Friday, December 19, 2014

Camp Wrap: reasons for optimism, worry on defense

Training camp has given us more clues about what to expect from the Eagles' defense this year. Here are some reasons to be hopeful, and some things to worry about.

Camp Wrap: reasons for optimism, worry on defense

Brandon Graham´s play in training camp is one reason the defense could be stronger and more consistent this year. (David Maialetti / Staff Photographer)
Brandon Graham's play in training camp is one reason the defense could be stronger and more consistent this year. (David Maialetti / Staff Photographer)

The Eagles are out of Lehigh, giving us a chance to look back at what training camp stories amounted to real news and what was just noise that will soon be forgotten.
 
Of course, any camp recap comes with the disclaimer that we can’t draw firm conclusions based solely on practices and a single preseason game. But camp has at least given us new clues of what to expect, where to be optimistic and where Eagles fans should worry heading up to the Sept. 12 opener.
 
We have written about many of these issues (and others) throughout training camp. Hopefully this helps crystallize things. Today we look at defense. The offensive warp up is here. An “awards” section is at the end.
 
Defense overview:
The defense entered camp with more veterans, but also more questions than the offense, with new looks throughout the linebacking corps and secondary. To this point, though, many of the issues have turned in the Eagles’ favor. Stewart Bradley has stayed healthy and Ernie Sims has the look of a tackling machine. Nate Allen and Ellis Hobbs practiced well, giving hope that they can solidify a shaky secondary. The defense had a stronger, more consistent camp than the offense.
 
Defensive line:
Reasons for hope: Brandon Graham looks like he will terrorize quarterbacks. His play has seemed to make many forget that Juqua Parker had career-high eight sacks last year, though he still looked capable in camp and should not be overlooked. Brodrick Bunkley and Mike Patterson remain their solid, steady selves and Trevor Laws showed signs of improvement. With Graham or Parker teaming with Trent Cole, the Eagles hope they can generate more pressure with four rushers.
 
Reasons for concern: Neither Darryl Tapp nor Daniel Te’o-Nesheim did much in the pass rushing department. If anything happens to Patterson and Bunkley, the depth at tackle is thin. It's important to see more of Laws to know how much he has improved. As good as the defensive line looked, they were going against an offensive line full of back-ups.
 
Linebackers:
Reasons for hope: Bradley looked more and more comfortable as camp went on. On several plays near the end of the time in Lehigh he leaped up from a scrum at the line of scrimmage to smack down passes, showing little concern about the contact and potential for another injury. His size and speed makes him a difference-maker, particularly in his ability to disrupt passing lanes or just run and cover. Ernie Sims looked fast and will soon get to hit players from other teams.
 
Reasons for concern: Bradley still has to last an entire season. Sims seems like an unnecessary roughness  penalty waiting to happen. Hard to say if Akeem Jordan, who played on the weak side and the middle last year, is the answer at SAM for 2010.

Cornerbacks:
Reasons for hope: Ellis Hobbs had a good camp covering skilled Eagles receivers, so far rewarding the team’s faith in him. He is fast and aggressive and, in a very limited first team performance against Jacksonville, got in on two tackles, showing a willingness to hit even after neck surgery. Coaches say Asante Samuel has responded to criticism of his tackling by adding strength. Macho Harris is back at the position where he excelled in college, giving him a chance to improve on his rookie year. Trevard Lindley is an intriguing prospect.
 
Reasons for concern: As solid as Hobbs looked, a neck injury is a scary thing when it happens to someone whose job includes tackling people. After him there are few proven cover men. Joselio Hanson got burned for a deep score against Jacksonville and never challenged for a starting job. Harris missed a significant portion of camp and we don’t know yet if he can cover professional receivers. Even if Hobbs remains healthy, he is going to be at a significant height disadvantage against many receivers in the NFC East. We’ll see how much Samuel tackles when the real games begin.
 
Safties:
Reasons for hope: Nate Allen has fit right in alongside veteran Quintin Mikell. He has quickly learned his job and, at least early in camp, was constantly around the football and caught any overthrows or tipped balls he got his hands on. Mikell feels less pressure to be a leader and instructor and said he is more focused this year. Seventh-round pick Kurt Coleman is smart and punches above his weight when it comes to hitting. Quintin Demps quietly played well.
 
Reasons for concern: Allen is still a rookie and we haven’t seen much to judge his skills in run support. He seemed to tail off after a fast camp start. After Mikell, there is little experience here. Coleman, for one, got caught in a mix up for one of Jacksonville’s long touchdown passes.
 
Special teams:
Not much changed here. David Akers is the kicker. Sav Rocca will punt. Ellis Hobbs will probably return kicks. The only question, as yet unanswered, is if DeSean Jackson will keep returning punts. If not him it might be up to Jeremy Maclin or Chad Hall, if he can fight his way onto the roster.
 
Awards Section:
Biggest Surprise: Clay Harbor. Production from a fourth-round pick is not stunning, but from a fourth rounder out of Missouri State who barely got a college scholarship, that’s a nice find.
Honorable mention: Riley Cooper, Ellis Hobbs, Trevor Laws, Kurt Coleman
 
Biggest Disappointment: Moise Fokou entered camp as the starting strong side linebacker, and promptly lost the job to Akeem Jordan. The team has moved him around to try to find a place to use him, not a good sign.
Honorable Mention: Nick Cole, Cornelius Ingram, Darryl Tapp, Ricky Sapp
 
No News is Good News:
I usually hate this phrase, but in the case of Stewart Bradley, it’s perfect. We all did the “Can he stay healthy?” story when camp opened, and he generated little attention after that, because, well, he was on the field contributing. There was little to report, which is exactly what the Eagles wanted.
 
Best reason for missing practice:
Brent Celek, ill after eating a cherry cheesecake that had sat in his car for five hours.
Honorable mention: Ellis Hobbs, out after eating, he said, “bad cereal.”
 
Quotes of Camp:
“I’m not a mad scientist,”
-- Asante Samuel, after being asked when he might return from a hamstring injury
 
“Only at your guys,”
-- Andy Reid, when asked by reporters if his coaches are allowed to curse, “Hard Knocks” style
 
“Watch for the flea-flicker!”
-- Samuel, from the sidelines as the offense lined up on the five-yard line. He was talking trash because he thought the offense was relying too much on misdirection. For sheer entertainment, Samuel should be allowed to color commentate games while he plays.
 
“Even his incompletions are better!”
-- one fan’s sarcastic (we think) evaluation of Kevin Kolb
 
 

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