Eagles

Eagles Mailbag: Jay Ajayi's numbers; is Donnel Pumphrey a goner?

Eagles Mailbag: Jay Ajayi's numbers; is Donnel Pumphrey a goner?

It’s hard to believe but we’re less than two weeks away from the start of training camp. Doesn’t it seem like the Eagles won the Super Bowl, like, last week? 

Anyway, the entire team will report to the NovaCare Complex on July 25 and the first practice of the summer is the next day on July 26. The first preseason game is Aug. 9 against the Steelers. 

The season opener is Sept. 6 and it’ll be here before you know it. 

Let’s get to your questions: 

If Ajayi puts up 1,200 and eight touchdowns, the Eagles would be thrilled. The last Eagle to do that was LeSean McCoy in 2013. In fact, there have only been seven seasons in Eagles history where they’ve had a running back put up those numbers. Shady in 2013 and 2011, Ricky Watters in 1996 and 1995 and Wilbert Montgomery in 1981, 1979 and 1978. So it’s hard to do. Think about this … as good as the Eagles’ offense was in 2017, they had just nine rushing touchdowns as a team

So I don’t see Ajayi putting up 1,200 and eight, but I’m down with a 1,000-yard season. I think that’s possible. There’s still going to be a rotation in 2018, but without LeGarrette Blount taking carries, I think Ajayi will have enough opportunity. Remember, Blount led the team with 766 yards last year but lost his chance at a 1,000-yard season when Ajayi was traded to the Birds in the middle of the year.

I think with another year under his belt and without Blount taking carries now that he’s in Detroit, Ajayi will get over 1,000 in 2018. 

I’m not ready to completely write Pumphrey off, but I also haven’t seen anything that lets me know he can play in the NFL. There’s no sugarcoating it … Pumphrey was terrible last summer and if he’s that bad again this year, the Eagles might have to just give up on him. But if he shows some promise, things get trickier. Then they might have to find a roster spot for him. 

Either way, it’s hard for me to envision him really seeing time on the field this season. Is he really going to improve enough to take Ajayi, Darren Sproles or Corey Clement off the field? I just don’t see it. 

No, during a handful of spring practices, Sidney Jones hasn’t done enough to take a starting corner job from Jalen Mills or Ronald Darby. And unless one of those two really struggles, I think the Eagles will stick with them. But I expect Jones to prove himself plenty this season and to play a decent amount. I’m a complete believer in his ability and his recovery from injury. Before that Achilles injury, he could have been the first cornerback taken in the draft; he was that good. And even if he needs to shake off rust, that talent is going to show itself. He might not be a starter this year, but he’s the future of the secondary. 

I don’t remember receivers running free in the NFC Championship Game. The Vikings scored seven points in that one. As for the Super Bowl, yeah, that wasn’t great. The Patriots put up 613 yards and 500 of them came through the air. It was just the 16th game in NFL history where a team has put up 500 passing yards in a regular season or playoff game. So not great. 

But that was against the greatest quarterback in NFL history and the Eagles still won the game. I understand why you might rewatch that game and be concerned (actually it’s impressive you can watch that game and be concerned. They won the freaking Super Bowl), but that was an anomaly. They gave up 195 yards passing to the Falcons and 263 to the Vikings who trailed for most of the game. 

The Eagles bring back Ronald Darby, Jalen Mills, Malcolm Jenkins, Rodney McLeod and essentially add a first-round pick in Jones. I think they’ll be good. 

See: Snowball + Hell. 

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New Eagles wide receivers coach Gunter Brewer has a history with Alshon Jeffery

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USA Today Images/AP Images

New Eagles wide receivers coach Gunter Brewer has a history with Alshon Jeffery

Eagles new receivers coach Gunter Brewer will get to coach Alshon Jeffery for the first time this season, but he’s known him for almost a decade.

And he can’t wait to finally get his No. 1 receiver back on the field. 

“His being a southern guy like myself,” Brewer said with his drawl. “I enjoy his demeanor and not only the way he talks but just the way he’s got that swagger and confidence. I’m looking forward to when he is out there, seeing him snatch balls out of the air.” 

Jeffery is still on the Active/PUP list after rotator cuff surgery and might be in jeopardy of missing the start of the season, but head coach Doug Pederson seems happy with Jeffery’s progress so far. So … wait and see. 

Brewer, whom the Eagles hired after promoting Mike Groh to offensive coordinator, came from the University of North Carolina. But he first met Jeffery after the 2010 college football season at the 2010 college football awards ceremony in Florida at Walt Disney World. 

At the time, Brewer was there because he was co-offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach at Oklahoma State and his star receiver, Justin Blackmon, was also nominated for the Fred Biletnikoff Award, handed out annually to the best receiver in college football. 

The two spent a couple days “chewing the fat” within the group. After that, Brewer followed Jeffery’s career. According to Brewer, Jeffery still recalls the meeting and the couple days together. 

“He remembered he should have won it,” Brewer said with a smile. 

Of course, that’s pretty debatable. Blackmon ended up winning the award after a tremendous season. He beat out Jeffery (South Carolina) and Ryan Broyles (Oklahoma). 

Here are their stats from that year: 

Jeffery: 88 catches, 1,517 yards, 9 touchdowns

Blackmon: 111 catches, 1,782 yards, 20 touchdowns

Broyles: 131 catches, 1,622 yards, 14 touchdowns

A couple years later, all three players went in the first two rounds of the 2012 NFL draft. Blackmon went fifth overall, Jeffery and Broyles went in the second round, at picks 45 and 54, respectively. 

All three had great college careers, but Jeffery is the only one still in the league. Injuries derailed Broyles' career and off-the-field issues took Blackmon out of the NFL. Both haven’t played since the 2014 season. 

Meanwhile, Jeffery is coming off a season in which he played through a torn rotator cuff, got a big contract and won the Super Bowl. He probably isn’t very upset about not winning the Biletnikoff Award anymore. 

Brewer hasn’t gotten to coach Jeffery on the field yet, but he’s been around him plenty in the building and in the meeting room. He’s enjoyed that part of it, at least. 

“He’s in every meeting,” Brewer said. “He does everything everybody else does. Nothing different. He’s great with the young kids, although you wouldn’t know it because he’s soft-spoken. He’ll pull one off the side, ‘should have done this the other game.’ I had him over by us and he was great about it. ‘Coach, you see that?’ He has his way of delivering that. When he talks, people listen.” 

Brewer certainly did nearly a decade ago. Now, they get to do it on the same team. 

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Malcolm Jenkins, reluctant face of a movement, remains stoic in fight

Malcolm Jenkins, reluctant face of a movement, remains stoic in fight

There are a lot of people watching Malcolm Jenkins. There are a lot of people counting on Malcolm Jenkins. There are a lot of people inspired by Malcolm Jenkins. 

There are a lot of people who hate Malcolm Jenkins. 

Jenkins feels the hate; he knows it exists. He hears the naysayers. He hears the folks who call him unpatriotic or much, much worse. In 2018, in this internet age, it sort of comes with the territory. Anonymity only fuels the negativity he faces. 

“Anything can be frustrating,” Jenkins said to NBC Sports Philadelphia this week. “Therein lies the power of those who oppose you. If they can get under your skin, they win. So I never allow that to block my judgment or even come off in my interviews.”

Jenkins is uncomfortable with being the face of a movement. 

The Eagles’ 30-year-old Pro Bowl safety admits as much, but he’s not oblivious. He’s uncomfortable with the idea because there are so many others committed to the fight — his fight — against racial injustice and police brutality in the United States. He names them — Colin Kaepernick, Eric Reid, Kenny Stills, Mike Thomas, Russell Okung, Anquan Boldin, Devin McCourty — before allowing that there are even more of whom he’s probably unaware. 

But still, here we are. Jenkins has just finished up a long session in the Eagles’ indoor practice bubble, but during the few hours the team was inside, the sun began to peek out from behind the clouds and it’s now shining. As Jenkins slides outside, stepping on to the asphalt parking lot with his cleats clacking, his manicured black beard dripping with sweat glistens in the sunlight. 

He’s stoic in his resolve. 

Reluctant as he is to claim it, Jenkins knows he’s a face of a movement. His face is second behind perhaps just Kaepernick’s in notoriety throughout this fight over the last two years. As such, Jenkins always speaks comprehensively, deliberately. 

Dealing with the hate

There are a few reasons Jenkins is able to deal with all that negativity. First, he thanks the folks around him who keep him motivated and focused on what’s important. For Jenkins, that’s affecting positive change in matters of racial injustice, police brutality and criminal justice reform. 

His support system definitely helps. 

“I think the other part is constantly having to remind myself about the why,” Jenkins said. “Why we’re doing this and also the results we’re able to see. What we’re trying to tackle is so large and has been here for so long, it can get frustrating with the pace of progress or the things that you read.

“We’ve actually accomplished a ton in two years. So I often have to remind myself about that and who’s counting on not only me but us. And when I think about those things, it helps block out or ignore all that other stuff.”

For how much negativity Jenkins receives, it’s impressive he’s been able to keep his composure. Teammate Chris Long, who has received some similar negativity for simply backing up Jenkins with his words and with a gesture — placing his arm around Jenkins while Jenkins raises his fist in demonstration during the national anthem — is impressed by Jenkins’ maturity. 

More than anything. Long is impressed by Jenkins’ patience with people. 

“He’s gotten a lot of negativity, obviously, from people who disagree with him,” Long said. “Even people that agree with Malc, sometimes want him to do things differently. Everybody has a better plan. Everybody has a better plan for how an influencer should go about their business, even if you agree. So he gets it from everywhere. I just think he’s tremendously stoic about it and just sticks to the plan, sticks to the work he does off the field. He doesn’t waver. And he doesn’t lash out either. So he’s better than me about that.”

How it began

This fight really began for Jenkins just over two years ago. In July 2016, he and some teammates met with Philadelphia police commissioner Richard Ross, some police officers and some community leaders. It was a small meeting, a conversation really, between Jenkins, his teammates and the police force. The meeting was about the struggles between the black community and how it felt about police and what could be done to improve those relations. On the flip side, Jenkins said he wanted to hear law enforcement’s side and learn how he could help. He’s had many meetings with police and legislators since, but that was a beginning.

A few weeks later, Kaepernick kneeled during the national anthem — he sat for the previous week’s game before compromising — and it became a national story. Kaepernick told NFL.com that he was not going to “show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”

When Jenkins saw that form of protest, something clicked. 

“I think for me, it showed that there are other guys out there who are feeling the same frustrations as me amongst my peers,” Jenkins said. “And, two, what Colin taught all of us is how much social capital we have as athletes. We might not be the richest out there or the experts or the politicians. We have social capital and can literally change the dialogue in the conversation worldwide. At that moment, I thought if we can create these different moments in silos as individuals, how impactful could it be if we collectively did something? I think for me, that’s when that vision was planted.”

Why it continues

On Sept. 19, 2016, Jenkins began raising his fist during the national anthem, joining Kaepernick in demonstration. He did it every week until late last season when he felt encouraged by the NFL’s commitment to the causes important to him and his fellow demonstrators. But after this offseason — the NFL created a national anthem policy, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said publicly that his players would be required to stand for the anthem and the President remained outspoken on the topic — Jenkins raised his fist again in the Eagles’ first preseason game. He was joined by young cornerback De’Vante Bausby. Long resumed placing his arm around Jenkins. 

Many times over the last two years, the anthem demonstrations have seemingly overshadowed the reasons for the demonstrations. Last summer, Jenkins even pondered ending his demonstration for fear that the story would become more about him and less about the issues (see story). Ultimately, he decided — and said recently — that there’s simply no better way to reach his audience than demonstrating during the anthem. 

For Jenkins, though, the demonstration isn’t hollow. He backs up his words with action. He has met with lawmakers. He has met with police. He has helped raise money and give back to communities and underprivileged youth through The Malcolm Jenkins Foundation. 

Jenkins is proud of the progress, while still understanding there’s a lot of work left to be done. 

Those two things aren’t mutually exclusive. I’m always proud of what we’ve been able to do. I’m proud of the guys who all contributed and I’m proud of Colin Kaepernick, who started this thing. I’m proud of everybody else who contributed. But I’m also driven by a constant reminder daily in my own walk in my black skin and just seeing what continues to come through in news clips of people being brutalized by police. Knowing that, every day, I get to live my life and go to practice and play this game, and recognizing that we have so many people who, for no reason at all, are sitting behind bars or being robbed of opportunities of education or being robbed of opportunities for advancement economically. That stuff being ever present is constantly motivating.

The issues are still the only driving force for Jenkins, so anytime the conversation begins to veer toward something else, he carefully directs it back. After the White House canceled the Eagles’ invite earlier this offseason, instead of getting in a war of words with the leader of the free world, Jenkins resorted to using giant flash cards, the first of which said, “YOU AREN’T LISTENING.” 

Long praised Jenkins for that move, calling it “brilliant.” 

“He’s very good at moving the needle and getting things done and articulating the points he wants to talk about in really clever ways, in a sound byte news culture,” Long said. “Everything he does is calculated in a really good way and he’s just authentic.” 

Reluctant as he may be, Jenkins is the stoic face of this movement. And the movement is better for it. 

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