Eagles

Legendary Lambeau Field offers Eagles' rookies special 1st taste of NFL

Legendary Lambeau Field offers Eagles' rookies special 1st taste of NFL

As the first half turns into the second Thursday night in Green Bay, undrafted quarterback Dane Evans from Tulsa will start getting ready to enter his first NFL game. 

In the same stadium where one of his idols made a career. 

When most think about Lambeau Field, it's impossible to not start thinking about Vince Lombardi and all the history that comes along with it. Evans, 23, thinks back to his childhood. 

"I'm really excited about it," he said. "Obviously, getting to play at all. And then you add the fact that we're playing Green Bay in Lambeau, growing up a (Brett) Favre fan, it's really cool. I'm just excited about it. Talking to all the coaches and guys that have been around, they say it's one of the best places to play. So no better way to start off a career."

While Evans grew up in Texas and went to Sanger High School, not too far from Dallas, he just gravitated toward Favre. 

"Just watching him and how he played, it's hard to watch him and not root for him," he said. "He plays like a little kid out there all the time. His love for the game, just watching it, would get you excited. Just to play and throw the ball around where he built a career and did it for so long is really cool."

Evans said he's spent some time visualizing the first time he runs onto an NFL field and the first time he enters the game, he's trying to not think about it too much. He just wants to enjoy it as much as he can. 

For Evans and plenty of his Eagles teammates, Thursday night will offer their first taste of the NFL. And they'll get to play their first games in the league's most revered stadium. 

"I'm stoked, man," sixth-round pick Elijah Qualls said. "Even though it's just a preseason game, I get to play in my first NFL game. It's not something that you can really prepare for. You've been dreaming about this and visualizing this and thinking about this for so long, it's not something you can bring to reality until it is reality, until that day."

While some players are allowing themselves to start enjoying the special moment, others are trying as much as they can to treat Thursday night like they would any other game. 

First-round pick Derek Barnett, as even-keel as they come, said he's looking forward to Thursday night simply because "it's a chance to play a game." 

Just like any other game. At least that's how he wants to treat it. 

"I don't think it's going to be hard to [treat it like any other game]," he said. "Go in and make sure my technique's good and just play hard. If my technique's sound and I'm playing hard on every snap, everything else is going to fall into place."

If nothing else, Barnett is looking forward to facing some other competition. During the last two weeks, he's battled against the Eagles' offensive linemen, who he says have picked up on his moves. It'll be nice to try them on someone else.  

While Thursday night will be the first NFL game for many Eagles rookies, it'll also be the first time ever attending one for a couple. Receivers Mack Hollins and Shelton Gibson said they have never even been to an NFL game, although they've played in NFL stadiums while in college. 

"Yeah, I thought about it but it still hasn't hit me, actually playing in an NFL game," undrafted receiver Greg Ward said. "I think it's just going to hit me whenever that time comes."

That time is almost here. 

Sidney Jones practices with Eagles for 1st time following Achilles injury

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USA Today Images

Sidney Jones practices with Eagles for 1st time following Achilles injury

Sidney Jones went out for his first practice rep as a Philadelphia Eagle and had to resist the urge to break out in a huge smile.

"It was kickoff return," he said. "I was just so happy. I just looked around and couldn't believe it."

Jones, the Eagles' rookie second-round pick, practiced Wednesday for the first time since he blew out his Achilles during his pro day at the University of Washington back on March 11.

He probably won't play this year, but just being out there and practicing after 10 months of rehab was … indescribable.

"I can’t even describe how happy and excited I am," he said after practice. "It’s been a long road. I’m just happy to be back with my team.

“It’s been a long road to even play football. I haven’t played football since my last college game, which was approximately a year ago. It was a first step, and I can’t wait for the future."

The Eagles have a three-week window in which Jones is allowed to practice. After that, they have to either shut him down or activate him.

But Jones wasn't worried about any of that Wednesday. He was just thrilled to be on the field with the teammates who've helped him through this endless grind.

“It’s been a long journey," Jones said in his first interview since draft weekend in April. "I’ve had a great support system around me, everybody’s been helping me, telling me this, telling me that. 

"A few guys I reached out to or reached out to to me and gave me advice, people who’d hurt their Achilles before. Jason Peters helped me out a lot, Jordan Hicks helped me out a lot as well. Everybody’s been supportive."

The Eagles' defensive coaches threw a lot at Jones, treating him like a member of the active roster. He was in all the meetings, all the film sessions, out at practice watching. He prepared to play, even though he knew he couldn't.

It was all about keeping him engaged, keeping him involved, building toward 2018, when he'll presumably be a key member of this secondary.

"I think we'll see pretty quickly that he has a good grasp of what he's expected to do," defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. "Keeping his ears open and his eyes open has been his No. 1 job description over these last six months.

"I've been really proud of what he's done there. I would be very surprised if he can't go in and execute what we're asking him to do. There's certainly a lot of rust that goes into it. With all due respect to our trainers, they are not a challenge to cover, and he's only been working with those guys. 

"So we've got to take each step along the way. It's almost like the first week of OTAs for him. It's not even really a first week of training camp. It's more like first week of OTAs for him." 

Jones said that when he was drafted, he didn't expect to get so much support from his teammates, but he said the other defensive backs have made sure he's felt a part of things throughout his rehab.

"I didn’t expect the league to be like this, but my teammates, my DB squad, they’re awesome, they’re terrific," he said. "Those are my brothers. 

"It’s a real brotherhood around here, and they’ve had my back every step of the way."

Jones, projected as a high first-round pick before his injury, said the past year has really taught him to appreciate the game more than he ever did.

“I was always grateful," he said. "In college I would go out and just every day think how grateful I am but now that it actually happened … and I got injured, I really have to be grateful because it could happen again. You never know when it’s going to happen. Just have to take every day like it's your last and go out there and give everything you’ve got."

Jones said his surgically reconstructed Achilles felt 100 percent at practice and he said he actually wasn't even thinking about it when he was out there running around.

He said he feels further behind physically than mentally.

“Just got to take it slow," he said. "I’ve got to get into shape first, that’s the biggest thing, so I don’t hurt any other body parts and stuff. Just trying to get better every day. It’s just a process.

"Just trying to get my feet wet so next year I’ll have some feet on the ground. Something to work with."

Nate Sudfeld has reasons to feel 'very confident' as Eagles' new backup QB

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AP Images

Nate Sudfeld has reasons to feel 'very confident' as Eagles' new backup QB

Nate Sudfeld stood by his locker on Wednesday afternoon, early in his first week as the Eagles' backup quarterback, and claimed his game-day responsibilities won't change. He'll still be helping the starter to see coverages, go through plays and diagnose pressures. 

The only difference is he'll now wear a helmet and shoulder pads. 

Well, actually, there's one more difference. 

"I won't be dead tired when the game starts," Sudfeld said. 

During the first 14 weeks of the season, when Sudfeld was the Eagles' third-stringer, quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo would put him through an intense 45-minute workout before each game. Sudfeld is grateful for those workouts, which helped him with throwing and footwork, but said DeFilippo "kills" him each week. 

Those workouts are over. Because come Sunday, thanks to Carson Wentz's torn left ACL, Sudfeld will be dressing for each game as the Eagles' backup quarterback behind Nick Foles. 

He's now just one play away from being the Eagles' starter. 

"I feel very confident," Sudfeld said. "I mean, I wasn't just sitting back, watching practice all year, just expecting to never play football. I was definitely getting ready in case something like this happened. It's my responsibility as a 3 to be ready to be a 2. One play away and then one more play away. So I definitely feel prepared being here however many weeks, 14 weeks, has really helped. But I've treated each week as if I was going to play. I feel very confident."

But the difference between Foles and Sudfeld is glaring. Foles has been a starting quarterback in the NFL before and even in Philadelphia (see story). He's been to a Pro Bowl. His experience has been lauded all week (see story).

Meanwhile, Sudfeld is 24. A sixth-round pick to Washington last season, he's never played in an NFL game. Heck, Sunday will be his first time dressing for an NFL game. He didn't even join the Eagles' active roster until early November, when the Birds signed him from the practice squad. And that was just to prevent the Colts from poaching him. 

Has the Eagles' faith in him as the backup validated his decision to stay? 

"I mean, I've always wanted to be here since I got here so I'm just very excited that they do think enough of me to give me the opportunity," Sudfeld said. "I'm looking forward to if my name does get called, being ready to go." 

Since joining the Eagles' active roster, he's been inactive every week. But the fact that they were willing to use a roster spot on him, knowing he would be inactive each week, speaks to the way the organization feels about him. 

Foles didn't hesitate during his press conference on Tuesday to include Sudfeld every time he mentioned the quarterback group. The two have grown extremely close during the last few months. 

"Nate's a tremendous player," Foles said. "I'm excited about his future. Really smart, works his butt off, he's got all the tools to be a great player in this league. He's been there. I'm always going to include Carson, me and Nate. That's just sort of how it's been every single day going to work. We're going to lean on that. I'm going to lean on Nate through this process and we have the kind of quarterback room where you can do that, so it's sort of awesome. He's a tremendous player and I'm excited about his future in this league."

While not much will change for Sudfeld on game day — unless of course something happens to Foles — his workload during the week is very different. With Foles now taking all of the first-team reps at practice, Sudfeld gets all the scout team reps. 

While he got a few scout team reps over the course of the last few months, most of his reps with the Eagles have been mental. Sudfeld has been in the building with Wentz and Foles every day to watch film at 6 a.m., the trio would prep for each team and go through everything together, but when they got onto the practice field, the top two guys got to play and Sudfeld became a spectator. 

Fans probably don't know much about Sudfeld. Until this week, there's a good chance most Eagles fans had never even heard of him. Well, Sudfeld was a sixth-round pick out of Indiana last year. He spent the entire 2016 season with Washington, but was cut on Sept. 2. The Eagles signed him to their practice squad the next day. 

What kind of quarterback is he? 

"It's hard to assess yourself," Sudfeld answered. "I'm very confident in my game and I think I can make all the throws. I think I can move if I have to. I think I know the game pretty well. I'm continuing to improve. I'm a work in progress, but excited what I know I can do."

Perhaps the thing Eagles fans might know best about Sudfeld is that he's tall, white and lanky, and folks would probably say he looked like Wentz if he didn't look exactly like Foles. He and Foles look so much alike that their teammates razz them for it and fans confuse the two (see story).

Just last week in Los Angeles, fans got the two confused. Fans thought Sudfeld was Foles, even though the Real Nick Foles was walking in uniform right in front of him. 

When it was pointed out to Sudfeld that no matter how well Foles plays, he'll probably feel it too. 

"True," Sudfeld said. "Hopefully he keeps doing what I know he can do so people love me walking down the street."