UT-NT

The boys are back as vets report to Eagles camp…Cliff Harris making impact…and a salute to Jimmy Kempski…

There was no afternoon practice on Wednesday…which may explain why Beano and I were going bananas trying to find it on PE.com live-stream video yesterday at 2:00 P.M. EST……

They did run some 11-on-11 and 7-on-7 drills in the morning, mostly with the defense way ahead of the offense at this point in camp… If you caught some of the TC video on NFLN last night, you saw some Eagles camp highlights of the Wednesday drills. It was mostly garbage time, as on many plays you could actually see the defensive pressure get to the QB (Vick, Kafka or Foles) before the pass was thrown. But since you cannot touch the guy in the Red Shirt (i.e., QB), the play was allowed to proceed without an actual hurry or sack…

Bottom line— nothing can be concluded about anything the defense or offense showed yesterday—nothing. At that point in the TC evolution, it is really about just learning to line up in the right place on the right signal. Good experience for the rookies and free agents…

But now, the game changes— the Boyz are back in town… veterans have reported…and now the drills get serious…

TrentColeisback
All-Pro defensive end Trent Cole arrives at camp on Wednesday, toting his patio furniture?

Atlantic City Press’ David Weinberg was there to observe the Eagles vets arriving to Bethlehem:

“Eagles’ training camp doesn’t really begin until the caravan of Cadillac Escalades, Hummer H2s and Mercedes sedans start rolling into the Sayre Park dormitories at Lehigh University.”

“This year’s parade unfolded Wednesday, when the veterans weaved their way through the mountain roads, pulled into the parking lot and unloaded HDTVs, state-of-the-art video game systems and hyperbaric chambers for their three-week stay.”

‘”I saw (Eagles defensive ends) Trent Cole and Jason Babin carrying those things and I was messing with those guys,” Eagles defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins said with a laugh. “I don’t even know what a hyperbaric chamber is or what it does. I’m going to stick with my air-conditioning and my TV. I’m going into my ninth (NFL) season, so obviously I must be doing something right.” ‘

Funny stuff if you ask me…

Other, more subtle differences were apparent on Wednesday. Although veterans were not required to report until 7 p.m., virtually every player was in their suite by 3 p.m. Last year, training camp got off to a rocky start. Some players reported immediately after the NFL lockout ended while newcomers such as cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, running back Ronnie Brown and quarterback Vince Young arrived a few days later and had to wait to be cleared before they could begin practicing. “Having everybody here is a plus, just from a continuity and team camaraderie standpoint,” Reid said Wednesday. “There are less distractions, so I think (having everybody at camp Wednesday) is an absolute plus.”

Which brings us to Cliff Harris, who has been the defensive rookie of the week so far, with a bunch of picks and defensed passes in the first few days of drills… but who has not seen a real-time tackling and coverage scenario in over a year due to a suspension from his alma mater… Now he’s got to show up against the veteran receivers, blockers, runners and passers in hard-times, hard knocks, fully padded scrimmages come this weekend.

I’ll hold my breath on predicting Harris as a final roster survivor until I see him work against the veteran Boy Dogz…

CliffHarriscamp

Cliff Harris is holding his own out there so far at cornerback…but as I suggested, he has yet to be subjected to a real-time NFL test… No doubt the Eagles coaches are planning to put major challenges in his grill when the practices goe to full contact, and he’s got to cover and tackle A-Team guys…

In defense of Harris, one of the raps against him is he is “merely” 4.6 speed in the ’40…  And I’m here to tell ya his speed number is irrelevant to his ability to cover an NFL receiver…

A cornerback’s  angle to the ball allows him to make plays, drive on routes and be a factor in the run game. Rookies will often struggle here as they transition to the speed of the NFL in camp. So far all I see in Harris is a natural ability to size up the correct angle to the ball…

According to Matt Bowen (former NFL safety), Harris plays with a low pad level and explodes out of his plant…you want to see a DB that plays with low pad level, doesn’t use any wasted steps and explodes out of his plant with speed. Check out individual drills and focus on the “W” drill (backpedal and plant—creating a “W”). This has nothing to do with a ’40 time or a short shuttle drill. Be quick with your feet, stay square and show a burst when you come downhill. Harris seems to have that stuff down…

Harris seems to show the intelligence and instincts necessary to cover one-on-one as well as zone…Even though Harris has had some INT’s in the camp drills so far, you want to look for technique and route recognition over interceptions. Can the CB or safety drive to the upfield shoulder, keep his cushion in off-man, use his hands and mirror the release in press, turn and run vs. the 9 (fade) route, play the ball at the highest point, etc. Technique, footwork and the ability to understand where routes break on the field (12-15 yards outside of the 3-step game). That’s how you grade one-on-ones. So far, Harris grades out pretty well… but the real-time challenge is about to come when the pads go on, and he’s lined up against guys like DJax and Maclin…

Speaking of coverage, I want to give a shout-out of support and applause for Jimmy Kempski, the poster-boy for NFC-East bloggers whose work you can enjoy at Blogging the bEast.com …. Jimmy is up there in Bethlehem, PA, on his own dime, and posting back inside stuff to us daily about Eagles training camp and the NFC East in general.  ATV and Jerky turned me on to Jimmy K’s work, and even inspired me to donate $50 to his cause as ATV has done (donation box located on Jimmy’s website).  Unless Jimmy is independently wealthy or he sleeps in his car, I don’t see how he can afford to do what he does…since his site carries no advertising… but his material is original and refreshing.

One thing Jimmy K. has already taught me (and which ATV aka Chris called to my attention)—  We need to be careful about automatically assuming that Fletcher Cox “replaces” Mike Patterson in the DT rotation…

Here’s why:
At quick glance, the Eagles are seemingly very deep at DT:

Pos 1 2 3 4
NT Mike Patterson Antonio Dixon Derek Landri Ollie Ogbu
UT Cullen Jenkins Fletcher Cox Cedric Thornton

However, there are two DT positions in the Eagles defense, the UT and the NT.  They are different.  The Eagles like to line up the NT in the gap between the C and the G.  It’s his job to shoot that gap and be disruptive enough that the offense has to double him.  The Eagles go three deep at NT: Mike Patterson, Antonio Dixon, and Derek Landri.  The UT, meanwhile, typically lines up on the outside shoulder of the other G.  The idea is for the UT to get one-on-one matchups with the G, while also forcing one-on-one matchups with the DE on the OT.  You want your UT to have some good pass rushing ability.  That’s the position that Cullen Jenkins plays.  Behind Jenkins, the Eagles have first round pick Fletcher Cox, and player they really like in Cedric Thornton.

Here’s what Jimmy K.’s talking about.  Patterson (the NT) is circled in red.  Jenkins (the UT) is circled in blue.  Note their alignment:

As Jimmy K. notes, Cox and Patterson actually are slotted to play different positions with different responsibilities, even though they are both called “Tackle” positions… so it’s not an automatic substitution. Derek Landri was a stud when he got his opportunities last season at Patterson’s spot, but Antonio Dixon is a bit of a question mark after missing almost all of last season with a torn triceps.  There is also a possibility that Fletcher Cox could be so good that he can play either spot, but that remains to be seen.  Either way, Patterson’s absence most certainly eats into the Eagles’ depth along the DL.

I also like Jimmy K.’s visual illustration here… it really gives you a panoramic sense of the size of the gaps in a real-time NFL formation.

Thomas Jackson

About Thomas Jackson

Jax Sports Media has been reporting on NFL teams in the mid-Atlantic region since 2006. Thomas Jackson is its senior writer. Tom started covering the Philadelphia Eagles for the MVN Network in 2007. In 2009 he joined the Bloguin Network. He now also covers the Baltimore Ravens.

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