Eagles' Derek Barnett takes a huge step in his recovery

Eagles' Derek Barnett takes a huge step in his recovery

Derek Barnett was happy but not content on Saturday after he took a huge step in his lengthy shoulder recovery. 

For the first time all summer, Barnett participated in full-squad 11-on-11 drills. 

“It felt good,” Barnett said to NBC Sports Philadelphia after practice concluded. “Not where I want to be, not where I need to be, but positive we’ll get it done.”

To be fair, Barnett is something of a perfectionist and said he’ll never be content. So he wasn’t just talking about his progress specifically in terms of his recovery from rotator cuff surgery last season. In general, he thinks there are some little technical things — footwork, hands, eye discipline — on which he needs to work. But getting him back on the practice field is a great sign, especially with four weeks to go before the regular-season opener. 

Entering a pretty huge Year 3, the 23-year-old defensive end should be good to go against Washington on Sept. 8. 

“My goal is to be ready,” Barnett said. “Every day, still going to progress that way. It felt good to be back on the ball field, running around.”

In addition to taking part in 11-on-11 drills, Barnett also participated in offensive line vs. defensive line drills for the first time this summer. His signature bend was on display against Jordan Mailata in those drills. 

Before Saturday, Barnett had participated in individual drills, but wasn’t really able to do anything resembling real football. He was a spectator for the periods of practice that count most. 

What was the hardest part about the last few weeks? 

“Not playing football,” Barnett said flatly. “I like playing football, so that s--- was hard.” 

Fair enough. 

It looked like the 2017 first-round pick was poised to have a breakout season in 2018 but his shoulder injury ruined that. Before his injury, Barnett had 2½ sacks in four games in his first year as a starter, but he suffered through just two more subpar games before deciding it was best to have season-ending surgery. It wasn’t a decision he took lightly, but he realized it was the best move. 

Coming into this season, Barnett is slated to start at the defensive end spot opposite Brandon Graham with Fletcher Cox and Malik Jackson sandwiched between them. 

This is a defensive line with a ton of talent. 

“We’ll be as good as we want to be,” Barnett said. “If we practice well, we’ll be in good shape, and do the small things right. But everybody is good in the NFL. Talent don’t mean nothing. It’s all about the work you put in and how it translates into game situations. We have a lot of talent but we still gotta go out there and compete.”

Barnett took a big step toward that this weekend. 

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Eagles Stay or Go 2020: What’s after Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert?

Eagles Stay or Go 2020: What’s after Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert?

Reuben Frank, Dave Zangaro and Andrew Kulp bring back Stay or Go with the 2020 version, trying to figure out the future of the Philadelphia Eagles.

Today, we’ll look at tight ends:

Zach Ertz

Roob: Ertz just turned 29 and is already 13th in NFL history in catches by a tight end. And he only needs 22 catches to reach the top 10. He’s an all-time great already, and he’s got a lot of football to go. And Ertz finally put to rest the myth that he’s not tough enough by playing in the Seattle playoff game 14 days after suffering a broken rib and lacerated kidney.

Verdict: Stays

Dave: Ertz has consistently been one of the best tight ends in the NFL for the last several seasons and is putting up numbers that might one day get him to Canton. This will be an important offseason for tight ends; it’s time for one of them to re-set that market because they’ve been underpaid for a long time. Ertz is just a great and consistent player and one of the most important pieces of the Eagles’ offense and he’s under contract. A long-term extension makes sense but the next one is gonna need to be a big one.

Verdict: Stays

Kulp: It was interesting hearing Ertz express some doubt about his future in Philadelphia. Fans like to bandy his name about as a possible trade chip, when in reality, he's a focal point of the offense. Then again, 2021 is the final year of his contract, which means 2020 is the time to start negotiating — especially since he's not getting any younger — and where will those talks go? The Eagles appreciate what Ertz brings on and off the field, but he's approaching 30 and starting to rack up a lot of mileage. It's hard to imagine the situation getting too messy, and the three-time Pro Bowler will probably play this year without a new deal. If the right offer came along though, the front office actually might jump on it.

Verdict: Stays

Dallas Goedert

Roob: Despite playing in Ertz’s shadow, Goedert is legitimately a top-10 tight end in his own right. He was 9th in the NFL in catches among tight ends this year and including the playoffs the only TEs with more catches since Week 5 are Travis Kelce, Ertz and George Kittle. You may have heard the Eagles like to play a lot of 12 personnel. With Ertz and Goedert, they can do it as well as anybody.

Verdict: Stays

Dave: After a slow start (five catches in four weeks), Goedert ended up having a big season. He had 58 catches for 607 yards and five touchdowns. His 58 catches ranked him ninth in the NFL. The Eagles committed to 12 personnel (two tight ends) this season and it worked, especially because the receiver position was a mess. Will it be their base personnel group going forward? Probably not. But they still need to find ways to get Goedert on the field.

Verdict: Stays

Kulp: As is customary with young players, specifically high draft picks, a lot of people were sleeping on Goedert's contributions midway through his second season. Until everything was said and done though, the second-year player ranked among the top 10 tight ends in the NFL in catches (9th), yards (10th) and touchdowns (t-7th). Not bad at all considering he's technically the No. 2 tight end. So what's the problem?

Verdict: Stays

Richard Rodgers

Roob: The Eagles re-signed Rodgers when Ertz got hurt in the Giants game, but that was just as an emergency in case everybody else got hurt. Rodgers is six years into his career, and he’s caught as many as 58 passes in a season. He’s smart, knows the offense, keeps himself in shape. But if he has a future in the NFL it’ll be somewhere else.

Verdict: Goes

Dave: At the end of the season, Rodgers got a few paychecks from the Eagles. He should be back in camp but he has struggled to stay healthy, so they probably can’t rely on him. He has a shot but …

Verdict: Goes

Kulp: Keep his number in the Rolodex in case of emergency, but Rodgers has not been able to stay healthy the last two seasons. You don't need much from a third tight end. Availability is one of the primary traits.

Verdict: Goes

Josh Perkins

Roob: The Eagles were lucky they had Perkins, who’s able to give them reps at wide receiver or tight end as needed. And he did help out, mainly in the second Giants game, when he caught four passes for 50 yards, including that crazy 29-yard TD from Carson Wentz. But he’s not fast enough to consistently play receiver and he’s not a good enough blocker to get consistent tight end reps. He’s a gamer, but he really doesn’t have a position.

Verdict: Goes

Dave: I give credit to Perkins, who came in this season and made some plays down the stretch after being called up from the practice squad. The problem here is that the last two seasons, the Eagles have needed Perkins because of his ability as a wide receiver. If they solidify that position — and they need to — Perkins isn’t as important.

Verdict: Goes

Kulp: Three times in the last two seasons, Perkins recorded at least 4 catches and 37 yards -- and he's barely played. He's got great measurables at 6-foot-3, 223 pounds with 4.6 speed, and is even a significant special teams contributor. Really nice prospect. The trouble is he's a free agent. The Eagles should try to keep him, otherwise they'll just have to replace him. Seeing as he spent most of the year on the practice squad, there shouldn't be that much of a clamoring for his services.

Verdict: Stays

Alex Ellis

Roob: Ellis had two stints on the 53-man roster and two stints on the practice squad, but the sum total of his season was six snaps on offense and 62 on special teams. Ellis had a nice preseason, and I would expect him to be back for training camp again this coming summer. Whether he can actually make the roster out of camp and help during the regular season remains to be seen.

Verdict: Goes

Dave: I really liked what I saw from Ellis, who was actually a late arrival to training camp last summer. He was the first tight end to be promoted from the practice squad this past season. The good thing about Ellis is that he offers blocking ability too, which is important in a possible third tight end. The Eagles could even use him as a fullback in certain situations. I like his potential with a full offseason here.

Verdict: Stays

Kulp: Ellis bounced between the Eagles' roster, practice squad an unemployment in 2019, and has been bouncing around the league since 2016. He has three career catches and worn five different uniforms. Pretty sure he's out of practice squad eligibility, too. He's only back if Perkins is out. Even then, you probably draft somebody.

Verdict: Goes

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Doug Pederson's ominous track record hiring coaches

Doug Pederson's ominous track record hiring coaches

The Eagles this year will have their fifth wide receivers coach in five years under Doug Pederson and their third defensive line coach in three years.

They’ll have their third offensive coordinator in four years and a new secondary coach as well. And there could be more changes on the way.

It’s a lot of turnover for a team that’s reached the playoffs each of the last three seasons and won a Super Bowl just two years ago.

And it tells you two things:

1) Doug Pederson won’t hesitate to jettison coaches he feels aren’t getting the job done,
2) And Doug's track record of hiring coaches is bad.

Let’s go back a few years. When Doug replaced Chip Kelly four years ago today, he kept seven of Kelly’s assistant coaches and brought in 11 assistants of his own. A year later he brought in Mike Groh.

Out of those seven original Chip assistants? Six are still here, all but Cory Undlin, just hired as Lions defensive coordinator.

Of the 11 guys he brought in? Only four are still here — all defensive coaches: Jim Schwartz, Dino Vasso, Ken Flajole, Tim Hauck.

All seven assistant coaches he’s fired — Eugene Chung, Carson Walch, Greg Lewis, Gunter Brewer, Chris Wilson, Phillip Daniels and Groh - are his own hires.

Of the 10 coaches from 2016 who are still here, six – more than half – are Chip Kelly holdovers.

So the pattern keeps repeating itself. He keeps Chip's guys and fires his own guys.

And with four coaching openings at the moment, that doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence.

Some of the most highly respected coaches on Pederson's staff - Jeff Stoutland, Duce Staley, Dave Fipp, Press Taylor - are guys he didn’t even bring in. Duce, of course, pre-dates Chip and coached under Andy Reid.

Both his original coordinators, Frank Reich and Schwartz, were very good hires. Beyond that? His track record is kind of ominous.

Coaching is just a fancy word for teaching. And we keep seeing the Eagles’ draft picks - Sidney Jones, J.J. Arega-Whiteside, Derek Barnett, Rasul Douglas, Donnel Pumphrey, Mack Hollins – failing to develop the way they should.

If you can’t develop young players, you have no shot.

So many of the players at the heart of the Eagles’ recent success – Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, Malcolm Jenkins, Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks, Zach Ertz, Nigel Bradham and Lane Johnson – will all be in their early 30s by opening day this fall and with most NFL players in that 30-to-33 range, you know you're going to get a gradual (or sometimes abrupt) decline.

So the challenge facing the Eagles isn’t just drafting talented players, it’s coaching them and developing them so they can become that next generation of Malcolms and Fletchers and Jasons. That next generation of guys who can lead this franchise to more deep playoff runs and maybe another championship.

That’s why it’s imperative that Pederson figures this coaching thing out.

We all remember what happened when Reid struggled to replace that brilliant initial staff he put together 20 years ago this month. As those guys left for head coaching jobs or coordinator positions – John Harbaugh, Ron Rivera, Leslie Frazier, Brad Childress, Pat Shurmur, Steve Spagnuolo – he replaced them with long-forgotten, over-matched assistants.

There are a lot of reasons the Eagles were essentially a .500 team in Reid’s last eight years here (66-61-1), but a huge one was the inability of that second wave of coaches to develop the young players who had replaced the nucleus that made the 2000 through 2004 team such a powerhouse.

Pederson was there for that decline as part of Reid’s staff, so nobody understands better than him just how critical it is to find people who can teach promising young players how to become pros, how to take their game to the next level.

The challenge now is finding an offensive coordinator with fresh ideas and a vision for the future, a wide receivers coach who’ll stay more than a year, a secondary coach who can salvage Sidney Jones’ career and a defensive line coach who can make Barnett more than just an average pass rusher.

It’s easy to fire coaches. It’s a lot harder to find bright, motivated, capable replacements who can mold young players into big-time pros.

Pederson needs to prove he can do that.

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