Eagles

Eagles stocked with players who have something to prove

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Eagles stocked with players who have something to prove

They're playing like they're mad at the world. Like they're trying to shut people up. Like they have something to prove. And there's a pretty good reason for that.

The Eagles' roster is largely made up of guys who were late-round draft picks. Guys who went undrafted, who were unwanted by their previous team, who were benched somewhere or toiled on the practice squad.

Castoffs, misfits, journeymen.

Put it all together and you have a roster stocked with guys who were told they'd never make it. Who have a chip on their shoulder. Who are driven by a team or coach or GM or even a fan base who doubted them and questioned them and gave up on them.

That's who this team is.

Let's look at the 53-man roster.

There are 20 guys drafted in the fifth round or later. There are seven undrafted free agents (and that doesn't include guys like Jason Peters and Chris Maragos, who are on IR). There are a dozen who've been released at some point in their career. A bunch more have been traded and several have been benched.

A good chunk of this roster is made up of players who've been doubted or questioned or left by the wayside, and that can go one of two ways. You can wind up with a group of football players who just aren't good enough to play in this league. Or you can wind up with a locker room full of men who are hungry, motivated, selfless and determined.

Find the right combination of those guys and find the correct roles for them and then develop them and what do you have?

You have the 2017 Eagles.

Heck, even some of their first-round picks play like they're fighting for their lives.

Carson Wentz heard repeatedly that he'd never be a big-time quarterback coming from an FCS school like North Dakota State. Brandon Graham heard for years he was a bust and the Eagles should have taken Earl Thomas instead. Even Fletcher Cox heard that his level of play dropped last year after he signed his massive contract.

Good luck finding a guy in this locker room who didn't have to overcome some long odds or who isn't driven by being treated unfairly at some point in his life.

Jason Kelce is playing at an All-Pro level. He was a sixth-round draft pick.

Corey Clement scored three touchdowns against the Broncos Sunday. He was undrafted.

Patrick Robinson and Jalen Mills have been unreal at cornerback. Robinson is with his fourth team in four years, and Mills was a seventh-round pick.

Go right through the roster.

LeGarrette Blount, released by two different teams and unwanted in New England after rushing for 18 touchdowns last year.

Tim Jernigan, cast off by the Ravens. Nelson Agholor, benched a year ago. Mychal Kendricks, shopped by the Eagles for the last few years. Jake Elliott, released by the Bengals and dumped on the practice squad. Stefen Wisniewski, started the season as a third-stringer. Rodney McLeod, undrafted.

“You look at this locker room, a lot of guys have things to prove," McLeod said.

"There’s a lot of different stories on this team. Guys being cut. Guys going undrafted. Guys getting overlooked. And they all make up a team that’s hungry as a whole. So that’s what you have. A lot of guys who are hungry and just want to win."

And it goes beyond the locker room.

The general manager was essentially benched two years ago, exiled to the equipment department, of all things. The head coach was released eight times in his NFL career and toiled in the Arena League and World League when he couldn't get an NFL job.

When Pederson talks about culture, this is what he means. A whole bunch of people thinking the same way, believing the same thing, working toward a common goal.

The Eagles are the best team in the NFL because he's got 53 guys, most of them driven by some significant obstacle in their lives, playing like the only thing that matters is proving everybody wrong.

It's not the normal formula for building a winning football team. Take a handful of premium draft picks and surround them with a whole bunch of guys off the scrapheap.

But for this team, it's working. And all the guys who are motivated by proving people wrong? They're well on their way to doing exactly that.

Why Eagles' play in trenches is behind 8-game win streak

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Why Eagles' play in trenches is behind 8-game win streak

The strength of the Eagles is built on fundamental, sound pay on both sides of the line of scrimmage. Yes, the play of Carson Wentz is the biggest reason the Birds are 9-1, but the play of the defensive line and offensive line are also major factors.

There was no question coming into the season that the DL would pull its weight. I doubt if knowledgeable football minds could argue against the D-line being ranked the No. 1 unit in the NFL.

Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz centered his defense around the play of his D-line's ability to generate constant pressure on opposing offenses, whether that's in the run game — the Eagles are the NFL's best run defense — or creating havoc on quarterbacks in the pocket. The defensive line has allowed the young secondary to catch up and perform well above expectations, and then Ronald Darby returned Sunday in Dallas (see story).

On the other side of the ball, the Eagles' offensive line has also become a top-five unit in the NFL, and that's without future Hall of Famer Jason Peters. I know Carson Wentz wouldn't argue that.

In Sunday's 37-9 win over the Cowboys, the Eagles' O-line, against a pass rush with featuring a stout defensive front that includes NFL sack leader DeMarcus Lawerence (11 1/2), didn't allow a sack. A lot of credit goes to Lane Johnson for his work on Lawrence.

With no real individual leader to hold this Eagles' offense's hat on, it's a total team effort in which the Eagles go about their about their business. This is just a shining example of why this O-line is so good and underrated. At 9-1, there has not been a wide receiver over 100 yards in a game. If my memory serves me right, the Birds have had a 100-yard rusher twice, both by LeGarrette Blount. So, even with the absence of the all-world Peters, I am secure in rating the Eagles' OL as the No. 1 unit in the NFL.

Fundamentally speaking, football is won in the trenches. I was privileged to be a part of a Super Bowl team with the same formula the Eagles are using to win eight straight games: A young franchise QB (Ben Roethlisberger), a really good defense and a very good O-line.

The Eagles are just scratching the surface with their potential. Like these young players — guys like Halapoulivaati Vaitai and Derek Barnett — develop in the trenches, the sky's the limit for the core of this team.

Doug Pederson uncertain on Eagles' kickers heading into game vs. Bears

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Doug Pederson uncertain on Eagles' kickers heading into game vs. Bears

One kicker is getting better. One kicker just got hurt. One kicker isn’t even a kicker at all. Who’s going to kick Sunday? Maybe Caleb Sturgis, maybe Jake Elliott, maybe someone else. Definitely not Kamu Grungier-Hill. 
 
Does that clear everything up?
 
Head coach Doug Pederson revealed Monday that Elliott, the rocket-legged rookie, will be the Eagles’ placekicker long-term moving forward, but he also said he doesn’t know whether Elliott — who suffered a concussion Sunday night during the win in Dallas — will be available for this Sunday’s game at home against the Bears.
 
"We haven't made any decisions yet," Pederson said. "We still have a couple days before we have to make a decision."
 
Elliott replaced Sturgis, who suffered a quad strain in the opener against the Redskins and has been on injured reserve since. 
 
Ideally, the Eagles want Elliott to be cleared through the NFL’s concussion protocol and be able to kick Sunday so they can keep Sturgis on IR. 

If Elliott isn’t ready, they could activate Sturgis, who Pederson said is "close," but that would mean they would have to clear a spot on the 53-man roster for a guy who they don’t plan on keeping long-term. 
 
"He's continuing to rehab, he's begun a kicking regimen," Pederson said. "He's getting himself back to where he was prior to the injury. He's close. He's close."
 
If neither Elliott nor Sturgis is able to go, the Eagles could add a third kicker for a week or two, although that would also require keeping two kickers on the 53 (and another on IR).
 
"Again, you're talking about roster spots and making moves and things of that nature," he said. "We're not there yet. We'll continue these discussions the next couple days."
 
Most importantly, Pederson said despite Sturgis’ excellent track record since joining the Eagles, Elliott will be the team’s kicker once everybody is healthy. 
 
"I think so," Pederson said. "If he's healthy and he can play. You hate to disrupt that right now. I'd have to say yes to that one."
 
Sturgis is scheduled to be a free agent after the season. Elliott is under contract through 2018, and the Eagles control his rights through 2019.
 
Elliott, whom the Eagles signed off the Bengals’ practice squad in September, is 17 for 21 this year. He missed from 34 yards against the Cowboys Sunday night, although that miss came after he apparently suffered the concussion. 

Pederson said the concussion symptoms weren't discovered until after Elliott had attempted the field goal.
 
Elliott has made five of six attempts from 50 yards and out, including the franchise-record, game-winning 61-yarder against the Giants.
 
Sturgis is 7 for 11 as an Eagle from 50 yards and out. Including his years with the Dolphins, he's an 81.0 percent kicker, although with the Eagles he's made 84.8 percent of his field goal attempts — third-best in franchise history behind Cody Parkey (87.5 percent) and Alex Henery (86.0 percent).
 
"I think moving forward, as we continue to evaluate this week, we'll find out more in the next couple days with Jake, and I don't want to put myself in a box, but we'll keep all the options open," Pederson said.
 
"It kind of goes back to the same old thing. We still have a couple days here today and tomorrow to evaluate Jake and see where everybody's at. There's still a little while before we play Sunday."
 
There's one other option.

No, not letting Grugier-Hill kick. Going for two all the time.
 
Pederson — who's 9 for 12 as Eagles head coach on two-point conversion attempts — admitted he's thought about it.
 
"Yeah, I have," he said. "You always go into a game with a few (plays) in your pocket. You never expect that situation again like we had last night. But, yeah, you look at the numbers. If you're around 94, 95 percent on the extra point from the 15-yard line, your conversion rate should be in that 47, 48, 49 percent on a two-point conversion. So we look at all of that.
 
"We keep a couple extra plus-five red zone plays in our pocket for that situation. It just worked out, I think 3 for 4 last night. It's something we'll look at going forward."