Eagles

Why Bryan Braman? No Wentz means smaller margin of error

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Why Bryan Braman? No Wentz means smaller margin of error

With Carson Wentz out for the season, the Eagles don't have much margin of error. That probably explains why the club brought Bryan Braman back on Tuesday.

That and the Eagles' special teams hasn't been so special for a while. In fact, breakdowns have become an almost weekly occurrence.

Over the last five games alone, the Eagles have allowed a kick or punt return of 39 yards or more three times. We can safely assume a blocked punt returned for a touchdown against the Rams on Sunday was the final straw based on the addition of Braman, a long-time special teams ace.

Braman spent three seasons with the Eagles from 2014 to 2016, playing almost exclusively on special teams. Ordinarily an anonymous role, he gained a reputation for frequently being the first man down the field on the coverage units.

It's no secret what the Eagles were looking for when they reached out to Braman this week.

"They need help on special teams," Braman said Wednesday after his first practice back. "They know that I'm a pretty high energy guy, and they're looking forward to having some help on coverage and bringing a little bit of energy — things that I've been known for."

Braman recorded 16 special teams tackles with a fumble recovery and a blocked kick in three seasons with the Eagles. He became a free agent and signed with the New Orleans Saints in August, only to wind up on injured reserve with a hurt shoulder before the season began, then released.

Listed as a linebacker, Braman typically doesn't play on defense at all, and he's 30, so there's not much upside beyond his niche. However, the seventh-year veteran is familiar with Eagles special teams coordinator Dave Fipp and should be ready to play immediately.

"That's one of the biggest reasons they brought me back is because I know the system," Braman said. "Been in it for three years, so it's not something that they would expect to have to bring me in and let me sit on inactive."

The Eagles needed somebody to help turn around a unit that has been uncharacteristically shaky.

Since Fipp was hired in 2013, the Eagles have consistently fielded one of the top special teams units in the NFL. That's not been the case in '17, largely because of injuries to return specialist Darren Sproles and captain Chris Maragos.

Obviously, the Eagles have suffered a drop-off in talent as a result. But there's also been a certain confidence or swagger missing, as the team has been forced to rely on more inexperienced players.

"I don't know if it's more so for the attitude, kind of give the young guys direction, let them know how things are supposed to be done," Braman said.

The Eagles could maybe get away with having less than stellar special teams when Wentz was leading the offense to 30 points every week. Now, the formula for winning changes — the Eagles will likely be more reliant on running the football, sound defense, and most importantly, eliminating momentum-altering plays.

In other words, the Eagles can't afford to let special teams beat them. And with Wentz landing on IR, a spot opened on the 53-man roster, so why not address arguably the biggest problem area?

Whatever the circumstances, Braman is glad to be back in the league.

"You kind of feel homeless when you don't have a team to play for," Braman said. "I'm just happy to finally have a place to call home."

Eagles 2018 training camp battles: Defensive line

Eagles 2018 training camp battles: Defensive line

As we get near the start of the Eagles’ 2018 training camp, we’re going to take a closer look at some of the key position battles to watch this summer. 

Today we’ll look at the defensive line. 

Names to know

Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox, Tim Jernigan, Michael Bennett, Haloti Ngata, Chris Long, Derek Barnett, Destiny Vaeao

What to watch

The only guy we don’t really need to waste time talking about is Cox. He’s really good and he’s going to need to be a big part of the team. OK, enough about Fletch. 

There are a lot of moving pieces here. It starts with a couple of injuries. Jernigan is still recovering from offseason back surgery and is probably a candidate to begin the season on the Non-football Injury list. And Graham is also recovering from surgery to help heal a high ankle sprain he had late last season and played through in the playoffs. As long as Graham is healthy by the start of the season, he’s going to start at defensive end. That means we know two starters for the season opener. 

The team added Bennett through a trade and added Ngata through free agency. The Eagles also cut Vinny Curry and let Beau Allen walk. Still, this is a very strong unit, perhaps even stronger than it was a year ago. 

Long contemplated retirement but came back and Barnett should improve as he enters Year 2. They, at the very least, make this unit incredibly deep. Even more, defensive line coach Chris Wilson said he wants Barnett to push for a starting gig this year. Last year, Barnett was a rotational player and was often a pass-rushing specialist. 

There are a few ways the starting lineup might work out and it’s really dependent on Jernigan’s health and Bennett’s comfort in the defense. The Eagles have options with Bennett because of his ability to play end and tackle. If the Eagles really see Ngata as a rotational player unable to start until Jernigan returns, perhaps Bennett slides inside. That might give the Eagles a chance to get their four best on the field: Graham, Cox, Bennett and Barnett. Not a bad idea, unless they think Bennett is a liability in the run game, where Ngata would obviously be a better fit. The Eagles also have Vaeao, but even though he’s well-liked by coaches, can’t imagine he’d start over Ngata. 

Either way, the Eagles are going to continue to rotate. So beyond fighting for starting gigs, this is about fighting for playing time and snaps. There are limited numbers to go around. 

Prediction

Graham is healthy for the season opener but Jernigan is not and starts the season on NFI. I think Graham, Cox, Ngata and Bennett begin the season as starters, but Bennett and Graham spend plenty of time inside on passing downs. Eventually, don’t be surprised to see Barnett’s playing time increase to the point where he’s a starter. 

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Nick Foles delivers powerful speech after winning Best Championship Performance award at ESPYS

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Nick Foles delivers powerful speech after winning Best Championship Performance award at ESPYS

A year ago at this time, Nick Foles was preparing for a season on the bench as he just tried to stick around the NFL after falling back in love with the game.

He has a little higher profile now.

While Foles is preparing to possibly head back to the bench in favor of Carson Wentz, he is now the reigning Super Bowl MVP and added another trophy to his case on Wednesday night, when he was given the Best Championship Performance award at the ESPYS.

During his acceptance speech, Foles thanked a bunch of folks, used the word “y’all” more than enough times to remind everyone he’s from Texas and spoke candidly about the incredibly unique path his career has taken.

Here is Foles accepting the award from comedian (and Jim Schwartz’s former college teammate … seriously) Jim Gaffigan.

No, an ESPY is no Super Bowl MVP, but it’s a pretty nice honor and Foles is certainly deserving after leading the Eagles to their first-ever Super Bowl. Just a reminder, Foles completed 65 percent of his passes for 373 yards and three touchdowns in Super Bowl LII.

Here’s his full speech from Wednesday night at the ESPYS:

I’m honored to be in front of all y’all. I never planned a speech. I quite frankly never expected to win this award or to even be in this moment. I just want to thank the good Lord for giving me the ability to play the game I love. You know, thank my wife Tori, she’s gone through her own battles the last five years. You’ve always been an inspiration. A lot of my family is here, so thank y’all for always supporting me.

It’s been a crazy career. If any of y’all know my career path, it doesn’t make sense. But you know, I’m here right now. My teammates, coaches, you know what, we faced so much adversity this year, we have an amazing team. It’s so much fun to go to work in that locker room every single day. I couldn’t have done it without y’all. We see what happened. We won the first Super Bowl in Philadelphia history, so we’ve got a special group of guys.

And then to the Philadelphia fans. Y’all get a (bad) rap everywhere, but the passion, y’all bring it every single day. So thank y’all. And finally, there’s a lot of kids watching this and it’s kind of been the theme. There are going to be people who doubt you. Don’t listen to them. What matters is what’s in here (taps on chest) and the people who love you and support you. Go out there every day and be bold. Thank you.

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