Kamu Grugier-Hill

Despite 27-point lead, Rodney McLeod's TD-saving tackle huge in locker room

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Despite 27-point lead, Rodney McLeod's TD-saving tackle huge in locker room

If Cardinals receiver J.J. Nelson had scored there with a minute left, nobody would have really paid attention. In the big picture? It wouldn't have mattered.

The final score would have been 34-14 instead of 34-7, and the celebration would have been just as raucous, the jubilation just as intense.

It's a play that didn't matter.

Just don't tell Rodney McLeod.

"Nothing's here for free," he said.

Here's the situation: The Eagles took a 34-7 lead over the Cards Sunday at the Linc with 2:05 left on Jake Elliott's second field goal of the game.

As the final seconds ticked away, Carson Palmer drove the Cards down to the Eagles' 29-yard-line, where on 1st-and-10 he threw a short pass near the left sideline to Nelson, who broke a Patrick Robinson tackle and made a bee-line for the end zone and appeared to score the Arizona's second touchdown of the game.

A meaningless touchdown but a touchdown nonetheless.

McLeod wasn't having any of it.

He raced over from the middle of the field and belted Nelson just as he was about to enter the end zone. Replays showed the ball not only coming loose before Nelson crossed the goal-line but also bouncing out of the end zone for a touchback.

The touchdown was overturned, the Eagles ran out the clock, and 50 years from now, when Eagles fans look back at the 2017 season, they'll see 34-7 and not 34-14.

All because McLeod made an incredible play when it didn't matter a bit.

Which is exactly why he's a guy you want on your football team.

"Man, it's just how we approach every day, every week as DB's and as a defense as a whole," McLeod said at his locker. "I know in our room, we always talking about loafing, and we stress that a lot in practice, and so a play like that, it just becomes second nature, and that's what it was.

"We hold ourselves to a high standard. We look at a loaf as a traitor in our room, so everybody holds one another accountable. I don't want to let my brothers down."

Eric Allen is the greatest cornerback in Eagles history. Buddy Ryan found him while watching tape of an Arizona State blowout loss in 1987. With the Sun Devils hopelessly trailing Cal in the final minutes, he saw Allen race down the field and knock a Cal player out of bounds just short of the goal-line, and he decided that's a guy he wanted on his team.

If you're a pro, you're not out there thinking about the score or the standings or the postgame celebration. Even up 37-7 with a minute left.

You're thinking only one thing.

Make a play.

"That was a play where Patrick, unfortunately, missed a tackle, but me and Kamu (Grugier-Hill) were there hustling to make a play, and that's what this defense is about," McLeod said.

"Hustle plays like that make up for guys missing tackles and you begin to trust one another. It's just that mentality. Never give up."

Why are the Eagles 4-1 and in first place in the NFC East with the second-best record in football?

Exactly because of that mentality.

"Just being there for my brother," McLeod said. "It's just a part of our DNA. Once you hit that field, you give 100 percent and you're all in, and that's what we were.

"It is contagious. It rubs off a lot. You come to practice, we do it each and every day. We don't take that lightly."

Robinson was kicking himself for that missed tackle, which came at the end of what may have been his best game in eight years as a pro.

Robinson was all over the field Sunday. He knocked down three passes, made four tackles, blocked a field goal and was generally mistake-free in his coverage.

Really, he played perfect football for 59 minutes. Then missed a tackle.

"I was like, 'Man, how did I give up that cheap catch? That cheap touchdown?'" Robinson said. "Then I saw the replay, and I was just so grateful for those guys to turn that into a touchback. I was so grateful they picked me up.

"But that's what it's all about. Being a team. Doing your job. We play till the last whistle. We play till it's 0-0-0, and that's what Rodney and Kamu did."

McLeod and Robinson both said they initially thought McLeod had saved a touchdown but the Cards would have a 1st-and-Goal on the 1-yard line.

Then they realized it was a touchback and the game was over.

"OK, add that to the stat sheet," McLeod said with a laugh.

The Eagles got to 4-1 by beating Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Carson Palmer the last three weeks. That's three potential Hall of Fame quarterbacks. All three rank in the top 13 in NFL history in passing yards.

McLeod's play might not have made a difference in the standings, but it sure exemplifies exactly what this football team is all about.

"Being a team," Robinson said. "Having each other's back. That's exactly what it is."

Eagles looking at safety options for Sunday vs. Giants

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Eagles looking at safety options for Sunday vs. Giants

The Hamstrung Trio would make for a decent band name. 

It might be music to the Giants' ears. 

As practice kicked off at the NovaCare Complex on Wednesday, the Eagles were without three of their top options at safety. Rodney McLeod, Corey Graham and Jaylen Watkins all stood on the sideline and watched thanks to hamstring injuries they suffered during the Kansas City game (see Injury Update)

That left the Eagles with two healthy safeties: Malcolm Jenkins and Chris Maragos. 

"You never know what's going to happen," Graham said. "You never know the situation. I would like to believe that out of three of us, at least one of us will be able to go. I'm hoping and praying that all three of us are not out (for Sunday's game). We're all just going to get enough treatment. At worst, hopefully, one of us will be ready to go."

Graham, 32, said he suffered his hamstring injury — he thinks — in the second quarter on Sunday and was able to play through the pain. It felt worse the next day. 

The 11-year NFL veteran has been incredibly durable during his career. In fact, he has played in 159 consecutive games (165 with playoffs). Only Pittsburgh's William Gay has a longer consecutive games streak than Graham. 

"That's out of my control obviously," Graham said. "I'm not going to go out there if I feel like I can't help us. But I'm also the type that I can play through some things. I always have in my career. I've had nicks and bruises, things like that. A hamstring is a little different. I've never had a hamstring injury in my life. It's not something I'm used to. My pain tolerance is pretty good though." 

Of the Hamstrung Trio, Graham is the most likely to be able to play on Sunday. But if all three are out, the Eagles will be in the same precarious situation they were in during the 27-20 loss to the Chiefs. 

During that game, Jim Schwartz approached linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill and told him he was one more injury away from entering the game at safety. With the Eagles' numbers at safety still low, Grugier-Hill, mostly a special-teamer, thinks he might get some practice reps at safety later this week. 

"I'm excited. It's a great opportunity for me," he said. "But we want those guys who are injured to come back as soon as possible. I'm excited; they're preparing me for whatever and I'll be prepared for that." 

Before it gets to Grugier-Hill, it's likely special teams ace Maragos would get into the game. Under the former regime, Maragos wasn't completely relegated to special teams. While he played just one defensive snap in 2016, Maragos was on the field for 304 (25.1 percent) in 2015, the last year under Chip Kelly and Billy Davis. 

When the new coaching staff — Doug Pederson and Jim Schwartz — arrived to town, they signed McLeod and clearly saw Maragos as a better fit on just special teams, where he has thrived throughout his career. Maragos took the demotion in stride and actually said it allowed him to focus most of his attention on what has made him so valuable in the NFL. 

"I got a lot of great experience on defense, which is great," he said. "Obviously, for me, I've kind of made a name for myself as a special teamer. Obviously, you run down 100 yards on kickoffs, it's a different type of mentality, it's a different type of win. But if I need to split time with my mindset on defense and special teams, it actually helped me those couple years back, in the event that if I need to do anything, I'll mentally know what to expect."

There will be at least three safeties on the field Thursday afternoon for practice. The Eagles claimed former Bills safety Trae Elston off waivers Wednesday, but it'll be a race to get him ready for Sunday (see story). It's hard to imagine him having a big role. 

So, the three options so far are Maragos, a linebacker, or a guy who wasn't with the team yesterday. Things don't look great. But for whatever reason, Malcolm Jenkins doesn't seem worried. At all (see story)

Jenkins even brought up a fourth option: moving a cornerback to safety. The Eagles often boast about the versatility of their safeties, their ability to also play corner. But Jenkins says it goes the other way too. He said the Eagles' safeties play like slot corners in the majority of their packages anyway and the team has plays where they'll rotate a corner to a deep defender, "which is in turn, the same thing as a safety." 

If the Eagles went with this option, moving a corner to safety, Jenkins recognizes that it would put more on his shoulders. He'd have to make sure everyone was lined up correctly and make the calls. But he thinks they could do it. 

"We've got options," Jenkins said. 

The best option would be to simply get back one member of the Hamstrung Trio back on the field. They're hoping to break up the band. 

Eagles Stay or Go Part 5: Brandon Graham to Aaron Grymes

Eagles Stay or Go Part 5: Brandon Graham to Aaron Grymes

In the fifth of our 12-part offseason series examining the future of the Eagles, Reuben Frank and Dave Zangaro give their opinions on who will be and who won't be on the roster in 2017. We go alphabetically — Part 5 is Graham to Grymes.

Brandon Graham
Cap hit: $7.5M

Roob: Interesting year for Graham, who got consistent pressure on the opposing quarterback and graded out as one of the most effective pass rushers in the league but managed only 5½ sacks. Hard to believe Graham is now entering his eighth season with the Eagles. He still has never had more than 6½ sacks in a season, but the pressure is there. I love his effort but would still like to see him finish when he gets a hand on the quarterback. He'll be here. The question is whether he can take his game to the next level and turn those hurries into sacks. 

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: It’s hard to believe this is the same player who was once labeled a bust and completely written off by fans. Graham ended up having the best season of his career in Jim Schwartz’s defense and looked much more at home as a 4-3 defensive end. No, his sack numbers weren’t very high this year, but sacks don’t tell the whole story and that was the case with Graham. He was extremely disruptive and was the Eagles’ best defensive end. No-brainer. 

Verdict: STAYS

Dwayne Gratz

Roob: Back in 2013, Gratz was a third-round pick and a pretty good cornerback prospect for the Jaguars. He started 25 games over three years for the Jags before bouncing from the Jags to the Rams and Eagles last year. Considering the Eagles’ situation at corner, the Eagles have to give him a long look this offseason to see if there’s anything there. He didn’t get into a game after joining the Eagles late last year, but without even seeing him play, I’m prepared to call him the Eagles’ best cornerback. (That's kind of a joke, but not really.) The Eagles have so many needs and need so many receivers, corners and running backs that they can’t get them all through the draft and free agency. So I’m going off a hunch and saying Gratz makes the team next year. Just because somebody has to play cornerback and it can’t be the guys who were here last year. 

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: Gratz was added late in the year and never played. But he’s a former third-round pick and we’ll have to see what he can offer. He’ll likely be with the team in training camp and will have a shot, but probably not a great one. Honestly, it’s probably too early to call this one. 

Verdict: GOES

Dorial Green-Beckham
Cap hit: $944K

Roob: One of the Eagles’ bigger disappointments this past year, DGB took a big step backwards after a promising rookie year with the Titans. Now, the question is, how much was because he arrived late in the preseason, how much was because the since-departed Greg Lewis was his position coach, how much was his lack of familiarity with Carson Wentz? The Eagles are desperate for playmakers at wide receiver, and you can’t draft or sign an entirely new group. Considering DGB’s salary and cap figure — both are just $944,418 — I figure the Eagles will keep him around one more year just to see if there’s anything there. Maybe with a new coach and another year in this offense, he can help. I kind of doubt he'll ever become more than just a guy, but there's no reason for the Eagles not to keep him around another year to find out. 

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: It didn’t take too long into this season to see why the Titans were fine with giving up DGB for reserve offensive tackle Dennis Kelly. I know many people have said they’ve seen all they need to see of Green-Beckham to know he can’t play. I’m not sold yet. I’m just not ready to give up on a 23-year-old receiver who is 6-5, 237. I know he doesn’t play well with his size, but I want to see him have a full offseason here and I want to see him work with a new receivers coach. 

Verdict: STAYS

Darrell Greene

Roob: Greene spent the year on the Eagles’ practice squad after a solid career at San Diego State. He’s got some size at 6-3, 320, and the Eagles are definitely uncertain at guard. But is Greene the direction they’re going to go for offensive line depth moving forward? Probably not. 

Verdict: GOES

Dave: Greene was on the practice squad, then off the practice squad, then on the practice squad, etc., in the beginning of the season when the Eagles had their practice squad revolving door. But they liked Greene enough to keep him around, although he never made his way to the 53-man roster. 

Verdict: GOES

Kamu Grugier-Hill
Cap hit: $540K

Roob: While longtime special teams stalwarts like Bryan Braman and Najee Goode may be expendable because of their high minimum salaries and diminishing effectiveness, a young kid like Grugier-Hill stays because he comes much cheaper and can still run around on special teams and make plays. For the most part, special teams is a young man's game. Grugier-Hill is also a young linebacker at a position in which the Eagles have very little youth outside of Jordan Hicks. 

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: He’s pretty far down the list of linebackers on the depth chart but proved to be a good special teams player. Maybe he’ll never be any more than that, but for now, that’s good enough. He can make an impact as a teamer. 

Verdict: STAYS

Aaron Grymes

Roob: Honestly, I wouldn’t rule out anybody who plays cornerback. Grymes is a guy who had three good years in Canada and even played for the Grey Cup-champion Edmonton Eskimos in 2015. How much of that translates to the U.S. game, I don’t know, but other than seventh-round pick Jalen Mills, undrafted C.J. Smith and possibly journeyman Gratz (see above), there really aren’t any young corners on the roster, so a guy like Grymes will get every chance to make the team. None of us have seen enough of Grymes to know whether he can help, but I figure he’ll get a long look in training camp, but ultimately not survive final cuts. 

Verdict: GOES

Dave: Grymes impressed last training camp and probably would have had a good shot at making the initial roster had he not injured his shoulder. The Eagles are going to take a look at him again this spring and summer, but they’re probably going to completely revamp that entire position if they can. 

Verdict: GOES