'No vacations' for WR Shelton Gibson as he seeks bigger role with Eagles

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'No vacations' for WR Shelton Gibson as he seeks bigger role with Eagles

What a difference a year makes.

At this time last year, wide receiver Shelton Gibson was a struggling rookie and appeared to be lost trying to make the transition from the college ranks to the pros. During 2017, he could barely get on the field, suiting up for only five regular-season games and playing a grand total of 17 offensive snaps. He found his niche at gunner on the punt team, playing 44 snaps on that unit, while his only two catches of the year came in the regular-season finale against Dallas.

Fast-forward to now and you see a much more confident, aware and sure-handed second-year pro.

“I’m just competing at a better level and that's the thing Coach (Doug) Pederson always says — just compete,” Gibson said this week. “That's one of the things I do best is compete. I'm trying to do everything I can to just help this team win another championship.”

There are times when we all need a little motivation, a voice of reason to push us to another level. For Gibson, that extra push comes on a daily basis from fellow wide receiver Nelson Agholor, who has firsthand experience at overcoming obstacles on the field. 

“I definitely lean on Nellie,” Gibson said. “Just seeing what he's done in the offseason, the way that he prepares every single day, the way he takes everything so seriously. I'm probably not doing everything that Nellie is doing right now, but i'm gradually getting into it just asking him questions every day.”

Agholor added, “He's in here every morning. He's become an early bird, and I’m proud of him. Now its about consistency because that's whats going to define him.”

The Eagles now go their separate ways for more than five weeks until training camp. While many talk about spending quality family time and vacations, there is no downtime for Gibson.

”I won't shut down at all. No vacations,” he said. “Somebody just asked me that the other day — ‘Where are you vacationing?’ I said I can't do it.”

Veterans helping Jordan Mailata make transition from rugby to NFL

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Veterans helping Jordan Mailata make transition from rugby to NFL

Imagine traveling to another part of the world to play a sport that's as foreign to you as the country you're in. You stand 6-foot-8 and weigh 346 pounds. People stare at you with an inquisitive look on their faces trying to determine if you have what it takes to make it or if you’re just a novelty. Did the Eagles waste a seventh-round pick on a hunch?

Australian rugby player Jordan Mailata knows he has a long, grueling task in front of him of trying to become an NFL professional football player. Turning the unnatural into the normal. Mailata knows he's not in this challenge alone. 

"Veteran players are definitely helping me out a lot,” Mailata said. “The boys, whenever I do a rep, as soon as I'm done, they come up to me straight away and give me little pointers on where my shoulders should be facing, where my hand placement should be. They've definitely been helping me a lot. They're pretty great vets to be honest."

No one is more honest than offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland. He gave an honest assessment of Mailata Monday when asked him if his pupil had what it takes to make the grade.

"I know this: he has a long way to go, and I know that he has all the critical factors you need to have to be a good offensive lineman, and a good tackle in this league,” Stoutland said. “So now it’s a matter of developing him as a player mentally and physically. There's a process to all this. There's no magic wand."

Mailata has already performed one trick of magically appearing on an NFL roster. The Birds will have patience with him and he's not about to disappear any time soon.

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• Eagles know exactly when celebration will end

What is Rasul Douglas' mindset? 'Every spot is open'

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What is Rasul Douglas' mindset? 'Every spot is open'

For now, we assume that Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby are the Eagles' starting cornerbacks and that Sidney Jones will be pushing for significant playing time.

So where does that leave Rasul Douglas?

When Darby went down in last year’s season opener against Washington with a dislocated ankle, Douglas was the next man up. Over the next nine games, he averaged 42 snaps and played well. But when Darby returned to the lineup, Douglas' game reps evaporated. The next five games, Douglas played a grand total of 16 defensive snaps, then closed out the regular season with 68 snaps in a meaningless finale against Dallas.

When the playoffs rolled around, Douglas’ snap count was zero. He spent part of the offseason reflecting on his roller-coaster rookie campaign and vowed to get better.

Now the OTAs are here and Douglas is constantly working on improving and turning the coaches' heads his way. He’s not thinking about being a backup; his mindset is he’s competing to start.

“I feel like every spot is open," Douglas said this week. "No matter what the position, you have to ensure the coaches that you can play and that you understand everything mentally. Physically, we’re all in the league for a reason. It’s all mentally — can you sustain a playbook? Can you be a guy we can depend on? Be the same person every day.”

While the job description says corner, he’s not limiting himself to just that role.

“I like myself as a corner, but I can play anything," Douglas said. "Safety, nickel, it doesn’t really matter.”

He hasn’t practiced at safety at all this spring and the only time he practiced at safety last year was when the team was in Los Angeles for a week preceding the Rams game. And that was on the scout team. All he’s trying to do is make himself more versatile, more valuable so that he’s hopefully on the field more than on the bench.