Early Birds: Chris Polk's touchdowns; issue with replacing CBs; Bryan Braman on defense
1) Chris Polk scored two touchdowns on Sunday, and he has now scored on six of 50 career carries. Of those six touchdowns, five have been from 10 yards on in.
"I know my role: short-yardage, goal line," Polk said. "Run in there full speed and fall forward."
The coaches are high on Polk, although with LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles ahead of him (and Bryce Brown last season), carries have been hard to come by. So Polk has accepted his role as a situational rusher, which is where his 5-foot-10, 224-pound frame and powering north-south running styles are especially advantageous.
"We had him in there close," offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said. "We had a package that we use with specific players. There were two runs that come to mind, the two goal line runs. He's a good, forceful runner. I think he's done a good job when we put him in there of getting the ball in the end zone."
Polk said there is no difference between rushing at the goal line and rushing at a different spot on the field. Both his first carry in organized football and first carry in the NFL went for scores. Polk keeps it simple and avoids non-productive movement when the ball is that close to the end zone.
"The O-line gives me the best looks possible," Polk said. "It's just how I run; take what the defense gives you and just run."
He described a "roller coaster" season that has included injuries, including a bad hamstring injury that kept him sidelined throughout the summer. But the Eagles like what they have in Polk, who is stuck in a No. 3 role and as a short-yardage back unless the Eagles make moves at running back this offseason.
2) One question that comes up often is whether the Eagles would replace Bradley Fletcher with Brandon Boykin or Nolan Carroll. One common answer, aside from the team's confidence in Fletcher, is that Boykin and Carroll already have specific roles. Boykin is the nickel cornerback and Carroll is the dime cornerback, which is almost like a linebacker in that formation.
The Eagles rely on their dime package on most passing downs, which means all four cornerbacks are on the field. But Carroll, who fits the team's prototype for the outside cornerback spot more than Boykin, has been trained specifically to play in the dime. Fletcher and Cary Williams have not. So one of the issues the Eagles would have with moving Carroll to the outside is that it would weaken their dime defense.
"Nolan and Boykin can go out, but Cary and Fletch aren't trained to go in," defensive coordinator Bill Davis said. "It's a long process to get those guys trained in there and it's got a lot to do with leverage and help and it happens a little bit quicker. The guys are quicker in there. It's a completely different role."
3) If Trent Cole does not play on Saturday because of his broken hand, Brandon Graham would step into the starting role and the Eagles would play less of a rotation. Marcus Smith would be a reserve outside linebacker for Graham and Connor Barwin, with Bryan Braman as the only other outside linebacker on the roster. So in the case of injury and fatigue, he could also be pressed into action.
"I feel fairly comfortable in the scheme," Braman said.
Braman, who is 6-foot-5 and 241 pounds, is a solid athlete for his size, but lacks defensive experience. He was signed for his special-teams prowess and has taken only nine snaps on defense this season. The 27-year-old did not have much of a role on the Houston Texans' defense during his three seasons there, either.
When the coaches were asked his defensive work during the summer, there was optimism about Braman's athleticism and strength. They thought he could be a reserve as a speed edge rusher in the nickel package, but Braman needed to learn the scheme and slow his mind down on the field. He also needed to adjust to pass coverage.
"Coverage is my weakest link, and that's where the biggest improvements have come," Braman said.