Eagles

Roob's 10 observations: Wendell Smallwood's chances, Tom Brady-Nick Foles handshake, Bryce Brown's elite company

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Roob's 10 observations: Wendell Smallwood's chances, Tom Brady-Nick Foles handshake, Bryce Brown's elite company

Wendell Smallwood working his way back into the running back picture, the bizarre NFL career of Bryce Brown, Michael Bennett and Shakespeare, the handshake that never was and Brian Westbrook’s 2006 postseason.

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It’s all this week’s Roob’s 10 Random Eagles Observations, and it starts here:

1. It’s been interesting watching Wendell Smallwood this preseason. He’s a guy who when training camp began I didn’t give much of a chance to, only because he’s never been able to stay healthy and the Eagles went into camp with a deep, talented stable of backs. But while Matt Jones, Josh Adams and Donnel Pumphrey have been banged up and on and off the field, Smallwood has not only stayed healthy, he’s made the most of his reps. He looks terrific. I’ve always felt Smallwood is a talented kid. I wrote about him last week and how he spent the offseason learning how to take better care of himself, and so far it’s paying off. Much of making an NFL roster is simply handling the workload during camp and proving to your coaches that they can rely on you. And Smallwood hasn’t missed a rep. This preseason. Not one. So far he’s outlasted the other guys in that battle for the fourth running back spot behind Jay Ajayi, Corey Clement and Darren Sproles. Has he done enough? With a couple weeks before final cuts, it’s too early to say. But he’s definitely worked himself from the brink back into the mix.

2. I’ve been disappointed by Mack Hollins’ training camp. He’s one guy I expected to make a big leap in Year 2, and while he still might, he hasn’t flashed yet. Shelton Gibson and Bryce Treggs have both outplayed Hollins in practice. Hollins has that great size and is a valued special teamer and as a second-year fourth-round pick he’s probably got the team made. But I expected to see more. Treggs is another guy who was off the radar when camp began but has that great speed and keeps showing up at practice. And Gibson simply looks like a different guy from last year. The depth the Eagles have at wideout is insane. Guys like Rashard Davis, Greg Ward Jr. and DeAndre Carter probably have no shot to make the team, but once upon a time, they would have been starters around here.

3. Michael Bennett is an interesting dude. Someone in the locker room used the phrase, “All’s well that ends well,” and he said, “Where’s that phrase from?” I said it’s the name of a Shakespeare play, and he said, “A lot of people think Shakespeare wasn’t a real person.” I said, “Yeah, there’s a theory that he was three different people.” His response: “I’m three different people.” 

4. I know a lot of people think the whole “Tom Brady hasn’t shaken Nick Foles’ hand” thing is overblown, but it really bothers me. There are certain customs in sports that are there for a reason. Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback ever, and he should have sought out Nick either on the field immediately after the game or somewhere after the game — the lockers weren’t too far apart. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but sportsmanship means a lot to me. I know one thing: If the Patriots won that game, Nick Foles would have found Tom Brady, told him “Great job,” and shook his hand. 

5. Brian Westbrook’s 2006 postseason was insane. He rushed 20 times for 141 yards against the Giants and 13 times for 116 yards against the Saints. His average of 7.8 yards per carry is second-highest in NFL history in a single postseason (minimum 30 carries) behind Hall of Famer Marcus Allen’s 8.03 in 1983. He’s the only back in NFL history with back-to-back playoff games with 100 rushing yards, a 7.0 average and a touchdown. His 257 rushing yards are third-most in NFL history by a back in a two-game postseason (behind Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson in 1985 and Arian Foster in 2011). 

6. I love listening to Doug Pederson talk about why he’s so aggressive as a play caller. Because generally, he admits he really has no idea. I think it almost evolved by accident. He started going for it on fourth down in 2016 with nothing at stake and it started working, and he just felt comfortable doing it, and he just got in that habit, and the team got used to it and enjoyed it, and by the time the Super Bowl came along it had developed into his personality and the team was completely in step with him, and the success of the Philly Special was the product of that. You can’t run that play if you’re the least bit tight or indecisive, but the team had gotten so used to Pederson doing anything at any time in any situation it was just another play. The man is a genius.

7. Chip Kelly and Pederson have the same number of regular-season wins after two years. 

8. You figured that had to be wrong so you looked it up, didn’t you!

9. I’ve never seen an assistant coach grow as much as Frank Reich did in his two years with the Eagles. When he first started out as Doug’s offensive coordinator, he seemed to be painfully shy around the media, gave one-word or brief answers during press conferences and appeared generally uninterested in providing anything remotely revealing about football or the players he coached. By the time he left, he was one of the most interesting, insightful and quotable assistant coaches I’ve ever been around, and his commentary after the Super Bowl about Nick Foles’ performance was brilliant. I’m convinced this transformation had a lot to do with him getting the Colts head coaching job. Teams don’t want a head coach who can’t handle the media, and Frank in a very short time went from a guy who wasn’t comfortable in those situations to one who embraced them.

10. Bryce Brown had one of the strangest career arcs in Eagles history. He averaged 15 yards in his first 10 NFL games and 19 yards in his last 30 NFL games. In between, with LeSean McCoy injured, he ran for 178 yards on just 19 carries against the Panthers and 169 yards on 24 carries against the Cowboys, with two TDs in each game. Only three players in NFL history have had consecutive games with 165 rushing yards, a 7.0 average and 2 TDs — LaDainian Tomlinson, Barry Sanders and … Bryce Brown. Other than those two historic games in a seven-day span, he averaged 3.5 yards per carry and 18 yards per game. But for a brief bit of an otherwise forgettable 2012 season, he made NFL history. 

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Are 2019 Eagles better or worse at quarterback?

Are 2019 Eagles better or worse at quarterback?

The franchise quarterback returns, while a Philadelphia legend departs. Will the Eagles be better or worse under center in 2019?

Key addition: Clayton Thorson (draft, fifth round) 
Key departure: Nick Foles (free agent, Jaguars)

Why they could be better: Carson Wentz is finally healthy

Wentz’s struggles in 2018 – as much as a 69.6 completion percentage, 7.7 yards per pass attempt and 3:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio can be described as struggling – were easy to see coming. He was a third-year quarterback only nine months removed from a torn ACL and spent the majority of the offseason rehabbing rather than working on his timing in the offense and building a rapport with receivers. No doubt he was putting unrealistic pressure on himself, too.

The injury is finally behind Wentz though, as is the broken back bone that shelved him in December. He’s entering his fourth season, so his comfort level in the offense should be nearing its peak, and he has all spring and summer to get on the same page with his numerous weapons. With his health and contract situations resolved, all Wentz needs to worry about now is playing football – which, as you might recall, he’s pretty good at.

Why they could be worse: Unproven backup

The Eagles really like Nate Sudfeld. They promoted him from the practice squad to the 53-man roster during the 2017 season to prevent another team from signing him. They let him serve as the backup quarterback in the Super Bowl. And they tendered him at a second-round level as a restricted free agent this offseason, effectively ensuring his return while paying him over $3 million.

This will be Sudfeld’s third year in the system, so he should know what he’s doing at least. Yet, the fact is he’s attempted just 25 passes in the NFL. There’s simply no telling how good he is. It’s nothing like bringing Nick Foles off the bench. He had won 24 games, threw 66 touchdown passes and went to a Pro Bowl before adding Super Bowl MVP to his resume. Sudfeld has talent and familiarity with the offense, plus a quality supporting cast. He probably wouldn’t be a disaster, but could he save the Eagles’ season if called upon? Impossible to say.

The X-factor: Can Wentz stay healthy for 16-plus games?

People are quick to throw around the injury prone label, often unfairly, but Wentz has been seriously hurt in each of his last four seasons going back to college. He broke a bone in his throwing wrist at North Dakota State, suffered a hairline rib fracture in preseason during his rookie year (though he played all 16 regular season games), then had the ACL and the back. Injury prone or not, that’s an alarming trend.

These are unrelated injuries, so it’s possible Wentz has been unlucky. It’s also very likely the Eagles’ fortunes this season are hinging on this hope. Wentz could help himself by getting rid of the ball quicker on occasion or giving up on a few more plays. Then again, he’s the quarterback. He’s going to get hit sometimes. All anybody can do is wait and see if he keeps getting up.

Are the Eagles’ quarterbacks better or worse?

The overall talent in the room undeniably dips with Foles’ departure. Yet, ideally, Wentz is the only signal caller taking meaningful snaps for the Eagles, and he should take another step forward in 2019 provided he can stay on the field. This is a matter of perspective, but to me, having an MVP-caliber quarterback at 100 percent is far more important than the guys sitting on the bench. 

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After his younger brother’s success, Marken Michel ready to make a name for himself

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After his younger brother’s success, Marken Michel ready to make a name for himself

As Marken Michel has been clawing to create a football career of his own, he watched as his younger brother went to a college powerhouse, got drafted in the first round of the NFL draft and then became a Super Bowl champion as a rookie. 

That would make a lot of guys jealous. 

Not him. 

“There’s never been a bone of jealousy in that relationship at all,” said Allen Pinder, a close family friend whom Marken and Sony Michel consider an older brother. 

While Sony has found fast success in the NFL, his older brother (by about year and a half) has taken a more circuitous route. 

Marken Michel, 25, went undrafted out of UMass in 2016, spent that summer with the Vikings and then went to the Canadian Football League for the past couple seasons before joining the Eagles in January. 

After an impressive offseason, Sony’s older brother might finally have his own chance to stick in the NFL. 

At the end of the day, I said this my first year when I came out of college,” Marken said last week, “one of us is going to put that last name on an NFL jersey. Whether it’s me or him or both of us. He knows I’m super proud of him. I’m always there with him every step of the way. I’m always going to root for him.

Always competitive

While Marken is a receiver now, he was a quarterback until his junior year of high school. Sony, of course, was the running back, who played varsity football as an eighth-grader. Pinder, 37, doesn’t think that would have happened without older bro watching out for him. 

In fact, Pinder thinks a lot of Sony’s football success can be directly attributed to Marken. 

“Marken pushed Sony and Sony wanted to be like Marken,” Pinder said in a phone call last week to NBC Sports Philadelphia. “Marken started off with more success than Sony did and it has kind of driven Sony to be like, ‘I need to get where Marken’s at.’ Marken always fueled Sony. ‘I need to work harder, I need to be better.’”

As you might imagine between two athletic brothers who are a year and a half apart, there was a constant competition between them as they grew up in Florida. They competed in everything. Football, baseball, basketball. 

Marken said they used to have 3-point shootouts at their childhood park. He was asked who is ahead in the all-time tally and he didn’t hesitate. 

“Me,” he said. “Of course.” 

Would Sony corroborate that? 

“He better, or he’ll be lying.” 

The two are wildly competitive but are also best friends. When they talk, it’s rarely about football. But, of course, when Sony played in Super Bowl LIII in February, Marken was there rooting for him. Marken said that Sony knows when he’s watching him play, he better not mess up. 

Sony’s Patriots won Super Bowl LIII, 13-3, over the Rams. Sony had 18 carries for 94 yards and scored the game’s only touchdown. 

“He knew it,” Marken said. “He knew if he didn’t, I would be on him.” 

North of the border

After things didn’t work out for Michel in Minnesota, where Pinder thinks he wasn’t really given a great opportunity, he ended up with the Calgary Stampeders of the CFL. He was the CFL West Division Rookie of the Year in 2017 and was a part of the Grey Cup-winning team in 2018, although he missed the end of the season with a broken scapula. 

He was bummed to miss the Grey Cup in November but was thrilled his team won. Since he was in OTAs in May, he and linebacker Alex Singleton (who is also on the Eagles’ roster) missed the ring ceremony. Singleton was heading north for the Stampeders first game of the season this past weekend and Michel gave him the job of bringing his ring back to him. 

In two years in the CFL, Michel made a name for himself, catching 72 passes for 1,215 yards and eight touchdowns. He had so much success, it wasn’t easy to leave. 

“I kind of felt like I had a good situation up there in Canada,” Michel said. 

Back to the NFL 

Michel didn’t tell anyone when he signed with the Eagles. His family — Sony and Pinder, included — found out when the Eagles announced it on Twitter. 

Pinder said he knew Michel had a couple workouts, but he didn’t know how they went. When confronted by his brother via text, Michel simply texted back a smiling emoji. 

“I’m real low key,” Michel said. “I don’t like the spotlight.”

But he found it this spring. Michel has emerged as a real contender to steal one of the final roster spots at receiver for the Eagles. In the absence of a few starters at OTAs and minicamp, Michel even got some first-team reps and worked well with Carson Wentz.  

If things don’t pan out with the Eagles, Michel could probably go back to Canada and resume what was already a promising career, but he’s trying not to think about that or anything aside from giving this chance everything he has. 

But he is well aware the Eagles play the Patriots this season. If he makes the team, little brother will be waiting.

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