The Eagles wrapped up their mandatory three-day minicamp Thursday afternoon. The minicamp followed three rounds of OTAs, a veteran minicamp and a rookie minicamp.
A lot of camps.
The big camp – training camp – doesn’t start until late July and the first practice of training camp isn’t until July 28, so a lot of time off from now until then.
What did we learn from the last month or so of workouts? Plenty.
1. Practice is different these days. If you spent anytime watching a practice during the last three years under Chip Kelly, the new format is shockingly different. Kelly’s practices, for better or for worse, were about speed and getting in as many repetitions as possible. That’s not what Pederson is about. Pederson clearly comes from the Andy Reid tree. If it wasn’t clear before, practice made it clearer. Everything is slowed down. At times, Pederson will even halt practice to give some extra coaching to his players and sometimes he’ll even make them redo a play. Unheard of during Kelly’s time.
Now, many players I’ve talked to don’t necessarily think this is a better way of practicing, but many seem to enjoy it more and can learn better this way. Most players sort of understood what the deal was with Kelly. He had to sacrifice a lot to go tempo all the time. One of those things was on-field coaching. Under Pederson, it’s back.
2. After most open practices this spring, I would quickly give everyone updates on the three quarterbacks. Now is probably a pretty good time to give you an overview of all three again:
Sam Bradford: To me, he’s clearly the best quarterback on the team right now. Now, that’s not to say he’s been perfect this spring, because he hasn’t been. But if we’re looking at a combination of arm strength, accuracy and consistency, Bradford checks all the boxes. Pederson said last week Bradford has separated himself, which is ideal for the head coach who was quick to name Bradford the starting quarterback before anyone hit the field. It’s just that I agree with Pederson, and I think Bradford having this time to work on the field instead of rehab really does matter.
Chase Daniel: He’s just been really solid all spring. His height – he’s listed at 6-foot – is a stark contrast from the other two quarterbacks in camp. Daniel probably has the third-strongest arm of the three, but he can still get some zip on his balls; it just looks like he has to try harder to do it. I don’t think he’s as good of an athlete as Bradford or Carson Wentz, but the word that sticks out to me about Daniel is consistency. Sure, he had his ups and downs throughout camp, but overall was pretty solid. Now, some of that might have to do with his knowledge of the offense. But while the arm strength and athleticism of Bradford and Wentz is very apparent in these kinds of practices, Daniel’s strength is his knowledge of the offense, which doesn’t necessarily show up as much.
Carson Wentz: It’s easy to see why this staff raved about Wentz before and after they moved up and took him with the No. 2 pick. He’s big, strong, athletic, has a killer arm, and by all accounts, has really picked up the playbook. Still, he’s a rookie and we saw some rookie mistakes this spring. Perhaps the most troubling thing about Wentz was his propensity to let some of his passes soar over the heads of his targets. And he has had some wobble on his throws. Really, though, that stuff is pretty minor for now and the future looks bright.
3. Every observation and note from spring practices in shorts needs to be taken skeptically. Because what these guys have been doing isn’t really football. I’ve seen plenty of superstars in shorts who disappear when it’s time to put the pads on in the heat of summer.
But we can learn some stuff from these practices. We can see how quarterbacks throw the ball, we can see how wide receivers run routes and catch, we can see how defensive backs backpedal and attack, we can even see how defensive linemen use their hands at the point of attack.
Pederson won’t have to figure out his 53-man roster for a long while, but Thursday he said he’s already doing some math in his head, starting to figure out which of the 90 guys will eventually make the team.
“I think you have an idea in the offseason,” he said. “You obviously know what you had coming back from last year, and of course your roster makeup and chemistry changes every year. It's a new team, regardless of the new coaching staff or not. Next year we will be a new team, as well. Yeah, you begin to kind of go, ‘OK, pencil in guys here and there,’ and try to figure that out.”
4. There are going to be some tough decisions to make when that final cutdown day comes. I think two of the positions on offense that look the toughest to me right now are tight end and running back. Will the team keep four or five? Pederson said he has a “rough idea” of how many players he wants to keep at specific positions.
“And again, as you know, once you get to the regular season and the way games are played, you want to make sure you're covered in all areas,” he said. “But you go in having a general idea of how many you want at each spot.”
At tight end, it seems like the top three – Zach Ertz, Brent Celek, Trey Burton – are set, but Chris Pantale is making a strong push. For most of the spring, he worked as the first-team fullback, a position that is hard to determine before the pads go on in the summer. Originally, many thought Burton could fill the role of fullback, but it seems like Pantale has the edge at that spot. It wouldn’t be crazy for the team to keep four.
Then, at running back, the team has Ryan Mathews, Darren Sproles, Kenjon Barner and rookie Wendell Smallwood, not to mention Byron Marshall, a talented undrafted free agent who has been stuck in school thanks to the NCAA graduation rule. Keeping four running backs would be a lot easier if one of the three tight ends became a fullback. But keeping four at both positions means the team would have to go thinner somewhere else — perhaps the offensive line? — which isn’t ideal.
5. How about two pleasant surprises from the spring, one on offense, one on defense.
First up is rookie cornerback Jalen Mills. I was actually a little surprised this offseason when the team elected to put him at corner instead of safety, but I think now they made the right decision. Mills is a player who fell into the seventh round despite a much higher grade. It was most likely because of a run-in with the law while at LSU. Because of it, the Eagles might have gotten a steal. At times this spring, Mills has worked with the first team defense in the nickel and has shined. He’s aggressive and has great break on the ball. Pederson seemed impressed Mills hasn’t been intimidated to go against the team’s top wideouts.
On offense, Chris Givens has really shown something. Givens was signed as a free agent and given just $100,000 in guaranteed money. At the time, the deal looked like a low-risk, high-reward move. And now it seems like the high reward might come true. Givens got plenty of work with the first team this spring and could challenge guys like Josh Huff, Nelson Agholor and Rueben Randle to get on the field. I knew Givens would give the Eagles a deep threat, but his underneath routes have been very good too.
6. I think Pederson did a pretty good job navigating through some tricky waters over the last month. Three top players on the roster — Bradford, Fletcher Cox, Darren Sproles — stayed away from the team during at least some of the voluntary portion of camp. Throughout the process, Pederson kept saying the same thing: these practices are voluntary and we’ll welcome them back with open arms when they’re ready to show up. Sounds easy. Sounds simple. And maybe it is, but the way he handled it was right. We all laughed – at least most of us did – when Jeff Lurie stressed “emotional intelligence” during the coaching search, but this is probably, in part, what he was talking about.
How did Pederson get through those situations?
“One day at a time, honestly,” he said. “I didn't necessarily worry myself too much about those situations. Again, it goes back to just the way the offseason is set up and the fact that the entire program, outside of these last four days, is a voluntary program, and I just can't – I've got to worry about the guys that are here during those times, and focus on those guys.
“I think at the end of the day, we're just very fortunate that everybody is here this week and getting through this offseason and getting ready for camp.”
7. Before the spring practices, I thought the starting cornerbacks for this team were going to be Nolan Carroll and Eric Rowe, but throughout these practices Leodis McKelvin and Ron Brooks have been the starters in the base defense. And when the team goes into nickel, Brooks has been sliding inside. In a way, it makes sense that these two guys are working with the ones because they played under Jim Schwartz before and know the defense, but it’s worth noting no one else ever got looks as the starting corners.
Now, Brooks is less likely to hold on to his starting job. He’s started just three games in his four-year career and is an important special teams piece. And he has Carroll, Rowe and even Mills nipping at his heels.
But McKelvin? It looks like he’s a starter to stay. He’s a former first-round pick, who was off to a fantastic start – four interceptions in 10 games – in 2014 under Schwartz before going down with a broken ankle.
“Leodis has probably been the guy that's really stood out the most to me,” Pederson said. “He's a guy that it seems like he's making plays quite a bit, knocking PBUs [pass break ups] and getting his hands on balls and doing the things that you expect from a veteran corner. He’s a smart guy, very athletic and [we’re] excited for the upcoming season with him.”
8. There are a few position battles for starting jobs to watch once training camp kicks off on July 28. Aside from the battle for the cornerback spots, as mentioned above, there are a few more:
Kicker: The job was Cody Parkey’s last season before he got hurt early, but Caleb Sturgis came in and had a good year after a slow start. This spring, at least in the practices I’ve seen, Sturgis has a little edge. But it’s important to remember that Parkey is coming back off that injury. Corey Seidman has more on the kicker battle here.
Left guard: Allen Barbre was named the starter way back by Pederson, in what was kind of a surprise move. He’s taken all the first-team reps at left guard in the spring and it’s clearly his job to lose. Among the top candidates to take that job are veteran Stefen Wisniewski (who thinks he has a chance), Malcolm Bunche and rookie Isaac Seumalo.
Seumalo has been away from the team thanks to the NCAA graduation rule, but Pederson said the rookie will play left guard upon his return.
9. It looks like we’re going to have another running-back-by-committee season in Philadelphia. While Mathews got the bulk of first-team reps this spring, he also shared them with Barner and Sproles. The team also has fifth-rounder Smallwood.
“Well, you go in thinking that one guy can handle the load,” Pederson said. “If that's Ryan, he can handle all the stuff and the pounding. But with the guys we have, with the depth we have at that position, Darren is obviously a big part of that and now with Wendell [RB Wendell Smallwood] coming on, I think it could be a little bit of a running back by committee.”
10. I came into the spring thinking depth at the linebacker and defensive line positions were a concern. And I leave the spring practices thinking depth at the linebacker and defensive line positions are a concern.
At linebacker, the starters are clearly Jordan Hicks, Nigel Bradham and Mychal Kendricks. That seems OK, but Hicks and Kendricks have injury histories and Bradham is somewhat of an unknown commodity. After those three, the backups are Najee Goode, Joe Walker, Deontae Skinner, and a couple of undrafted rookies.
The team signed Ty Powell a few weeks ago to add some depth, but apparently, Powell doesn’t want to play football anymore. The team placed him on the reserve/retired list Thursday after Powell didn’t practice with the team this spring. Expect the team to search for some more depth at the position. The 90-man roster sits at 89.
And at defensive tackle, Fletcher Cox and Bennie Logan are clearly the starters. I foolishly left Mike Martin off my original 53-man roster, but he’s making the team. He was the guy working in Cox’s place during the absence. After that, it’s unclear if Taylor Hart or Beau Allen fit this defense. They also signed Derrick Lott, who was a rookie last season with the Bucs. Then there are three undrafted rookies. Destiny Vaeao, Connor Wujciak and Aziz Shittu. Both Vaeao and Wujciak looked pretty good this spring, but Wujciak hurt his thumb and needed a pin put in. Shittu has been stuck at Stanford thanks to the graduation rule. But one of those three have a great chance of making the squad.