PHILADELPHIA – Jim Schwartz has a very good chance to be successful.
The Philadelphia Eagles’ new defensive coordinator is already a proven coach in the NFL. So he has his own resume on his side.
But with the Eagles, Schwartz is walking into a situation that should allow him to make the maximum impact. He inherits a defense that wasn’t very good for the last couple of years, but not because of a lack of talent. The problem wasn’t even former defensive coordinator Bill Davis, really.
Basically, the Eagles defense was handicapped by playing for head coach Chip Kelly, whose no-huddle offensive scheme forced the defense to be on the field more than any other defense in the NFL.
Kelly might have blamed the defense’s inability to force punts, but that contention doesn’t hold up. In each of his three seasons in Philadelphia, the Eagles were dead last in time of possession. As for Kelly’s belief that time of possession didn’t matter, that it was really about the number of plays run? The Eagles defense was on the field for the most plays in 2013, second-most (behind Cleveland) in 2014, and the most again in 2015.
Enter Schwartz, who will be working for a head coach who plans to run a more conventional offense. Doug Pederson was offensive coordinator of the Kansas City Chiefs for the last three years. The Chiefs were ninth in the league in time of possession last season and in the middle of the pack the previous two years.
If they can be on the sideline for an extra three to four minutes per game, the Eagles defense will immediately benefit statistically. As linebacker Connor Barwin pointed out, their stats – yards allowed, etc. – were skewed by the time-of-possession disparity. The Eagles might have given up more passing yards than other teams, but they were on the field for 18 or 19 games’ worth of plays.
On top of the change in offensive philosophy, there is a change in scheme. Schwartz runs a 4-3 designed to free up players to be aggressive and use their natural ability. Fletcher Cox, who made the Pro Bowl in Davis and Kelly’s 3-4 scheme, tweeted excitedly about the prospect of playing in a 4-3 again.
In a 3-4, Cox and the other defensive linemen have to take on blockers, hold their position and allow linebackers and defensive backs to make plays. In Schwartz’s 4-3, Cox will be playing defensive tackle. In Buffalo, with Schwartz running a 4-3, defensive tackle Marcell Dareus had 10 sacks in 2014. Two years earlier, when Schwartz was head coach in Detroit, tackle Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley combined for 11.5 sacks.
It’s no wonder defensive end Vinny Curry said this week that he wouldn’t have signed his new contract extension if the Eagles had remained a 3-4 defense.
In 2014, the Atlanta Falcons gave up more yardage than any other defense (the Eagles gave up the fifth most). The Falcons ran a 3-4 defense under Mike Nolan that year. In 2015, new head coach Dan Quinn brought his version of Seattle’s 4-3 defense. The Falcons went from the most porous defense in the NFL to No. 17.
The Eagles could make an even bigger jump. Their personnel is better than it was allowed to play in the 3-4 scheme, plus it was hampered by Kelly’s hurry-up offense. Remove both of those impediments and the defense has a chance be significantly better.
And that means Schwartz has a chance to look pretty good.
IRVING, Texas – This week, fans were given the opportunity to vote on which Dallas Cowboys’ Super Bowl team was the best in franchise history was best.
The 1992 Cowboys were the winner, receiving 40 percent of the vote as of Friday. The 1993 Cowboys finished second with 30 percent, followed by the 1977 Cowboys with 12 percent. The 1971 and 1995 Cowboys finished with 9 percent of the vote.
The idea for the poll was born out of an NFL Nation post last week asking for the best team in franchise history. After some research and phone calls to some longtime Cowboys’ followers, I chose the 1993 Cowboys.
Why? Repeating as champion is one of the most difficult things to do in sports. That team also had to overcome an 0-2 start without Emmitt Smith. There was also some drama involving Jimmy Johnson and Jerry Jones that led to Johnson’s departure after the season.
But the ’92 Cowboys, the team that restored the championship luster to the organization, won the fans' vote.
That team won a title before many expected the Cowboys to contend. The Cowboys went 11-5 the previous year and made it to the divisional round, ramping up the expectations for 1992.
The Cowboys opened the season with wins against the two previous Super Bowl champions, the Washington Redskins and New York Giants. They thrashed the Detroit Lions 37-3 after the Lions ended their ’91 season in the postseason.
In the conference championship game, they answered a San Francisco 49ers’ rally with a 70-yard completion from Troy Aikman to Alvin Harper that set up the clinching touchdown and kicked off the dynasty.
Super Bowl XXVII wasn’t close. The Cowboys forced nine takeaways in their 52-17 win against the Buffalo Bills.
It was a team that had four Hall of Famers – Aikman, Michael Irvin, Emmitt Smith and Charles Haley – and the best defense in the NFL.
The ’92 Cowboys are certainly a worthy choice as the best Super Bowl team.
Todd has the Giants taking Louisville defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins in the first round. Rankins is a 300-pound run-stuffer who would help the Giants' league-worst defense right away -- possibly as an immediate starter but certainly at least as a member of the defensive line rotation. As an added bonus, his last name rhymes with that of Johnathan Hankins, the 2013 second-rounder who's already established himself as a solid starter at one of the defensive tackle positions. The pair would make the interior of the Giants' defensive line both tough and sonorous for years to come.
Now, I know some of you are going to see UCLA's Myles Jack going off the board at No. 11 and wonder why the Giants wouldn't take him. But if you read this page regularly, you know well that the Giants haven't drafted a linebacker in the first round since Carl Banks in 1984. That that's not a coincidence, but rather a deep-seated organizational belief about which positions are and are not worthy of high-end resources. I don't care how great Jack looks on film; the Giants aren't taking a linebacker at No. 10.
In the Giants' ideal world, I think they get a pass-rusher at this spot. McShay has Oregon's DeForest Buckner going one pick earlier and Clemson's Shaq Lawson all the way down at 17. I could see either of those guys emerging as a Giants pick. But if they believe they've addressed pass-rusher in free agency and/or don't love their options at No. 10, then someone like Rankins makes total sense.
The Giants' current predicament has a lot to do with the deterioration of both of their lines over the years. They've picked offensive linemen in two of the last three first rounds, but they haven't drafted a defensive player in the first round since Prince Amukamara in 2011 and they haven't picked a defensive lineman in the first round since Jason Pierre-Paul in 2010. It's time to think that way again.
PHILADELPHIA – As head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, Doug Pederson is relying on the team’s personnel department to provide talent.
The Eagles might not hire a personnel executive until after the draft. Pederson doesn’t seem concerned. In an appearance on 97.5 The Fanatic, he said the team’s current structure would be sufficient to get through free agency and the draft.
“We’ve still got Tom Donahoe,” Pederson said, referring to the former Pittsburgh and Buffalo personnel man who is working as an adviser to the Eagles. “Tom is still here. We’ve got our pro personnel department, all our coaches. We’re in the evaluation process right now.”
Basically, Pederson sounded like a new head coach eager to make the best of his circumstances. That is likely what Eagles owner Jeff Lurie was looking for after three years of hearing what Chip Kelly insisted on changing about the organization.
Former general manager Howie Roseman will make personnel decisions after discussing matters with Donahoe, Pederson and the coaching and scouting staffs.
“We’ve got a lot of hands on deck going forward into the draft,” Pederson said.
One of the Eagles’ more pressing decisions is at quarterback. Pederson continued to sound lukewarm about Sam Bradford, which might be a deliberate strategy for the team to take. Bradford can be a free agent after one season as the Eagles’ starting quarterback.
“I just think that’s the most important position on the football field,” Pederson said. “That’s the leader of your team. It’s the face of your franchise. Everything is going to run through your head coach and your quarterback.
“Free agency doesn’t start for a little over a month now. We’ve got time. We’re going to evaluate that position. At the end of the day, we’re going to have the right guy for the Philadelphia Eagles. That’s the way we’re going to approach it.”
Pederson said everything – including salary demands – would play a role in the team’s decision at quarterback.
“At the end of the day, when all’s said and done, we’re going to have the best quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles,” Pederson said, again not mentioning Bradford by name.
Pederson also doubled down on his previous assessment of the team he inherited. At his introductory news conference last month, Pederson said he believed the Eagles could be in the hunt in the NFC East.
“This is a good football team,” Pederson said in the radio interview. “This is not a rebuilding football team. There’s tremendous talent here.”
A league source told NFL Nation reporter pat McManamon the Browns will release Manziel in March after the team put out a statement from director of football operations Sashi Brown.
“We’ve been clear about expectations for our players on and off the field,” the statement said. “Johnny’s continual involvement in incidents that run counter to those expectations undermines the hard work of his teammates and the reputation of our organization. His status with our team will be addressed when permitted by league rules. We will have no further comment at this time.”
Because of Jerry Jones’ public infatuation that started before the 2014 draft -- and has continued since -- the Cowboys are naturally the team most connected to Manziel.
Last offseason the Cowboys were linked to Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, but there were never any serious talks about bringing Peterson to his hometown of Texas, even though the Cowboys had a need for a running back after DeMarco Murray left via free agency.
The Cowboys need quarterback help behind Tony Romo, and they could start the succession plan with a younger quarterback.
Jones has been careful with his words regarding players still under contract with other teams, for fear of tampering.
“You wouldn’t take any time to have any evaluation in that area at all,” Jones said last week at the Senior Bowl.
The Cowboys could find a backup and quarterback of the future just as easily in the draft. They coached Carson Wentz, one of the top three quarterbacks in the draft class, in the Senior Bowl, so they will know him best. Would they take him with the fourth overall pick?
There are many mountains to climb before anybody can know that. As of now, there is no complete draft board. The evaluation process is in its infancy, and taking anything that is said and written as a concrete fact is na´ve. What might be true today could be completely false in a few months.
The same could be said about the Cowboys and Manziel, except when the former Heisman Trophy quarterback’s name is brought up in conversations with those at Valley Ranch, heads immediately shake.
Two years ago Jones lost the case to draft Manziel in the first round. The Cowboys took Zack Martin with the 16th pick in the first round and he has become one of the best offensive guards in football. The same people who whistled in the wind when Jones brought up Manziel’s name on draft night remain in the same roles today, from Stephen Jones to Will McClay to Jason Garrett.
Nothing Manziel has done on the field has quelled the fears those around the league had about him when he entered the NFL. In two years he has started eight of the 15 games in which he has appeared. He has completed 57 percent of his passes with seven touchdown passes and seven interceptions. He has a 2-6 record.
Off the field, Manziel has been a headache. Last weekend police were called for an alleged assault in Fort Worth. Police are investigating, as is the NFL.
Playing in Dallas could be the worst destination for Manziel because of the trappings of the area and his celebrity, if not his play on an NFL field.
A backup quarterback has to be reliable. Manziel has not shown that in Cleveland. It’s hard to imagine he would do so with the Cowboys.
IRVING, Texas -- The work on the Dallas Cowboys' offense starts this week.
Last week, the coaches worked the Senior Bowl. Before that they held personnel meetings, going over each player.
Now they get to go over each play over the course of a disappointing season in detail. It won’t be pretty but it is necessary.
The Cowboys have to figure out a way to improve an offense that had not finished lower than 16th since 2003 and was seventh in 2014 but cratered to 22nd in 2015.
That’s just in yards. In points it was worse. The Cowboys averaged 17.2 points per game, which was 31st in the league. Only the San Francisco 49ers’ offense was worse at 14.9 points per game. They hired Chip Kelly to turn around their team but mostly their offense.
The Cowboys have not made a change. Jason Garrett is still the head coach. Scott Linehan remains the offensive coordinator.
The Cowboys ran the ball well enough in 2015. Darren McFadden was one of only seven running backs to go over 1,000 yards. The Cowboys ranked ninth in rushing in the league. Was it as good as it was in 2014? No, but it was better than all but three years since Garrett implemented the offense in 2007.
The passing game was abysmal.
“We haven’t really completely sat down and said what our adjustments are going to be,” Linehan said. “I don’t anticipate anything major. Obviously we’re working to improve in some areas we fell short, so we’ll do that here in the upcoming months and we really have to get ourselves back to where we really started and where we were in training camp and where we were early in the year, get back to that. There are a lot of things we've got to do better. I think we have to start by everyone looking in the mirror and saying, 'This is what we’ve got to do individually and then collectively as a group, and then as a team.’ So it’s pretty cut and dry that way.”
As to how, Linehan isn’t so forthcoming.
“There’s a lot of things if you guys had about 24 hours, we could talk about each individual one,” Linehan said.
The biggest change offensively for the Cowboys in 2016 will be the return to health of Tony Romo and Dez Bryant. They played only parts of three games together. Romo broke his collarbone twice. Bryant broke his foot in the season opener.
In those three games Romo and Bryant connected on one pass play of at least 20 yards a year after Bryant led the NFL with 16 touchdown catches (15 from Romo).
The Cowboys had just eight pass plays of 20 yards or more with Romo. They had just 40 for the season and eight of them came in the season finale with Kellen Moore at quarterback. They had 53 pass plays of 20 yards or more in 2014
Fourteen of those big plays were touchdowns. Only three of the Cowboys’ pass plays of 20 or more yards in 2015 were touchdowns.
“Big plays don’t have to be deep balls,” Linehan said. “One of the things we were able to do [in 2014] when we had opportunities on the outside part of the field, we executed those types of throws. But we also caught a 1-yard hitch for a 70-yard touchdown in the last game. So they come in all shapes and sizes. We’ve just got to do a better job of executing from the play calling to the performance to everything.”
PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia Eagles appear to have hamstrung themselves as they seek to rebound from the Chip Kelly era.
For the last two years, the Eagles have dismissed their top two personnel people at the end of the regular season, creating uncertainty and disorder as the team goes into the offseason process of evaluating and acquiring talent.
Last year, vice president of player personnel Tom Gamble was fired and general manager Howie Roseman was removed from roster decisions. That left head coach Chip Kelly to find a new personnel executive and he settled on promoting Ed Marynowitz from Roseman’s staff.
This year, owner Jeff Lurie fired Kelly and Marynowitz, who have coordinated all of the team’s in-season scouting. Roseman and veteran personnel man Tom Donahoe stepped into the breach.
Lurie said the plan was to hire a new top personnel executive, but the exact nature of the job was left vague. Lurie said that was because he didn’t want to limit the candidates who might be interested.
Now, with the Senior Bowl over and the scouting combine looming, the Eagles appear to be stuck in their search for a new personnel man. Geoff Mosher of Eagles Scouting Nest reported Tuesday that the search has been halted, likely until after the draft. The problem is timing. Most serious candidates are under contract with other teams and in the midst of offseason evaluations.
But there is likely another problem. The presence of Roseman would make a lot of good candidates reluctant to talk to the Eagles. Roseman’s history of winning internal conflicts and running his rivals out of the front office would make any serious candidate wary.
This is the legacy of Lurie’s two decades of allowing such internal battles. Ever since coach Ray Rhodes wanted to get rid of personnel man Dick Daniels, the Eagles’ front office has been the scene of more palace intrigue than Game of Thrones.
In 2001, coach Andy Reid won a tug-of-war with director of football operations Tom Modrak. That led to a fairly stable stretch in which Reid wielded final say over personnel decisions while Tom Heckert served as his top personnel adviser.
Roseman’s rise corresponded with the departures of Heckert (now with the Broncos), Jason Licht (Tampa Bay Buccaneers), Ryan Grigson (Indianapolis Colts), Louis Riddick and team president Joe Banner. Banner and Riddick both work as analysts for ESPN.
Another ESPN analyst, former Tampa Bay executive Mark Dominik, was reportedly on the Eagles’ list for their current opening. But Dominik reportedly plans to remain at ESPN for now.
The Eagles also interviewed Brandon Hunt, who works for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Now it appears that Roseman will run free agency and the draft, even though he was not involved in scouting in 2015. The Eagles will likely add to their personnel staff after the draft, when scouts and executives typically become available.
Clearly, Lurie’s shuffling and reshuffling of the deck has left the Eagles playing catch-up going into a very important offseason. They have a new coaching staff and a high-stakes decision to make at quarterback. It would be a good time for some stability in the team’s front office.
When you cover pro sports for 20-plus years, it's rare to find players with whom you feel any kind of real connection. These guys make $1 million, $5 million, $20 million a year and have been unassailable stars since they were in high school. They operate in a different world than the one in which you and I live, even if I get to visit a small part of that world every day and ask them how it's going.
Tuck was unquestionably a great player. You don't need me to remind you that he sacked Tom Brady four times in two Super Bowls, or that he's sixth in Giants history in sacks, or that Michael Strahan looks at him as an equal or that Osi Umenyiora, Jason Pierre-Paul and Khalil Mack (among others) look at him as a mentor. Tuck is a two-time Super Bowl champion and a surefire Giants Ring of Honor member -- one of the most significant figures in the history of a franchise studded with them.
To me, though, Tuck the human being was always more interesting. He always seemed self-aware, which is a rare enough trait for high-profile pro athletes. But more than that, Tuck was -- and still is -- a player who's aware of the world around him, his place in it and the effect he has on it. He knew why the Giants put Pierre-Paul's locker next to his, and he took that responsibility seriously. He understood the jobs of those of us who walked around the locker room with notebooks and microphones, why we were there, what we needed and how we planned to use the insight and information with which he has always been so generous.
Bigger than all of that is the fact that Tuck and his wife have devoted such a significant chunk of their time to helping kids learn how to read. Go look up Tuck's R.U.S.H for Literacy and understand that this isn't just some charity at which Tuck has thrown his money or his name -- he spends his real time and energy on it to a stunning extent. If nothing else, Monday's announcement means even more hands-on time and effort from Tuck himself in helping children read. That's worth all of your admiration no matter how many sacks he had.
Tuck the player is worth celebrating. Tuck the person is even more fascinating. He could end up being a coach, a talk-show host like his man Strahan or a TV colleague of mine at ESPN and be great at any and all of it. I'm eager to see what he has planned next, after a well-deserved rest.
Meantime, if you're a Giants fan, Tuck is a representative of your team's latest glory days -- and a player and a person of whom you can be proud to be a fan. Congratulations to him on his career and his retirement. He has been the best of what you want in the players you root for.
PHILADELPHIA -- Gary Kubiak spent nine seasons in the NFL. He started five games at quarterback in his entire career.
This week, Kubiak is preparing the Denver Broncos to play the Carolina Panthers in the Super Bowl. There isn’t a direct line from backup quarterback to NFL head coach, but the Philadelphia Eagles hope there is at least a path that Doug Pederson can follow.
The Eagles’ new head coach spent 11 seasons in the NFL. He started a total of 17 games at quarterback. That sounds like a lot more than Kubiak, but Pederson started all 17 of those games between 1999 and 2000. Those were the seasons he was signed by the Eagles and the Cleveland Browns to play while young quarterbacks learned the ropes.
In his other nine seasons, Pederson never got the call to start in place of Dan Marino or Brett Favre. Kubiak spent his years in Denver watching John Elway.
It’s encouraging that Kubiak is in the Super Bowl in his first season as head coach of the Broncos. But it’s a mistake to use that as the standard for Pederson to live up to. In reality, Kubiak paid a lot of dues between his playing career and his first Super Bowl appearance as a head coach.
After his playing career ended, Kubiak spent two years coaching running backs at Texas A&M. In 1994, he jumped to the NFL as the quarterbacks coach for the San Francisco 49ers. The Niners won the Super Bowl that year, and Kubiak was hired to coach quarterbacks in Denver.
That was 1995. Kubiak spent 10 years as an assistant in Denver, rising to the level of offensive coordinator. From there, he went to Houston as head coach of the Texans. Kubiak spent eight seasons there. His record was 61-64.
After being fired, Kubiak spent a year out of the league. When John Fox left Denver last year, the Broncos brought Kubiak back as head coach.
That’s where the similarity with Pederson is strongest. Kubiak used to be a backup quarterback for the Broncos, just as Pederson briefly played quarterback for the Eagles. Kubiak served as an assistant coach with the Broncos, just as Pederson worked on Andy Reid’s staff for four years.
But when Kubiak got the head coaching job, he had Peyton Manning as his quarterback. Manning is in the twilight of his career and the Super Bowl was the only realistic goal for him. Combine that with an outstanding defense coached by Wade Phillips, and the Broncos figured to be in the mix for the Super Bowl. Heck, they were in the Super Bowl just two years ago.
Pederson may have Sam Bradford, who has never played quarterback in an NFL playoff game. If not, Pederson is likely to have a rookie who may or may not be worthy of a first-round draft pick.
In other words, Pederson will have every chance to do something special as head coach of the Eagles. But he isn’t walking into the kind of ready-made situation that Kubiak inherited.
But Kubiak isn’t the only example. Other coaches have been former quarterbacks, even if they never spent most of a decade as NFL backups.
Jon Gruden was a backup quarterback at the University of Dayton. Sean Payton played at Eastern Illinois and tried out for NFL teams. He also played as a replacement player during the 1987 NFL strike before finding his way into the coaching ranks.
Being a star quarterback doesn’t seem to prepare anyone to be a successful head coach. Being a backup forces players to use their smarts and understanding of the offense to survive. That has turned out to be pretty fertile ground for a head coach to grow up in.
That’s the good news for Eagles fans. The less-than-good news is that Kubiak spent two decades coaching before getting to the Super Bowl. Maybe Pederson can find a short cut.
Speaking from the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, coach Jason Garrett told dallascowboys.com, “We expect him to be back fairly soon. We’ll see. We don’t want to put it definitively, but we think he’s going to be OK.”
Lawrence, who did not miss a game, led the Cowboys in sacks in 2015 with eight, with seven coming in the final eight games of the season. A few days after the season, Lawrence had left-pinkie fusion surgery.
Lawrence is the second Cowboys defensive lineman known to have had a postseason surgery. Defensive tackle Tyrone Crawford underwent a procedure on his right shoulder a few days after the season ended and is expected to be ready for the offseason program.
Lawrence missed the first seven games of his rookie season in 2014 because of surgery to repair a broken foot.
Quarterback Tony Romo had a CT scan on his left collarbone last week and is likely to have surgery to insert a plate to help fortify the area. Romo broke his collarbone twice last season and missed 12 games.
As Ben McAdoo's New York Giants coaching staff continues to take shape, he's added a couple of interesting outside names in recent days. According to sources, McAdoo will hire Patriots linebackers coach Patrick Graham as their defensive line coach. Graham is a 37-year-old Yale graduate who's been on Bill Belichick's staff in New England since 2009 and is regarded as an up-and-coming defensive coaching mind.
Last weekend, ESPN's Adam Caplan reported that the Giants were hiring former Eagles linebackers coach Bill McGovern as their linebackers coach. McGovern is a well-regarded former Boston College position coach whose proteges there included current Giants linebacker Mark Herzlich and Carolina Panthers star Luke Kuechly.
McAdoo has said he won't announce any staff hires until the entire staff is complete, but we've been able to confirm most of the plans for the new coaching staff. Quarterbacks coach Mike Sullivan is expected to succeed McAdoo as offensive coordinator, though the expectation is that McAdoo will continue to call offensive plays as the head coach. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and special-teams coordinator Tom Quinn are expected to remain in the same roles.
Former Chiefs offensive coordinator Mike Solari is expected to replace the departed Pat Flaherty as offensive line coach, with former Rams offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti replacing Sullivan as quarterbacks coach. Running backs coach Craig Johnson and tight ends Kevin M. Gilbride are expected to stay on, possibly in those same roles, while former LSU and 49ers wide receivers coach Adam Henry will join the staff and reunite with star wideout Odell Beckham Jr., whom he coached in college.
Secondary coaches Dave Merritt and Tim Walton are expected to remain with the team, as are offensive assistants Ryan Roeder and Lunda Wells and defensive assistant Rob Leonard.
As expected, the Giants will make a change at strength and conditioning coach. Jerry Palmieri, who's been with former Giants coach Tom Coughlin for decades, is being replaced by former Notre Dame strength and conditioning coach Aaron Wellman.
IRVING, Texas – Maybe it was something for the cameras, but as soon as Wednesday’s Senior Bowl practice ended, Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones made a straight line to North Dakota State quarterback Carson Wentz.
Jones shook Wentz’s hand and the two exchanged a quick how-do-you-do.
“It was cool,” he said. “Obviously you see a legend, icon like Jerry Jones, it’s really cool to get to meet him. I didn’t even recognize him right away because he had his hat on, sunglasses.”
Might they say a how-do-you-do again next month at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis? Or at Valley Ranch in the pre-draft process? Or in next spring’s draft?
Of the eight quarterbacks at the Senior Bowl, Wentz has drawn the most attention from teams and media.
On Thursday he was surrounded by cameras asking questions about playing against a higher level of competition this week and his rise in popularity through the early evaluation process.
“Well, he’s got the prototype size,” Cowboys offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said of Wentz. “He’s an athlete – he’s got some sneaky, quick, fast body mechanics and movement to go along with a really nice arm.”
Wentz checked in at 6-foot-5 and 231 pounds at the Senior Bowl after throwing 42 touchdown passes and 14 interceptions in 23 starts at North Dakota State. He won two FCS national titles in the same city – Frisco, Texas – where the Cowboys are building their practice facility and will move into later this summer.
He displayed the ability to make all of the throws, even if he had trouble with the chemistry with newer receivers. During the practices, he made it a point to talk to the receivers to encourage them after a good play or a struggle. When he threw a touchdown pass, he was quick to congratulate the linemen.
He carried himself like a quarterback, regardless of the level of play.
“To be honest, it doesn’t matter if you come from the SEC or FCS or Division II, obviously the NFL is fast,” Wentz said. “You watch an NFL tape, guys fly around. Everyone’s going to have to make that adjustment. I’m obviously going to have to just as well. But I’m excited and ready to prove that.”
Tony Romo excelled at the FCS level at Eastern Illinois, winning the Walter Payton Award, but he was not drafted in 2003. He needed time to develop and blossomed into one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. Joe Flacco was drafted out of Delaware in the first round by the Baltimore Ravens, but he had started his career at the University of Pittsburgh, so he was more of a known commodity.
While impressed with the resume, Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones did not want to get into the early thoughts on Wentz.
“It’s unfair to any of these guys to start to judge them right now,” Stephen Jones said. “Call it instant scouting – we’re just not going to do that. There’s a lot of work to do on these players. Lot of work – whether they’re a quarterback, whether they’re a receiver or defensive lineman. We’ve got a lot of work to do. To pre-determine something right now – that’s just not responsible.”
There is plenty of time for the full report. The Cowboys have an advantage in coaching him this week, using their scheme. If he plays well Saturday, then the legend of Wentz will grow.
“I don’t know any quarterback that doesn’t want to be the top guy in their class,” Wentz said. “If you don’t think you are or don’t think you have the ability to be, then you’re probably in the wrong sport because we’re competitors playing football here. We all want to be the best at our respective positions and that’s obviously the goal.”
PHILADELPHIA – The Philadelphia Eagles’ commitment to sports science didn’t get tossed from the NovaCare Complex along with head coach Chip Kelly.
Shaun Huls, Kelly’s sports-science coordinator, still works for the Eagles. New head coach Doug Pederson told reporters at the Senior Bowl that he was open to using sports science as a tool to help players get into shape and remain fit.
“It's something I want to dive more into,” Pederson said, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. “We used it obviously in Kansas City. It can be a benefit to monitor your players. It's a good way for players to recover with all the nutrition, diet, and exercise that they do.
“But at the end of the day, it's football, they're football players, and whatever we can do to get the most out of them."
That last part is the key. With Kelly, the sports-science aspect was a cornerstone of his entire operation, along with his no-huddle offense. There was a strong sense that players had to “buy in” to Kelly’s entire program or risk becoming ex-Eagles.
Heck, there was even speculation that some players did become ex-Eagles because they didn’t buy in sufficiently. DeSean Jackson, anyone?
The Eagles will be better off if the sports-science aspects are tools that players can use rather than acid tests for their level of commitment. That became an issue under Kelly because of his absolute belief in certain ways of doing things.
So it’s refreshing to hear Pederson talk about doing “whatever we can do to get the most” out of players. That suggests a more pragmatic approach to the whole thing, rather than the true-believer aspect that was part of Kelly’s program.
Ironically, the Eagles might actually get more benefit from the program this way. If it’s available but not forced on them, players might be more open to it. If they are hearing from teammates that something really works, rather than hearing from a coach that it’s mandatory, they might feel better about trying it.
It’s also important that players who did fully buy in to Kelly’s program don’t feel as if they are seen as suckers. Veteran tight end Brent Celek was frequently mentioned by Kelly as an example of a player who was committed to the sports-science initiatives.
If the Eagles had dropped the entire program, they would have risked making Celek feel like he was duped. This way, Celek gets to continue doing what he believes in and deriving the benefits, while players who weren’t as convinced can pick and choose what works for them.
It’s a win/win for the players, which could lead to some wins for the team.
MOBILE, Ala. -- Sean Lee was in mid-sentence when he had to stop talking on the telephone the other day.
“Sorry, I’m getting hit by a wave right here,” the Dallas Cowboys linebacker said.
He was enjoying the beach in Hawaii, two days into the first Pro Bowl trip of his career. Lee was added as an injury replacement for the NFL all-star game because of a knee injury to Justin Houston of the Kansas City Chiefs.
The first call that he was added to the Pro Bowl roster came from owner and general manager Jerry Jones. The second came from head coach Jason Garrett, who said he was a little emotional in speaking with Lee. The linebacker was also a little emotional.
“Think about where he came from and what he went through this past year and really some of the injuries that he’s had in the past,” Garrett said. “He’s been that caliber of player throughout his career. He’s dealt with some injuries and some adversities that haven’t allowed him to show that to everybody, and I think he showed that to everybody this year and he just should have a hell of a week out there and really soak it all up.”
A year ago at this time, Lee was recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament that knocked him out of the 2014 season before it even began. The rehab process was long and tedious, just as it was when he tore an ACL while at Penn State, costing him a season.
Lee’s emotion stemmed from the work he put into his return and the people who helped him get there, from the Jones family to Garrett to defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli to linebackers coach Matt Eberflus to athletic trainers Jim Maurer and Britt Brown and his teammates.
“You look at the season and first off I wished we would’ve found a way to get more wins, played better in general,” Lee said. “That’s where you really look for the validation, but knowing that I’ve been out for a while and it was a long road in coming back from this knee and it was nice to be recognized at the end of the year, especially with all the people helping me coming back. It wasn’t just me.”
In 14 games, the coaches credited Lee with 156 tackles. He had the first 2.5 sacks of his career. He had 11 tackles for loss and five pass deflections. He intercepted one pass.
One of Lee’s biggest goals remains to play in every game in a season. He missed one game because of a concussion even though he was cleared to play. He took himself out of the season finale because of a hamstring strain and cost himself a $2 million escalator based on a season-long playing-time percentage.
“It was great to be able to play more and be more consistently on the football field,” Lee said. “First of all I wish it would’ve turned into more wins for all of us, but it was nice to be out there and be able to play a lot the whole year. Hopefully it’s a building block to next year where I’ll play at a high level, be healthy, play 16 games hopefully and we’re back competing in the playoffs and for a championship.”
Lee said the hamstring is fine now but he needed some trips to Valley Ranch to get back in shape once he got the call he was heading to the Pro Bowl. He is looking forward to talking to the other players, particularly the linebackers, to pick their brains in an effort to improve himself.
But as much as he liked the waves crashing all around him and the reward of being in the all-star game, Lee said hopes he does not get to go back for the contest that falls on the Sunday between conference title games and the Super Bowl.
“That’s the goal, to not be at this game because we’re playing for a championship,” Lee said. “That’s the ultimate goal. It’s nice. It’s relaxing out here. But as fun as this is to be with the other players, be with your family, at the same point you’re restless because you want to be able to play for a championship.”
MOBILE, Ala. -- The Dallas Cowboys’ offseason is not even a month old, but quarterback talk has dominated the airwaves, from Tony Romo’s potential surgery on his left collarbone, to adding Johnny Manziel, Robert Griffin III or some other free agent, to taking a QB early in the draft.
The Cowboys have the fourth overall pick thanks to their 4-12 record, and the current talk is centering on North Dakota State QB Carson Wentz. On Wednesday, owner and general manager Jerry Jones said the Cowboys don't "have to" draft a quarterback at all, but quarterback talk still remains relevant.
The Cowboys just so happen to be coaching Wentz this week at the Senior Bowl, so they will have the advantage of seeing him in meetings and in practices running their offense, or at least a scaled-down version of it.
Connecting the dots between the Cowboys and Wentz has already begun, even if the evaluation is in its infancy.
Do you know who is not worried about all this quarterback talk? Romo.
"I learned a long time ago, if you're good, you just go out and play," Romo said. "You don't worry about stuff, that noise that people talk about. For me, it's about getting our team to a championship."
The Cowboys have long viewed Romo as younger than his birthdate because he did not play in his first three seasons. He already is older than Troy Aikman was when he retired, but Aikman took physical beatings in his first few years, and injuries and a lack of talent around him compromised him late in his career.
Romo turns 36 in April. He has undergone two back surgeries and has broken his collarbone three times. The plan is for him to have surgery on the collarbone to fortify the area with a plate. The hope is that he will be ready for the offseason program.
“You can’t put your head in the sand,” executive vice president Stephen Jones said. “He’s certainly had some injuries and we have to be aware of that. If we do decide to pick a quarterback fairly high, Tony’s a great example of how it can serve a young quarterback well to watch for two to three years or four years, whatever that number is going to be, because obviously we think Tony is our best chance to go win a Super Bowl. We think he will be that guy for the next three or four years.”
Jones has called backup quarterback a pressing need for the Cowboys this offseason. Conventional wisdom says the team would look for veteran help because of experience, but taking a quarterback early in the draft could also fit in the win-now mode.
It just has to be the right quarterback, be it Wentz or some other prospect.
“When you look at what happened with Aaron Rodgers, you look at Tony Romo sitting for three years, although it wasn’t nearly the investment, you look at these guys that sit and watch for three years and then they go on and have the success that they have -- you can live with that,” Jones said.
“We want to get the pick right. We want to get the guy right. He’s got to understand what’s going to happen. Coming in here to learn and study under a guy like Tony Romo is a big positive.
“Those things don’t concern me. I think everybody agrees if the right guy is there, then you’ve got to take a long, hard look at it. That’s why we’re sitting here today, our coaching staff, working hard at it. But these quarterbacks here aren’t the only guys that are going to be looked at. There’s another group of guys that we’re really going to have to study and put just as much effort into.”
Romo has had mostly veterans as his backups, from Brad Johnson to Jon Kitna to Kyle Orton. Brandon Weeden opened the 2013 and ’14 seasons as his backup. When Romo had difficult games, there was not a clamoring for the guy on the bench.
With a high-profile free-agent signing, such as Manziel or Griffin, even if they have lots to prove, or a high-profile draft pick, the calls could come much sooner.
Aikman said recently he would not have been so keen to see the Cowboys draft his successor late in his career and wasn’t so sure Romo would be either.
"Well, I think me and Troy are a little different in some of the things we may think sometimes," Romo said. "I think that that's just his opinion. For me, if you're good enough to play at the highest level and you think you can play at a certain level, you should never be worried about anything other than just helping your teammates. I understand that's part of the game -- people get threatened. But for me, I feel very strongly and confident in the things our team can do."