The opening week of camp is in the books and ended in fantastic style. An open practice at Lincoln Financial Field was attended by over 20,000 fans, as Eagles die-hards poured into the stadium to get their first glimpse at how the 2017 roster looks. Since the first reps of camp, a lot has changed. Some players continue to make waves, while others are struggling to stay afloat. This list doesn’t factor in the big names, who are naturally excelling expectations…but more focuses on those fighting for key spots on the roster, or the underdogs who are rapidly forcing themselves into the conversation. So who’s shining, and whose light is dimming after the first week of Training Camp?
The former Shepherd university standout came into Training Camp with the odds stacked against him. After missing time in the spring due to an injury setback, Brown has entered with a chip on his shoulder. Reportedly catching everything being thrown his way, Brown has done nothing but impress in receiving situations. While he may lack the blocking ability of Anthony Denham, if the Eagles are going to keep four tight ends on the roster…it’s Brown that has the soft hands that have been turning heads.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise. During his four year career at Shepherd, Brown recorded the most receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns in the school’s history, leading all of NCAA Division II teams with 99 reception in 2016. Offensive coordinator, Frank Reich, spoke very highly of Brown last week.
“I think Billy has some play-making ability.” Reich told the media after a practice last week. “He’s got a little speed. He’s got good hands. I think he’s learning the offense, and we’ll see when the pads get on you have to be an effective blocker at some level. I think he has some toughness to him. I think he’s shown me a little bit more toughness at the line of scrimmage than I was expecting, so that is encouraging.”
If there’s one sleeper receiver worth watching, it’s Marcus Johnson. With catches in 42 games at Texas for a total of 793 yards, Johnson was an impact player..but he failed to separate himself from the likes of Paul Turner and Cayleb Jones last year as injuries chained down his training camp and pre-season production. One year later, and Johnson is seemingly raising eyebrows each and every day. It’s not clear how many wideouts the Eagles will keep on their roster, but if Johnson can keep up this streak of impressive catches and strong practices, his name will certainly be in the mix.
While Torrey Smith is competing for the second wide receiver spot, it’s not like he’s had an easy job securing it. With Nelson Agholor breathing down his neck and continuing to bring a fragmented skillset together, Smith had lost some leverage heading into camp.
When the green flag dropped however, the former Ravens standout showed shades of his Baltimore days, consistently beating the likes of Patrick Robinson and providing Carson Wentz with a reliable deep threat. When fans flooded the Linc for open practice, Smith put on a clinic and made a firm statement that a career resurgence is absolutely the aim in 2017.
Wentz 2 Smith for 6….Hiw many of these in 2K17? pic.twitter.com/67NzC1AGh7
— Brian Baldinger (@BaldyNFL) July 30, 2017
The Eagles first round pick isn’t listed as a starter as of right now, he never has been. But his second-team unit spent the opening week of camp lining up against the first team offense. Barnett not only flashed consistently and pushed his way into the backfield on several occasions, but also started to develop a new relationship. His nemesis? Nine-time pro-bowler, Jason Peters. The two had a back and forth all week, with Barnett showing his insane ankle flexion one moment, before Peters would use his knowledge to keep the former Tennessee pass rusher at bay. But that’s where the rivalry ended…because after practice, Peters spent time helping Barnett to develop his spin move.
Barnett is a tremendous pass rusher, but if he can’t get outside his man, it’s been a known achilles heel for quite some time. By Peters helping Barnett to develop moves to help counter and get inside to rush the quarterback, it’s an incredibly valuable tool that’s only going to see his growth continue to spike. Jim Schwartz met with the media to talk about how his first rounder is adapting to the NFL.
“…He’s going to have the duty to meet every challenge that comes along. He’s been up for it so far. He had a really good rush against JP [T Jason Peters] yesterday. Now maybe one out of four, but it still was, you know, it still was there, and we’re excited about it.”
After a quiet minicamp, UDFA RB Corey Clement has hit the ground running at Training Camp. The physical back has turned heads on several occasions. Before the vets arrived, Clement made the most of the spotlight…but once they did, he continued to showcase the bruiser type style embodied by LeGarrette Blount. Not only that, but Clement has also been juking on defenders and catching passes reliably out of the backfield; something that doesn’t bode well for Wendell Smallwood.
There’s a long way to go, and the Eagles still seem high on the West Virginia standout, but if Clement can continue to produce and show versatility that Smallwood simply doesn’t have, it may be that Clement fits what the Eagles are trying to do more than the running back who rushed for over 300 yards last season.
The Eagles cornerback battle is easily one of the most intense on the roster, and after signing a prove-it deal in the offseason, it was thought by many that Robinson could rekindle his impressive coverage displayed in the 2015 season. So far, not so good. Robinson has been burned on a worrying amount of plays. While a lot of the high percentage looks have scripted outcomes, Robinson has still struggled to produce…something that doesn’t bode well for his future, or the short-term future at corner heading into this season.
After a wobbly minicamp where drops in individual drills wrongly stole the narrative, many were hoping that when the pads came on, Gibson would ball out as he has throughout his college career. With Rasul Douglas acting as the Iron he could sharpen himself against, Gibson was hoping to hit the ground running…but after the first week of camp, the drops are still a concern. In my opinion, it was way too premature to put that kind of pressure on a player for a mental hurdle affecting his OTA drills…but Training Camp is a different beast.
Where competition is the name of the game, and Marcus Johnson and Greg Ward Jr. continue to turn heads, Gibson is still dealing with those same hurdles. While there have been some reported flashes and big plays, there hasn’t been enough to prove the naysayers wrong just yet. Pre-season is going to be crucial for Gibson, but finding that swagger is just as important.
This one’s a no-brainer. After telling the media that he requested a trade during the offseason, it’s clear that Kendricks isn’t happy. A new scheme in 2016 saw the linebacker complete a career-low 36 tackles and for the first time in his career, he failed to attain a single sack. He also played in just 26% of defensive snaps..a knock-on effect of being tasked with playing in the team’s final preseason game. A rare sight for a player regarded as a starter.
It’s not as if Kendricks has shown anything noteworthy during camp, and now that Kendricks’ feelings have been made clear, there’s undoubtedly going to be some interest from teams around the league. Kendricks has hurt his chance of perhaps competing for a bigger role than the one he took on last year…but has he helped his chance of finding it elsewhere? Who knows. For now, his stock has plummeted in the Eagles LB corps however.
It may feel weird to see McGloin on this list, but given that Foles has been so inactive due to elbow soreness in Camp and the birth of his child during OTA’s, it’s been the perfect time for Matt McGloin to step up and show the Eagles what he can bring to the table beyond the guru aspect. The pieces are in the place. A connection with his current QB coach from their days in Oakland, and a franchise QB who he could help develop as he once did with Derek Carr. So far however, McGloin has been wildly inconsistent, and it’s been Tulsa’s Dane Evans making some waves.
Whether or not McGloin’s roster spot is in jeopardy or even cemented to begin with is an interesting debate…but if Dane Evans can keep breathing down his neck as the former Oakland Raider continues to throw into double coverage and behind his receivers, then pre-season will take on a very interesting narrative.