Eagles' rookies too green for Super Bowl seduction

Eagles' rookies too green for Super Bowl seduction

Malcolm Jenkins went to the Super Bowl in his first NFL season with the Saints. At the time, he assumed reaching and winning the big game would be the norm.

It’s a trap his young Eagles teammates cannot afford to fall into this week. They need to play with urgency every snap, for the contest’s entire 60 minutes, as if it will be their last shot to win a Super Bowl – because, in some cases, it just might may.

“I remember my mentality as a rookie that year was, ‘Oh, this is easy,’” Jenkins said last week. “I thought it would come, and it’s been nine since years since I’ve been back on that stage.”

Jenkins is fortunate. Some players go their entire career without a trip to the Super Bowl. The Eagles’ safety finally made it back, though his journey speaks to the fragility of this moment.

Just don’t expect Jenkins to sit down the 11 rookies and first-year players on the Eagles’ roster and lecture them about the rarity of this opportunity. In fact, their credulity could even work in the team’s favor.

“They tell you everything about it, but it’s nothing like living through it,” Jenkins said of his rookie year. “As much as I can relay stories or talk about messages, they won’t get it until they get there.

“That’s part of the game, but I think it’s a good thing because they don’t even know how big a deal it is. They just focus on playing and competing, which, for some young players, I think it’s going to be good for them.”

The Eagles have an experienced squad with plenty of leaders and even veterans of Super Bowls. Jenkins is one of six members of the team who already have a ring.

As for the rookies and first-year players on the roster, there are six who played significant roles this season – Corey Clement, Mack Hollins, Derek Barnett, Rasul Douglas, Jake Elliott and Rick Lovato. They have no way of knowing or appreciating the full scope of the pressure that will be on come Sunday.

“I don’t think I’ll realize it until next year, or the year when I don’t make the Super Bowl that I’m like, ‘Oh, this isn’t how it’s supposed to work,’” Hollins said.

“My mind right now is this is how it’s supposed to work. You’re supposed to go to the Super Bowl every year. I’m lucky and all the rookies are lucky to have this opportunity, so I want to take advantage of it.”

The message from veterans to young players like Hollins has been fairly simple.

“They just said, ‘Play it like it’s any other game,’” said Hollins, who had 16 grabs for 226 yards and a touchdown and contributed on special teams this season.

“Don’t let the excitement and the hype around the game distract you from what you’ve been doing and what we’ve been doing for the last 17 weeks, however long it’s been. Continue to prepare the same, continue to work the same and expect the same results. Don’t change something just because it’s a bigger stage.”

Most rookies stressed the importance of focusing on the task at hand rather than the hoopla around the game. Others, like the kicker, are almost inviting the pressure.

“That’s what I signed up for,” Elliott said. “That’s my job and that’s why I love doing it. You get called in those certain situations where there is a lot of pressure, and that’s kind of where you have to thrive.”

While Jenkins can preach as to how difficult it might be to return to the Super Bowl, Brent Celek is evidence of how momentous it is getting to one. After all, it only took the Eagles’ tight end 11 seasons to get here.

And like Jenkins, and like the team’s rookies, Celek doesn’t sound worried about his young teammates being wide-eyed and awed when they hit the field. They worked hard to reach this point, and probably don’t need any big speeches to prepare them.

“Don’t take it for granted, but I don’t think these guys are,” Celek said. “I think everyone understands it wasn’t easy getting to this point.

“We’re a lot of weeks in. This is the big one. Everyone understands that.”

Corey Clement hasn't lost that undrafted chip on his shoulder

USA Today Images

Corey Clement hasn't lost that undrafted chip on his shoulder

Two-hundred fifty-three players heard their names called during 2017 NFL draft and Corey Clement wasn’t one of them. He had to settle for unceremoniously signing with his hometown Eagles after the three-day event wrapped up.

Clement wore that chip on his shoulder like a badge of honor. It motivated him through his entire rookie season, which ended in a celebration after winning Super Bowl LII.

“It’s still there,” Clement said this week. 

That’s good news. 

Because while Clement might have arrived last year, it’s better he thinks he hasn’t. That perceived disrespect made him work harder, it made sure he did not take his success for granted. And it also made for a pretty great commencement speech this spring across the street from where he went to high school (see story)

Ultimately, it didn’t matter that Clement wasn’t drafted. He eventually earned a roster spot and playing time, even in crucial situations; he had 100 receiving yards in Super Bowl LII. 

But not hearing his name called during the 2017 draft will always stick with him. 

“For sure,” Clement said. “Because I can’t tell somebody later on down the line that I got a chance to hear my name called by Roger Goodell or somebody great like David Akers say you’re going to be a part of this great organization. It’s always going to be in the back of my mind. I’m not mad about it anymore, but at the same time, I’m never forgetting.”

Motivation is a tricky thing for this entire Eagles team. Last year, it relished being underdogs as evidenced by the dog masks and Jason Kelce’s epic parade speech. Clement certainly fit into that. 

So how will he stay motivated this year? 

“Competition,” he said. “Still going head to head with Jay (Ajayi), Wendell (Smallwood), Pump (Donnel Pumphrey), Matt Jones. We got a new running back as well, undrafted free agent (Josh Adams), so I’m pretty sure he’s got fire up under his skin as well. I understand his pain and frustration too.”

As a rookie, Clement played in all 16 games, slowly increasing his role. During the regular season, he had 321 rushing yards, 123 receiving yards and six total touchdowns. In the playoffs, Clement had 172 total yards with a touchdown in three games, including a monster performance in Super Bowl LII.

He thinks the mindset of having a chip on his shoulder helped him succeed. 

“Being with Duce (Staley) every day has really set it in my mind,” Clement said. “He believes in me and I’m not going to let him down. Everybody else in this organization has their trust and faith in me and I’ve got to show them why.”

Staley began trusting Clement pretty early in the season and last summer compared Clement to a trusty Honda Accord because he could count on Clement and his consistency. Earlier this week, Clement said he hopes Staley isn’t still comparing him to that Honda. 

“At least upgrade me a little bit,” he said through laughter. “Put me in a better class.”

Like, what, an Acura?  

“I had an Acura back in high school too,” Clement said, “so he could at least call me an Acura.”

Sure, an Acura. But he’s not a Bentley. Gotta keep that chip on his shoulder somehow. 

After 'bumpy road,' Matt Jones sees opportunity with Eagles

After 'bumpy road,' Matt Jones sees opportunity with Eagles

The last time Matt Jones donned a helmet and pads in Philadelphia, he was enjoying a career game against the Eagles — a fact not lost on his new team.

“When I did my workout, I had some of the defensive coaches tell me I owed them something or they remembered that game,” Jones said Tuesday. “Everybody remembers that game here. Some of the same guys on defense are still in here, too.”

Not only were Jones’ 135 yards rushing and 8.4 yards per carry personal bests, but the performance keyed Washington to a 27-20 victory in 2016.

As it turns out, that game would serve as an audition of sorts.

“I know that wasn’t overlooked,” said Jones, who signed a two-year contract with the Eagles.

In one and a half seasons since, Jones has recorded just 15 touches in the NFL. He suffered a knee injury the following week, was released by Washington last September and then claimed by the Colts, where he failed to crack the RB rotation.

But while Jones may have fallen off the map, the Eagles never forgot the vision of him rumbling through their defense. The club maintained an interest in the running back ever since.

“It’s been trying to happen for a while,” Jones said. “I was claimed by waivers from the Colts, but [the Eagles] were trying to claim me too.

“I’m finally here and I thank [Howie Roseman] for giving me a chance to come prove myself.”

Jones should have no problem acclimating to the locker room. He professed the Eagles were his favorite team growing up. A third-round pick from Florida, he and fellow running back Jay Ajayi already know each other as members of the 2015 draft class. Jones even became friends with Brandon Graham as well, sharing how the Redskins used to scheme against the DE.

Perhaps most important, Jones has taken a liking to running backs coach Duce Staley, who wants to see Jones get back to running the way he did that day against the Eagles.

“He humbled me a lot about getting my pads down and just getting back to where I was,” Jones said. “Duce is a great coach. He makes you better. The first day I met him, he made me better.

“Just telling me little stuff I never heard before as far as pass blocking, running, everything. He was a running back, too, so he relates to running backs in different ways. I dropped a couple pounds and I was ready to go.”

It’s unclear exactly why Jones fell out of favor in Washington, where he rushed for 964 yards and six touchdowns in two seasons, then Indianapolis, but he attributed both exits to different sets of circumstances.

Fumbles were an issue in Washington. He racked up eight in his first 20 NFL games, though it seems he was overtaken on the depth chart after his injury.

“Just bumps in the road,” he said. “Some things I could’ve fixed. Everything was great. I just have to figure out what went wrong and try to bounce back.”

Jones was with the Colts until May but was cut loose after the team used fourth- and fifth-round picks on RBs.

“It was weird,” Jones said. “It felt great over there. I was in tip-top shape. I guess they just wanted to go a different route.”

Despite the way his career has unfolded, he's upbeat and determined to learn from every experience.

“It’s been a bumpy road, man,” Jones said. “Hard, but I’ll take the good and the bad. From here, I just want to work. This is a big opportunity for me. It’s been up and down, but I’m thankful for it all.”