Eagles Training Camp Notebook: Wideouts put on a clinic at Lincoln Financial Field

FBN,  Nelson Agholor
June 14, 2017: Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Nelson Agholor (13) catches the ball during OTA at the NovaCare Complex in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Christopher Szagola/CSM (Cal Sport Media via AP Images)

The Philadelphia Eagles held their first of two training camp sessions open to the public on Sunday. The practice, held at Lincoln Financial Field, saw an estimated total of 23,000 fans come out to see the first public appearance of the 2017 Eagles. For perspective, the Phillies estimated attendance just hours after the Eagles concluded their practice was under 21,000.

Below are some observations from the Eagles first public practice of 2017.

 

The Eagles are wide open at the kick and punt returner positions
There were more than ten players fielding punts and kickoffs at practice on Sunday. Darren Sproles is penciled in as the team’s primary punt returner in 2017 but that didn’t stop Jalen Mills, Donnel Pumphrey, Nelson Agholor, Jordan Matthews, Torrey Smith and Byron Marshall from joining in.

Sproles could split some time with Pumphrey returning punts with Pumphrey likely taking over Sproles’ position when he calls it a career. Additionally, if the Eagles are looking to use Sproles at the rate they were in 2016, they could look to take the load of punt returning off the shoulders of the aging running back.

Pumphrey also took reps returning kicks on Sunday. Agholor, Smith, Marshall, Wendell Smallwood, Marcus Johnson and Shelton Gibson also took turns fielding kickoffs.

For a player like Marshall, who transitioned from running back to wide receiver (though he still participated in running back individual drills), and his status on the bubble, a muffed punt and fumbled fielding of a kickoff could make the difference between whether he makes the team or not. At this point, I have Marshall on the outside looking in.

Expect to see a different punt and/or kick returner almost every time the Eagles are fielding kicks throughout the preseason. Whoever wins the positions will likely be pulling double-duty on special teams and offense (or defense).

 

Eagles have a ton of running backs and receivers
The Eagles are going to have some tough decisions to make when it is time for them to cut the roster from 90 players down to 53. A new rule, beginning in 2017, removes the cutdown date for trimming the roster from 90 to 75 then 75 to 53. Now, teams cut the roster from 90 straight down to 53.

Preseason games will likely be the determining factor for which running backs and receivers make the team, so they are definitely two positions to watch as the Eagles begin their preseason less than two weeks from now.

Here are the guys I think are locked in:

Wide Receiver: Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith, Nelson Agholor and Jordan Matthews

Running Back: LeGarrette Blount, Darren Sproles, Donnel Pumphrey

That leaves two 2017 wide receiver draft picks as uncertainties and a handful of running backs up in the air.

If the Eagles decide to keep four running backs, that means Wendell Smallwood and Corey Clement could be battling for the final roster position. Smallwood ran tough in practice on Sunday and Clement ended the session with a mean stiff arm that removed the defender’s helmet and left him eating turf. That leaves Ryan Mathews and Byron Marshall looking for new teams in 2017.

For wide receiver, the remaining non-locks include draft picks Mack Hollins and Shelton Gibson as well as Marcus Johnson, Bryce Treggs, Greg Ward, Paul Turner and David Watford.

Johnson could be a dark horse to make this team (we have one of those every year at WR, don’t we?). He has gotten legitimate time with the starters on offense and has made the most of every opportunity given.

The Eagles will likely carry five, maybe six receivers in 2017. That leaves some good names/draft picks to clear waivers and potentially land on the practice squad.

 

We could be looking at a new Nelson Agholor in 2017
I am Nelson Agholor’s biggest critic. I’ve cursed his name, written him off and moved forward from the 2015 first round pick. I will also gladly eat my words if he proves me wrong. And so far this offseason, he has shown every warning sign that I will need a big spoon to eat all the negativity I’ve spewed toward the former Trojan.

I have attended all of the Eagles open practices since Agholor has been on the team. He has never looked as good as he has this summer.

On Sunday, Agholor made contested catches with a defender on his back, he made adjustments mid-air to put himself in an advantageous position to catch the ball and caught the ball with his hands. It sounds simple but imagine 6-0, 190-pound Jalen Mills hanging onto your shoulders while your arms are fully extended and catching a bullet from Carson Wentz. That’s what Agholor has shown. He got separation, he ran crisp routes and made the catches he has dropped in practices and games in years past. Not a single ball that came in his direction hit the ground.

Now, I won’t get too high or giddy over an offseason practice session (too late?). But, I will say that Agholor looks to have a new energy as one offseason has relieved him of the pressure of being the number one guy at receiver to number three or four.

The move down the depth chart will also come with reduced snaps. However, Agholor looks poised to make the most of those opportunities.

Additional WR notes:

  • Jordan Matthews had a few fantastic catches but also a few bad drops that hit him in his hands.
  • As mentioned above, Marcus Johnson has a real chance to make this team. Don’t be surprised if he does.
  • Torrey Smith still has that deadly speed that can really open up the offense.
  • Alshon Jeffery is listed at 6-3 but looks and plays so much bigger. He’s a freak and it showed in practice.  
  • The Eagles either have a lot of good WRs or a lot of bad CBs. During one-on-one drills, the WR came out on top almost every time.

 

Quick Hits

  • A few guys I noticed in jerseys, no pads and not practicing: Nick Foles, Elijah Qualls, Alex McCallister and Sidney Jones (duh!). Jones spent practice on the sidelines tossing a football in the air and following the defensive backs around watching and listening to what coach Cory Undlin was saying. Foles followed the QBs and my guess is that he had a day off because he is the GOAT.

 

  • Carson Wentz didn’t have his best day on Sunday. He missed some throws high, low and overthrew Torrey Smith twice on deep routes where he burned his defender. He was visibly frustrated with himself after missing those throws. It is nothing to worry about, it is still very early in camp, just an observation.

 

  • LeGarrette Blount is big. A friend of mine who attended camp with me noted that Blount is bigger than any of the Eagles linebackers. He’s scary big and I’m glad he’s on our side. Imagine being a safety or corner after Blount breaks through the second line of defense and you’re all that’s left between him and six points. Shwoo.

 

  • A subtlety I noticed during one-on-ones from Hall of Fame WR Paul Turner: Wentz fit the ball in a very tight window between the bellies of Turner and his defender at about ten yards downfield. Turner saw the ball coming but didn’t clue the defender and only got his hands into position at the very last second. As I said, it was very subtle but something that reminded me of a few great wide receivers I’ve watched – they don’t put their hands into position until they absolutely have to, it gives the defender less time to react.

 

  • Derek Barnett and Brandon Graham were attached at the hip as the second- and third-team defenses wrapped up practice. Obviously I couldn’t hear their conversation from the stands but they were talking a lot and Graham has said in the past that he will be taking Barnett under his wing during his rookie year. I am really excited to see Barnett and what DC Jim Schwartz has prepared for him in 2017. (Also, Barnett signed an autograph for me after practice and thanked me when I told him to go get Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2017. No, Derek, thank you!).

 

  • Patrick Robinson was all over the place on Sunday. He had a few nice pass breakups but mostly spent his day getting beat deep, a lot. He could be a surprise cut on cutdown day, opening up a spot for an unexperienced player to work his way into the lineup. I had high hopes with the signing of Robinson, hoping he could lock down the nickel corner position. Hopefully this was just a bad day for him, too.

 

  • Lastly, a big thank you to all of the military members honored at Sunday’s practice as well as those unable to attend as they are still defending our country. They absolutely deserved the day the Eagles dedicated to them and the organization did a tremendous job honoring the troops. USA! USA! USA!

 

Mandatory Photo Credit: Cal Sport Media via AP Images

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