2010 Philadelphia Eagles Training Camp Report – Afternoon Session

One of the stars of my 2010 Philadelphia Eagles training camp report definitely has to be big physical rookie receiver Riley Cooper

The Eagles afternoon session was moved inside the Rausch Fieldhouse at Lehigh due to some serious rain showers outside.  The whole practice was run on an inside athletic floor that was circled by an indoor track.

I could tell some of the players and coaches were less than thrilled to be playing on a “foreign” surface that didn’t seem to have the best of footing.  Overall, the session was quick while focusing on the kicking game and allowing the first team offense to get some passing drills in.  Unfortunately the tight quarters at times did not lend for the best football viewing or practicing.

Some news and notes from the afternoon session:

– After the morning session had the return of  center Jamaal Jackson (#67), the afternoon session had the return of veteran offensive guard Todd Herramins (foot).  For the first time in a while, the Eagles starting O-line was complete as Peters–Herramins–Jackson–Andrews—Justice all got reps together — at least for this non-contact practice.  It maybe some time before the entire group is completely healthly and together,  but I am sensing that the team is hoping to have all their O-line starters back in the line-up early in 2010 regular season.

– In the 11-on-11 passing drills, QB Kevin Kolb (#4) continued to look good throwing the ball and rolling out when needed.  Kolb and Vick were just as sharp as their earlier outdoor practice and you can see the relationship that they are developing with their receivers especially Jeremy Maclin, Brent Celek, and DeSean Jackson.

– Even though there was limited passing drills in the fieldhouse, rookies Riley Cooper and TE Clay Harbor continued to perform well catching the football.  However for the second practice in a row, sure-handed receiver Jason Avant had a rare drop.  Avant immediately went to work with one of the assistants catching several bullets.

— The catch of the afternoon was a one-handed grab by Maclin along the sideline on a 20-yard pass.  Other nice catches were turned in by running back LeSean McCoy.

— The Birds worked on their kickoffs and punts too, but neither kicker David Akers nor punter Sav Rocca actually kicked the ball.  However the kicking game should be in good hand with new special teams coach Bobby April on board.

— After practice head coach Andy Reid gathered his team at the center of the fieldhouse and gave them a pep-talk related to finishing camp strong as the regular season would be here soon.

Lloyd’s Leftovers:

–  I was impressed with the tight end group staying later in practice to work on their blocking and catching.  You can tell with the amount of two-tight end sets that the Birds were running that they like this group of youngster.

— I have to take my hat off to newly acquired tight end Nate Laurie (#83) who worked hard in practice and then stayed afterward to run suicides inside the fieldhouse while his teammates tried to get out of the rain.

— Also staying for some extra practice was the offensive line that featured enthusiastic respected assistant coach Juan Castille barking out orders.  Castille definitely has had to patchwork together a group at times this training camp as his unit has endured some injuries.

It was a productive and soggy day in Bethlehem for this scribe and you can tell that the young Eagles have clearly turned the page from Reid’s former Super Bowl veteran-laden group.  The Birds are a young loose group that may surprise some people in 201o.  But right now as several players and coaches said during today, there is much improvement and work still to be done.

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and Sports Journey Network , who is also an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

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2010 Philadelphia Eagle Training Report – Morning Session

The Philadelphia Eagles moved a little closer to the end of training camp and NFL Insider Lloyd Vance was on-hand on Sunday August 15th

On a dreary day (August 15th), I packed my stuff and headed to Bethlehem, PA for my annual training camp stop with my hometown Philadelphia Eagles. Though the clouds were out for the morning session (never rained), the team looked fit and ready for practice.

Only a couple days removed from their narrow win over the Jacksonville Jaguars by a score of 28-27, the young birds – average age 26 – went back to work before breaking camp later this week on Wednesday. Friday’s game had some good stuff (offense moved the ball and 1st team defense got pressure) and some things to work on (turnovers, too many field goals, and defense lapses on deep passes).

But overall, this training camp has been a productive one for the young birds and everyone associated with the team that I talked to kept saying this is a group that is going to contend….make no bones about it this is not a “rebuilding” season.

Some news and notes from the morning session:

— The big news was the return of center Jamaal Jackson (#67) to practice. The veteran pivot from Delaware State is comeback from an ACL injury suffered in late 2009. As Head Coach Andy Reid said in the press conference after practice, “It will take some time”. But it was definitely good to see the big center back in the mix. Hopefully Jackson will be ready for the end of season battles with the Dallas Cowboys and their robust Pro Bowl nose tackle Jay Ratliff.

— The other big news or non-news according to whomever you talk to was that veteran receiver Jason Avant “finally” dropped a pass in training camp. Avant said he wasn’t concerned with the streak, but it brought some laughter to the media throng around him after practice. In the Eagles’ slot master’s defense, he caught the pass then a DB knocked it out of his possession.

— QB Kevin Kolb (#4) clearly has taken command of the huddle and his passes were crisp. His best throw of the morning period was a touch pass to WR Jeremy Maclin (#18) over CB Asante Samuel (#22) in the corner of the endzone. The fourth-year quarterback also showed some good mobility both in and out of the pocket.

— Clearly the rookie stars of training camp WR Riley Cooper (#14) and TE Clay Harbor (#82) continued to shine. The two young guys seem to have learned their playbooks well enough to consistently get open. Cooper had some nice catches over the middle. He is a huge target (6’4, 220) that reminds me of former Broncos receiver Ed McCaffrey. And don’t be fooled from his flowing rocker hair, this guy is tough as noted by Reid in his presser. Speaking of Harbor, you could clearly see that the Birds are running two-tight end sets and that is due to the confidence they see in the youngster.

— I thought a little early the Birds were a little rusty on offense in the early 7-on-7’s, but later one they looked much better in the redzone. The quarterbacks led the way in the comeback as Kolb and backup Michael Vick (#7) were zipping in passes even in double coverage.

— Vick continued the strong work that he displayed when I saw him in OTA’s by zipping several passes by tight coverage. One throw that really stood out to me was a post pattern where he hit WR Hank Baskett (#84) in the redzone. The former Falcons’ starter also showed tremendous burst as he ran by several DB’s when needed. Also in checking my notepad, Vick hit Cooper on a great inside route late in the morning session that sent the thousands of Birds fans in attendance into applause.

— Defensively rookie DE Brandon Graham (#54) had great burst off the ball and MLB Stewart Bradley (#55) continued to look to be back from his ACL injury in 2009. Clearly RT Winston Justice (#74) has his hands full on every play with high-motor first rounder, Graham. The former 2010 Senior Bowl MVP also looks a little bit stouter, to me, than he appeared at OTAs.

— The offense seemed to be working on “Bubble Screens” a lot as I counted at least seven plays during the morning session. The player I thought looked the best on the screens was WR DeSean Jackson (#10) who is back healthy after missing some time earlier in camp.

— One of the funnier moments of the session was when Kolb threw an errant pass that a ballboy tried to snare with his head/arm even though he already had a ball in each hand.

Game Balls:

— LB Ernie Sims (flew around the football on every snap it seemed), QB Michael Vick (seems much more comfortable than ’09), Cooper (4th on the depth chart and seems in Marty’s plans), DB Kurt Coleman (broke-up several passes), and Harbor (good route-running and hands).

Needs Work:

— Rookie QB Mike Kafka needed more zip on a few throws downfield and to the sidelines

— Even though he is one of the best stories of training camp, veteran WR Kelley Washington (#17) dropped a beautiful throw from Vick.

Injuries:

RB JJ Arrington (knee), S Quintin Demps (bruised knee), and RB Mike Bell (calf)

Lloyd’s Leftovers:

— For the record, I only heard the “M” word, McNabb, only once during my trip to Lehigh and that was from a fan.

— Reid noted in his presser that the win over the Jags was nice, but clearly the Birds and Jacksonville were both “vanilla” – they play in Week 3.

— TE Cornelius Ingram (#88) who is in a roster fight with Harbor looked a little tentative and it later came out that he is battling some calf soreness.

— Today, veteran NFL scribes Peter King (Sports Illustrated) and Michael Silver (Yahoo) were also at Lehigh for their annual training camp visits.

Alright that is enough for now and I will have more after the 2:45 pm afternoon session. Just a note, it looks like rain so the Eagles will probably be indoors this afternoon.

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and Sports Journey Network , who is also an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

2010 NFL Power Rankings – Pre Training Camp

Even without Big Ben to start the regular season, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin will be looking to get Pittsburgh back in the playoffs in 2010

With training camps set to open soon for most NFL teams, I thought it was a good time to unveil my first ranking for the 2010 season.  The great part about this time on the NFL Calendar is that rankings don’t matter as hope has sprung eternal around the league.

Every team is 0-0 heading into training camp and “Yes” even the St. Louis Rams (1-15) believe they have positively upgraded their roster and drafted well enough that training camp two-a-days can’t get here soon enough.  And why not…since 1996 there have been at least 5 new playoffs teams that had been sitting home the year before – highest total was 8 teams in 2003.

80-man rosters are pretty much set for every team…Sorry T.O… – still need to sign rookies as only Cowboys WR Dez Bryant is the only first rounder signed — so here we go with our rankings of all 32 NFL Teams.

1.  Saints – The 2009 Super Bowl Champions still remain in my top spot until someone knocks them off their perch.  In order to be the man, you have to beat the man…wooo!!  The Saints only lost players that they believe already have replacements on their current roster. Sean Payton’s offensive squad has more weapons than almost every team in the NFL, including an O-line that returns all of it’s starters from the Super Bowl.  However there are a couple things that New Orleans will need to shake out in the pre-season, which are their defense not relying on turnovers too much – produced an NFL best 39 fumbles and INTs plus 8 turnovers into touchdowns.  And the usual Super Bowl winner problems of complacency, money, and injuries.

2.  Vikings – All off-season it had to have bothered the Vikes that they were so close to playing in the Super Bowl (lost in overtime).  Keys for sustaining their success from last season will be veteran QB Brett Favre coming back (already a done deal…trust me), RB Adrian Peterson concurring his fumbling woes, and the Vikings’ defense getting better performances from everyone outside of Pro Bowl DE Jared Allen.  Head Coach Brad Childress has now tasted success, so it is easy to think that Minnesota will be right back at the top of the NFC North, but I think the Packers and Bears might have something to say about that.

3.  Colts – Another season, another 12 wins for Indy (NFL Record seven Consecutive).  The Colts are a regular season buzzsaw, but once again the playoffs, it was a different story.  QB Peyton Manning’s team lost in Super Bowl to the Saints and at some points in the game, the younger team from New Orleans “Out Physical-ed” Indy.  There is no doubt that Manning and his plethora of receivers will continue to put up yards and points.  But the Colts need more of a running game from veteran RB Joseph Addai and 2nd year RB Donald Brown plus their defense needs to get more physical at the point of attack.

4. Cowboys – Maybe the curse of Quincy Carter is over as the Cowboys won in the playoffs for the first time since 1996 by demolishing the Philadelphia Eagles in the Wildcard round.  Unfortunately the Cowboys got a quick taste of reality in the divisional round as the Viking pasted them 34-3.  However owner Jerry Jones obviously thinks that his team has a chance of playing in the Super Bowl in their home stadium so Dallas’ roster pretty much is set.  The keys for Dallas will be QB Tony Romo continuing to make big plays with WR Miles Austin, RB Felix Jones gaining a more prominent role and the Cowboys defense improving in their back four.

5.  Ravens – An already dangerous team just got a little bit tougher this offseason as John Harbaugh’s squad had a very good draft and also obtained quality veterans like WR Anquan Boldin.  With QB Joe Flacco coming off an impressive season (posted a 95+ passer rating in 9-of-16 games in ’09), underrated RB Ray Rice looking like the second-coming of Marshall Faulk and a hungry defense returning just about everyone, Baltimore is a scary bunch.  Expect team leaders MLB Ray Lewis, NT Haloti Ngata, and WR Derrick Mason to show younger players, like Terrence “Mount” Cody, how it is to make a playoff run.  But don’t forget the hated Pittsburgh Steelers and the Bengals should be ready to fight for the AFC North crown.

6.  Chargers – After dominating in the regular season and looking like a strong Super Bowl contender, the Chargers were out-physicaled by the NY Jets in a tough 17-14 home loss.  Fiery quarterback Philip Rivers could do very little as the J-E-T-S pounded the rock and played attacking defense.  Of course, recently jettisoned RB LaDainian Tomlinson will be blamed for some of the Chargers problems.  But in the end, the NY Jets dug deeper and Norv Turner’s team appears to be in need of a spark.  In the 2010, San Diego is hoping an influx of younger players including first rounder RB Ryan Matthews will be what they need, but the Chargers better be leery of the Broncos.  Also they better figure out what to do with unsigned players OT Marcus McNeil, WR Vincent Jackson, and LB Shawn Merriman.

7.  Patriots – Was it just me… or did the Patriots look like an old rusty team in 2009 as the Ravens hammered them out of the playoffs.  Though I am not ready to totally bury the 3-time Super Bowl champs, I do believe that head coach Bill Belichick also saw his team aging and went about give it an offseason makeover.  Veterans Junior Seau, Shaun Springs, Jarvis Green, and others are long gone, leaving a mix of former Super Bowl players and some youngsters.  It will be incumbent on Belichick to lean on former Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady and future HOF Randy Moss as the Patriots try to re-tool while holding off the hungry NY Jets.  Of course Brady doesn’t play defense, where Belichick’s unit needs to be better in deep coverage.

8.  New York Jets – Everyone’s pick for the team that won the offseason, the New York Jets, will be trying to catch lightning in a bottle for a second year in a row.  Last year after an up-and-down regular season, Rex Ryan’s team got hot at the right time beating the Bengals and Patriots to make it to the AFC Championship game.  However this year everyone will be gunning for the “cocky” J-E-T-S as there are high expectations on them due to the additions of OLB Jason Taylor, WR Santonio Holmes, L.T and others.  But you know and I know that everything will boil down to whether QB Mark Sanchez is ready to be more than a “Caretaker”.

9. New York Giants – It was a rollercoaster ride for the G-Men in 2009.  They started out like gangbusters as they jumped out to a 5-0 record against some cupcakes, but from there injuries – mostly in their secondary – and big plays against their defense caught up with the Giants.  An 8-8 record just is not good enough in New York City and volatile head coach Tom Coughlin knows it.  Expect a rejuvenated team based around bruising RB Brandon Jacobs, newly acquired veteran LB Keith Bulluck and an attacking defensive line – highest sacker in ’09 was DE Justin Tuck with only 7 sacks.

10.  Cardinals – The Matt Leinart era is about to kick-in out at University of Phoenix stadium.  The Cardinals’ former first round pick in 2006 finally will get his chance to replace veteran Kurt Warner after the future HOF retired.  Arizona head coach Ken Whisenhunt is preaching that the Cardinals will be a more balanced team on offense, which means 2nd-year RB Chris Wells should be more active.  I will be interested in seeing how their defense plays after surviving a pinball machine against the Packers and being throttled by the Saints in the 2009 playoffs.

11. Steelers – A year after winning the Super Bowl, Pittsburgh missed the playoffs in 2009 as they finished with a 9-7 record.  Some big reasons for the Steelers fall from grace were inconsistency, injuries (see Troy Polamulu), and a pass-happy offense.  Head Coach Mike Tomlin, who just received an extension, is preaching that his team is going to play “Steelers Football” again i.e. Run the football and play tough attacking defense.  Of course any talk about where the Steelers are as a team begins and ends with QB Ben Roethlisberger who is currently suspended for the season’s first 6 games.

12.  Bengals – It will be real interesting to see if last year’s feel-good team, the Bengals, can get back to the playoffs.  2009’s Beast of the AFC North (swept the division) looked good until the playoffs when the NY Jets hammered them.  Offensively QB Carson Palmer needs to produce more bigger plays and the rest of the unit needs to live-up to loudmouth receiver Chad Ochocinco’s boasts.  Head Coach Marvin Lewis is trying to get an extension so he will need another great season from his defense which is led by CBs Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph.

13.  Falcons – After battling through many injuries in 2009, the Dirty Birds seem to be everyone’s pick to be a rebound playoff team in 2010.  A good reason for optimism in Hotlanta is that this young team has bought into the teachings of fiery head coach Mike Smith and his staff.  The Falcons have the modern version of the quadruplets as they sport a leadership type quarterback in Matt Ryan, a workhorse running back in Michael Turner, a pass-catching tight end in veteran Tony Gonzalez and a big-play receiver in Roddy White.  If their O-line is stable, I am not really worried about their offense.  However their defense needs to rally around big-ticket free agent CB Dunta Robinson.

14.  Texans – You have to hand it to Houston as they accomplished a major goal in 2009 by producing their first winning season since their inception in 2001.  But as nice as it was to be over .500, the Texans still have a ways to go to catch the Colts.  Head coach Gary Kubiak and GM Rick Smith were given a half-hearted vote of confidence, but you can tell management wants a playoff contender now.  The Texans will need to lean on the offensive firepower of Pro Bowl QB Matt Schaub and NFL receiving yardage leader WR Andre Johnson. But it will be interesting to see if their defensive unit is better without disgruntled defensive back Dunta Robinson (Atlanta Falcons) and you know that will fall on DE Mario Williams (9 sacks in ’09).

15. Titans – Tennessee is another team stuck in the NFL’s ever increasing middle.  After a disastrous 0-6 start, everything seemed to finally click once Vince Young was named the starting quarterback.  However it was too much too late as they finished 8-8 and their defense was continually beaten deep.  In their first season sans Albert Haynesworth, Jeff Fisher’s team allowed a whopping 402 points and their former 2008 Pro Bowlers in their secondary looked average at best.  With an eye on fixing their defense, the Titans went heavily on that side of the ball in the 2010 NFL Draft. We will see if they have enough to catch the Colts and Texans, but If nothing else the Titans will be exciting with CJ2K running the ball.

16.  Eagles – The winds of change are blowing around the Philadelphia Eagles.  Former veterans like QB Donovan McNabb, CB Sheldon Brown, S Brian Dawkins, and RT John Runyan are long gone leaving a younger team searching for an identity.  The trade of McNabb to the Redskins changed the entire feel around the team and now it is up to first-time starter Kevin Kolb to take the reins of Andy Reid’s young squad.  Kolb will not have to do it on his own as he has Pro Bowlers WR DeSean Jackson, OT Jason Peters and TE Brent Celek to help him, but the defense is the Birds’ biggest question mark (allowed over 200 passing yards per game).  We will see if the Birds have made enough offseason changes to close the gap between themselves and the Dallas Cowboys – outscored 58-14 in last two games of 2009.

17.  49ers – To me last year was a tease in terms of the Niners.  You can clearly see that energetic head coach Mike Singletary had his team playing well at times, but consistency was not there enough – finished with an 8-8 record.  In order for San Francisco to finally pass the Cardinals and make the playoffs for the first time since 2002. They will need to have better quarterback play from Alex Smith, improved O-line play behind their two coveted first rounders and more defensive pressure — didn’t have a single player top 6.5 sacks last season.

18.  Dolphins – After shocking the NFL in 2008 by going from worst to first in their division, Miami came back down to earth in 2009 with a 7-9 record including a 1-4 stretch to end the season.  A lot of change is afoot in South Beach, but the Dolphins are hoping that are is more than just LeBron going to the Heat. Surprisingly the Dolphins biggest problem was their defense that allowed 390 points.  With Football Czar Bill Parcells watchful eyes over head coach Tony Sparano, the Dolphins attempted to fix their woes in the draft by going heavily on defense.  They also brought-in WR Brandon Marshall to help their offense.  We will see if these changes are enough to vault them over the Patriots and NY Jets.

19. Packers  –  There is no doubt that Green Bay and QB Aaron Rodgers have the offensive firepower to hang with any team in the NFL – 461 points scored — but the Packers’ 2010 hopes directly hinge on Dom Capers’ defense.  I know his unit allowed only 297 points in the regular season and they were ranked near the top of the entire NFL.  But against the Vikings –you know who torched them – and the Cardinals in the Wildcard round put up points too (lost 51-45) so they needed more than Defensive MVP, DB Charles Woodson. It should be another fun year when the Pack lock horns with Favre and the hated men in purple.

20.  Bears – The head coaching seat in the Windy City is getting extremely hot and it is incumbent on Lovie Smith to return the Bears to the playoffs for the first time since 2006.  Smith thought that he had solved his Super Bowl loser hangover dilemma by trading for talented QB Jay Cutler, but a 7-9 season in ’09 made the spotlight hotter.  With new offensive coordinator Mike “Mad Scientist” Martz and big-ticket free agents DE Julius Peppers and RB Chester Taylor on the team, it is now or never for Smith and GM Jerry Angelo.

21.  Broncos – Another year and another controversial player was kicked out of town by brash head coach Josh McDaniels.  In 2009 it was QB Jay Cutler (to Chicago) being ushered away and in 2010, it was talented malcontent receiver Brandon Marshall’s turn to leave the Rockies – shipped to the Dolphins before the draft.  McDaniels better hope he is right as his team badly slumped down the stretch of the 2009 season — 4-game losing streak to end the season — and some fans’ patience is running thin.

22.  Redskins – There’s a new sheriff in town and his name is “Mike Shanahan”.  The two-time Super Bowl winning head coach, veteran QB Donovan McNabb and new GM Bruce Allen have been called-in to restore the nation’s capital’s franchise.  Already Shanahan and Allen have brought in over 20 new players with many being veterans (McNabb, Larry Johnson, Joey Galloway, Jammal Brown, and others).  We all know this team will be nowhere near their 4-12 record in 2010, but you have to wonder if all these new faces can jell quickly enough.  All the NFL’s entire eyes will be on Philly for the October 3rd, McNabb-Eagles Grudge Match.

23.  Raiders – For once the Raiders don’t seem like the most dysfunctional team in the NFL.  Yes, they have the league’s worst record since 2003 (24 wins and 72 losses).  But already I have seen some positive moves including the jettisoning of underachiever quarterback JaMarcus Russell, bringing in veteran QB Jason Campbell, a solid draft that produced players like LB Rolando McClain, and the same head coach (Tom Cable) for the second year in a row for the first time in a long while.  Al Davis’ boys should be shooting for .500 this season, which would be a big step forward.

24.  Jaguars – It seems everyone in this organization is fighting for survival.  The team is trying desperately to sell enough season tickets to avoid a proposed move to L.A, QB David Garrard is trying to prove he can play like his 2007 form to justify his big contract and lastly head coach Jack Del Rio is fighting to stay in town after two losing seasons in a row.  Well at least the Jags have one of the NFL’s most dangerous players in RB Maurice Jones-Drew.

25.  Panthers –  If it now or never for head coach John Fox and GM Marty Hurney who are both entering the final year of their contracts.  Owner Jerry Richardson is healthy now and he will have a greater say in the Panthers this year, so it is incumbent on the team to continue helping their on-the-hot-seat head coach again – finished 4-1 in 2009.  Expect another great year of the NFL’s best two-headed backfield (DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart), but Carolina’s defense must recover from losing DE Julius Peppers. Expect QB Matt Moore (6-2 as a starter) to hold-off rookie Jimmy Clausen and establish himself as an NFL starter.

26.  Lions – Head coach Jim Schwartz and GM Martin Mayhew had one of the best drafts in 2010 as they brought in potential difference-makers DT Ndamukong Suh and RB Jahvid Best to continue their rebuilding.  With QB Matthew Stafford firmly at the helm, there is no reason why the Lions could not win 3 to 4 more games this year.  I am going to make an early prediction…watch out for the Lions in 2011, if there is not a lockout of course.

27.  Buccaneers – Some good young building blocks (QB Josh Freeman, TE Kellen Winslow and S Tanard Jackson) are in place for 2nd-year head coach Raheem Morris, but 2010 looks like another rebuilding year for Tampa.  However there still should be hope as the NFC South since 2003 has had 6 out of 7 years where a team went from worst to first including the New Orleans Saints last year.

28.  Seahawks – New head coach Pete “runaway” Carroll has brought in a ton of new faces (over 25 new players) including retread receiver Mike Williams, former NY Jets RB Leon Washington and former Chargers restricted free agent QB Charlie Whitehurst.  But Carroll’s team still has too many leftover players from the Mike Holmgren era (i.e. QB Matt Hasselback, WR Deion Branch, and others) that will need to figure out where they stand before the entire organization can move forward.

29.  Bills – Can you say, “Oh Canada”?  Right now the reality of playing more than two games a year in Toronto, Canada maybe facing this team.  I am not even sure if new head coach Chan Gailey and GM Buddy Nix have any idea of the mess on their hands.  The Bills have 3 quarterbacks competing and I don’t think any of them can be a week-in-week-out NFL starter and whoever is the starter, they will be playing behind on of the league’s leakiest O-lines.

30.  Chiefs – Head Coach Todd Haley and GM Scott Pioli are trying like crazy to make the hapless Chiefs into New England West, but something is amiss.  QB Matt Cassell after finally getting a chance to start regularly put-up even stats of 16 TDs and 16 INTs while the defense couldn’t stop anyone in 2009, letting up 424 points.  There is nowhere to go but up for Cassell and the rest of this young team who are looking like one big rebuilding effort.

31.  Browns – Football Czar Mike Holmgren took over early as he came in during the end of the 2009 season to start evaluating a roster that looked like multi-purpose threat Joshua Cribbs and not much else.  What Holmgren did find was that there were a few talented players (Cribbs, OT Joe Thomas, and CB Eric Wright), but unfortunately he still will need to put on his janitor’s suit as there is much more housecleaning to be done.  It looks like another long year awaits on the shores of Lake Erie, especially with washed-up QB Jake Delhomme under center.

32.  Rams – Just like the Saints at the top of the food chain…I have to start the Rams at the bottom.  However I do believe that head coach Steve Spagnuolo and GM Bill Devaney are making positive changes on this team. Hopefully RB Steven Jackson (back) and first rounders QB Sam Bradford, OT Jason Smith, and DE Chris Long will get some help to move this young team out of the basement. 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and Sports Journey Network , who is also an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

The Turk is Coming: Bubble will burst for fringe players

(Philadelphia, Pa)—-Fringe players from Seattle to New England are holding their breath as NFL teams have to get down to the league-mandated 53-player limit by 5 p.m. Saturday. All teams got down to 75 players earlier in the week, but now the toughest cuts are near where high-priced veterans, underachieving draft picks, and future Arena Football players are on edge. The process is the most difficult job for most head coaches and some (Dick Vermeil) were known to take it worse than the player that was going home.

Already some big name players have already been visited by the “Turk” including Cardinals Rookie LB Buster Davis, Texans WR Keenan McCardell, Texans WR/KR Bethel Johnson, and Jets DL Kimo von Oelhoffen,

Davis, who was Arizona’s third-round draft pick out of Florida State was surprisingly cut after was signed to a three-year, $1.7 million contract. I believe Davis’ size (smallish linebacker listed generously at 5’9) was having a tough transition from being a hot shot at Florida State and then being asked to play special teams. He is the club’s highest draft pick to be cut during his rookie season since defensive lineman Darwin Walker, a third-rounder in 2000.

McCardell, who was signed just before training camp to bolster Houston’s receiving group was just too old (37). With the emergence of third-round pick WR/KR Jacoby Jones, McCardell was pushed out the door. Look for teams to take a look at McCardell if a veteran receiver goes down early. For his career McCardell has 861 catches for 11,117 yards and 62 TD’s in 198 games.

Former Steelers large DT 36-year old von Oelhoffen’s time in the NFL might also be over as he was released by the Jets. When I attended the Eagles-Jets game on Thursday, I didn’t hear big Kimo’s name called once. The Jets are going to go with free agent pickup Kenyon Coleman, who had a nice training camp.

Keep visiting BIGPLAY for more news on other cuts as we gear up for the NFL opener on September 6th.

Eagles Release Veteran MLB Trotter

(Philadelphia, PA) — In a move that was a surprise to some Eagles fans, the Philadelphia Eagles released former 4-time Pro Bowl Middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter (Drafted in ’98 from Stephen F. Austin in 3rd Rd) on Tuesday. The releasing of Trotter ended the tough outspoken linebacker’s time with a team that he sometimes had a hot and cold relationship with. Coach Andy Reid informed Trotter of his decision Monday night during an emotional meeting. And said of Trotter, “Jeremiah and I have been together for many years and he’s played a vital role in helping this team win a lot of football games”. Reid added “He developed himself into a Pro Bowl middle linebacker through a lot of hard work and desire. In my mind, he will always be a Philadelphia Eagle and I’m sure he feels the same way.”

I could act like I am surprised by the release, but in viewing Trotter at training camp earlier in this month, I could see that he was sometimes laboring. He had made the commitment to come back in 2007 in better shape after he was thoroughly outclassed in the NFC Divisional game versus the Saints, but a player evaluator who I respect and who was also at training camp with me on the sidelines gave the same evaluation. He remarked to me that day, “Trotter just doesn’t have the wheels anymore”. Trotter’s best season was in his first year as a starter in 1999 when he made the Pro Bowl and set a career high with 202 tackles.

I believe Trotter’s age (30), knees (had knee problems going back to college), the fact that he “wasn’t their guy” (Ray Rhodes Draftee and Eagles liked 1999 2nd rd pick Barry Gardner better), his candor (openly questioned the organization’s treatment of T.O), and the emergence of other players (Free Agent pickup Takeo Spikes and 2007 3rd Round Draft Pick Stewart Bradley) were all factors in the Eagles decision. The releasing today was not the first time that Trotter and the Eagles parted ways, because in 2001 the two sides had a very acrimonious parting after the Eagles placed the “franchise” tag on Trotter and then the player angrily complained about it to the point the team removed the tag and released him. Trotter didn’t hold back firing many parting shots out of the door. He resurfaced in Washington and after two unsuccessful years, the Redskins cut ties with him. Everything seemed forgotten by the Eagles in 2004 when Trotter tucked his tail and came back to the team and Andy Reid seeing that his prized 2nd Round pick Barry Gardner could not get it done, kissed and made up with Trotter signing a one-year contract at the veteran minimum. Of course the Eagles still wanted to show Trotter who was boss by having him backup underachiever Mark Simoneau in the pre-season and training camp until they saw that they could no longer leave the Pro Bowler on the bench. Trotter miraculously went from special teams to the Pro Bowl and Eagles came within 3 points of winning Super Bowl XXXIX against the Patriots. The good feelings did not last for long as the Eagles had a very public divorce with wide receiver Terrell Owens in 2005 and Trotter was one of the few players that openly supported Owens. After the jettisoning of Owens, Trotter seemed to always have a bull-eye on his play.

In 2006, despite the Eagles lightness at the defensive tackle position, you constantly heard whispers that the team’s inability to stop the run (allowed an average of 136 yards per game) was directly linked to Trotter at middle linebacker. Trotter’s and the defense’s woes came bubbling to the surface in the playoffs when the Saints dominated the Eagles running for over 200 yards and having a 10 minute edge in time of possession. Trotter in particularly had a tough time in coverage allowing Saints TE Billy Miller to look like Tony Gonzalez. The Eagles knew that their defense needed to change and they calculated that the linebacking play of Matt McCoy, Jeremiah Trotter, and Dhani Jones was going to be the area that they concentrated on re-working in the off-season. Jones was cut, McCoy was relegated to a backup role and is on the bubble to make the team, and now Trotter (112 TKLS, 0 Sacks, and 1 INT in ’06) has been released.

The Eagles will move forward with their new revamped linebacking unit with youngsters Omar Gaither (5th Rd Pick in ’06), Stewart Bradley, Chris Gcong (3rd Rd pick in ’06), and veteran Takeo Spikes leading the way. Expect Bradley and Gaither to compete for the open middle linebacker spot. 

Look for Trotter to get some looks from the Carolina Panthers, New England Patriots, and Tampa Buccaneers.

HBO’s Hard Knocks Gets Another Character: Larry Johnson Gets His New Contract

(Philadelphia, Pa) — Just when the Chiefs (0-2 and struggling in pre-season) looked like they were going into the season with Michael Bennett, rookie Kolby Smith, recovering Priest Holmes and others at the running back position, they got a lift. The Chiefs announced that holdout running back Larry Johnson agreed to a six-year deal including a $19 million guarantee and joined the Kansas City Chiefs in front of the Hard Knocks cameras at practice on Tuesday. By ending a holdout that got acrimonious at times between Johnson, Chiefs GM Carl Peterson, and the Hunt Family, the Chiefs assured themselves that their workhorse would be on the field for their opener September 9th at the Houston Texans.

Johnson donning his #27 jersey surprised his teammates 45 minutes into practice and returned to chants of “Lar-ry! Lar-ry”. The dollars that Johnson signed for were not as much as the $21 Million guaranteed that LT got, but the Chiefs star wanted to be back with his teammates. One of the first things that Johnson had to do was sign a check for the 25 days he missed at $19,280 per day, meaning the holdout cost him about $357,000.

I have to give credit to Peterson and the Chiefs for giving Johnson such a large deal at age 27 and coming off an NFL record 416 carries last year while rushing for 1,789 yards. Running backs tend to slow down in their late 20’s and recent history has shown that next seasons have been injury riddled and non-productive for backs that have topped the 380 carry mark (Jamal Lewis in ‘03, Terrell Davis ‘98, and Jamal Anderson ’98).

During his holdout, Johnson was working out at a facility in Arizona and appeared to be in good shape. But you will never know how will respond after being away from the game for most of camp. Coach Herm Edwards said Johnson would not play in Thursday night’s exhibition game against New Orleans but would be fully ready by the season opener. Edwards said “He has about two weeks now (to get ready). We’ll see where we’re at. We’ll see where he’s at”. He added “We talked last night. He knows what I expect out of him. He needs to get his legs up underneath him. He’ll have enough time for that.”

The running game has been anemic to be nice this preseason as Bennett and Smith have not played well enough to make anyone forget Johnson. In their recent 11-10 loss to the Dolphins, the Chiefs rushed for only 61 yards even though the Dolphins held out several of their defensive starters.

After sitting behind Holmes in 2003 and 2004, LJ responded with two 1700 yard plus seasons and 37 TD’s on the ground. In his five year career Johnson has appeared in 48 games with 4205 yards rushing, a 4.7 yards per carry average, and 47 TD’s.

Ravens Beat Eagles 29-3: In an Ugly First Preseason Game

In a game that had all the fingerprints of the Eagles just being glad to not be at Lehigh University and them only doing the required of showing up, the Ravens thumped the Eagles 29-3 victory on Monday night at M&T Stadium. The Eagles did little to dispel cries from their fateful fans to improve upon their toughness as they were manhandled by the Ravens’ offense (157 yards rushing, 5.1 ypc) and defense (sacked Eagles quarterbacks 5 times). The Ravens took control early scoring on their first drive of the game as quarterback Steve McNair led them on 93 yard scoring drive of almost twelve minutes and the Ravens never looked back. After the game Ravens Head Coach Brian Billick was pleased saying, “”Really, really solid start. The things I’m most pleased about: One, no injuries. No. 2, no turnovers and only three penalties,” Billick said. “That’s pretty unique for a first preseason game. I was pretty pleased with the way the guys handled themselves in their first outing.”

Eagles fans please stay away from the Walt Whitman Bridge after going crazy over the Birds looking terrible and only scoring on a David Akers 23-yarder field goal late in the second quarter. Under Andy Reid the Eagles have typically not been that great in preseason going 12-21 with their best effort in 2001 going 2-1. In the Eagles defense, they used the game as an opportunity to get several younger players some live experience in game situations. Sure you never want to see your D-Line and O-Line get pushed around (remnants of the playoff loss to Saints ??), but the Eagles were without leaders quarterback Donovan McNabb, S Brian Dawkins, CB Lito Sheppard, and G Shawn Andrews. All were injured except McNabb, who was held out as a precaution as he recovers from his surgery on a torn ligament in his right knee on Nov. 28th. McNabb will make his preseason debut Friday night in Philadelphia’s second preseason game, at home against Carolina.

My star of the game was Ravens tough leader quarterback Steve McNair. The 34 year old veteran looked to have brought his “A” game, leading the Ravens to a touchdown on his only drive of the game going 6-for-8 for 73 yards, ending the 12 play span with a 6-yard TD pass to tight end Quinn Sypniewski. Willis McGahee, obtained during the off-season in a trade with Buffalo, also had a nice debut finishing with 20 yards on 4 carries including a nice 16-yard run in the initial series. McGahee also left with Steve McNair as did most of the offensive starters after they chewed up almost 12 minutes on their lengthy first quarter drive. McGahee said of his effort, “I still need to get comfortable with what the guys are doing up front. Other than that, it was good for a start.” Another bright spot for the Ravens was the play of spry kicker Matt Stover, the 39-year-old entering his 18th pro season, made all five field goal tries for the Ravens including two from 50 yards..

The Eagles did have a few bright spots despite playing against a blitz happy defense that they admittedly didn’t prepare to play against. Tight End Brent Celek looked the part of an NFL starter (see Leftovers) and the Eagles quarterbacks hung tough in the game.  McNabb’s backup, A.J. Feeley started the game and played in two series. He looked good spreading the ball around and finished with stats of 5-for-7 for 56 yards. Feeley almost put some points on the board as well leading the Eagles into field goal position including a nice 23-yard catch and run from Brian Westbrook, but long snapper Jon Dorenbos’ snap had to be dug out by holder Dirk Johnson, and David Akers missed wide right from 43 yards. Feeley said “It felt good. It’s the first game and you’re facing a pretty good defense in Baltimore”. He added “But you’ve got to move the chains and get more first downs and put points on the board.” The Eagles other quarterbacks Kelly Holcomb (7-for-9 for 75 yards) and Kevin Kolb (11-for-20 for 77 yards) both survived a hellacious rush and stood tall in the pocket.

I am sure the Eagles will work this week to improve on their pass blocking, blitz pick-up, and run defense before the Panthers come to town on Friday August 17th. The game will be the much-anticipated return of Donovan McNabb from his ACL injury that has kept him out of game situations since November of 2006. I know the team will want to keep him well protected and the fans should give him a warm reception. Any effort that the team puts forth on Friday will go a long way in helping them and their fans forget a lackluster effort in Baltimore in Monday night. It is no time to panic as fans can take solace in the fact that in the Eagles’ Super Bowl year of 2003-04 they only went 1-3 that preseason including a bad 24-6 loss to the New England Patriots in the opener.

Lloyd’s Leftovers

  • TE Brent Celek Impresses – The 2007 fifth round draft pick from Cincinnati has continued to show that he is a player. He has had one of the best training camps of any of the rookies and he definitely has eased the Eagles’ pain of not having LJ Smith (hernia). Celek blocked well and he really looks comfortable catching the ball and making players miss. Celek had four catches for 59 yards including the play of the game for the Eagles when backup quarterback Kelly Holcomb hit him with a short pass over the middle and Celek ran over and around defenders for a 30 yard gain to the Ravens 37 yard line.
  • Sav Rocca Takes a Lickin’ and Keeps on Ticking – Rocca showed his Australian rules football toughness by taking a huge “jacked up !!” hit from Ravens LB Antwan Barnes and living to talk about it on the sidelines. I thought the thirty something punter form down under did a great job punting. Rocca hits the ball with a “thump” every time and had a very good 48.3 ypp average. The battle between Rocca and Dirk Johnson should be a great story lines all preseason as Johnson was no slacker either. Johnson had two punts downed inside the 20 and had a 43.7 ypp average.
  • From the Bubble to I\R ?? – It looks like injuries unfortunately will place bubble players Moats and McDougle on the injured reserve list. Third string running back Ryan Moats, who was fighting for his spot on the roster was taken off the field on a cart with a gruesome looking fractured ankle. Andy Reid said after the game of Moats “He’s probably done for the season”. McDougle, who has been a “huge” disappointment since being drafted in the 1st round in 2003, suffered a strained triceps muscle. He left the game in the third quarter and never returned. He is scheduled to have an MRI this week to access the damage.
  • The Little Returner that Could – WR/KR Jeremy Bloom showed why the Eagles invested a 5th round pick on him in 2006. Though not very big at 5’9, Bloom runs with a fearless style that is exciting to watch. He had a healthy 14.5 yard punt return average on two returns including a cut back 19 yard return and 21.6 yard kickoff average (long of 26 yards). He also contributed on offense catching two passes for 16 yards.
  • Competition Brings out the best in the Eagles young linebackers – Chris Gocong, a third-round draftee in 2006 who missed his rookie season with a neck problem, got some good pressure on McNair on his first snap. He showed the explosiveness coming off the edge even though McNair was able to complete the pass to tight end Todd Heap. Gocong also showed that he is improving in open space making a good tackle of TE Sypniewski after a 3-yard gain. Gocong’s main competition at the SLB spot, Stewart Bradley also impressed leading the Eagles with 7 tackles and filling in well as the second unit’s MLB.