Eagles observations: A need on defense, thoughts on Kenny Gainwell – NBC Sports

A glaring Eagles need, a rookie who could be a draft steal, a revealing quote and lots more in today’s edition of Roob’s 10 Eagles training camp observations.

1. One thing about moving Milton Williams outside to defensive end, where he’s worked almost exclusively lately, is that it leaves the Eagles thin behind the starters at defensive tackle.

I wouldn’t expect Fletcher Cox to play more than 70 percent of the snaps, and somewhere around 55 percent is where Javon Hargrave should probably be. That will leave somewhere around 800 or 900 snaps for interior linemen, and if Williams is primarily outside, that leaves Hassan Ridgeway — who hasn’t had a very good camp and has gotten hurt the last two years — along with T.Y. McGill, who has had a good camp but has averaged 118 snaps in his six NFL seasons. Where are the other snaps going to come from? Raequan Williams? Marlon Tuipulotu? They haven’t been very good.

If you’re looking for one area the Eagles have to find some depth, it’s interior defensive line. 

2. I’m firmly in the camp that the Eagles shouldn’t bring in a veteran receiver. Yeah, DeVonta Smith just got back to practice and remains largely unproven. Yeah, Jalen Reagor has been inconsistent. Yeah, Quez Watkins still hasn’t done it in the regular season. There are questions about all these young receivers, and I’m sure if the Eagles snagged a veteran off the waiver wire later this month, he could catch 40 or 45 passes and give the offense a little more consistency.

 

But this year is about finding everything we can about the Eagles’ young players, and I don’t want a veteran coming in here and taking reps from Smith, Reagor, Watkins, Travis Fulgham, John Hightower or any of these kids. I want to see as much of these young WRs as possible and I want to see them get as many reps with Jalen Hurts as possible, and a veteran prevents that from happening.

3. Nick Mullens has been so bad it’s almost unbelievable. Fifteen passes, six completions for 31 yards, three interceptions? Even taking into account backup WRs and a bad offensive line, he’s been awful. And that’s been against mainly third-stringers.

And it’s not like this is Clayton Thorson or Christian Hackenberg or Matt McGloin. Mullens is a real NFL quarterback. He’s averaged 248 yards per game and 7.9 yards per attempt in his career, and the only other QBs in NFL history to do that (minimum 500 attempts) are Deshaun Watson, Kurt Warner and Pat Mahomes.

But he looks completely lost out there. So what do you do with him? He’s 26 and should be in his prime, but he’s been so bad he just may have played his way off the roster. Most likely, the Eagles will put him on the practice squad and just hope he never has to play, and if he does, that he’s a whole lot better. You could scrounge somebody up off the waiver wire, but now you’re starting from scratch two weeks before the opener with someone who doesn’t know the offense, the scheme or the personnel. Tough call.

4. Alex Singleton may never be a Pro Bowler, but he’s fun to watch and a true old-school linebacker. The dude is a tackling machine and the first true thumper the Eagles have had at linebacker in years. He played 19 snaps against the Steelers and had six tackles and then played 19 more snaps against the Patriots and had seven tackles. That’s 13 tackles in 38 plays, and even in preseason games, that’s insane.

Singleton had 111 tackles in his 11 starts last year, and that tied Zach Cunningham of the Texans for most tackles in the NFL over the last 11 weeks of the season. Tackles are an inexact science, but the Eagles’ unofficial single-season record for tackles is 127, set by current 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans in 2013. Jeremiah Trotter had over 120 three times. If Singleton stays healthy, he’s going to destroy that record. 

5. Joe Flacco might not be having the best training camp, but you can’t question his perspective. He’s a 14-year vet, he’s a Super Bowl MVP, he’s played in more games than anybody else on the roster, and I thought he had the most important quote of training camp after the game Thursday night when asked why the Eagles weren’t able to transfer the way they practiced against the Patriots into the game: “Practices aren’t games.” 

 

I can’t emphasize this enough. I do think Nick Sirianni’s practices are crisp and efficient and productive, but you need to actually play football to be ready to play football, and no matter how productive practices are, they just aren’t games. That’s why Hurts and the rest of the first-team offense has to play at least a couple series Friday night against the Jets.

6. One of the intriguing sidebars to this strange Zach Ertz situation is that Ertz is only 28 catches behind Harold Carmichael for the Eagles’ career receiving record. Carmichael, who went into the Pro Football Hall of Fame two weeks ago, caught 589 passes with the Eagles from 1971 through 1983. Ertz has 561 receptions since he was drafted in 2013.

If he’s here, he’ll almost certainly break a 38-year-old record for a franchise he doesn’t want to be a part of. If he doesn’t break it? At his current pace, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside will break Carmichael’s record in 2104.

7. Jalen Hurts Stat of the Week: Hurts is the only player in NFL history with consecutive games of 325 passing yards and 60 rushing yards. And he did it in his second and third career starts. Only 15 other players have one game with 325 and 60 in their entire career. 

8. The deadline for teams to cut the roster from 85 to 80 is 4 p.m. Tuesday. But since the Eagles are heading to Florham Park for joint practices with the Jets on Monday and practicing Tuesday and Wednesday, then staying in North Jersey for their game at the Meadowlands Friday evening, they’ll presumably make those cuts before they leave. It’s hard to imagine them letting guys practice Tuesday in Morris County and then releasing them and sending them back to Philly on a van before practice Wednesday.

The Eagles can clear one spot by placing Jason Croom on IR and possibly another one by placing Tyree Jackson on IR. Rosters must be at 53 by 4 p.m. Aug. 31.

9. I think Kenny Gainwell is going to wind up as one of the steals of the draft. The 150th player taken? He’s such a natural pass catcher, elusive after the catch. I’d expect him to make his biggest impact in the passing game, but he looks like a decent enough runner as well.

No question Miles Sanders will be this team’s lead back, but if he continues to struggle catching the football, at least a few of his reps will go to Gainwell. This offense demands the backs catch the ball.

“This is no secret,” Sirianni said earlier this month. “We really are going to use our running backs in the pass game.”

And none of them catch the ball as well as the rookie from Memphis.

10. We talk so much about the best rookie seasons in Eagles history. I started wondering who had the best final seasons in Eagles history. In other words, what players had the best season while playing the final season of their careers for the Eagles.

 

Here’s what I found: Ryan Mathews had the most rushing yards (661), Bud Grant had the most receiving yards (997) and Pete Pihos wasn’t far back (864), and of course Norm Van Brocklin had the most passing yards (2,471), retiring after he led the 1960 Eagles to the NFL Championship.

Defensively, Dick Humbert had seven interceptions in 1949 in his final season and Jerome Brown tragically had the most sacks (9.0).

Four Eagles made the Pro Bowl in their final NFL season: Pihos in 1955, Van Brocklin in 1960, Jim Ringo in 1967 and Brown in 1991.

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