On the bubble: Five Eagles in need of a Training Camp breakout

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Training Camp is just around the corner, and with it comes plenty of speculation and excitement surrounding both new faces and old on the Eagles roster. As with every addition however, there have naturally been knock-on effects which may have pushed some players into an unfavorable position. Training Camp is where roster battles are won and lost, and for these players, a big showing is critical to their future.

 

DE 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, and look to finally shake the bust label. In 2016, Smith set career “highs” of 2.5 sacks and 16 tackles, playing in all 16 games for the Eagles…however his future is anything but bright.

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.

When the word Mandatory was thrown into the fray, the defensive end returned to action…but was it too late? If Smith was trying to force his way out of the City of Brotherly Love, a move that would actually save the cap strapped Eagles $1.4M, he has laid the right foundation. 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 in Training Camp.

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 either all starts or ends next week.

 

S Jaylen Watkins
While his stats may not show it, Watkins actually played in 37% of defensive snaps for the Eagles in 2016, filling the void left by Malcolm Jenkins when he filled in for Ron Brooks as the slot cornerback. After taking the plunge to move to the position in order to save his career, Watkins had a crucial role to play, amassing 32 tackles and batting away three passes. The former Florida corner was a pending free agent heading into the season and the Eagles opted to sign him to a one-year deal after the year came to a close.

The problem is that he’s now in direct competition with former Raven, Terrence Brooks. Joe Douglas, more than anyone, is aware of how impressive Brooks could have the potential to be. After being waived by the Ravens and signed just one day later by the Eagles, it didn’t take long for the Safety to make an impact. A perennial special teamer upon arrival after stints over the top andin the nickel at Baltimore, Brooks flashed the talent he was so renowned for having come out of college, coming down with a crucial interception against the New York Giants. But with the starting roles secured and Chris Maragos not budging anytime soon…can Watkins rise to the challenge and beat out one more defensive back on the way to securing his long-term future with the Eagles? It’s an underrated battle…and one that demands very close attention.

 

RB Wendell Smallwood
The former WVU standout may have rushed for 312 yards and a touchdown during his rookie season, but 2016 was anything but consistent. After stunning signs of prowess against Pittsburgh, Smallwood’s role would be switched incredibly often. Goal-line back, change-of-pace, returner, you name it…Smallwood tried it. With Mathews suffering such a devastating injury, it seemed as though Smallwood was next in line to step up in 2017…until the offseason.

Not only did the Eagles draft versatile back, Donnel Pumphrey, but they went on to sign LeGarrette Blount, one of the most dominant downhill runners in the game. The blend in two valuable styles have left Smallwood, who struggles to catch out of the backfield, and run downhill with authority, at a crossroads. With UDFA Corey Clement and Byron Marshall in the wings, Smallwood has to show the Eagles that he has what it takes to work his way into the running back rotation once again.

Smallwood may not be in direct danger of getting cut, but his spot on the depth chart may be slipping out of his grasp…especially if some of the backs beneath him really begin to turn heads.

 

CB Ron Brooks
A former pupil of Jim Schwartz in Buffalo, Brooks followed Schwartz to Philadelphia in the hopes of proving himself as a valuable nickel option. After a sporadic season that saw him beaten yet saved early and often, was cut short by injury, Brooks would take a pay cut.

The cornerback originally signed a three-year deal..the final 12 months of which are now a team option. If Brooks fails to impress the Eagles in 2016, the team can part ways without any kind of salary cap implication. Ron Brooks has been reduced to a prove-it deal..joining every Eagles offseason addition so far as a veteran with his future on the line.

The 28-year old now finds himself in a position where he simply has to show the form displayed as a Buffalo Bill, when Jim Schwartz was his Head Coach. With Patrick Robinson bringing some impressive stats and lightning footwork to the position, Brooks now has his work cut out for him. The battle for slot cornerback will be a thrilling one, but a war that if Brooks is to win, he will have to outshine both Patrick Robinson and the likes of Aaron Grymes who earned first team reps toward the end of minicamp.

 

LG Allen Barbre
A nine-year veteran who started 12 games for the Eagles may not be the first name who springs to mind when thinking of players in danger of losing their jobs, but the 33-year old lineman faces a tough battle if he is to at least retain the starting role.

Pederson made things very clear that it was open season at Left Guard, and with Isaac Seumalo taking pole position towards the end of Mandatory Minicamp, and the threat of Chance Warmack lurking in the distance, the cap strapped Eagles may be looking to get younger at the position and establish some continuity.

If the Eagles were to cut or trade Barbre before the regular season, they would save $2.1M in cap space…and given how deep their offensive line runs, the team may be able to find value for a team who desperately need a plug in guard.

The Eagles Head Coach opened up on the battle during the closing stages of minicamp…and made it clear that first team reps may not be falling directly to Barbre.

“Yeah, right now I want to get Isaac as much [preparation] as possible to get him ready and get him starter reps. Then at the same time with Allen, it’s the same thing. Allen is another one of those guys that’s kind of in that Jason Peters mold a little bit, as far as knowing what he can do and [our comfort level] in his ability. You know, we just wanted to get [Barbre] to camp and get him to the regular season.”

If Seumalo really stands out, the former Oregon State lineman could snatch the starting job from Barbre, and regardless of how well Warmack performs, the Eagles could well seek to save some money where possible and explore different options behind the young, versatile guard.

It’s down to Barbre however to build on his savvy chemistry with Jason Peters and Jason Kelce, two players who he has grown to know inside out since joining the team in 2014. The question is, what does the long-term future have in store for Barbre, given that he’s entering his contract year?

Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

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