Howie Roseman

Eagles sign former draft pick Alex McCalister to practice squad, cut a WR

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Eagles sign former draft pick Alex McCalister to practice squad, cut a WR

The Eagles have brought back a former seventh-round draft pick. 

On Tuesday, they signed defensive end Alex McCalister to their practice squad. To make room for McCalister, they released wideout Rashard Davis, who was brought in just last week. 

McCalister, 23, was a seventh-round pick out of Florida in 2016 but spent his entire rookie season on injured reserve with a conveniently-timed left calf tear. This spring, McCalister admitted he was healthy just a couple weeks into his rookie year. 

Basically, McCalister was stashed on IR all last season for some much-needed bulk building. At 6-foot-6, 239 pounds, he came into the league looking like a flagpole. After a year around NFL nutritionists and trainers, McCalister bulked up to 251 pounds and looked more like a telephone pole.

It did the trick. 

McCalister had a great preseason, leading the Eagles with 3½ sacks. He made the decision really tough on coaches but ultimately, the team decided to stick with veteran Steven Means instead of him. 

McCalister was waived/injured with a hamstring injury and was then released with an injury settlement. The Eagles have obviously kept tabs on him. He might still be a work in progress but McCalister does have some raw pass-rushing ability. 

The practice squad will give the second-year player a chance to develop.

With playmakers in all phases, Eagles can compete with anyone

With playmakers in all phases, Eagles can compete with anyone

We got an up close and personal look at a one-dimensional team Sunday at the Linc. The Arizona Cardinals entered ranked last in the NFL in rushing yards per game and second in passing. Not surprisingly, they ran for a measly 31 yards and threw for 276 very hollow yards in the Eagles' 34-7 throttling of Bruce Arians' crew.

They were easy to figure out on both sides of the ball. Arizona is headed nowhere fast. Their opponent, however, has begun to take flight. And one of the biggest reasons? Diversity. The Eagles can hurt you in many ways on both sides of the ball.

Multi-dimensional offense
The Birds' offense ranks in the top 10 in the NFL in points per game (27.4), rushing yards (138.8), and passing yards (259.0). And they are converting third downs at 53.4 percent clip, best in the league this season. Carson Wentz yesterday was an unfathomable 11 of 12 for 229 yards and three touchdowns on third down.

One of the big concerns entering the season and really through the first two games was that the Eagles would be a one-dimensional team. The last three games have proven that not to be the case as the Birds have ripped off 502 yards on the ground. Couple that with a potent passing attack that can hurt you underneath with Zach Ertz or Alshon Jeffery, deep with Torrey Smith, or anywhere with the rejuvenated Nelson Agholor, and an offensive line that has proven to be one of the best in the game. Jason Peters is playing like he’s 25 instead of 35. Jason Kelce, written off by many, has come back with a vengeance. Lane Johnson’s presence, so missed last season, is clear as the entire line has bordered on dominant.  

The maestro to this sweet sounding orchestra is Wentz, whose feel for the NFL after just 21 games is remarkable. So far through five games, he has taken that giant leap forward from Year 1 to Year 2. Major credit goes to Doug Pederson, whose play-calling and preparation have been spot on. He realized his mistakes in the Kansas City loss. He benched Isaac Seumalo and committed to balance. The result has been three straight wins.  

D-line rotation
The variety does not end on the offensive side though. The Eagles' defensive line rotation is deep and talented. There is little if any fall-off when Chris Long or Derek Barnett or Beau Allen enter the game. Jim Schwartz can constantly throw fresh legs — or “fastballs,” as he likes to say — at opposing offensive lines. That depth is how you survive and win without Fletcher Cox.  

Linebacker play
The linebacker play has been good all around and that includes Mychal Kendricks. An oft-injured enigma the last couple of seasons, Kendricks looks close to the guy the Eagles gave that big contract to a few years back. The Birds are allowing just 62.8 yards per game on the ground, second-best in the NFL. And while they rank 29th in passing yards per game, some of that is attributable to their stingy run defense making opponents one-dimensional and apt to throw a lot. But you also have to take into account injuries. They’ve played without No. 1 cornerback Ronald Darby nearly the entire season. They’ve also been without Jaylen Watkins and Rodney McLeod among others in the secondary. 

Special teams
How about special teams? Caleb Sturgis goes down, Jake Elliott delivers. Darren Sproles gone, Kenyon Barner steps in. While credit goes to the players, Pederson and the staff, Howie Roseman deserves serious kudos for his personnel moves, including the trade for Timmy Jernigan and signing of reclamation project Patrick Robinson. No to mention the bold vision to move up to secure Wentz, which is the catalyst for all their success.

The Eagles' diversity in all three phases is something that plays long term and should serve them well regardless of opponent, weather, injuries or whatever the next 11 games have in store.

Plenty of blame to go around for Eagles' rushing struggles

Plenty of blame to go around for Eagles' rushing struggles

Breaking news: The Eagles are not running the ball well. More specifically, they’re just not running the ball. Fifty-six called passes to 13 called runs vs. the Chiefs. The Week 1 ratio in Washington was 39 passes to 24 rushes. That excludes Carson Wentz's scrambles. That’s a grand total of 95 passes to 37 rushes. Even in the pass-happy league, the NFL has become, those numbers are an extreme.

So who’s to blame? There appear to be several branches to climb, so here goes.
 
Let’s start with the head coach. The three-headed monster of Darren Sproles, Wendell Smallwood and LeGarrette Blount had 13 carries for 52 yards combined. Blount did not have an official rushing attempt. Doug Pederson doesn’t seem to grasp that you don’t have to rip off giant chunks of yardage early in games to stay true to it. He didn’t need to look any further than the opposing sideline where his mentor, Andy Reid, stuck with his running attack even though it did not flourish through three quarters.

Big Red’s commitment to the run eventually wore the Eagles down. And the K.C. rushing attack took the considerable heat off of Alex Smith, who was under serious fire from the Birds' defensive front.
      
Could it be the offensive line, which was billed as one of the better units in the league going into the season?  Isaac Seumalo has been a turnstile through two games. And really, the entire group has underperformed in both run and pass protection. Wentz was sacked six times and hit 10 more against the Chiefs. That’s eight total sacks through Weeks 1 and 2. As young and big and strong and agile as he is, Wentz will not make it through the season at this rate.

Hey kids, who’s ready for Nick Foles 2.0? Woo-hoo.

Door No. 3 leads us to the talent pool of the backfield, which is a direct reflection of the Eagles' front office. Howie Roseman, Joe Douglas and crew chose to go to battle with this group. There was immediate help in the draft. Dalvin Cook went to the Vikings two spots ahead of the Birds in the second round of the draft. The Eagles went with a long-term investment of the injured Sidney Jones instead of trading up. They understandably passed on Joe Mixon and his baggage. He was taken five picks later by the Bengals. Kareem Hunt, remember him? He was also an option. He lasted into the third round and was selected by the Chiefs. Hunt has 355 total yards and five touchdowns through two weeks.

All of the above appear to be better options than what the Eagles came away with. They took a 5-foot-8, 176-pound halfback in Donnell Pumphrey in the fourth round with the 132nd overall pick. After an awful camp and preseason, Pumphrey is now on injured reserve with a torn hamstring. So they’re left with the short-yardage specialist, Blount, the unproven Smallwood and the always productive, but age-challenged, Sproles. Clearly, Pederson has little confidence in Blount and Smallwood, and Sproles' touches need to be rationed if you want him to be fresh later in the season. Maybe undrafted free agent Corey Clement is the answer, but who knows at this early juncture?

Perhaps we could check every blame box here. Regardless of where the fault lies, the running game needs to improve and improve quickly. To expect a 50-50 ratio is foolish. Ezekiel Elliott’s is not running through that tunnel. But some semblance of balance is not too much to ask. It will eliminate their predictability and help keep your franchise quarterback upright. There are a lot of positives with this team. And there’s no shame in a 1-1 record after two tough road games, one in the division.

But if the hope is playoffs, the Eagles must get better on the ground.