jeff Stoutland, he described the 51-year-old as a “cutting‑edge offensive line coach with old school toughness.”

After having spent 27 years in the college ranks, most recently during a two-year stint at Alabama, Stoutland is now making the jump to the pros. And if you think he’s pumped about the opportunity, well, you’d be right.

“I look at every day that I come to this complex, I’m jacked out of my mind,” Stoutland said Thursday morning. “I’m excited. I’m like, ‘What are we going to get done today? How am I going to improve today? What concept are we going to master today?’ ”

He then held his thumb and his index finger about half-an-inch apart.

“I just want them to get that much better. I don’t care if you’ve been a pro for 10 years, 11 years. I just want to see you get that much better every day. Some of these guys might think I’m crazy, but I think that when there’s some juice in the air, you all play better. Everybody plays better.”

Stoutland takes over perhaps the most intriguing positional group on the team. The offensive line was a disaster last year, but it’s not as if the cupboard is bare. Jason Peters, Jason Kelce and Todd Herremans return from season-ending injuries. Evan Mathis provides stability at left guard. And the team invested its first-round pick in Lane Johnson to take over at right tackle.

Any chances for a quick turnaround depend on the guys up front and Kelly’s ability to get his offense going quickly.

The focus in the coming weeks for Stoutland will be on scheme and technique. But the one thing he’ll demand is that the players match his energy.

“Your demeanor and how you go about every day is just huge, it’s huge,” he said. “Just realize that, even the people out in the world… forget about football… let’s just go down the street to a diner or whatever. You get a waiter or waitress who comes up and they’re like, ‘Hey! How are you today?’ I like that. I’d like to be around that person. I’m just saying, I like to be around that person. I’ll hang out there another 10 minutes just to be around that kind of person.

“I call the other people the Fellowship of the Miserable. I’ll walk on the other side of the street to avoid that person because I don’t want that in my life. I don’t want to be miserable. I don’t want to be negative. I don’t live like that.”

Like the rest of the coaches, Stoutland has less than seven weeks to get his guys ready for their Week 1 matchup against the Redskins.

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Eagles Practice Observations

Because the Eagles practiced with a limited roster the first two days, they had to resort to some unconventional teaching methods.

For example, with only five offensive linemen, assistant coach Jeff Stoutland set up trash cans to simulate the defense.

Here’s (iPhone-quality) video of what I mean:

When setting the protection, Jason Kelce’s job is to identify the MIKE linebacker. During one drill, Stoutland was ready to move on to the next rep, but tight ends coach Ted Williams stopped him. Kelce had yelled out ’45′ as the MIKE, but it was supposed to be ’51.’ Stoutland hadn’t caught the mistake, but Williams did.

It’s an example of how players at all levels can gain something each time they practice – something Chip Kelly emphasizes. Kelce was one of the few veterans in attendance, and by far the most experienced, but he was able to pick something up on that rep.

Stoutland, meanwhile, spent a few minutes on a key point: Guys who don’t know what the hell they’re doing try to block everybody.

His message to the linemen? Once you engage the defender, stay on him. Don’t just start freelancing because you see someone else going unblocked. That means you don’t know your assignment and don’t trust your teammates.

THE JUGS MACHINE

I want a shot at trying this before camp is over:

That’s Ifeanyi Momah making the catches. During another drill, the assistants set up the Jugs machine so that receivers would have to reach back. It looked like they were trying to simulate a crossing pattern where the ball is thrown behind the receiver.

Wide receivers coach Bob Bicknell emphasized minimized movement. In other words, receivers were supposed to reach back to catch the ball, but immediately tuck it in front of them so they could pick up yards after the catch.

AZZINARO ASKS FOR PERMISSION

Given that there are so few players in attendance, there is plenty of open space on the practice fields.

Defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro was moving his group over from one drill to the next, near where Bicknell and the wide receivers were going over blocking.

“Got enough room, Bick?” Azzinaro joked. “Want to make sure you can hit your [bleepin'] 9-iron over here.”

Below is a shot of Azzinaro and the defensive line:

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Eagles (Abbreviated) Practice Observations

Today was the Eagles’ first training camp practice, but the session included only rookies and selected veterans.

In all, 28 players participated, after running back Matthew Tucker and punter Brad Wing failed their conditioning tests.

Here’s a photo from a TV monitor in the cafeteria of what the players’ schedule looked like:

* As for the on-the-field session, undrafted free agent Jake Knott gave new meaning to the term “one-on-one instruction.” He’s the only linebacker here, so when players split up by position, it was just him and inside linebackers coach Rick Minter. As we mentioned earlier this week, backup linebacker jobs are up for grabs, so the extra time can only help a player like Knott.

* The wide receivers ran through some interesting drills. The first image shows them making catches behind a contraption that presumably simulates a defender.

Update: Thanks to the commenter for pointing out the purpose of this drill is for wide receivers to focus on catching the ball with their hands.

And they also worked on ball security:

* One nice part about these practices is you can get up close to the field and actually listen to the coaches. For example, I spent some time around Jeff Stoutland and the offensive line. There were only five players in attendance – Lane Johnson, Jason Kelce, Michael Bamiro, Nic Purcell and Matt Tobin. On one rep, Johnson held an orange blocking pad and was supposed to simulate a 3-technique defensive tackle.

But when the ball was snapped, Johnson didn’t go where Stoutland wanted him to go, so he blew the whistle and stopped the drill. Remember Chip Kelly’s philosophy of teaching in the classroom, not on the field? That doesn’t apply to these practices. Stoutland explained how the 3-technique could either attack the gap or the offensive tackle.

Next, the five offensive linemen went up against grey and yellow trash cans. Bamiro was just signed last week, but Stoutland wasn’t about to take it easy on his newest pupil. “I taught you this already,” he told the 6-8, 339-pounder.

Stoutland then used an analogy of pushing a car uphill. “Are you going to push it from behind or from the side?” he asked, after knocking over a trash can. On this specific run play, the point was the offensive tackle needed to take a couple steps to his right before squaring up on the defender.

* It’ll be just the rookies and selected vets again Wednesday. Veterans check in Thursday. And then the real fun begins with the first full-squad practice on Friday.

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Eagles Wake-Up Call: OL Training Camp Preview

Each day this week, we’ll take a look at a different position group as we count down to training camp.

What’s changed?

Howard Mudd is out, and Jeff Stoutland is in. The new offensive line coach is hoping this group can avoid the injuries that helped turn 2012 into a disaster.

According to Football Outsiders’ Adjusted Games Lost metric, no offensive line in the NFL over the last 11 years suffered more devastating injuries than last year’s Eagles. Jason Peters was lost in the spring, while Jason Kelce and Todd Herremans also went down with season-ending injuries in Weeks 2 and 9, respectively.

Peters and Herremans were full participants during OTAs and mini-camp. Kelce is on track to be full-go for training camp.

With the pieces around him going down week after week, Evan Mathis turned in what was probably his best season as a pro in 2012 and has been the Eagles’ most consistent/durable offensive lineman during the past two seasons.

And finally, the Birds added Lane Johnson with the No. 4 overall pick to take over at right tackle.

The pressing question: How good will Johnson be as a rookie?

The words Chip Kelly used when talking about Johnson back in April were raw and upside.

Historically, those terms haven’t described players ready to step in and contribute right away at a high level.

Johnson has been playing football his whole life, but he was a quarterback for a long time, before getting a shot at tight end and defensive end at Oklahoma. In all, he has two full seasons of offensive line play under his belt – one at right tackle, one at left tackle.

There would seem to be a decent chance that Johnson might struggle as a rookie, before eventually turning into a really good player. But if something clicks right away, and Stoutland figures out how to take advantage of his athleticism, the Eagles have a chance to field one of the best offensive lines in the NFL.

Don’t be surprised if…

Danny Watkins fails to start a game all season. The 2011 first-round pick started six games in 2012 before suffering a “chronic” ankle injury. Even when he was healthy, he lost his spot to journeyman Jake Scott.

The Eagles don’t have a lot of line depth, and Watkins should make the team, but he’s unlikely to play a prominent role. Herremans has slid from right tackle to right guard, and Mathis has the left guard spot locked down. In a recent interview with Mike Kaye of Bleeding Green Nation, Mathis was asked for an under-the-radar lineman to keep an eye on.

Allen Barbre is, at the very least, a starting caliber offensive guard,” he said. “If we were to lose a guard to injury, I’d be totally confident with him filling in.”

Barbre saw some first-team reps during the spring, and clearly, he’s made an impression with teammates. If the coaches prefer Barbre to Watkins, the 2011 first-round pick could be a healthy scratch on gamedays to start the season.

Roster battles to watch

If everyone’s healthy, the starters are pretty much set: Peters (LT), Mathis (LG), Kelce (C), Herremans (RG), Johnson (RT).

But like last year, depth is a major question. At tackle, Dennis Kelly is on track to be the first backup, and with Herremans always an option to move back outside, the Eagles have some flexibility there. Beyond Kelly, there are a bunch of unknowns: Matt Kopa, Ed Wang, Nic Purcell and Matt Tobin. The newest Eagle, Michael Bamiro, will have a chance to land one of the last spots on the roster.

At guard, Watkins and Barbre seem like the favorites to land backup jobs. But others like Nate Menkin, Matt Tennant and Julian Vandervelde have a chance to compete for spots.

At backup center, the options are Tennant, Dallas Reynolds and Kyle Quinn.

WHAT YOU MISSED

I offered five thoughts on the Eagles’ QB situation.

Here’s our linebacker training camp preview.

And more on Bamiro, the 6-8 offensive tackle the team is expected to sign today.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

In an Allentown Morning Call piece, Jimmy Kempski says he thinks Nick Foles has the edge over Michael Vick:

The issue for Michael Vick, however, is that he is coming off two turnover-filled seasons. Not helping matters is that he was outplayed by Nick Foles in OTAs and minicamp. Foles got the ball out quicker than Vick, was generally more accurate, and is putting receivers in a better position to get yards after the catch.

Tra Thomas talked to the Daily News’ Les Bowen about Bamiro:

“I think he’s a solid athlete, someone that kind of fell through the cracks,” Thomas said Tuesday. “He has large hands, he bends well. We worked on both right and left stances; he’s coachable.”

COMING UP

More Kelly leftovers coming up.

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Eagles Depth Chart Outlook: Offensive Line

This is the eighth in a series. Click here for the earlier depth chart posts.

Football Outsiders uses a metric call Adjusted Games Lost to measure injuries.

Here’s their definition:

Measurement of the cost of injuries, both in terms of missed games and games where players were not able to play to their full potential. Estimates a number of games based on whether players are listed as Probable, Questionable, Doubtful, or Out.

They break it down by position and recently found that no offensive line in the last 11 years (that’s as long as they’ve tracked the metric) suffered more devastating injuries than the Eagles last season.

The unit that was a strength in 2011 turned out to be a disaster in 2012, after injuries to Jason Peters, Jason Kelce and Todd Herremans, along with a lack of depth.

Peters has looked good during spring practices, and Herremans has been a full participant. Kelce has been a partial participant, but is expected to be full-go for training camp. And Evan Mathis suffered an ankle injury, but should also be fine for training camp.

The Eagles didn’t make any major free agent moves with this group, but they used the No. 4 overall pick on Lane Johnson.

If everyone is healthy, the starting lineup will likely look like this: Johnson (RT), Herremans (RG), Kelce (C), Mathis (LG) and Peters (LT). But there are depth spots up for grabs.

Here’s a look at all of the offensive linemen:

 
Height
Weight
Age
Years/Starts
Allen Barbre6-4310285/7
Todd Herremans6-6321308/100
Lane Johnson6-6310230/0
Jason Kelce6-3295252/18
Dennis Kelly6-8321231/10
Matt Kopa6-6310262/0
Evan Mathis6-5302318/53
Nate Menkin6-5300241/0
Jason Peters6-4328319/97
Nic Purcell6-6305270/0
Kyle Quinn6-3290230/0
Dallas Reynolds6-4320292/14
Matt Tennant6-4300263/0
Matt Tobin6-6290220/0
Julian Vandervelde6-2300252/0
Ed Wang6-5315261/0
Danny Watkins6-3310282/18

Pencil ‘em in: Peters, Mathis, Kelce, Herremans, Johnson.

The question for Peters is the Achilles’, which he injured and then re-injured last offseason. But the five-time Pro Bowler indicated that he could have played at the end of the 2012 season if the Eagles were in the hunt for a playoff berth. Instead, he’s had extra time for rest and rehab. Offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland said recently that you’d never know Peters had an injury with the way he’s practiced.

Peters missed the most recent OTAs because of a personal matter, but is expected to be in attendance at this week’s mini-camp.

Mathis was the last man standing on last year’s offensive line. Some thought he might get exposed without Peters by his side, but that wasn’t the case at all. Mathis’ 2012 campaign was probably better than his 2011 run. Assuming his ankle is healthy, Mathis should be a consistent performer at left guard.

Chip Kelly has spoken glowingly about the work Kelce has put in this offseason to get back from an ACL injury. The third-year center has the athleticism to thrive in Kelly’s system.

After two years at right tackle, Herremans moves back inside to guard, where he played from 2006 to 2010. Herremans played well at tackle in 2011, but he’s admitted that last year was a different story. The veteran struggled through the first eight games before suffering a season-ending foot injury. Herremans is 30 and will once again be asked to make a position switch, but he’s shown his versatility in the past and should be fine.

It’ll be interesting to see this week whether Johnson is running with the first team at right tackle. He got the nod there last week, but that was in part because Peters was missing. Kelly described the Eagles’ first-round pick as “raw” but in all likelihood, he’ll be a starter when the season begins against the Redskins.

Fighting for a spot: Kelly, Watkins, Reynolds, Barbre, Kopa, Menkin, Purcell, Quinn, Tennant, Tobin, Vandervelde and Wang.

If the Eagles keep eight or nine linemen on the 53-man roster, that means three or four players from this group will make the team.

Two of the favorites are Kelly and Watkins. Kelly gained some valuable experience last year, starting three games at guard and seven at tackle. He had some moments early on where he impressed, but towards the end of the season, he turned in some completely disastrous performances.

Having said that, the new coaching staff has given him plenty of reps at right tackle with the first team in place of Johnson and at left tackle with Peters out. The swing tackle position is an important one, and Kelly doesn’t seem to have much competition right now. It seems reasonable to expect him to improve in his second season and earn a roster spot.

We’ve written plenty about Watkins in this space. He’s shown very little in his first two seasons, but believes the coaching change could help him reach his potential. The truth is, barring injury, there’s not a starting spot open for him. Watkins’ job this offseason will be to prove to Kelly and Stoutland that he’s the best backup option at guard.

There are a lot of unknowns with the rest of the group. Barbre was a fourth-round pick by the Steelers in 2007, but he was suspended last offseason for the use of performance-enhancing substances, and the Seahawks ended up releasing him. Barbre has been getting some first-team looks though and could compete for a backup job.

The Eagles will also have to come up with a plan for a backup center. Reynolds was the man last year and has a chance to win the job again. Quinn and Tennant are the other centers on the roster. Vandervelde has been getting some looks there. And don’t forget that Mathis had to learn the job last year.

Kopa, Tennant, Tobin and Wang have all seen time with the second team.

As I mentioned, plenty of spots up for grabs. And if the Eagles decide they don’t like the talent on the roster, they could always look to make additions to address depth in the coming months.

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Stoutland’s Message To OL: ‘Make Your Opponent Feel You’

INDIANAPOLIS — D.J. Fluker couldn’t stand still.

The Alabama offensive lineman bounced from side to side, talking fast, but providing insightful responses as beads of sweat formed on his forehead.

“I’m always like this,” Fluker said. “I’m the high-energy guy on that team.”

What do you do to relax?

“There’s no time to relax. Every day to me is a work day. I want to be the Ray Lewis of my offensive line.”

Alabama’s offensive line has a strong presence at the NFL Combine. Guard Chance Warmack is unanimously considered a first-round pick. Fluker, who played right tackle last year, but is also getting a look at guard, is considered a first- or second-rounder. And versatile interior lineman Barrett Jones is projected to go off the board in the first round rounds.

All three, of course, were coached by Jeff Stoutland, now the Eagles’ offensive line coach.

“He taught me a lot as far as reading safeties, reading coverages, that’s our job,” Fluker said. “Being more aggressive at the point of attack. Drive people off the ball. Finish them. Make them feel you. That’s the main thing. Make your opponent feel you. Let them know early. Set the tone early, that’s the main thing.”

How is Stoutland different from other coaches?

“Couch Stoutland was one of those guys that, he wanted your effort,” Fluker added. “He wanted your best every time at practice. He finds guys, calls them catfish – the guy that’s going to jump out the water and give you everything they’ve got on every play. He looks for those type of guys.”

Fluker measured in at 6-5, 339 pounds on Friday and has long arms (36 3/4 inches). Asked what the most fun thing to do on a football field is, he responded, “Knocking the defensive end down. Dominate them every single play. Let them know this ball’s coming right behind me.”

During his interview, Fluker said he’s spent time watching and studying Jason Peters and Anthony Munoz.

Known as a player who never stops talking, Fluker was asked what he says to opposing defensive ends.

“I’m saying to you, ‘Hey, I’m coming to take your lunch money,’” he responded.

“When I’ve got them on skates, I finish ‘em. Kind of like Mortal Kombat.”

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