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11 things I think at Eagles training camp

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11 things I think at Eagles training camp

With training camp roughly two weeks old, and the Eagles' first preseason game approaching Thursday, it's time to review what we've learned. We're going position by position, Peter King style, with 11 things I think so far at camp.
 
1. I think the area Carson Wentz has shown the most improvement is his accuracy down the field. Wentz has looked sharp in general, especially when Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith have both been on the field. But where Wentz has really excelled is throwing deep, touch passes. I can't tell you how many times he has hit a wide receiver perfectly in stride, over the outside shoulder, 30-40 yards downfield this camp. There have been plenty of occasions where Eagles cornerbacks have OK position, to only get beaten by a perfect pass. All of the offseason work on mechanics is clearly paying off for Wentz.
 
2. I think Wendell Smallwood is going to have a larger role in the offense than people realize. Smallwood looks explosive and physical running with the football, and smooth as a receiver out of the backfield. "Thrashing" is how Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich described the second-year back the other day, and I agree. Meanwhile, none of LeGarrette Blount, Darren Sproles or Donnel Pumphrey are traditional three-down backs. Smallwood could be. He won't be the workhorse, and he may even wind up being out-snapped by both Blount and Sproles. But Smallwood is definitely going to be in the mix, especially if he's improved in pass protection. I think we see quite a bit more Smallwood than Pumphrey, and he could wind up with the most touches out of the whole bunch before the season ends.
 
3. I think Nelson Agholor is having a fantastic training camp. But I thought Agholor was having a fantastic training camp in 2015 and 2016, too, and we all saw how much that mattered. The one thing I can say for certain about Agholor is he is noticeably bigger compared to last season. I also think he's a much better position to succeed under Eagles wide receivers coach Mike Groh. Yet as far as Agholor's performance in practice, I don't think it's light years different than what we've seen in the past. And as for his newfound confidence and focus, we won't have a read on that until it's Week 1 and he has to do perform in front of 70,000 people.
 
4. I think the Billy Brown hype train came off the tracks before it gained any steam. I understand the excitement. A converted wide receiver from DII Shepherd University, Brown packs tremendous athleticism into a 6-foot-4, 255-pound frame. Apparently, he really stood out when it was only rookies and selected veterans on the field. I haven't really seen nor heard too much from Brown since. He's a practice-squad candidate. Nobody is going to stash a raw project on their 53, and he hasn't done anything to warrant a spot over Brent Celek or Trey Burton.
 
5. I think Dillon Gordon could see quite a bit of action as the sixth offensive lineman in heavy packages and occasionally at fullback as well. The Eagles used Matt Tobin quite a bit as a sixth O-lineman last season, but Gordon is a more logical fit for that role. He's a converted tight end, therefore doubling as a legitimate receiving threat, and he's been catching a bunch of passes in camp. And Beau Allen lined up at fullback last season, but it's unclear when he'll return from injury. Gordon has outstanding athleticism for a man his size (6-4, 322), so much so that it would be a shame if the Eagles don't use it.
 
6. I think the additions of Derek Barnett and Tim Jernigan give the Eagles a scary-good defensive line. Barnett has the potential to make an immediate contribution, and even if he begins his career as a reserve, as expected, the Eagles are four-deep and at defensive end with Chris Long also in the mix there. And I suspect Jernigan will make an even bigger impact than Barnett in 2017, giving the unit a true interior presence who can take advantage of all the attention being paid to Fletcher Cox. The front four has been a lot to handle this summer.
 
7. I think Jordan Hicks' hand is just fine, and he could be headed for a Pro Bowl season. Last year, I thought Nigel Bradham overshadowed Hicks and actually played better. That's not meant to be an indictment of Hicks, but I'm not sure that will be the case again anyway. The third-year linebacker has been limited due to his injury, yet always seems to make a play when he's on the field and has shown no issues with tackling. This being his second season in the scheme is huge as well. Bradham looks good, too, and hopefully, the off-field distractions are behind him. Depth at linebacker remains a question mark, but the top two should be excellent.
 
8. I think Patrick Robinson's roster spot is in serious jeopardy if his camp doesn't turn around quickly. Robinson has rebounded somewhat after an especially disastrous practice last week, but his struggles have been well documented throughout. That could be problematic for the Eagles, who were clearly hoping he might be able to start this season. The one thing Robinson has going for him is nobody else has really stepped up and seized that role, so it's possible he could rebound and be on the field Week 1. With his 30th birthday approaching in September, I don't know that I would be counting on that to happen.
 
9. I think Eagles fans are going to love Terrence Brooks. This guy loves to hit and plays bigger than his listing at 5-11, 200 pounds. Brooks always seems to be around the ball, too, coming up with numerous interceptions throughout camp and going back to OTAs. There's even been a handful of occasions where it looked like he had to pull up to avoid causing a huge collision. Brooks will make his mark on special teams to begin with, but if he gets into a game on defense, he has the look of a legit playmaker.
 
10. I think for all the questions about the head coach, the players love Doug Pederson, they have bought in and they want to play for him. There aren't many ways to evaluate a coach in camp, but seeing how much fun players are having during a period of the NFL schedule that is typically associated with hard, monotonous work speaks volumes. Pederson needs to show improvement on game days, but the enthusiasm inside the Eagles' locker room bodes well for his future with the club.
 
11. I think Lane Johnson was right when he said this is most talented Eagles team he's seen. To be honest, this might be the deepest squad since the Donovan McNabb years. The only position that looks like a hole is cornerback. Most spots have solid, dependable backups or intriguing prospects in the pipeline. A few units have the potential to be among the best in the NFL, including the wide receivers, offensive line, defensive line, linebackers and safeties. And, of course, there's a franchise quarterback for the first time since McNabb in Wentz. The Eagles may be a year away from really being on the map, but they're on the right track, and this group should compete for a playoff spot at the very least.

Watch Jalen Mills pregame hype speech in Dallas

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Watch Jalen Mills pregame hype speech in Dallas

Sunday Night Football. The Eagles vs. the Cowboys. This is what football fans in Philadelphia live for.

It doesn't take a whole lot to get Philly fans fired up for an NFC East rivalry game down in Dallas at AT&T Stadium but this video of the Birds' players getting hyped themselves should do the trick.

Jalen Mills, who has stepped up nicely in a leadership role this season, took center stage to fire his team up. NSFW languange. 

Let's go #BirdGang.

Mills was also rocking a sweet new Gang Green t-shirt the defense had made. More on those here.

Sixers' future is now, but maybe not quite there yet

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Sixers' future is now, but maybe not quite there yet

Wow, was that first half against the Golden State Warriors fun Saturday night or what? Going into the break up 22, with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons dominating, Robert Covington and JJ Redick hitting from everywhere and the Warriors playing at least marginally shook, looking like a team woefully underprepared for a fully weaponized Sixers squad. It was absolutely stunning seeing it all come together, since as good as the Sixers had been through 14 games so far this year, they'd still never played a full game this season with both their shooters hitting and their stars locked in. 

And they still haven't. As second quarter gave way to third, can't say for certain if the Warriors' switch was flipped, but something definitely was. All of a sudden, the paint closed off for Embiid and Simmons, Covington started clanking and trying to defend the Warriors was as fruitless as trying to save a soup with a hole torn in the takeaway carton. Philly's 22-point lead turned into a 10-point deficit, and it wasn't coming back. Final score: 124-116, Warriors. 

Once this one really got outta control — in a bad way — you kinda just had to laugh about it. The Sixers' first-half steamrolling was head-smackingly unsustainable, but to see everything good about their performance dissolve so fully and so quickly, there was nothing really to say: You just had to recall fondly how hilariously beautiful those first 24 minutes were, and know that someday we'll get a performance like that from the Liberty Ballers that extends all 48. Maybe even against these Warriors, who probably weren't gonna lose to both the present and the future of the Eastern Conference in back-to-back outings. 

As much fun as it would've been for the Sixers to jump their timeline about two seasons in one night, they're not there yet. Half their bench is out, for one thing, including that guy Markelle Fultz who should still be an enormous difference-maker for Brett Brown's crew if he ever gets his head (and his shoulders) straight. And though Simmons and Embiid already both show flashes of "Oh My God They've Figured It Out" and "We're All Doomed" with absurd frequency, to expect them to have totally solved the NBA with 59 games of Association experience between them is not terribly realistic. The team's turned a corner this season, no doubt, but there's still a lot of corners left in that treehouse for them to investigate. 

The good news? The Sixers are staying at home for a while now — after playing 10 of their first 14 on the road, they're now in the midst of eight of nine in South Philly — with challenging, but mostly winnable games coming up, including Monday night against the Utah Jazz. The Sixers are not ready to run the rest of the league off the court just yet, but they're ready to establish themselves as one of the decisively good teams, and hopefully, their home building as one of the league's obviously tough arenas. For a team where crisis forever lurks just below the surface, that would certainly be enough Process-to-Progress for one season.