Longtime Eagles hoping they'll stay in Kelly's system

Eagles offensive lineman Todd Herremans. (David Maialetti/Staff file photo)
Eagles offensive lineman Todd Herremans. (David Maialetti/Staff file photo)
Posted: November 09, 2013

By the start of the 1999 season, new Eagles coach Andy Reid had whittled the 60-or-so-man roster he was handed in January down to 24 remaining players.

By the start of his second season, that number had been trimmed to 17 - about half of whom were part of a core that reached the playoffs in each of the next five seasons.

But many players who were an integral part of the Eagles in the late 1990s - not exactly an era to remember - didn't make it that far as Reid discarded many pieces and built the team to his tastes.

Chip Kelly faced a similar task: Rebuild from the ruins of a losing team, knowing that he couldn't turn the roster over in one offseason. So he retained 30 players from the final 53-man roster of the 2012 season, including nine players who were on various injury lists.

Nine games into this season, that number is down to 28. It will only decrease. Some of the departed may be bottom-roster reserves like Kurt Coleman or Casey Matthews, but there will also be longtime staples who may not make it to Kelly's second season.

"I would love to be here," said guard Todd Herremans, the longest-tenured Eagle along with Trent Cole. "I would love to retire here. That's my plan. I don't know if it'll happen. But I'm trying to play as good as I can this year."

Herremans was part of a group of veterans - many who played for only one team and one coach - that Kelly said were the most eager to buy into his program. By his rationale, they had the most urgency because of the shelf life for NFL players.

"It's his ship. He's going to be here for a long time and you really have no option when it comes to that," wide receiver Jason Avant said this week. "Try to do what he says, work with it, and implement the system the best we can. I think, [on] the whole, that's what the guys have done."

Herremans and Cole, drafted in 2005, are in their ninth seasons. Avant was drafted a year later. Tight end Brent Celek was selected in the 2007 draft. Long snapper Jon Dorenbos came via free agency in 2006. The Eagles traded for tackle Jason Peters in 2009. Quarterback Michael Vick was signed that same year.

Aside from Vick, each is signed through next season - most even longer - but nothing is guaranteed.

"If I'm gone, I'm gone," Cole said. "I'll be playing somewhere else. It don't matter. I'm here to play for the Eagles, play for Chip Kelly. Until then, we'll see what happens."

Even with a 4-5 record, the Eagles are only a game out of the NFC East lead. The playoffs are still in play. But expecting anything beyond sneaking into the postseason would be unrealistic.

Herremans, Cole, Avant and Celek all said that they have yet to give up on winning a title this season, and each said he wanted to return to be a part of what Kelly was constructing. Herremans called it a "winning formula."

"I think Chip's getting better and better when it comes to coaching in this league," Avant said. "I like his concepts. I like the way he runs practices. I like how he coaches. I definitely want to be a part of it."

Kelly said the commitment from the veterans is still there because he and his staff have been consistent, thus earning their trust.

"We've had our ups and we've had our downs, but that's life," Kelly said. "But you can't change, and I think the same group of guys that were enthusiastic and excited about what we were doing in June are enthusiastic and excited about what we're doing on a Wednesday in November."

But the offseason changes a lot and Kelly, for the first time as an NFL coach, will have to make some tough decisions on players who helped guide him through his first season.

Peters a year later

Despite a hefty $10 million salary for 2014, Jason Peters will likely to be back to play out the final year of his contract.

The 31-year-old tackle missed all of last season with a ruptured Achilles tendon but has missed just a handful of snaps this season. Peters has dealt with a few minor injuries, including a dislocated finger, but he said he is playing near his 2011 all-pro level.

"I think so," Peters said this week. "There's some stuff I can clean up, but I'm not giving up too much of nothing. If you look around, you've got left tackles getting beat left and right. As long as we win, I'm not worried about that."

Peters still rates as one of the best pass-blocking left tackles in the league, according to Pro Football Focus, which compiles advanced statistics. The website has Peters allowing one sack and 24 quarterback hurries this season. In 2011 he gave up three sacks and 17 hurries in 14 games, the website reported.

His run blocking hasn't seemed as consistent, but Eagles coach Chip Kelly said he thought otherwise.

"I think Jason's done a really good job," Kelly said. "He's probably been our best [run blocker], to be honest with you."

Vick's incentives

With each game he doesn't play, Michael Vick risks losing hundreds of thousands of dollars. The Eagles quarterback signed a one-year contract in February that paid him $7 million if he made the roster (which he did) and possibly $3 million more in incentives.

Vick would earn $1.5 million if he played 90 percent of offensive snaps over the season, $1.2 million for 80 percent, $900,000 for 70 percent, $700,000 for 60 percent and $500,000 for 50 percent. Entering Sunday's game against the Packers, which he is expected to miss with a hamstring injury, Vick has played 52 percent of the snaps.

He has already earned $281,250 for the nine games he has spent on the 53-man roster. He will earn an additional $281,750 if he remains on the roster till the end of the season. There is also $1 million worth of postseason incentives.

Vick's return to Green Bay will be his first since Jan. 4, 2003, when he and the Falcons beat the Packers, 27-7, in a wild-card playoff game at Lambeau Field. Many have considered it his greatest achievement in the NFL.

Inside the game

Further proof that Jerry Azzinaro is more than just a defensive line coach for the Eagles came from safety Earl Wolff, who said earlier this week that the assistant sometimes gives tips to the defensive backs.

"Basically, he knows the whole defense in and out," Wolff said. "A lot of times when we're out there he's . . . watching from the back, so if he sees us do something wrong, he'll come up to us and help us."

Azzinaro, who coached under Kelly at Oregon, also has the title of assistant head coach.

The Eagles are one of the few teams in the NFL that brings practice-squad players to away games.

Tight end Emil Igwenagu spent part of last year on the practice squad and said he wasn't even on the sideline for home games. He opened this season on the 53-man roster, was released, and later was brought back to the practice squad.

"I would think the purpose is to have everybody feel like they're part of the team," Igwenagu said.

Practice squad players can't be active on game days. Igwenagu said they are permitted to work out on the field before 53-man roster players warm up.

Nick Foles has not tossed an interception this season. He also has yet to fumble.

The Eagles quarterback did not profess to know why, but he started wearing a glove on his left, non-throwing hand in Week 2.

"It just gives me more grip on the ball when I'm in the pocket holding onto it," Foles said. "These guys are so strong and physical, they swat the ball."

Television cameras have caught right guard Todd Herremans tapping the right thigh of center Jason Kelce before the snap.

So what does it mean?

"Snap the ball," Herremans said.

The tap is just another way of using a silent count. Herremans looks back at the quarterback and when he's ready, he simply alerts Kelce, saving the center an extra motion.

Inside the locker room

Vinny Curry was the subject of trade reports before last week's deadline. "I can understand why teams are reaching out," he said. The defensive end has increased his playing time this season, but there are still some who wonder if he has a future playing in the Eagles' 3-4 defensive scheme. Curry said he wasn't concerned about the possibility of being dealt at midseason. "It is what it is," Curry said. "I feel like I'm working hard, doing all the right things here."

Linebacker Mychal Kendricks said that he paid for team dinners last season and that the rookie hazing continued this year. The subject has gotten much attention because Dolphins guard Jonathan Martin cited the expensive tabs he had to pay for other teammates as one reason he left the team. It was reported that Martin paid $15,000 to finance a trip to Las Vegas for other players. Kendricks said he once had to pick up a large bill at a steak house. "It's about half of what Martin was being asked for," Kendricks said. "That's pretty expensive, huh?"

Backup Julian Vandervelde played his first snaps on offense in two years when he replaced center Jason Kelce for five plays against the Redskins. "I thought my first reps were going to come at guard, but Evan [Mathis] really, really didn't want to come out," Vandervelde said. "So Kelce was kind enough to let me step in." Vandervelde's previous play came against the Cardinals in 2011 when he was at guard on a goal line play in which LeSean McCoy ran for a touchdown. "So I'm no longer batting 1.000," he said.

By the numbers

12-291-4

Riley Cooper's receiving numbers (catches-yards-touchdowns) in four games with Nick Foles at quarterback. With Michael Vick in six games, he caught eight passes for 93 yards and one score.

100-yard receiving games DeSean Jackson has had in nine games this season, matching the total he had in his previous 28 games.

1,195

Plays the Eagles defense is projected to face over the entire season, which would be 71 more than the franchise high of 1,124 in 1999.

jmclane@phillynews.com

@Jeff_McLane

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