August 21, 2017
The Eagles open their joint practices with the Dolphins on Monday, and that marks the return of two legendary defensive players: Kiko Alonso and Byron Maxwell.
More importantly, it means we're one step closer to meaningful football. If getting there requires being reminded that Chip Kelly traded arguably the greatest running back in franchise history for one (awful) season of Alonso, then so be it.
Speaking of running backs, the Eagles are still trying to replace LeSean McCoy, and so far this preseason, the acquisition of veteran free agent LeGarrette Blount doesn't appear to be the genius move we once thought it was. The former Steelers and Patiots running back has a history of preseason struggles only to then turn things around once the regular season arrives.
This time around, however, that might be too little, too late.
We cover that, plus an update on Alshon Jeffery's mental location and much more in this Monday edition of What They're Saying...
Despite shoring up what had been the team’s biggest weakness last week with the addition of CB Ronald Darby, the real work is just getting starting for Howie Roseman, according to Tommy Lawlor, who has a nice breakdown of the Eagles depth at every position over on PhiladelphiaEagles.com:
The Eagles have drafted well the last couple of years and the coaching staff has done a good job of developing those players. That is starting to pay off in the form of young talent and good depth for the team. The Eagles have mixed in some veterans to provide leadership and competition. Cutting the roster down to 53 players this year is not going to be easy. [philadelphiaeagles.com]
One of those positions that’s going to keep the Eagles top decision-maker up at night is running back. NFL insider Adam Caplan was on 97.5 The Fanatic on Sunday, and offered the following assessment of the Eagles’ running back situation, specifically how it relates to 30-year-old veteran LeGarrette Blount, as well as Wendell Smallwood, who returned to practice and is expected to get a good amount of first-team work leading into the third preseason game (more on that in a minute):
I think, in the end here, Wendell Smallwood, I’ll give you another statement, he’s that important to what they do this season. I mean, I didn’t think it would be this big if you asked me a week ago, but the more information I gather on Blount, the more I understand that he’s no lock to make the football team. Again, if you were to ask me a week ago, I’d probably say ‘Ah, he’s going to make it. I don’t see it being an issue.’ But … bad preseason game, just, weight not great, I’ve just been checking in to some things. [97.5 The Fanatic, via Bleeding Green Nation]
So will Blount be a surprise cut in a preseason that already saw the Birds trade away their leading receiver over the last two seasons? Bleeding Green Nation’s Brandon Lee Gowton has a great breakdown of the reasons that might – and might not – happen. You should go check that out over at BGN – and not just because Brandon and I sit next to each other in the press box.
In the end, he puts it at 80-20 that Blount makes the team. Here’s the short version as to why (but seriously, go read the whole thing):
Ultimately, though, I think the Eagles will enter the season with Blount on their roster. They’re desperate for talent at running back as it is. Maybe the team will cut him if he continues to struggle, his weight continues to be an issue, and somehow Philadelphia can find a worthwhile running back via trade or waivers. I don’t think that’s likely, though, so I’m projecting Blount to stay for now. [bleedinggreennation.com]
Wendell Smallwood will finally (hopefully) get to see some preseason action on Thursday night against the Dolphins, likely playing with the first team offense. And given the state of the backfield, he’ll provide the kind of reinforcement head coach Doug Pederson believes they need.
“With me resting [Darren] Sproles in these games and all that, it taxes some of the younger guys out there, and now he can take some of those reps,” Pederson said following Sunday’s practice. “And he needs those reps, too. He's missed some time. It's a chance to get back into the offense and pick up kind of where he left off. So it is good to see him back out here.”
Here’s what Smallwood had to say:
“This is one of the biggest games of the preseason, the third game, and I know we’re going to be playing a lot this week,” Smallwood said following Sunday morning’s practice. “So it’s good to get a game plan in and still get those live reps. I don’t want my first live tackle to be the real thing, week one. I’d rather go out here, learn from my mistakes this week and get better.” [theintell.com]
ON Saturday, WR coach Mike Groh, who also coached Alshon Jeffery in Chicago, said the new Eagles wideout was mentally behind. A day later, the 27-year old disagreed with that assessment – as did Pederson.
“Alshon is doing fine,” Pederson said when asked if there was some rust from Jeffery missing several practices leading into Thursday night’s win over the Bills. “He's working. He's getting reps whether he's not in, he's getting reps off on the side. He's getting reps when he's in there. So he's right where he needs to be. Everybody makes mistakes. You know, it's that time of the year. We've got a lot of football in right now, and he's doing well.”
As for Jeffery, here’s what he had to say following practice:
"Not at all," Jeffery said when asked if he was behind. "But at the same time, missing a few practices here and there, just getting some timing and I'll be alright."
Groh's comments came after Jeffery ran a wrong route in the team's preseason win over the Buffalo Bills last week.
"It's the game of football," Jeffery said. "Every once-and-a-while you run a wrong route. Make some mistakes on a few plays. But I'll be alright." [NJ.com]
Maybe the reason Jeffery felt confidence disagreeing with his longtime WR coach was because of the show he and quarterback Carson Wentz had just put in practice…
The first one was on a play where Jeffery burned Rasul Douglas on a double move. Jeffery does a really good job of selling these routes. Wentz also deserves credit for shaking off coverage with a really good pump fake before airing it out deep to Jeffery for a big gain.
Jeffery caught a contested pass after running a curl route. Mitchell White wasn’t even in bad position; Jeffery just jumped up and caught the ball. There was nothing White could really do. Alshon is just really good and makes contested catches look easy.
Wentz hit Jeffery in the back right corner of the end zone on a fade pass for a touchdown. Once again, multiple defenders were covering Jeffery but it didn’t matter. Wentz connected with Jeffery again in the back left corner of the end zone for a touchdown. This connection was unstoppable in the red zone. [bleedinggreennation.com]
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