During the prolonged offseason and lockout, there were many questions facing the Eagles braintrust. Fans expressed concern over the secondary, which was blamed for losing in the playoffs to Green Bay – and which also garnered Philadelphia the worst red zone defense rating in the NFL over the past 30 years. To put that into perspective, that would be right around the time when Bill Bergey, Dick Vermeil, Ron Jaworski and Wilbert Montgomery were suffering a stinging loss to the wildcard Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XV. Linebacker, offensive line, special teams and defensive line were also concerns but until the lockout ended, there was nothing that could be done. The draft nested a few names that fans could latch onto – including Danny Watkins, Alex Henery and Casey Matthews among others.
When training camp began, some of those players began to show what they could do but simply plugging rookies into the mix wouldn’t cut it. A plan was in place whether the fans knew it or not. Management said all along that they had a plan of attack and were going to implement it as soon as the lockout ended and football activities resumed.
Meanwhile, it was the coaching changes that would be most encouraging to Head Coach Andy Reid. Sean McDermott was out as defensive coordinator (Carolina) as was Dick Jauron in his one year audition as defensive assistant before moving onto Cleveland with former Eagles assistant Pat Shurmur. Enter Jim Washburn (defensive line) and Howard Mudd (offensive line) who could be revered as the preeminent line coaches in the business. Oh and Juan Castillo made the unprecedented move from offensive line coach to defensive coordinator – despite never having been a coordinator at any level in his career.
Entering Training Camp in late July, making the Eagles as a defensive end looked like a daunting task. Already on the roster would be returning starters Trent Cole and Juqua Parker. A few days into camp, free-agent signee Jason Babin joined their ranks. Those guys all are probably going to line up Sept. 11 against the Rams, even if Parker (the oldest Eagle, at 33) might have to sweat the last cut (Eagles are famous for the Logan’s Run Rule).
Now consider 2010 first-round pick Brandon Graham, who will claim a roster spot whenever he completes his knee rehab – a roster which also includes Darryl Tapp, Victor Abiamiri, Ricky Sapp, Phillip Hunt and Daniel Te’o-Nesheim. Possibly if Graham starts the year on the physically unable to perform list two of these guys make the squad? Three? Now in the third week of camp Sapp and Abiamiri are already gone while Chris Wilson has arrived late to take reps. Tapp, Hunt and Te’o-Nesheim are making the final decision a tough one; all had sacks in Thursday’s preseason opener, with Tapp notching a pair.
“What you see is that they want a job with this team. The hunger, the desire, the energy, the fight, which is what we all want to be about,” defensive coordinator Juan Castillo said yesterday. “It’s exciting, because they’re practicing hard and they’re doing a good job.”
Tapp and Hunt have the inside track based on performance. Then again, neither Tapp nor Hunt are 6’3”, 263 pounds of raw unsculpted talent waiting to be unleashed on the unsuspecting NFL). Of the three, perhaps Hunt is the longest shot. He is the smallest defensive on the roster, (6-foot, 244 lbs). The Eagles traded for Tapp, sending Stacy Andrews to Seattle a year ago, and drafted Te’o-Nesheim, in the third round in 2010. Hunt represents less of an investment, as a guy they signed from the CFL (leading sackmaster in Great White North) last winter when nobody knew whether there would be free agency this year because of the lockout.
Asked about Hunt’s size, Castillo said, “The key is how fast, how quick you can run, so you can get around those big linemen. It’s hard for them to block you of they can’t catch you. Then it is about what you do once you get there.”
We have seen a bit of that at Lehigh, particularly in one-on-one blocking drills.
“I think I’m out here just to grind, and show the coaches and the players that I’m a good guy to have on their side,” Hunt said yesterday. “Every day, just being here, I know it’s a blessing. I don’t want to leave.” Playing in the CFL, where Hunt estimates offenses pass “90 percent of the time” (Andy Reid will always have a job north of the border with that ratio), Hunt said he developed “good control of my get-off, just working pass-rush moves, play-in and play-out.”
Tapp, who turns 27 next month, managed just three sacks in 14 games last season. He likes the defensive line mandate under new line coach Jim Washburn.
“Coach Washburn is second to none, as far as defensive line coaches,” Tapp said. “He knows how to get the best out of his players, utilize different talents in different situations . . . He’s a hard-nosed, passionate coach. Rush…crush… close is his mantra.”
Te’o-Nesheim was the biggest disappointment of last year’s deep draft class. He played in just six games, with one sack. Te’o-Nesheim said he rushed from a defensive tackle spot in college at Washington, and had a difficult transition to defensive end (farther away from the ball).” Of course,” Te’o-Nesheim said, when asked if he was disappointed in his rookie season. “I’m glad to still be here, trying to make the 53 and contribute any way I can.”
Right tackle Ryan Harris (back spasms) again sat out, on a sloppy, rainy, low-energy day. Also out were defensive tackle Antonio Dixon (back spasms), running back Derrick Locke (shoulder), defensive end Juqua Parker (calf) and defensive end Greg Lloyd (high ankle sprain), along with the guys who have already been out, and haven’t come back yet – such as defensive tackle Mike Patterson (brain AVM) and newly signed WR Steve Smith (P.U.P.). . . The Eagles disclosed that WR Jeremy Maclin is on the reserve-nonfootball injury list, which he can come off at any time. They provided no update on Maclin’s trip to Missouri to seek answers to his still undisclosed so-called “mystery” illness. It actually resembles the symptoms of mononucleosis but has been naggingly prolonged and seems to concern the team.
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About the Author
Written by Christopher Rowe
Contributing writer Comcast Sports, NY Times contributing stringer 1996-2000, Contributing writer Yahoo Sports (2001 World Series). Contributing writer Newsday Long Island (1992-1994, Jets Training Camp) and Newak Star Ledger. Freelance Copywriter, Editor/Founder Atlantic Times Weekly (1993-2003) fantasy football magazine, produced screenwriter and general humorist. Hofstra University grad, Marist College honorary alum, Salesian; Purveyor of the Value and Valor of Philadelphia Eagles 1960 NFL Championship; Adrent believer that Eagles could have won Super Bowl XV...and Super Bowl XXXIX...plus modern decade of Eagles 5 NFC Championships... Believer in the Broad Street Bullies and the 1983 Sixers... Witness to Philadelphia Phillies World Series championships 1980 & 2008, Suffered Phillies first pro sports team to reach 10,000 losses,witnessed "1980 Cardiac Kids," 1983 "Wheeze Kids," 1993 "Macho Row" and many, many, many not-so-memorable seasons in-between... until the Philadelphia Baseball Renaissance of 21st Century, Five NL East division titles 2007-2011, 3 NLCS appearances 2008-2010, 2 consecutive World Series berths 2008 & 2009. 2008 World Champions of baseball [miss ya Harry and Richie]; "collector" of MLB ballparks (42 stadiums including 15 which are gone); Fantasy Football & Baseball player since 1992. Always a sports fan... Tenui Nec Dimittam Contact me firstname.lastname@example.org