Potential Eagles Super Bowl hero going unnoticed in Minnesota

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Potential Eagles Super Bowl hero going unnoticed in Minnesota

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — There have likely been thousands of football fans who have walked past Jake Elliott this week without giving so much as a second look.

They're trying to find the football players.

While Elliott's Eagles teammates have been stopped by excited fans as they've been wandering around the Mall of America this week, Elliott has gone unnoticed. At 5-9, 167 pounds, Elliott looks more like the kid who works at Cinnabon than a professional football player.

"Nobody stops me," he said. "It's great."

Little do all those football fans know that Elliott could very well end up winning the Super Bowl for the Eagles in just a few days. It's just something he doesn't think about all that often.

Of course, for a kicker, there's no higher peak than possibly nailing a game-winning kick in the Super Bowl. That's the Mount Everest of kicker accomplishments. You'd probably forgive Elliott if every once in a while he caught himself daydreaming about that exact type of scenario. Hasn't happened. 

"I don't think about that a whole lot," the even-keeled rookie said. "I like to just go in the moment and go with the flow of the game. If that comes up, that comes up."

"Obviously, you kind of visualize kicks a day at a time, but you don't really think about those moments a whole lot until you get there."

During about a six-minute span on Tuesday afternoon, Elliott was asked multiple times about the pressures of kicking in the playoffs and in the Super Bowl and he answered the same way every time. He tries to approach a kick in Week 6 the same way he will in the Super Bowl. It's a boring answer, but it's probably the best one to hear if you're an Eagles fan.

Before this playoff run started, Elliott explained that the only nervousness he ever feels comes from the unknown. So he'll warm up while the offense is on the field, peeking over his shoulder to see their progress. He doesn't know if he'll get a chance to kick and where on the field that chance will come.

But once he gets on the field and starts to line up the kick, the nervousness is gone. Then, he said, he's just doing something he's done a million times before.

"I just take it one kick at a time," he said. "I don't think too much of them. I don't want to make the moment bigger than it needs to be."

This has been a pretty wild season for the 23-year-old rookie. Elliott was drafted in the fifth round out of Memphis by the Bengals in the spring, but lost a kicking competition to Randy Bullock. He joined the Cincinnati practice squad for a little over a week until Caleb Sturgis went down and the Eagles came calling.

Since taking over for the Birds, Elliott has done a pretty good job. His huge moment came in Week 3, when he nailed a 61-yard game-winning kick against the Giants.

Now, he'll get to kick in a Super Bowl.

"Hopefully I get a couple opportunities out there on Sunday," Elliott said, "and I look forward to it."

If he makes a game-winner, good luck not getting stopped in the mall next week.

Brandon Graham stays ready in boxing ring, takes 'important step' for Eagles' 2018 opener

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Brandon Graham stays ready in boxing ring, takes 'important step' for Eagles' 2018 opener

In February, Brandon Graham won a ring. In the six months since he’s gotten in one.

Graham said Monday he’s been doing some sparring as he rehabs from postseason ankle surgery.

Graham, who had a career-high 9½ sacks last year, returned to practice Monday after spending the last three weeks on the Eagles' physically unable to play reserve list (see story).

“Boxing is real good, especially with using my hands,” he said. “I always do that during the offseason. Always focus on my hands, because as a D-lineman that’s our goal, you’ve got to use your hands in everything.

“So while I’ve been hurt I’ve just been trying to work on my coordination and make sure everything stays tight.”

Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said Graham will be limited for a while here as he works off the rust.

"There are steps he's got to take along the way,” Schwartz said. “This is an important step getting back on to practice with his teammates. Probably be limited to just some individual stuff and we'll sort of work him along. But it is great to have him back.”

Graham won’t play against the Browns Thursday night and almost certainly won’t play against the Jets in the preseason finale a week later.

All he’s got on his mind is the Falcons on Sept. 6.

“All I can say is when I do start hitting people, I’m going to be so sore, but then you’ve got to work through that soreness like we always do and eventually that starts to become your armor and you build on that,” he said.

“I’m excited. Just excited to be back out there with the boys. It’s been hard standing back because you don’t want to feel behind. I don’t feel like I’m behind but they got a lot more reps than I got, so I’m just trying to catch up.

“Everybody knows when it’s time to go it’s going to be time to go. I’m just excited. We’re all excited because it’s the first step.”

Graham, who had the legendary strip-sack of Tom Brady in the closing minutes of the Super Bowl, said his ankle is fine, it’s just a matter of conditioning at this point.

Week 1?

“I’m not going to make any promises, but I’m working my butt off every day,” he said. “Putting money in the bank every day.”

Graham has missed only one game since opening day of 2012, and that was the meaningless season-ender last year against the Cowboys.

Only four defensive ends — Jerry Hughes, Cameron Jordan, Julius Peppers and Ndamukong Suh — have played more games (96, obviously) over the last five seasons.

“I’m really just focused on Week 1 right now and focus on today and how everything goes,” said Graham, now 30.

“I feel like I can get myself ready for Week 1, for sure, because I’m already doing two-a-days and sometimes two-a-days. It’s on me to make sure I continue to get my shape up and that’s just running and doing drills and pushing and pulling on people.

“I think as I continue to feel better, I’m going to continue to go harder. I’m just excited because now I can start counting down the days. I’ve got 17 days to get right.”

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Tackling new helmet rule a challenge for Jim Schwartz, Eagles

Tackling new helmet rule a challenge for Jim Schwartz, Eagles

Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz is concerned enough about the NFL's new rule banning tacklers from lowering their head to initiate contact that he held a defensive meeting Monday specifically so his guys could study film of exactly how the league is calling the new rule.

Through two preseason weekends, the Eagles have been cited a league-high five times for personal fouls for lowering the head.

“The instructions we’ve given guys is, try not to lower your head and try to take your head out of it, and I think our guys are trying to do that,” Schwartz said.

“I can confidently say we don’t have any guys that are trying to play outside the bounds. We don’t have any guys that are head hunting, that are being selfish. They’re trying to play within the rules.

“I think you can see Nigel [Bradham’s] play, he’s trying to get his head out. I think even Rodney [McLeod’s] play, he’s trying to get his head across and get it out. The problem is they’re dealing with world-class athletes who are moving targets. A little bit easier said than done. 

“And those fouls have hurt us in those first couple preseason games and we’ve got to get to a point where they don’t hurt us in the regular season.”

Cornerback Sidney Jones was called for a lowering-the-head penalty on Steelers receiver Damoun Patterson in the preseason opener, and tight end Richard Rodgers was also cited in the opener for an illegal hit on Justin Thomas on a punt return.

Last Thursday night, McLeod was called for a hit on running back James White, Bradham was cited for a hit on receiver Julian Edelman and safety Jeremy Reaves was penalized for a hit on running back Mike Gillislee.

“It’s going to be very important work over the next couple weeks, not just learning from our own mistakes but learning from other teams,” Schwartz said.

“There’s some other good feedback. We get clips from the league that show not just penalties that were called but penalties that should have been called. So there is a learning process.”

Eagles veteran defensive end Brandon Graham said it’s going to be tough to eliminate these penalties simply because the game moves so fast, and even if your intention is to use perfect form tackling, it doesn’t always end up that way.

“It’s tough because sometimes the runner’s ducking his head just as much as you’re ducking,” he said. “But they just don’t want to see the crown of your head hitting his crown or hitting his facemask.

“Just really try to keep your eyes up. You’re going to get ran over sometimes. Hey, you’re going to get ran over. But some people do like to use the crown of their head and it’s just to protect them because you don’t want to be paralyzed from hitting someone the wrong way. 

"So I try to keep my face up and hit with my facemask and this will force people to start doing stuff like that.”

One challenge Schwartz noted is getting his guys to play hard, fast and aggressive without thinking about how they’re tackling.

“You want to play fast,” he said. “You want to play confidently on the field. But any time there’s something new, there is going to be an adjustment. 

“It’s a difficult thing. We're trying our best to work through it, but it does add a layer of difficulty to what we're trying to do.”

According to penalty stats on NFLgsis, an official league statistical web site, there have been 48 lowering-the-head penalties called in 32 preseason games or 1½ per game.

Eight of the 32 teams haven’t been cited at all. The Eagles and Titans have been called a league-high five times each.

“It’s real sensitive right now, but as professionals, we’re going to adjust,” Graham said.

“They want to make it an emphasis in preseason, and I’m happy it didn’t cost us a real game. We’ve just got to continue to keep our head out of things and I think we’ll make that adjustment."

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