Eagles

Chris Long: Eagles give chance to 'prove myself all over again'

Chris Long: Eagles give chance to 'prove myself all over again'

Chris Long probably could have stayed with the Patriots and had a pretty darn good chance to rack up another Super Bowl ring.

Or two.

At this point in his career? Long was after something different.

It was fun playing for the Patriots and winning a Super Bowl in his ninth NFL season. But what he really wants is to finish his career with a team where he can really be a difference maker on the field.

And the Eagles, with whom he can be a pure pass rusher in Jim Schwartz's classic 4-3 defense, offered that far more than New England, where he spent most of last season lined up inside as a defensive tackle.

Is there really something bigger than having a tremendous chance at winning another Super Bowl ring?

For Long, there is.

"At the end of the day I have to follow my heart and that's served me well, for the most part," Long said. "Sometimes it gets me in trouble. But I think I just wanted to be in a situation where I was able to be proud of what I put on the field every Sunday.

"I think every team has a chance to compete for championships at the beginning of the season. It's no foregone conclusion you go anywhere and do anything.

"So I think that when I figured out there might be an opportunity for me to come to a great situation like this with a team that is on the rise and a lot of excitement in the building and the chance to compete for the role I was looking for, (that's) where I wanted to be."

Long had 50 1/2 sacks in his first six NFL seasons, including 13 for the Rams in 2011, 11 1/2 in 2012 and 8 1/2 in 2013. His 33 sacks during that three-year period were fifth-most in the NFL during that three-year span.

But injuries and a poor fit in New England limited him to eight sacks over the last three years.

Which led him to Philly.

"I had a great opportunity to go to New England and win a championship and that's the goal every year for every team in the league," he said.

"But at the end of the day, I wanted to get back to playing football the way that I played for a long time. And that's something that gave me great joy, taking the field every Sunday and playing to the best of my abilities and in a situation that schematically I felt like I was really being the best me I could be.

"It was a real blessing to be a part of that team last year, but I wanted to towards the end of my career be in a situation to prove myself all over again.

"And that's what keeps me hungry and excited and I think this is a great fit because it gives me that opportunity."

The Eagles signed the 32-year-old Long last week to an incentive-laden two-year, $4.5 million contract.

With their starting defensive end rotation of Connor Barwin, Vinny Curry, Marcus Smith and Brandon Graham limited to just 15 1/2 combined sacks last year, the Eagles are desperate for pass pressure.

They released Barwin -- Long's close friend. Barwin signed with the Rams, Long's former team, and the Eagles essentially replaced him with Long.

"The No. 1 thing when I started free agency was a good football fit," Long said. "It wasn't about the money for me. I've been lucky to make a good amount of money playing football. It wasn't about anything but getting back to the player that I was or as close as you can be to that and that's something that I'm very driven to do.

"For me, No. 1 was the football fit and a team that is going to have a chance to win a lot of football games, and I feel like when you watch them play, it's obvious this organization is moving in the right direction.

"When we got ready for the Super Bowl and watching the Falcons, I spent a lot of time watching Philly's defense because they were obviously very talented and played Atlanta great and they really jumped off the screen at you.

"And you say, in free agency, once it starts, 'Yeah, I do remember watching those guys, and, 'Man, that would be cool to be a part of something like that,' and that’s where I wanted to be."

Long is at an age where most players are winding down.

Only two players 32 or older in Eagles history have ever recorded more than 6 1/2 sacks in a season -- William Fuller in 1994, 1995 and 1996 and Darren Howard in 2008.

But Long, who didn't miss a game from opening day 2008 through September 2014, said he's healthy and fit and ready to be a big part of this defense.

"I feel like I have a lot left, I really do," he said. "There was a time when I was injured and playing really bad and cut (by the Rams) -- rightfully so -- where I wasn't sure what my future in football was.

"But I was really lucky to take that stuff and for Coach Belichick to take that chance in me and I found out I still have a lot left in the tank. I didn’t miss a practice, didn’t miss a game last year, and that's something I was really proud of.

"I was able to play hard and I think at a pretty high level but I know I have to strike while the iron's hot. Being 32, I wanted to be in the right place, and this is the right place for me."

Eagles-Redskins thoughts: A win away from commanding conference lead

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USA Today Images

Eagles-Redskins thoughts: A win away from commanding conference lead

Eagles-Redskins
8:30 p.m. on ESPN
Eagles  favored by 4.5

The Eagles can become the first team in the NFL to six wins in 2017 — if they complete a series sweep of the NFC East rival Redskins on Monday night.

No need to pinch yourself, because you're not dreaming. At 5-1, the Eagles entered Week 7 with the league's best record. They're on a four-game winning streak and are set to kick off a three-game homestand. And the Eagles already knocked off Washington on the road in the regular-season opener, so confidence should be sky high.

With another victory over the Redskins, not only would the Eagles take a commanding three-game lead in the division standings, they also would continue to stake their claim as the hottest team in pro football.

Not the same Redskins
Back in Week 1, when the prospect of a new season gave hope to all 32 teams, Washington was a tough opponent. The Eagles would eventually win the initial meeting by a final score of 30-17, but they led by only two points until just under two minutes to play in the fourth quarter.

But much has happened over the past month-and-a-half, and the Redskins do not appear to be as strong of an opponent now. Frankly, they've been decimated by injuries.

Defensive lineman Jonathan Allen and kicker Dustin Hopkins went on injured reserve this week. All-Pro cornerback Josh Norman is out as well, while fellow starting defensive backs Bashaud Breeland and Deshazor Everett are among six players listed as questionable. The questionables also include left tackle Trent Williams, who is desperately trying to delay knee surgery.

The 'Skins certainly have enough weapons on both sides of the ball that they still pose a threat. However, there's no denying their roster has been weakened by injuries, and their depth will be put to the test against the Eagles.

Bombs away
The injuries to Washington's secondary may be especially problematic, given the way the Eagles attacked this area during the previous meeting.

The Eagles managed to score 30, and seven of those were the result of a defensive touchdown, but the offense easily could've been much worse. Carson Wentz had receivers open deep down the field on multiple occasions yet repeatedly overthrew or underthrew the likes of Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor and Torrey Smith.

Wentz completed 26 of 39 pass attempts for 307 yards with two touchdowns in the opener, despite missing on some big gainers. In other words, the outcome could've been far worse.

Think Wentz will miss on those shots again should they present themselves? Don't count on it. The second-year quarterback has been connecting on a higher rate of his deep targets of late, while throwing for 526 yards and seven touchdowns in the last two contests. As long as he's in that kind of rhythm, Wentz is capable of doing some serious damage against this group.

An emerging threat
Starting running back Robert Kelley — officially questionable — remains among the many injuries to Washington this week. That being said, his absence has led to something of a silver lining in the form of a breakout season for Chris Thompson.

Thompson has sneakily become one of the most dangerous offensive weapons in the NFL. His 515 yards from scrimmage are less than 200 behind his career high with 11 games to play. His whopping 18.9 yards per reception were good for fourth in the NFL entering the week.

This is a so-called third-down running back, who with 340 yards receiving through five games is currently on pace to eclipse 1,000 on the season.

Thompson has become by far the Redskins' biggest weapon, leading the team through the air, rushing with 175 yards on the ground, and touchdowns with four. Find a way to slow Thompson and keep him from getting into the open field and the Eagles will likely slow the entire offense.

We're No. 1
Of course, the Eagles probably aren't too concerned about Washington running the ball against them. After all, nobody else has had much success doing so.

The Eagles may have the NFL's 29th-ranked pass defense through six weeks, but that's at least partially because they boast the league's best run D. Allowing only 67.5 yards per game on the ground, the Eagles are forcing opponents to put the ball in the air, and while that's led to some statistical production, it's also played right into their hands.

One-dimensional offenses have led to plenty of opportunities in the Eagles' secondary, which entered the week tied for 11th with six interceptions. The Eagles' 14 sacks are also tied for 15th.

These aren't incredible rankings, either. Still, it goes to show what can happen when offenses are forced to repeatedly throw the ball for lack of another option against even a suspect secondary. Often times, it's an approach that will eventually lead to mistakes — like Brandon Graham's sack of Kirk Cousins that resulted in a 20-yard fumble return against Washington in Week 1.

Controlling their destiny
Washington is an opponent that's there for the taking. And as long as the Eagles take care of business, they will remain squarely in the driver's seat in the NFC East, and the entire conference for that matter.

The Eagles are the only team with two wins in the division, and the Cowboys are currently the only other team without a loss. In terms of the entire NFC, the Eagles are also a perfect 4-0 going into this game, while only the Falcons (3-0) remain unbeaten in conference play.

This game is all about control. If the Eagles control the Redskins, they will control the East, and they will be well on their way to controlling a conference that's very much up for grabs.

In other words, the Eagles need to take what is rightfully theirs on Monday.

How simply navigating locker room can be a difficult task for some Eagles

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Tom Finer | NBC Sports Philadelphia

How simply navigating locker room can be a difficult task for some Eagles

As soon as a towel-clad Jaylen Watkins walked out of the showers and into the Eagles' locker room Thursday afternoon, his shoulders slumped and he let out a near-silent sigh. 

He approached the horde of reporters near his locker stall before he locked eyes with one who was standing directly in his space. The two chuckled as they awkwardly sidestepped each other to swap positions. 

The media contingent that covers the Eagles is one of — if not the — biggest in the entire league. That's great news for fans, who have plenty of options. 

It's not great news for Watkins, who just wants to get changed. 

See, Watkins' locker is positioned just to the left of team leader Malcolm Jenkins'. Jenkins holds court with reporters a couple times per week, which can be a slight inconvenience for Watkins and Patrick Robinson, who also shares a wall with him.

And Watkins knows whenever there's a political story in the news, reporters are going to want to talk to his outspoken teammate. 

"I guess that's what comes being next to Malcolm," Watkins said. "You get good insight on stuff, but you also have to deal with the baggage that comes with him." 

NFL locker rooms are weird places and it's not because of the nakedness. After all, locker rooms are meant for changing. But trying to change while a group of media members slowly infringes upon your personal space makes it a little strange. 

But for three 45-minute windows each week, reporters fill the room. On any given Wednesday or Thursday during the week at the NovaCare Complex, there can be as many as 30 to 40 media members in attendance. It's just a part of the deal in Philadelphia.

For Shelton Gibson, this is all new. 

The rookie receiver said reporters weren't allowed in the West Virginia locker room. They met with players in a different space.

Being placed next to Torrey Smith has been a great thing for Gibson and the two have become close. But Smith is one of those guys who draws a crowd. 

"It's funny," Gibson said. "Last week I was looking at it. It's just like, you can't interrupt. You're not hoping that he'll hurry up or anything. It's just funny because it just be a big ass [crowd] around your locker." 

While Watkins normally stands behind the media scrum, waiting for his moment to pounce, Gibson has taken a different approach. While waiting for the crowd to disperse, he takes walks. He'll find a teammate in another part of the locker room to visit. Sometimes, though, he will hang around as Smith gets interviewed. He wants to see how the veteran handles it all and he always comes away impressed. 

In the middle of the locker room, on the right side, Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham are neighbors. Two of the best defensive players on the team, they are both pretty popular interview subjects.

So just about every week, one of them will walk out of the showers and see a seemingly impenetrable wall of camera and recorder-holders in their way. As veterans, though, they're beyond patiently waiting. 

"It's cool, man, because I just tell everybody to move out the way," said Graham, one of the more jovial players on the team. "That's all. That's my cue to have a little fun with the reporters." 

Watkins has dealt with this long before he was placed next to Jenkins. In fact, during his first training camp in 2014, he was in a popup stall in the middle of the floor. The locker on the wall nearest to him belonged to LeSean McCoy. It used to be annoying, especially when he didn't have a good day of practice, but there's not much he can do about it. 

After practices, the coaching staff will tell the players if that day is a media day. When Watkins knows it is, he hurries into the locker room as fast as he can and if he's lucky, he gets out before Jenkins gets in. 

But sometimes it backfires. Sometimes when Watkins goes to the cold tub and for treatment, he'll get back in the room at the same exact time Jenkins is about to start answering questions. 

And then the waiting begins. 

"So I just kind of stand by the side and let it happen," Watkins said with a shrug. "I'm used to it now."