Friday, March 16, 2007

Spring Training

Obviously I haven't updated this in a while, but starting tomorrow, I shold be getting daily updates on Spring Training. My Flight to TB was delayed, and I'll be missing the Yankee game tomorrow. We'll try the airport thing again tomorrow.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Offseason Preview: Backfield

Even though free agency has already begun, I’m going to see if I can pump out the rest of these quickly before too much more happens. A post-combine mock draft will hopefully get done, and of course, Spring Training coverage will be every day from the 16th to the 24th. Let’s check out the rest of the backfield.

HB Brian Westbrook: 15 games and 14 starts, 240 rushing attempts, 1217 rushing yards, 5.1 YPC, 7 rushing TDs, 77 catches, 699 receiving yards, 4 receiving touchdowns, 3 punt returns, 3 punt return yards, 2 fumbles lost

Best game: @ SF- 8 rushes, 117 rushing yards, 2 rushing TDs, 4 catches, 47 receiving yards, 1 receiving TD

Worst game: vs JAX- 13 rushes, 38 rushing yards, 0 rushing TDs, 8 catches, 68 receiving yards

Brian Westbrook broke the 1000 yard mark for the first time in his career in 2006. Many don’t consider this to be an important milestone anymore, but for someone with the questionable durability Westbrook has, it’s a step in the right direction. Besides one game earlier in the season and a couple bruises here and there, he showed he can handle playing a full season and being a primary back. We all know he has great ability getting the corner, but Westbrook showed improved strength and toughness between the tackles this year. Running behind a big Offensive Line, he showed he has enough power in his legs to run through arm tackles in traffic. He’s becoming a complete runner. Down the stretch after McNabb went down, Westbrook carried the offense on his back, turning in some of the best performances of his career. He made big plays in the playoffs and really added a ball-control element to the offense not seen by the Eagles in years. In addition to his ground game, Westbrook is possibly the best pass catching back in the league. The screen game was very effective in the beginning of the season, and he’s a matchup problem lined up at receiver.

Grade: A

HB Correll Buckhalter: 16 games, 1 start, 83 rushing attempts, 345 rushing yards, 4.2 YPC, 2 rushing TDs, 24 catches, 256 receiving yards, 1 receiving TD, 1 fumble lost

Best game: @ NYG- 8 rushes, 48 rushing yards, 1 rushing TD, 1 catch, 9 receiving yards

Worst game: vs. NYG- 6 rushes, 6 yards, 1 catch, 9 receiving yards

After defying all odds, Correll Buckhalter managed to participate in every game this season. Despite suffering season ending knee injuries three out of the previous four seasons, he made a nice contribution to the Eagles this year. I wasn’t happy about Buckhalter signing another contract before this season began because I didn’t think he would make it. I couldn’t believe the Eagles were counting on him to play a role in the offense again, but I’m glad he proved me wrong. He did a nice job when Westbrook had to take a breather, and he did better catching passes than he used to. He still showed very good speed and quickness despite the knee injuries, and he finishes his runs hard and always delivers punishment, as opposed to taking it. Although the fumbling was a problem at some points, Buckhalter did hang onto the ball better this year. He was a pleasant surprise in 2006, and I hope he’s back for another go next year.

Grade: B

HB/KR Reno Mahe: 4 rushes, 18 rushing yards, 4.5 YPC, 5 catches, 23 receiving yards, 30 kick returns, 667 KR yards, 18 punt return yards, 169 PR yards, 3 fumbles lost

Best game: @ NYG- Long kick return

Worst game: @ WSH- Several poor special teams mistakes

Mahe once again provided average everything. Average speed, average kick returning, average haircut, etc. He doesn’t do anything well. On the contrary, he does several things poorly. I don’t know how he returns kicks. Kick returners usually have great athletic ability or great vision. He has neither. He turns the ball over, and doesn’t add anything offensively. He was a waste of a roster spot again this year.

Grade: D

HB Ryan Moats: 22 rushes, 69 rushing yards, 3.1 YPC, 2 kick returns, 43 KR yards

Best game: Didn’t really have one

Worst game: @ NO- Forced a muff punt

Ryan Moats was a huge disappointment. After showing big play flashes and potential last year, he followed it up with a stinker. He didn’t show anything in preseason, and he was lost in a numbers game because he couldn’t really contribute much on special teams. Instead of continuing to develop, he couldn’t beat out a gimpy Buckhalter to earn some carries. When he did get a chance on special teams, he made a bonehead play that potentially cost the Eagles a win. When he did get a chance on offense, he didn’t impress, then got hurt. We all expected much more from Moats and did not get a thing.

Grade: F

FB Thomas Tapeh: 5 rushes, 9 rushing yards, 1.8 YPC, 16 catches, 85 receiving yards, 1 receiving TD

Tapeh overcame a serious hip injury suffered at the end of 2004 that wiped out his entire 05 campaign. He worked hard in training camp and beat out incumbent Josh Parry and UDFA Jason Davis for the starting job. He was supposed to be a useful short yardage back with receiving skills and limited blocking ability, but he emerged as the opposite. Tapeh did a great job at creating lanes and opening holes for Westbrook up the middle. On the other hand, he was bad with the ball in his hands; not effective as a runner, and he was a catch and fall style receiver, similar to Parry last year. I’m glad Tapeh earned the job. He had a good season, and hopefully he gets even better with experience.

Grade: B+

Overall Backfield Grade: B+

2007 Outlook (including a couple QBs I should’ve mentioned)

QB Koy Detmer: He could conceivably be on the team again with A.J. Feeley being retained as a backup. The Eagles could use the extra QB spot to keep Akers’ boy. I’m comfortable with Feeley being the only real other QB, so I can see keeping Detmer around.

QB Jeff Mroz: Know who he is? Neither did I, until I saw his name on the roster today. I guess he’ll compete for a practice squad position next year if he’s eligible.

HB Brian Westbrook: The Eagles had better offensive balance for most of 06, and Westbrook flourished. When he had a big workload after McNabb went down, he was able to dominate games and carry the offense. When McNabb’s healthy, Westbrook should still see 20+ carries a game. That maximizes this offense’s ability, and it’ll help Donovan a lot. If Westbrook is healthy, he should go for about the same numbers as last year, and continue to be a huge part of our offense.

HB Correll Buckhalter: He’s garnering some interest in free agency, but I don’t see him going anywhere else. Other teams won’t be thrilled with his injury history, and the Eagles will want to reward a player who made a nice contribution last year. He’s appreciated here and he has a role here, I don’t think he’ll give that up.

HB Reno Mahe: He’s a free agent, and I hope for the NFL’s sake he stays like that.

HB Ryan Moats: I’d like to see him get one more chance here, especially if Buckhalter leaves. I think there’s potential if he buckles down and studies and works hard in camp. Some teams could come calling about a trade, and if there’s an opportunity there the Eagles should take it.

HB Antoine Bagwell: I’ve never heard of him, but he put up some monster numbers at the University of California… (PA). Training camp body, I’d imagine.

FB Thomas Tapeh: He’ll be the incumbent in camp for the first time in his career, and he shouldn’t have a problem retaining his job, assuming he stays healthy. It would be nice to see him do a bit better with the ball in his hands next year, but his blocking is fine. Good fourth round pick by the Eagles a few years ago.

FB Jason Davis: Apparently he was a very good player in camp last year before his injury. He’ll have a chance to earn the starting job again this year, despite not being drafted out of Illinois.

FB Zach Tuiasosopo: Practice Squad player. You can’t go wrong with a Tuiasosopo.

Potential Free Agent Solutions:

Chris Brown, Titans

Corey Dillon, Patriots

T.J. Duckett, Redskins

Justin Griffith, Falcons

Verron Haynes, Steelers

Anthony Thomas, Bills

If the Eagles do not bring back Buckhalter and look to use free agency for another back, they’d go after the bigger guys. Although Griffith is probably more of a FB, he’s a ball carrier that could be used in short yardage. There’s no point in going after another guy like Westbrook, so if they decide to add another back from the outside, he’ll be used to compliment Westbrook. Receiving skills (Haynes, Dillon to an extent) are a plus.

Potential Draft Solutions:

Tony Hunt, Penn State (2nd-3rd)

Brian Leonard, Rutgers (2nd-3rd)

Michael Bush, Louisville (3rd-4th)

Kolby Smith, Louisville (Second day)

Dwayne Wright, Fresno State (Second day)

Chris Henry, Arizona (Second day)

Nate Ilaoa, Hawaii (Second day)

Once again, they’re all bigger boys. The Eagles hopefully won’t have to spend a first day pick on offense, but if someone like Hunt or Leonard is there in the second round, it should be considered. They are both versatile with good hands for backs. Guys like Wright, Henry and Ilaoa can all catch, while the Louisville boys are big and strong.