With the starters only playing the first half as opposed to three quarters, it wasn’t the full dress rehearsal this game was supposed to be. But in those couple quarters, the Eagles first line unit played fairly well against a Cleveland Browns team depleted by injury and really, talent.
And while some things went well, others looked worse than the upcoming aftermath of Hurricane Irene.
Quarterback Michael Vick looked unsure, unsteady, and a little bit lost. Despite playing an entire half, he completed only one pass to a wideout — DeSean Jackson looks like a man waiting for a contract. The majority of Vick’s passes ended up being dumpoffs to LeSean McCoy, and at times Vick seemed to start running around like a spooked cat as soon as the ball was snapped. Of course, that could be attributed primarily to the sieve that is the right side of the Eagles offensive line. Actually, you need to start at the center and move out from there.
Rookie center Jason Kelce played like a rookie. He was overwhelmed at times by the pass rush, with Brown rookie defensive tackle Phil Taylor looking like an invading barbarian horde storming an army of children. Taylor didn’t just abuse Kelce though, with Taylor’s former Baylor teammate and Eagles first round pick Danny Watkins getting tossed around like a dwarf at a bowling alley. It wasn’t pretty.
Kelce did look quick and effective at times when run blocking, and he still has potential, but if Jamaal Jackson is anything close to healthy it’s hard to imagine he doesn’t get the starting nod in Week 1. There’s no way this line can afford to have a black hole in the middle. And despite his struggles, Watkins needs to be allowed to continue to play and develop, but the line needs more than what Kelce is bringing right now, especially if they have a veteran option like Jackson.
And that’s not even mentioning King “Olé” Dunlap. Winston Justice needs to get a bionic knee ASAP. And when your team is desperate to have Winston Justice return, you’re kind of in trouble.
The running game actually looked good at times, with McCoy looking ready to go and Ronnie Brown showing he could start for most teams. Also, I’m in love with Dion Lewis. He’s incredibly quick and tougher than his size indicates, plus he’s not afraid to get in there and try to blow someone up in pass protection. A great pick and a great third back. And with kick coverage less important with the new rules, it’s the UFL for Eldra Buckley.
On defense, the major focus was of course Casey Matthews, and he played OK. Matthews made some tackles and had a few nice reads on run plays, the highlight being a stuff of running back Montario Hardesty. But he again got pushed around a bit or at times was just out of position, with neither the size nor the ability to assert himself back into the wash. He’s not garbage but he needs to get better faster. It’s telling that while pretty much every other starter was long gone, Matthews played deep into the second half.
Speaking of post-halftime, rookie linebacker Brian Rolle looked decent running around the field chasing backups, and even contributed a sack. He did look like a rookie at times but showed potential. His speed and instincts will allow him to cover once he picks things up. It’s telling that he’s on the field in the nickel as opposed to second-year player Keenan Clayton, though the second year player is also learning a different scheme under new defensive coordinator Juan Casitllo. Still, if Rolle can continue to adapt to the speed of the game and get a grasp on his assignments in coverage, always a challenge for college linebackers, he could see some serious playing time come the regular season.
On the line, reserve defensive tackle Derek Landri picked up a sack and continues to just work hard. The former Panther and Jag is making a good case for a job in the NFL, even if it’s not with the Eagles. Of course, his play could mean the end of the disappointing Trevor Laws era before it ever really started. It depends on how many DTs the Eagles want to keep and how fed up they are with Laws. Locks are Mike Patterson and Cullen Jenkins. It’s likely Antonio Dixon is safe as well. That means two, or more likely one more spot is there for guys like Anthony Hargrove, Landri, Laws, Marlon Favorite, and undrafted rookie Cedric Thornton.
Hargrove got some looks at defensive end though he’s not really going to make an impact there. Still, he’s versatile and fairly talented. It would seem a player like that brings much more value than a guy like Laws who can’t get out of the tub to get on the field.
It’s hard to believe Patterson is in the mix at all as he continues to deal with the nerve condition AVM in his brain. He looks relatively fit and seemed very motivated, even notching a first quarter sack. That was a very rare sight even before the seizure happened, so hopefully he can continue to beat this and play better for it.
The rest of the defensive line didn’t really do too much, with a quiet night from Jason Babin. That said, they weren’t bad either. Trent Cole brought his usual pressure while picking up a sack. Later on, CFL import Phillip Hunt played well, notching a sack and contributing to Rolle’s as well. Hunt seems to be a much better option than the over-matched and under-talented waste of a(nother) third round pick Daniel Te’o Nesheim.
At this point, with Cole, Babin, Patterson, Jenkins, and a little bit of depth the defensive line is one of the least worrisome areas on the team.
Another area of strength are the cornerbacks, with Asante Samuel showing again why he shouldn’t just be pushed aside by the arrivals of Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Samuel’s pick was a clear display of his great ball instincts and fantastic closing ability and burst. There’s really no way he should be traded (unless it’s part part of that awesomely ridiculous Patrick Willis rumor, or the even more so Mario Williams one). It makes much more sense to move the steady if nothing special Joselio Hanson, keeping second year player Trevard Lindley and rookie third round pick Curtis Marsh in reserve.
The rest of the secondary looked pretty good overall. Asomugha was lined up all over the field, showing off his versatility and ability to cover anyone in any area. DRC was lined up in multiple spots as well, and even blocked a field goal. With Asante’s block last week, here’s hoping this is a trend amongst the corners going forward. The aforementioned Hanson didn’t even see the field, likely due to Castillo wanting to see how his new toys could be used in different situations, while the younger guys needed to fight for a job — Brandon Hughes is getting a look. Hanson again appears to be nothing more than trade bait right now. Nice guy, nice player, but nice knowing ya.
At safety, Kurt Coleman continues to show he belongs, not only on the field but as a full-time starter. He shows a hitter’s instincts and always shows a willingness to make tackles and bust heads. He’s a hard worker compensating for lesser physical skills but that doesn’t mean he can’t play. Every team needs guys like him.
Opposite Coleman, Jarrad Page looked solid as well though he didn’t really have much impact on the good or bad side of things. Second-year player and former starter Nate Allen looked better than last week’s debacle, though he mainly played against other backups. The status of his surgically repaired patellar tendon will be a regular point of focus into the season. As of now, he looks to start out on the bench.
Rookie Jaiquawn Jarrett still continues to find his way, looking over-matched a bit in coverage but showing flashes of potential. He will always be a willing hitter and his skills are clear. As another rookie trying to cram an entire offseason into a month of camp he needs time to show what he can do.
What this game ultimately showed is that the offensive line is a bigger problem than originally thought, and it was already a pretty major concern. Also, Vick needs to show he’s still capable of functioning at a high level after teams have been able to study him and figure out his many deficiencies. He’s still fast and elusive, and despite how the Eagles treated the abbreviated offseason, this isn’t Madden.
Still, this team is loaded with talent, and once DeSean Jackson gets re-signed and re-motivated, and Jeremy Maclin gets back on the field, the offense will be great, while the defense led by Cole, Jenkins, Samuel, and Asomugha will be something teams should fear week in and week out.
It’s strange getting excited for the date September 11, but really, the season can’t start soon enough.
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