Eagles

Eagles add more depth with 'monster' LB Dannell Ellerbe

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Eagles add more depth with 'monster' LB Dannell Ellerbe

New Eagles linebacker Dannell Ellerbe is not your average midseason signing. This is a playmaker with eight years of NFL experience, and a starter for the Super Bowl champion Ravens in 2012.

Ask any player in the Eagles’ locker room who knows Ellerbe or really studies defense, and they’ll tell you the same thing. This is not just any street free agent.

Ellerbe represents a huge upgrade for the Eagles.

“Dominant player from what I remember in Baltimore,” Eagles safety and former teammate Corey Graham said on Monday. “Running through linemen, very physical, very aggressive. Flat-out beast. We used to call him ‘Eller-beast.’

“When he was out there and when he was healthy, he’s a monster.”

Eagles linebacker Nigel Bradham even went so far as to liken the addition of Ellerbe to the club’s recent trade for Pro Bowl running back Jay Ajayi.

“It’s the same situation as when we got the running back,” Bradham said. “We’re just adding depth and trying to get stronger as a team as we’re keeping this thing going.”

Unlike Graham, Bradham never played alongside Ellerbe, nor had they so much as met each other before. But Bradham would tell you he “knows” Ellerbe very well from following his career with the Ravens, Dolphins and Saints.

“Linebackers know linebackers,” said Bradham, who added Ellerbe made a “key impact” in Baltimore’s last world championship. “We need him.”

There’s no question the Eagles could use the help at linebacker. Both Bradham and Mychal Kendricks have been spectacular, but depth became an issue after Jordan Hicks suffered a season-ending injury.

Of course, if Ellerbe is the solution, why was he a free agent to begin with? Why is he now playing for his fourth NFL team? He turns 32 years old in a matter of weeks and has never earned an invitation to the Pro Bowl or any other notable accolades, so how good can he be?

Ellerbe’s issues are primarily injury-related. He played one game in 2014, six games in 2015 and nine games in 2016.

Most recently, Ellerbe missed time with a broken foot, which he says has been healed for quite awhile.

“I was healthy enough to play going into training camp,” Ellerbe said. “The whole time I’ve just been working out and getting in shape, staying in shape.”

Otherwise, there’s no denying he can contribute if he’s finally 100 percent. Undrafted out of Georgia in 2009, Ellerbe has started 42 NFL games, recording 368 tackles, 10½ sacks, three interceptions and two forced fumbles. He also has 48 tackles, one forced fumble and one interception in 10 playoff appearances.

“When he’s healthy, he’s very explosive, very smart,” said Eagles wide receiver Torrey Smith, another former teammate in Baltimore. “He understands defenses very well, and he can be a great playmaker for us.”

Bradham was willing to go out on a limb and predict Ellerbe would be successful for the Eagles.

“He’s going to have an impact,” Bradham said.

“For us following the game for some time, we’ve all seen him play. He’s a physical, hard-nosed linebacker. He has speed. He’s going to be a great addition for us, and he added depth. We’re even deeper now.”

As far as Ellerbe’s role, that is yet to be determined. For the time being, he isn’t locked in at middle or outside linebacker for the Eagles, though he’s primarily played weakside as a pro. He may not play at all initially.

The way Bradham and Kendricks are balling, there’s no need to force Ellerbe into the lineup, either.

And while Ellerbe says he hasn’t played special teams since he was with the Ravens in 2012, he’s ready to assist in whatever phase he’s called upon. There’s no concern about rust, despite not having practiced or seen game action since last December.

“I don’t think I’ve ever sat out this long, but when you’re born to do something, you pick it back up real quick,” Ellerbe said. “It’s like riding a bike.”

The Eagles aren’t just getting a quality linebacker. Based on accounts from his former teammates, Ellerbe is a quality person as well. Smith called Ellerbe a “great addition to the locker room,” while Graham said the newcomer will fit right in.

With the Eagles’ record at 8-1, team chemistry seems almost as important as talent these days. Ellerbe checks off both boxes.

Free-agent additions this time of year typically amount to picking off the top of the trash heap, pure depth signings, or future stashes. It’s not often a team in the Eagles’ position is able to nab a player of this caliber.

Whether Ellerbe is the game-changer his teammates remember or his ability has eroded with time and injuries, one thing is for certain: The Eagles are leaving no stone unturned in 2017. Adding another motivated athlete with a championship pedigree can’t hurt.

Eagles Milestones: Carson Wentz chasing all kinds of feats

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Eagles Milestones: Carson Wentz chasing all kinds of feats

As we move into Week 11, the Eagles continue to chase several notable milestones, both individually and as a team.

We take a look at Carson Wentz's ongoing streaks, record-setting run defense and Jake Elliott's scoring pace in this week's edition of Eagles Milestone Watch:

• Wentz leads the NFL with 23 touchdown passes on top of the 16 he threw last year. Wentz’s 39 TD passes so far are 19th most in NFL history by a quarterback in his first two seasons but only three out of 11th place. At his current pace, he’ll have 55 career TDs by the end of the year, which would be second most in NFL history after two years behind Dan Marino’s 68.

• The Eagles Sunday night will be seeking their eighth straight game with 100 or more rushing yards gained and fewer than 100 rushing yards allowed. That would be the fourth-longest streak in NFL history and the second-longest in the last 50 years, behind only the Steelers’ 10-game streak in 2001. 

• Elliott has scored 75 points in eight games and is on pace for 140 points in just 15 games this year. The NFL rookie scoring record is 150 points, set in 2014 by Eagles kicker Cody Parkey, who's now with the Dolphins.

• The Eagles have scored 26 or more points in seven straight games. If they score 26 against the Cowboys, they would set a franchise record with eighth consecutive games with at least 26 points and share the 14th-longest streak in NFL history.

• If Wentz throws a touchdown against the Cowboys, this would be his 12th straight game with a TD pass. That would be the third-longest streak in Eagles history, behind two Randall Cunningham streaks — 18 games over the 1987 and 1988 seasons and 13 games in 1990. If Wentz throws at least one TD and one or fewer interceptions, he would have 12 straight games with at least one TD and one or no INTs, which would be the 13th-longest streak in NFL history.

Eagles notes, quotes and tidbits: Zach Ertz's blocking much improved

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Eagles notes, quotes and tidbits: Zach Ertz's blocking much improved

Zach Ertz's statistical growth is pretty easy to measure. 

In eight games this season, Ertz has 43 catches for 528 yards and six touchdowns. He leads the Eagles in every category and that's even after missing the Denver game with a hamstring injury before the bye. (He'll likely be back this week.)

It's a little harder to measure Ertz's growth as a blocker. But there has been a ton of growth since his arrival in Philadelphia in 2013. He has gone from being a liability as a blocker as a rookie to a decent blocker in a few years. 

How rare are truly complete tight ends? 

"Those guys are hard to find," Eagles tight ends coach Justin Peelle said last week. "Really, you gotta understand that tight ends, in general, are always going to give up size and strength, just because most of them are 250, 260, where most of the defensive ends they're blocking are upwards of 300 pounds. Then it comes down to technique and your strength and things like that. Those guys are really hard to find." 

Coming into the NFL, it was pretty clear Ertz had a ton of natural ability as a pass-catcher and that ability has shown itself. But as a blocker, things didn't come naturally.

It has taken years of work and emphasis from coaches and veteran Brent Celek, who is regarded as a really good blocking tight end. 

"That's always been something that's not his strength," Peele said. "He takes pride in it, he wants to be better. He doesn't want it to be a weakness but it was not a natural thing for him. We worked a lot on his technique, his hands, his understanding of the game. You have to consistently work on it and to his credit, he's embraced it and hasn't shied away from." 

Protect yourself 
The Eagles have allowed 54 quarterback hits this season, which places them 12th in the NFL. On all but one of them, Carson Wentz was the recipient. And Wentz takes some more hits out of the pocket. 

Wentz has been hit more than the Eagles have probably been comfortable with and he's been sacked 23 times. Sure, the offensive line gave up some of them, but Wentz deserves some blame too. There's a fine line between trying to gain extra yards and taking an unnecessary hit. 

Where's that line? 

"No. 1 is protect yourself, whether it's sliding, going down, getting out of bounds. That's the first thing," head coach Doug Pederson said. "I've said this before that unless it's the game-winner in the Super Bowl, protect yourself. That's the line." 

For the most part, Wentz has gotten better at protecting himself this season. There are still times, though, where he'll avoid pressure and leave his coaches and fans holding their breath. 

The conversation isn't going anywhere. 

"It's part of it. It's always a process," Wentz said. "We talk about it, shoot, it seems like every week. Just about where you can improve in every facet of the game and that comes up as well." 

North of the border 
Every once in a while, I take a look through CFL rosters just to see if there are some names I recognize. I'm aware this is unusual. 

But during my perusing, I happened to see plenty of former Eagles on CFL rosters. Some of these names you probably haven't heard for a while. 

Eskimos: Edmonton features two notable former Eagles. Yes, Aaron Grymes and Phillip Hunt are teammates. Grymes was a defensive back who was with the Eagles for the last two preseasons and came pretty close to making the team. After getting cut this year, he went back to the CFL, where he has been an All-Star. And remember Hunt? He was with the Eagles from 2011-13. He played 22 of his 24 career NFL games with the Eagles 

Blue Bombers: Chris Givens has landed with Winnipeg this season. He was Howie Roseman's cheap speed option before the 2016 season but was cut in August. He didn't have much of a role with the Blue Bombers this season, returning nine kicks for 184 yards. 

Tiger Cats: QB Everett Golson was never actually on the Eagles' roster but he did come in for a tryout with the Birds in 2016. The Notre Dame QB is a backup for Hamilton. He completed all four of his passes in 2017 for 25 yards. 

Alouettes: Montreal has a couple former Eagles receivers in T.J. Graham and B.J. Cunningham. Graham was with the Eagles in the 2016 offseason and Cunningham bounced around with the Eagles from 2012-14, playing in two games in 2013. Cunningham has actually become a really good CFL receiver. This season, he had 69 catches for 1,128 yards (8th in the CFL) and four touchdowns. 

Argonauts: Toronto is officially the old Eagles landing spot. Mitchell White, who was with the Eagles this offseason, is back in the CFL. He's there with former Eagles quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson and linebacker Akeem Jordan. Remember Jordan? He spent 2007-12 with the Eagles and played 82 games with 34 starts. Not bad for an undrafted rookie. Bethel-Thompson was actually the first QB Pederson brought in as head coach; he would later bring in one a little better. 

There are just four teams left in the CFL playoffs — the Roughriders play the Argonauts, while the Eskimos play the Stampeders. Winners go to the Grey Cup. 

Quote of the Week I: "If you want to live to see 75, you better shut your a** up." — Lane Johnson to his grandma, a Cowboys fan

Quote of the Week II: "Hey, Santander Bank? I need to make a deposit! A big deposit!" —Chris Long during Tim Jernigan's meeting with the media

Quote of the Week III: "Wentz be here early as hell. Every time I came scooting in on my scooter, Wentz ass be sittin' there in the locker. I'll be like 'damn, what time you get here?' Him and Nelson (Agholor). Nelson be here sweating, Nelson be doing JUGS and things like that." — Ronald Darby on getting to the facility at 5 a.m. to rehab

Random media guide note: Elijah Qualls was a drama major and after his football career is over, he is interested in acting or directing.