Eagles

Chase Daniel looking ahead, staying upbeat after shaky preseason

Chase Daniel looking ahead, staying upbeat after shaky preseason

Given how much money the Eagles shelled out to acquire Chase Daniel in the offseason, you'd think the veteran backup quarterback would at least excel in exhibition games. That hasn't been the case.

Daniel got the start for the preseason finale against the Jets on Thursday, capping off an uninspiring summer with a shaky performance. He completed 14 of 22 passes to post a solid 63.6 completion percentage, but for only 6.0 yards per attempt. Worst of all were a pair of ghastly interceptions, one of which came on a promising drive the signal-caller led into the red zone.

After his team's 14-6 win over the Jets (see 10 observations from the victory), Daniel chose to focus on the Eagles' perfect 4-0 preseason record and was already moving on to Week 1 of the regular season against the Browns.

"Luckily for us, those games in hindsight really mean nothing," Daniel said of the preseason. "(Eagles coach Doug Pederson) really hit it right on the head and said, 'Let's go out and prepare as best we can for the Cleveland Browns, because that is all of our focus moving forward.

"It's good to end the preseason on a high note, 4-0, you always want to win all of them, but really our focus is on the Cleveland Browns."

Except Daniel didn't really contribute to an Eagles victory on Thursday. The offense wasn't responsible for either touchdown — Paul Turner's 71-yard punt return and Ed Reynolds' 90-yard interception return were the only scoring plays.

Despite Daniel's poor effort statistically, Pederson came to his quarterback's defense after the game.

"I thought he played well considering the two picks," Pederson said. "I felt like he might've pressed just a little bit on the first one, kind of forced it in there a little bit, but that happens sometimes when you're trying to make a play, especially this last preseason game."

It's not often when a quarterback throws two ugly interceptions and mention of those picks is immediately preceded by praise. Of course, Pederson is the reason why Daniel was signed by the Eagles in the first place, as the relationship between coach and quarterback dates to their time in Kansas City together.

Pederson may not want to criticize Daniel, but the numbers do all the talking. The eighth-year veteran completed 37 of 60 passes (61.7 percent) this summer for just 332 yards — a paltry 5.5 average — with one touchdown and the two picks. He also ran six times for 10 yards and a score.

Daniel looked reasonably sharp in only one game, the win against the Colts last week. Still, despite the somewhat rocky preseason, he's staying upbeat.

"I feel very confident," Daniel said. "I thought for the most part this entire preseason I threw the ball very well. Interceptions are going to happen. Luckily, they happened in games that don't count, so it's not going to deter my confidence at all.

"I've been doing this for eight years now, so for me, it's on to the next game and we're on to the Cleveland Browns."

Not surprisingly, Pederson remains comfortable with Daniel as his backup going forward.

"I know Chase," Pederson said. "I know what he's capable of doing. Other than the two picks, I thought he played well, managed the game well, and he came away healthy. That's all I asked him to do."

Should Daniel be pressed into action at some point during the regular season, he'll be asked to do a lot more than stay healthy. At a price tag of $5 million for this season, the Eagles are hoping he can win a game or two if needed, something there's not much evidence right now that he's capable of doing.

Daniel has started only two regular season games in the NFL, posting as 1-1 record, so you can forgive people for putting added weight on his preseason performance.

To be fair, Daniel is playing with other NFL backups right now. If he were in a real game, he would have better protection behind the starting offensive line and a superior supporting cast of weapons to throw to. Then again, there's no excuse for the interceptions we saw on Thursday, especially when by Daniel's own assessment, his teammates played well.

"Any time you get out there, you just want to go and get in a rhythm," Daniel said. "I felt like we did for the most part. The interception in the red zone just can't happen. I tried to get a little greedy there. For the most part, I thought our offensive line played really well and same for our receivers."

He didn't show much rhythm this preseason, but Daniel is the backup to Sam Bradford this year, if you believe Pederson. The only thing that could change that is if Pederson decides second overall pick Carson Wentz is a better option, which based on the way Daniel played this summer, doesn't seem too far-fetched.

Darren Sproles can still help Eagles as long as Doug Pederson doesn't get carried away

Darren Sproles can still help Eagles as long as Doug Pederson doesn't get carried away

You probably know the reasons why it didn’t make sense to bring Darren Sproles back like they did on Friday evening. He’s too old. The team needs to get younger. They can’t rely on him to stay healthy. 

How’s this for one reason the Eagles were right to bring him back? 

He can help. 

Yeah, I know Sproles is 36. I know he’s played just nine regular-season games in the last two years. I know he had a minor hamstring injury that turned out to be a not-so-minor hamstring injury last year. 

I also know that the Eagles are better today than they were yesterday. Because as long as Doug Pederson doesn’t get carried way, Sproles can still help the Eagles in 2019. 

That is a key point, though. During his three years as head coach, we’ve seen Pederson at times rely on Sproles a little more than he probably should. If he does that this time around, it might not help. But if the Eagles can settle Sproles into a role where he’s a punt returner and a change-of-pace guy on offense (primarily as a pass-catching threat), this can definitely work. 

Pederson loves Sproles. He hasn’t tried to hide that. At the owners meetings this offseason, when asked about Sproles and the possibility of a return for one more season, Pederson said openly, “I would love to have Darren back.” 

Now that it has happened, it’s up to Pederson to not run his favorite veteran Swiss Army knife into the ground. 

And because the Eagles will enter this season with a former Pro Bowler in Jordan Howard, a second-round pick in Miles Sanders and a Super Bowl hero in Corey Clement also on the roster, it should suppress the temptation to over-play Sproles. 

Sproles will be the Eagles’ punt returner. He can play on third downs. He can be used as a utility-type receiver hybrid on offense. 

I’m thinking somewhere in the range of 8-10 touches max per game is about right.  

Nick Foles got an overwhelming amount of credit for helping the Eagles push their way into the playoffs last season, but Sproles deserves a ton of credit, too. After many had written him off when his severe hamstring injury lingered, Sproles came back in early December and gave the Eagles a spark that helped propel them into the postseason. 

In the last five regular-season games last year, Sproles had 110 rushing yards, 138 receiving yards and three offensive touchdowns. 

The Eagles were 5-1 with him in the regular season (4-1 down the stretch) in 2018 and 6-2 overall. 

And without him, they probably don’t win that Dec. 23 game at home against the Texans. In that one, Sproles became the oldest Eagle ever to have over 100 yards from scrimmage in a game. 

Sproles comes into this season just 162 all-purpose yards behind Tim Brown for fifth in NFL history. If he can stay healthy, he should have no problem easily overtaking Brown in 2019. 

And he might just help the Eagles make another run in the process. 

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More on the Eagles

Will Zach Ertz be a Hall of Famer?

Will Zach Ertz be a Hall of Famer?

Zach Ertz is the latest in a series of stories looking at the Hall of Fame chances of current or recent Eagles who are still active in the NFL

Friday, July 19: Fletcher Cox
Today: Zach Ertz
Sunday, July 21: DeSean Jackson
Monday, July 22: Jason Kelce
Tuesday, July 23: LeSean McCoy
Wednesday, July 24: Jason Peters
Thursday, July 25: Darren Sproles

Numbers: Has 437 catches for 4,827 yards and 29 touchdowns in his first six seasons.

Postseason numbers: Caught 31 passes for 316 yards and two TDs in six career playoff games, including the game-winning touchdown catch in Super Bowl LII against the Patriots.

Honors: Ertz made his first two Pro Bowls in 2017 and 2018.

Favorite stat: Ertz is the only player in Super Bowl history to catch a fourth-down pass on a game-winning fourth-quarter drive.

Records and rankings 

• Ertz set an NFL record in 2018 with 116 catches, breaking the mark of 110 set in 2012 by Jason Witten.

• Ertz’s 437 receptions are most in NFL history by a tight end in his first six seasons. He broke the record of 434 set from 2010 through 2016 by Jimmy Graham.

• Ertz’s 116 catches broke the Eagles single-season record of 90 set in 2007 by Brian Westbrook.

• Ertz already ranks third in Eagles history in receptions, behind only Harold Carmichael (589) and Pete Retzlaff (452).

• He doesn’t turn 29 until November, but Ertz already ranks 31st in NFL history in career receptions by a tight end. He’s only 153 out of the top 10. At his current rate — 5.8 catches per game since becoming a full-time starter in 2015 — that’s only 26 games away.

Analysis 

Maybe it’s silly to project Ertz as a Hall of Famer before his 29th birthday, but if he can stay healthy and keep stringing together the type of seasons he has been, it’s going to happen.

Since becoming a full-time starter four years ago, Ertz has averaged 86 catches, 914 yards and 5 ½ touchdowns.

If he keeps up that pace for six more years and plays until he’s 34, which most top tight ends are able to do, he’ll have 953 catches, 10,311 yards and 62 TDs after the 2024 season.

Not to mention a game-winning late fourth-quarter TD catch in a Super Bowl.

If he does that, nobody is going to keep him out of Canton.

Verdict: Will be a Hall of Famer.

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