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Eagles Film Review: Jason Kelce is doing work

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Eagles Film Review: Jason Kelce is doing work

Eagles center Jason Kelce might be the most unfairly scrutinized athlete in the city. We’re talking about a player who’s earned trips to the Pro Bowl two of the last three years, yet remains a constant source of fan frustration.

Well, until this season anyway. Kelce appears to be off to his best start since 2013. Through five weeks, he grades second among all NFL centers, according to Pro Football Focus. Gone are lazy complaints about the 295-pound lineman getting pushed around in the trenches, or taking too many costly penalties.

Nobody can argue Kelce isn’t getting the job done right now.

There are a lot of factors behind Kelce’s resurgence. For starters, he was never performing as poorly as the criticism might make you think. The offensive line is also improving as a unit, and the seventh-year veteran is benefiting from a developing rapport with the players to his left and right. It’s his second season in Eagles coach Doug Pederson’s system as well.

All of which has Kelce playing with a high level of confidence that was somewhat lacking in years past. There is perhaps no better example of just how much the guy is “feeling it” right now than on Carson Wentz’s 72-yard touchdown pass to Nelson Agholor in the Eagles’ 34-7 win over the Cardinals on Sunday.

“They brought an all-out blitz there,” Wentz said postgame. “If you guys go back and watch it, Jason Kelce made an unbelievable play. He ended up blocking two guys, so I shouldn’t have had the time to get that one off.”

Wentz challenged us to go back and watch the play, so we did – and couldn’t help but come away impressed.

If you recall the situation, the touchdown came on 3rd and 19. More often than not, defenses will set back and keep the play in front of the sticks. But the Cardinals are trailing 24-7 in the third quarter, and want to force the Eagles to make a mistake, so they are sending a zero blitz.

There are so many rushers coming for Wentz, they aren’t even all in the picture.

Kelce is going against unheralded first-year player Olsen Pierre here, and winning. There’s nothing spectacular about this one-on-one block, but Kelce is holding up at the point of attack and steering his assignment to the outside, leaving Wentz plenty of room to step up.

Make note of No. 41 in white, though. The Eagles only have six blockers for seven rushers, leaving safety Antoine Bethea unaccounted for – and a small crease to the quarterback.

Not on Kelce’s watch. At the last moment, he reaches his arm out and essentially clotheslines Bethea. It’s just enough to slow the blitzer.

Then, Kelce finishes the play, driving Pierre into Bethea. Both defenders wind up on the ground.

It’s not a pretty, clean pocket, but Wentz is great at navigating crowded areas, and he gets off a perfect throw. Everybody did their job here to make this play happens, including Agholor with the catch and run.

Kelce went above and beyond.

Obviously, this is only one play. Are there occasions where Kelce is overpowered at the line of scrimmage, whiffs on a block or is called for a bad penalty? Absolutely. Yet, for the past few seasons, fans only seem to take notice of his mistakes. You can pick anybody apart if you’re only looking for the negatives.

Kelce has a reputation for being a “finesse” player, somebody who’s only good when he gets into space. And when it comes to that aspect of the game, Kelce is the best in the league, hands down. He is perfectly capable of making the “ordinary” play as well though – even the ones that aren’t so ordinary.

Maybe it’s about time people stop throwing Kelce’s name into every trade rumor or debating whether he will be a cap casualty. The Eagles have arguably the best offensive line in football right now, and their center is a big reason why.

Mask-wearing pioneer Rip Hamilton has advice for Joel Embiid

Mask-wearing pioneer Rip Hamilton has advice for Joel Embiid

Detroit Pistons star Richard Hamilton wasn't the first player to wear a mask in the NBA but sometimes it feels like he was.

Newsweek caught up with Rip this week to talk about his mask-wearing days and to see if he had any words of wisdom for Joel Embiid. Hamilton first wore a mask for breaking his nose, but he continued to wear it for the remainder of his career.

Embiid made his first playoff appearance of his career last night in Miami while rocking a new mask complete with a custom visor to protect his eyes. It was clearly bothering him but he didn't let it dictate his play.

“It was difficult,” Embiid said of the mask. “But to me it wasn’t really about getting used to it because at the end of the day, no matter how much it bothers me, I’ve still got to be a basketball player."

Hamilton has famously said that he embraced the mask to the point of it becoming his "Batman cape" which allowed him to be more aggresive.

"Over a period of time I started to get used to it. As basketball players, a lot of times you go to the basket and it’s a lot of elbows being thrown, guys are getting poked in the eye," he told Newsweek this week. "You tend to clench up because you don’t want to get hit in the face. Once I started wearing that mask I wasn’t clenching up no more. I was willing to take contact more. I was able to get to the free throw line more because now I’m not scared of getting hit in the face. It kind of made me into a more aggressive and better basketball player."

Hamilton's message to Embiid prior to the series?

"Embrace it. Make it cool. Make it fun. Make it like a prop. Don’t get caught up in saying like, 'I got a piece of plastic on my face. I’m worrying about how I look, I’m worrying about my perception when I shoot.' When you’re out there in, like, shooting drills, don’t be so caught up in putting the mask on and trying to worry about how you shoot with it on. Put it on in the game and just wear it because our game is a non-thinking sport. React. You gotta read and react as quick as possible. The less thinking you do, the better you’ll be."

Rip also took notice of Embiid's frustration with the mask following the game. He encouraged Jo that it only gets easier.

I’ve thrown my mask off numerous times lil bro @joelembiid ...It will get more comfortable game by game ..Trust The Process. #MaskOnMaskOff#YouGotTheJuiceNow #Holdat #Yessir#Mask #TnT #nba #nbaplayoffs #sixers#sixersvsheat #LoveThisGame

Eagles players with the most to gain at OTAs — S Tre Sullivan

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Eagles players with the most to gain at OTAs — S Tre Sullivan

The Eagles don’t hit the practice field as a team for another five weeks, yet each year coaches point to players who distinguish themselves during the months of April and May. These are the players with the most to gain in phases one and two of OTAs.

There isn’t an unheralded prospect in better position to climb the Eagles’ depth chart this spring than Tre Sullivan.

Never mind the fact that vice president of player personnel Joe Douglas just got done lauding Sullivan’s performance in a pre-draft interview on Thursday. The 24-year-old also happens to be one of only four safeties on the Eagles roster for the time being, creating a huge opportunity for an undrafted free agent from Shepherd College.

Competition will come soon enough, as safety is an obvious target for the Eagles in the upcoming draft. Even then, Sullivan could find himself in the mix for a big role with a good spring.

Last season, Corey Graham was the Eagles’ third safety behind Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod. Graham, a free agent departure, wound up playing nearly 40 percent of the team’s snaps.

This isn’t merely a backup job. There’s serious playing time at stake – and Sullivan can get a jump on the competition.

Sullivan made a name for himself in last year’s preseason opener against the Packers with a vicious hit on wide receiver Malachi Dupre. It was a scary moment, as Dupre was knocked out by the collision, but also a clean play and an example of the defensive back’s physicality.

Sullivan forced a fumble on the hit and finished with four tackles. He would go on to acquit himself well in three other preseason games, eventually landing on the Eagles’ practice squad.

Listed at 6-foot-0, 200 pounds, Sullivan is a relatively average size for a safety, but plays downhill and hits like a truck.

The Eagles liked the instincts and aggressiveness they saw on the field. Now, Sullivan has a chance to work out and learn from coaches in an environment where there really aren’t any other young players right now and he can be the focus of a lot of attention. Phases one and two of OTAs and the two weeks before the draft in particular could be a pivotal period.

If Sullivan impresses during these early stages, it could go a long way toward solidifying his place with the team.

Even if Sullivan is bested for the third safety spot, he could still wind up on the 53-man roster. The Eagles may opt to carry five since Chris Maragos primarily plays on special teams.

Sullivan will likely enter training camp as a player who’s considered to be on the bubble, and what he does when the pads go on will be most important. However, if he showed up and really nailed these workouts, that could go a long way toward how the team views him heading into this summer.