Brandon Brooks

Eagles Film Review: The key to Ajayi’s big run

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Eagles Film Review: The key to Ajayi’s big run

Jay Ajayi showed off his home-run ability on a 46-yard touchdown run in his Eagles debut. Yet it was Brandon Brooks who helped spring Ajayi by blocking not one, but two Broncos defenders on the play.

It was one of two touchdowns in which Brooks threw the key block, the other being a 15-yard screen pass to Corey Clement. And both times, the 6-foot-5, 335-pound right guard demonstrated the ability to maul would-be tacklers at the second and third levels.

Brooks has always been a force at the point of attack. The way he was getting down the field and reaching his targets on Sunday, the 28-year-old was making his case for more recognition — perhaps even an invitation to the Pro Bowl.

Let’s go back to Ajayi’s touchdown. It’s a read-option handoff to the left, with center Jason Kelce pulling and acting as the lead blocker on the play. Brooks’ job is to get up to the second level and get a hat on Broncos middle linebacker Brandon Marshall.

This is a well-blocked play across the board. There’s a massive hole between the tackle and guard, and Kelce is demonstrating his unique ability to get out in space — this clip could go into his highlight reel as well. However, it’s Brooks’ block that’s ultimately going to blow this wide open.

First of all, Brooks is about seven yards up the field from where he first engages Marshall, and still has position. The linebacker might not have a chance to flow to the football and eventually make the stop regardless of what happens next.

But there was also some confusion on the part of Broncos cornerback Bradley Roby, who doesn’t seem to know which direction the play is going. That’s going to be a problem with Brooks rumbling down the field.

Marshall and Roby collide, and Brooks winds up putting both defenders on the ground. And while the miscue by Denver’s defense might’ve resulted in a score regardless, it didn’t help the linebacker was driven all the way into the secondary.

Look at where Brooks engages. That block finally ends 10 yards later, with Marshall getting completely erased.

That was an impressive block by Brooks, although there’s a chance Ajayi would’ve scored anyway. He is a Pro Bowl running back.

Earlier, there was no doubt Brooks had set Clement free on a running back screen with another tremendous downfield block.

This is a fairly standard setup, with Brooks the last of the offensive linemen to release in this instance behind Kelce and right tackle Lane Johnson. Those first blocks are going to set up a wall and give Clement a little breathing room after the catch, but there’s a lot of work to do from there.

Johnson gets tripped up and Kelce is engaged, so Brooks is pretty much a one-man convoy. At this point in the play, it doesn’t look like Clement has much chance of scoring.

Of course, it helps that Broncos safety Justin Simmons doesn’t want anything to do with Brooks coming straight at him at full speed with an almost 10-yard head start. A great block, a nifty move by Clement and a poor angle by Roby turns this into an easy six for the Eagles.

By the time Clement crosses the goal line, Brooks is practically standing in the end zone with him, a good 20 yards from where he starts the play. If there was any justice in the world, he would’ve been allowed to spike the ball.

A prize free-agent signing in 2016, Brooks has been quietly efficient for the Eagles, although he hasn’t necessarily been getting a lot of recognition. Make no mistake, he’s very good.

Brooks is currently ranked third among all NFL guards by Pro Football Focus, and given the Eagles’ record at 8-1, the whole team is receiving more attention this season. With all the national attention, and then  tape like this, 2017 just may turn out to be Brooks’ first Pro Bowl campaign.

Eagles notice big change in Lane Johnson

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Eagles notice big change in Lane Johnson

Fresh off a pretty dominating performance against Von Miller, it's pretty safe to say Lane Johnson is playing at an extremely high level, a Pro Bowl level even. 

The Eagles' right tackle has seemingly used his 10-game PED suspension from last year as motivation. He's on a mission to prove himself in the NFL and it's working. 

That's why when offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland was asked if this is the best football of Johnson's career, the veteran O-line coach gave a look of bewilderment. 

"Seriously?" Stoutland said, opening his eyes as wide as they go while dipping his head slightly forward. "He's off the chart right now.

"I think he just made his mind up that he wants to be a dominating player and whatever it takes from his standpoint, meetings, meeting room. From the time he walks in until the time he leaves here, it's all business for Lane. Lane's a worker, man."

After Jason Peters went down for the season, it might have made sense to flip Johnson from the right to left side and place Halapoulivaati Vaitai at right tackle. But the Eagles decided to leave Johnson at his post for a few reasons. One of them is that Johnson is playing extremely well at right tackle. Another is that they didn't want to disrupt two spots. 

And another is that many premier pass-rushers line up on the right tackle. Demarcus Lawrence and Khalil Mack are still yet to come. As far as Miller, Stoutland said Johnson was "excellent" against the NFL's leader in sacks since 2011. He saw that one-handed toss Johnson pulled on Miller and recognized it as a technique they teach; Johnson executed it "perfectly." 

"He's always had that in him but I think it's at a different level right now," Stoutland said. "He's always had that in him."

Right guard
During his session with reporters Tuesday, Stoutland was answering a question when he got a little annoyed. He pointed out that no one had asked him about Brandon Brooks yet. Because while Johnson is playing at a Pro Bowl level, the guy lining up to his left is, too. 

Stoutland praised Brooks' consistency and his physicality. At 330 pounds, Brooks is the heaviest player on the roster. 

But he's pretty athletic for his size. 

"Extremely athletic. Sneaky athletic," Stoutland said. "You watch him when we screw around a little bit with the football. We'll throw the football around. He's just a very athletic guy for a big man."

A few times Sunday against Denver, it was Brooks who was downfield blocking in the second level. 

What's that like to see?  

"Pretty awesome," Stoutland said. "And then he can stand at the line of scrimmage in a phone booth and knock your face off, too." 

Left tackle 
The flip side of Johnson's staying at right tackle was that Vaitai simply replaced Peters at left tackle. That's no easy task. 

Big V has a pretty unassuming personality. He's so soft-spoken it's actually hard to imagine him having enough fire to be able to take on defensive linemen Sundays. But Stoutland knows how to get that out of him. 

"I know the secret. I know the button," he said. "Trust me. Ask him that. I push him."

When asked where Vaitai has improved the most, Stoutland answered by saying "the use of his hands." He said Vaitai has been able to use his hands violently without losing his balance. 

"He makes progress on a daily basis," Stoutland said. "Very happy with his progression. I like him as a left tackle. He's been a natural left tackle."

Center
For all the criticism Jason Kelce has gotten from fans over the last few years, the veteran center is playing at a really high level in 2017. 

Stoutland was willing to take some of the blame for Kelce's dip in play last season. 

"To be fair to Kelce, I asked him last year to do a whole bunch," Stoutland said. "I think I asked him to do a little bit too much and I think that kind of diluted a little bit of his ability and his production level, to be honest with you. That's on me. This year, we kind of tightened it up a little bit and put him in better positions to be productive and successful. But I have always had a tremendous regard for Jason Kelce and his ability to play center in this league."

Stoutland also praised Kelce's discipline. He said Kelce has always been a technician but is even more consistent with that this season. 

Left guard
Stefen Wisniewski was the third guy to get a crack at the left guard spot this season, but it doesn't look like he's going to give it up anytime soon. When Isaac Seumalo was struggling, the Eagles used a combination of Chance Warmack and Wiz until it was clear Wisniewski was just playing better. 

That's why he earned the job. 

"Just proved it every day. Production. Bottom line," Stoutland said. "The production level of the player. Everybody had their opportunity. And I told them all that. I told them nobody here is my cousin or anything. It's the production of the player and at the end of the day, that's the guy that was most productive."

Stoutland said he kept the rotation at left guard going until he was "100 percent sure" Wisniewski was the guy. That meant benching his longtime pupil dating back to Alabama. 

"Chance did nothing wrong," Stoutland said. "Chance was actually playing very good. At the end of the day, I just didn't feel like we could keep going on the way we were going."

Changing of the guard: Eagles have a new starter on the offensive line

Changing of the guard: Eagles have a new starter on the offensive line

Chance Warmack didn't want to say it. 

"I'm not really in a position to tell you what's going on in terms of the reps," he said. 

He didn't need to. 

The Eagles on Wednesday made a switch at the left guard position. After giving up three sacks against the Chiefs in Week 2, Isaac Seumalo is out and Warmack is in, their teammates indicated after practice. 

After a few days of publicly backing their second-year player Seumalo, the Eagles coaching staff benched him and started practice with Warmack as the Eagles' left guard between Jason Peters and Jason Kelce. Their teammates didn't know until they arrived at practice. They found out when reporters did, when during the individual period, Warmack was with the first team. 

"The change is quick and sudden," right guard Brandon Brooks said. "That's how the league is. But Isaac will get through it. We're going to support him, while also supporting Chance now that he's in there."

Seumalo (6-4, 303) was handed the Eagles' starting left guard job at the start of training camp. At that time, the Eagles decided to cut former starter Allen Barbre but eventually got a conditional seventh-round pick for him. 

"Just being in the league going on six years, I can't say I am surprised, just because it's all about production," Brooks said. 

And it's true that Seumalo didn't produce. Still, the swift change is probably shocking to some. Head coach Doug Pederson and Frank Reich backed Seumalo over the last few days and Pederson even talked about not wanting to hit panic buttons. Two days later, he has a new starting left guard. 

Warmack (6-2, 323) was brought to the Eagles on a one-year deal this offseason, reuniting with his college coach Jeff Stoutland, with whom he has a very strong relationship. He clearly thinks Stoutland is the guy to get his career back on track. Warmack was once the 10th-overall pick, and while he was a starter in Tennessee, he never lived up to that hype. 

When the Eagles signed Warmack to an extension before the start of this season, it was easy to see into the future and determine that the team might have a plan for him. Warmack chose to not read into it too much. 

For the first two games of this season, Warmack was inactive, which he admitted was "weird." It was the first time since early on in college when he was healthy and did not play. He has played in 48 games in the NFL and has 48 starts. 

In training camp, Warmack wasn't even given an opportunity to compete for a starting job, but after two weeks of the regular season, he's already taken over. 

"The more you stay in the same system, the better you're going to get," Warmack said. "You're never perfect that you want to strive to be, but you just constantly beating on the same things over and over and try to execute on those things and get better."

Seumalo, who said he needed to improve his play, did not speak to reporters on Wednesday. 

If anything, a couple of Seumalo's teammates on the offensive line seemed disappointed the second-year player won't get a chance to work through his struggles. Both Brooks and Lane Johnson said when they've had bad games, it helped to get back on the field the next week. 

Johnson remembered the third game of his rookie season in 2013 against Kansas City, when Justin Houston abused the bright-eyed rookie. He thought about that this week as he faced off against Houston and the Chiefs again last week. 

"I think in this city, it'll make you mentally tougher," Johnson said. "Like when we played the Chiefs in my rookie year. I gave up three sacks and I made sure it wasn't going to happen again. I learned from it. The biggest thing from having bad games is to learn from it, grow from it, so when you have an opportunity again, you can show coaches I've learned from it." 

But, as Johnson noted, he was a first-round pick and kept his starting gig partially because of it. 

Brooks, likewise, said he's had bad games but has never been benched because of one. 

"It's just unfortunate, man, seeing a young guy like that after having a bad game," Brooks said. "He's a young player, you don't just want to kill his confidence this early in his career. A bad game, for that to happen, I wish he could work through it. 

"I just wish he had a chance to bounce back."

He won't yet. Seumalo will sit, while the Eagles take a chance on Warmack.