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Fan-Demonium: The Starting Point

Posted Aug 14, 2013

Fan-Demonium

Defensive coordinator Bill Davis acknowledged the struggles in stopping the Patriots and made one crucial point. What everyone saw on Friday night was the starting point for the defense. That was not a finished product. It wasn't anything close to a finished product. 

I explained in my column last week that we would only get hints, not conclusions, from what we saw. The preseason opener was the team's first chance to test new schemes and new lineups in a truly live setting. You can't expect to go face a team like the Patriots under those conditions and look like a smooth, veteran team. 

The Eagles lost the game and had some rough moments, but there was plenty to be pleased about. 

Most people are fixated on the quarterback competition. The hope going into the game was that one player would impress and take the lead. Things didn't exactly work out that way. Michael Vick and Nick Foles both played well. Each player led a touchdown drive and had some really good moments. I was very impressed with Vick's pocket presence. That was an issue for him last year. The line play wasn't good in 2012, but there were times when Vick would feel phantom pressure. On Friday night, he sat in the pocket and kept his eyes focused down the field. This helped him hit Jason Avant for a strike over the middle on third down. That moved the chains and helped set up a long touchdown pass to DeSean Jackson. Both throws were outstanding and showed Vick at his best. The passes were accurate and had excellent velocity. 

Foles led a different type of scoring drive. The offense went up-tempo and he moved the chains by completing short passes to Bryce Brown, Brent Celek and Avant. Foles ran for 10 yards on the drive (I'm sure all of you predicted that) and Brown carried the ball three times, including the 8-yard touchdown run. That drive looked like the Chip Kelly offense many expect to see in the regular season. The pace was fast. The offense was spread out. There was a mixture of running the ball and making short, safe throws. 

Both quarterbacks helped themselves. The one word of caution is that they only played a bit more than a quarter combined. That is a small sample size. Rookie Matt Barkley looked like a rookie early on, but he settled down and led the offense on a touchdown drive before exiting the game. Barkley made a couple of nice throws, but he stood out mostly for his poise. Some young players get very frustrated when things don't go well and it can get the best of them. I'm sure Barkley was frustrated, but he never got down on himself or his teammates. They kept grinding and eventually scored the touchdown. G.J. Kinne did some good things late in the game, despite having limited snaps. 

It was great to see the offensive line play so well. The starters gave Vick a clean pocket and that made all the difference in the world. I was curious to see how Allen Barbre would do as the left tackle. He impressed me. Barbre has a real shot to make the team as a backup tackle and guard. Rookie Lane Johnson had a strong showing and drew praise from Coach Kelly. Johnson played right tackle and looked like the real deal. It was also good to see Jason Kelce play. He tore his ACL last September and you always wonder if players coming off injury will show any lingering effects. Kelce looked good. I was impressed by a couple of backups. Undrafted rookie Matt Tobin was the backup left tackle in the game. He doesn't have ideal feet, but anchored well in pass protection and was a physical run blocker. Dallas Reynolds was the number three center in the game. He anchored well on pass plays and got good push on some inside run plays. 

Several skill players stood out. Brown had a very good showing as a runner and receiver. He ran for a score and moved the chains a couple of times on receptions. He showed speed and power. Brown hasn't always stood out this summer so it was important for him to show what he could do in a game setting. The coaches know how talented he is, but this is a new year and they don't want Brown getting complacent due to a good rookie season. Rookie Matt Tucker also had some good moments. 

We all know about the top receivers. I was more focused on the role players and young guys. Greg Salas continued his great summer. He turned a wide receiver screen into a 12-yard touchdown. He showed elusiveness on the play. Salas caught a short pass over the middle. He is comfortable playing in traffic, which not all receivers are. Salas made the catch of the game with only seconds to go. He snared a pass with one hand and hauled it in inside the 5-yard line. He had to extend for the ball and showed great concentration as he held on while going to the ground. Russell Shepard only caught one pass, but he sure doesn't look like the project that I thought he was. He's got better skills than I anticipated.

Lawlor

Tommy Lawlor, goeagles99 on the Discussion Boards, is an amateur football scout and devoted Eagles fan. He is the Editor of IgglesBlitz.com and was a contributor to the Eagles Almanac.

Rookie Zach Ertz needs a lot of work as a blocker, but he is a gifted pass catcher. He showed the ability to go up and catch the ball away from his body. He took a couple of solid hits. Ertz lined up all over and looked comfortable as a versatile player. Clay Harbor had a terrific game. He caught a couple of 20-yard passes from Barkley. Harbor ran good routes on both and then snagged the ball cleanly. James Casey was a better blocker than I anticipated. 

The defense was much harder to judge. It is easy to get down on those guys, but the scheme they are learning is worlds different than what the Eagles have run for the last 25 years. There were some guys who stood out. 

Vinny Curry got everyone's attention. The Eagles used him creatively, as a defensive end in the base unit and as a defensive tackle in the nickel unit. Curry was very disruptive at tackle. He did some of this at the Senior Bowl back in 2012 and was unblockable on the inside. I think it is very smart to use him in there. Rookies Bennie Logan and Damion Square also impressed. The Eagles have some good young defensive linemen. One thing all three guys did was hustle to the football. 

Linebacker Connor Barwin showed off his 3-4 experience. He knew what he was doing and played well. He didn't make splashy plays, but was very good against the run. Trent Cole mostly played linebacker and had some struggles. Brandon Graham got a lot of snaps as an end in the nickel defense and was very disruptive off the edge. Linebacker Chris McCoy had a good night. He was credited with 1.5 sacks. He was a no-name six weeks ago. 

I thought Casey Matthews had a solid game as one of the backup inside linebackers. Jake Knott and Emmanuel Acho were the third string inside linebackers and they played terrific. Knott deflected a pass, got a half-sack and was just a very active, disruptive player. He showed great instincts and was around the ball a lot. Acho didn't make as many plays, but also stood out. 

The safeties I liked best were Patrick Chung and rookie Earl Wolff. Chung had four solo tackles and lined up all over. He played in the box, deep and even in the slot. Wolff didn't have any highlight moments, but didn't look like a rookie either. He had one "Welcome to the NFL" moment. Wolff came up to tackle Tim Tebow on a run. Tebow ran right through that attempt. Wolff didn't have to tackle many 250-pound quarterbacks with speed and power while he was in college. 

I thought Bradley Fletcher was the most impressive cornerback. Brandon Boykin played in the slot initially and outside later. He had one great play where he stuck with a receiver into the end zone and would not give the guy room for a completion. 

The special teams were terrific in the game. Damaris Johnson returned a punt 62 yards. Boykin and Colt Anderson combined to down a Donnie Jones punt at the 1-yard line. Blocking for kickoffs and punts was good. The coverage units did a good job. Long snapper Jon Dorenbos got knocked out of the game and Brent Celek took his place and mostly did a good job. Celek even hustled downfield and made a couple of tackles. 

The Eagles have a long way to go. One game is in the books and that means we still don't know much about the team, but at least we're starting to get some clues.

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