Eagles

Brad Smith aims to help Eagles at wide receiver

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Brad Smith aims to help Eagles at wide receiver

Brad Smith has played many positions throughout his eight years in the NFL.

Wide receiver. Backup quarterback. Kick returner.

He also spent time in the backfield as a Wildcat specialist earlier in his career with the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills.

Now, entering his ninth season and second with the Eagles, Smith is trying to focus on becoming a better receiver.

“I’ve played receiver during my career off and on,” Smith said Tuesday after practice. “Now, being able to work on the nuances a little bit more, especially with this offense -- kind of knowing what they’re looking for has been a blessing.”

When the Eagles released their first official depth chart on Monday, Smith was listed as the first-team slot receiver, something of a surprise considering he caught just two passes for 27 yards last season.

“I’ve never really played much slot,” Smith said. “Coaches have always moved me around for different packages and personnel, so I’ve played a little bit of everything.”

In eight years, only twice has Smith finished a season with more than 20 catches and 200 yards, the last time being in 2011 with the Bills, when he caught 23 passes for 240 yards and one touchdown.

The last time Smith finished a season as one his own team’s top three wide receivers in terms of yards? That would be 2007 with the Jets, when he caught 32 passes for 325 yards and two touchdowns playing behind Jerricho Cotchery and Laveranues Coles.

In fact, Smith has only four more career receiving yards (976), than he does career rushing yards (972). His most impressive year as a pro was in 2010, when he finished with 1,432 kick return yards, 299 rushing yards and three total touchdowns, yet caught just four passes for 44 yards.

Still, the Eagles have been impressed with his performance as a receiver in camp thus far.

“He’s one of the guys that’s really benefited from all the reps he’s getting,” offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said Tuesday. “He’s done a great job. I think he’s improved by leaps and bounds from a year ago within our offense.

“He’s a veteran player. He’s a very steady competitor and player on special teams and he’s developing himself more as a wide receiver within our offense and he’s done a good job.”

No matter how much Smith has improved as a wide receiver, it is still difficult to imagine him finishing the season as the team’s first option in the slot.

Rookie second-round pick Jordan Matthews is currently listed behind Smith on the depth chart, and it is likely the Eagles are keeping him on the second team as a way of bringing him along slowly. It would be very surprising if Smith finished the season with more catches or yards than Matthews.

“We don’t view it [as a competition],” Smith said. “We’re trying to get better individually because ultimately when it comes down to it, it’s can we win games as a team.”

Even with his current place on the depth chart, it’s not a guarantee that Smith will end up on the Eagles' final roster.

The first four spots are locked up by starters Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper and rookies Matthews and Josh Huff, leaving just two more receiver spots. While it is likely that Smith will snag one of those spots, he still has plenty of competition in Arrelious Benn, Ifeanyi Momah, Damaris Johnson and Jeff Maehl.

While Smith’s versatility would seem to give him an edge over those players, it's still debatable as to how much of his versatility the Eagles really need. Last season he received only two carries and returned just four kicks.

When asked what he would like his role to be, Smith predictably responded, “Whatever Coach wants.”

As he is currently not listed as one of the team’s kick returners, it seems as though Chip Kelly wants him to focus on improving the team’s depth at wide receiver, something the Eagles certainly could use.

“Coach moves us all around a lot,” Smith said. “There are certain formations we could be anywhere. As far as game planning, Coach could come up with anything.”

Eagles rookie report: Barnett's best game; Hollins' 1st score

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Eagles rookie report: Barnett's best game; Hollins' 1st score

The rookies contributed in a big way to the Eagles' 34-24 win over the Redskins at the Linc on Monday night (see breakdown).

First-round pick Derek Barnett played his best game, WR Mack Hollins scored his first TD and RB Corey Clement showed off his improving skill set for the 6-1 Eagles.

Let's take a look at some of the highlights in this week's rookie report.

1st quarter, 5:05, 1st-and-10 at WAS 7 - Redskins 3, Eagles 0
Corner Rasul Douglas was the first rook to make a play in this one. Playing off coverage as he has for most of the season, he's lined up against WR Ryan Grant, the lone receiver on the left. Grant runs a short hitch. Douglas make another aggressive play on the ball, reading the route and the quarterback and tackling Grant immediately for a three-yard gain.

1st quarter, 4:26, 2nd-and-7 at WAS 10 - Redskins 3, Eagles 0
Barnett makes a rookie mistake on this play. QB Kirk Cousins fakes the handoff to RB Rob Kelley to the right and then rolls backs to his left. With all of Barnett's momentum going right, a slight chip block from TE Jordan Reed knocks Barnett off balance. As Barnett is on the ground, Cousins is allowed to roll left and find TE Niles Paul for a 32-yard completion.

1st quarter, 3:05, 3rd-and-2 at 50 - Redskins 3, Eagles 0
It didn't take long for Barnett to get redemption. The Redskins unwisely try to block Barnett with a tight end. This might work on defensive ends who don't have a high pursuit level, but as we've seen, that's not the case with Barnett. Every play that I've seen him 1-on-1 against a tight end, he won the matchup with ease. He gets right around Reed and brings down Cousins for his first solo NFL sack (he recorded a 1/2 sack last week in Carolina). 

2nd quarter, 3:19, 2nd-and-16 at PHI 36 - Redskins 10, Eagles 3
This was really the turning point of the game. The Eagles couldn't get much going and Carson Wentz just took a sack to make it 2nd-and-long. Hollins is lined up on the line to the right with Alshon Jeffery bunched behind him. Hollins runs down the field and gives a great head fake on a corner route to S D.J. Swearinger before turning on the jets and leaving Swearinger in the dust. Wentz throws a dime and Hollins snags his first NFL touchdown. The route tree at North Carolina isn't exactly sophisticated. It's something Hollins has worked on and it really showed on this play.

3rd quarter, 9:43, 3rd-and-goal at WSH 9 - Eagles 17, Redskins 10
If the Hollins' touchdown was the turning point, this might have been the nail in the coffin. Coming out of the locker room, the Eagles drove right down the field and were in danger of having to settle for a field goal. Wentz is lined up in the shotgun with Clement lined up next to him on the right. Washington sends a heavy blitz. Clement runs a wheel route on LB Zach Brown. Wentz defies physics to get off a tremendous throw under pressure. Brown has tight coverage but the ball is in a perfect spot where only Clement can get. And boy did Clement get it. He makes an unbelievable catch and does an even better job keeping his feet in bounds.

3rd quarter, 4:12, 2nd-and-6 at PHI 48 - Eagles 24, Redskins 10
This is a tremendous play by Barnett. He sets a hard edge on a bull rush against perennial All-Pro tackle Trent Williams and drives the veteran tackle backwards. He then comes from behind to tackle Kelley for a one-yard loss. This play was even more impressive than the sack given it was against arguably the best left tackle in football.

4th quarter, 12:59, 3rd-and-6 at PHI 48 - Eagles 24, Redskins 17
This was an interesting play call. Doug Pederson either saw something the Redskins were doing on third down or really trusts his defense. Clement takes the ball off tackle left. Backup tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai does a great job driving his defender backward while Clement patiently waits behind him. Clement is able to get the first down and keep what eventually turned into a touchdown drive going.

Analysis
Barnett was tremendous. He looked like a completely different player than he did in Week 1 against Williams (granted Williams has been hobbled by an injury). He's starting to get more comfortable in his secondary pass rush moves, including breaking out a nice spin move on one play. His confidence is growing week by week (see Roob's observations). With his two sacks tonight, he's now recorded 2.5 sacks the last two weeks. Not too shabby.

When Hollins was drafted by the Eagles, they acknowledged his prowess on special teams, but Howie Roseman was quick to point out that Hollins was more than that. He certainly showed that tonight. As previously mentioned, route running wasn't considered Hollins' strength coming out. But you could see on his college tape that he had the quick feet and suddenness to turn into a decent route runner. Hollins had to just one catch, but he made it count.

Clement had a fumble in the fourth quarter that he recovered but maximized the rest of his touches. The work he's put in on becoming a better pass catcher has clearly paid off. And yet again he shows off his patience and vision when running the ball. Not bad for a guy who seemed like a long shot to make the team when the preseason started.

Jake Elliott apparently is human. After making his 12th straight kick -- a 50-yarder -- earlier in the game, he missed a 45-yard field goal with 21 seconds left.

Eagles 34, Redskins 24: Studs, duds, turning point and more

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Eagles 34, Redskins 24: Studs, duds, turning point and more

The Eagles didn't look like the best team in the NFL. Not even close.

For most of the first half on Monday Night Football, the Eagles were a mess. They were committing penalties, giving up big plays and floundering on offense.

Then things changed.

Then Carson Wentz started to look like an MVP. And then the Eagles started to look like the team fans in Philadelphia have become used to seeing over the first half of the season.

They started to look like the best team in the NFL again.

The Eagles recovered from their early missteps to beat Washington 34-24 at the Linc on Monday night to remain in control of the division and the conference (see 10 observations).

With the win, the Eagles are 6-1 and are all alone with the best record in the NFL. They also gained more ground, sweeping the season series with Washington, which fell to 3-3.

While the Eagles picked up a big win, they did suffer a couple losses. Jason Peters (knee) and Jordan Hicks (ankle) both left the game and did not return. The Eagles have lost important players before but these will be hard to overcome. 

Wentz was dynamic on Monday Night Football. In a second straight nationally televised game, Wentz dazzled and showed why his name is at the forefront of the NFL MVP discussion.

Wentz completed 17 of 25 passes for 268 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. His four touchdowns went to four different receivers. Wentz finished the game with a passer rating of 126.3. It's the third game in a row he's had a passer rating over 100 and it's just the sixth such game of his career.

Turning point
The Eagles looked awful early in the game, but then they broke out of a funk when Wentz hit Mack Hollins on a 64-yard touchdown bomb. That changed the game and brought some life back into the Linc.

Key stat
Before the Arizona game, Wentz had never had a three-touchdown game. He has three in a row now and 11 in three games.

Wentz has more touchdown passes in the last three games (11) than 19 teams have all season.

Offensive stud
Wentz is the real deal. After a bad start, he made some spectacular plays and carried the team. He's a legitimate MVP candidate.

Offensive dud
Torrey Smith didn't have much of an impact. He didn't have a catch and was targeted just once.

Defensive stud
Malcolm Jenkins played a great game on Monday night. He was everywhere. He stopped Jordan Reed on a key third down before Wentz hit Hollins on the deep touchdown pass.

Defensive dud
We'll give this to Najee Goode but that's probably unfair. It looked like Chris Thompson was his responsibility on the touchdown. Hard duty, as Jim Schwartz would say.

Key plays
• Corey Graham picked off a Kirk Cousins pass to give the Eagles great field position and Jake Elliott drilled a 42-yarder to add three more points.

• On 3rd-and-8, Wentz somehow pulled off a magic trick and escaped a sure sack. He was able to escape and scramble for 17 yards. He capped the drive with a touchdown pass to Nelson Agholor. It was Wentz's fourth TD pass of the game and it put the Eagles up 31-17.

• Cousins hit Reed on a short touchdown pass to cut into the Eagles' lead. It made the score 24-17.

• Wentz threw a ridiculous pass while getting hit by two guys and hit Corey Clement in the end zone for a 9-yard touchdown. Clement tapped both feet in to put the Eagles up 24-10.

• After a Washington three-and-out, Wentz and the Eagles got the ball with 1:52 left in the half and drove down to score another touchdown. The big play on the drive was a 46-yarder to Zach Ertz, who then caught a four-yard touchdown pass to put the Eagles up 17-10.

• Wentz hit Hollins on a 64-yard touchdown bomb in the second quarter to tie the game at 10-10. It was Wentz's fourth 50-yard pass of the season. He had just three all last season.

• Cousins found Thompson for a seven-yard touchdown to put Washington up 10-3. Thompson was wide open in the flat and the Eagles were missing Jordan Hicks and Mychal Kendricks.

• Elliott drilled a 50-yarder to start the second-quarter scoring. It was his 11th straight make.

• Derek Barnett picked up his first solo sack to end a Washington drive in the first quarter. It came at a good time.

• After Washington kicked a field goal on their opening drive, the Eagles' first offensive drive was a disaster. They had four penalties and gained just five yards. It ended when Wentz threw a deep interception that was basically an interception.

Injuries
Ronald Darby (ankle) might return next week but was inactive against Washington. So was Mychal Kendricks (hamstring), who popped up on the Eagles' injury report during the week.

The Eagles lost Hicks (ankle) on the second play of the game and Peters (knee) on the first drive of the second half (see story).

Up next
The Eagles have two more home games before their bye week. Next Sunday, they'll face the winless 49ers and then face the Broncos before their week off.