Eagles brass forced to shift gears as lockout resumes

Eagles coach Andy Reid is studying film to keep busy during the lockout.
Eagles coach Andy Reid is studying film to keep busy during the lockout. (STEVEN M. FALK / Staff photographer)
Posted: May 02, 2011

YESTERDAY, EAGLES coach Andy Reid and general manager Howie Roseman should have been busy signing undrafted free agents and making preparations for a pending minicamp, the first assembly of the 2011 Eagles.

Instead, Reid said he was looking forward to some film study of the Eagles' scheduled 2011 opponents. In the coming days, Reid figures if he gets too bored, he might also kill some time checking out trends in the college game, hoping to find something he can use. "It's a great time to study the game, see what's out there," Reid said.

Roseman, meanwhile, is looking forward to taking a quick break, then setting priorities for signing the undrafted free agents, whenever that is possible. "I have a 2-week-old son who, I think, if they put a lineup of fathers, would not be able to pick out his own father," Roseman said.

Nothing wrong with either of those agendas, but hearing about them still seemed a little jarring in the minutes after the Eagles put the finishing touches on an 11-player draft haul.

If there is a theme for the Eagles' 2011 draft, it might be "unfinished business." Because of the 2-1 appeals court verdict granting the owners at least a temporary stay of Judge Susan Nelson's ruling lifting the lockout, the NFL abruptly lurched to a halt yesterday, after convening the 3-day draft Thursday amid hopeful signs of a lockout thaw.

There has never been a draft or a draft aftermath quite like this one. If you point out to the Eagles that they failed to acquire a corner capable of starting right away, or any much-needed pass-rush help over the weekend, they will hasten to tell you, as Roseman did Saturday, "We're not lining up tomorrow . . . we've still got a lot of work to do to put a football team together."

Unlike in previous years, there has been no free agency yet, and, of course, the Eagles have not been allowed to trade quarterback Kevin Kolb, an asset retaining considerable value even after some teams tried to solve their quarterbacking problems through the draft. But none of that work Roseman spoke of is going to get done any time soon. In fact, if the appeals court decides this week to issue a longer stay, there is an excellent chance the lockout will drag on through the summer and will affect the start of the season.

Against a backdrop like that, it's hard to assess what the Eagles (or anyone else) did in the draft. When will, say, second-round safety Jaiquawn Jarrett, out of Temple, know the defensive scheme well enough, and possess the comfort level with his new teammates necessary to become a candidate for a starting job? Nobody knows. Right now he can't even talk to his new coaches.

It was hard to shake the notion that in taking a really smart, solid, ready-to-play guard like Danny Watkins with their first pick, 23rd overall, the Eagles were factoring in the possible effect of the lockout, though Reid denied that afterward. Unlike, say, cornerback, guard isn't a complicated position. Watkins can probably help the team this season, whenever it begins.

Instead of rolling the dice on, say, troubled Colorado corner Jimmy Smith in the first round (he went 27th overall to Baltimore), the Eagles took a safer, less thrilling option, nabbing Watkins several spots of where anyone projected him. That approach seemed to carry over; both Jarrett and third-round corner Curtis Marsh went a round or so before most experts expected.

Both Reid and Roseman referred repeatedly to "guys who fit what we did." There certainly is no mistaking 5-8, fifth-round Pitt running back Dion Lewis for anything but a West Coast-type back, but Roseman extended that good-fit benediction to the three linebackers the Birds chose, fourth-rounder Casey Matthews, sixth-rounder Brian Rolle and seventh-rounder Greg Lloyd II.

Roseman said when the draft broke after the third round Friday night, and the Eagles reconvened Saturday, "We saw how many linebackers were there that were still [rated in the] third, fourth and fifth round on our draft board, we thought it was a great idea to knock out a couple of guys, and really, practice what we preach, which is bring in a lot of good players, try to create competition, and even if we have some depth there, that's a good thing. Just let it sort itself out."

All three of the offensive linemen the Eagles drafted project as guards or centers; usually the Eagles stockpile tackles and try to convert them into interior linemen. Reid and Roseman might have been signaling a departure from that philosophy under new offensive line coach Howard Mudd. Certainly, Reid agreed he was acknowledging there hadn't been enough attention paid to the interior of the line in recent drafts. Don't look for free agent guards Nick Cole or Reggie Wells to be back in green.

Speaking of such matters, the most surprising thing the Eagles did, other than not help their pass rush, was expend a fourth-round draft choice on a kicker, Nebraska's Alex Henery, who also punts. (But Henery told reporters the Eagles told him he was coming here to kick.) It's not shocking that the Eagles might be thinking about moving on from 36-year-old David Akers, who didn't sign his transition tender, and who missed two field goals he'd normally make in the six-point playoff loss to Green Bay, a few days after his daughter's cancer diagnosis. It is shocking that they might be willing to put their fortunes in the hands of a rookie.

In the NFL, nobody trusts rookie kickers. That's as true today as it was in the late '90s, when Akers was hitting the waiver wire three times and waiting tables at a steakhouse. Even when Akers finally stuck with the Eagles in 1999, it was to split the job with veteran Norm Johnson, Akers attempting only the really long field goals that year. It's not impossible to envision something along those lines happening again, if Akers is somehow forced to settle for a 1-year deal here instead of a longer contract with a signing bonus elsewhere.

Akers' agent, Jerrold Colton, noted that his client "is not under contract" and that the Eagles "had to protect themselves."

Colton said Akers, who could not be reached for comment, is "looking to see where things take him. He had hoped to complete his career as a Philadelphia Eagle, but if that's not possible, he's ready to move on."

Reid said "We'll just see how things go with David and Sav [Rocca, the punter]." Reid refused to discuss Akers' situation in detail.

Overall, the Eagles have drafted 24 players over the past two seasons, an unprecedented haul in the era of the seven-round draft, one that speaks to Roseman's mania for making trades that net more late-round picks. Clearly, they wanted to turn over the bottom half of their roster, at least, addressing depth concerns.

"We hadn't had a lot of picks [recently]," said Roseman, who took over as GM early in 2010. "We thought if in the next couple years we can come out with 24, 25 picks, and you hit on even half those guys, wow, you've really replenished the bottom half of your roster."

Roseman said before the draft that most of the defensive line talent was in the early rounds. Reporters who heard that figured the Eagles, whose pass-rush pressure sagged badly down the stretch last season, would be sure to address the situation in the early rounds. Instead, they passed entirely, much like with the offensive line in 2010. Only twice previously, in 2004 and 2009, has a Reid-era draft failed to produce a single d-lineman. The Bears traded up one spot ahead of the Eagles to grab defensive tackle Stephen Paea in the second round; the Birds acknowledged having interest in Paea.

"We're aware that you're not going to fill every need in the draft," Roseman said. "If you come out of the draft [feeling you've filled] every need, you probably didn't have a very good draft. We're going to explore all avenues to improve our team. We're aggressive by nature . . . We're fortunate that right now, it doesn't end. At some point here there will be ways to address these needs."

For more Eagles coverage and opinion, read the Daily News' Eagles blog, Eagletarian, at www.eagletarian.com.

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http://twitter.com/LesBowen.

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