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Football / Sports

Eagles need pass rushers and safeties

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Super Bowl was just more than two weeks ago, and NFL free agency begins in about two weeks. Executives, coaches, scouts, and medical personnel from all 32 teams are in Indianapolis for the annual NFL scouting combine, which started Wednesday. There's little time for time off in the NFL.

The combine is the unofficial opening of the NFL's offseason, or what can more aptly be characterized as the nonplaying season. Because with teams, agents, and 335 draft prospects at the combine, the NFL's answer of the hot stove begins in earnest.

The Eagles have the No. 22 overall pick, their original picks in the first five rounds and the seventh round, and the Patriots' fifth-rounder. Although they need a pass-rushing outside linebacker, help at safety, and potentially more wide receivers, general manager Howie Roseman insists that the Eagles will adhere to the "best-player available" philosophy they have used in the last two drafts.

The top two safeties in the draft are Louisville's Calvin Pryor and Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. The top pass rushers likely will be off the board when the Eagles are scheduled to draft in the first round, but pay attention to Auburn's Dee Ford this week. The 6-foot-2, 240-pound pass rusher finished with 101/2 sacks this season.

"He's a guy with some real edge burst, and he's a guy that would fit what the Eagles do," said NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock, a Philadelphia-area native and resident.

Coach Chip Kelly places an emphasis on certain measurements such as height, wing span, and hand size. The team can find out those measurements this week, as well as get a gauge on athleticism. The Eagles will also meet with 60 prospects for better understanding of their personalities, acumen, and character.

The Philadelphia area is often well represented at the combine, although there are not many local prospects this season. Former Cardinal O'Hara teammates -- Pittsburgh quarterback Tom Savage and Ohio State wide receiver Corey "Philly" Brown -- will be in attendance. Penn State wide receiver Allen Robinson, defensive lineman DaQuan Jones, and guard John Urschel were also invited. Temple does not have a player at the combine.

After consecutive seasons in the top half of the first round, the Eagles return near the bottom of the round this season. But they still might find elite talent, because the prospects are expected to impress when on-field testing begins Saturday.

"This is the deepest and best draft class I've seen in probably 10 years," Mayock said. "That's been reinforced by most of the general managers and scouts I've talked to throughout the league. I had one GM tell me the other day that having a top-20 pick this year is very similar to having a top-10 pick last year."

The top prospects in the draft are expected to include South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins, and Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson. Five of those six left college with eligibility remaining. The class is bolstered by a record 98 underclassmen.

Players who meet with teams and reporters are bound to be asked personal questions. Manziel, the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner, might be the highest-profile player to come to Indianapolis this week, but the player who will generate the most buzz is Missouri defensive end Michael Sam.

Sam, who last week announced he was gay, has interviews with teams and media obligations on Saturday. It's the first time Sam is meeting with coaches and executives and taking questions in a news-conference forum since he made his announcement.

Ultimately, Sam is just one of 335 players in town for a job interview. He'll be evaluated as a football player and must show whether he can play outside linebacker. The Southeastern Conference defensive player of the year is considered a "tweener" -- potentially undersized for a defensive end at 6-2 and 260 pounds with a skill-set that might not translate to stand-up linebacker. Mayock has Sam projected as a third- to fifth-round pick entering the combine.

"He's much better going forward than he is backwards," Mayock said. "He's got a little bit of explosion off the edge, but he doesn't have the length. ... So he's got linebacker size, but he's got the physical skill-set of a defensive end. He's a tough fit."

(c)2014 The Philadelphia Inquirer

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