Zech McPhearson was the talk of the NovaCare Complex during and after Tuesday’s practice session. The fourth-round pick out of Texas Tech had already been having a good training camp but as the pads came on Tuesday, he upped his game another notch, tallying several big pass breakups.
And he still wasn’t satisfied with his performance.
“Shoot, the ones today, I view them … those are touchdowns,” McPhearson said after practice. “That’s two dropped pick-6s. That’s 12 points off the board. That’s a lot in this league. Whenever you get the opportunity to make a play on the ball like that, you’ve got to capitalize.”
While it’s true that McPhearson was unable to secure an interception on Tuesday, his sticky coverage skills have stood out. The physical rookie is always around the ball and just keeps making plays. He’s coming on very strong.
But perhaps it’s even more telling that after practice his mind was still on the plays he didn’t make.
“I gotta finish some plays,” McPhearson said. “I know I dropped a few today. I just have to capitalize because in this league, there’s very little room for error. You’ve got to finish on those plays.”
McPhearson, 23, was the Eagles’ fourth-round pick at No. 123 overall. It was hard to figure out what to make of the pick at the time because talent evaluators were clearly split on him in the pre-draft process. Some thought McPhearson was a steal and some thought he was a reach.
We’re just a week into practice but it’s beginning to look like those who were bullish on McPhearson had reason to be.
Consider CB1 Darius Slay among those who might have gotten it right. Slay liked what he saw from McPhearson during voluntary practices this offseason.
“Quick twitch guy. Got good ball skills. He’s very aggressive, man,” Slay said in the spring. “He knows how to attack the ball in all kinds of ways. I’m looking forward to watching him compete when I’m out there. Like I’ve been telling him for a long time, discipline is going to make us move forward. If you can be a smart, disciplined guy, you’ll be a great corner in this league.”
While McPhearson is 5-11, he has all the other tools a team would want in a cornerback. He’s fast (ran a 4.48), quick, aggressive and physical. On one of his pass breakups, offensive players were asking the refs on the field for a flag but one never came.
As a physical player, McPhearson knows he has to be mindful of the line.
“You gotta be careful,” he said. “But I feel like if you’re fighting for the ball as much as the receiver is and you’ve got your eyes back like the receiver, you’ll probably be able to get by the majority of the time. But you definitely have to be careful. The refs are paying attention to the DBs being too handsy.”
McPhearson has been leaning on Slay so far during camp, especially watching and learning from his progressions and gaining information from quarterbacks. He’s also been learning a lot from watching veteran Steve Nelson, who was signed just before the start of camp.
The signing of Nelson bumped McPhearson down the depth chart, which might end up being a positive for his development. The Eagles are expected to start Slay and Nelson outside and Avonte Maddox in the nickel spot.
McPhearson will likely be a backup but he’ll need to be ready because he’s one injury away from seeing the field. And since Nelson is on a one-year deal, perhaps McPhearson will have an opportunity to start as an outside cornerback next year.
It’s still early in his rookie training camp, but the early returns on McPhearson are good. Even if there is a learning curve.
“It’s definitely faster,” McPhearson said. “It’s way faster than college. I tell my boys that every day. Just prepare themselves now because this game speed is a whole other level. We saw it today. I just experienced two-minute for the first time. And it felt like a track meet out there. It’s a different game speed at this level.”
So far, McPhearson is more than keeping up.
Subscribe to the Eagle Eye podcast: