NFC East: Philadelphia Eagles
PHILADELPHIA -- Ah, the good old NFC East, where up is down, black is white and you can trade your starting quarterback a week before the season and still find yourself in first place when October dawns.
Yeah, those are the Philadelphia Eagles undefeated and leading the division through three weeks. Yes, that's defending champion Washington, 1-2 by the skin of its teeth and the generosity of Eli Manning, sitting in last place. And in the middle we find the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys, each of whom entered the year with major questions but have managed to start 2-1. The Giants hold the tiebreaker right now for second place because they won by a point in Dallas in Week 1, but Dallas beat Washington, Washington beat the Giants and the Eagles haven't played anyone in the division yet.
In other words, as always seems to be the case in the NFC East, nobody knows anything.
The Eagles look fantastic right now, coming off a 34-3 throttling of popular preseason favorite Pittsburgh on Sunday. They have yet to lose a game or turn the ball over. At some point (likely on the same day), they will do both. It won't be this week, since they're on bye, but tougher times do loom for rookie quarterback Carson Wentz and this squad. Four of their next five games are on the road, the one home game in that stretch is against fellow unbeaten Minnesota and the second half of the Eagles' season features road games in Seattle, Cincinnati and Baltimore. Add in the looming 10-game suspension of right tackle Lane Johnson, and it's fair to assume the Eagles will struggle at some point.
Which is fine. Philadelphia was prepared for a bit of a rebuilding year, given the state of the roster post-Chip Kelly. The Eagles are pleasantly stunned to be 3-0, and they're head over heels for Wentz, who looks like the real deal. You'd much rather go into an offseason believing you have your quarterback and needing to fill in around him with surer-handed wide receivers and younger offensive linemen than wondering who your quarterback is. So even if the Eagles' hot start fades, things look sunny there long term, and the early season success is a huge part of that.
But the rules clearly state that the NFC East must have a champion and field a playoff team this season. And if the Eagles turn out not to be as good as they look right now, the question of which team that will be is wide open.
The Cowboys already have won more games without Tony Romo this season than they did in 12 tries last year. Rookies Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott are keeping the offense afloat. In the whole NFL, they trail only the Eagles in time of possession, which means the plan to grind out clock and keep the undermanned defense off the field is holding up so far. Pass-rusher DeMarcus Lawrence returns from suspension in Week 5. They're still expecting Romo back around midseason. And while out-of-division trips to Green Bay, Pittsburgh and Minnesota don't look fun, it doesn't appear as if Romo's absence will crush this season the way it did the last. That's some reason for hope in Big D.
The Giants just had their best September in four years, but my goodness are they sloppy. They've turned the ball over seven times, only taken it away once and just committed 11 penalties for 128 yards in Sunday's loss to Washington. That was a game that could have stamped them as division favorites and sunk Washington into an 0-3 hole. Instead, they face October road trips to Minnesota, Green Bay and London -- and legitimate questions about the sustainability of their hot start. The Giants were 3-8 last year in games decided by a touchdown or less, so being 2-1 in such games so far is encouraging in the grand scheme. And at least until Romo returns (and possibly after), they still have the division's best quarterback. But things are about to get tougher, and Ben McAdoo's bunch needs to tighten up in a hurry.
In our nation's capital, the division's defending champ wonders whether Kirk Cousins can be the sharp decision-maker he was last year and in Sunday's second half or the scatter-armed mess he was for the season's first two and a half games. Cousins is going to have to carry Washington's offense, which can't run at all and doesn't look like it really wants to try. The only two teams in the league averaging more passing yards per game than Washington are the two that hook up in the Superdome on Monday night, Atlanta and New Orleans. If Cousins' team turns it around, he's going to have the stats to warrant that big contract extension the Redskins didn't want to give him this offseason.
There's a long way to go in this and every other division, but the only thing we ever know about the NFC East is that we have no idea what will happen. The division hasn't had a repeat winner since 2003-04, and only once in the past six years has one of its teams won more than 10 games in a season. You can make the case that the Eagles already are a third of the way home if you want to. And even if they win it with the North Dakota State rookie, it couldn't be viewed as a major surprise. But there are sure to be more surprises between now and then in the always wild and wacky NFC East.
PHILADELPHIA -- Due respect to the breathless September phenomenon that is young Carson Wentz, the most stunning number on the Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday night was not the Philadelphia Eagles' 34 but rather the Pittsburgh Steelers' 3.
This was, after all, the Steelers. Big Ben Roethlisberger. Electric Antonio Brown. Backup running back DeAngelo Williams with a league-leading 237 rushing yards in the first two games. Pittsburgh was a preseason Super Bowl favorite because of an offense too mighty and explosive to contain. And what happened here Sunday?
"Sure enough," Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham said, "we shut them down."
A lot changed this offseason in Philadelphia, and much of the focus when examining that change has locked in on the offense. Gone were coach Chip Kelly and his high-speed, who-cares-about-time-of-possession ways. In came new coach Doug Pederson, himself a first-time head coach with a background in offense. But Pederson knew he needed an experienced hand to run his defense and he selected Jim Schwartz, the former Lions head coach who'd had successful stints as a defensive coordinator in places like Tennessee and Buffalo.
Schwartz's defense is built around a 4-3 front, which was nice because the players in the Eagles' front seven always seemed like they fit a 4-3 better than they fit Kelly's 3-4. So Schwartz had plenty with which to work. The front office set about getting contract extensions in place for some of the building blocks, such as safety Malcolm Jenkins and defensive linemen Fletcher Cox and Vinny Curry. And away they went.
"When this coaching staff came in, they told us, 'We're going to give you the tools you guys need to own this defense. You guys need to take it over,'" cornerback Nolan Carroll said. "That's a great feeling as players and I think you see the results."
The results now include a thorough smothering of Roethlisberger and a shell-shocked Steelers offense. Philadelphia held Pittsburgh to 251 total yards on Sunday. The Steelers averaged 395 yards per game last year and 406 for the first two weeks of this season.
"That's not how we play," Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey said.
But if this is how the Eagles play defense with Schwartz as their coordinator, their chances of building on their surprising 3-0 start are better than you might think. They look shaky at cornerback, sure. But Jenkins had a whopper of a game Sunday and helps out his buddies in the secondary. And what they're able to do in the front seven around Cox and a deep group of defensive linemen is the key to the whole thing. They hit Roethlisberger eight times, sacked him four times and kept him from getting comfortable at any point in the game.
"We knew what they wanted to do," linebacker Jordan Hicks said. "They want to move their quarterback up in that pocket and find Antonio down the field. So we just tried to suffocate Big Ben and not let them hit that big play."
These Eagles don't blitz much. Schwartz likes to try to generate pressure with just that front four. But they do change up the looks. Graham can move inside and match up against guards, and he can bounce back out and rush from that "Wide-9" look on the edge. Defensive tackle Bennie Logan is a monster against the run, as evidenced by Williams' 21 yards on eight carries in this one. And Cox ... Cox is a $100 million superstar who can destroy the pocket from the interior. Together, they're leading a group that has allowed 274.3 yards and nine points per game through three weeks of this young season.
"We've got a bunch of leaders on that defense, and the coaches trust us," Cox said. "It's all about growing and being hard on each other."
The first two games were against the Browns and the Bears -- hardly two of the league's offensive juggernauts. But this one, against this Pittsburgh team, is the one that will get everyone's attention. This wasn't supposed to happen. The Eagles head into their ultra-early bye week 3-0, in first place in a division in which many thought they'd finish last, feeling fantastic about their rookie quarterback and a defense that's flat-out revived.
The Eagles finished last in the league all three years of Kelly's tenure in offensive time of possession -- averaging just 26:23 per game with the ball in their hands. That means no team's defense spent more time on the field the past three years than the Eagles' defense. This year, the Eagles lead the league in time of possession at an average of 36:47 per game. That's an average of 10:24 less per game that the defense has to be on the field. And the players on that side of the ball are paying it back with performance.
"Keeping everybody fresh is important, because we're able to fly around and play with that energy all four quarters, and I think you're seeing that," Graham said. "We're improved. We've gotten better. And today we stopped a good team. A great team."
Keep playing defense the way they have so far, and who knows? These upstart Eagles might have a chance to become one of those themselves before too long.
Johnson played right tackle with the second-team line.
Eagles head coach Doug Pederson said he was confident the team could manage without Johnson.
“I look back to our days in Kansas City,” said Pederson, a former Chiefs offensive coordinator. “We had a lot of injuries there and we were moving guys around, and we had a young left tackle early on. We made it work.
“I'm looking for five tough, dirty, nasty guys that want to go out and just play football. I don't care which five it is, but we're going to find the best five and the right five, and I feel like we've got them here on the team.”
Barbre, 32, started all 16 games at left guard last season. Before that, he was a backup at multiple positions. He started one game at right tackle in 2014. In 2009, as a member of the Green Bay Packers, Barbre started seven games at right tackle.
“I’m definitely going to approach it the same,” Barbre said. “My approach is just to go out and work hard every day, put my best foot forward. I’m going to give it my best, whether it’s one game, four games or 16 games.”
In 2014, Johnson was suspended for four games for violating the NFL performance-enhancing drug policy. Former head coach Chip Kelly had Johnson practice with the second team during training camp, while his potential replacements -- including Barbre and Andrew Gardner -- worked with the first team.
That is what Pederson appears to be doing this time. Johnson faces a 10-game suspension for a second offense.
“I think it would behoove me to have a plan,” Pederson said. “Again, it just goes back to giving these guys an opportunity to get them on tape, to make the corrections now so that down the road, we're prepared for it.
“I wanted to see guys at different spots. What happens if Jason Peters goes down during the regular season, or Jason Kelce goes down during the regular season? I just want to see different guys at those spots. In order to do that, you've got to take time now this week in camp to get that accomplished.”
Seumalo was promoted two days after making his NFL debut in the Eagles’ preseason opener. He was not happy with his performance Thursday night.
“The game wasn’t great,” Seumalo said. “I just started overthinking stuff. When you do that, you play slow. You can’t do that in the NFL.”
Pederson said he has been impressed with the rookie throughout camp.
“A guy that knows his assignments,” Pederson said. “He had a couple of penalties in there, some false starts and things. He's just got to listen to the count. The quarterback cadence was a little different.
“He's a guy that's really challenging to play. He's a young guy that, again, knows his assignments, good fundamentally, a technician. Just, again, I want to put him in positions where he can be successful and help us down the road.”
PHILADELPHIA -- How are the Eagles' quarterbacks faring during training camp? Here's an evaluation from Saturday’s practice at the NovaCare Complex:
There wasn’t much to go on. Carson Wentz was held out of practice with sore ribs, a holdover from Thursday night’s preseason game. Sam Bradford and Chase Daniel took their turns, but several drills involved only running plays. McLeod Bethel-Thompson, the No. 4 QB, got more reps than usual with Wentz out.
Sam Bradford: Up
Wow moment: When the Eagles weren’t running the ball, they were mostly throwing short passes. That’s Bradford’s strong suit, so he looked more than comfortable for most of the practice. He did throw a nice pass about 30 yards downfield, catching wide receiver Nelson Agholor in full stride for a completion.
Whoa moment: During one 11-on-11 session, Bradford looked around for someone to come open. He spotted rookie wide receiver Paul Turner, who got free in the back of the end zone. Bradford gunned it, but the pass sailed to the left, well out of Turner’s range.
Chase Daniel: Up
Wow moment: Working against the first-team defense in the red zone, Daniel rolled to his right. He threw back toward the middle of the field, where tight end M.J. McFarland was waiting. The throw got through a crowd of defenders for a touchdown.
Whoa moment: During a full-team drill in the red zone, Daniel had running back Ryan Mathews running down the right sideline. Daniel threw, but his pass hit cornerback Jaylen Watkins in the back and bounced away harmlessly.
Who won the day? It had to be Bethel-Thompson. He normally gets more practice time standing in as a defensive back or running the occasional route as a tight end. On Saturday, Bethel-Thompson got to play some quarterback. For that, the day belonged to him.
The No. 2 pick in this year's NFL draft took the field with just over a minute left in the first half. Head coach Doug Pederson said earlier this week that Wentz would not play until the second half.
Instead, Wentz stepped behind center as the Eagles prepared to run their two-minute offense.
"It was fun," Wentz said. "I got to go out there and run the two-minute drill. I haven't done a lot of that in practice. But I enjoyed that."
As he ran out with his teammates, Wentz raised his arm. It appeared that he was acknowledging the fans, who earlier had chanted "We want Wentz."
"No," Wentz said. "I was just giving the thumbs up to my coach. He asked if I could hear him in my helmet. I guess I'm not that cool."
Wentz threw 24 passes, completing 12 for 89 yards. He also threw an interception after driving the Eagles to the Tampa Bay 11-yard line.
"The ball sailed on me a little bit," Wentz said. "It got away from me. You can't do that, especially in the red zone. We got what we wanted, but I just have to be more accurate."
Wentz also made plays with his legs. That was by design, he said. The Eagles ran some naked bootlegs, giving Wentz the opportunity to roll out to his right and get away from the pass rush.
On one play, Wentz decided to pull the ball and take off on his own. He ran around left end and said he thought he had chance to score a touchdown. But Buccaneers safety Kimario McFadden slipped off a block and was suddenly right in front of Wentz. His hit sent Wentz flipping head over heels.
"I was worried I was going to land on my neck," Wentz said. "But I landed fine."
Wentz jumped up from that hit, but was slower to bounce back from a hit later in the game. He took a shot right in the ribs, which knocked the wind out of him, he said.
"It was hard to breathe for a minute there," Wentz said.
He stayed in the game and completed a pass on the next play.
On another run play, Wentz gave himself up, sliding after a gain of nine yards.
"That was the first time in my life I've ever slid," Wentz said.
PHILADELPHIA -- The chant started early in the second quarter, after a particularly ugly series by the Philadelphia Eagles' offense.
“We want Wentz! We want Wentz!”
The fans got their wish with 1 minute, 19 seconds left in the first half. Coach Doug Pederson said Wentz would start the second half, but gave the No. 2 pick in the draft an early shot at a two-minute drill. The Eagles had to punt after Wentz completed 2 of 5 passes for 22 yards. But Wentz was clearly the main attraction for fans attending the Eagles’ preseason opener Thursday night at home against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Eagles scored twice early off turnovers and then held on for a 17-9 victory.
QB depth chart: It won’t change officially, but it might become harder for Pederson to justify his plan to dress No. 2 signal-caller Chase Daniel ahead of Wentz on game days. Starter Sam Bradford barely played, completing one pass for 3 yards. Daniel was on the field for seven drives that produced three first downs. His line: 4-of-10 passing for 15 yards, with four sacks.
Wentz brought a jolt of energy to an offense in desperate need of one. Twice he ran away from pressure and got positive yardage. On his third series, Wentz moved the Eagles from their own 17 to the Tampa 11. The Eagles’ most impressive drive of the night ended when Wentz hurried a pass, overthrew Paul Turner and was intercepted by safety Isaiah Johnson.
Fans held their breath in the fourth quarter when Wentz took off on a designed run. He was upended by Bucs safety Kimario McFadden. Wentz jumped up and ran off the field with no apparent problems. Later in the quarter, he was slow to get up after a hit by DE Channing Ward but remained in the game until the waning minutes. Wentz finished 12-of-24 for 89 yards, no touchdowns and the interception.
Maybe that dude could start: With Ryan Mathews out of the game early and Darren Sproles in bubble wrap for the preseason, Kenjon Barner got a lot of work at running back. He carried the ball seven times for 35 yards, a 5-yards-per-carry average. He also returned punts and kickoffs. Barner might not beat out Mathews, but with Mathews’ history of injuries, Barner could become important to the Eagles this season.
Who got hurt? Right guard Brandon Brooks left in the fourth quarter with a biceps injury; backup center Josh Andrews left in the third after injuring his right ankle. The Eagles went into the game with 10 players sidelined by injuries.
A surprise player who impressed: Jaylen Watkins broke up two passes and drew an offensive-pass-interference call with his coverage. Watkins was playing safety since starter Malcolm Jenkins was unavailable, but Watkins also plays cornerback. He didn’t seem likely to make the 53-man roster, but more performances like this could change that.
When it was starters vs. starters, the Eagles looked ...: Efficient. The starters, particularly on offense, didn’t play for very long. Bradford and the offense played exactly three plays, gaining 18 yards for a touchdown before conceding the field to the second team. The Eagles’ starting defense showed glimpses of Jim Schwartz’s aggressive scheme. Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox bull-rushed guard Ali Marpet, knocked the ball out of quarterback Jameis Winston's hand and recovered the fumble.
One reason to be concerned: The offense wasn’t able to get much going in the first half. The Eagles scored twice early after turnovers gave them the ball inside the Tampa Bay 20-yard line. Mathews ran for one touchdown and Daniel scrambled for the second. But the first- and second-team offenses weren’t able to sustain any drives under normal circumstances.
Tackle watch: Right tackle Lane Johnson did start the game. There was speculation he might be held out after a story broke Tuesday that Johnson is facing a possible 10-game suspension for a positive PED test. The first-team line didn’t play long. The second group took the field with backup quarterback Daniel with 12:22 left in the first quarter. Matt Tobin started at left tackle in place of Jason Peters (quadriceps). Dennis Kelly (right) and Andrew Gardner (left) were the second-team tackles.
The other rookies: Most of the Eagles’ other draft picks had a rough night. Cornerback Jalen Mills got turned around, allowing a completion to wide receiver Russell Shepard and then missing a tackle to give Shepard a 30-yard gain. Guard Isaac Seumalo got called for a false-start penalty, while safety Blake Countess was penalized for going out of bounds while covering a punt. Linebacker Joe Walker made tackles on defense and on special teams. Fifth-round pick Halapoulivaati Vaitai played right tackle in front of Wentz.
PHILADELPHIA -- Three years ago, there was something in the air as the Philadelphia Eagles opened the preseason.
Chip Kelly, the unorthodox head coach from Oregon, was going to unveil his unorthodox offense. Plays would be signaled in from the sideline via placards! Pictures of Rocky Balboa and cheesesteaks! There would be no time wasted in huddling!
The anticipation was intense. After 14 years of Andy Reid's vanilla approach, the Eagles would be a swirl of exotic flavors, all mixed up and coated with sprinkles.
Three years later, with a bad case of indigestion, the Eagles fired Kelly and hired Doug Pederson to restore Reid's tried-and-true methods. And that is exactly what they have done. Pederson even uses the daily training camp schedule that Reid was using, most recently in Kansas City.
"This schedule that we're about to partake for training camp, it took this team to many NFC Championship Games, it took them to the Super Bowl, and it's won a ton of games," Pederson said on July 27. "I went through it as a player in Green Bay with Mike Holmgren, went through it as a player with Coach Reid in 1999 and then obviously back a couple years ago [as an Eagles assistant]. So this schedule is proven."
In his first game as a head coach, Thursday night against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Pederson will stand on the sideline at Lincoln Financial Field. He will be running a game for the first time, managing personnel adjustments and calling plays and reacting to what happens in the game.
There is not exactly an electric atmosphere around the team this year. Pederson might well prove to be more successful than Kelly was, but if he is, he'll do it in a more traditional way. The team will huddle before every play. Quarterback Sam Bradford will call the play he is fed through his helmet speaker, then he will walk up to the line of scrimmage, survey the defense and decide whether to call an audible.
There won't be much in the way of novelty, but that's all right. Eagles fans are more interested in football.
And they have always been especially interested in defensive football. The tradition that started with Chuck Bednarik and continued on through Bill Bergey and Reggie White and Seth Joyner and Brian Dawkins took a little hiatus. Kelly's defensive coordinator, Bill Davis, ran a 3-4, two-gapping, reactive scheme.
Pederson's coordinator, Jim Schwartz, wants to attack, not react. He hails from the same defensive tradition as Buddy Ryan, Bud Carson and Jim Johnson.
Schwartz won't unveil much of his defensive scheme in a preseason game, but he will want his players to line up and play with a certain edge. The Eagles will be playing Eagles defense for the first time since Johnson's death in 2009.
So there are reasons to watch Thursday night's preseason opener. There might not be the strange appeal of Kelly's mysterious actions, but there will be a new offense getting its first test drive. There will be a more entertaining and active defense.
And there will be, in the second half, the first real glimpse of the future. Carson Wentz, the No. 2 pick in this year's draft, will make his debut in the third quarter. Even with all the usual caveats about playing against the Bucs' third-team defenders, this will be Eagles fans' first opportunity to see the young quarterback the team has invested so much in.
How will Wentz react? Will he seize the moment? Will Pederson give him opportunities to excel or keep things conservative to reduce the risk of injury?
So there are reasons to watch this Eagles preseason opener. There might not be a football revolution at which to marvel, but a new era in Eagles football will begin nonetheless.
That much, we're sure about.
If it is Lane Johnson, the 2013 first-round pick who has held the position for three years, then the Eagles can focus on other problems. There are plenty when you have a first-time head coach and a limited amount of offensive firepower.
If Johnson is suspended for 10 games by the NFL, then right tackle vaults to the top of Doug Pederson's list of concerns. That problem would be complicated if left tackle Jason Peters is not healthy enough to start and finish the game.
For now, Matt Tobin will start at left tackle in the Eagles' preseason opener Thursday night against Tampa Bay. Tobin's 20 career starts have all been at guard, but Pederson has been impressed with his work during training camp.
"Matt Tobin is doing a good job at left tackle," Pederson said, explaining why he didn't plan to move Johnson over to that spot now. That might be the Eagles' long-term plan for replacing the 34-year-old Peters, but for now, Tobin can get them through a game or two. This way, Johnson can prepare to play alongside guard Brandon Brooks on the right side.
If Pederson has to replace Johnson on the fly, here are his options:
Matt Tobin. Signed as an undrafted rookie in 2013 -- the same year Johnson was the fourth pick in the draft -- Tobin has played in 30 games for the Eagles. He has started five games at left guard and 15 games at right guard. Thirteen of his starts came last year, after the departures of Evan Mathis and Todd Herremans. It is only fair to point out that Tobin's play was one of the reasons the Eagles spent $40 million to sign Brooks away from the Houston Texans.
Tobin might be a more natural fit at tackle, but he still hasn't protected a quarterback from the speedy edge rushers that tackles face weekly.
Dennis Kelly. The 6-foot-8, 320-pound Kelly was the Eagles' fifth-round draft pick in 2012. As a rookie, he was pressed into service when Herremans moved from right tackle to left tackle after Peters was injured. Kelly started 10 games for an Eagles team that went 4-12.
The amazing thing is that Kelly is still on the team. After his rookie year, Chip Kelly came in as head coach and changed everything about the way the Eagles do business. Dennis Kelly didn't play at all in 2013. He started three games in 2014. Last year, with a lack of continuity plaguing the offensive line, Kelly started two games and played in 12 others.
Andrew Gardner. When Johnson was suspended for four games in 2014, Gardner started two games at right tackle. He has also started games at right guard. The 6-6, 310-pound Gardner actually won the starting right guard spot last year coming out of training camp.
He started the first three games, then injured his foot. The Lisfranc sprain required surgery and Gardner spent the rest of the season on injured reserve. He is a quietly effective player when healthy, and could get the call if Johnson is suspended.
At the moment, Barbre is the team's starting left guard. So moving him to tackle would mean a domino falling and leading to another problem. The Eagles could slide Stefen Wisniewski into the left guard slot and move Barbre to tackle, but that's something they should probably do sooner rather than later.
Barbre started 16 games at left guard last year. The Eagles' need for upgrades at the guard position was illustrated by the signing of Brooks. It was surprising that Barbre remained with the first team all through organized team activities and well into training camp. But there he is, and it might be more trouble to move him than to maintain continuity and find another solution at tackle.
Dillon Gordon. Former Eagles wide receiver Mike Quick was talking Gordon up at practice last week. Gordon played tight end at LSU and signed with the Eagles as an undrafted rookie. That is how Peters came into the league, as an undrafted tight end. So who knows? But it is hard to believe Gordon would be ready to step into the starting lineup after just a few months of practice.
Halapoulivaati Vaitai. The fifth-round pick should get a look, but that is a pretty big jump to ask a rookie to make.
PHILADELPHIA -- Doug Pederson called his first audible Tuesday.
Back in June, Pederson told reporters that he would call the plays by relaying them to offensive coordinator Frank Reich. Reich, in turn, would give the play call to the quarterback via the speaker in his helmet.
“We did that in Kansas City for three years,” Pederson said.
With the Chiefs, Pederson was the offensive coordinator. Head coach Andy Reid would tell him the play, and Pederson would relay the call to the quarterback.
“You’re only allowed two channels on your headset, so if you’re a head coach and you have offense, defense, quarterback, you have one that’s got to go,” Pederson said. “So you can’t go directly to the quarterback if you have offense [and] defense. You have to go through someone to get it, or you just turn it over to your coordinator and let him call it.”
As it turns out, head coaches are not limited to two channels on their headsets. So Pederson will be able to communicate directly to the quarterback while still hearing his offensive and defensive coordinators during the game.
“Frank and I spoke last night,” Pederson said Tuesday. “We revisited again, and I’m going to call the plays, call the game. And I’m going to call directly to the quarterbacks with Frank being on the sideline with me.”
Many head coaches allow their coordinators to call plays during games, based on the week of game planning and preparation. Pederson said he wanted to keep his hand directly on the rudder.
“Offensively, from a speed standpoint of calling the plays directly from myself to the quarterback, that’s probably the biggest issue,” Pederson said. “It just keeps you so in tune to the game. You’re focused. You’re kind of that quarterback on the sideline.”
Pederson said he will script plays for each quarterback Thursday night. Sam Bradford will start the game, with Chase Daniel taking over sometime in the first half. Rookie Carson Wentz will start the second half. Pederson said he will try to get fourth-team quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson some playing time in the fourth quarter.
Presumed starter Bradford will play more as the regular season approaches.
PHILADELPHIA -- He could get hit by one or more of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He could run afoul of the judgmental fans of the Philadelphia Eagles. He could play well and restart the debate over whether he should be the starting quarterback, or play poorly and make Sam Bradford look like the clear-cut starter.
Carson Wentz has a lot riding on his first NFL game Thursday night, and he can’t wait.
“I don’t get real nervous,” Wentz said. “It’s just a game. I don’t sweat too much about it. I just go out and have fun with it.
“If anything, I’ll just calm down the excitement. I’ll be really excited. Once that first snap is gone, I’ll be ready to play.”
On Monday, the Eagles had their last full-scale practice before Thursday’s game. Wentz has practiced once in Lincoln Financial Field, but this will be his first time in full uniform, playing against another team in front of Eagles fans.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Wentz said. “We’ve been out here going against each other for some time now. I think we’re ready to go out and face someone else. I’m excited to play in the Linc, to play in front of these fans and finally get my opportunity.”
The Eagles traded up to select Wentz with the No. 2 pick in this year’s draft. First-year head coach Doug Pederson has proclaimed Bradford the starting quarterback going into the season. Veteran Chase Daniel was signed as a free agent to be the No. 2 QB.
Bradford and Daniel will split the first half, Pederson said Monday. Wentz will start the third quarter, giving Eagles fans their first chance to see him play against another team.
Wentz said he "will have a number of people" -- family and friends -- in attendance Thursday night. They will see Wentz, a star at North Dakota State, compete at the NFL level.
He has done that in practice for the past two weeks, but there is a difference.
“First of all, I’m not wearing a red jersey,” Wentz said. “So the live bullets will be coming. So the reaction will be a little different, the game will be a little different. It will be a little bit like practice, but obviously, live bullets and we’ll be playing in front of the fans.
“I’m ready to just get hit. We’ve been out here in practice, guys running by us, tagging us. Finally, to get out there and play real ball again, it will be exciting.”
Wentz was smiling as he talked. There was no trace of nervousness. He really seemed eager to get the chance to play in front of a new group of fans.
“I’m just going to go out there and show what I can do,” Wentz said. “I’m not going to go out there and try to blow anybody away. I’m just going to go play ball. I’m not going to try to play out-of-body or anything. Just show what I can do, and I think the rest will take care of itself.”
PHILADELPHIA -- On the last day of practice before the first preseason game, Philadelphia Eagles head coach Doug Pederson said the team will likely stop live hitting drills.
Beginning Thursday night against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Eagles have four preseason games to work on their blocking and tackling. Pederson said the team will still practice in pads, but that he will cut back on the contact.
"The live tackling drills will probably be over," Pederson said after Monday's practice. "But we will continue to practice in pads throughout training camp and into the regular season."
Pederson said this was his plan, not a reaction to a rash of injuries sustained by the Eagles over the past few days.
"I'm not concerned as much about that," Pederson said. "I just have to look at the overall health of the football team. It's not about getting somebody hurt, but it's about protecting the guys out here. They have been doing an excellent job. These last six days have been tough. I wanted it to be tough on them."
The players will be off Tuesday and have a brief walk-through session Wednesday. When the Eagles play the Buccaneers on Thursday at Lincoln Financial Field, Pederson plans to have quarterbacks Sam Bradford and Chase Daniel split the first half of action.
"I'm going to try to get them all in the game," Pederson said. "Obviously, Sam will start with the ones. I got Chase going in there. Carson [Wentz] will take the bulk of the second half."
Playing time will be decided based on the game itself.
"I would go as far as saying, if it's like a three-and-out deal, I would probably keep the ones in there for a little bit longer," Pederson said. "It all just depends on how many plays they get. I don't have a set number of plays.
"If they go down and score, maybe pull them out. It's your typical first preseason ballgame from that standpoint."
The game will be the NFL debut for Wentz, the No. 2 pick in the 2016 draft.
"He's been exposed to all the situations in practice," Pederson said. "It's just now execution. I want to see the timing, the accuracy and the decision-making with him. I want to see him being able to move our offense. ... I just want to see that execution. I want to see him lead the football team, especially in this first game."
PHILADELPHIA -- Ryan Mathews knows what people say, that he’s injury-prone and hard for an NFL team to rely on.
As far back as 2012, after two seasons with the San Diego Chargers, Mathews spent his offseason in a training program designed to minimize his injuries.
“I broke both collarbones that year,” Mathews said Saturday after his first full practice of training camp.
In the Chargers' first preseason game of 2012, Mathews took his first handoff of the season. He was tackled and broke his right collarbone. That injury cost him the first two games of the regular season.
In December, with the season winding down, Mathews broke his left collarbone. That injured ended his season. He missed four games in 2012, 10 in 2014 and three last season, his first with the Philadelphia Eagles. It was a concussion that kept Mathews out of action with the Eagles.
So he spent the offseason preparing himself for training camp. He knew he had a chance to be the Eagles’ lead running back, a role vacated by DeMarco Murray, who left via a trade back in March.
When Mathews reported to the NovaCare Complex last week, the Eagles announced that he was being placed on the reserve/non-football injury list. He had injured an ankle while working out and wasn’t able to practice for the first 10 days of camp.
“It’s not a science or anything,” Mathew said. “Sometimes it’s just the luck of the draw, I think. Stuff happens. It’s football, and it’s going to happen.”
There isn’t much mystery to it, really. Football is a violent sport. Bones break, muscles tear, ligaments stretch. Running backs get hurt more often because they get hit more often, usually by 300-pound linemen or leopard-quick linebackers.
Last year, the Eagles agreed to a free-agent contract with Mathews on the very same day the team brought Murray in for a visit. After the Eagles signed Murray, the big question became how coach Chip Kelly would use both backs in his offense.
By the end of the season, that question had not been answered. Mathews started two games during the first three-quarters of the season. After Murray expressed frustration during a charter flight home from New England, Mathews started the last four games of the season.
He finished the season with 539 yards on 106 carries. Kelly was fired. Murray was traded away. Mathews is still here, and it appears the Eagles will need him.
Philadelphia has Darren Sproles, who is 33 and has never carried the ball more than 93 times in a season. After that, there is Kenyon Barner, plus a couple of undrafted rookie free agents. The young backs got plenty of extra practice time while Mathews’ ankle was healing. Mathews carried the ball once on Friday. By Saturday, he was fully involved.
“He just looks explosive out there,” offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. “He looked explosive, he looked quick, he was seeing things. And I know it was a toned-down practice with no pads, but we’re still playing fast. He looks good. He’s an explosive, physical runner.
“You want to get a guy like that with the track record he has and the way he’s run the ball over the last few years, we want to get him as many touches as we can.”
The Eagles need a healthy Mathews, but Mathews knows as well as anyone that there is no way to guarantee that.
“I’m just going to give it all I got every time I’m out there,” Mathews said. “I’m not going to change my style of play. I’m going to be physical and a downhill runner.”
Mathews will be playing in Doug Pederson’s offense, which has the quarterback under center most of the time instead of in the shotgun, where Kelly had his quarterbacks line up. That affects the timing and the angles for running backs.
“I’m happy to be in an offense that fits a little more with my style,” Mathews said.
It could be a good fit, as long as Mathews remains healthy enough to play.
The Rams released Long earlier this summer.
Long played for four different college programs, finishing up with two years at Maryland. He was undrafted last year.
Long takes the roster spot created when the Eagles released defensive tackle Connor Wujciak on Thursday. Wujciak was waived/injured because of a shoulder injury.
A couple of the young receivers have shown signs during this training camp.
“I think Paul Turner has been a kid that has showed up a little bit on offense,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said.
PHILADELPHIA -- The quarterback room could have been a disaster area for the Philadelphia Eagles. Instead, everything seems fine as the team passed the 10-day mark of training camp Thursday.
Three months ago, Sam Bradford was upset that the team traded up for the No. 2 pick in the NFL draft just months after signing him to a two-year, $34 million contract. Bradford walked out of OTAs before the draft, which saw the Eagles use that No. 2 pick on North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz.
Bradford returned after missing about 10 days. Head coach Doug Pederson welcomed him back with little public fuss. Wentz arrived, and a potentially awkward and acrimonious relationship has been mollified by the personalities of the men involved.
“I like Carson a lot,” center Jason Kelce said. “I think he has the right mentality. A lot of times, top picks come in with a little prima donna attitude, like they’ve already earned something.
“That’s not Carson at all. I think that’s helped out Sam too -- that approach. (Wentz) is definitely a competitive guy, definitely wants to be on the field. I think at the same time, he understands that you have to earn everything in life.”
It helps that the attitude comes to Wentz naturally.
“That’s just my personality,” Wentz said. “I don’t feel like I’m bigger or better than anyone else. I’m just out here trying to make this team better. That’s always been how I’ve carried myself. I don’t expect myself to get more credit than I deserve.”
Wentz’s down-to-earth mentality put Bradford at ease, which in turn encouraged Bradford to serve as a mentor to Wentz. Bradford was the No. 1 pick in the 2010 draft. Wentz was the No. 2 pick six years later.
“Sam’s been great,” Wentz said. “He was once the top draft pick. He’s been through it all. There’s lots of things we’ve talked about. It’s a really good room for me to not only grow mentally in the playbook, but also off the field and everything. It’s been great.”
With a relaxed atmosphere in the quarterbacks meeting room, Bradford has been able to put his brief walkout behind him and concentrate on making the most of this season. It may be his one chance in Pederson’s offense to shine and create opportunities for himself next season.
“I think I learned to just take it day by day,” Bradford said. “That’s really all that I’m worried about, just coming out here each day and getting better. No one knows what the future holds. Whatever happens, happens. That’s kind of my mindset.”
Back in April and May, when Bradford staged his walkout, he was criticized in the media and by fans on talk radio and message boards. The concern was that his action could sabotage the Eagles’ season before it even began.
A week before the preseason opener, that seems like a long time ago. Bradford, Wentz and Chase Daniel are getting along and there’s no sign of friction. Thanks to the personalities of the three quarterbacks, a potential disaster was averted.
PHILADELPHIA -- How are the Eagles' quarterbacks faring during training camp? Here's an evaluation from Thursday's practice:
Sam Bradford: Up
Wow moment: On the first play of a full-team drill, Bradford lofted a pass toward the left corner of the end zone. Wide receiver Jordan Matthews had a step on safety Rodney McLeod. Bradford's pass landed in the perfect spot where only Matthews could catch it, and he did, just inside the end zone.
Whoa moment: From the 1-yard line, Bradford scanned the end zone for receivers. He found tight end Zach Ertz with a step on McLeod in the back of the end zone. Bradford made a quick decision but fired the pass behind Ertz. He turned, but wasn't able to haul it in.
Chase Daniel: Down
Wow moment: During a full-team drill in the red zone, Daniel fired a pass through traffic for Rueben Randle. Rookie cornerback Jalen Mills had coverage, but Randle caught the pass in the back of the end zone.
Carson Wentz: Up
Wow moment: Wentz threw two accurate deep passes that were not complete. On the first, he had T.J. Graham streaking toward the end zone. As Wentz's pass approached Graham's hands, Graham was tackled from behind by cornerback Randall Evans. On the second, Wentz threw another perfect pass that caught David Watford in stride. Watford didn't catch the pass, letting it slip right through his hands.
Whoa moment: With the defense getting quick pressure late in the practice, Wentz began using his legs to escape. Throughout camp, he has shown a knack for making good throws while on the move. This time around, he threw wide of Graham on one play, then too low for Josh Huff on the next.
Who won the day? It seemed like an off day for Daniel, who gestured in frustration after several of his throws. Bradford made many of his short throws, but didn't produce the two or three perfect deep passes that he usually does. So award the day to Wentz, who was as solid as anyone out there.