MOBILE, Ala. - The glossy schedule of events for Senior Bowl week is adorned with photos of standouts from last year who ended up being high first-round NFL picks and playing well as rookies - Detroit defensive end Ziggy Ansah, Buffalo quarterback E.J. Manuel and Eagles tackle Lane Johnson.
We don't have much of an idea yet of exactly what the Eagles will do in the May draft, but we do know they pay close attention to this week of drills run by NFL coaches (this year it's the Jaguars' and the Falcons') held along Alabama's Gulf Coast. Johnson, the junior-college quarterback turned offensive tackle, might have become the 2013 fourth overall pick off his performance here a year ago, matched against some of the draft's top pass rushers. The Senior Bowl's executive director, Phil Savage, has worked with the Eagles as a personnel adviser.
So, at the end of the first day of practice yesterday, it seemed like a good idea to mill around the player-media dinner and talk to a few guys who might fit what the Eagles need, without any particular notion of what the team thinks, so early in the evaluation process.
Auburn defensive end Dee Ford would project as a rush linebacker in the Eagles' system. Several analysts felt Ford dominated the first day of South team workouts. At 6-2, 243, he would seem to violate Chip Kelly's "big people beat up little people" guideline, but Ford is muscular and sturdy, and hey, if you get to the quarterback, rules are meant to be broken. Two years ago here, the Daily News noted sarcastically that Nebraska's Lavonte David was the smallest linebacker in attendance, so the Andy Reid Eagles had to be a lock to draft him. Would have been nice if they had: David, a Tampa Bay Buc, is one of the best young linebackers in the league now.
"I know I can do it," Ford said, when asked about transitioning to a 3-4. "It's really not much different . . . It fits my skills."
The secret to being a productive pass rusher, Ford said, is studying the game and the opponent.
"You have to have a plan. You can't just go out there and bull-rush all day . . . you gotta know all about [the guy blocking you]. The biggest thing, you gotta make him react off you; you gotta be the threat."
Ford hasn't heard Kelly's saying, but if he had, he'd disagree.
"That size thing is nothing. It's all about ballin'," he said.
Another Senior Bowl participant who talked about studying the opponent was Vanderbilt wideout Jordan Matthews, a potential first- or second-round pick. Matthews is 6-3, 206, and it wouldn't be a shock if the Eagles used a high selection on someone like him, even as they try to address their defensive issues.
"Getting cutups or watching film of guys you're going to go against the next week, I feel like that should be required," said Matthews, an economics grad who holds the SEC career records for catches (262) and receiving yards (3,759). "Proper preparation prevents poor performance. That's one thing I like to live by . . . I don't want to ever be that person who comes out here blind. I wanted to make sure I got a good look at Aaron Colvin [Oklahoma corner on the South team]. I'd heard about him, I'd seen his highlights, but I hadn't watched him in a full game. Chris Davis from Auburn, that's a physical corner. You want to make sure you have some releases ready for him before you have to stand on that line and look at him."
Matthews' mother is a first cousin of Jerry Rice, who ran track with Rice in high school, he said. They aren't in constant contact, but Matthews recalled visiting Rice when he played for the Raiders, seeing his house. He has watched a lot of film of Rice, studied his demeanor and approach. But he has done the same with Calvin Johnson, Cris Carter and Randy Moss, he said.
"I was either 12 or 13. They had a game against the Broncos around Christmastime. We went to his house, went to the game" but ended up changing seats because Matthews' mom wasn't thrilled with the language of the inhabitants of the "Black Hole," he said.
The top QB prospect who took the Senior Bowl up on its invite is Fresno State's Derek Carr, younger brother of David Carr, the first overall pick in the 2002 draft, by the then-expansion Houston Texans. Derek Carr said his brother has been helpful as he starts to navigate the draft process.
But obviously, David Carr, who ended up starting 79 NFL games for four teams, didn't have the career he was expecting. What did David's draft experience teach Derek, and is he leery of being overly hyped?
"There's not an expansion team anymore; no team is starting fresh," Derek Carr said. "Our situations are completely different. [The Texans] needed a quarterback, they had to draft one . . . You want to be in a situation where they've got your back. You want to go to a team that fell in love with you and gives you every chance to succeed."
Carr is familiar with Chip Kelly from when Fresno State played Oregon.
"It was only a matter of time before he got to the NFL," Carr said. He said Kelly making the playoffs his first year "says a lot about him as a leader, and it says a lot about that team."