Before the Eagles take on the Browns in their third preseason game, Reuben Frank has observations on fans' hostility directed at Donnel Pumphrey, the impressive Ronald Darby, an under-the-radar defensive tackle and much more.
1. The amount of hostility I've seen directed at Donnel Pumphrey the last couple weeks bothers me. Yeah, the kid was terrible last year. Yeah, he hurt his hamstring a couple weeks ago, Yeah, he hasn't done anything in an Eagles uniform. But haven't we learned anything from the career arcs of guys like Brandon Graham, Nelson Agholor, Brian Westbrook and even Nick Foles? I don't know if Pumphrey will ever be a productive player in the NFL and I don't know if he'll ever play a snap for the Eagles. But he's a fourth-round pick, and there aren't a ton of fourth-round picks who shine right away. He worked hard all offseason, he looked much improved the first couple weeks of camp, and he's only 23 years old, and that's just way too early to start deciding that anybody is or isn't anything.
2. I haven't written enough this summer about Ronald Darby, but the kid is having an exceptional preseason, and I can't wait to see him in action once the real games begin. Remember, this time last year Darby had just arrived here. Then he got hurt. This year he's had a full offseason to really learn the defense and acclimate himself to his coaches and teammates, and as well as he played last year he looks markedly better now. I think you'll see a steadier and more consistent Ronald Darby this fall. I know a lot of people have been clamoring to trade him because he'll be a free agent this offseason and the Eagles have a lot of promising young corners (and severe 2019 cap issues). But Darby is 24 and a special talent. I want him here, on the field, playing. I can see him having a Pro Bowl season, and I want that to be here, not anywhere else.
3. Zach Ertz is the only player in Eagles history with three seasons of 70 catches and 800 yards. And only three other Eagles have had two such seasons – Jeremy Maclin, Irving Fryar and Jordan Matthews. In NFL history, only five tight ends have had more consecutive seasons with 70 catches and 800 yards -- Tony Gonzalez (7), Jason Witten (7), Todd Christensen (4), Antonio Gates (4) and Greg Olsen (4). If Ertz has 70-for-800 this year, he'll share the third-longest such streak in NFL history.
4. Keep an eye tonight on defensive tackle Bruce Hector, an undrafted rookie out of South Florida. He wears No. 66 and has quietly had a strong training camp. With Beau Allen gone and Tim Jernigan in limbo, the Eagles are a little thin at defensive tackle across from Fletcher Cox, but it looks like Hector has a shot at a spot on the 53-man roster along with Cox, Haloti Ngata and Destiny Vaeao. Ngata is now 34 and I can't imagine him playing more than 25 snaps per game. The Eagles can always move Graham or Michael Bennett inside, but you don't want to do that too much. Hector is 6-foot-2, 300 pounds, and if he continues to show up, he's going to have a chance to not just make the team but to get on the field.
5. Ricky Watters' short tenure with the Eagles is so insanely underrated. His 1995 and 1996 numbers are preposterous. At the time, he was only the second NFL player ever with consecutive seasons with at least 1,200 rushing yards, 10 rushing touchdowns and 50 receptions. Since then, a few others have done it (and LaDainian Tomlinson did it seven straight years!), but Watters was a uniquely gifted player who has been unfairly defined by four unfortunate words he spoke after his first game in an Eagles uniform. Consider this: From 1995 through 1997, he averaged 1,285 rushing yards, 11 rushing touchdowns and 54 catches. Nobody else in franchise history – not Duce Staley, not LeSean McCoy, not Brian Westbrook – has done that even once.
6. The NFL's new rule eliminating an intermediate roster cut-down day really helps the Eagles this year because it means they'll have a full 90-man roster for the Jets game a week from Thursday and that means Doug Pederson won't be forced to play guys he doesn't want to play. That's especially important this year, since the Eagles open the season just a week after the last preseason game instead of the usual 10 days later. Those are three big recovery and preparation days the Eagles lose. The NFL in previous years had a cutdown from 90 to 75 after the third preseason game, which meant you were forced to play some guys who were going to make your 53, whether you wanted to or not. Now, that won't be an issue. Now you can take a look at the handful of guys that you're making a final evaluation of and rest (and protect) everybody else who's making your team. This will help all NFL coaches but it helps the Eagles more since they have a short week before the opener.
7. I've been really impressed with Christian Hackenberg and his approach to what will almost certainly be a very brief stay with the Eagles. As he told me earlier this week, he's not worried about getting cut, he's only concerned with using all the resources around him as long as he's here to get better. Hack said he's learned not to worry about anything but getting better each day and being ready whenever he gets an opportunity to play. The rest he's not concerned with. For a guy who was such a celebrated draft pick with the Jets and wound up not playing a single snap, he's really developed a healthy attitude. And who knows, maybe the Eagles keep him around on the practice squad and he gets better and one day gets another chance to play somewhere. He's got a big arm, he just needs to get his mechanics together, and that process has been ongoing since he got here. You can read my full interview with Hack here.
8. It's amazing to me that the Eagles don't have one cornerback older than 25 on the preseason roster. Sidney Jones, Chandon Sullivan, Rasul Douglas and Avonte Maddox are 22, D.J. Killings is 23, Darby and Jalen Mills are 24 and De'Vante Bausby is 25. Considering that Bausby isn't a lock to make the final roster, it's possible that Mills – who was in high school in 2012 – will be the Eagles' oldest cornerback. We know Mills and Darby can play, but it speaks volumes about their leadership that at just 24 years old they are in command of that cornerback room.
9. There's a really good chance the Eagles' fourth running back is not currently on their roster.
10. The Browns are 1-31 since they decided not to draft Carson Wentz. They're 2-41 in their last 43 games. They're 4-49 in their last 53 games. If you're starting your freshman year at Cleveland State, the last time the Browns won a road game was your sophomore year of high school, the last time they won back-to-back games was your freshman year, and the last time they had a winning record you were in 2nd grade. Being a Browns fan must be like living through Ray Rhodes' last year with the Eagles every year.