Training camp is finally upon us as rookies and selected veterans kick off proceedings at the NovaCare Complex ahead of the first full team practice on July 27th.
27 rookies will be doing everything they can to make an impact over the next couple of weeks to ensure they take the next big step in their NFL journey. From the second overall pick to an abundance of undrafted rookies, there’s plenty of young blood on the Eagles 90-man roster. However with so many storylines developing, it’s going to be tricky to keep an eye on all 27. Don’t panic, here’s a breakdown of what to expect from every rookie between now and the end of camp.
The second overall pick may likely be sat on the sidelines on week one of the regular season, but Training camp is just as important as it would be if he was starting..if not more so. With Chase Daniel and Sam Bradford helping him along the way, it’s expected that Wentz will see an even share of reps with the first team..a trend that’s likely to carry on into Pre-season.
Wentz has already demonstrated his will to win by showing up early to the NovaCare with Jordan Matthews to put in some extra work. The NDSU star will likely draw a lot of attention regardless of what’s happening around him..but it will be interesting to see how Wentz performs against Schwartz’s Defense when the pads go on.
Will he see more play-action/ read-option reps than Bradford due to his eyebrow-raising athleticism, or will the playbook remain balanced among all three quarterbacks? The development of Wentz is going to be a focal point of Eagles Training camp, but the focus shouldn’t be on how many reps he sees in comparison to Bradford, it should be on how he performs during the time he has with the first team and if the signs of improvement are already present.
The Eagles drafted Smallwood in the fifth round of this year’s NFL Draft and seem to already have a plan in place for the West Virginia product. With the injury concerns of Ryan Mathews in a season that will see the Eagles play 13 games without a bye, partnered with the aging Darren Sproles..there’s almost room for a transitional committee effort.
When Mathews missed part of the offseason workout program with illness and Sproles was absent due to spending time with his family, the rookie picked up a huge chunk of reps alongside Barner..and turned heads. Pederson seemed to use him more in plays where he’d catch out of the backfield, although the initial burst shown in the dives up the middle was very impressive.
His role may change slightly however with the arrival of former Oregon Duck Byron Marshall, the only player in Pac-12 history to rush for 1,000 yards and then receive for 1,000 in the same season. Marshall signed with the Eagles as an undrafted rookie and is the same height (5’10) as Smallwood and just two pounds heavier (210).
With Marshall’s incredible versatility, it will be interesting to see if Marshall takes over the “Sproles” reps lower down the depth chart..the plays in which he catches out of the backfield, the screens..and maybe even lining up as a receiver.
This would leave Barner and Smallwood to jostle it out over the rushing reps and try to make an impact on the ground..potentially competing for the RB3 spot on the final 53-man roster. Smallwood has already shown that he has a good pair of hands and is able to pick up the dirty yards…but can he do it when it matters most?
Cedric O’Neal was signed as a UDFA and reportedly attracted attention from the Eagles at his Pro-day..the attention continued throughout the process, eventually leading to the signing. A smaller back, O’Neal is powerful for his 5’11 and 204 pound frame and is surprisingly athletic. It will be intriguing to see how he fits into the Eagles backfield plans in Training Camp.
Expect both Smallwood and Marshall to see plenty of action throughout Training camp and for Pederson to find countless ways to include them in a play. O’Neal may be rotated in throughout camp and with so many contrasting styles, it’s important not to overlook any of these backs.
After such a strong committee effort with the Chiefs last year, Smallwood’s elusiveness yet surprising amount of strength is almost the perfect compliment to the sheer versatility that Marshall brings to the table. Could these two running backs become the “Carson Wentz” of the backfield? Marinating and developing behind two veteran backs until their time to shine arrives? It’s entirely possible..
While he may be listed as a fullback, Pantale spent a large portion of his OTA reps as a fullback. Having played the position as a Jet and during his College career, it’s likely that he will act as the teams fullback in Training camp.
Zach Ertz will be taking the first team reps with Brent Celek..if Trey Burton continues to float between TE and WR, the reps for Pantale may be minimal as a Tight end..but as a fullback? That’s a different story.
With the backfield lining up against the Defense of Jim Schwartz when the pads come on, it would be surprising not to see Pantale line up in the backfield. The birds need a physical fullback, especially to help create space on the left side of the line. A fullback with good footwork who’s experienced in the position, but is built like a TE and has the versatility to contribute in other areas is exactly what the Eagles need..and what Pantale will bring in Training camp.
The Offensive line has been bolstered significantly through the offseason and with good reason. A move to a zonal scheme means that the focus on versatility and athleticism is higher than ever. Brooks and Johnson have solidified the right hand side of the line, but it’s the left where the likes of Seumalo and “Big V” will be looking to make an impact.
The main competition will come at the LG position, currently inherited by Allen Barbre. With Stefen Wisniewski affirming that he doesn’t intend to be a backup, he’s going to have to battle both Barbre and Seumalo for the position. Seumalo missed all of the offseason workouts due to sitting exams so will have a lot of catching up to do. This could lead to the former Oregon State guard seeing more first team action than Wisniewski in order to do so.
Dillon Gordon was originally a run blocking Tight end at College and played a large part in LSU’s continued run heavy offensive success. With such a focus on run blocking under Pederson, expect Gordon to really shine in this area and potentially earn some looks with the 1st & 2nd units as a result. Gordon is probably be competing for a depth position on the roster..and an ability to flourish in a challenging blocking scheme could give him the upper hand in camp.
At 6’6 and 320 pounds..”Big V” is going to be fun to watch over the next few weeks. The powerful blocker is often slow and has very choppy techniques..but his sheer size and power make him a weapon you can’t afford to not utilize. Vaitai is a tackle who will learn under one of the best in the business in Jason Peters at Training camp and could one day be an heir to the RT throne once Johnson moves over if all goes to plan. Vaitai will need a strong camp if he is to land himself on the final 53-man roster and it will be exciting to see where “Big V” plays on the O-Line and just how well he does against a Defense primed to rush the passer.
Bruce Johnson was named the best Center in the FCS last year and comes into Training camp competing for the backup role behind Jason Kelce. Wisniewski’s versatility means he has a shot to compete for the starting LG role..leaving the door wide open for the 6’0, 300-pound lineman. Johnson played every snap during his three year career and it’s easy to see why. After allowing 41 sacks in 2014, the team allowed just 18 in 2015 and as the lone senior on the line, Johnson was the leader of the group. Keep your eyes peeled for Johnson’s power as camp progresses, he could be an important backup for years to come if he shines here.
Darrell Greene started 25 straight games for San Diego State en route to being part of an Offensive Line that helped the team dominate the running game with two 1000-yard rushers. Some character issues hampered his hopes of being drafted..but the Eagles were quick to take a chance. The emphasis appears to be run-blocking when it comes to the rookies this year..but Greene specializes in protecting the Quarterback. It looks like the rooks could well be having their own positional battles as well as fighting for a roster spot! Greene has a reasonable amount of hype around him due to being so effective in both roles at college, but he’s now part of a very intense battle heading into camp..a battle to turn heads and attract some attention and reps with the first team.
Three of arguably the most enticing players to track the progress of during Training Camp, these rookies are locked in a position battle that can only be described as a free-for-all..and are essentially the Alligators the likes of Josh Huff and T.J Graham could be fed too if Minicamp ghosts continue to haunt them.
For Hunter Sharp, it’s a chance to prove people wrong. Character issues raised a “questionable work ethic” but the Eagles took a chance on the undersized yet explosive wideout. What does he bring to the table? During 2015 he ranked first in the conference and ninth in the country when it came to touchdowns..averaging 0.8 per game His senior season was no fluke, as a Junior, Sharp led his team in receiving yards with 835 and had four straight games of receiving for 100 yards or more.
The consistency is staggering and Sharp could well be one of the first to capitalize on a fall from grace of any receiver in camp. With the ability to be a constant down-field threat and haul in those tough passes, Sharp could be just the receiver primed to cause a surprise or two, catching those balls that are put in windows only Bradford can throw into. If he can impress with some deep catches, Sharp could well be a legitimate contender to make the final 53.
Xavier Rush is a well rounded receiver who’s looking to spring a surprise over the next few weeks. The former Tulane wideout proved to be a steady pair of hands while showing he can get separation with relative ease..both at College and during spring workouts. We caught up with him a couple of months ago, asking what he feels he needs to improve on heading into camp:
““I feel like since my knee injury I try and be an all around wideout that has all elements. That’s my repertoire. But a receiver who can make tough grabs..my explosion off the ball and my pad level is a main focus.”
If Rush can continue his development on his route running and the initial separation..he could well be in a position to make some big plays in Training camp, just as he did in the Spring. The Eagles could well have a new deep threat contender if Rush can turn heads as he did during OTA’s.
Wentz victimizes former NDSU teammate CJ Smith for completion deep down field to Xavier Rush #Eagles
— Ed Kracz (@kracze) May 31, 2016
Really nice back-shoulder throw from Chase Daniel to Xavier Rush, putting the ball into a tight window. #Eagles
— Matt Lombardo (@MattLombardoNFL) June 7, 2016
Averaging 16.2 yards per catch as a junior, Cayleb Jones went on to pick up All-Pac-12 honors before leading the team in receiving in 2015 with 55 receptions for 904 yards and 5 touchdowns. A slower, slightly taller receiver..Jones (you guessed it) saw his stock plummet due to character issues. Jones is inconsistent in his route running and doesn’t scream “Deep threat”..but with the Eagles seeking a reliable pair of hands for the many comeback, corner and drag routes that Pederson is likely to implement..Jones has a chance to shine..and Training camp is that chance. Expect to see Jones frequently used in Red-Zone plays and to make his mark as a potential slot backup.
Lastly, Marcus Johnson could well prove to be the ultimate WR sleeper. Johnson ran a blistering 4.37 at his Pro Day and achieved a 37 inch vertical leap but it wasn’t enough to get drafted. In fairness, he wasn’t helped by the lack of quarterback prowess at Texas..but Johnson still flashed the incredible athleticism at college that he showed at his pro day.
He also carried it over into the spring workouts in Philadelphia..
WR Marcus Johnson from Texas has been catching everything thrown his way during OTAs #Eagles
— Eliot Shorr-Parks (@EliotShorrParks) June 9, 2016
He may have fallen under the radar..but Johnson is the ultimate diamond in the rough for the Eagles. With three very capable quarterbacks (and the legendary MBT) at Training camp..it really will be the ultimate all-or-nothing platform for a receiver who had essentially been chained down at Texas, unable to show the world what he could truly do.
I didn’t use the term Alligators loosely earlier, I meant it. They may have gone undrafted, but these rookies have a LOT of potential and are in the perfect scenario to showcase it..expect the unexpected to go with the fireworks that the WR position battle is sure to produce.
The Eagles DT position may be one of the strongest in the NFL. With Cox and Logan wreaking havoc in such an aggressive Defense..it promises to be a big year for the Eagles Defensive tackle’s. However, there isn’t much in the way of depth.
Wujciak may lack the ideal size to play Nose tackle, but he makes up for it in athleticism. The 6’2 lineman had his best season as a senior, registering 12 tackles for a loss and 4.5 sacks. Expect the undrafted rookie to learn behind Bennie Logan over the next few weeks, with the intent of pipping former Titan Mike Martin to a backup spot. It will be interesting to see if Wujciak takes more reps than the likes of Taylor Hart and Beau Allen being that he was bought in under the Schwartz regime, thus ideally more suited to the scheme. Will Schwartz focus on developing the raw talent of his rookies, or instead give the reps to the old guard?
Destiny Vaeao had 83 tackles and 19 for a loss, 7 sacks, 2 interceptions and 2 forced fumbles during his time at Washington State. These stats alone make the 6’3, 298 pound Defensive Tackle and interesting prospect. His technique may be lacking..but the sheer aggression he possesses could well see him emerge as one of the more interesting UDFA’s to watch out for in Camp. Competing with his fellow rookies in an attempt to secure a spot on the final roster, expect some big hits when the pads go on.
Aziz Shittu has previously been compared to Vinny Curry..which kind of says it all. The 6’2, 288 pounder ended his season with a bang, racking up 3.5 tackles for a loss, eight overall and 1.5 sacks in the Rose Bowl en route to earning Defensive MVP. Shittu bounced back from a torn ACL in 2014 to turn some heads in what was a big year. Shittu is more than likely going to be competing for a backup spot during Training camp..but it wouldn’t surprise me to see his leaner frame play a factor. Shittu could well end up playing at DE behind the player he’s so often compared to..and in a position where the Eagles really need some depth.
The Linebacker position is arguably one of the weakest on the roster when it comes to overall depth. With a rich injury history embedded into the corps, it’s the perfect opportunity for these rookies to make an impact.
Joe Walker is probably in the more favorable position after being picked by the Eagles in the 7th round of the Draft. He ended his 2015 campaign leading the Oregon Ducks in tackles with 87 and recorded 6 for a loss as well as 2 sacks. He may not have the best size for the position, but a 40-yard dash time of 4.56 and a 6’2, 236 pound frame make him incredibly elusive. In a very gritty and aggressive system implemented by Jim Schwartz, Walker will need to prove he can hit hard if he has a shot at making the final roster. Camp is going to be crucial for the seventh round pick..and big hits will be just as crucial when the pads go on if he is to keep at the forefront of Jim Schwartz’s mind.
Quentin Gause is arguably the most athletic linebacker on the roster. Outperforming every other Rutgers player in the Vertical Jump, 3-cone drill and 20-yard/60-yard shuttle, Gause comes into camp looking to bring explosiveness and depth to a position that will likely need both to be successful in 2016. There will be fierce competition and tempers could flare, but Gause simply has to shine where others may not be as impressive. Shedding blocks, rushing the passer and making big tackles on receivers..an area that was a weakness for the birds in 2015.
The dark horse here is Tavarres. The dominant linebacker led his team with 110 tackles in 2015 and led the conference in both sacks and tackles for a loss (8.5 and 22.5). Tavarres is a natural pass rusher and expect him to perform as such at Training Camp. He won’t be a “coverage” linebacker..his specialty is shedding blocks and bursting through the trenches. He would make a great addition on special teams..but to get there, he needs to use his athleticism to get to the quarterbacks early..and often. It will be exciting to see if Tavarres can earn some shots with the big boys as Camp rolls on.
Finally, a man who was signed just this weekend for Training camp purposes, Don Cherry. A former Villanova Linebacker, Cherry is often praised for his tackling fundamentals. If he can learn under the likes of Kendricks and Hicks, then Cherry could well be an underdog to make the final roster. In order to do so, Cherry needs to stand out from the crowd..a crowd that consists of pass rushing linebackers. With Cherry’s more conservative skillset..he could well fly under the radar and wind up earning some reps with the starters as Camp goes on.
The Eagles cornerback corps is one of the youngest in the NFL..not only that but with eleven Defensive backs vying to make the roster..competition will be at a new high.
The man catching all the attention heading into Training camp is LSU’s Jalen Mills. A seventh round pick who had a stellar spring with the Eagles, Mills looks to carry that momentum into camp. Originally drafted as a Safety, Mills looks to have moved to where he dominates best..cornerback. The pressure is on however as he’s earned quite the hype train reputation over the Spring. Mills is likely to see reps with the first team, but is one of the favorites to make the final 53-man roster. Look for big pass breakups, key interceptions and some shutdown coverage from a corner whose draft stock was lowered due to off-field issues.
Grymes comes into Training camp after an impressive run in the CFL. An athletic corner who’s used to playing catch-up with receivers and making big plays on the sidelines, he’s certainly one of the dark horses heading into this week. The former Edmonton Eskimos defensive back recorded 101 tackles during his time with the Eskimos with 43 coming in his career year in 2015. He’ll need to make plenty more in Camp if he is to somehow stand out from what’s a very overcrowded cornerback corps.
Formerly an NDSU teammate of Carson Wentz, C.J Smith isn’t exactly the prototypical Schwartz corner. At 5’11 and 183 pounds, Smith is more of a ballhawk than he is a hard hitting corner. However, he does it well. When matched up against four of the top five ranked receivers in the conference, Smith let up an average of just 2.75 catches and 40 yards per game. With the Eagles placing such an emphasis on aggression, could Smith be the guy to add a sense of balance to the position and add that tight-coverage prowess that is otherwise lacking? If he is, he will have to break up plenty of passes and do his best to draw the attention off of Jalen Mills. Don’t expect many big hits from Smith, instead some quietly impressive “Jaylen Watkins esque'” coverage and some ballhawk tendencies.
Originally drafted as a corner, it looks as though Countess will compete as a Safety in Training camp. The move benefits himself and Jalen Mills..opening up room to breathe in a crowded secondary. Countess was one of the tougher corners in his class..
New Eagles CB Blake Countess allowed just 1 TD on 71 targets for Auburn in 2015: https://t.co/BHSrr4lXnL
— PFF (@PFF) April 30, 2016
..and he will now be learning behind one of the most exciting tandems in the NFL. Countess has an opportunity to fly under the radar here..but he will no doubt be making plays from day one. Countess has all the raw fundamentals to develop into a starting Safety one day and is looking to compete for the backup role currently inherited by Ed Reynolds. It’s simply going to come down to who’s the more aggressive and can make the biggest impact in Camp..don’t sleep on Blake Countess!
With Jon Dorenbos pursuing his career in Magic and wowing the nation in America’s Got Talent, we may well be seeing a competition at the Long Snapper position. If his progress continues and “AGT’ interferes with the Eagles pre-season, DePalma could become the next man up at Long Snapper. Even if Dorenbos places his attention on Football..there’s a rookie out there who can smell a roster spot. This will be one of the more quietly documented stories of training camp, but an important one none the less.
Photo credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports