Andrew Kulp

Eagles players with the most to gain at OTAs — S Tre Sullivan

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AP Images

Eagles players with the most to gain at OTAs — S Tre Sullivan

The Eagles don’t hit the practice field as a team for another five weeks, yet each year coaches point to players who distinguish themselves during the months of April and May. These are the players with the most to gain in phases one and two of OTAs.

There isn’t an unheralded prospect in better position to climb the Eagles’ depth chart this spring than Tre Sullivan.

Never mind the fact that vice president of player personnel Joe Douglas just got done lauding Sullivan’s performance in a pre-draft interview on Thursday. The 24-year-old also happens to be one of only four safeties on the Eagles roster for the time being, creating a huge opportunity for an undrafted free agent from Shepherd College.

Competition will come soon enough, as safety is an obvious target for the Eagles in the upcoming draft. Even then, Sullivan could find himself in the mix for a big role with a good spring.

Last season, Corey Graham was the Eagles’ third safety behind Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod. Graham, a free agent departure, wound up playing nearly 40 percent of the team’s snaps.

This isn’t merely a backup job. There’s serious playing time at stake – and Sullivan can get a jump on the competition.

Sullivan made a name for himself in last year’s preseason opener against the Packers with a vicious hit on wide receiver Malachi Dupre. It was a scary moment, as Dupre was knocked out by the collision, but also a clean play and an example of the defensive back’s physicality.

Sullivan forced a fumble on the hit and finished with four tackles. He would go on to acquit himself well in three other preseason games, eventually landing on the Eagles’ practice squad.

Listed at 6-foot-0, 200 pounds, Sullivan is a relatively average size for a safety, but plays downhill and hits like a truck.

The Eagles liked the instincts and aggressiveness they saw on the field. Now, Sullivan has a chance to work out and learn from coaches in an environment where there really aren’t any other young players right now and he can be the focus of a lot of attention. Phases one and two of OTAs and the two weeks before the draft in particular could be a pivotal period.

If Sullivan impresses during these early stages, it could go a long way toward solidifying his place with the team.

Even if Sullivan is bested for the third safety spot, he could still wind up on the 53-man roster. The Eagles may opt to carry five since Chris Maragos primarily plays on special teams.

Sullivan will likely enter training camp as a player who’s considered to be on the bubble, and what he does when the pads go on will be most important. However, if he showed up and really nailed these workouts, that could go a long way toward how the team views him heading into this summer.

Don't write off Eagles RB Donnel Pumphrey quite yet

Don't write off Eagles RB Donnel Pumphrey quite yet

The Eagles don’t hit the practice field as a team for another five weeks, yet each year coaches point to players who distinguish themselves during the months of April and May. These are the players with the most to gain in phases one and two of OTAs.

Before he ever suited up in an Eagles uniform, Donnel Pumphrey had his fair share of doubters. Measuring 5-foot-8, 176 pounds and able to perform just five reps in the bench press at last year’s scouting combine, many questioned whether a running back with such a slight build could survive in the NFL.

Preseason football certainly didn’t convince anybody otherwise. To the contrary, games raised even more concerns.

Despite becoming the all-time NCAA Division I FBS leader in rushing yards at San Diego State, Pumphrey appeared to lack any quickness or burst whatsoever. He was completely ineffective carrying the football for the Eagles, averaging 1.9 yards per attempt, and fared only marginally better as a receiver out of the backfield and return specialist.

The Eagles were undoubtedly tempted to cut their losses and release the fourth-round draft pick out of training camp. Instead, Pumphrey cracked the 53-man roster, then landed on injured reserve with a “torn hamstring” a short time later, resulting in a much-needed redshirt year.

It would be easy to write Pumphrey off after all of that, and many people have. Sure, he had an incredible college career, but the Mountain West Conference and the NFL are two different worlds.

Yet, there’s reason for the Eagles to hold out some hope for Pumphrey, whose redemption tour began Monday at OTAs.

This is the period of the offseason where Pumphrey can show coaches he’s bigger, stronger, faster than when he arrived. All the 23-year-old has been doing since September 2017, besides rehabbing from an injury, we’re told, is working out. Some improvement from a purely physical standpoint should be evident.

If Pumphrey has taken the necessary leaps, his rapid ascent up the Eagles’ depth chart is possible.

Only Jay Ajayi and Corey Clement have their roster spots set in stone, and the former is on the final year of his contract. Wendell Smallwood spent the latter half of last season on the inactive list. Darren Sproles could be re-signed, but is currently a free agent. The Eagles will likely select another running back in the draft next week, but Pumphrey can still carve out a role in 2018 or beyond.

It’s not outrageous to envision Pumphrey filling a Sproles-like role – a running back/receiver hybrid who plays situationally.

Keep in mind, Pumphrey did have a legitimate hamstring injury last summer that caused him to miss time in training camp. Not a lot of work was lost, but it’s unclear how that impacted his preseason performance. It at least might explain the seeming lack of athleticism, and was perhaps related to his IR trip.

Pumphrey’s size is another story, and may always be an issue. Then again, he wouldn't be the first person of small stature to carve out a niche in the NFL, or the last.

That isn’t going away anytime soon. However, if Pumphrey arrived at OTAs with a little more meat on his bones and a little more bounce to his step, he has the potential to turn some heads over the next few weeks.

Then, who knows. Maybe he’ll be in a position to compete for a roster spot come camp.

Eagles players with most to gain at OTAs — LB Corey Nelson

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USA Today Images

Eagles players with most to gain at OTAs — LB Corey Nelson

The Eagles don’t hit the practice field as a team for another five weeks, yet each year coaches point to players who distinguish themselves at OTAs during the months of April and May.

The Eagles lured Corey Nelson to Philadelphia with the promise he could compete for a starting job at weakside linebacker.

A competition that opened on Monday.

We tend to think of position battles as beginning in training camp, when the pads go back on and teams ratchet up the intensity. For a free agent showing up at a new facility, working with all new coaches and trainers, winning a job away from an established starter begins in phase one of OTAs.

The pressure is on Nelson right away to impress at these workouts, especially considering how much ground the fifth-year veteran has to make up to unseat Mychal Kendricks – for the time being at least.

Kendricks is coming off arguably his strongest season since 2014, finishing with 93 tackles, 2.0 sacks and seven pass breakups in 18 games, including playoffs. He’s started 78 games for the Eagles.

Nelson made five career starts in four seasons with the Broncos, all in 2016.

It’s possible the Nelson signing will finally clear the way for the Eagles to trade Kendricks, a move that’s been rumored for years. The club could certainly use the minimum $4.4 million in savings his departure would create. Kendricks isn’t thrilled about the prospect of seeing his playing time reduced with the return of Jordan Hicks from a torn Achilles, either.

Getting Nelson in the building so the Eagles can see exactly what he has to offer could influence the decision. With the NFL draft approaching in less than two weeks, there’s a lot of wheeling and dealing ahead, but also precious little time for a new player to make an impression.

Even if Kendricks were dealt, Nelson has plenty to prove. The Eagles also signed veteran linebacker Paul Worrilow, who can line up outside, while 2017 fifth-round pick Nathan Gerry is still in the picture.

With Nelson on a one-year deal, another draft pick could be incoming as well.

A seventh-round pick out of Oklahoma in 2014, Nelson played primarily on special teams in Denver. The Eagles aren’t just handing the job over to such an inexperienced player, no matter what happens with Kendricks.

Nelson is also returning from a torn bicep, so something as simple as demonstrating he’s 100 percent recovered from injury is important here.

The Eagles obviously saw something they liked, locking Nelson down the first day of free agency. The 25-year-old is listed at 6-foot-1, 226 pounds with 4.6 speed, and has an opportunity to really shine in this portion of the offseason program with that combination of size and athleticism.

But it could also wind up aiding his cause significantly if he’s able to stand out.