DeSean Sidelined; Williams Absent Again

DeSean Jackson sat out practice Friday with an ankle injury.

The receiver was on the field with his teammates at the start of the session, but wore a visor instead of a helmet and was purely a spectator.

Kenny Phillips is about to become a new dad and was not at practice. A team spokesman seemed to think that the safety, who has been sidelined with knee issues, would have participated in practice otherwise. But who knows.

Meanwhile, Cary Williams was once again a no-show. The corner missed about a month of work as he took care of some personal business, which included getting married, having dental work done and tending to a house-build. The latest reason? His daughter’s recital.

LeSean McCoy was absent as well. The Eagles said that he worked out and attended meetings at NovaCare Friday, and had personal business in the afternoon.  Todd Herremans was in attendance but did not participate. No details were provided.

Jason Peters continues to be absent for personal reasons.

These OTAs are voluntary. There is a mandatory minicamp coming up that runs June 4-6.

Twitter Mailbag: What If You Could Choose Just One?

Every Thursday we select a few of your Twitter questions and provide the long-form answers they deserve. For a chance to have your question published on Birds 24/7, send it to @Tim_McManus.

From @MarkDawson_: What do you think is Chip Kelly’s current biggest area of concern with his team?

Honestly, I think his biggest obstacle/concern is time. He’s overhauling the entire operation, and will still be asked to field a competitive football team come September. Tuesday gave us a feel for how difficult a task that will be. The first time we got a chance to watch practice there were some miscues, but everything went pretty smoothly considering the crazy-fast pace and newness of it all. The next time out was a bit more rough around the edges. And Tuesday was pretty sloppy. That had less to do with the rain coming down and more to do with the fact that Kelly is ramping up the installations, giving the players a lot more to think about.

“We’re really starting to pile on now,” said Kelly. “And especially for some of the these young guys that piling on process…I think you can hit a wall a little bit, but they’ve got to fight their way through it.”

There is just so much to teach and learn; entirely new schemes being  implemented on both sides of the ball. And the clock ticks toward Opening Day…

From @penseur76: Do you think Kenny Phillips will even make the roster? Seems like Steve Smith 2.0.

Both are ex-Giants, both have had microfracture knee surgery, so I understand where the thought comes from. Phillips bounced back from the surgery better than Smith, who just retired after six seasons because he couldn’t get right. Phillips played 31 of a possible 32 games the two seasons following the operation on his left knee.  He started having issues with his opposite knee last year, and appeared in just seven games for New York in 2012.

I can’t say I’m encouraged at this point. The fact that the Eagles were able to sign him to a one-year deal with no guaranteed money was the first clue that the league had concerns about his health. Now he’s missing time for an injury that Kelly says he’s had “for a couple of years.”

It’s important to remember that it is May, and there is every reason to take it easy on a player with an injury history. Maybe he pans out. But I definitely have my doubts.

From @TAF_Podcast:  if you could have 1 current Eagle for the rest of their career, who would you pick?

Good one.

I think you could make some kind of reasonable case for LeSean McCoy (24), Nick Foles (24), Lane Johnson (23), Zach Ertz (22), Fletcher Cox (22), Matt Barkley (22) and maybe Mychal Kendricks (22). (Am I missing anyone?)

For me, it would come down to Cox and Barkley. (I wouldn’t take McCoy simply because a running back’s shelf life is so short.) If you want to play it safe you go Cox, because there is a good chance that he will be an impact player for a lot of years, and he has Pro Bowl potential. But I would probably go Barkley simply because of the value of his position. Maybe you end up with nothing more than a backup or an average starter, but you risk it on the possibility that he becomes a franchise-changer.

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Jason Peters, Kenny Phillips Don’t Practice

Jason Peters was not at the NovaCare Complex for the Eagles’ voluntary practice this morning.

Chip Kelly would not offer details, but did not seem overly concerned. Asked if he would have liked Peters to be here, Kelly said, “No, I understand exactly where Jason is.”

Kelly did confirm that Peters’ absence is not injury-related. The All-Pro left tackle is coming off a pair of Achilles’ injuries, but has looked good this offseason.

“I expect him to be here shortly,” Kelly said.

Taking Peters’ place at left tackle with the first team was second-year player Dennis Kelly. Meanwhile, first-round pick Lane Johnson saw his first action with the starters, lining up at right tackle.

Another absence from practice was safety Kenny Phillips. Phillips is at the NovaCare Complex, but was not on the field. Kelly said he spent the session in the training room.

Asked if Phillips had an injury, Kelly said, “Yeah, he’s had an injury for a couple years now.”

Phillips missed nine games last year with an MCL sprain in his right knee. He also had major surgery on his left knee in 2009.

The Eagles signed Phillips this offseason, but according to various reports, his contract did not include any guaranteed money.

Phillips had been practicing prior to today, mostly with the second team.

Much more to come from practice.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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Safety Spots Wide Open In the Early Going

Nate Allen didn’t know about the free-agent safety additions until he got the call from Chip Kelly.

“He was just saying, ‘It’s just, we need competition out here,'” said Allen.

But anyone who watched this team last year knows the situation is far more urgent than that.

Pro Football Focus has safety rankings from the 2012 season based on overall performance. Of the 88 safeties evaluated, Allen ranked 84th and Kurt Coleman 85th.The Eagles yielded a league-worst 33 touchdowns through the air. Opposing quarterbacks had an average rating of 99.6 against them. (Only Kansas City [99.9] was more generous.)

The Eagles understandably made safety a priority this offseason, adding Kenny Phillips and Patrick Chung to the fold in free agency. Then they used a fifth-round pick on Earl Wolff in April’s draft.

So, where does it all stand  now that we’re a few weeks into the offseason program?

The first thing that jumps out is that Phillips — a Super Bowl champ with the best pedigree of the bunch — is consistently running with the second team. The “they’re just easing him in because he is new” theory doesn’t really hold water. This is a brand new regime with a brand new defensive coordinator who brings a brand new scheme. It’s equally new to everybody. Secondly, Chung has been getting some first team looks, and he’s just as new as Phillips is.

It’s more likely that Phillips is being brought along slowly because of his injury history. The 26-year-old has had multiple knee issues over his five-year career.

“No. 1 is probably just health,” said Phillips, on what he has to prove to the coaching staff. “They know I can play. They wouldn’t have brought me here if they didn’t believe I can play. Basically, just health right now.

“[The knee] is definitely something I have to be conscious of — when I’m in the weight room, when I’m on the field, how many reps I take — but at the same time I’m  going to get my work done; I’m never going to just tap out. I’m going to do what I have to do so Coach can see that I’m ready to work and that I’m a starter in this league.”

The Eagles really won’t know what they have in Phillips — or the rest of the safeties, for that matter — until the hitting starts.

As they ease Phillips in, Allen is getting a healthy amount of the first-team reps. He was paired with Chung last week, and ran with Coleman this past Monday when Chung was absent due to travel delays.

“Last year was obviously rough, and the year before was rough, but it’s all learning,” said Allen. “It helps you grow as a man and grow as a player, and it’s not going to do anything but make you better.

“Anytime they give you another chance to come out here and play, it’s always a good thing and a blessing.”

Kelly sounded high on the former second-round pick when asked about him a few weeks back.

Both Allen and Coleman suggested that the safety’s job will be easier this season in Billy Davis‘ scheme, which demands less of the unit in the run game.

“Not to say that the safeties aren’t going to be called on to make plays against the run, but we’re not going to be the first guys onto the scene,” said Coleman. “It’s going to be a big change for us, which is kind of good. It allows us to sit back and read the QB a little more, be more patient.”

“It gives you a little more freedom in certain things we do. Yeah, I’m excited about it,” added Allen.

This could be the most wide-open competition of the bunch. Allen and Coleman did nothing last season to secure a starting spot. Phillips has the health concerns. Chung is coming off a down season, and Wolff is a fifth-round rook.

“I think this is a great group of guys that are willing to work together as one,” said Coleman. “Maybe we don’t have a star, if that’s what you’re trying to get at, but I think we can become stars here in this program, in this scheme.”

The Eagles would probably settle for “steady.”

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Eagles Depth Chart Outlook: Safeties

This is the first in a series. Throughout the next week or two, we’ll take a position-by-position look at the Eagles’ roster. Today, we start with the safeties.

There was no big splash, but the Eagles made significant moves at safety this offseason with the hopes that a pair of high-quality starters will emerge.

In free agency, they signed ex-Patriots starter Patrick Chung and former Giants first-round pick Kenny Phillips.

Howie Roseman raved about this year’s safety class before the draft. The Eagles didn’t make a move for one of the big names in the early rounds, but they grabbed N.C. State’s Earl Wolff in the fifth.

Returning from last year’s roster are Nate Allen, Kurt Coleman, Colt Anderson and David Sims.

Here’s a complete look at the roster (alphabetical order):

 
Height
Weight
Age
Years/Starts
Nate Allen6-1210253/38
Colt Anderson5-10194273/6
Patrick Chung5-11210254/29
Kurt Coleman5-11195243/29
Kenny Phillips6-2217265/41
David Sims5-10210262/1
Earl Wolff5-11209230/0

Pencil ‘em in: Chung, Wolff, Anderson.

If I had to pick one safety from this group as the most likely starter, it would be Chung. He had a down 2012 season and was benched by Bill Belichick, but he has shown in the past that he’s a starting-caliber player. The Eagles signed him with the belief in that upside.

Wolff was a fifth-round pick and is the most athletic of the group. His 4.44 40 time is the second-fastest among safety prospects in the past three years, and Wolff was a three-year starter at N.C. State. I expect him to get a chance to compete for a starting job right away.

Safety is a tricky position. You can’t put someone back there who doesn’t know what he’s doing because mistakes turn into game-changing plays. So Wolff will have to prove himself worthy of playing time. But given the current makeup of the roster, he has a chance to be an immediate contributor.

Anderson, meanwhile, is the team’s best special teams player. Kelly has given strong indications that special teams will be a major consideration in determining roster spots. For those reasons, I feel comfortable penciling Anderson in.

Fighting for spots: Phillips, Allen, Coleman, Sims.

Phillips is an X-factor. If 100 percent healthy, he’s probably the best safety on the team. Actually, at 80 percent, he might be the best safety on the team. But remember, Phillips agreed to join the Eagles for no guaranteed money. That tells me he didn’t have a lot of other options. It’s hard to believe Phillips is only 26-years-old. His health and effectiveness will be a key storyline to monitor this offseason.

Allen and Coleman are fighting for jobs. It’s as simple as that. Allen is a former second-round pick, but at the end of last year, the coaching staff felt it was better served having Coleman and Anderson on the field instead of him. That is telling. Not all of Allen’s struggles are related to injuries, either. By all accounts, the 25-year-old is a hard worker and a good teammate, but he just hasn’t been productive. Nothing’s out of the question with Allen. He could be starting in Week 1. Or he could be out of a job.

As for Coleman, he’s an option to fill out the roster as a backup. The fourth-year pro doesn’t seem to have the measurables Kelly is looking for. On the flip side, Nnamdi Asomugha is no longer around to blame Coleman for every big play. He has an outside shot of winning a starting job, but Coleman’s best chance at sticking is probably as a reserve/special-teams player.

Sims making the roster would be an upset, barring injuries to the guys ahead of him.

Bottom line? Phillips, Allen and Coleman are likely fighting for one or two spots, depending on whether Chip Kelly keeps four or five safeties.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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Three Eagles Numbers That Matter

It’s been awhile since we’ve rolled this feature out, so without further ado, here are three Eagles-related numbers that matter.

640 – The number of pass-rushing opportunities (snaps) Connor Barwin had for the Texans in 2012, per Pro Football Focus. In 2011, that number was 598.

“We had to drop more, we had problems at inside linebacker, we had to cover up certain things on the outside,” Barwin told reporters on Friday. “The year before we rushed every time. Last year we had to bump the tight end before we could rush, and anyone that rushes the passer knows that’s going to slow down your rush.”

Barwin was addressing the question of why his sack totals fell from 11.5 in 2011 to 3 in 2011.

The theory that he had to drop in coverage more in 2012 doesn’t hold up. In 2011, he rushed the passer 87.1 percent of the time. In 2012, it was 86.4 percent. Nearly identical.

The idea that he had to “bump the tight end” on his way to the quarterback very well could be true. In fact, that was the explanation general manager Howie Roseman gave when he said Barwin played more on the open side in 2011. We’ll take a look at the All-22 this week to see if we can sort things out.

0 – The amount of guaranteed money safety Kenny Phillips got from the Eagles, according to Reuben Frank of CSNPhilly.com. There’s good news and bad news here. The good news is that if Phillips isn’t healthy and the Eagles have to cut ties with him, they didn’t make much of a financial commitment.

The bad news is it probably says a lot about Phillips’ health that he was forced to settle for such a deal.

Even if Phillips is only 75 percent of the player he once was, he’d be the Eagles’ best safety since Brian Dawkins. But as the contract shows, that’s a big IF. Phillips had major surgery on his left knee in 2009 and dealt with an MCL injury in his right knee last season, missing nine games.

Because of Phillips’ injury history, I don’t think the Eagles are done at safety. Mike Mayock and Roseman have both talked about what a strong safety class this is in the draft. Don’t be surprised if the Eagles add another body as early as the second round.

With Patrick Chung now in the fold, Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman should expect to be competing for roster spots this summer.

2 – The number of cornerbacks that have been selected in the top five in the last 10 drafts. The Cardinals took Patrick Peterson fifth in 2011, and the Cowboys took Terence Newman fifth in 2003.

Yesterday, we rounded up a bunch of mock drafts, and a popular pick for the Eagles at No. 4 was Alabama’s Dee Milliner. It’s certainly a strange year in that the draft isn’t as top-heavy as usual, but I wonder if Roseman and Chip Kelly will really be willing to go with Milliner. Most agree that Milliner is the best CB available and should be a solid pro. But I haven’t heard anyone predict that he’ll be a true game-changer like Darrelle Revis.

And as friend of the blog @Noah_Becker pointed out, Peterson and Newman both could be used on special teams as returners. That’s not the case with Milliner.

The more I think about it, the more I tend to believe offensive tackles Luke Joeckel (Texas A&M) and Eric Fisher (Central Michigan) are probably at the top of the Eagles’ board. Of the nine offensive tackles who made the Pro Bowl last year, seven were first-round picks.

It’s possible that both Joeckel and Fisher are gone by the time the Eagles pick, but if not, they could plug one of them in at right tackle and move Todd Herremans inside in 2013. It would also provide a nice option to back up Jason Peters at left tackle and get younger at a key spot.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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Eagles Wake-Up Call: New DBs Go From Foe To Friend

You can tell that Kenny Phillips isn’t able to just flip the switch. He was drafted by the Giants, played five years for them. He was wired to hate the Eagles, and now he is one.

“Yeah, it’s weird. It’s definitely weird,” said the veteran safety at his introductory press conference. “I can’t say I hate the Giants. When I was with the Giants I kind of disliked the Eagles. I guess I’ll learn to hate them.”

And the Eagles receivers?

“I didn’t like them,” said Phillips with a smile. “I respected every single one of them. I thought they had a great team.  [Jeremy] Maclin and [Brent] Celek and DeSean [Jackson], you had to respect those guys because they went out there and made plays. Practicing against them should be fun. I enjoyed playing against them — I just can’t hit them now. We have to be best of friends.”

Sitting directly to Phillips’ left was Cary Williams, who also has also shown a distaste for Eagles’ wideouts. He got into a skirmish with DeSean Jackson last season when the Eagles and Ravens locked up. Tempers flared. Punches were thrown.

“We haven’t spoken,” said Williams. “But me and him spoke after the game and during the game after that whole situation went down. DeSean understands where I’m coming from, I understood where he was coming from. It’s football — it’s two guys trying to help their team win.

“I think DeSean will welcome me with open arms, I think this organization believes in me, and I look forward to building relationships with my teammates.”

Switching allegiances is par for the course in the modern-day NFL, but these examples remind us that the blending of the old and the new, the free agents and the homegrown talent, is a process. Sometimes it doesn’t work. Steve Smith, as an example, never fully assimilated. The 2011 free-agent crop overall is a warning about the dangers of adding players that do not mesh.

Howie Roseman likened free agency to an arranged marriage.

“You have never lived with the person, you never really dated them, you’ve seen them from afar. That’s the tricky part about free agency,” said the Eagles general manager.

The Eagles are hopeful that they have learned from their past mistakes, and gave the chemistry issue greater consideration this time around. They targeted players largely from winning organizations that approach football in a similar way —  players they believe can help be “tempo-setters” as they try to enrich the culture.

“We’re going to go into this as a family,” said Williams. “That’s what I got from the eight guys signing, we all got a taste of that success. We know what it takes to be successful. And I think Coach [Chip] Kelly sees that in every one of us, and that’s why we are here today.

“Part of life is transition. I’ve been dealing with transition for the majority of my life, so this is no different. I feel blessed and honored to be in this position, and I just want to come here and play football. I’m an Eagle now.”

And so is Phillips, who is coming around to the idea.

“Once I got here, speaking with the coaching staff and speaking with Chip, I can honestly say that I feel right at home,” he said. “The Giants are a great organization but I’m really happy to be here right now, surrounded by great people and great players.”

WHAT YOU MISSED

What will the the defense look like with all the new pieces? We took a stab at it.

Williams modeled his game after Nnamdi Asomugha’s (the Oakland version).

The Eagles are receiving praise for their offseason moves to date.

Connor Barwin addressed his dip in production last season.

The Eagles made a trade for a wide receiver. Kapadia has the details.

A look at what the training camp switch means for you.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

After three book signings were cancelled recently due to threats of violence, Michael Vick held a less publicized charity event/book signing at Victory for the World Church in Stone Mountain, GA over the weekend. He addressed the threats against him and his family. From USA Today:

“Why would you continue to bash somebody who’s trying to help make the world a better place?

“A lot of people are sick and tired of hearing about my past, because there are so many other problems that are going on in this world that need to have attention drawn to them,” Vick said. “People are dying every day, children are being killed, going to jail. Not to say I overlook what I’ve done, but I try to do outreach as a positive. That’s my responsibility. That’s what I’m going to continue to do. That’s what’s important. Those people are not important.”

Todd McShay offers a scouting report from Geno Smith‘s pro day.

One of the first things that jumped out at me was the velocity and accuracy Smith showed on intermediate throws, which is something you see consistently on tape. He looked perfect on seam routes, throwing with low trajectory and good zip, and putting the ball right on the money.

As impressive as that was, what stood out most was Smith’s improvement in terms of velocity and consistent accuracy on throws to the boundary (deep outs, 18-yard comebacks, vertical routes). He wasn’t absolutely perfect in that area, but I saw a significant improvement over the eight game tapes I’ve studied from 2012.

COMING UP

Day 1 of the owners meetings in Phoenix. I’ll be in full stalker mode in the Biltmore hotel lobby while Sheil mans the controls in Philly.

Projecting the New-Look Eagles Defense

Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Trent ColeNow that the Eagles have all these new pieces on the defensive side of the ball, the question becomes: how does it all fit?

It is important to remember that the offseason makeover is not yet complete. Free-agent signings and trades are still possible. The draft is more than a month away. But here is our best crack at how the defense would look with the roster in its current form.

Defensive line: Isaac Sopoaga is your nose tackle and Fletcher Cox is one of your ends in a base 3-4 alignment. It gets a little fuzzy from there. Right now you would have to project Cedric Thornton as the other end, though that could very well change by opening day. Ricky Jean-Francois would have been a decent solution but the Eagles couldn’t agree to terms with the former 49er. Look for the Birds to address this position in the coming weeks.

Linebacker: This one is a little tricky. Right now it looks like DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks would be on the inside. In play for the starting outside linebacker roles are Trent Cole, Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry and new addition Connor Barwin.  Barwin has experience in both outside linebacker roles. He racked up 11.5 sacks in 2011 when playing the open side but is really the only one out of the group that has real experience dropping into coverage on this level. Chances are, he will see time at both spots.

I have heard a lot of people talk about the possibility of Cole being traded. I don’t see it. The Eagles view him as a valuable player and one of the key character guys that can help set the culture they are looking for. Right now, I would pencil him in as a starter alongside Barwin.

That doesn’t mean Graham or Curry will be buried necessarily.

“In any defense, especially with the way the game is going now, you need to be able to rotate at the defensive line and linebacker position to keep things fresh,” said Barwin. “I don’t exactly how it’s going to work out but I know you need a lot more than two guys to do it.”

Cornerback: With Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie out of the picture, there are two spots up for grabs. Free-agent signings Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher look like the favorites to grab those jobs, but don’t use permanent marker for this one. The Eagles have always put a very high value on their corners and will likely try to bolster the position more before the offseason is through. Whether it is Dee Milliner at No. 4 or later in the draft, it is a good bet that they will select a corner or two come April.

Brandon Boykin‘s goal is to start on the outside, though the guess here is that Bill Davis will try to keep him in the slot.

Safety: There very well could be four new starters in the secondary this year. It would be no surprise to see Kenny Phillips and Patrick Chung atop of the depth chart when the season starts. It will be interesting to see how Nate Allen responds to the competition assuming the Eagles keep him around. Both new safeties have an injury history, so depth at the position will be key.

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