Corey Clement

10 most surprising Eagles from NFC East-leading 5-1 start

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10 most surprising Eagles from NFC East-leading 5-1 start

We all pretty much knew Malcolm Jenkins would have another big year. We all pretty much knew Carson Wentz would improve dramatically, Zach Ertz would have a career season and Brandon Graham would have success getting after the quarterback.
 
Then there are the surprises. On this team, there've been a ton of them.
 
The Eagles, at 5-1, are already just two wins short of last year's total and have more wins than the rest of the NFC East combined.
 
Let's take a look at the 10 biggest surprises so far this year on this first-place Eagles team. (And don't look for Nelson Agholor on this list. His performance may be surprising to some people but not to me!)
 
1. Patrick Robinson
Honestly, Robinson's career looked like it was over this summer. He was with his fourth team in four years, and he was so bad early in training camp and the Eagles had so many promising young corners you had to wonder if there was even a roster spot for Robinson. But not only did he make the team and earn a starting spot when Ronald Darby got hurt, he's played at such a consistently high level you can make a case he's been the Eagles' Defensive MVP so far. He's got a team-high nine knockdowns, two interceptions and he's just been consistently solid in coverage.
 
2. LeGarrette Blount
Maybe it's not a huge surprise Blount has been so productive because he did score 18 touchdowns for the Patriots last year. But the surprise is his 5.6 yards-per-carry average — second-best in the league and tops in the NFC among regular backs (at least eight carries per game). Blount averaged just 3.9 yards per carry last year and hasn't been over 4.5 since 2013. And he's 30 now. That 5.6 figure is fourth-highest in NFL history by a running back in his 30s after six games. With Darren Sproles out, Donnel Pumphrey struggling throughout camp and now on the shelf and Wendell Smallwood out the last couple games as well, the Eagles have really needed Blount, and he's responded in a huge way. He's giving the Eagles way more than anybody expected.
 
3. Rasul Douglas
Injuries forced the Eagles to use Douglas in Week 2 after he was inactive on opening day, and he's been starting ever since. Douglas has given up some plays — what rookie cornerback hasn't? — but despite less than world-class speed he's shown an ability to cover, tackle and support the run. Douglas needs to be more consistent, but he's got two interceptions in five games — the first Eagles corner with two INTs in his first five career games since Eric Allen — and he's only going to get better.
 
4. Jake Elliott
What a story. The Bengals draft Elliott in the fifth round, risk losing him by placing him on the practice squad, then Caleb Sturgis gets hurt, the Eagles sign Elliott, and he proceeds to make three kicks of 50 yards or more in his first five games — including a game-winning 61-yarder, the third-longest walk-off field goal in NFL history. Despite not playing on opening day, Elliott is fourth in the NFL in scoring, with 49 points. He's 12 for 14 overall, including 10 straight makes. He's already one of the most accomplished long-range kickers in Eagles history. And he's played five games. 
 
5. Mychal Kendricks
Kendricks' once-promising career seemed to fizzle out the last couple years. Check out his playing time his first five NFL seasons: 88.5 percent in 2012 (under Juan Castillo and Todd Bowles), then 82.6 percent, 65.5 percent and 51.6 percent in 2013 through 2015 (under Bill Davis) and down to 26.7 percent last year under Jim Schwartz. A downward spiral. But Kendricks forced the Eagles to play him with a fantastic preseason, and he's backed that up with some really solid play so far this year. Kendricks had his best game in years Thursday night in Charlotte, North Carolina, with 15 total tackles, a tackle for loss and two special teams tackles. He played 55 snaps — his most in two years — and is now at 52 percent for the season. It's been a long time since we've seen Kendricks play at this level, and it's safe to say few people saw it coming.
 
6. Tim Jernigan
Hard to believe after watching these first six games that the Ravens didn't want Jernigan back. From what he's shown so far, he's a big-time player. Why would the Ravens give up on a 24-year-old defensive lineman with this much potential? Apparently, they felt he wasn't consistent enough. But if he's able to continue delivering the type of play that he has so far, it was a steal for the Eagles. Jernigan already has six tackles for loss, 1½ sacks and four hurries, not to mention stout play against the run all year. He's been way better than advertised.
 
7. Chris Long
Any notion the Eagles just brought Long in for leadership and emergency depth was quickly dispelled when we started to see him play. Long has a lot left. He's averaging 28 snaps, is tied for second on the team with 2.0 sacks and played a season-high 41 snaps in a big way Thursday night down in Charlotte. Long, now 32 years old, can still play.
 
8. Mack Hollins
When training camp began, Hollis was probably behind Jordan Matthews, Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith, Nelson Agholor, Dorial Green-Beckham, Paul Turner, Shelton Gibson and maybe even Bryce Treggs. So he was eighth-team. Now the rookie fifth-round pick is working his way up the Eagles' wide receiving hierarchy. He hasn't played a lot — about 10 snaps per game — but he's got five catches on five targets for five first downs, including a big 20-yarder Thursday night against the Panthers. Keep an eye on Hollins. He's going to be a good one.
 
9. Jason Kelce
Kelce's performance hasn't been a surprise to everybody, but there was certainly a large contingent of people who felt the veteran center should be released this offseason or preseason after his level of play dropped last year. But Kelce has been terrific in the middle of the NFL's No. 4-ranked offense and No. 5-ranked running game. So far a resurgent year for the two-time Pro Bowler.
 
10. Corey Clement
Down three running backs — Darren Sproles, Donnel Pumphrey and Wendell Smallwood — the Eagles have asked a lot of Clement, and the undrafted rookie has made some nice contributions, including a 15-yard touchdown run against the Giants, a 22-yard catch and run against the Cards and a 35-yard kickoff return against the Giants. It's rare to get much of anything from rookie tailbacks, but Clement has done a nice job taking advantage of his opportunities.

Eagles rookie report: Derek Barnett just misses 1st NFL sack

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Eagles rookie report: Derek Barnett just misses 1st NFL sack

First-round pick Derek Barnett just missed out on his first NFL sack in the Eagles' dominant 34-7 win Sunday over the Cardinals (see breakdown).

Cornerback Rasul Douglas and running back Corey Clement also had a hand in the win, and defensive tackle Elijah Qualls makes his first appearance on the rookie report.

Here are a few highlights.

1st quarter, 0:16, 2nd-and-10 at ARZ 42 - Eagles 21, Cardinals 0
On this play, Douglas is lined up against the speedy John Brown. Brown is clearly not the target on this route and runs a lazy slant. Douglas recognizes this and sees quarterback Carson Palmer dump a short out to tight end Jermaine Gresham. The play is designed to pull the corner away from that side of the field and allow Gresham to gain some yards up the sideline. Instead, Douglas makes an aggressive play on the ball and tackles Gresham for a minimal gain.

2nd quarter, 9:05, 1st-and-10 at ARZ 10 - Eagles 21, Cardinals 7
Barnett shows off what made him a first-round pick. He uses an outside rush and beats John Wetzel badly and tosses him aside. Palmer steps up in the pocket just enough to avoid the sack and get a short pass off to Andre Ellington. Barnett was flagged for roughing the passer, but it was pretty soft. It sort of looked like Barnett was falling to the ground and just held onto Palmer as he did. The coaching staff probably won't get on the rookie too much for that one.

2nd quarter, 2:00, 1st-and-10 at PHI 38 - Eagles 21, Cardinals 7
Nelson Agholor is lined out wide to the left. He motions at full speed like he might get the ball on a jet sweep. Carson Wentz takes the snap from under center, gives a hand fake to Agholor and then a ball fake to Clement. Clement then goes left for a screen. The rookie back then takes the ball into Cardinals' territory for a 22-yard gain. Clement does an excellent job selling the run and shows his patience and vision in setting up his blocks (see Roob's 10 observations). Excellent call by Doug Pederson. Clement isn't typically on the field for plays like this and it appeared to catch Arizona off guard.

2nd quarter, 0:32, 1st-and-10 at ARI 33 - Eagles 21, Cardinals 7
This time lined up against Jaron Brown, Douglas has sort of a weird play. He runs with Brown down the left sideline but just sort of stops after about 15 yards. Was it a zone look? Did he know he had help over the top from Malcolm Jenkins and saw where Palmer was going with the football? If we give Douglas the benefit of the doubt and say the latter, then it's a mighty impressive play. He does appear to take a peek into the backfield and then times the throw well and gets a hand on it. 

3rd quarter, 0:27, 1st-and-14 at ARZ 21 - Eagles 31, Cardinals 7
Welcome to the NFL, Qualls. Qualls has seen action but had yet to have an impactful snap. Palmer tries to carry out a play-action fake to the right and then come back for a receiver screen on the right. Qualls is unblocked. Perhaps Arizona was hoping Qualls would buy the fake. More likely, the Cardinals' offensive line is just playing really bad football. Qualls shows his burst off the line and plants Palmer into the ground, causing an incompletion.

Analysis
Douglas and Barnett weren't much of a factor, but only because it was such a dominant effort by the defense overall (see report card). Palmer seemed to keep picking on Patrick Robinson instead of Douglas, but the veteran corner was excellent. Barnett narrowly missed his first sack. It'll come.

Clement finished with 17 yards on seven carries and the one catch for 22 yards. Overall, it was a solid performance by the rookie back. I liked the idea of getting him involved on a screen. Clement possesses excellent patience and vision, crucial elements to run a successful screen play.

Worth mentioning, Jake Elliott was 2 for 2. He may never miss a kick again.

Eagles notes, quotes and tidbits: Carson Wentz is a giant faker

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Eagles notes, quotes and tidbits: Carson Wentz is a giant faker

Looking at the stat sheets can give a decent idea of how Carson Wentz is performing this season. 

It's just not the only way. 

The Eagles care about stats, sure. But they also care about the details that don't show up in the stat sheets. For example, the team even grades Wentz on his ability to carry through a fake after he hands the ball off. 

How good is he at it? 

"He carries out his fakes better than anybody I've ever seen," offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. "I think that helps us. You don't notice it a lot of times but it's those little things; the cumulative effect of those things, so that if we run play action, so that if he ever keeps something off of that. He takes a lot of pride, and it's one of the things that I think has helped him develop. 

"He works very hard and he doesn't take plays off in practice. I've never seen a quarterback carry out fakes like he carries out fakes and how serious he takes his ball handling and every aspect of it. It's excellent."

Carrying through his fakes isn't an area where Wentz has gotten better from Year 1 to 2. In fact, he said he developed the skill while in college, playing in North Dakota State's pro style offense. So he's always been pretty good at it. 

Wentz said he has always liked to see how defenses react. Fakes go both ways. He can carry through a fake after a handoff, but perhaps more importantly, he can fake the handoff into a naked bootleg. 

"Anything like that, any little thing that's going to help the play or give us an extra spilt second to get a backside cutoff block or something like that," Wentz said, "those are big things that I think … and I'm not the only one who does that. Everyone goes the extra mile to help their guys out. It's definitely a satisfaction you see when someone does have to honor that."

Let's get situational 
If you're looking for an area Wentz has greatly improved from Year 1 to Year 2, how about situational football? 

Four games into the 2017 season, Wentz has thrived in some important parts of the game, specifically on third downs. 

"In the development of becoming an elite franchise quarterback, that's something we've talked to him about from the start: really what sets you apart as a quarterback is how you perform in situational football," Reich said. "That's third down and red zone. Then what kind of a knack do you have of making big plays on first and second down? That's really what separates those elite players.

"And so becoming a playmaker on third down and in the red zone is a big part of any quarterback's development. I think he takes a lot of pride in that. I think he knows that. I think he studies it a lot. I think he has a lot of confidence in the players he's throwing to."

So how well is Wentz performing on third and fourth downs? 

Yeah, that's not bad. 

Overall this season, the Eagles have converted on 50.8 percent of their third-down situations, good for second in the league. For perspective's sake, they were 20th in the league in 2016 at 37.9 percent. 

"That, going back even to training camp, I remember you guys were always asking on the biggest thing I was focusing on and it was situational football," Wentz said. "And that comes from talking to Coach Reich, Coach (Doug) Pederson, Coach (John) DeFilippo. They were always harping that. Going back last year, watching the tape and just discussing, ‘alright, if this was the situation, what would you have done differently?' And those are things that I really took to heart, really focused in on."

While Wentz has greatly improved on third and fourth downs, there is still room to grow in the red zone. Through four games this season, Wentz has completed 9 of 17 passes (52.94 percent) for 60 yards and five touchdowns in the red zone. 

Wentz's completion percentage in the red zone is 14th in the NFL. At 55.56 percent, Wentz is slightly better inside the 10. 

Clement time
The Eagles will likely be without Wendell Smallwood (knee) this week against the Cardinals. That leaves just two of their original five running backs — LeGarrette Blount and Corey Clement — healthy for Sunday's game. 

After Darren Sproles went down, Smallwood assumed most of the team's third-down duties, but now he's out. So Clement might be the next guy up in those situations. 

"It's just the nature of the game," Clement said. "Some guys go down, some guys have great opportunities in front of them. It's about what I can do to better prepare myself for this game Sunday."

As a third-down back, Clement needs to be able to pass protect as well as catch the ball out of the backfield. Those are two areas he has worked to improve since his arrival as an undrafted free agent this spring. 

While catching the ball is important, the most important thing on third downs, especially for a rookie, is pass protection. The Eagles can't put Clement on the field to block if they're worried Wentz is going to get his head knocked off. Pederson said Clement has been "improving" as a blocker thanks to work with running backs coach Duce Staley. 

Clement credited Staley, along with Pederson, offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland and his elder teammates — Blount, Sproles and Smallwood — for helping him. 

Getting back to Destiny
The Eagles might get back second-year DT Destiny Vaeao this week. That could be a nice boost for a team that's without Fletcher Cox again. 

Vaeao hurt his right wrist during the opener in Washington and has missed the last three weeks. That was a shame for Vaeao, who had a tremendous training camp, according to the coaching staff. 

"It's tough," Vaeao said about missing time. "Every Sunday that passed by, it hurts not playing. You just have to be patient and everything will come."

Quote of the Week I: "The whole (offensive) line is playing unbelievable right now. They're playing kind of pissed off. They just have an attitude about them, which is awesome to see." — Carson Wentz 

Quote of the Week II: "Hey, there's Bruce Arians!" — Brandon Graham, spotting FanRag reporter John McMullen on the sideline at practice wearing a Kangol hat

Quote of the Week III: "I thought I should have not tried to stiff arm him and just ran straight and I would have scored." — Blount's thoughts after he went back and watched his career-long 68-yard run against the Chargers.  

Random media guide note: If Rodney McLeod could be any superhero, he'd be Batman.