Torrey Smith

Eagles' offense thriving as Carson Wentz spreads wealth among receivers

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USA Today Images

Eagles' offense thriving as Carson Wentz spreads wealth among receivers

Good luck figuring out who the Eagles' No. 1 receiver is.

Depends on the game. Depends on the drive. Depends on the play.

It could literally be anyone from celebrated former Pro Bowler Alshon Jeffery to unknown, undrafted Marcus Johnson.

Who's the No. 1 option? Who's Carson Wentz's favorite target? Who's getting the most catches?

Anybody. Everybody.

“Carson’s not one of those guys who says, ‘Oh, this is my favorite guy, so I’m going to him no matter what, (even in) triple coverage,'" rookie receiver Mack Hollins said.

"He’ll put the ball where it needs to be, and that’s why the offense runs so well. It’s not about favorites. Carson does what he’s coached to do and we do what we’re coached to do.

"It’s easy for defenses to say, ‘Hey, this is the main guy, we’re taking him out.' What about the other guys? We have a different guy making plays every week."

Tight end Zach Ertz had nearly 100 receiving yards in each of the Eagles' first two games. Jeffery was the leading receiver against the Giants and Panthers. It was Nelson Agholor's turn against the Cardinals, and Torrey Smith wasn't far behind.

Those four all have between 210 and 405 receiving yards, and Hollins, Wendell Smallwood, LeGarrette Blount and even undrafted rookie Corey Clement have all made big catches at various moments.

"You literally never know going into the game how many times you’re going to get the ball or what play it’s going to come on, I’ve had to learn that," Smith said.

"The touchdown I scored on a few weeks ago, the ball hasn’t gone there all year. So with Carson, you have to stay ready. You never know. And I think that’s the benefit of letting the offense play out and letting the receivers do their thing."

The Eagles have only one of the top 25 receivers in the league — Ertz is 10th in receptions and 11th in yards.

As for wide receivers, Jeffery leads the way with 24 catches — 45th-most in the league going into Sunday's games — and Agholor leads the way with 321 receiving yards, which ranked 26th.

Yet here are the Eagles, No. 3 in the NFL in offense and with the league's best record at 5-1 going into their Monday night showdown with the Redskins at the Linc.

“Just being able to spread the ball around is a huge thing that we pride ourselves on," Wentz said. "We have a number of playmakers and it’s all about mismatches. Finding your mismatches … whether it’s from the tight end position, the slot receiver position, the X, the Z, even our backs out of the backfield.

"It just makes us so dynamic and makes us so difficult to defend."

When the big-name veteran Pro Bowl receiver is unselfish, it really sets the tone for the whole team.

Even though Jeffery's numbers don't pop off the stat sheet, his coaches and teammates rave about his team-first attitude. Here's a guy who's been a Pro Bowler, who's caught 85 passes twice, who had the 10th-most yards per game in the NFL over the last four years and who's on a one-year, prove-it contract. And he's fully bought into Doug Pederson's team-first philosophy.

"You would think an established No. 1 guy would come in here and say, ‘I want the ball 10 times a game,’ and Alshon has been the complete opposite," Ertz said.

"He’s very humble, he’s extremely quiet, so I think that’s something that kind of rubs off on the rest of the guys. Just how patient he is. He doesn’t force anything and I think it speaks volumes as to who he is as a person."

Jeffery hasn't been bad, but his 52 yards per game is well below the 79 per game he averaged the last four years.

Ask him about the dropoff, and he sounds like a guy who's never played in a postseason game, averaged 6½ wins per year in Chicago and only wants to win.

“In order to win a championship, everybody has to be unselfish," Jeffery said.

"I’m comfortable, as long as we’re winning. We’re trying to win a Super Bowl and that’s my only goal. … Whoever the ball’s going to, as long as we’re catching it and we’re getting wins, that’s all that matters. We’re all after the same thing."

Receivers are often the flamboyant, hot-headed, selfish guys on any team. Demanding the football. Screaming for more targets. Obsessed with their numbers.

Good luck finding one guy like that on this team.

"We talk about it all the time," Hollins said. "We want to make a playoff run and we want to go to a Super Bowl and we have these aspirations as a team.

"It’s never about I, it’s about we. How far can we go? How many plays can we make? How much can we help the team?”

This is the mantra Pederson has repeated since he got here: The team is all that matters.

And they've all bought in.

"Alshon could easily say, ‘Hey, I need more targets,’ or Zach could say, ‘Hey, I need more targets,’" Pederson said. "LeGarrette could say, ‘I need more rushing attempts.'

"But you know what? When everybody has a piece of the pie, and you look at the end of the day and all our top receivers are getting equal amount of targets during the game and our rushing attempts and passing attempts are almost 50-50 and the bottom line is winning the game, then that's the exciting part. And then nobody cares.

"They don't care about their own stat sheet, their own bottom line. They're unselfish guys. I talk about team all the time with the guys. It's about ‘us’ mentality, not individuals, and that's what they've bought into.

"That's the way we coach. That's the way I teach, and it's been very, very successful so far."

How simply navigating locker room can be a difficult task for some Eagles

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Tom Finer | NBC Sports Philadelphia

How simply navigating locker room can be a difficult task for some Eagles

As soon as a towel-clad Jaylen Watkins walked out of the showers and into the Eagles' locker room Thursday afternoon, his shoulders slumped and he let out a near-silent sigh. 

He approached the horde of reporters near his locker stall before he locked eyes with one who was standing directly in his space. The two chuckled as they awkwardly sidestepped each other to swap positions. 

The media contingent that covers the Eagles is one of — if not the — biggest in the entire league. That's great news for fans, who have plenty of options. 

It's not great news for Watkins, who just wants to get changed. 

Watkins' locker is positioned just to the left of team leader Malcolm Jenkins'. Jenkins holds court with reporters a couple times per week, which can be a slight inconvenience for Watkins and Patrick Robinson, who also shares a wall with him.

And Watkins knows whenever there's a political story in the news, reporters are going to want to talk to his outspoken teammate. 

"I guess that's what comes being next to Malcolm," Watkins said. "You get good insight on stuff, but you also have to deal with the baggage that comes with him." 

NFL locker rooms are weird places and it's not because of the nakedness. After all, locker rooms are meant for changing. But trying to change while a group of media members slowly infringes upon your personal space makes it a little strange. 

But for three 45-minute windows each week, reporters fill the room. On any given Wednesday or Thursday during the week at the NovaCare Complex, there can be as many as 30 to 40 media members in attendance. It's just a part of the deal in Philadelphia.

For Shelton Gibson, this is all new. 

The rookie receiver said reporters weren't allowed in the West Virginia locker room. They met with players in a different space.

Being placed next to Torrey Smith has been a great thing for Gibson and the two have become close. But Smith is one of those guys who draws a crowd. 

"It's funny," Gibson said. "Last week I was looking at it. It's just like, you can't interrupt. You're not hoping that he'll hurry up or anything. It's just funny because [it's just a] big ass [crowd] around your locker." 

While Watkins normally stands behind the media scrum, waiting for his moment to pounce, Gibson has taken a different approach. While waiting for the crowd to disperse, he takes walks. He'll find a teammate in another part of the locker room to visit. Sometimes, though, he will hang around as Smith gets interviewed. He wants to see how the veteran handles it all and he always comes away impressed. 

In the middle of the locker room, on the right side, Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham are neighbors. Two of the best defensive players on the team, they are both pretty popular interview subjects.

So just about every week, one of them will walk out of the showers and see a seemingly impenetrable wall of camera and recorder-holders in their way. As veterans, though, they're beyond patiently waiting. 

"It's cool, man, because I just tell everybody to move out the way," said Graham, one of the more jovial players on the team. "That's all. That's my cue to have a little fun with the reporters." 

Watkins has dealt with this long before he was placed next to Jenkins. In fact, during his first training camp in 2014, he was in a popup stall in the middle of the floor. The locker on the wall nearest to him belonged to LeSean McCoy. It used to be annoying, especially when he didn't have a good day of practice, but there's not much he can do about it. 

After practices, the coaching staff will tell the players if that day is a media day. When Watkins knows it is, he hurries into the locker room as fast as he can and if he's lucky, he gets out before Jenkins gets in. 

But sometimes it backfires. Sometimes when Watkins goes to the cold tub and for treatment, he'll get back in the room at the same exact time Jenkins is about to start answering questions. 

And then the waiting begins. 

"So I just kind of stand by the side and let it happen," Watkins said with a shrug. "I'm used to it now."

Eagles' newcomers not surprised 'special' team atop NFC

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Eagles' newcomers not surprised 'special' team atop NFC

Tim Jernigan didn't have any choice in the matter. 

While he might be the Eagles' most important offseason acquisition, Jernigan was brought to Philadelphia in early April in a trade with Baltimore. 

Things have worked out pretty well, though. In a contract year, Jernigan has been great playing in a system that's almost completely foreign to him and he's probably earning himself a ton of money. But aside from that, he's been a key to the Eagles' quick 5-1 start. 

The Eagles are sitting pretty at the top of the NFC East and the entire NFC. 

That's not a shock to Jernigan or the rest of the Eagles' newcomers. 

"I'm not surprised at all," Jernigan said. "I knew that we had talent coming into the season. And more than that, I knew the work we had put in on the field in the weight room and away from football. Guys really bought in. The biggest thing now is not getting complacent with 5-1. Things can change fast. You never know. We still have 10 games guaranteed left. We have to focus on that."

This is Jernigan's fourth NFL season and he has been on just one team with a winning record. That came in his rookie season in 2014, when the Ravens went 10-6. 

There seems to be a really good chance this season could be even better for the Eagles. 

"I think we have a pretty good team, man," Jernigan said, echoing Carson Wentz. "I think we're going to be special."

While Jernigan had no choice in coming to Philadelphia, plenty of big-name free agents did. Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith, LeGarrette Blount and even Chris Long all chose to come and play for the Eagles, who were coming off a 7-9 season. 

Obviously, one of the big reasons, especially for the receivers, was the chance to play with Wentz. While Wentz didn't have a stellar rookie season, he showed flashes of what might make him a franchise quarterback. 

The Eagles also had some other key positions with talent. Their offensive line featured two Pro Bowl-caliber offensive tackles, a veteran center and a really solid guard. Their safety duo is one of the best in the league. Their middle linebacker is young and good. Their tight end has been productive. There were question marks, sure, but still talent. 

And then the team added those key free agents. 

"There's a reason I signed here," Jeffery said. "A lot of key additions, picking up Torrey, picking up LeGarrette, me and Timmy and some other guys. The front office staff did a great job putting us together. But just seeing how they were last year, just a few pieces here and there, it could be big." 

While Jernigan missed the really good years in Baltimore, Smith didn't. Jernigan's first year with the Ravens was Smith's last, which meant Smith was there for the 2011 season when the Ravens lost in the AFC championship game and the 2012 season when they won the Super Bowl. 

So Smith knows what a special team looks like. And he sees something special in the Eagles' locker room. That's why 5-1 is coming as no surprise. 

"I knew as soon as I came in here, it just looks right," he said. "That's from the top down. It has the right feel. I said that the first day I came here and I still feel that way and obviously, you're able to see that, the way guys have been working." 

On the short list of five guys in the Eagles' locker room who have won Super Bowls, three of them came this offseason: Smith, Long and Blount. 

On Tuesday, Blount preached the importance of not getting caught up in the hype (see story). He preached the importance of focusing on only the game in front of them. They haven't accomplished anything yet. 

While Blount is trying to make sure the team stays grounded, he's not surprised either. It seems like no one is. 

"I feel like we've been a confident team since we started, all the way back from OTAs, training camp, preseason," he said. "I feel like we've always been a confident group. That's one of the things that you need in order for you to be a winning team. You have to have confidence. You have to have confidence in yourself, as well as the guys that you're going to be playing with, the coaches, and it goes on from there. You have to have confidence."