Eagles

Carson Wentz sits again, Josh McCown and JJ Arcega-Whiteside shine in Eagles' lightning-shortened preseason loss to Ravens

Carson Wentz sits again, Josh McCown and JJ Arcega-Whiteside shine in Eagles' lightning-shortened preseason loss to Ravens

BOX SCORE 

One quarterback was impossibly bad and another was impossibly good. And another one is just healthy.

Here’s your 10 instant observations from the lightning-shortened Eagles-Ravens preseason game Thursday night at the Linc, a 26-15 Ravens win that was called with 11:43 to go in the fourth quarter.

1. Best thing about this game? Carson Wentz didn’t get hurt. I know a lot of people think Doug Pederson should have played him at least a few series, and I understand the concerns about rust. But honestly, what’s the point? He hasn’t missed a snap in training camp, he just got two really strong days of work against a terrific Ravens defense in joint practices and he’s healthy and looks great. Remember, Wentz didn’t play in the last three preseason games his rookie year and then threw for 278 yards, two touchdowns and no INTs in his NFL debut against the Browns. After not playing in a month. As a rookie. If he’s rusty for a series or two against the Redskins — and I doubt he will be — it’s worth it to guarantee that he’s 100 percent healthy going into the game. Completely, absolutely worth it.

2. I would have cut Cody Kessler after he got sacked on 4th-and-3 in the first quarter. Doug Pederson gave Kessler every imaginable chance to succeed and to atone for his disappointing performances against the Titans and Jaguars, giving him the start with most of the starters. But a fourth-year quarterback — really no quarterback — can't let himself get sacked on fourth down. You have to have enough court awareness to at least throw the ball somewhere and give a receiver a chance to make play. Letting yourself get sacked is just giving up. Which is what the Eagles need to do now with Kessler.

3. Josh McCown got off to a little bit of a slow start, understandable for a guy who just came out of retirement and didn’t have OTAs or a training camp. His first five snaps were a fumble, three incompletions and a sack. But after that, holy cow. After that slow start he was 17-for-21 for 192 yards and two TDs — a sweet 20-yarder to JJ Arcega-Whiteside and 9 yards to tight end Alex Ellis. The 40-year-old McCown really saw the field well, made smart decisions and put the ball where he wanted. Considering that a week ago he was coaching high school football in Charlotte, it was a remarkable performance.

4. Put together instant observations Nos. 2 and 3, and there is absolutely no reason on Earth for Kessler to still be on the roster by the time you wake up Friday.

5. This is why I’m concerned about Jake Elliott. We know he has a huge leg — he’s made 52- and 53-yard field goals this preseason — but he’s also missed from 40 and now 41 yards, and those are kicks you just have to make. This is his third year with the same snapper and holder. Calm night. There’s just no excuse. Elliott got off to a slow start last year — he was 11-for-15 through the Carolina game — and then went 15-for-16 the rest of the way. So we’ll see. I’m not saying cut him or bring in other kickers for workouts. Just concerned. Just something to keep an eye on.

6. What Arcega-Whiteside did Thursday night — 8-for-104 and a terrific TD catch — is what he’s been doing every day since the start of OTAs. I know conventional wisdom is that with Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor and DeSean Jackson he won’t play on offense. But knowing Pederson and having seen what this kid can do, I’m telling you, they’re going to find a role for him, even if it’s just situationally on third down or in the red zone. The kid can flat play.

7. Josh Adams has virtually no chance of making this team. But I give the kid credit. He’s gotten better. He’s made huge strides as a receiver, and instead of looking at Adams as a guy who led the Eagles in rushing last year but won’t make the 53-man rister this year, look at him as a 22-year-old second-year undrafted running back who’s getting better. Another year on the practice squad wouldn’t be the worst thing for the Bucks County native.

8. Forget Corey Clement’s rushing numbers. They were OK (7-25). More important than the stats, he looked quick, strong and healthy. Pederson doesn’t gameplan in preseason games, the Eagles had no passing game to speak of in the first half and the Ravens pretty much knew when he was running, so throw out the numbers. The main thing is he looked fine in his 2019 preseason debut, his first game since he tore his ACL last December. I know a lot of people don’t think Clement will have a major role on offense or that he is even in jeopardy of getting cut. Wrong and wrong. With his ability to block, run and catch — and play special teams — he’s going to have a role.

9. All Greg Ward has done since camp started is catch everything. He’s done it at practice, he’s done it in games, and to me he’s earned a roster spot. The Eagles obviously like the former Houston quarterback. This is his third training camp here. Here’s the thing: Mack Hollins is a better special teamer, and the biggest priority for a fifth wide out is special teams. But if a couple receivers get hurt, you’d rather have Ward available than Hollins. Then you see the Eagles acquire Rudy Ford on Thursday, and the third-year safety has played nearly 500 special teams snaps over the last two years, so that’s a move that’s made with special teams in mind. Also keep in mind that Hollins is an outside receiver and Ward is mainly a slot, and because of Arcega-Whiteside, the Eagles have more of a need for a backup slot. Hollins and Ward have value but in different ways. Interesting call for Pederson and Howie Roseman.

10. Did I forget to mention how bad Cody Kessler was?

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How Combine might have changed Eagles' WR plans

How Combine might have changed Eagles' WR plans

The 2020 wide receiver draft picture got a lot more interesting Thursday night.

Alabama’s Henry Ruggs did his thing and ran 4.28 when the receivers ran their 40's at the Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. He didn't break John Ross's record of 4.22, but he certainly did nothing to hurt his draft status. 

Neither did his college teammate, Jerry Jeudy, or Oklahoma's CeeDee Lamb. They remain the consensus top three receivers in the draft, and the Eagles, who have the 21st pick in the first round, would likely have to trade up to draft any of them.

But a few receivers helped themselves with their performances in Indy and a few may have hurt their stock as well, and it all could definitely affect the receiver-starved Eagles’ strategy in April.

HELPED THEMSELVES

JUSTIN JEFFERSON,  LSU: Joe Burrow’s favorite target ran much faster than expected with a 4.43. We already know he’s productive - he caught a ridiculous 111 passes for 1,540 yards and 18 touchdowns - and he backed that up with a faster 40 time than Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy. How much that helps him remains to be seen, but he definitely helped himself.

CHASE CLAYPOOL, NOTRE DAME: There’s been talk about the 6-4, 240-pound Claypool moving to tight end, but then he went out and ran 4.42, which according to the Next Gen Stats twitter feed makes him the first receiver over 230 pounds to run sub-4.45 since Calvin Johnson in 2007. He also caught the ball well and performed well in the other drills. 

DENZEL MIMS, BAYLOR: Mims opened a lot of eyes with a 4.38 Thursday night to cap an overall excellent performance. Only Ruggs and Southern Mississippi’s Quez Watkins ran faster. Mims was generally considered a second-round talent before the Combine but running 4.38 at 6-3, 210 pounds could push him into the first round. 

HURT THEMSELVES

JALEN REAGOR, TEXAS CHRISTIAN: Reagor, whose father Montae played for the Eagles in 2007, said he planned to run faster than Ruggs: “That’s my plan. He runs after me. I’m going to set the bar for him.”  He also said he expected to run “high 4.2, low 4.3.”  Then he ran 4.47, a full fifth of a second slower than Ruggs. He followed that with a 4.50. How much that hurts him remains to be seen, but it wasn’t what anybody was expecting. 

TEE HIGGINS, CLEMSON: Higgins told reporters at the Combine that he was planning to prove a lot of people wrong with his 40:  “My goal is to hit a 4.4. A lot of guys think I’m gonna run a 4.5 or 4.6, but I’m excited to change people’s minds.” Then without explanation he didn’t run or participate in any drills Thursday night. Not good. 

LAVISKA SHENAULT JR., COLORADO: After a slower-than-expected 4.58 on his first try, Shenault skipped his second 40 and didn’t participate in the other drills, presumably because of the core muscle injury that cost him a couple games during the season. Shenault was considered a late first-round or early second-rounder. He’ll have a chance to bounce back at his pro day, but he didn’t help himself Thursday.

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Temple LBs and roommates in heated competition for combine supremacy

Temple LBs and roommates in heated competition for combine supremacy

Temple linebackers Shaun Bradley and Chapelle Russell know they will have a ton on the line Saturday when their position group gets on the field for drills at the NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. 

Their football careers hang in the balance. 

Not to mention bragging rights. 

Throughout the last few months, the two close friends have been in a heated competition and back-and-forth trash talk battle. Bradley was training with EXOS in Phoenix; Russell was training with EXOS in San Diego. The whole time, they kept texting each other performance numbers and egging each other on. 

That competition reached a new level this week when the two found out they were rooming together in Indianapolis. 

“That’s all we do. We sit in the room and talk about who’s going to win the 40, who’s going to have the fastest (time),” Bradley said. “We do it all day. It’s nonstop. We’ll joke, we’ll talk about it. As soon as one thing hits, he’s like, ‘I’m about to run a faster 40 than you.’ ‘No you’re not.’ Back and forth, back and forth.”

At Temple, the pair of starting linebackers lived together in a house on campus, so it’s a familiar feeling to be together this week at the combine. And in such a high-pressure situation, with so much on the line, it’s comforting for both to go through it all with a close friend. 

Bradley and Russell will be rooting for each other on Saturday but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to outperform each other.  

“It’s been cool,” Russell said. “We always talk trash with each other about who’s faster, who’s going to do this, who’s going to do that. The competition between us two has been intense so I can’t even imagine what it’s going to be like when we get out there Saturday.” 

There are plenty of similarities between the two. 

- Russell is listed at 6-foot-2, 236 pounds. Bradley is listed at 6-foot-1, 235 pounds. 

- Both feel like they have gotten bigger, stronger and faster over the last couple of months. 

- Both are from New Jersey (Bradley from Mount Holly, Russell from Lakewood). Both became huge parts of Temple’s defense and were awarded single-digit numbers (Bradley got 5, Russell got 3) — an honor for the nine toughest Owls on the roster — in 2018. 

- Both put up big numbers in 2019. Bradley led the Owls with 86 tackles and Russell was second with 72. Bradley had 8 tackles for loss; Russell had 8 1/2. 

- And both feel like they have plenty to prove this week. 

While there are some big-name linebacker prospects in Indianapolis this week, the two Temple linebackers aren’t considered to be in that class. During their interview sessions on Thursday, while the big-name players spoke at podiums, Russell, Bradley and the less highly regarded prospects were crammed in the corner of the room at little round tables. 

“I think we’re going to open a lot of eyes,” Russell said. “…  I feel like when we go out there Saturday, we’re going to prove a lot of people wrong.”

Bradley and Russell both said the Eagles were one of the first teams to meet with them this week and each would love the opportunity to stay in Philly and continue to play home games at Lincoln Financial Field. It’s something the Eagles brought up to them in their respective interviews. 

Continuing their football careers in Philly would mean a lot to both men. For Bradley, it would allow him to stay close to home, where his family — including his four siblings, all 13 or younger — would be able to watch him play. 

Bradley joked the one problem he might have if he became an Eagle is remembering to go to the Birds’ locker room at the Linc and not to the Owls’ locker room farther down the hallway.  

But each guy basically said the same thing about the Eagles. 

“If Philly wanted to draft me, I’d be all for it,” Russell said. 

In recent months, Bradley and Russell have been in contact with several former Temple players who have already been through this pre-draft process. Since 2016, there have been 11 Owls drafted — 1 in the first, 2 in the second, 1 in the fourth, 3 in the fifth, one in the sixth and three in the 7th. 

A good showing from either Bradley or Russell on Saturday would go a long way in adding one of them to that list. 

Oh yeah, and one of them will earn those bragging rights too. 

“I’m pretty sure it’s going to be me,” Russell said. “But that’s the competition between me and him. He’ll say him, and I’ll say me.”

We’ll find out soon enough. 

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