After a long, tortuous off-season filled with owner lockouts and labor issues, football is officially back! I know that training camps have been in full swing for almost two weeks now, but the first preseason game is what gets the juices flowing for me and what truly signifies the dawn of a new NFL season. Leading up to the game last Thursday against the Baltimore Ravens I, like many other Eagles fanatics, had a list of questions that I wanted/needed answers to. What I realized very quickly is that out of all the questions that I had, one main theme emerged that I decided to focus on – the performance of this year’s rookie class. By now, everyone in the free world knows about the enormous splash that the Eagles made in the free-agent pool this year and the roster is beginning to take shape. But, wait a second. Is Andy Reid really going to start the season with rookies starting at right guard, middle linebacker, kicker, punter, and possibly strong safety? After settling into my favorite chair, armed with various electronics and Diet Cokes, I was ready to ignore the horrific Eagles Television Network broadcast team and focus on the performance of the Eaglets.
From the first day of training camp, fourth-round pick Casey Matthews has been “running with the 1′s” as the starting middle linebacker. Armed with outstanding bloodlines and a prolific college career, he has apparently impressed this coaching staff to the point where he is responsible for the pre-snap call on defense. With all of the free agent signings that the Eagles have made it is still a bit of a shock that they have not brought in a veteran presence here, and I would not be surprised at all if they did. That being said, for the few snaps that he was on the field he appeared to have a good understanding of what was going on and was around the ball. One screen pass to Ray Rice turned into a big gain and made that entire side of the defense look lost, so I cannot pin that solely on Matthews. On one running play an offensive lineman got to the second level and engaged Matthews, but it looked like Matthews was able to shed the block and flow towards the ball carrier, arriving a second after he was brought to the ground. Matthews was credited with no tackles but in fairness, he only played about 8-10 snaps.
With the departure of David Akers, the drafting of Alex Henery in the fourth round signified a major change in the Eagles’ special teams corps. Everyone seems to agree that the kid has a huge leg, but will he able to handle the pressure of kicking in a November wind, in front of the league’s most rabid fan base, with a game on the line? I was excited to see his first kickoff, and when it came down 8 yards deep into the end zone I was very, very excited and impressed. It was then when I was reminded by the ETN crew of the fact that in the off-season, the NFL Competition Committee voted to move the kickoff line up to the 35 yard line from the 30. OK, so that took a bit of the luster off of the kick, but I was still impressed. A successful PAT and two FG’s were also good signs that Henery has the potential to be a very good kicker in the NFL.
First, let me get this out of the way. Was Sav Rocca really an Eagle for 4 years? Really? I cannot believe this. If you were to have asked me a few days ago how long Rocca was the Eagles punter, I probably would have answered with 2 or 3 years tops. Amazing. Another main part of the special teams overhaul, Chas Henry had a very good debut in my opinion. The same cannot be said for his punt coverage teams. Henry’s first punt was a terrific pooch punt and should have definitely been downed inside the 5 with no problem. The fact that Jon Dorenbos, the long-snapper, was the first coverage guy on the scene shows that not everything is rainbows and unicorns coming out of training camp. Two other punts by Henry were rockets that went into the end zone for touchbacks, but one of them barely went in and spun back into the playing field. This kid, so far, seems to have a very bright future. But, as mentioned with Alex Henery, let’s see how he performs when he is punting out of his own end zone in December and the ball feels like he is kicking an anvil.
So as I prepared to watch the Eagles/Ravens game in preparation for writing this article, I went “old school”. I had paper and pen, and I created sections on the paper for these four rookies to be able to quickly write down some notes and observations. I then focused my view on these guys when they were on the field. A few minutes in, I heard the announcers say that Danny Watkins was done for the night, so I looked at his section in my notes. It was completely blank. I had nothing, nada, zilch, bagel, goose egg, bupkis. Initially, I thought that this was a bad thing. But, after thinking about it, I remembered that offensive lineman are supposed to be like the officials. If you do not notice them specifically, that usually means that they did a good job. Since he did not get run over or get Michael Vick killed in the short time he was in there, let’s consider this debut a rousing success.
Wrapping it all up, the rookies mentioned above (along with Jaiquawn Jarrett, who had a pick on a bad throw) did not do anything to cause the Eagles faithful to immediately call for the heads of Andy Reid and Howie Roseman for a terrible draft. All were very solid, with the obvious disclaimer that they really did not play a lot of snaps at all. Next week, they are in Pittsburgh for their first road game. Although is is preseason, the crowd will be loud and hostile, so let’s see how they perform in that environment.
Until the next butt-kicking by the Eagles Defense…E-A-G-L-E-S EAGLES!
While watching the game I was also monitoring our Twitter feed to see what the fans were thinking. Beside the fact that numerous Eagles-related hashes were trending, here are some of the many, many tweets that I found quite amusing: (and as you will soon see, @OfficialReview was en fuego)
@lawlornfl – #Eagles now have Eli Manning’s two favorite receivers: Steve Smith, Asante Samuel. Weird, but cool.
@OfficialReview – D-Line looks solid. So does Duce Staley. #HUUUUGE #Eagles #Ravens
@Everybody_Hits – I’ve missed hearing the word “penetration” on my TV. #nfl
@OfficialReview – Mike Vick is as accurate as CC Sabathia’s pizza delivery guy. #nevermisses #Eagles #Ravens
@OfficialReview – Man, Jason Peters is the size of a European car. #Eagles #NFL
@Everybody_Hits – In all seriousness, if there was no NFL on weekends in the winter what the hell would we have done?
@OfficialReview – Dear Macho Harris, how’s it going down at Target? I need a new TV. #Eagles #NFL (this one was probably my favorite for the evening)
@OfficialReview – Nnamdi Asomugha doesn’t give an eff about your predictions, dream teams, or haircuts. #Eagles #NFL
@FO_MTanier – Good thing pollard made that pick. One more positive eagles tweet and I would be spadaro. (this was right after Kafka threw that AWFUL int)
@OfficialReview – Andy Reid is SO tan. He looks like Snooki’s dad. #Eagles #NFL