Eagles

Eagles notes, quotes and tidbits: Frank Reich praises WR group, competition is 'very tight'

Eagles notes, quotes and tidbits: Frank Reich praises WR group, competition is 'very tight'

If Howie Roseman's goal at the wide receiver position this offseason was to turn a weakness into a strength, he certainly achieved it. 

Even after the trade of Jordan Matthews. 

As the Eagles approach their final preseason game on Thursday night, there is an intense battle brewing for the final receiver spot or two. 

"This is, without a doubt, the best group that I've been around for a while," offensive coordinator Frank Reich said Monday. "I mean, from top to bottom, very competitive. They've all flashed. They all deserve to be here. I believe some of these guys, for a couple guys who might not be here, I think they're going to end up someplace else. That's how confident we feel in this group.

"I think, all in all, we're just very happy with the progress they've made and the chemistry in that room and the production that they've had in practice and in games."

It's unclear what the Eagles' receivers group will look like after final cuts. The Eagles kept just five wideouts after final cuts in 2016, but there seems to be a decent chance they'll carry six into 2017. 

Most folks seem to think these four players are locks for the roster: Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith, Nelson Agholor and Mack Hollins. 

That means the Eagles have these six players fighting it out for either one or two remaining spots: Marcus Johnson, Shelton Gibson, Bryce Treggs, Greg Ward, Paul Turner and Rashard Davis. 

Gibson was a fifth-round draft pick who played better later in the summer after a disastrous start, but he's not guaranteed a spot. Johnson has been very impressive and might be the front-runner. Treggs was on the team last year but didn't have much of an impact. Turner made the initial roster in 2016, but was cut shortly after to make room for Treggs; this summer he's dealt with a serious shoulder injury. Ward is a converted quarterback who has shown a lot of promise. And Davis is a latecomer but is a proven return man. 

There are decisions to be made and they might not be easy. 

So how tight is the competition for those last couple of spots? 

"It's tight. It's very tight. It's always tight," Reich said. "When it comes down to those last roster spots, Coach always emphasizes that it's not only what they do as a receiver, but what they do on special teams, and how they can contribute. Position versatility and special teams, all those things factor into the roster."

For a long time, Matthews was the fifth receiver who was guaranteed to make the roster. His departure in the Ronald Darby trade seemed to open up opportunity for another player. 

"If I'm in that room, and I'm one of those players, yeah, you have to believe that," Reich said. 

More snaps for Kendricks?
Mychal Kendricks has been having a pretty productive preseason. That might be putting it too lightly. 

"Yeah, well, I don't know if you could have any more production than him in the preseason," defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. "Good gracious. A little bit of it is being opportunistic, but he's been in the right spots."

Kendricks' production is hard to argue with. In three preseason games, he has three interceptions and returned one of them for a touchdown. 

But the real question surrounding Kendricks is if this is the beginning of more playing time. Last year, he was a part-time player despite being a starter in the team's base package. He was the odd linebacker out when the Eagles went to the nickel package, which happens about 70 percent of the time. It's possible that the Eagles could find ways to use Kendricks as a blitzer — a role in which he thrives — but Schwartz has been hesitant in the past because he didn't want to tip their hand in such situations. 

Schwartz, though, did reveal something interesting on Monday. Because Jordan Hicks has missed some time recently with a sore groin (he's expected to be fine for the opener), the Eagles worked their nickel package a little differently on Sunday. Nigel Bradham slid into the MIKE position and Kendricks replaced him in the two-linebacker nickel package. That's a look the Eagles will probably never use in the season when Hicks is healthy, but right now, they're trying to prepare for everything.

"If we had a game today, Jordan Hicks couldn't play," Schwartz said. "It's our responsibility to get the guys that can best produce on the field. He's certainly forced himself into that conversation."

Back and Beau than ever
Big ol' Beau Allen returned to the practice field on Sunday afternoon after passing his physical and being removed from the non-football injury list. Allen was pretty excited to get back on the field after working out privately throughout all of training camp. 

But apparently, those private workouts on separate fields kept him in good shape — "great shape," according to Schwartz. 

"Talking to him yesterday, he felt his timing was off a little bit, just timing of hands and steps," Schwartz said. "That will come back to him. He even said to me that this isn't his first rodeo. It will come back quick.

"Ideally, we'd like to get him some time in this game. He's fine. But just for, in my mind, and in his mind mentally, when we play the [Washington] Redskins, it's no longer, ‘How is it going to feel?’"

With Carson Wentz back, you can feel the buzz at NovaCare

With Carson Wentz back, you can feel the buzz at NovaCare

The buzz inside the Eagles’ NovaCare Complex is already palpable this week. It’s the kind of buzz that comes with the news that the franchise quarterback is ready to go.

That feeling inside the building in the two days since the announcement is pretty much the same feeling outside it. Forget the other injuries and holes on the roster, there’s just a ton of energy around the return of No. 11.

So much so that the Eagles lost a tough game Sunday … and you couldn’t even tell. It really didn’t even seem like it mattered. 

A few players already told me there was a similar sense inside the locker room. Even though the Eagles were disappointed about losing a game, the optimism was already winning out just the day after the 27-21 loss in Tampa. 

It’s almost the complete opposite of the feeling last Dec. 10 when Wentz went down with the torn ACL and LCL. In that game at the Los Angeles Coliseum, the Eagles actually clinched the NFC East but it didn’t feel like it. Eventually, the Birds snapped out of their misery and regrouped in time for the playoff run, but it was a long plane ride home back to Philly. 

That’s the kind of juice Wentz brings to the city, inside and outside of the locker room. Win, but lose him, and everyone’s down. Lose, but get him back, who cares about the loss? 

And now that we know Wentz will make his 2018 debut, it’s like the entire locker room, the entire city is re-energized. 

“Get that energy back, get that swagger back,” right tackle Lane Johnson said. “We know what kind of a player he is, more of a leader in the locker room for us. When he’s out there doing his job, it just energizes the whole team.”

There are some obvious questions about what kind of player Wentz will be in his return after a 9½-month wait. Even Doug Pederson admitted there will probably be some rust. Johnson disagrees; he expects Wentz to hit the ground running. 

That’s the type of optimism that follows this guy around. 

Toward the end of last season, the Eagles’ identity as a team became centered around the idea of being the underdogs and that didn’t happen until they lost Wentz for the season and folks started counting them out. But before that, the team’s identity was Wentz. He was the reason they got off to such a hot start. His swagger rubbed off on the entire team. 

Jason Kelce was asked if he expected the Linc to have more juice this week because of Wentz’s return. The veteran center said the Linc is always buzzing. 

But it might be just a little different in the stadium Sunday. 

It certainly is everywhere else in the city this week.

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What criticism does Jim Schwartz always hears from fans?

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What criticism does Jim Schwartz always hears from fans?

A couple takeaways from Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz’s chat with the media Tuesday afternoon:

What Schwartz hears from fans

Schwartz is notorious for hating to blitz. In his perfect world, the front four would generate enough pass pressure on a regular basis that he’d rarely have to blitz. But that does give him the element of surprise. When the Eagles do blitz, it can really catch an offense off-guard, especially when he does it in a situation where he rarely calls a blitz.

Eagles fans, on the other hand, love blitzing, and Schwartz said he hears from fans all the times that he should blitz more:

“Every time I step on to the field or come out of the tunnel, all I hear is, ‘Schwartz, you've got to blitz every play, you've got to bring it every play.’ And I understand, they mean you have to pressure the quarterback, which we're all for, but there is some risk inherent to that."

Don't blame Mills

The combination of a Ronald Darby blitz not getting home and Malcolm Jenkins inexplicably vacating the middle of the field left Mills alone with DeSean Jackson on the first play of the Tampa loss Sunday, and that’s a mismatch for any cornerback. 

Schwartz made it clear it’s not fair to blame Mills for D-Jack’s 75-yard touchdown. The play broke down on a couple levels, and there aren’t many cornerbacks who can cover Jackson without any help. 

“It's very rare that it's one person's fault when you've got 11 guys trying to do a job, and I think that that play is a good example of that,” Schwartz said.

Mills has taken an unfair beating from Eagles fans this week. He’s 24 years old. He was a starting cornerback for a Super Bowl champion. He’s a really good player. And he’s going to keep getting better. 

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