2011 Philadelphia Eagles Preseason Notebook: Jeremy Maclin talks Vick Extension

What a day to be at Philadelphia Eagles Practice!  One day after Birds QB Michael Vick signed a  6-year extension, everyone at Eagles’ practice was talking about the team’s unquestioned leader including WR Jeremy Maclin.

As usual Taking It to the House and 97.3 ESPN – Atlantic City, NJ Eagles Beat Reporter Matt Lombardo was on the scene to get this exclusive footage.

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Eagles Agree to Six-Year Extension With Michael Vick by Matt Lombardo and Lloyd Vance

One question that  faced the Philadelphia Eagles as they make final preparations for the 2011 season was: “What to do with Michael Vick?”  On Monday night, the Eagles answered the lingering question, by inking their franchise quarterback to a long term extension. 

After weeks of negotiations with Agent Joel Segal, the Philadelphia Eagles have agreed to terms on a six-year contract extension with franchise quarterback Michael Vick.

The deal signed by Vick on Monday night according to league sources is worth $100 million with $40 million in guarantees. Additionally the contract is not backloaded, which means that there is a legitimate chance that Vick (31) will earn between $16-$17 million per season over the life of the deal.

From a strictly pride perspective, Vick — career starting record of 46-31-1 as a starter — can now take solace in the fact that he is among the top three highest paid quarterbacks in the National Football League.  He now is being paid like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning as the Birds have hitched their wagon to the “Michael Vick Experience”  for the next six years.

Before his shiny new deal, Vick — career passing numbers 1169-2115, 55.3%, 14609 yards, 93 TDs, and 58 TDs with 4630 yards and 32 TDs rushing —  was playing under the team’s franchise player tag with a cap number of $16 million this season.  Which gave the Eagles a window until September 20th to extend him to a long term deal or allow him to play out this season on the franchise tag.

In 2010, Vick took over the reins of the Eagles offense in the third quarter of the season opener against the Packers in relief of Kevin Kolb who left the game with a concussion. The 9-year veteran signal caller finished the 2010 season with a career-best 3,018 yards, 21 touchdowns, six interceptions with an additional 676 yards and 9 TDs rushing in only 11 starts (8-3 record).  He also made his 4th Pro Bowl after being name the starter for the NFC in the annual league All-Star game.

The former 2001 NFL Draft first overall pick ‘s signing to this massive extension, truly shows his “redemption” after serving an 18-month prison sentence for dog fighting.   Vick, who is only 298 yards shy of breaking former Eagles great Randall Cunningham’s NFL QB rushing yards record, will now more than likely end his career as a Philadelphia Eagle. 

Which is a mighty long way from the firestorm of reaction that accompanied his signing back in August 2009.  Remember Eagles owner Jeffrey Luries saying at the time of Vick’s signing, “This took a lot of soul searching for me. I was asked to approve Michael Vick joining a very proud organization several days ago. Sometimes in life you have to make extremely difficult and soul-searching decisions where there is no right answer”. 

Now hopefully,  just “maybe” everyone will concentrate on “Michael Vick the football player” and put his troubled past behind him, as clearly the Philadelphia Eagles have done. 

Leftovers

D-Jax Next in Line — It is unclear as of yet what the salary cap implications of this Vick’s extension are for the Eagles.  But initial thoughts are that team GM Howie Roseman, HC Andy Reid, and Executive Joe Banner now have the cap flexibility to work on a long-term extension with dynamic 4th-year receiver DeSean Jackson and his agent Drew Rosenhaus. Jackson is in the final year of his rookie deal and set to make just $600,000 in 2011.  And the speedy receiver already had  held out for the early part of training camp in hopes of a new deal.

 

 

Matt Lombardo is a reporter and host for 97.3 ESPN in Atlantic City, NJ. Matt can be reached on Twitter @MattLombardoPHL

Lloyd Vance is the Editor for Taking It to the House , who is also a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA).  Lloyd can be reached on Twitter @lloydvance_nfl

The Fallacy of The Michael Vick Experience By Matt Lombardo

Michael Vick looked the part of both a Pro Bowler and an average quarterback at times during the 2010 NFL Season.   Taking It to the House’s Matt Lombardo believes defenses now know how to neutralize him.  Making him wonder, if Vick can overcome his own deficiencies and solve the schemes that have plagued him for years.

On January 23, 2005 at Lincoln Financial Field, the Philadelphia Eagles broke through the glass ceiling of the NFC Championship game for the team’s first trip to the Super Bowl in 25 years, after beating the Atlanta Falcons 27-10.  This game represented the high watermark for Michael Vick so far in his over 10-year NFL career and was his closest chance to date at hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. That day, despite boasting the league’s No.1 ranked rushing offense and a defense that sent two players to the Pro Bowl, Vick was unable to carry the “Dirty Birds” to Super Bowl XXXIX in Jacksonville, FL. Continue reading

Steelers Bring Eagles Questions To Forefront By Matt Lombardo

The Eagles weaknesses were exposed at Heinz Field in Thursday night’s second pre-season game, a 24-14 loss to the Steelers.

Not to overstate the impact of one pre-season game but the Pittsburgh Steelers are a true barometer and measure of success after playing for the Lombardi trophy a year ago, and on Thursday night the Eagles failed the test.

Even with all of the optimism surrounding the Philadelphia Eagles on both sides of the ball, this team is a cautionary tale because of so much turnover at several key positions. That was plainly evident against the Steelers.

One of Philadelphia’s biggest question marks is at linebacker, and rookie Casey Matthews and company left much to be desired in a 24-14 loss to the Steelers. The final score in pre-season games are meaningless, but The Eagles defense was left in tatters by the defending AFC Champions.While the final score is no indication, what is troubling is that the Steelers led 21-0 at halftime.

The defense’s physical flaws were exposed by Pittsburgh. The offense was woeful and couldn’t establish any sort of momentum in their first opportunity to see extended snaps this season.

Pittsburgh’s offense spent just one quarter on the field, but it was more than enough time to carve the Eagles defense to tune of 179 yards, many of which coming on the ground or in play action situations. In the first half Pittsburgh was an efficient 7-9 on third downs, including a conversion on 3rd and 25 in the second quarter.

To say Matthews struggled would be putting it nicely. The fourth round pick struggled to fight off blocks from Pittsburgh’s interior lineman and was targeted by Ben Roethlisberger on three different passes that led to Steelers gains. The obvious lowlight for Matthews was when Byron Leftwich hit Jerricho Cotchery for a 29 yard gain on the aforementioned second quarter 3rd and 25.

Although Matthews is a rookie, and he isn’t alone, Moises Fokou and Jamar Chaney should also shoulder some blame for the linebackers poor play. But in the NFL linebackers make their living fighting off blocks at the line of scrimmage and by running backs out of the backfield and on Thursday the Eagles were repeatedly blasted at the point of attack.

“That’s what we have to do a better job at as linebackers,” Chaney said after playing on the outside, rather than in the middle where he spent the back end of his rookie season in 2010.

In defense of Matthews and the linebackers, defensive coordinator Juan Castillo did his team no favors. The Eagles welcomed the rush by lining up the defensive ends stretched wide along the line of scrimmage leaving the middle of the field susceptible to big gains. Over and over again the Steelers ran up the middle and Castillo failed to adjust.

All told, the Steelers gutted the Eagles on the ground to the tune of 71 yards on just 14 carries in the first half alone. That’s an atrocious five yards per carry allowed to the Black and Gold Express.

That will not be good enough in the regular season.

If the defense was inept, then the offense was woeful. Michael Vick closely resembled the pedestrian quarterback who finished the 2010 season 0-3, and struggled against the league’s more physical defenses down the stretch. Last season defenses haunted the Birds signal caller by blitzing their corners and playing a cover two scheme. As a result, Vick failed to register a 300 yard game in his last three regular season starts a year ago.

On Thursday the Steelers took a page from that playbook.

Vick threw three interceptions; the first came against a cover two. The second against a pro man set and the third was a miscommunication between Vick and his receiver on a broken play. Vick’s performance raises questions about his ability to beat defenses that seem to have found the scheme to take away his legs and force him to make tough reads down the field. Vick finished the night 5-12 for 47 yards and 3 interceptions.

In the second pre-season game of the year Vick’s body of work earned him a 13.5 quarterback rating.

“We all stunk,” The typically stoic Reid summated after surveying the damage.   “On offense we didn’t run it good, and we didn’t pass it good. All the way around, starting with me, all of the coaches and players are all in this thing together.”

It goes without saying that a season is not defined by one pre-season game or one half of meaningless football. However, just as efficient as this team looked against the Ravens in all facets, they appeared overmatched against the Steelers. That’s troubling.

If there’s a silver lining to Thursday night’s debacle, it’s the play of Mike Kafka. The second year signal caller out of Northwestern led two scoring drives going 14-19 for 160 yards and two touchdowns, while nipping at the heels of Vince Young in the competition for the backup quarterback position.

Philadelphia is next in action next Thursday night when Cleveland visits Lincoln Financial Field in the third pre-season game.

Matt Lombardo is a reporter and host for 97.3 ESPN in Atlantic City, NJ. Matt can be reached on Twitter @MattLombardoPHL

Jeremy Maclin Shows Heroism and Toughness By Matt Lombardo

The Eagles and their fans can breathe a sigh of relief after Jeremy Maclin tests for lymphoma came back negative and the receiver can return to practice in 7-10 days. 

On Wednesday, after months of speculation, worry and concern Jeremy Maclin finally found the answer to what was ailing him. No longer was it a mystery why he had lost several pounds and lacked the energy necessary to compete in the National Football League. Most importantly, Maclin found relief thanks to a test for lymphoma that came back negative.

Eagles trainer Rick Burkholder said on Wednesday that Maclin would be cleared to practice for the first time this season in seven to ten days, but his status for the season opener is to be determined. Even though there is optimism that Maclin will be in the lineup on September 11th in St. Louis, that almost doesn’t matter. Not after what the third year receiver went through over the last several months. What matters today and moving forward is that a 23 year old is no longer staring down the pipe at Cancer, after Fox Sports’ Jay Glazer was first to report.

There was much speculation after Maclin left the team for his hometown of St. Louis a week ago, now we learn that during that trip he had lymph nodes removed and a final test for lymphoma was conducted with the comfort of family nearby.

“That first day when the doctor sat down and explained to me exactly what lymphoma is, that it is a form of cancer, it hit me when I walked out of his office and I broke down,” Maclin told Glazer. “It was hard for me, but I had to remain positive.”

Anyone who has ever been in such a situation can certainly relate to the moment of terror when the uncertainty surrounding a cancer scare hits. This makes Maclin’s trips to Lehigh to do side work and conditioning all the more admirable while his diagnosis was in doubt.

Turns out that it was not cancer, rather an inflammatory virus that caused Maclin’s fatigue and illness.

The Eagles drew plenty of criticism for their handling of questions regarding Maclin’s health, many thought the evasiveness was unnecessary and harbored speculation and rumors. What we found yesterday was that they deserve commendation for honoring Maclin’s wishes. As has become practice under Andy Reid, the 13th year head coach was simply protecting his player.

“I wanted to keep it private until I knew for sure what was going on,” Maclin told Fox Sports. “The Eagles were amazing. They were one of the only ones who knew. My relationship with them is more than professional. They were like family during this.”

Now that Maclin’s personal plight is behind him, the Eagles organization and fans two things are certain. Maclin can turn his attention to football and returning to the field where he was the team’s leading receiver in 2010. And secondly, perhaps more importantly, in retrospect this situation was just as harrowing as many speculated and the Eagles deserve praise for protecting the wishes of a player who literally was facing the fight for his life.

Matt Lombardo is a reporter and host for 97.3 ESPN in Atlantic City, NJ. Matt can be reached on Twitter @MattLombardoPHL

Steelers-Eagles: Pre-Season Game Preview and What to Watch For by Jason King

The defending AFC Champion Pittsburgh Steelers will be looking to bounce back from a lackluster effort when they host the Philadelphia Eagles in a preseason showdown at the ketchup factory.

Date/Time: August 18, 2011 at 8:00pm

Place: Pittsburgh, PA

Venue: Heinz Field

Playing Surface: Grass

Television: FOX (national broadcast)

The first weekend of meaningless football is in the books, we now head into week two.  The Steelers and Eagles square off in their annual Keystone State battle.

The Steelers starters played only one series against the Redskins last week.  The only positives Pittsburgh can take away from their 16-7 loss to the Washington Redskins was they suffered no significant injuries, they held the Redskins to just one touchdown in five red zone trips, and they only committed two penalties for 10 yards.  They had 186 yards of total offense.  The defense gave up 452 yards.  They were a pitiful 2 of 11 on third downs.

“That’s not the kind of performance we were looking for,” Mike Tomlin said after the game.  “Quite frankly, we got outplayed in just about all areas: blocking, tackling, running, throwing, kicking. That team was better prepared tonight than us. They showed it. We accept that, and I look forward to this group responding to what we put out there tonight. We’ve got a lot of ground to cover.”

Just having Ben Roethlisberger play for more than one series will help the offense.  The offensive line in front of Roethlisberger is a concern, but those issues won’t be solved in one preseason game.  The Steelers hope to gain their usual continuity and rhythm on offense that was missing last week against Washington.  That starts with establishing the run, which opens the field up for Roethlisberger to improvise in a way only he can.

The Steelers defense isn’t an issue.  Last year they led the NFL in eight statistical categories. They were especially stingy against the run, only giving up 62.8 rushing yards per game.  Pittsburgh’s defense should be even better with the return of Aaron Smith at left defensive end.  James Harrison anchors the linebackers, while Troy Polamalu anchors the secondary.  Hall of Famer Dick LeBeau calls the signals.  The Steelers first team offense and defense should play a quarter, maybe a little more.

The Eagles are coming off a 13-6 win over the Baltimore Ravens last week.  The first team offense and defense played one series each so we didn’t get to see much from them.  They should play more in this game.

The Eagles have a few intriguing storylines as they approach this game.  They have a few position battles going on, the main ones being at center and middle linebacker.  The offensive line could have as many as three new starters.  DeSean Jackson makes his 2011 debut.  These are things to watch in this game.

Jason Kelce and Jamaal Jackson are battling to see who wins the starting center spot.  Since David Akers was let go, Jackson is the longest tenured Eagle.  This game will be a key spot for the rookie Kelce.  This Pittsburgh defense was the best in the business last year.  If he performs well it could go a long way in him eventually winning this job.  If he doesn’t, expect Jackson to start the season at center.

Casey Matthews only played two series against the Ravens.  Expect him to play the entire first half.  Matthews, the Eagles fourth round pick out of Oregon, looked solid in his NFL debut last week.  The two series he played, the defense only allowed 3 points and 59 yards rushing.

Ryan Harris isn’t playing because of a back injury.  King Dunlap is expected to start at right tackle.  According to Andy Reid, rookie right guard Danny Watkins “is progressing every day.”  If Ryan Harris’ injury is more serious than anticipated the Eagles need to see what they have in King Dunlap.  It sounds like you can pencil in Watkins as the starting right guard.  Right tackle, Mike Vick’s blindside, is more troublesome.  If King Dunlap doesn’t perform well, the anxiety for Howard Mudd and Andy Reid will begin.

DeSean Jackson and Michael Vick were a feared force last season.  They will be reunited at Heinz field Thursday night.  Jackson will most likely play a few series as the Eagles try and ease him back into things after his 11 day holdout.  He won’t be fielding any punts but that’s fine for now. The biggest objective is for Vick and Jackson to build that chemistry that made them so dangerous last year.

The Eagles and Steelers both have areas they want to improve on this week. Not all questions will be answered Thursday night, but it will be a good indicator for both teams.

 

Jason King is a contributing writer at Taking It to the House and can be reached at jdk2032@yahoo.com

Eagles Training Camp Notebook: Offensive Position Battles by Matt Lombardo

The Eagles revamped their defense but by and large the offense remains intact from a year ago. There are still heated battles being waged for several key positions that must be settled before the season opener in St. Louis on September 11th.

As the Lehigh portion of Eagles training camp has come and gone, the roster is beginning to take shape. On the offensive side of the ball the Eagles are the rare exception across the league in that many of the starters who finished the 2010 season playing a key role have returned. However, there are several starting jobs up for grabs and hotly contested battles taking place lower on the depth chart at several key positions.

There will be some tough calls to be made by Head Coach Andy Reid, GM Howie Roseman, and Team Executive Joe Banner before the “Turk” comes calling (August 30th, 75-player limit and September 3rd, final 53-player limit)

The offensive line became a focal point in last season’s final three weeks as teams schemed cover two defenses and corner blitzes to counteract Michael Vick’s success, so it’s no surprise that there has been turnover there. Also depth battles at running back, tight end and even wide receiver are fascinating as one of the league’s high powered offenses takes shape entering the 2011 campaign.

At right tackle, arguably the most important position on any football team that’s headed by a left-handed quarterback, the man charged with protecting Vick’s blind side is to this point a mystery. Winston Justice remains on the Physically Unable to Perform list and has yet to take a snap in any practice or the team’s first pre-season game against the Ravens.

In place of the team’s NFLPA Player representative has been the platoon of Ryan Harris, who was signed from the Broncos as a free agent, and King Dunlap. Harris is a talented and prototypical lineman for offensive line coach Howard Mudd’s system. He appeared to have the inside line on the starting job until a bout with back spasms sidelined him for the last several days. In steps Dunlap who is a behemoth, standing at 6’9 330 pounds but the 2008 seventh round choice out of Auburn appears both raw and too rough around the edges to succeed as the line’s anchor. At this point the Eagles may not have any other choice but to start Dunlap who gets the nod in the pre-season game against the Steelers on Thursday.

Had Harris remained healthy it was, and still is, conceivable that he would replace Justice full time at right tackle. Now it appears that the door has been reopened for Justice once he returns.

Meanwhile at center, a hotly contested battle is on between incumbent Jamaal Jackson and rookie Jason Kelce. Jackson is attempting a comeback from an off-season microfracture surgery and until Kelce’s arrival seemed on pace to retain his job. However, the 6-3 282 pound sixth round pick from Cincinnati has quickly caught Mudd’s eye and has been drawing comparisons to Indianapolis’s Jeff Saturday who Mudd turned into an All-Pro keeping Peyton Manning upright. Jackson and Kelce split time with the first team against the Ravens but Kelce looked inconsistent, appearing solid in run blocking but his pass blocking left much to be desired. As a rookie though, that is to be expected.

However, in practice on Sunday Jackson worked on the side with Vick while Vince Young took snaps on the sidelines from Kelce, read into that what you will. It wouldn’t be surprising for this position to be in flux right up to the season opener on September 11 against The Rams.

By and large at the skill positions the starting jobs are set in stone. LeSean McCoy will be the feature back one again following a 1,080 yard seven touchdown campaign in 2010. Vick for the first time since signing in Philadelphia is the incumbent starting quarterback. And assuming that Jeremy Maclin returns in time for the season opener he will line up opposite DeSean Jackson at wide receiver. It’s also assumed that Jason Avant will remain the Eagles slot receiver, though he is being pushed for the second straight camp by Riley Cooper. Finally at tight end Brent Celek is the unquestioned starter despite a subpar 2010 where he was asked to assume more blocking duties to supplement the wildly inconsistent Justice last year.

With all of that said, that doesn’t mean jobs aren’t about to be won and lost in the final days of camp.

Behind McCoy it appears that the Eagles finally have a worthy compliment in Ronnie Brown, who not only can lighten McCoy’s load but also spread defenses when both are on the field. Brown is solidified as the team’s number two back. However, Dion Lewis and Eldra Buckley are currently battling it out for the team’s third running back position. The diminutive Lewis who is 5’8, 195 pounds was drafted out of Pittsburgh and had the look of a quick footed, shifty runner in the team’s pre-season opener. Buckley is the incumbent at the position and the fact the he, like Lewis, can return kicks makes this battle all the more intriguing. Buckley has three years in Andy Reid’s offense under his belt, but Lewis looks to have more upside. This is certainly a battle to keep an eye on because either player is talented enough to land on an NFL roster.

Wide receiver is where these depth battles are very interesting. Jackson and Maclin (if healthy) are the obvious incumbents. Maclin led the Eagles in receiving a year ago and Jackson is one of the most dynamic players in the league, who just happens to have a great rapport with Vick. This duo headlines the most talented receiving corps in the league.

However behind Jackson and Maclin it’s a log jam. The steady and sure handed Jason Avant is seemingly locked in as the third receiver, he tallied 51 catches, 573 yards and one touchdown last season and has caught everything thrown his way in camp. Avant though is being pushed by the big and athletic second year receiver from Florida, Riley Cooper. Cooper was in the un-envious position being Vick’s target on last year’s season ending interception against Green Bay, however he continues to progress and catch everything thrown his way. Cooper has shown the speed to stretch the field, the athletic ability to make leaping catches and has the size to be the red zone target this offense has lacked for years. But, there is a wealth of talent at this position after the signing of former Giants Sinorice Moss and Steve Smith. Moss is having a solid camp and Smith is two years removed from a Pro-Bowl. It’s uncertain where Smith will fit at this point, but the Eagles signed him for the purpose of getting him on the field. Whether or not Moss even makes the team remains to be seen.

Needless to say Andy Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg now have the ability to run five wide receiver sets with all five commanding almost equal attention.

Finally, amid the flurry of free agent signings there was one addition that went largely unheralded but could pay dividends for this team; tight end Donald Lee. No question that Celek is the starter, and he should have a pro-bowl caliber season amid the talent around him at receiver opening up underneath routes. In adding Lee the Eagles inked Super Bowl experience and one of the premier blocking tight ends in the league. Lee hauled in 11 catches for 73 yards and three touchdowns for the Packers a year ago. There’s a chance that Lee’s addition spells the end for second year tight end Clay Harbor because it seems unlikely that the team will carry three TEs into the season.

Given the amount of turnover on defense and questions surrounding whether or not that unit will gel quickly enough to make a Super Bowl run, the strength of this year’s team will be the offense. In the second pre-season game against Pittsburgh all of these battles will be front and center as the roster begins to fall into place.

Matt Lombardo is a reporter and host for 97.3 ESPN in Atlantic City, NJ. Matt can be reached on Twitter @MattLombardoPHL