Breaking down 6 young Eagles Doug Pederson is impressed with

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Breaking down 6 young Eagles Doug Pederson is impressed with

On Thursday, before the final practice of the long spring, Eagles head coach Doug Pederson was asked if there were any players lower on the depth chart who have stood out over the last few weeks. 

Pederson started by mentioning some players who came into the league last year. Eventually, he named six guys. 

Let’s take a look at each of them. 

Rashard Davis
The first name to come out of his mouth. Not bad for a first-year player from James Madison. Davis is 5-foot-9, 175. The receiver also has the ability to return, something we’ve seen him do since he’s been with the Eagles. 

Davis was signed as an undrafted free agent a year ago and spent most of the 2017 season on the practice squad. He was signed to a futures deal after the completion of the season. 

At JMU, Davis was a standout receiver and returner, on his way to being named an FCS All-American. Davis returned four punts for touchdowns and had 42 catches for 530 yards and three more touchdowns as a receiver. 

With the Eagles, he faces an uphill battle to make the roster, but they seem to like his versatility. 

Greg Ward
Pederson mentioned Davis and Ward in the same breath and it’s easy to see why. Both are smallish slot receivers who were a part of the same undrafted class. Ward’s story is slightly different though. At 5-11, 186, Ward was a prolific quarterback at the University of Houston but is making the transition to receiver at the NFL level. 

He was signed as an undrafted player last year and spent the season on the Eagles’ practice squad, at times taking over scout-team QB reps to imitate mobile quarterbacks. 

While at Houston, he proved to be a dual threat. He was a good passer, but his legs made him dangerous. This spring, Ward got some run with the first-team offense and the Eagles seemed to like his trick-play potential. This past week, we saw the offense run some trick plays with him, where he became the passer. On one, he even threw the ball to Nick Foles, sort of like the Philly Special. 

Shelton Gibson 
Last year, Gibson was a fifth-round pick out of West Virginia, but he didn't get to play a ton. He caught just two passes all season and they came in that regular-season finale against the Cowboys. 

But Gibson has looked good this spring (see story). That's a really good sign because he had a terrible spring and terrible summer as a rookie. It was probably in part because he came from a really simple college offense and had to pick up the Eagles' complex scheme. 

This year, he's thinking less and making more plays. 

Rasul Douglas 
It seems a little weird to put Douglas on this list after he was a third-round pick a year ago and then started five games in the Super Bowl season, but he’s buried on the depth chart. 

The thing that hurts Douglas is his body type. He’s strictly an outside cornerback. So while Sidney Jones, De’Vante Bausby and D.J. Killings have gotten first-team reps in the slot, Douglas is planted firmly behind Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby at outside corner. He’s probably behind Jones either way. 

That’s gotta be tough for Douglas, going from starter to being back on the bench. But he’s the perfect example of the depth this team has at the position. Pederson says Douglas has “emerged” this spring. 

Dallas Goedert
It’s no surprise Pederson is bullish on Goedert, whom he said is “going to be a nice fit for us as a tight end.” The rookie from South Dakota State had a great spring. He caught everything and is an athletic specimen. 

There’s a really good chance Goedert can be a monster in the red zone (see story).

Still, a long way to go, and we’ll see what happens when the pads go on, but there’s no reason to think Goedert can’t be a huge contributor as a rookie. 

Aziz Shittu
Probably a name you haven’t heard in a while, but Shittu has stood out as much as any defensive tackle can in non-padded practices. 

Shittu came to the Eagles as an undrafted free agent from Stanford in 2016. But thanks to that stupid college graduation rule he missed all those spring practices. That allowed another undrafted rookie (Destiny Vaeao) to get in front of him and Shittu never recovered. He was brought back to the practice squad in 2016 and then signed a futures contract before last season, but then suffered a knee injury in May and was placed on IR. 

It appears he’s healthy now and is showing some of that burst that made him intriguing to the Eagles in the first place. 

Carson Wentz rallies Eagles to win over Colts in long-awaited return

Carson Wentz rallies Eagles to win over Colts in long-awaited return

When OTAs ended in mid-June, Zach Ertz wasn’t so sure about Carson Wentz.

“I wasn’t with him every day from the end of OTAs to training camp so when we left after OTAs he still wasn’t very confident, I would say,” Ertz remembered.

“He didn’t trust the brace in particular, he was annoyed by it.”

Six weeks later?

“When I came back for training camp and he was moving around like his old self is when I was like, ‘Man, he made some drastic improvement in those six weeks that we had off,” Ertz said.

“From the moment training camp started you couldn’t really tell he was coming off a major injury.”

You couldn’t tell Sunday, either.

Wentz played football for the first time in 9 ½ months and although it wasn’t his prettiest game ever, it was pretty darn great to see.
Wentz ran, scrambled, jumped, slid, eluded, dove, threw and willed the Eagles to a 20-16 win over the Colts Sunday at the Linc in his first appearance since he tore his knee in Los Angeles last December.

“Felt good,” Wentz said. “Felt good to finally be out there. It’s been a long time coming. A lot of excitement, a lot of emotions.”

If we didn’t know Wentz was back before, we definitely saw it on a 3rd-and-6 late in the second quarter when he escaped trouble in the pocket, took off toward the left sideline and literally flew in the air past the sticks for a first down. 

That was the moment where you just took a deep breath and said, “He’s back.”

It was impressive. Even if Wentz wasn’t impressed.

“I thought it was a normal scramble to me,” he shrugged. “Made a guy miss in the pocket, saw the first down marker and go for it. Pretty standard for me.”

Wentz is now 13-2 in his career at the Linc and 19-11 as a starting quarterback.

He wasn’t perfect. He committed a couple bad turnovers – an interception and a fumble -- deep in Eagles territory in the third quarter that led to Colts field goals.

But the important thing is that he’s back, he’s healthy and he’s going to be leading this team to victories for a long, long time.

“It was exciting to get him back out there,” Doug Pederson said. “I know he’d probably want to get the fumble back, he’d want the pick back – those are things that can’t happen, especially backed up on our end of the field. But I thought for the first time back? Not bad.”

Not a knock on Nick Foles, who’s forever a legend in this city, but Wentz gives the offense a sense of order, a sense of consistency. He raises everybody’s level of play.

There’s just something magical about him.

“Same old Carson, honestly,” Ertz said. “He’s a winner. He’s a competitor. That’s why we love playing with him and for him. Because he’s going to do everything he can to win.

“He instills confidence in this team that no matter what we’re going through, we’re going to win.” 

Even the guys on defense noticed that.

“He’s an electric player and he does some things that are just flat-out special,” Malcolm Jenkins said. “I think it definitely gave us juice as a team and made us better. It’s just fun to watch.”

Playing without half the Eagles’ receivers and backs, Wentz still completed 68 percent of his passes for 255 yards with a TD to Dallas Goedert and the one interception.
But Wentz has never been about stats or numbers. In the end, he did on a surgically repaired knee the exact same thing he did before he got hurt.

He won.

And knee surgery or no knee surgery, that’s what he’s best at.

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Eagles' red zone defense comes up huge again in win over Colts

Eagles' red zone defense comes up huge again in win over Colts

You were probably gripping your chair pretty tightly when the Colts drove down the field late in the fourth quarter with a chance to score a touchdown and take a lead. 

But the Eagles stopped them once they got in the red zone.  

Of course they did. 

That’s what the Eagles do. 

“We know if we keep teams out of the end zone, really what happens between the 10-yard lines is irrelevant,” Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins said after the 20-16 win (see Roob's 10 observations).  

The Eagles allowed the Colts just one touchdown in five trips to the red zone on Sunday. And in their two wins this season, the Eagles have allowed just two touchdowns in 10 trips for their opponents. 

They are dominating down there. 

“I think we’re more comfortable in the red zone than anywhere else, to be honest,” Jenkins said. 

Jenkins admitted he was being slightly facetious, but said the Eagles’ defense does feel really confident in their abilities with their backs against the wall. The Eagles should feel confident. They were stout down there on Sunday after giving up two red zone touchdowns on two chances last week. 

After the Colts’ first trip into the red zone yielded a touchdown on Sunday, they didn’t get back into the end zone. It was like there was an invisible brick wall across the goal line. The Eagles gave up three field goals — including two on drives that started in the red zone after turnovers — and forced a turnover on downs on the penultimate drive that virtually ended the game.  

The Colts gained 17 net yards on 18 offensive plays inside the red zone on Sunday! Yikes. 

Less than one net yard per play is absolutely incredible. 

Here’s how those drives went for the Colts once they got into the red zone: 

- 5 plays, 15 net yards, TD 

- 1 play, 0 net yards, FG 

- 4 plays, 4 net yards, FG

- 3 plays, 3 net yards, FG

- 5 plays, -5 net yards, TOD 

That’s simply dominance from the Eagles, who have now given up just four touchdowns on 12 trips into the red zone by their opponents (33.3 percent). For some perspective, the best red zone defense in the NFL last year — the Chargers — gave up touchdowns on 36.1 percent of opponent trips to the red zone. 

“I think the biggest thing, is when we have our back to the wall, that’s when we really rise to the occasion,” defensive tackle Fletcher Cox said. 

So what makes the Eagles so good on defense in the red zone? 

It starts with simple scheme that allows players to think quickly and stay aggressive. The players admit they’re not tricking anyone. Then, they have some good personnel down in the red zone. They have pass rushers who get after QBs and stuff the run. They have DBs who play straight up and don’t allow fades and slants. And they have linebackers who are playmakers, starting with Jordan Hicks, who always seems to be around the ball. 

“That’s our standard for the defense,” said Derek Barnett, who had the game-saving play. “We may give up a play here and there, but we really hold our hat on not letting them get into the end zone for seven points.”

Oh yeah, and now the Eagles have plenty of confidence in the red zone. Crossing the 20-yard line is like entering a dead zone. 

It might be taking years off your life, but the Eagles are winning football games because of it. 

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