Eagles

How Jason Kelce has rejuvenated his career

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How Jason Kelce has rejuvenated his career

He didn't get cut. He didn't get traded. He didn't get benched.
 
No, Jason Kelce got better.
 
Kelce, the subject of nonstop speculation after a subpar 2016 season, has reshaped his game this year and in his seventh NFL season is playing the best football of his life.
 
"I think so," Kelce said Sunday after the Eagles trounced the Bears to improve to 10-1. "Across the board, it's been that way."
 
The Eagles are 10-1 with a nine-game winning streak, the offense is ranked third in the NFL, and a rejuvenated Kelce has been in the middle of everything.
 
Run blocking? The Eagles are second in the NFL with 148 rushing yards per game.
 
Pass blocking? Carson Wentz is having an MVP season with 28 touchdowns and five interceptions.
 
The entire line has been lights out this fall. But Kelce, in particular, has turned his career around.
 
You have to give the Eagles' brass credit for sticking with Kelce. Instead of just moving on and perhaps replacing him with Isaac Seumalo, O-line coach Jeff Stoutland worked tirelessly with Kelce during last season and in particular during the offseason, identifying his struggles and then working to correct them.
 
"It's been a lot of fun so far, and it was a struggle last year, especially through the first half of the season," Kelce said. "We've worked really, really hard, and Stout's been on me and he's staying on me all season with my hands and my footwork and my technique and it's really made an improvement in my game.
 
"I can't thank him and everyone else for sticking with me. It's been a pleasure this year to be able to play … not just myself but our entire offensive line, the way (Brandon) Brooks and Wiz (Stefen Wisniewski) are playing next to me are making my job easier, and the way the tackles are playing makes everybody's job easier. This has been a very fun year, I think for the entire offensive line so far."
 
With Kelce struggling halfway through last season, the offense sputtering and the Eagles losing games, Kelce and Stoutland began breaking down Kelce's technique.
 
Slowly, gradually, Kelce's level of play began improving. And this year, he's flat-out dominated.
 
"We really looked hard at a lot of the technique things," Kelce said. "Stout has been very critical and I don't know if it's when you're younger you get away with things because you're a little bit more athletic and a little bit stronger or if it's the no-huddle (under Chip Kelly from 2013-15) that allows you to get away with things, but I started to lose track of some of the fundamentals that allowed me to play at a high level.
 
"In particular, (my) hands. I think if you look at a couple games early (last year) it seems like I always have my hands outside. Sometimes if you're heavier you can get away with that, but when you're already undersized and you're losing that aspect of power, you're losing the leverage game, you're (going to struggle). Bad technique as well as being undersized is a bad recipe for an offensive lineman."
 
Kelce did make his second Pro Bowl team last year, but that was really just a tribute to his terrific career body of work than anything he did last year.
 
It wasn't until about this time a year ago that Kelce started to resemble vintage Jason Kelce once again.
 
Now, Kelce is better than ever, and it would be a shock if he's not picked to his third Pro Bowl team.

More importantly, the Eagles have won nine straight games, averaging 30.1 points per game during that stretch.
 
"I think it's a combination of I'm playing better myself and using better technique and I think the coaches have done a phenomenal job of putting everybody in good situations," he said. 

"It seems like every single play we've got dialed up is to a look that we want. When you have good players put in good positions it's going to lead to good football, and I think right now we have a lot of that."

After forgettable performance, Wendell Smallwood somehow doesn’t lose ground

After forgettable performance, Wendell Smallwood somehow doesn’t lose ground

FOXBORO, Mass. — Wendell Smallwood had eye-popping stats on Thursday night. 

Not the good kind. 

Four carries, one yard. One catch, five yards. And that came on 30 snaps. Did we mention he also failed to punch in a touchdown from the 1-yard line?

Yuck. 

Smallwood, 24, had an excellent opportunity to push for a roster spot on Thursday night, but left Gillette Stadium after a forgettable performance. 

It just speaks to the quality of the competition that he didn’t lose ground because of it. 

Smallwood didn’t lose ground because as bad as he was, Matt Jones was arguably worse (see story). The veteran running back dropped three passes and one led to an interception. Jones failed to flash even late in the game against the Patriots’ deep reserves. Smallwood’s other competition — Donnel Pumphrey and Josh Adams — watched the game because of injuries. 

So it’s possible four carries for one yard was actually the best performance from that quartet of running backs on Thursday night. 

“You want to make plays, but at the same time, the coaches want to see what you can do without the ball,” Smallwood said. “Are you doing your job when you're not (carrying) it? Does it mean anything to you when your buddy’s getting the ball and do you care about it?

“Just being out there and doing that and getting my job done when I’m not getting the ball means more than when I do get the ball. You gotta be a force either way. The reps matter. They count whether you’re getting the ball or not.”

Sure, the Eagles are watching every snap. It’s not just about what the running backs do when they have the ball. But it had to kill Smallwood that he wasn’t able to capitalize on a huge opportunity against the Patriots. 

The Eagles have to trim their roster to 53 players by 4 p.m. on Sept. 1. We all know Jay Ajayi, Darren Sproles and Corey Clement are on the team. We’re also expecting one of these four — Smallwood, Jones, Pumphrey or Adams — to make the roster as well. It’s possible the Eagles might keep just three, but that seems unlikely after they kept five on their initial roster last season. 

In a race it seems like nobody wants to win, Smallwood’s biggest advantage might just be that he’s been here the longest. A fifth-round pick in 2016, Smallwood has the most experience in Doug Pederson’s offense. 

“It puts me in a good position,” Smallwood admitted. “But you still gotta go out there and play whether you’ve been here three years or three months. You gotta go out there and make plays and give them reason to trust me.”

Amazingly, the other biggest advantage Smallwood has is that he’s been healthy. That’s amazing because injuries have hampered Smallwood during his first two years in the league, but he’s the only running back of the four who hasn’t suffered an injury all spring and summer. 

Some of that is luck. Some of that is Smallwood’s better understanding of how to protect himself and being “in tune” with his body. While the other running backs have to show the Eagles their ability, Smallwood has to show them his ability to stay healthy. So far, so good. 

Smallwood has made an effort this year to really try to stay healthy. He agreed that injuries have really hampered his young career, especially whenever it looks like he’s going to get a bigger role. It happened last year after Darren Sproles went down. Smallwood looked like the new third-down back, but a knee injury helped ruined that. So instead of being a major contributor on the Super Bowl team, Smallwood was inactive for the second half of the season and all three playoff games. 

Now, Smallwood is fighting and clawing to stay in Philadelphia and make the roster. He’s willing to be a big contributor on special teams, which is important, and maybe he showed something when he didn’t have the ball on Thursday night. 

It just seemed like he didn’t do a ton to separate himself. The good news for Smallwood is that the fourth-running back race is more of a crawl. All he has to do is keep inching along. 

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Eagles stock up, stock down from 2nd preseason game

Eagles stock up, stock down from 2nd preseason game

The Eagles are now halfway through their preseason schedule and we’re beginning to see the 53-man roster take form. 

Some players performed well in Foxboro against the Patriots on Thursday night. Some didn’t. 

Here are three “stock up” players and three “stock down” from the second preseason game: 

Stock up

Nate Sudfeld
Suds is the easiest one to pick from this game. He dropped dimes all over the field at Gillette Stadium. He ended up completing 22 of 39 passes for 312 yards, with three touchdowns and just one interception that came after a drop. But those numbers only tell a very small portion of the story. To me, the biggest reason to think Sudfeld can actually play are the individual throws. We’re talking about perfect passes some starters in the league can’t make. You can question the level of competition, but you can’t look at some of these balls and not be impressed. 

I still can’t believe Washington let this kid walk. Did he look like a completely different player down there after they used a draft pick on him? Because the Eagles identified something in him quite early. It’s why they lured him away from Washington to join their practice squad. It’s why they added him to the active roster when the Colts tried to vulture him. And it’s why whenever they talk about their quarterbacks, they don’t stop at Foles and Wentz. They always include Sudfeld. 

Shelton Gibson 
I really can’t believe this is the same kid who couldn’t catch a cold this time last year. What an incredible transformation. I guess that’s what confidence can do for a young player. He caught five passes for 90 yards against the Patriots, and hauled in his second touchdown pass of the preseason. 

Gibson again showed off his ability to be a deep threat, but he showed other levels of his game too. On the touchdown catch, that route is really good. And he also showed off his skills as a kick returner, bringing back four for 121 yards. 

Ronald Darby 
Some people might have looked at Darby’s game and thought “stock down” because he dropped two interceptions. While that’s true and he needs to start making those plays, he was great in coverage against the Pats. He put himself in position to nearly pick off a couple passes. Without Jalen Mills, Darby lined up at left corner back, the position he held before his ankle injury early last season. With how well he played there on Thursday night, I wonder if the Eagles would consider making the switch and putting him back there. 

Stock down

Matt Jones
With a tremendous opportunity to win a roster spot on Thursday night, Jones had a dud of a performance. He carried the ball six times for 19 yards; he caught six passes for 32. But the problem was that he dropped three passes, one of which was then picked off by the Patriots. 

Remember, not that long ago, Jones was thought to be a talented young running back with starter potential down in Washington. Now? He’s fighting to make the Eagles’ roster as a fourth-stringer and can’t even shake off the competition. 

Rashard Davis 
The young receiver from JMU had a pretty good camp as a receiver and even caught a 31-yard touchdown pass. That’s good. 

So why is his stock down? 

Davis had a chance as a punt returner on Thursday night and turned in a really disappointing performance. He returned five punts for just 19 yards. That’s even more amazing because one of his returns went for 15 yards. Two of Davis’ returns went for negative yardage, including a minus-11 that pinned the Eagles back at their own 2-yard line in the third quarter. I know he’s trying to make a play, but that’s terrible awareness. 

Halapoulivaati Vaitai 
We could have very well given this spot to Nick Foles, who had a really off night before leaving with an injury. But instead we’ll give it to the guy who aided that injury. Big V didn’t have a good night at all but his worst play came when he got beat by Adrian Clayborn, who then hit Foles on his throwing arm, knocking Foles out of the game. The play also resulted in a fumble return touchdown for the Patriots. Vaitai was a big part of the Super Bowl team last year, but he thrives on confidence. You wonder about that when you see a play like the one that happened in Foxboro. 

Luckily the Eagles are getting Jason Peters back this year, but Big V might be the tackle of the future. There’s some reason to worry about that. 

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