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Month: June 2016

Throwback Thursday: Sheldon Brown

Throwback Thursday: Sheldon Brown

Nnamdi Asomugha. Byron Maxwell. Cary Williams. Bradley Fletcher. Mention any one of those names to a Philadelphia sports fan and you’re likely to see a look of disdain, discomfort and disgust. The cornerback position has been largely underwhelming, to put it kindly, for the Eagles the last half-decade. Big-name free agent signings that were downright disappointing seem to have defined a pass defense that’s been inconsistent at best and horrific at worst. Who could forget Nnamdi’s legendary arm tackles or the time an Arizona tight end carried Byron Maxwell on his back like Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back?

The cornerback position hasn’t always been that bleak in Philadelphia though. In fact, there was a time when the Eagles possessed arguably the league’s best secondary year in and year out. Names like Troy Vincent, Bobby Taylor, Lito Sheppard and Asante Samuel all cemented their place in the hearts of millions of Eagles fans. When I look back at Philadelphia’s cornerbacks and the tremendous success they’ve had, however, there’s one man that, to me, truly embodied the hard-hitting nature of the legendary Jim Johnson’s defense. That man is Sheldon Brown.

Born in Chester County, South Carolina on March 19, 1979, Sheldon Brown’s love of sports began at a young age and by the time he graduated high school, Brown had made a name for himself in both football and baseball. Opting to stay rooted in his home state, he attended the University of South Carolina where he excelled as one of the Southeastern Conference’s best defensive backs, twice earning All-SEC honors. After four years at USC, Sheldon Brown declared for the NFL Draft hoping to further capitalize on his college success.

At the time of the 2002 NFL Draft, the Philadelphia Eagles were coming off an unexpected and impressive Championship game appearance and appeared to be poised for a Super Bowl run heading into the next season. While third-year quarterback Donovan McNabb was the face of the franchise, the defense was the pulse to which the team’s heart beat. Sprinkled with Pro Bowl talent, the Eagles secondary seemed to be set for the most part, with veterans Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor anchoring the ascending unit. Despite their sustained success, Eagles Head Coach, Andy Reid, sought to be proactive with the cornerback position by investing high draft picks in it, especially when taking into consideration Vincent and Taylor’s age (31 and 28, respectively). So with the 59th pick in the 2002 Draft, the Philadelphia Eagles selected South Carolina’s own, Sheldon Brown.

Sheldon Brown, in many ways, entered a perfect situation. Unlike many rookie cornerbacks that are immediately thrust into the fire against the game’s top receivers, Brown benefited from the mentorship of Vincent and Taylor while mostly contributing on special teams. By the time the 2004 season began, Sheldon Brown was awarded the starting role – a role he would embrace and solidify for years to come. Through his first three seasons as a starting cornerback, Brown collected a total of 8 interceptions (two of which were returned for touchdowns) and developed a reputation as a physical, fundamentally sound, shutdown CB.

While Brown was viewed as a key cog in a stellar secondary, he had yet to make his name known nationally. That was until “The Hit” happened. It’s so permanently etched in my mind, I remember the exact moment I witnessed it, and the adrenaline rush that followed immediately thereafter, like it was yesterday. The date was January 13, 2007 and the red-hot “Cinderella” Eagles were riding a six game win streak into the divisional round of the playoffs in New Orleans. Early in the game, Saints quarterback Drew Brees lofted a swing pass to rookie sensation Reggie Bush with the intent of getting the young playmaker in open space. Sheldon Brown, anticipating the pass, violently charged towards Bush and BOOM! Bush, in an effort to show he could shake off such a collision, quickly jumped up, but the pain proved to be too much. He slowly dropped to the ground and began crawling towards the huddle. Sheldon Brown was now a household name.

Brown’s career continued to flourish in Philadelphia. 2007-2009 saw Brown deliver more of the violent hits he had become known for (his hit on Steven Jackson in the 2008 opener is among the best), while also managing to intercept 9 more passes in the process. After the end of the 2009 season, however, it was clear the organization was prepared to move in a different direction after Brown’s request for a new contract fell on deaf ears. Thus, he was traded to the Cleveland Browns after 8 memorable years with the franchise.

Although he never made a Pro Bowl, Sheldon Brown also never missed a game for the Eagles after becoming a starter in 2004. It’s often been said that “the best ability is durability” and Brown proved that on a consistent basis throughout his Philadelphia tenure. He finished his Eagles career with 19 interceptions but will always be remembered as the dependable and dangerous defensive back that could decimate an opponent at any time.

Throwback Thursday: Mike Mamula 

Throwback Thursday: Mike Mamula 

Bust: the prospect that never truly reached their potential. Whether it be due to injury, off-the-field foolishness or simply failing to transition from the college to professional level, the NFL has certainly seen its fair share of busts over the past several decades. Names like Ki-Jana Carter, Ryan Leaf and Jamarcus Russell all invoke awkward memories relevant to the reasons rookies never pan out. But what about that highly drafted player that does just enough to leave folks asking 20 years later “was he worth it?”

Mike Mamula will always be an interesting footnote when reflecting on the history of the Philadelphia Eagles. The former Boston College defensive end finished his senior season in 1994 with an impressive 17 sacks. What was more impressive than anything, however, was how Mamula intended on approaching and preparing for the series of events leading up to the 1995 NFL Draft.

By the mid-1990’s, professional football’s popularity was at an all-time high. Gone were the days of just watching games in the Fall and Winter. With the emergence and soap opera-worthy drama of free agency, the growing spectacle that the draft was evolving into, and the larger-than-life personalities that now represented the league, it was painfully evident that any and everything to do with the NFL was worth covering in great detail. The league’s annual scouting combine, an event that serves as a means for representatives of each team to evaluate draft prospects in a standardized setting, also benefited from this increased coverage.

While the combine had been around for over a decade by 1995, the various series of drills featured was not something prospects rigorously prepared for at the time. The general consensus was that good football players were simply good football players, regardless of the amount of reps they could bench press or how high they could jump, so when Mike Mamula set his sights on mastering every aspect of every test he would encounter at the event, he was, in many ways, venturing into uncharted territory. His plan was simple: specifically prepare for and simulate every drill hundreds of times over.

By the time the combine arrived in February, the results were spectacular. Mamula jumped higher than defensive backs, benched more than top ranked offensive tackles (including 3x All Pro, Tony Boselli) and scored an outstanding 49 on the Wonderlic test. This, combined with his 4.58 40 yard dash time at a staggering 6’4 248 lbs., opened the eyes of countless General Managers across the league. Initially viewed as a potential 2nd-to-3rd round talent, Mamula’s consummate combine essentially made him an overnight prodigy with a first-round projection. The question was just how high did the workout warrior’s stock rise and who would be willing to take a chance?

Heading into the 1995 Draft, the Philadelphia Eagles were fresh off one of their more disappointing seasons in recent memory. The team started the season off 7-2, only to finish 7-9, fired their Head Coach and were now two full seasons removed from the departure of Reggie White to the Green Bay Packers. Desperately hoping to recapture Reggie’s magic, the Eagles dealt the 12th overall draft pick and two 2nd round picks to Tampa Bay for the 7th overall selection and a pick later in the 3rd round. With the 7th pick, the Eagles selected none other than Mike Mamula, the presumed successor to the incomparable Reggie White.

Mamula’s professional career started off rather promising. Through his first two seasons, he amassed a total of 13.5 sacks and was considered a key piece in a young, up-and-coming defense. Despite an underwhelming campaign in 1997 and a right knee injury in a 1998 preseason game (that forced him to miss the entire regular season), Mamula returned to full form in 1999 and eclipsed his previous single-season sack total with 8.5. He even managed to score a touchdown on an interception of NFL MVP, and eventual Super Bowl MVP, Kurt Warner to close out Philadelphia’s ’99 season. Unfortunately, for both Mamula and the Eagles, the 2000 season would not be as promising. After suffering a number of critical injuries, he was forced to retire at the early age of 28.

So how, one might ask, does a player that had 31.5 sacks in five fairly productive seasons come to be labeled a bust? Some would point to the fact that the Eagles traded a number of valuable picks to move up for a guy that had to retire before turning 30. Most choose to overlook Mamula entirely and focus their attention on who the Eagles didn’t draft when they exchanged picks with Tampa Bay. That would be eventual Hall-of-Famer, Warren Sapp. To make matters worse, Tampa Bay used Philadelphia’s two 2nd round picks to move back into the first round and select another eventual Hall of Fame inductee, Derrick Brooks.

I get it. The Eagles essentially passed on two legends to draft Mike freakin’ Mamula. It is very important to remember, however, that the Eagles’ intention at the time was to add a dynamic pass rusher to fill the void left by Reggie White. Taking this into consideration, it is safe to assume that even if the Eagles didn’t trade up for Mamula, they still probably wouldn’t have drafted Sapp with the 12th pick. Who they likely would have ended up with was Florida State defensive end, Derrick Alexander. Alexander, by comparison, was drafted 11th overall and finished with only 20 sacks in his short-lived career. That’s the thing about the draft: you never truly know until you know.

Looking back 20 years later, was Mike Mamula a perennial Hall of Fame-talent or the 2nd coming of Reggie White? Absolutely not. What he was, however, was a productive player that deserves to be remembered for more than just changing the way players approach the combine.

Film Room: Lane Johnson, Left Tackle

Film Room: Lane Johnson, Left Tackle

Many football analysts will rightly point out that NFL defenses now line up their best rusher on either side of the line so a right tackle is theoretically just as important as a left tackle.

I disagree with this for two reasons. Firstly, most quarterbacks in the NFL are right handed and you do not want your quarterback taking hits from his blindside. If your right tackle is having a bad game, at least your quarterback has a better chance of seeing the pressure and avoiding it or getting rid of the ball. If your left tackle is getting killed however, your quarterback is in trouble. Secondly, the tight end is normally lined up next to the right tackle, meaning it’s easier to help him out in pass protection.

Lane Johnson recently got paid like a starting left tackle but he won’t be playing there until Jason Peters is eventually cut or retires. As Peters missed so many games last year, we got to see Johnson play left tackle on a few occasions.

I went back and watched every snap Johnson played at left tackle for this piece. However, I’m only posting clips from the Cowboys game as I had more than enough clips from that one game. It was a fascinating game to watch as Johnson had to face a very talented pass rusher in Greg Hardy. I hate Hardy as much as all of you do too, but I was worried that the narrative that ‘Johnson destroyed Hardy’ probably began because people really wanted to believe it to be true.

I’ll post a few clips from the Cowboys game so I can break down Lane Johnson and whether I think he can be a star at left tackle in the future for the Eagles. As usual, I can’t post clips of every play so I normally post an example of something I see routinely.

Let’s get to the film!

 

 

This is a great play to start with. Johnson gets into his pass set really quickly which is important, after doing that he gets his hands on Greg Hardy’s chest and pushes him backwards which completely halts Hardy’s momentum. Hardy tries to respond with a counter move but Johnson uses his hands well. This is a nice play by Johnson and it shows the strength of his initial punch. 

 

This is a play that shows off Johnson’s athleticism, his feet move quickly and despite Hardy getting a really quick get off Johnson manages to stay with him. His technique isn’t perfect here but he knows the ball is coming out of Bradford’s hands quickly so he doesn’t have to worry about the counter move too much. On another note, good catch Josh Huff! 

 

I really like this play, Hardy is lined up quite wide but Johnson just goes straight after him. Pause the clip when Johnson initiates contact with Hardy and look at Dennis Kelly at right tackle. Kelly is letting the rusher come on to him whereas Johnson is taking on Hardy instantly. Both ways can work but I love offensive lineman who dominate personally, it’s why I loved breaking down the tape on Brandon Brooks (you can read that here). Johnson gets both his hands perfectly on Hardy’s chest and Hardy tries to win with a bull rush but Johnson is too strong. 

 

Here’s Johnson doing the opposite to the last clip, here he doesn’t initiate contact but when Hardy gets near him he gets a strong punch to his chest. Johnson does get knocked back here but he’s got a decent pass set and he keeps his head up which means he doesn’t fall backwards and is able to stand his ground against a fierce bull rush. 

 

This is a great block. Johnson gets into his pass set quickly and his technique is really solid, he keeps his head up and uses his arms well to strike Hardy in his chest. Hardy tries to rip his hand and get round the edge but Johnson has the athleticism and quick footwork to prevent him from doing so. Hardy simply cannot get Johnson’s hands off his chest here which is impressive. The way he keeps his feet moving through Hardy’s initial contact is really good and he uses his long arms well. 

 

Here Johnson gets beat by Hardy, his biggest problem is that he lunges forward and drops his head when trying to strike Hardy. Hardy is too good not to capitalize on this and he easily swims past Johnson, leaving him to block air. Luckily for Johnson, Bradford gets the ball out quickly but he gets beat pretty bad here. 

 

On the last play, Johnson got beat badly and should have given up a sack. Here he gives up a sack but I’m not sure he’s entirely at fault. When the defense are running a stunt like this, the left tackle and left guard need to communicate better so they can swap who they’re blocking, assuming this is how the Eagles are coached to deal with stunts. This highlights why it can be hard for a right tackle to simply swap to left tackle, it helps when an offensive line have played together for a while. 

 

Final play I’ll show of Johnson pass blocking, here he gets beat by Hardy’s use of hands and he ends up lunging forward and blocking air. For most lineman, once they lunge like this and get nowhere the play is dead. Johnson isn’t like most lineman though, he’s ridiculously athletic. Despite getting completely beat here, he just about manages to recover and get his hands on Hardy again which gives Bradford an extra half a second to get the ball out. Not many offensive lineman have the athleticism to recover after getting so badly beat like this. 

 

Let’s move on to some clips of Johnson run blocking seeing as that is his real strength. Here again he gets pushed back by Hardy but keeps his balance and doesn’t let go of Hardy’s chest and it leads to a huge hole for Murray to exploit. 

 

This is a great block, he really does move Hardy back by getting his hands on his chest early and keeping his legs moving whilst initiating contact and gets a great blocking angle which enables him to completely take Hardy out of the play. 

 

Johnson gets beat here, but I wanted to show this play because I think it’s a great example of a major issue with Chip Kelly’s offense. I think Chip’s offense in 2015 made certain offensive lineman look worse because it asked them to make really difficult blocks. When you can’t audible at the line, you’re committed to running a certain play even if the defensive front isn’t what you were expecting. Also, defensive lineman seemed to know what play was coming quite often and this makes it even harder to block them. Johnson can’t block 95 here but I’m not really sure if he really has a chance, the angle he has to take here makes this block extremely difficult. I’m not the only one who noticed this either. 

 

Back to the good stuff, this is a lovely block. He initiates contact well and literally moves the Cowboys defender back with ease. Even after pushing him back, he isn’t satisfied and he really finishes aggressively and well here. You just have to love plays like this. 

 

Let’s end on another good play, here he takes a good angle and just drives the Cowboys defensive tackle to the ground. The last two clips show how he’s a very aggressive run blocker and he really does want to finish the plays well. 

Overall

Considering this was Lane Johnson’s first game at left tackle all season, he handled himself pretty well. It can’t be easy to suddenly switch to left tackle midway through the season after practicing at right tackle all season. Having to face Greg Hardy isn’t easy either, despite being an idiot he’s a really good player. Sadly he didn’t ‘destroy’ Greg Hardy but very few left tackles do and it was Johnson’s first game there all season.

I have no fears about Johnson being the Eagles future left tackle, he’s good enough to play there already. His run blocking is excellent, he can sustain blocks well and can generate push on a consistent basis. Sometimes he takes a poor angle but it’s hard to know if that’s his fault or whether the defense knew what was coming. He has long arms and he uses them well to strike the defensive lineman in the chest both in the run game and when pass protecting.

His pass protection has flaws but for the most part it looked pretty good. When he tried to strike the opponent and initiate contact he would occasionally lunge forward and his head would fall forward which would cause him to lose balance. This makes him an easy target for swim or rip moves and defensive lineman were able to strike him off balance and get around him.

However, his freakish athleticism and long arms also let him recover when he gets beat which is something very few players can do. Obviously in an ideal world he would never get beat, but this is never going to happen and the way he can regain his balance after being beat is impressive. Although his technique can be questionable at times, for the most part he gets into a strong pass set very quickly and has really good foot quickness. He plays with a good pad level and is able to mirror pass rushers off the edge and stop them from getting the corner.

I would have absolutely no problem with the Eagles moving on from Jason Peters at the end of the season and letting Lane Johnson take over. Johnson will probably have some bad games at times but for the most part he should be really solid. He’s still only 26 years old and he didn’t play much as an offensive lineman until late into his career which means he should still be progressing. If he continues to improve he could develop into one of the NFLs premier left tackles, but he still has a way to go before he’s at that level.

If you like these film room posts, I have other ones on the site on a number of different players and feel free to follow the blog or follow me on twitter (@JonnyPage9).

Looking Around at the (bad) NFC East

Looking Around at the (bad) NFC East

It’s the offseason and it’s about that time where teams start feeling good about where they’re headed going into a brand new season. This player looks great. A bad defense from a year ago looks improved. Average players are hyped to be killing it in camp. Blah blah blah.

I wanted to take a look at the NFC East and how the Cowboys, Giants and Redskins are looking heading into the 2016 season and beyond. Below are random facts/stats with no particular motive other than to highlight things that are bad, and not good regarding each team in the NFC East.

First up, “America’s Team.”

DALLAS COWBOYS:

  • Tony Romo enters the 2016 season 36 years old.
  • Tony Romo is Recovering from back surgery and a fractured collarbone in 2015.
  • Tony Romo is set to make $20.8 million in 2016, which is the 8th highest of all QB’s in the NFL.
  • Tony Romo has a 2-4 record in the playoffs.
  • In the 4 games Tony Romo did play in 2015, he threw 5 TD’s 7 INT’s and just 884 yards.
  • Demarcus Lawrence led the Cowboys in sacks in 2015 with 8. Lawrence is suspended the first 4 games for violating the league’s drug policy.
  • Randy Gregory, a 2015 2nd round pick is also suspended the first 4 games of 2016 for violating the NFL’s drug policy.
  • Greg Hardy was 2nd on the Cowboys in sacks in 2015, he is a free agent.
  • Two possible starting options are rookie DE Charles Tapper, who had 13.5 career sacks at Oklahoma and 2nd year DE Ryan Russell, who has 0 career sacks.
  • Brandon Carr has a cap hit of $10.2 million in 2016, that’s the 9th highest mark of all NFL CB’s.
  • PFF ranked Carr 55th out of 114 qualified CB’s in 2015.
  • The Cowboys entire defense in 2015 had 71 total QB pressures. Fletcher Cox alone had 77 in 2015.
  • The Cowboys selected RB Ezekiel Elliott in the draft over DB Jalen Ramsey, who some see as a once-in-a-generation-type-player.
  • The Cowboys’ have a record of 128-128 since the year 2000.

 

NEW YORK GIANTS:

  • Eli Manning has a cap hit of $24.2 million. That’s the 2nd highest cap hit of all QB’s.
  • Eli Manning is 35 years old and will be 38 by the time his contract expires.
  • The Giants signed DE Olivier Vernon to a 5-year $85 million dollar contract in free agency.
  • In 2015, Vinny Curry in 426 snaps had 34 QB pressures. Olivier Vernon had 41 QB pressures in 943 snaps.
  • Olivier Vernon got $52.5 million IN GUARANTEED MONEY. Vinny Curry signed a 5-year $47 million deal this offseason. (LOL)
  • Ereck Flowers, who the Giants selected 9th overall in 2015, allowed the most QB hurries of all OT’s in the NFL last season.
  • Only 2 QB’s were hit more than Eli manning last season.
  • Pro Football Focus has been running since 2007, Ereck Flowers in 2015 was the lowest graded tackle they’ve ever graded in pass protection.
  • PFF graded out 88 safeties in pass coverage in 2015, Landon Collins, the Giants’ 2nd round selection in 2015, ranked dead last. 88/88.
  • Since 2008, the Giants have faced the Eagles 17 times. The Giants have went 4-13 in those meetings.

 

WASHINGTON REDSKINS:

  • The Washington Redskins are paying CB Chris Culliver $9.25 million dollars in 2016.
  • Chris Culliver is currently a free agent.
  • The Redskins signed Josh Norman to a 5-year, $75 million dollar contract in free agency. Norman will be 32 by the time his contract expires.
  • Redskins’ 2016 first round pick Josh Doctson is 7 months older than Eagles’ 2015 1st round pick WR Nelson Agholor.
  • Josh Norman’s cap hit in 2017 is $20 million. That would rank 9th highest among QB cap hits in 2017.
  • Kirk Cousins is being paid $19.9 million in 2016. That’s the 9th highest among all NFL QB’s.
  • Kirk Cousins has never beat a team with a record above .500.
  • Kirk Cousins and the Redskins will face 6 teams that reached the postseason in 2015.
  • The Redskins won the NFC East in 2015. No NFC East division winner has repeated since 2004 when the Eagles did it.
  • The Redskins have won the NFC East 4 times since 1991. They’ve never won more than 9 games after winning the division.

 

Fact is, the NFC East is a crapshoot every year. The Eagles do have a lot of their own questions, but simply put, any one of these four teams have a chance at the division crown. If you enjoyed this article, please feel free to comment and leave feedback, it’s greatly appreciated!

Fly Eagles Fly.