Eagles

10 most surprising Eagles from NFC East-leading 5-1 start

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10 most surprising Eagles from NFC East-leading 5-1 start

We all pretty much knew Malcolm Jenkins would have another big year. We all pretty much knew Carson Wentz would improve dramatically, Zach Ertz would have a career season and Brandon Graham would have success getting after the quarterback.
 
Then there are the surprises. On this team, there've been a ton of them.
 
The Eagles, at 5-1, are already just two wins short of last year's total and have more wins than the rest of the NFC East combined.
 
Let's take a look at the 10 biggest surprises so far this year on this first-place Eagles team. (And don't look for Nelson Agholor on this list. His performance may be surprising to some people but not to me!)
 
1. Patrick Robinson
Honestly, Robinson's career looked like it was over this summer. He was with his fourth team in four years, and he was so bad early in training camp and the Eagles had so many promising young corners you had to wonder if there was even a roster spot for Robinson. But not only did he make the team and earn a starting spot when Ronald Darby got hurt, he's played at such a consistently high level you can make a case he's been the Eagles' Defensive MVP so far. He's got a team-high nine knockdowns, two interceptions and he's just been consistently solid in coverage.
 
2. LeGarrette Blount
Maybe it's not a huge surprise Blount has been so productive because he did score 18 touchdowns for the Patriots last year. But the surprise is his 5.6 yards-per-carry average — second-best in the league and tops in the NFC among regular backs (at least eight carries per game). Blount averaged just 3.9 yards per carry last year and hasn't been over 4.5 since 2013. And he's 30 now. That 5.6 figure is fourth-highest in NFL history by a running back in his 30s after six games. With Darren Sproles out, Donnel Pumphrey struggling throughout camp and now on the shelf and Wendell Smallwood out the last couple games as well, the Eagles have really needed Blount, and he's responded in a huge way. He's giving the Eagles way more than anybody expected.
 
3. Rasul Douglas
Injuries forced the Eagles to use Douglas in Week 2 after he was inactive on opening day, and he's been starting ever since. Douglas has given up some plays — what rookie cornerback hasn't? — but despite less than world-class speed he's shown an ability to cover, tackle and support the run. Douglas needs to be more consistent, but he's got two interceptions in five games — the first Eagles corner with two INTs in his first five career games since Eric Allen — and he's only going to get better.
 
4. Jake Elliott
What a story. The Bengals draft Elliott in the fifth round, risk losing him by placing him on the practice squad, then Caleb Sturgis gets hurt, the Eagles sign Elliott, and he proceeds to make three kicks of 50 yards or more in his first five games — including a game-winning 61-yarder, the third-longest walk-off field goal in NFL history. Despite not playing on opening day, Elliott is fourth in the NFL in scoring, with 49 points. He's 12 for 14 overall, including 10 straight makes. He's already one of the most accomplished long-range kickers in Eagles history. And he's played five games. 
 
5. Mychal Kendricks
Kendricks' once-promising career seemed to fizzle out the last couple years. Check out his playing time his first five NFL seasons: 88.5 percent in 2012 (under Juan Castillo and Todd Bowles), then 82.6 percent, 65.5 percent and 51.6 percent in 2013 through 2015 (under Bill Davis) and down to 26.7 percent last year under Jim Schwartz. A downward spiral. But Kendricks forced the Eagles to play him with a fantastic preseason, and he's backed that up with some really solid play so far this year. Kendricks had his best game in years Thursday night in Charlotte, North Carolina, with 15 total tackles, a tackle for loss and two special teams tackles. He played 55 snaps — his most in two years — and is now at 52 percent for the season. It's been a long time since we've seen Kendricks play at this level, and it's safe to say few people saw it coming.
 
6. Tim Jernigan
Hard to believe after watching these first six games that the Ravens didn't want Jernigan back. From what he's shown so far, he's a big-time player. Why would the Ravens give up on a 24-year-old defensive lineman with this much potential? Apparently, they felt he wasn't consistent enough. But if he's able to continue delivering the type of play that he has so far, it was a steal for the Eagles. Jernigan already has six tackles for loss, 1½ sacks and four hurries, not to mention stout play against the run all year. He's been way better than advertised.
 
7. Chris Long
Any notion the Eagles just brought Long in for leadership and emergency depth was quickly dispelled when we started to see him play. Long has a lot left. He's averaging 28 snaps, is tied for second on the team with 2.0 sacks and played a season-high 41 snaps in a big way Thursday night down in Charlotte. Long, now 32 years old, can still play.
 
8. Mack Hollins
When training camp began, Hollis was probably behind Jordan Matthews, Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith, Nelson Agholor, Dorial Green-Beckham, Paul Turner, Shelton Gibson and maybe even Bryce Treggs. So he was eighth-team. Now the rookie fifth-round pick is working his way up the Eagles' wide receiving hierarchy. He hasn't played a lot — about 10 snaps per game — but he's got five catches on five targets for five first downs, including a big 20-yarder Thursday night against the Panthers. Keep an eye on Hollins. He's going to be a good one.
 
9. Jason Kelce
Kelce's performance hasn't been a surprise to everybody, but there was certainly a large contingent of people who felt the veteran center should be released this offseason or preseason after his level of play dropped last year. But Kelce has been terrific in the middle of the NFL's No. 4-ranked offense and No. 5-ranked running game. So far a resurgent year for the two-time Pro Bowler.
 
10. Corey Clement
Down three running backs — Darren Sproles, Donnel Pumphrey and Wendell Smallwood — the Eagles have asked a lot of Clement, and the undrafted rookie has made some nice contributions, including a 15-yard touchdown run against the Giants, a 22-yard catch and run against the Cards and a 35-yard kickoff return against the Giants. It's rare to get much of anything from rookie tailbacks, but Clement has done a nice job taking advantage of his opportunities.

With Hall of Fame induction nearing, Brian Dawkins realizes he's just like you

With Hall of Fame induction nearing, Brian Dawkins realizes he's just like you

Brian Dawkins always had a symbiotic relationship with Eagles fans.

He loved them, they loved him, and there isn’t a single Eagle in the last 50 years who was as universally adored as Dawkins.

Try to find an Eagles fan that didn’t like him. You can’t do it.

In 18 days, Dawkins will be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, and on Tuesday he talked about the Eagles fans who cheered for him about every autumn Sunday from 1996 through 2008.

"I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, but I believe if a Philadelphia Eagles fan had a chance to play, if all of a sudden they woke up and they woke up in the team hotel and they knew the game plan and they had knowledge of the system, athletic ability to run and to jump and they played the position that I played, the safety position, I believe the majority of them, if not all of them, would play the game the way that I played it,” Dawkins said.

“They would dance, they would be having a good time … and they would go out and enjoy the opportunity to be on the football field and show it and not be afraid to show their emotions, to play with passion and give everything that they have because that would be the only chance that they would ever get to play the game of football, and that’s how I played.

“I played with a chip on my shoulder, I wanted to have a good time, I danced, I celebrated after plays, I celebrated with my teammates, and they saw that.”

Everybody loves Dawkins. Not just because of his boundless ability, production in big games and peerless leadership, but because he connected on such a deep level with Eagles fans.

He wore his emotions on his sleeve, and you could tell he felt every loss just as profoundly as even the most rabid Eagles fan.

“It was genuine,” he said. “I was a genuine player when it came to, I’m going to give everything that I have, I’m not going to make excuses for anything. As a matter of fact, I’m going to take the burden upon myself. Even if it’s not my fault, it’s going to be my fault. I’m going to take it away from my teammates and put it on myself.

“I’m never going to make excuses. I’m going to try my best and never make those mistakes [again] that I made in the game. And I believe that they saw that, they recognized that, and the feeling is mutual.

“I love Eagles fans. Yeah, they’re crazy. They’re twisted in some ways. But I love them, because I am. There are a lot of parts of me that are twisted in a lot of different ways. That’s why I did some of the crazy stuff on the field that I did. So like, we fit. Like hand in glove, we fit.”

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Eagles 2018 training camp battles: Nickel cornerback

Eagles 2018 training camp battles: Nickel cornerback

As we get near the start of the Eagles’ 2018 training camp, we’re going to take a closer look at some of the key position battles to watch this summer. 

Today we’ll look at slot cornerback. 

Names to know

Jalen Mills, Sidney Jones, De'Vante Bausby, Malcolm Jenkins

What to watch

This should be interesting during training camp. The Eagles need to find a solid replacement after losing Patrick Robinson in free agency this offseason. Robinson, the veteran journeyman, was having a terrible training camp last summer before he was moved into the slot following the Ronald Darby trade. But once he got into that nickel corner spot, he thrived and went on to have a tremendous year. Losing him is big, but the Eagles actually have depth at the CB position, a departure from training camps in previous years. 

The Eagles have a few options in the slot. The only corner who hasn’t had time inside is Rasul Douglas; the team isn’t going to put him there. Even Darby took some reps inside during the spring. But Darby is likely going to stay outside too. 

That leaves Mills, Jones and Bausby battling for the spot. It appears that Mills is probably going to be a starter, but there’s a decent chance that he could line up at outside corner in the Eagles’ base package and move inside in nickel. That’s a lot to ask, but he has been in the defense for two years now and would be able to handle that extended responsibility. 

Jones is really talented and it would make sense to find a way to get last year’s second-round pick (who would have been a first-rounder without an Achilles tear) on the field. That will either come outside in the nickel package or inside. Jones took some reps there this spring and looked good. Ultimately, the team will want to make him a starter, but for now, it can bring him along slowly with a lot of depth at corner. 

Bausby is a name you might not be as familiar with. But after spending last year on the practice squad, he turned some heads this spring. He and D.J. Killings are long shots to win this spot, but Bausby isn’t a long shot to make the roster. I just can’t see Bausby keeping a talented player like Jones off the field, no matter how much the coaching staff likes him. 

The last possibility is to move Jenkins into the slot, which the team will do with certain bigger receivers and tight ends. But it seems very unlikely he’ll take over that role full-time, especially with more depth at corner than safety. 

Prediction

I think the three guys who will be on the field are Mills, Darby and Jones. The real question is how this manifests itself. If I were Jim Schwartz, I would start Mills and Darby and then slide Mills inside in the nickel package, leaving the second-year player to play at his strength position outside. I think Schwartz isn’t going to take my advice on this, though. I think it’s slightly more likely that Mills and Darby stay outside and Jones plays inside when the Eagles use their nickel package. 

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