Trey Burton

Getting over gut-punch loss of Chris Maragos no easy task for Eagles

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USA Today Images

Getting over gut-punch loss of Chris Maragos no easy task for Eagles

It was late last Thursday night in Charlotte, well after the celebrating in the locker room subsided and well after most of his teammates had already gotten on the bus to take them to the airport. 

Eagles special teams captain Chris Maragos, with a heavy brace on his right leg, emerged from the visitors' locker room and limped through the cement bowels of Bank of America Stadium. The pissed off look plastered on his face as he left the field after injuring his right knee in the fourth quarter had given way to a look of resignation. He knew. 

Maragos was officially placed on injured reserve Thursday, which means the Eagles will have to continue what they hope will be a magical season without one of their unquestioned leaders. 

"It was rough, man," said fellow special teamer Najee Goode, who collided with Maragos on the play that injured him. "That's my dawg. Chris is a beast. He brings a lot of energy to special teams. But we're going to replace him. He's still going to be there, making sure we do what we need to do." 

If any team is prepared to get over the loss of a player like Maragos it might be these Eagles. They've already survived — thrived, really — after losing Darren Sproles, Ronald Darby, Rodney McLeod, Fletcher Cox, Jordan Hicks, Lane Johnson and Wendell Smallwood for varying lengths of time. 

But like when they lost Sproles for the season, the Eagles are going to miss more than just Maragos' on-field play. He's also the captain of Dave Fipp's excellent special teams' group. Maragos, one of five captains on the team, said at the time he was voted a captain that it meant more to him than any other accomplishment in his career. 

And that's saying a lot. Maragos' story is pretty amazing. He was originally a wide receiver in college until then-Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema saw Maragos track down a DB after an interception and moved him to defense on the spot. Eventually, Maragos worked his way into the NFL as an undrafted free agent and eventually won a Super Bowl with the Seahawks before coming to Philly. 

Early in his time with the Birds, Maragos actually played a significant role on defense. But when the new coaching staff arrived, it was clear his role would be on special teams, so he threw himself back into it. And he's been incredible. 

Last November, Maragos signed a three-year, $6 million extension that goes through the 2019 season and was already off to a good start in 2017. He led the Eagles in special teams snaps with 126 (74 percent) and was tied for the team lead in special teams tackles with six. 

How the heck do you replace that? 

"I don't think you'll ever be able to fill Chris' role," tight end and special teamer Trey Burton said. "He plays such a big role on special teams. He was able to do so much, but we're going to have to do something. Everybody's going to have to step up."

Head coach Doug Pederson said it will be "tough" to replace Maragos, but the team will probably do it with a committee approach at first. That means more Corey Graham and Jaylen Watkins. Even recently signed draft pick Nate Gerry will have a role if he's active. 

Perhaps the bigger loss will be Maragos' leadership. He's one of just five players on the team who has won a Super Bowl, and he's always happy to answer any questions his teammates have — about football or life. 

In his absence, Goode said he and Burton will attempt to fulfill that leadership void as much as possible. 

"It's really tough," Burton said. "That's my best friend. Him not being here, being around as much. It's tough for him too because he's out of the loop on things and doesn't really know. He would love to be here and in meetings and stuff but he's not going to be able to."

While Maragos won't be around for a while, Burton expects him to visit more once he's healed more. And he'll certainly be watching. 

"Heart's heavy, but I lift my eyes," Maragos tweeted Thursday. "I'll miss being out there with my brothers but I promise you this, I'll be back stronger!"

That's good news for 2018, but the Eagles will have to go the rest of the season without him. Maragos apparently had a message for his teammates. 

"He knows injuries happen," Goode said. "We play full speed and that's something that comes with the game. His whole thing — Chris is a great team dude — was that we keep propelling and keep getting better for the future." 

Eagles training camp Day 16 observations: Catch of the Summer

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Eagles training camp Day 16 observations: Catch of the Summer

After a cloudy day to start the weekend, the Eagles were under the hot sun Sunday.

The Eagles will have two more practices before Wednesday's walk-through and Thursday's game against the Bills at home.

Observation time:

1. *Clears throat* injuries: Add Fletcher Cox to the injury report. The Eagles' superstar defensive tackle missed practice Sunday with back spasms. He didn't even come out to the field.

Nick Foles (elbow), Bryce Treggs (sore legs), Paul Turner (shoulder), Wendell Smallwood (hamstring), Ron Brooks (hamstring), Josh Andrews (hand), Halapoulivaati Vaitai (knee), Brandon Brooks (ankle) and Anthony Denham (calf) all missed practice again.

Offensive tackle Dillon Gordon (hand) missed the beginning of the day but returned later and even participated in team drills.

2. New cornerback Ronald Darby took the field for the first time with the Eagles on Sunday. He was a spectator at practice Saturday because Jordan Matthews hadn't yet taken his physical in Buffalo so the trade wasn't complete.

The Eagles didn't waste time throwing Darby right into the mix (see story). He worked with the first unit during group install and again in 11-on-11s. He was on his normal left side as the team let him compete in man coverage. He looked good.

In 11-on-11s, Nelson Agholor made a great catch in front of him but Darby had good coverage. In 7-on-7s, he went up against Alshon Jeffery. The two got tangled and Jeffery came down with the ball. Still, Darby looked good. He even showed that closing speed earlier in the day when he was covering Mack Hollins on a dig route.

3. Trey Burton made the catch of training camp during an 11-on-11 period. Matt McGloin's pass was deflected by Mychal Kendricks, but somehow Burton made a spinning, left-handed catch as he was moving away from the ball. It drew some gasps from his teammates and the fans in attendance. It also drew a look of "are you kidding me?" from a grimacing Kendricks.

"It was luck, bro," Burton said. "Just threw my hand out there."

It was a little more than luck. Great concentration from Burton, who could have a big role in the offense this season.

4. Jim Schwartz used a bunch of combinations at corner on Sunday. Darby and Jalen Mills began the day as the starters with Aaron Grymes in the slot. Then Patrick Robinson had some time in the slot before moving outside. Then Malcolm Jenkins went into the slot and Corey Graham came in to replace him at safety. Without Ron Brooks, who is the top slot corner, Schwartz is moving guys around trying to find the best combination.

5. During a 1-on-1 drill, Kendricks was roasted by Darren Sproles. Really, it was unfair. Sproles pulled a super quick double move and put about five yards of separation between him and Kendricks as he ran down the sideline and caught the pass that was lofted in.

6. Overall, the defense won the day. That happens sometimes during training camp. One side of the ball just clearly outperforms the other. A part of that was that Carson Wentz wasn't very sharp for the second day in a row. Not anything to worry about, but that's just the truth. And after that, the team has McGloin and Dane Evans. By the way, Evans has been the better of the two.

7. Corey Clement blocked Joe Walker during a blocking drill and Duce Staley was pumped. He jumped into the air to chest bump Clement in celebration. Often pass protection is what keeps rookies off football teams and off the field. At least Clement is willing. In those same drills, LeGarrette Blount couldn't stop Kendricks, who blew past him.

8. In offensive line vs. defensive line drills, Chance Warmack struggled to block Justin Hamilton and Gabe Wright. That's not a good sign, especially after Warmack didn't have a very good game in the preseason opener. Warmack has been getting a lot of coaching from O-line coach Jeff Stoutland. Right now, Warmack is the starting right guard while Brooks deals with his ankle injury, but it's fair to wonder if the team wouldn't be better with Stefen Wisniewski in there.

9. In those same 1-on-1 drills, Tim Jernigan pulled off a lightning-quick inside spin move. For some guys, that same spin move seems to take forever and they expose their backs to the offensive lineman for too long. Then, that move can end in disaster. But with Jernigan, it happens so quickly, the lineman can't react fast enough.

10. Even after cutting Marcus Smith a while back, the Eagles have some decent depth at defensive end. Recently, last year's seventh-round pick Alex McCalister has been playing better and Steven Means has been consistent too. The team goes six deep at end: Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry, Chris Long, Derek Barnett, McCalister and Means. As McCalister comes on, the coaching staff might have a tough decision when it's time to cut down to 53 players.

Stupid Observation of the Day: Walker shaved his beard and is probably about five pounds lighter because of it. He no longer looks like football Jesus.

Eagles left with plenty of options in slot because of 'design of the offense'

Eagles left with plenty of options in slot because of 'design of the offense'

After sending Jordan Matthews to the Bills in a trade, the Eagles could take a committee approach at slot receiver in 2017.

It's been widely assumed Nelson Agholor would step into that vacated slot role — he took first-team reps there at practice Saturday. The third-year wideout also had a strong offseason and filled in during spring sessions while Matthews was out with knee tendinitis.

"That’s coach’s decision as far as who’s going to step up, but Nelson’s done some great things," Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz said. "Obviously, he can fly. He can roll in the slot and put some pressure on defenses."

While Agholor will no doubt continue to see plenty of work in the slot, the job isn't necessarily going to be his exclusively moving forward.

"We move so many guys around in that position," coach Doug Pederson said. "It's just kind of by design of the offense."

Matthews served as the Eagles' primary slot receiver since he was selected in the second round of the 2014 NFL draft, but lined up there less last season than in years past. That was in large part because Pederson was much more imaginative than his predecessor, Chip Kelly, mixing up personnel and formations with far greater frequency.

Under Pederson, the Eagles have been more likely to deploy running backs and tight ends from the slot. Darren Sproles, Donnel Pumphrey, Zach Ertz and Trey Burton will all take a fair number of snaps in there.

Agholor may be facing some competition in the receiver room as well. After a breakout performance in the preseason opener, Mack Hollins was also getting a look in the slot Saturday.

"We'll continue to develop him and work him in multiple spots," Pederson said. "One thing about Mack is he's a smart guy. He picks up the offense well and he understands coverage and leverage and things like that."

Hollins seems like a receiver more in the mold of Matthews. Listed at 6-foot-4, 221 pounds, he's far bigger and stronger than most of the nickel cornerbacks who would be trying to cover him on the inside.

For now, Hollins is continuing to work primarily on the outside, but his size is something the Eagles could try to take advantage of.

"This game is a bunch of matchups," Hollins said. "So if my best matchup is inside against a smaller nickel, then that’s where I’ll be, and if it’s outside vs. a smaller corner, that’s where I’ll be."

The Eagles also like the fact Agholor brings a different skill set to the position than Matthews did. Matthews' size was an asset in the middle of the field, but he lacked explosion. Agholor has the potential to become the consistent deep threat down the seam that the offense has been lacking.

“Without a doubt, they’re different skill sets," Wentz said. "He’s more of a burner, whereas J-Matt was more of that savvy possession guy underneath.

"Obviously, Jordan made plenty of plays down the field as well, they just bring a different element down the field as well."

A first-round draft pick in 2015, Agholor has been a massive disappointment through two seasons in the league, with 59 receptions for 648 yards and 3 touchdowns in 28 games. 

For what it's worth, Agholor has appeared to make strides in his development while working from the slot this year. The 24-year-old looks comfortable, and it may very well be the role he is best suited to play in the NFL.

Agholor played slot his junior season at USC when he racked up 104 receptions for 1,313 yards and 12 touchdowns.

"Staying inside, you have to have a little bit more spatial awareness because there are bodies in there, a lot going on," Agholor said. "Your awareness and your understanding of zones has to be at a higher level. Outside, you kind of have a one-on-one even in some zones."

Even last season, Matthews was still the primary slot but shared the responsibility. After running 532 routes in the slot in 2015, he was down to 329 with Pederson at the helm, according to Pro Football Focus. Injuries also limited Matthews to 14 games, but that doesn't account for a difference of over 200 plays.

No matter how the plan shakes out, Agholor is fine with divvying up the snaps.

"We want to put defenses in a bind," Agholor said. "We want to find mismatches and move players around so that we keep them guessing."