OTA’s concluded on Friday for the Philadelphia Eagles, and with a short time to catch our breath before mandatory minicamp, it’s time to look at what we learned about the Eagles over the the last two weeks.
Consistency has evaded Carson Wentz, but coaches aren’t concerned:
Much like OTA’s last year, Carson Wentz has wowed reporters with some perfectly thrown dimes, while struggling at other times during the day. From beautiful passes to Alshon Jeffery, to simple misreads that have resulted in interceptions, Wentz has had a wobbly start to the program.
One of the biggest factors surrounding the Eagles quarterback heading into year two has been his mechanics. It’s something that the coaching staff have only spoken highly of after Wentz sought out help from a QB guru from the offseason. But even with such an intricate change, it’s still way too early to try and look for huge changes that are likely going to be missed by the untrained eye. The important thing to remember about this period is that there’s only so much that you can take from players when competing in shirts and shorts. OTA’s are more about building chemistry, setting the right tone, and getting an early look at what the Eagles are cooking for the upcoming season. Something that wasn’t lost on Doug Pederson:
“The ones that are working with Carson are obviously working out some timing and details in the routes, and that’s what this spring and this next week is about. So it’s been a real bright spot for us this spring.”
It’s all about finding a rhythm early on, and so long as Wentz continues to marinate in such a quarterback friendly environment that’s now surrounded with talent, that’s all fans can really hope for.
Competition at every position
If there’s one thing that has been apparent from the word go, it’s that the theme of this year’s offseason is “competition”. Whether it’s for an abundance of starting roles in the secondary, or simply a scramble for superiority at wide receiver, each position has every single player on the depth chart needing to give 100% each and everyday if they’re not to be left in the dust of those who are.
We’ve seen some near-fights, assertive celebrations and some fired up players showing just how much they want this opportunity. It’s something that was injected into the DNA of the Eagles upon the arrival of Doug Pederson, but only now are we really seeing the effects of the serum. An encouraging sign as Training camp looms.
The rookies come out swinging
Whether it’s Donnel Pumphrey lining up in the slot, or Rasul Douglas continuing to earn high praise from all angles, this year’s draft class has mostly made strong impressions all round. Shelton Gibson has reportedly struggled with some drops during individual drills early on, but again, it’s too early to really be worried about that. Derek Barnett has flashed on more than one occasion and has even drawn some extremely encouraging words from Lane Johnson. So far, so good, for the newest Birds’ to the nest.
Marcus Smith is hurting his future by avoiding OTA’s
I’ve already written an article on this deeper explaining the implication that Smith’s OTA absence could have, but on Tuesday it all gets very real. Smith is EXPECTED, like every Eagle, to attend mandatory minicamp…and with no explanation given as to why he’s missed the entire OTA period, the future really doesn’t look bright for the former first round pick.
It doesn’t help that Derek Barnett and Vinny Curry have only been joined by the likes of Steven Means in the list of defensive ends who have ran rampant while Smith has been trying to prove a point. It’s an extremely tall Mountain to climb if Smith is to make the Eagles final 53-man roster…if he wants to at all that is.
LeGarrette Blount made an impact during practices he attended
While the newly signed running back has missed a few practices this week for varying reasons (including collecting his Super Bowl Ring), in the few appearances he has made, the impression made has been a strong one.
The physical running back is easily the biggest rusher that the Eagles have on their roster, and it shows. He runs a differing style to the likes of Sproles and Pumphrey, instead powering through blockers and charging up the gut. It’s that same style that was clearly visible during his first OTA with the team. Eliot Shorr-Parks made some great observations surrounding the 6’1, 245 lbs, running back after that initial practice.
Jordan Matthews still not at 100%
After suffering two injuries during the 2016 season, it was hoped that the Eagles leading wideout would be good to go by the time OTA’s rolled around. In the first issue of – = +, Matthews opened up on what it’s been like recovering from his ankle injury and what the future holds:
After participating in the team’s first OTA, Matthews has missed a lot of practice time, apparently still nursing the ankle injury sustained against the Packers last season, as well as what was later revealed as Knee Tendinitis. It’s not the first time Matthews has dealt with this injury, after taking a huge hit from Jalen Mills last year that cut his preseason short, Matthews was later diagnosed with the injury during October.
In his absence, Nelson Agholor has been the wideout working in the slot, a sight that fans have been pining to see after he was so dominant at the position during his USC career. However, what the hopes should consist of at this point is for the Vanderbilt product to return to a clean bill of health and be fit for Training Camp, a crucial period as he enters his final contracted year.
Nelson Agholor turned heads
Arguably the biggest standout of the offseason so far has been Nelson Agholor. Doug Pederson spoke highly of the new chip on the shoulder attitude possessed by the wideout as OTA’s kicked off:
“Listen, Nelson’s attitude has been great.” Pederson told the media ahead of the team’s first OTA practice. “He’s worked extremely hard this offseason. The addition of [wide receivers coach] Mike Groh has really sort of lit a fire with Nelson a little bit, and then the addition with [WRs] Alshon [Jeffery] and Torrey [Smith] and bringing these guys in. As I’ve said all along, competition, man, sharpens you. And that’s what I’ve seen from Nelson. He’s done a great job already this spring.”
“The expectation is for him to compete – to compete to play, compete to start, compete to be a role player on this football team, help us win football games. That’s my expectation with guys like Nelson, and really with all the team members. Just to be unselfish, but yet be disciplined and compete to play.”
Since that day, Agholor has been making contested catches, charting drops, catching attention with his route running, and seemingly shining in individual drills orchestrated by Mike Groh. Mandatory Minicamp is the next step for Nelson Agholor, but the reinvention appears to be well underway.
Cornerback competition is stiff
At the start of OTA’s, Doug Pederson listed Jalen Mills and Patrick Robinson as the starters outside. Within the few weeks that practices ran, Rasul Douglas was able to muscle his way to partner Mills at the second CB spot, with all three making appearances in the slot. To put it bluntly, the competition at cornerback is going to be incredible this year.
Aaron Grymes has picked up where he left off last year by flashing continuously and has been joined with a flurry of cornerback underdogs looking to force their way onto the roster. This level of intensity in the Secondary has not been felt for quite some time, and it could reward the Eagles with a group of players to build around for years to come.
Pass rush is ruthless
We all knew that the Eagles front four was good, but we didn’t know just how good it would be until Tim Jernigan made his presence known late in the proceedings after taking time out for the birth of his child. The duo of Cox and Jernigan ran RAMPANT at times, while Barnett and company caused more than a few problems on the outside for the Eagles offensive line.
Tempers flared when Jason Kelce squared up to newly signed Gabe Wright earlier this week, signifying both the competition level and aggression being displayed by both units as the Jim Schwartz grouping continued to cause problems for Carson Wentz, albeit without contact.
When the pads eventually do go on, there is going to be an electrifying energy running through the heart of the trenches…and it all stems from a pass rush that has been injected with some tenacious new talent.
Mandatory Photo Credit: Christopher Szagola/Cal Sport Media via AP Images