Asomugha Will Play Monday Against Patriots

Philadelphia Eagles CB Nnamdi Asomugha.When Andy Reid ran through the players who won’t be on the field Monday night against the Patriots, one name he left out was Nnamdi Asomugha.

Asomugha participated in practice Friday and Saturday after suffering a lip laceration and sore neck in a collision with Nate Allen Monday afternoon.

“The day that I came out here and practiced in the beginning, I thought that was going to be fine, but I put my helmet on and that wasn’t the case,” Asomugha said, referring to Thursday, when he left practice early. “But I never gave thought to not playing. If the game was yesterday, then there would have been some thought… but it’s preseason. We’re not going to play the whole game so I think going out there and just keeping my wind and my fitness and playing the mental game, playing the physical game, testing the neck out and just going through it, I think that’ll be important.”

Reid said Asomugha had a spasm in his back area, but after that was taken care of, the team decided he would play.

“He had a spasm in his back area, and it was just a matter of making sure that we got that calmed down, and he felt great,” Reid said. “He’s a good communicator, so it feels like he’s ready to go.”

Meanwhile, Mike Kafka, Jason Babin, Riley Cooper and Casey Matthews will all miss Monday’s game. Kafka continues to recover from a fractured left hand he suffered in the first preseason game. Babin is rehabbing a calf strain he sustained early in camp. Cooper had surgery to repair a fractured collarbone and almost certainly won’t play in the preseason. And Matthews has a high ankle sprain.

“Everybody else is scheduled to play unless something comes up different from now until then,” Reid said.

The starters are scheduled to go at least a half and possibly three quarters. Once Michael Vick comes out, Nick Foles will take over. Reid did not mention Trent Edwards, although he could change in his mind.

“I’ll just get a feel, see how it all rolls and go from there,” Reid said.

King Dunlap will get the start at left tackle for Demetress Bell.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.

Kapadia’s Take: Projecting the 53-Man Roster

The battle continues.

Yesterday, T-Mac provided us with a good laugh with his latest 53-man roster projection.

Now it’s my turn. I’ve got some changes from last week. Here goes nothing.

Quarterbacks (3): Michael Vick, Mike Kafka, Nick Foles.

It took exactly six preseason snaps for Vick to have his first injury scare. While he suffered just a thumb contusion, Vick said he initially thought he broke his thumb when he banged it against Jason Kelce’s helmet against the Steelers.

Here’s a stat for you: 24.1 percent of Vick’s pass attempts last year traveled more than 15 yards downfield. That was the sixth-highest percentage in the league among quarterbacks.

As I’ve written before, the Eagles’ passing game relies on big plays downfield. That’s why I have serious concerns about Kafka being able to come in and execute without Marty Mornhinweg and Andy Reid having to make significant adjustments to the offense. With Kafka sidelined, Foles will get a chance to make his mark. And while Trent Edwards hasn’t shown much in practice, maybe we shouldn’t count him out completely just yet.

Running backs (4): LeSean McCoy, Dion Lewis, Bryce Brown, Stanley Havili.

I still think Brown has the edge over Chris Polk, but there’s no way the Eagles can put Brown in a pass-blocking situation in a regular-season game right now. He has a long way to go in that department, and it’s just too risky. Keeping Brown is a long-term decision. He may not even touch the ball as a rookie, but can contribute on special teams, pick up the offense and look to do more down the road.

I feel pretty confident that the Eagles are going to keep a fullback. And right now, Havili has the edge over Emil Igwenagu. It’d be nice to see the Birds get each guy involved a little more Monday night so that we can see what they’re capable of in game situations. I asked Clay Harbor earlier this week if he anticipates playing more fullback in 2012, and he said flat-out no, noting that the team has really been impressed with Havili.

Wide receivers (6): DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant, Riley Cooper, Damaris Johnson, Marvin McNutt.

As Tim noted, my Damaris Johnson love has probably spiraled out of control. But why slow the train down now? I think he’s a lock to make the team, and if the season started today, he’d be their fourth wide receiver on gamedays.

Not much to say about Jackson, Maclin or Avant. On Twitter, a few of you have asked me why they’re keeping Cooper. It’s pretty simple. He averaged 80 yards receiving in three starts last year and was an effective special-teams player. That’s pretty much what you want out of a backup wide receiver Assuming he’s ready to go in the first week or two of the season, following surgery on his collarbone, Cooper’s making the 53-man roster.

McNutt is a bit of a wild card. He had his moments during camp, but doesn’t look like someone who’s ready to contribute as a rookie. There’s a chance the Eagles could go with five wide receivers or one of the unheralded guys bumps McNutt off the roster, but I think he takes one of the final spots and is a weekly inactive.

As for Chad Hall, I’m not sure what he gives this team that Johnson does not. He’s off.

Tight ends (2): Brent Celek, Clay Harbor.

I may be the only person in town who thinks Harbor can be an effective player for this offense.

His snaps increased from 28.6 percent as a rookie to 33.6 percent last year. We’ve spent a lot of time talking about how rookies had a difficult time last year because of the shortened offseason. But that applies to players going from Year 1 to Year 2 also. Especially someone like Harbor who was learning how to block on the fly.

He was up and down in that aspect, but has shown the ability to be a good blocker. As a receiver, he had a high catch rate (68.4 percent), catching 13 of the 19 balls thrown his way. And while everyone was up in arms about Harbor’s drops during the spring, he had just one drop last season, according to Pro Football Focus.

I think he’s going to be on the field as much as, if not more, than last season. And the Eagles would be wise to replace Jackson with Harbor in the red zone, where he can help as a blocker and a receiver.

As for Brett Brackett and Chase Ford, I don’t see the Eagles keeping a third tight end.

Offensive linemen (9): Demetress Bell, Evan Mathis, Jason Kelce, Danny Watkins, Todd Herremans, King Dunlap, Julian Vandervelde, Dennis Kelly, Dallas Reynolds.

Last week, I wrote that the starters were pretty much “set in stone.”

Whoops.

Dunlap has replaced Bell at left tackle – for now. I still think the Eagles want Bell to win the job, but they’re not going to put him out there if he looks shaky. Is there a chance Herremans could move over to that side? I’m not ready to rule anything out at this point.

The first preseason game further enforced the notion that the Eagles have giant question marks with O-Line depth. I had been operating under the assumption that Vandervelde would be the first man up should the Eagles suffer an injury at guard or center. It was only one preseason game, but he looks like he’s got a long way to go.

Not too confident on the Reynolds pick either. Mike Gibson or Steve Vallos could potentially steal a spot. This is an area where the Eagles could add someone who gets cut in the coming weeks from another team.

Defensive linemen (11): Trent Cole, Jason Babin, Cullen Jenkins, Fletcher Cox, Derek Landri, Brandon Graham, Darryl Tapp, Phillip Hunt, Vinny Curry, Cedric Thornton, Antonio Dixon.

I’m sticking to my guns here. I realize 11 is a big number, but everything the Eagles do defensively starts with the line. Typically, eight guys play on gameday, although that number could be nine this season if they use someone like Hunt as a situational pass-rusher.

I gave strong consideration to leaving Dixon off. Since last season, he really hasn’t seemed like a good fit for Jim Washburn’s style of play. But cutting him leaves the Eagles thin at defensive tackle. What happens if Cox, Jenkins, Landri or Thornton goes down? They would need to find someone to play significant snaps right away. Of course, a lot depends on Mike Patterson, whose status is up in the air.

I’ve still got six defensive ends making it. In a recent post, I explained why Phillip Hunt isn’t going anywhere. He’s young, under team control for three more seasons and seems to be coming into his own as a pass rusher.

Darryl Tapp is the player to watch. I still think the Eagles value him as a well-rounded defensive end who can effectively spell Cole. There’s a chance the Eagles look to trade Tapp, but for now, he stays on. The other X-Factor is Curry. He could be good enough to play right defensive end with the second group behind Cole. If Curry impresses the next couple of games, Tapp could be left off.

Linebackers (6): DeMeco Ryans, Mychal Kendricks, Brian Rolle, Jamar Chaney, Casey Matthews, Akeem Jordan.

No changes here from last week. Keenan Clayton doesn’t make the cut. While his strength is coverage, Clayton isn’t so good in that aspect that it will earn him a spot. And he really doesn’t give anything at all against the run.

DeMeco Ryans has been the lone linebacker on the field in the Eagles’ dime package, but Kendricks could get a shot there at some point.

Cornerbacks (5): Nnamdi Asomugha, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Curtis Marsh, Brandon Boykin, Joselio Hanson.

Change from last week: Hanson’s in, and Brandon Hughes is out.

Since the Eagles drafted Boykin, I’ve been expecting him to take the nickel corner job from Hanson, but it hasn’t happened yet. And until it does, I’ve decided to keep the veteran on the team. The Eagles’ secondary looked confused on many occasions in 2011. Perhaps that explains why they’re reluctant to go with a rookie in the slot, where he’d be expected to play roughly 50 percent of the snaps.

As for Hughes, the only real scenario where you’d need him would be if both Asomugha and Rodgers-Cromartie were to get injured. Marsh will be the first backup if one of them goes down, and Boykin could also get a shot on the outside. In other words, Hughes is expendable.

Cliff Harris still has a shot. He got off to a strong start, but then suffered an ankle injury. If he impresses the next couple weeks, the Eagles could easily keep him and cut a defensive lineman or even a linebacker.

Still don’t have much of an opinion on Kevin Thomas, the corner the Eagles acquired from the Colts. Someone to keep an eye on Monday night.

Safeties (4): Nate Allen, Kurt Coleman, Oshiomogho Atogwe, Tom Nelson.

I’ve got Jaiquawn Jarrett missing the cut. Let’s review the facts:

* Jarrett couldn’t get onto the field as a rookie. The Eagles even thought Jarrad Page was a better option than him.

* Despite lackluster play from the safety position in 2011, Jarrett showed no signs of competing for a starting spot with Kurt Coleman this offseason.

* The Eagles showed interest in veteran safety Yeremiah Bell and then ended up signing Atogwe after OTAs.

* Jarrett had a chance to make his mark in the first preseason game and turned in a dud.

* Nelson mixed in with Jarrett on the second team earlier this week at practice.

Now that all of that is out of the way, let me say that Jarrett still has a chance to make the roster. I’m sure the coaches want nothing more than to see him bounce back. He’ll be given every opportunity to stick around, considering he was a second-round pick in 2011. But at some point, you just admit the guy can’t play and move on.

My problem with Jarrett is that he looks bad doing the things that are supposed to be his strength. On Thursday night, he took bad angles to the ball and missed tackles. We know that pass coverage is not his strength. And he didn’t stand out on special teams last year. Those are all bad signs.

As for Nelson, consider him more of a place-holder. If Colt Anderson is ready to go, he could take that spot. Or perhaps more likely, the Eagles could sign a safety after teams trim their rosters down. I will say this though: Even though he was active for only four games last season, Nelson had five special-teams tackles and ranked ahead of Jarrett (active for 12 games) in special-teams points that are kept by the team.

In terms of depth, it looks like Atogwe will be the first man in should Allen or Coleman go down. It seems clear that the Eagles probably should have done more with their personnel here in the offseason.

Specialists (3): Alex Henery, Mat McBriar, Jon Dorenbos.

Neither McBriar nor Chas Henery was impressive in the first preseason game. But I still think it’s McBriar’s job to lose.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.

Eagles Training Camp Winners And Losers

Philadelphia Eagles running back Dion Lewis.Now that training camp has moved from Lehigh to South Philly, it’s time to look back on which Eagles helped themselves and hurt themselves in the last three weeks.

WINNERS

Damaris Johnson - When training camp started, it appeared that Johnson’s best (and perhaps only) chance to make the roster would be a special-teams role. The undrafted free agent out of Tulsa, who set an NCAA record with 7,796 all-purpose yards, remains the favorite to take over punt-return duties from DeSean Jackson.

But the surprise at Lehigh has been Johnson’s ability as a receiver. In college, he caught 188 balls for 2,746 yards and 17 touchdowns, averaging nearly 63 catches per season and 14.6 yards per reception. With Riley Cooper sidelined and Jeremy Maclin dealing with a hamstring injury, Johnson’s had a chance to run with the first team, and he’s made the most of it. While not the biggest guy (5-8, 175), he seems to have picked up the offense well, especially considering he’s a rookie. In the preseason game against the Steelers, Johnson put a tremendous double-move on Keenan Lewis, leaving the cornerback on the ground and running free for a 70-yard touchdown from Nick Foles.

There are still three weeks to go, but Johnson is slated to be the primary punt returner and will add depth at wide receiver. Not bad for a guy who went undrafted in April.

Dion Lewis – The truth is his struggles as a kickoff returner probably affected his reputation as a runner during Lewis’ rookie season. But the second-year back consistently looked like a playmaker at camp, specifically in the passing game. As I mentioned yesterday, the Eagles were not particularly effective in the screen game last year, but perhaps that’s an area where Lewis can help.

Until Week 17, Lewis played just 19 total snaps last season, too small of a number to judge whether he can be effective. In the first preseason game, he looked good in blitz pickup, something that is essential to get on the field in the Eagles’ offense. The team didn’t go out and sign a veteran running back this offseason, and they waited until the seventh round to draft one (Bryce Brown). They clearly have a level of trust in Lewis and believe he can back up LeSean McCoy and spell him for a handful of snaps each game.

Mychal Kendricks – Some are getting a bit too nit-picky with the rookie linebacker. Does he remind anyone of Ray Lewis? Of course not. But based on the last three weeks, Kendricks will provide a much-needed upgrade at the SAM spot. He made a couple early errors in the first preseason game against the Steelers, but also flashed his speed and finished with four solo tackles, including two behind the line of scrimmage.

The Eagles have played their usual game of musical chairs with the linebackers in the nickel package. DeMeco Ryans has been one of them since the spring. Brian Rolle started out there at the beginning of camp. Then it was Jamar Chaney. However, with Chaney fighting through a hamstring injury, Kendricks has been given a shot. And the guess here is that he won’t be giving it up. Juan Castillo having the flexibility to keep Ryans and Kendricks on the field for all three downs will help the Eagles reduce some of the confusion and miscommunication we saw with this defense in 2011.

LOSERS

Jaiquawn Jarrett – The criticism is not all about his play against the Steelers. Remember, Jarrett couldn’t get on the field as a rookie. And he didn’t contribute on special teams. In the spring, while coaches were using the lockout-shortened offseason as a reason for why the team struggled in 2011, no one expressed confidence that Jarrett would really push Kurt Coleman for the starting job in 2012.

Meanwhile, the Birds added veteran Oshiomogho Atogwe, and Coleman and Nate Allen have remained the first-team safeties.

Jarrett, meanwhile, flashed his talents during one training camp practice, forcing a couple fumbles and delivering the big hits he made his name on in college at Temple. But when given the chance to make his  mark in the first preseason game, he looked like the worst player on the field, taking bad angles and missing tackles.

It’s not over yet for Jarrett, and he might benefit from the Eagles not really having a lot of other options for safety depth. But he needs to get things together quickly.

Demetress Bell – As I wrote this morning, left tackle has quickly emerged as one of this team’s biggest concerns. When Jason Peters went down in the offseason, the Eagles looked wise in being pro-active and signing Bell, widely considered the best available left tackle on the market.

But after three weeks at Lehigh, Bell has been bumped on the first team in favor of King Dunlap. That whole story Andy Reid is selling about how this was a scheduled switch? Not buying it. The Eagles didn’t sign Dunlap until March 30, coincidentally the same day we found out about Jason Peters’ Achilles injury. At the time, the Eagles had no options to play left tackle, and Dunlap provided an insurance plan. He’s worked hard to carve out a spot as a backup (remember, Dunlap also played guard for a game last year), but is not someone the Eagles want to count on as a starter for 16 games.

The job is Bell’s for the taking. The question is: Will he be able to do enough in the next three weeks to show Howard Mudd he can be trusted? Remember, Mudd started Danny Watkins in camp last year, didn’t think he was ready and then replaced him with journeyman Kyle DeVan to start the season. Against the Steelers, Bell was asked to block his man one-on-one in pass protection twice. He got beat both times. And on one play, Michael Vick had to step up in the pocket to escape pressure, eventually banging his thumb against Jason Kelce’s helmet.

If Bell doesn’t improve in the coming weeks, he’ll start the season on the bench.

Mike Kafka – He was a giant question mark entering camp, and Kafka did little to alleviate concerns in the first preseason game, going 5-for-9 for 31 yards and an interception.

Granted, it was limited action, but he averaged just 3.4 yards per attempt. The question with Kafka is arm strength. The Eagles’ offense is based on getting the ball to its playmakers (DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin) downfield. If Kafka can’t make all the throws, Marty Mornhinweg and Andy Reid will have to change the offense dramatically when he enters the game.

Now that Kafka has a fractured left hand, it’s unlikely that he’ll be able to participate in any of the three remaining preseason games. And while the Nick Foles love has gotten out of hand (considering it’s based on six completed passes), the rookie will now get a chance to make his mark with the second team in Kafka’s absence.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.

Kafka Fractures Hand; Foles Steps In

Eagles backup quarterback Mike Kafka fractured his left, non-throwing hand during Thursday night’s preseason game against the Steelers and will not be back at full strength for two-to-three weeks, Andy Reid said today.

“What you’ll see from him, he’ll come out to practice… everything where he doesn’t have to take a snap, he’ll be able to do,” Reid said. “So the 7-on-7, some of the individual work, he’ll do.”

Kafka suffered the injury when he had his hand stepped on in the second quarter.

In the meantime, rookie Nick Foles is your backup quarterback. Foles went 6-for-10 for 144 yards and a pair of touchdowns against Pittsburgh.

“He’s progressing. He did some nice things,” Reid said. “I mentioned about keeping your eyes down the field on the one long ball where he had to move and then make the throw. That just came very natural to him. He felt the pressure, he scooted to the right, kept his eyes downfield, knew he had the receiver and gave him a catchable ball.”

Foles, a third-round pick out of Arizona, had been running exclusively with the third team until now. The Eagles also have Trent Edwards on the roster.

Given that Michael Vick missed three games last season and failed to finish two more, the Eagles need to make sure they have a backup quarterback they’re comfortable with. On Thursday, Vick suffered a thumb contusion on his fifth drop-back. He’s expected to be back at afternoon practice today.

As for Kafka, he has just 16 NFL passes under his belt. Coaches have shown trust in him all offseason by not bringing in a more established backup. And offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg raved about Kafka earlier in camp, saying the third-year quarterback is close to mastering the offense.

But given the recent setback, Kafka could very well miss the rest of the preseason.

OTHER INJURIES

Reid said the following players will not participate in practice today: Jason Babin (calf strain), Riley Cooper (fractured collarbone), Cliff Harris (ankle sprain), Cullen Jenkins (slight hamstring strain), Dion Lewis (slight hamstring strain), Jeremy Maclin (slight hamstring strain), Brandon Washington (concussion).

Lewis and Maclin are the new injuries. Maclin suffered his hamstring strain before Thursday’s game, and Lewis suffered his in the first half. Reid said both are expected to be OK.

EAGLES ADD WR

The Eagles have signed wide receiver Brian Hernandez and cut defensive tackle John Gill. The Eagles just signed Gill on Wednesday.

Hernandez (5-11, 190) signed with the Redskins in May. He is 28-years-old.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.

Game Review: Evaluating the Eagles’ Offense

Philadelphia Eagles running back Bryce BrownHere’s a player-by-player look at the Eagles’ offense after having re-watched Thursday night’s preseason game against the Steelers. If a player is not listed, it’s probably because he has no chance of making the team, or I didn’t notice anything about him one way or another.

Michael Vick – Third down on the first series was ugly. Vick first had to use a timeout. Then the Steelers showed blitz, but only rushed four. Pittsburgh got some pressure off the edge, but Vick walked right into a sack. He went 3-for-4 for 6 yards and suffered a thumb contusion. The Eagles’ offense went three-and-out twice. Things can only go up from here, right?

Mike Kafka – He played most of the second quarter and went 5-for-9 for 31 yards. Kafka was pressured on the interception, but has to be smarter with the football. While on the move, he made a good throw to Chad Hall for 11 yards on 3rd-and-6. I’ve had my concerns about Kafka being the backup all offseason, but nine preseason passes shouldn’t change anyone’s mind one way or another. He’s still the No. 2 guy – for now.

Nick Foles – One of the few bright spots offensively, Foles went 6-for-10 for 144 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He did a nice job of keeping his eyes downfield on the 70-yard TD to Damaris Johnson. The big arm was on display as the ball traveled about 43 yards in the air, and Foles delivered it on the move. He showed nice touch on the 43-yard touchdown to Mardy Gilyard. He’s still the No. 3 quarterback, but showed why the Eagles like him.

Trent Edwards – He was 12-for-20 for 106 yards and a score. Edwards’ focus right now is on putting good play on tape so that he can try to find another home when the Eagles cut him.

LeSean McCoy – One carry for -2 yards and one catch for -3 yards. Anyone ready to panic? Didn’t think so. A bright spot with McCoy was an excellent blitz pickup on the play where Vick injured his thumb. Not sure he needs to be on the field much this preseason.

Dion Lewis – He looked good, carrying four times for 22 yards. Lewis shook a tackle and picked up 8 yards on his first carry. He had a good, tough run for 3 yards on 2nd-and-2, and also picked up 12 on a second-quarter run. Perhaps more importantly, Lewis picked up the blitz nicely on Kafka’s incomplete throw for Marvin McNutt. And later, he chipped a linebacker and put him on the ground before going out into his route. Lewis suffered a hamstring injury, though. We should know more about the severity on Saturday.

Bryce Brown – The highlight was a 33-yard scamper where Brown broke a pair of tackles and rumbled down the left sideline. He also picked up some YAC on a 16-yard reception from Foles. Good hustle to tackle Al Woods after the Kafka interception. As for the whole blocking thing, Brown pretty much whiffed on a blitz pickup in the third. He’s still in good position to make the team.

Chris Polk – I don’t know if he’s going to make the team, but the Eagles should have Polk spend five minutes each practice showing the rest of the running backs how to pick up the blitz. I counted at least three plays where Polk was charged with protecting the quarterback, and he got the job done every time. He had three carries for 1 yard and three catches for 28 yards.

Stanley Havili – He got on the field in the first half and actually had a nice lead block on a Lewis run that lost 1 yard. Still needs to prove himself in the coming weeks.

Clay Harbor – With Brent Celek sidelined, he got the start and was targeted on the play where Vick sailed the throw and injured his thumb.

Brett Brackett – He had two catches for 9 yards, but also had a pass go right through his hands in the third. Don’t see him making the team.

Demetress Bell – By my count, the Eagles gave him help on three of five pass plays. Linebacker Chris Carter went right around Bell on Vick’s completion to McCoy in the flat. Carter went around him again, forcing Vick to step up on the play where he hit his thumb on Kelce’s helmet. Small sample size, but unimpressive debut for Bell.

Evan Mathis, Jason Kelce, Danny Watkins, Todd Herremans – They all started and were fine. Again, only talking about six plays here.

King Dunlap – He played left tackle with the second team and was fine. The Eagles know what they have in Dunlap.

Julian Vandervelde – Disappointing game for the second-year player. He started out at left guard with the twos. It looked like Vandervelde was slow to pick up a blitzer on Kafka’s incompletion intended for McNutt. Later, the Eagles had him pull to sell the play-fake, but Vandervelde was slow to get to the edge, and Carter forced Kafka to scramble. He was also called for holding on the play. Vandervelde played center in the third and got beat by Alameda Ta’amu, who pressured Foles.

Dallas Reynolds – He started out at center with the twos and then moved to guard. On one play, Reynolds got beat by McLendon, who dropped Lewis for a 1-yard loss.

Mike Gibson – He played right guard with the twos. Very nice block by Gibson, taking a Steelers linebacker to the ground on Lewis’ 3-yard run.

Dennis Kelly – He started out at right tackle but also played some right guard. Kelly was slow to pick up a blitzing linebacker, who got in Kafka’s face and helped cause the interception. Later, he failed to pick up a blitzing linebacker on third down in the second. Kelly looks very much like a project. Don’t expect the rookie to get on the field much in his first season.

DeSean Jackson – He was targeted once and made a 5-yard grab. Great moment between Jackson and Andy Reid at the end of the game.

Damaris JohnsonI wrote about him yesterday. Johnson got the start in Jeremy Maclin’s place and finished as the game’s leading receiver with four catches for 85 yards. He put a great move on the linebacker on a crossing pattern for a first down in the second. Johnson also made a great move on the 70-yard TD to get wide open. Earlier, he dropped a good pass from Kafka on a slant. But overall, strong game.

Jason Avant – Played, but was not targeted.

Marvin McNutt – No catches, but nice effort as a downfield blocker on Brown’s 33-yard run.

Chad Hall – Made an 11-yard grab on 3rd-and-6. Not sure what he provides that Johnson doesn’t, other than experience with the offense.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.

Instant Observations: Eagles vs. Steelers

Here’s what I saw during tonight’s Eagles-Steelers game.

OFFENSE

* Michael Vick suffered a left thumb injury in the second quarter. He played two series’ – both three-and-outs. Vick was 3-for-4 for 6 yards. He also was sacked by defensive lineman Steve McLendon, who threw Vick to the ground in the first quarter.

* Jeremy Maclin suffered a hamstring injury during warm-ups and was a late scratch. Damaris Johnson took his place in the starting lineup and had four catches for 85 yards. He also had an electrifying 55-yard punt return, but it was called back for an illegal block in the back.

* Nick Foles was the bright spot offensively. In the third quarter, he escaped pressure, rolled to his right and hit Johnson for a 70-yard touchdown. By my count, the ball traveled about 43 yards in the air. Later in the quarter, he showed good touch, hitting Mardy Gilyard for a 44-yard score down the left sideline.

* Mike Kafka came into the game in the second quarter and went 5-for-9 for 31 yards. He was also intercepted on a designed screen pass. Kafka was under pressure and let go of the ball, looking for Bryce Brown, but defensive tackle Al Woods picked it off and returned it 53 yards.

* Dion Lewis had four carries for 22 yards in the first half, including a nice 12-yard scamper.

* Bryce Brown had a nice 33-yard run in the third, shaking a pair of tackles and making his way down the left sideline.

* Brandon Boykin had a great 46-yard kickoff return in the first quarter. He fielded the ball 8 yards deep in the end zone but took it all the way to the Eagles’ 38. As a point of reference, Lewis’ longest return last year was 33 yards.

DEFENSE

* To say Jaiquawn Jarrett had a bad first half would be an understatement. Jarrett had a chance to make an impression, getting the start for an injured Nate Allen, but the results were not pretty. He missed a pair of tackles and took a couple horrible angles on running plays, once flying into defensive end Vinny Curry. Jarrett, Nnamdi Asomugha and Brian Rolle also left Steelers wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders wide open on Pittsburgh’s second-quarter touchdown.

* The first-team defensive line featured Cullen Jenkins at left defensive end, Antonio Dixon and Derek Landri at defensive tackle, and Darryl Tapp at right defensive end. But Jenkins suffered a hamstring injury in the first half and left the game.

* The second-team defensive line was Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox, Cedric Thornton and Phillip Hunt. Hunt and Graham met at Ben Roethlisberger on one play. Hunt picked up the sack, and it looked like Graham might have forced a fumble. Hunt had two sacks, and Graham was credited with one.

* I noticed Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie lining up at right cornerback on one play and Asomugha on the left. We’re definitely going to see some of that this season.

* Good coverage on Sanders by Rodgers-Cromartie in the first quarter, as Roethlisberger took a shot at him deep. Rodgers-Cromartie also drew a personal foul penalty for launching himself at Leftwich.

* Mychal Kendricks was very active, starting on the strong side. He was credited with five tackles (four solo), and two for loss. Kendricks stayed on the field in nickel situations with DeMeco Ryans.

* The second-team linebackers had Casey Matthews in the middle, with Akeem Jordan at SAM and Keenan Clayton at WILL.

* Landri pressured Leftwich on one play, and Tapp and Rolle finished him off for a sack.

* Asomugha made a couple good tackles against the run, a welcome sight after last season.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.

Twitter Mailbag: Have A Little Faith In Kafka

Today, we go directly to the Mothership to start things off. The great Freddie Coleman of ESPN radio fame saw my request for Twitter Mailbag entries, and fired one in.

From @ColemanESPN: Will the O-Line keep people off Michael Vick enough for him to play a full season?

Funny enough, Freddie, my mind has moseyed over to the offensive line as well. With Evan Mathis and Todd Herremans missing practice Thursday we got a peek at a couple backups, and there are some big question marks. Vick appeared less comfortable and was definitely less efficient behind them. Sheil wrote a piece on this very topic and brought up a great point: With Jason Kelce bearing so much more responsibility this year in terms of dictating protections, what happens if he goes down?

Assuming health, I feel pretty good about this group. Howard Mudd is a master sculptor (I still marvel at Kelce’s development and how good Mathis has become), and should be able to make Demetress Bell into a solid left tackle. They’ll hold up their end of the bargain; then it becomes a matter of whether Vick listens to his mom…and his coaches…and his President, and decides to play smart.

I do not feel particularly great about the O-Line depth, however. Could be a trouble spot.

From @philliefan15: all these injuries have anything to do with switching hitting to afternoon? I can’t see a correlation but a LOT of injuries.

Certainly you are not the only one thinking along these lines. From the jump I have expressed concern about changing the real practice to the afternoon. Men that large going that hard in that kind of heat is a dangerous recipe. Are the injuries connected to the switch? I don’t think so. After speaking to some of my colleagues, the consensus is that injuries happen at this kind of rate every year, and every year it feels like there is an unprecedented rash.

While most of these injuries aren’t a direct result of live-hitting, there’s no question that they have forced the coaching staff to scale back the intensity level. Tackling was scheduled for Thursday’s practice but with all the fallen bodies, they decided to make it less physical.

From @TomMcKennaNJ: Is there any chance the Eagles try to land a legit backup QB?

And…

From @Dankel 1414: Why does it seem no one is concerned with lack of quality backup QB with Vick’s injury history? Biggest weakness IMO.

I realize I am on a remote island here, but I have faith in Mike Kafka as a backup quarterback. (Ducks.)

One of Andy Reid’s most obvious mistakes from last season was, after reviewing Kafka’s strong performance against Atlanta, deciding that he was way too conservative in his play-calling and letting it fly against the Giants the next time Kafka came in. There was no need to take the governor off. Let him manage, let him matriculate the ball down the field. No turnovers.

Kafka is intelligent and  his arm strength is improving, as is his understanding of the system. He’ll be a better quarterback than A.J. Feeley. He’ll be able to keep a team afloat during a short-term Vick absence.  I think he’s better than most people realize.

From @dcastro 24: great work on the blog! It’s a must read; comprehensive, informative and honest. Thoroughly enjoyable.

Nothing to add here. Just  a sucker for positive feedback.

In all sincerity, there have been a lot of comments like that, and it is very much appreciated. The only drawback is Kapadia’s head no longer fits through the media trailer door up here at training camp. But at least it lets us know that we’re on the right track.

You can follow Tim McManus on Twitter and email him at tmcmanus@phillymag.com.

Kafka’s Training Something Out of Science Fiction

Want to know where Mike Kafka’s improved arm strength is coming from? Buckle up.

The search to discover the origin of the quarterback’s newfound zip led us to his trainer Jay Schroeder, who has been working with Kafka since his sophomore year at Northwestern. A simple question about Schroeder’s methods put us on a twisting path that led into an almost supernatural realm.

His technique literally came to him in a dream, and is based on the assumption that all humans are naturally fast, strong and powerful — it’s just that bad habits and external elements have essentially trained the mind wrong since birth, stunting some abilities. So he retrains it.

Through a series of tests performed by stimulating the nervous system, Schroeder unearths what muscles are not working and which ones are working out of order. Once that is determined, he sends messages to the brain via an electrical modality called POV (for force velocity) that gives the proper information on how to perform what you want to perform.

“Ability is always inside,” explains Schroeder, the owner and developer of EVO UltraFit. “We just  tell the brain that it’s OK to display it.”

Schroeder says that once the right wires are connected, an athlete can improve his bench press by 100-200 pounds in a blink, shave off fractions of a 40-time or increase a vertical jump. It takes sincere dedication and discipline to retain those abilities.

And what about arm strength?

Kafka was asked on Sunday just how many times he’s been posed the arm-strength question since arriving at camp.

“A couple,” he replied. In the last year? “More than a few,” Kafka said, drawing laughs.

“It really doesn’t [bother me] because you have to make all the throws and that’s the reason why they drafted me, because I can do that.”

Don’t let him fool you, though. Improved arm strength has been a top priority.

“Oh hell yeah,” said Schroeder. “That’s the main goal of this whole thing. It was a glaring weakness he displayed last year and in college. We now have a handle on it, and from what I understand it’s going very well for him.”

There does seem to be a difference. No one will confuse his gun for Michael Vick’s, but there is a little more mustard on his throws. How was it done?

“We taught him how to lengthen the appropriate muscles at a high rate of speed so that he could decelerate in the appropriate means, which in turn tells your brain that you can accelerate at a higher level,” said Schroeder. “We prepare him to recover from the strain of arm strength.”

It may all sound a little to Sci-Fi, but this is no half-cocked operation. Schroeder’s reach extends into Major League Baseball, swimming, the NHL and NBA. He claims that some 400 NFL players are using his system, with a stable that includes a few “elite quarterbacks” that wouldn’t feel comfortable being named. He was able to say that Dwight Freeney, Carlos Dansby and Tim Hightower are a few of his clients.

Freeney tore a ligament in his ankle prior to Super Bowl XLIV, an injury that many thought would sideline him for weeks. He was back within five days, and registered a sack in a losing effort for the Colts. Schroeder believes that it was his methods that aided in the quick turnaround.

He says that the whole theory works off the premise that we are miracles. If you believe that, then certainly you’ll believe that Kafka can throw a 16-yard out with authority.

Eagles Training Camp Preview: Quarterbacks

Our position-by-position preview continues with a look at the Eagles’ signal-callers.

Michael Vick

Just how important is it for Vick to stay upright for the entire year? Consider the last five Super Bowl quarterbacks, and the number of games they were under center during the regular season:

2011: Eli Manning  16

2010: Aaron Rodgers  15

2009: Drew Brees  15 (sat out finale)

2008: Ben Roethlisberger  16

2007: Eli Manning  16

That’s one game lost to injury  in five years (Rodgers, concussion). So there you go.

Vick has only played 16 games once in his career, turning the trick back in 2006. He missed three games as the Eagles starter last year and was knocked out of two others. There is a reason the coaches are drilling it into his head to choose health over an extra yard – the season rides on it.

Mike Kafka

Talk to QB coach Doug Pederson about Kafka, and you’ll walk away feeling better about the state of the backup position. Internally the Eagles see a smart signal-caller with improving command of the offense who is showing more snap in his throws. They saw positive signs in the Atlanta game that he can come into live action cold and perform.  They’d probably rather not discuss his 31.0 quarterback rating the next week against the Giants.

Some paint the picture of an open competition for the No. 2 role. I don’t see it. The dice will be rolled with the kid from Northwestern.

Nick Foles

The rookie out of Arizona is apparently on schedule if not a little bit ahead, but still has a ways to go. He looks the part – standing at 6-5 with a power arm and decent accuracy — and the coaches seem to be happy with his improving footwork. They’ll only break the glass in an emergency, though.

Trent Edwards

The former Bill had a rough go of it during OTAs and had a tough time getting reps by the end of it. In his defense, the coaches were making some pretty significant tweaks to his mechanics, which helps explain all the wayward passes. Looks better early on at camp, though he’d have to make a hell of a push to grab a spot.

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