With OTA’s in the books, the Eagles are set to enter their last phase of their offseason workout program tomorrow. Mandatory Minicamp is not only the last chance for players to prove their worth before Training Camp gets underway in the heart of Summer, but it also acts as one more opportunity to build chemistry with the team likely set to be fully together for the first time since the end of last season. So, what should we be watching for over the course of the next few days? Here are five questions to ponder as the team take to the NovaCare Complex one more time.
How tall is the Mountain for Marcus Smith?
This offseason was set to be arguably the most important of Marcus Smith’s career. With a new influx of talent at DE, including first round pick Derek Barnett, it was time for Smith to build on the flashes he showed during the first year under Jim Schwartz, finally shaking the bust label.
But when Doug Pederson addressed the media ahead of the first team practice of the year, Smith wasn’t among the players listed as absent. In fact, it wasn’t until practice had started that people began to wonder where the former first round pick actually was. That trend continued into the heart of that week’s practices. The team were left just as puzzled as members of the media, with people scrapping to try and find what’s actually happened to Marcus Smith.
With no real explanation as Mandatory Minicamp draws near, the questions are only growing in importance. However according to Les Bowen, Smith will be present for practice.
Here's the scoop everyone has been waiting for. Pulitzer now in the bag, mom. Marcus Smith has reported to Eagles minicamp, source says.
— Les Bowen (@LesBowen) June 12, 2017
But has the damage been done? If he’s trying to force his way out of the City of Brotherly Love, that would actually save the cap strapped Eagles $1.4M. It’s not as if Roseman needs much in the way of ammunition to part ways with the DE who fell from grace, but if Smith has ANY chance of making the roster, he simply has to shine this week.
Even if Smith does stand out, the eye-popping flexion of Derek Barnett and new mindset of Vinny Curry make finding a role increasingly difficult. Chris Long, Brandon Graham and Steven Means are just three of the other names who are at this point ahead of Smith on the depth chart. If Marcus Smith has any shot at all of proving that there was a genuine reason behind his absence and that he intends to prove his worth to the Eagles one more time, it all starts this week, it has to.
Who can maintain OTA momentum?
From Rasul Douglas and Donnel Pumphrey, to a resurgent Nelson Agholor and an under-the-radar Aaron Grymes, there have been plenty of names turning heads during the OTA period. The question is, who can maintain that momentum as Minicamp unfolds?
Eagles Head Coach, Doug Pederson, has already named a few players who have caught his eye up to this point:
“There has been a lot of guys. You talk about our rookies: [CB] Rasul Douglas has shown some strides here in the last couple practices and [RB] Donnel Pumphrey on offense, being able to move him around a little bit and put him in that kind of Darren Sproles mold, offensively. [DE] Derek Barnett, obviously, is going to be a good player for us and is going to be a nice little addition to our defensive line. The veteran guys, you watch Alshon in the red zone and his big body presence that we’ve been able to [use] and his relationship with Carson and guys that have really stood out right there.”
Jalen Mills was one man last year who was able to do this, something that ultimately led to an opportunity in week one against the Cleveland Browns. But with competition being higher than ever and OTA’s being taken to a whole new level, who’s next in line to follow in the path of the Green Goblin?
All eyes will be on the likes of Agholor who continue to show signs of development. It will be extremely interesting to see who can pick up where they left off last week and sustain the efficiency and energy that they’ve bought to every practice so far. But with the likes of Jason Peters returning, it may spark the catalyst for some new players who emerge as heroes of the spring.
Where will Qualls slot in?
The Eagles sixth round pick has missed all offseason training activities until this point, but not through any fault of his own. The NFL’s mandated rule that insists players cannot join the workouts until they’ve graduated have kept both Sidney Jones and the defensive tackle away from the team until this point.
It’s safe to say that missing such a large chunk of time as a rookie is going to have its consequences, even if they’re only marginal. The likes of Destiny Vaeao and newcomer Gabe Wright will have some slight leverage over the 304 lbs tackle. The Washington product will have to force his way into the rotation and likely find himself playing catchup for Mandatory Minicamp, at least ensuring that Training Camp is a level playing field when it comes to fighting for a roster spot.
Conversely, the Eagles may throw a curveball as they did at cornerback and shake things up, instead deciding to give Qualls some reps slightly higher up the ladder. It will be the first time we see Qualls in an Eagles uniform, so where he ends up playing during these next few days will definitely be an exciting aspect to watch.
Who can make the most of the last supper before Training Camp?
Mandatory Minicamp will be the last chance that an organized team activity takes place until Training Camp opens at the end of July. Which means if anybody is to make an impression on the coaching staff that stands the test of time, it has to be now. There’s only one more week of shirts and shorts until the tempo changes once again…so who’s got the most to prove? Whose chip on the shoulder mentality will see them shine in an environment that demands nothing short of 100% to secure a long-term future?
Training Camp is still someway off into the distance, but if you’re a depth player looking to compete for a starting role, earning those reps during the Summer is crucial, and this is the last chance for those players to really make a statement…especially at positions like cornerback and wide receiver where there is so much yet to be decided.
What will happen in the battle along the trenches?
From the idealistic return of Marcus Smith, to what has been a very defensively driven OTA so far, there is plenty of questions still looming over the trenches. Lane Johnson has been taking reps at LT in the absence of Jason Peters, while it’s Vaitai who has started on the opposite side of the field. Was this a potential premonition or maybe just an OTA occurrence not worthy of noting? We’ll get one more insight into that question this week before the team break up for the Summer.
Then of course, there’s the battle just one position in at LG. Isaac Seumalo and Allen Barbre have battled it out for reps with the one’s so far, but with Chance Warmack and even the wildcard of versatile Stefen Wisniewski in the wings, it’s truly anybodies game. So, with one more chance to try and finally put an end to what has been some unrelenting pass rush dominance, can anyone along the Eagles offensive line stand out from the crowd?
Mandatory Photo Credit: Christopher Szagola/Cal Sport Media via AP Images