Eagles

Eagles 2017 training camp position battle: Defensive end

Eagles 2017 training camp position battle: Defensive end

Coming off the best year of his seven-season NFL career, go ahead and pencil in Brandon Graham as a starter at defensive end.
 
While his sack number (5½) wasn't nearly high enough, it also wasn't indicative of the type of season he had. Graham, a former first-round pick who took years to come into his own, was extremely disruptive in 2016 and was named as a second-team All Pro selection.
 
So he's a starter.
 
But Connor Barwin was released after the season, and there are several candidates to replace him in the starting lineup: Vinny Curry, Chris Long and Derek Barnett.
 
Either way, there will be some sort of rotation, but it's unclear exactly how this rotation will work. The best chance any of those guys to earn playing time is to win the starting gig.
 
We'll start with Curry. The Eagles tried to give Curry the chance to start last season. They started last spring with Barwin and Curry as the starters, but Graham simply outplayed Curry and never gave up the job. After signing a $46.5 million contract last offseason, Curry played just 43 percent of the Eagles' defensive snaps.
 
And even when he played, the production wasn't there. Curry finished the year with just 2½ sacks, his lowest total since he didn’t get any as a rookie in 2012.
 
Next up is veteran Long, 32, who joined the team on a two-year deal this offseason. He's coming off a Super Bowl win with the Patriots, but it's unclear just how much he has left in the tank. Unless Long comes in and really outplays Curry and Barnett, it seems more likely that he'll be a depth piece. The Eagles would probably much rather have one of their younger players win the job.
 
That leads us to Barnett, the rookie first-round pick out of Tennessee. The 14th overall pick broke Reggie White's Volunteers sacks record in college, and he did it without eye-popping combine numbers. Instead, he did it with his incredible bend and textbook technique.
 
The good news for the Eagles is that technique should translate to the NFL, and Barnett doesn't seem like the type of kid who will rest now that he's heard his name get called on draft night. During the spring, he was a handful for right tackle Lane Johnson, who is one of the best right tackles in the league.
 
Perhaps the biggest question isn't just who starts, but where?
 
Last season, Graham was able to be productive as the Eagles' left defensive end, which meant going up against right tackles, while Barwin struggled against better left tackles. In the NFC East, that is a big deal because of Dallas and Washington, which have two of the best left tackles in the NFL in Tyron Smith and Trent Williams. That means that in four of 16 games — a quarter — the Eagles' right defensive end will face off against an All Pro left tackle.

Eagles-Saints NFL Week 11 predictions

Eagles-Saints NFL Week 11 predictions

The Eagles (4-5) are coming off a tough loss to the rival Cowboys on Sunday Night Football and now they have to travel to New Orleans to face the Saints (8-1). 

The Eagles opened as nine-point underdogs. It was the first time they opened as underdogs all season. 

To the predictions: 

Reuben Frank (5-4) 
Maybe I’m crazy. This one looks so lopsided, looks unwinnable, looks like a completely lost cause. Heck, I can’t even figure out how the Eagles are going to keep things close Sunday against the Saints. But the NFL is weird. It seems like so often when everybody in the universe is convinced a game is going to go one way, it goes the other way. I’m banking on there being enough pride left in a team that just nine months ago won a Super Bowl to stand toe to toe with the 8-1 Saints and get out of the Superdome with a win. I don’t know how. 

The Saints don’t have a great defense. They don’t need a great defense, but maybe the Eagles’ offense suddenly solves its red-zone issues. Maybe Doug Pederson magically recalls his 2017 play-calling touch. Maybe the defense makes up for the last two months and forces a few turnovers. Maybe a few balls bounce funny and right into somebody’s hands. Maybe the Eagles simply outscore the Saints, who are allowing nearly 27 points per game. I know one thing. As long as No. 11 is out there, the Eagles have a chance. This team rarely gets blown out, and I don’t think it will Sunday. It’s just a matter of whether the offense can get untracked. I say yes. I say Eagles over Saints. No, really.

Eagles 43, Saints 37 

Dave Zangaro (2-7)
Drew Brees has been playing so well and the Saints seem pretty much unstoppable. They’re averaging over 36 points per game and I don’t know how the Eagles are going to stop them or keep up. The Eagles are without Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills and Rodney McLeod. Having Sidney Jones back will help, but it won’t solve the problem. 

If the Eagles were to somehow pull off a win, they would need to play an almost perfect game. Carson Wentz will need to guide them to the best offensive performance we’ve seen from the Eagles all year. I’m not saying there’s no chance the Eagles win; I just don’t see it happening. 

Saints 35, Eagles 27

Derrick Gunn (3-6) 
It's bad enough the Eagles gave one away to Dallas, but now they hit the road to face the hottest team in the league. Brees is playing out of his mind right now with a 77.3 completion percentage, 21 touchdowns, one interception, and has been sacked just nine times. Nobody sees the field better than he does.

The Eagles’ banged-up secondary has to find a way to control Saints WR Michael Thomas, and the front seven’s task is to keep the backfield duo of Alvin Kamara (4.4 ypc) and Mark Ingram (4.5 ypc) from running over it the way Ezekiel Elliott did. Also, the Eagles’ D could use a few turnovers to go its way; it has forced only seven this season, and the Saints don’t give the ball away often.

Pederson said his offense is not that far off numbers-wise from where it was a season ago. That may be true but having scored more than 24 points in a game only once this year is unsettling. Wentz must find a way to get this offense moving, and fast. The Birds’ offense is 17th in red-zone efficiency (55.9 percent) and converts on 41.2 percent of third-down situations. 

I’ve looked at this matchup from every possible angle trying to find a ray of hope for the Eagles, but because of their injuries, inconsistencies and the team they’re playing, it doesn’t look good. 

Saints 37, Eagles 21

Ray Didinger (4-5) 
Crazy things happen in the NFL. Let me take you back to December 2015. The Eagles were coming off a humiliating 45-14 loss in Detroit. Jeff Lurie was about to pull the plug on Chip Kelly. The franchise was in ruins. So what happens? The Eagles go to Foxboro and knock off the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots, 35-28. Who saw that coming?

So is it possible the Eagles could go to New Orleans on Sunday and cool off the 8-1 Saints? Look, if Sam Bradford can beat Tom Brady, it is certainly possible Wentz can beat Brees. The Saints lost at home to Tampa Bay and Ryan Fitzpatrick earlier this season, so it's not like it can't happen. Of course the Bucs had to score 48 points to do it, so good luck with that, Pederson.

The Eagles are underdogs — nine points this time — and they seem to like that role but the matchup of a red-hot Brees and the Eagles' patchwork secondary is downright scary. Yeah, any given Sunday and all that jazz, but I'm not feeling it this week.

Saints 35, Eagles 24  

Andrew Kulp (4-5) 
I don't think it's a question of whether the Eagles are going to lose, but by how much. With all the injuries, they appear to be completely outclassed by the Saints, who look like the best team — or at least the hottest team — in the NFL right now.

Brees should absolutely dissect this secondary, and while the Eagles could score some points, they haven't demonstrated the ability to do so with any consistency. This could get ugly.

Saints 34, Eagles 20

Corey Seidman (3-6) 
The NFL is a week-to-week league. Losing to a mediocre team one week does not mean you're going to get blown out by a good team the next.

I think the Eagles' offense wakes up in a big way in this game and it ultimately falls just short against a Saints offense that can do whatever it wants.

This is the best Saints offense we've seen Brees engineer. Kamara runs precise routes and catches everything. Thomas runs even more precise routes and catches everything. Taysom Hill makes the Saints borderline unstoppable on a 3rd-and-3 or shorter.

Saints 36, Eagles 33

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Eagles will wait 1 more week to get Tim Jernigan back

Eagles will wait 1 more week to get Tim Jernigan back

The Eagles won’t have Tim Jernigan for this weekend’s game in New Orleans. 

Even though Jernigan has been practicing for two weeks and has been rotating in with the starters, the Eagles are going to give him another week to get ready. If Jernigan was going to play this weekend, he needed to be activated by 4 p.m. Saturday. That deadline has passed. 

During the past week, head coach Doug Pederson said twice (most recently on Friday) that he was optimistic Jernigan would be able to play against the Saints. 

The lack of a move with Jernigan was signaled early on Saturday, when the Eagles put Ronald Darby on IR and brought up De’Vante Bausby. And on Friday, they activated Richard Rodgers to the 53-man roster. 

Because Jernigan is still on the non-football injury list after offseason back surgery, the Eagles weren’t required to put him on their injury report this week and didn’t need to give an official game status for him. 

Jernigan was cleared to return to practice on Nov. 5, which started a 21-day practice window. By the end of that window, the Eagles must decide to either activate Jernigan to the 53-man roster or shut him down for the year. That window will end next Saturday, so the Eagles will likely have him for next week's game. 

The fact that he was even close to returning this week makes it seem like he will return this year. That will be a boost for the Eagles, but it might also be too little too late. 

The Eagles have really missed Jernigan this season and they’ll probably miss him again this weekend. Haloti Ngata (knee) enters the weekend listed as questionable. If he can’t play, they’re down to either Treyvon Hester or T.Y. McGill next to Fletcher Cox. In fact, that spot next to Cox has probably been one of the weakest starting positions on the depth chart this year. 

For a long time, there were serious questions about whether or not Jernigan would be able to return at all this season. His injury still has plenty of mystery surrounding it. It seems like he’s getting close, though. Maybe next week.

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