This Year's Training Camp Star...But Regular Season Dud
By Lance Epstein
Seemingly every year, there is a player or players that receive high praise from the Eagles coaching staff and are expected to achieve great success. And every year one of those players winds up not being an important factor at all.
A couple of seasons ago , the Philadelphia Eagles traded with the Miami Dolphins for a running back by the name of Lorenzo Booker. Before he took a single snap with the Eagles during the regular season, Philadelphiaeagles.com reporter Dave Spadaro was anointing him as a steal. The coaching staff proclaimed that he would become a significant weapon and tool as a receiver out of the backfield in the Eagles offense.
Unfortunately, in his first and only season with the club, he registered only 53 yards on 20 carries for a 2.7 yards per carry average. Additionally, Booker never became the receiving threat out of the backfield, which the Eagles envisioned. He pulled in six receptions for a measly 11 yards. The following season, Booker did not even make the squad and was released in training camp.
Booker is not the only player that has been overhyped up by the organization and has made a minimal impact. Stacy Andrews, Joe Mays, Mark Simoneau, Levon Kirkland, Jerome McDougle, Quintin Demps, Bryan Smith and Chris Clemons are just a handful of other players to make the list.
So the question becomes, which Eagle will have a lofty expectation placed upon them, but struggle to make a significant impact? Looking at the Eagles roster, there are a couple of candidates that come to the forefront.
The first player is starting right cornerback Ellis Hobbs, who has been praised by general manager Howie Roseman. Multiple times this offseason, Roseman has stated Hobbs started for a 19-0 [they were actually 18-1, but he likes to say 19-0] New England Patriots team. On top of that, he believes so much in Hobbs' ability that he decided to trade the most consistent player on the squad in corner Sheldon Brown.
Here is the problem, Hobbs is just three months away from his first preseason game and he cannot make it through a full non-contact practice at the team's OTAs. If that is not bad enough, when Hobbs last started in 2008 and gave up the most touchdown passes of any cornerback in the league.
Add in a severe neck injury with his performances dropping dramatically over the past two years, it makes a ton of sense that there is more potential for him to become the team's dime package corner than strive as a starter.
Another player that has been in the spotlight a lot this offseason has been starting SAM linebacker Moise Fokou. Fokou is an amazing story considering he was a mere seventh-round pick of the Eagles in 2009.
In fact, he was more likely to not make the roster in his rookie season than start. Yet he persevered and became the team's starting SAM linebacker down the stretch. In the post-draft minicamp, defensive coordinator Sean McDermott thought he could handle the job covering tight ends.
"I hope for your sake that someone can solve that problem because I'm sure you guys are tired of asking that question," McDermott said. "In all reality, he does give us that potential because he does have the arm length that you like from a strongside linebacker's standpoint and he can jam the tight end."
Although just because McDermott is satisfied with Fokou, does not mean the fans have fully embraced him. When Fokou replaced Chris Gocong as the starting SAM linebacker towards the end of last season, the Eagles defense began to struggle against the run. With Fokou as the starter [eight games], the Eagles gave up an average of 120.25 yards per game. When Gocong started [started eight games], the defense gave up only 98.3 yards a game.
Of course, the Eagles were better at covering the tight end with Fokou in the game, which was Gocong's biggest weakness. However, that could also be connected to the fact teams ran the ball more once Fokou took over since he was constantly over pursuing or out of position.
The other concern with Fokou is his inability to keep his emotions in check. While it is nice to see a player attack, have a nasty streak and be relentless, he took far too many dumb penalties in critical situations last year. Yes, Fokou has a year under his belt and a full offseason to get better, but he might never be the player the Eagles expect him to be.
A player that has been gaining a ton momentum since his signing with the Eagles in free agency is defensive back Marlin Jackson. McDermott along with Roseman imagine that Jackson’s versatility to play every secondary position will be an added bonus to the Eagles.
“He’s a tough, smart football player. He’s won a lot of football games. He’s instinctive. He’s quick,” Roseman said. ”We think this is a great opportunity to get not only a player who can help us on defense, but a great person too and a leader on defense. We are excited about this move.”
The problem with counting on Jackson to make a significant impact for the defense is that no one knows how his knees will recover. Over the last two seasons, Jackson has blown out both his left and right ACLs, which required surgery. Hopefully, Jackson can return to form and allow the Eagles to use his versatility at corner and safety. Still that is a huge gamble on the front office’s part especially when they speak so glowingly about his capabilities. He he might never possess the speed he once had or be the player he was with the Colts.
In addition, he has not been able to stay healthy for a full-season since his knee injuries, so making him a pivotal player in the Eagles aggressive defense is crazy. At the team's OTAs on May 19 and 20, Jackson was running with a noticeable limp. While fans are cheering for a feel good story and a full recovery, Jackson might turn out to be an afterthought.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Eagles have been surprisingly high on Mike McGlynn. They like his flexibility to play multiple positions along the line. Also, his size and strength are ideal for the center position. Head coach Andy Reid said that McGlynn is a natural fit at center.
"That was the idea behind this [McGlynn taking reps at center], just to give him some reps and see how he handled it,” Reid said. “(Offensive line coach) Juan (Castillo) asks those guys to do a lot of things there. It looked like he handled that very well. He was able to kind of keep everything in perspective. He always reminds the huddle of the downs and distance and situations, so he's got his own little role there that he has to command. I thought he handled everything very well."
However, there are red flags with McGlynn and with good reason. He is a player that has never taken a regular season snap at center or even in a game during his tenure with the Eagles. At the end of last season, the Eagles lost Jamaal Jackson and it appears that he is likely candidate for the PUP list [Physical Unable to Perform list].
The Eagles continue to say that Nick Cole is the starting center heading into the season, but they would rather him lineup at right guard due to Stacy Andrews being a question mark. If McGlynn is forced to start at center, there is an unknown to his game. Without a doubt, he looked great in the Eagles’ post-draft minicamp but that was practice, not a game. As fans saw against Dallas in the final two games of the season, the center position is vital to thriving against a 3-4 defense.
The last player that could turn out to be this year's Booker, is a player that the Eagles have been high on since drafting him in the third round out of Washington in defensive lineman Daniel T'eo-Nesheim. Entering the combine, many experts had Nesheim as a fifth-round pick, but closer to the draft he saw his stock rise.
Nesheim’s draft was very similar to former Eagles third-round pick, Bryan Smith. Smith was unheralded and a virtually unknown defensive end heading into the draft weekend, but the Eagles coveted his relentless motor and speed off the edges. Many draft gurus projected him to go much later in the draft like Nesheim.
While Nesheim does not have the speed that Smith possessed and is an entirely different mold of player, the Eagles expect a lot out of him. With the amount depth in front of Nesheim on the defensive line, he has an uphill battle seeing the field after receiving such strong praise from the organization.
No one likes talking or discussing a player or players that will disappoint, but every year there is one. For the Eagles, they just hope there is enough depth on the squad to make up for that disappointing player.