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Didinger: Eaglesí draft signifies end of an era

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#1 herbicide


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Posted 01 May 2011 - 07:56 PM


Didinger: Eaglesí draft signifies end of an era

Sunday, May 1, 2011
Posted: 6:34 p.m.

By Ray Didinger

The Eagles 2011 draft was a foreshadowing. It signaled the end of an era and a likely shift in philosophy. It was promising on some levels and puzzling on others.

With the drafting of Temple safety Jaiquawn Jarrett (second round) and Nebraska kicker Alex Henery (fourth), the Eagles likely erased Quintin Mikell and David Akers from the teamís future. The last two links to the team that came out of the tunnel at Super Bowl XXIX are now all but gone.

Thatís the way of professional football, but it doesnít mean there still isnít some sadness attached, especially when the players in question have the character and class of Mikell and Akers. They arrived in Philadelphia as free agents Ė Mikell as an undrafted college player, Akers after being cut by Washington Ė and both contributed to the Eagles success under Andy Reid.

But clearly the Eagles determined they needed to get younger and more physical in the secondary so they drafted Jarrett, who will almost certainly succeed Mikell at strong safety. Mikell, 30, is a free agent and if he didnít have his bags packed prior to last week, he has them packed now.

Akers sensed this coming as far back at January. After he missed two field goals in the playoff loss to Green Bay, Akers choked with emotion as he told reporters: ďItís not the way I wanted to go out as an Eagle.Ē

At the time, I thought it was just the disappointment of the moment. I really didnít think the Eagles would part ways with the best kicker in franchise history. Akers was 36, but he was coming off a Pro Bowl season in which he converted 32 of 38 field goal attempts and established a career high with 23 touchbacks.

But when the Eagles offered Akers the transition tender rather than signing him to an extension and Akers chose to become a free agent, it was clear the team and the player were moving in different directions. Their decision to spend a fourth-round draft pick on another kicker said all that needed to be said.

I think itís a mistake. Akers is still one of the best kickers in the league and Henery is an unproven commodity. Henery had an outstanding college career, but kicking in the pros is a whole different kind of pressure. Akers did it successfully for a dozen years with the Eagles and he wasnít showing signs of slippage. This could be a decision that comes back to bite them.

We saw a shift in philosophy on the offensive line. Last year, the Eagles had 13 draft picks and did not take a single O-lineman. This year, the Eagles had 11 picks and took three offensive linemen, including their top selection, guard Danny Watkins.

Call it the Howard Mudd effect.

When Mudd allowed Reid to coax him out of retirement to coach the Eaglesí offensive line, you can be sure it came with certain conditions. No doubt he insisted on having a say in personnel. One of the most respected line coaches in the game, Mudd would not have left his comfy couch if he thought he would be forced to work with material other people selected for him.

Mudd had a strong voice in his 12 years as a coach in Indianapolis and it served him well as the Colts posted the winningest decade in NFL history (115-45). He built his lines with players who were smart and athletic. Unlike other teams, the Colts did not build their line with 350-pound road graders. Their linemen were quick and versatile and adept at zone blocking.

I donít think it is any coincidence that with their first draft pick, the Eagles selected an eager-to-learn kid like Watkins, who will absorb Muddís teaching like a sponge. Nor do I think it is a coincidence the Eagles used back-to-back picks on Julian Vandervelde and Jason Kelce, linemen who are undersized but nimble afoot. Verdervelde (6-2, 300) is an academic All-America from Iowa and Kelce (6-3, 280) ran the fastest 40-yard dash amongst offensive lineman at the scouting combine (4.9 seconds).

For a decade, the Eagles collected hulking linemen, the bigger the better. But in Muddís offense, wide-bodied guys like Nick Cole and Max Jean-Gilles donít really fit. He wants linemen who can trap and lead stretch plays, as well as get downfield on screens. Watkins, Verdervelde and Kelce fit that profile.

Of course, the three rookies have to prove themselves. The undersized guy can be too undersized and Verdervelde, a guard, and Kelce, a center, are right on that line. Jeff Saturday is 6-2 and 285 pounds, almost the same size as Kelce, and he has been the Colts center since 2000. But even Howard Mudd canít turn every center into Jeff Saturday. We have to wait and see if these new kids on the block really can block.

As for the rest of the draft, I think Curtis Marsh, the cornerback from Utah State, was a reach in the third round. He is a good athlete with size (6-0, 197), but he is a converted running back who is still learning the footwork and fundamentals of playing defense. He is a bit of a project.

Casey Matthews has great bloodlines Ė his grandfather, father and brother (all named Clay Matthews) have NFL pedigrees Ė but he isnít his brother. Clay is bigger (6-3, 250) and more explosive than Casey (6-1, 230) and, in Green Bay, Clay has the perfect system to showcase his talents as a pass rusher. Casey was an inside linebacker at Oregon, but he probably will transition to an outside linebacker here. It wonít happen overnight.

Dion Lewis, a 5-7 change-of-pace back from Pitt, and Stanley Havili, a 6-0, 230-pound fullback from Southern Cal, provide depth. Havili is insurance in case Leonard Weaver is unable to comeback from his knee surgery. Havili is a better runner and receiver than a blocker, but his soft hands and ability to turn the corner make him similar to Weaver, who can play both running back and fullback.

Sixth-round pick Brian Rolle could be a pleasant surprise. He too is undersized at 5-9 5/8 229 pounds, but he was a productive linebacker at Ohio State. He is always around the ball (117 tackles last season) and when I saw him play I was impressed by how well he covered receivers. He can run with a tight end in man-to-man coverage and in a zone, he is good at reading the quarterbackís eyes and breaking on the ball.

Rolle played in the middle at Ohio State, but he could play weakside linebacker in the pros and, considering the Eagles other options are Moise Fokou, Akeem Jordan and Omar Gaither, he could climb the depth chart in a hurry. Rolle reminds me of the late Sam Mills and thatís high praise.

Greg Lloyd, Jr., is the son of the former Pittsburgh Steelers star. He is still trying to work his way back from a severe 2009 knee injury. The Eagles just took a flier on him in the seventh round. It is a long shot, but at least it is good to see them adding some new blood to the linebacker corps.

The Eagles went into this draft looking for improvement on the defensive line and, in a year when everyone raved about all the great linemen on the board, the Eagles came up empty. It was also clear they needed a cornerback, yet the one they drafted (Marsh) will need a lot of work before he is ready to play. Those decisions could come back to haunt the Eagles.

It is hard to criticize Watkins, a solid player, but to draft him the Eagles passed on Cameron Jordan, who could have really helped the pass rush. In the fourth round, they drafted a kicker when they could have taken Karl Klug, another pass rusher, or a cornerback like Brandon Burton or Rashad Carmichael, both of whom were still on the board.

The Eagles got some good players, but they also made some curious decisions that left them with a lot of holes to fill.

E-mail Ray Didinger at viewfromthehall@comcast.net

#2 austinfan


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Posted 01 May 2011 - 09:06 PM

Uh, Ray, get a grip.

Jordan is not a great pass rusher, he's a "5" technique DE.
Klug is an undersized try hard guy, he's not going to be out Laws as the designated pass rushing DT.