Updating Eagles position battles after 2nd preseason game

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USA Today/AP Images/NBC Sports Philadelphia

Updating Eagles position battles after 2nd preseason game

We’ve already updated our five Eagles position battles three times since the start of training camp, but it’s time to do it again. 

We have the last days of training camp and the game against the Patriots to judge. 

Let’s jump in: 

Nickel corner 

8/11: Sidney Jones practices after suffering a sprained left ankle in the game, but doesn’t do 11-on-11 drills. De’Vante Bausby starts the day as the nickel corner, but rookie Avonte Maddox also gets some first-team reps. This is the first time we’ve seen Maddox with the starters. 

8/12: After getting some first-team reps yesterday, Maddox gets all the first-team reps. He’s come really far and gets praised by Jim Schwartz after practice. It’s possible he has overtaken Bausby on the depth chart. Jones is back doing 11-on-11s but works with the second team. 

8/13: Maddox again gets first-team reps and has his best day of camp. He gets an interception and several batted passes. Jones works with the second team, has a rough day, but comes up with a huge pick-6 late in the practice. 

8/14: Maddox again gets work with the first team. Jones comes on as the LCB after Mills leaves practice early. 

Preseason game 2: Ronald Darby and Rasul Douglas start the game outside (Mills is out) and Jones starts in the slot. But Maddox quickly rotates in. Both Jones and Maddox give up a touchdown but do some good too. 

Updated prediction: The Eagles have given Maddox a lot of time with the first team, but I think it’s still clearly Jones’ job. But it also seems like Maddox might have passed Bausby on the depth chart. 

Weakside linebacker

8/11: As we’ve seen for a long time, Nate Gerry gets first-team reps, but only at the start of 11-on-11s. Finally, Kamu Grugier-Hill gets worked in with the ones. Not sure why this took so long, but KGH definitely deserves the extra reps. 

8/12: The Eagles weren’t in their base package very much today, but KGH gets the minimal first-team reps. Interestingly enough, at one point Gerry and Grugier-Hill were the two linebackers in the first-team nickel package. They’re not overtaking Jordan Hicks or Nigel Bradham, but maybe coaches wanted to see them side by side with the ones. 

8/13: Gerry picked off a pass at point-blank range. When the Eagles use their jumbo package, Hicks, Bradham, Gerry and Joe Walker are out there. 

8/14: Gerry gets first-team reps, but Walker is on the field in the jumbo package again. 

Preseason game 2: As has been the case for a while, Gerry gets the start ahead of Grugier-Hill at the WILL. He has a good game but plays a lot longer than I would have anticipated. Both guys get in with the first team at WILL, but Gerry stays on the field in the jumbo package, with Hicks, Bradham and Joe Walker. 

Updated prediction: We haven’t even mentioned Corey Nelson in a while; that’s how little impact he’s made. Gerry is the frontrunner, but KGH has been really good too. If nothing else, the Eagles’ linebacker depth is a little better than we first thought. 

Defensive line

8/11: The starting line of Long, Cox, Vaeao and Barnett remains the same. Michael Bennett continues to get worked in for Vaeao on third downs, creating a scary, scary line. Elijah Qualls bounces back from a penalty-filled game to make a TFL and does well in 1-on-1s. 

8/12: For the first time for a non-rotational reason, we see Haloti Ngata get first-team reps at DT instead of Vaeao. Bennett gets work inside on clear passing downs. 

8/13: Didn’t see too much new with the starters, but keep an eye on rookie Bruce Hector. Hector has been working with the second-team defensive line ahead of Qualls at times. 

8/14: Ngata gets some first-team reps next to Fletcher Cox again. The Eagles might be preparing him to start Week 1 very soon. 

Preseason game 2: Big day for Ngata, who starts next to Cox. And Ngata makes some plays; really the first time we’ve seen evidence he still has something left to give. That’s a great sign for the Eagles. A lot of Bennett inside and not just on third downs. Vaeao doesn’t start but shows some good pass-rush ability. 

Updated prediction: For a long time, it looked like Vaeao was going to be able to hold off Ngata. Don’t think that’s happening. Expect the old vet to start next to Cox until Tim Jernigan is ready to return. 

Running back 

8/11: Donnel Pumphrey misses practice again, but Matt Jones returns. Corey Clement was also not at practice after apparently suffering an injury during the first preseason game. Without some bodies, Josh Adams and Wendell Smallwood both got some work with the first team. 

8/12: Still no Pumphrey or Clement. Pump wasn’t even out watching practice; Clement showed up late with a compression sleeve on his calf. It seems clear the Eagles are more interested in getting Adams and Smallwood reps with the ones and twos than Jones. 

8/13: Pump and Clement are still out. Adams is having a good day until he pulls up lame after a run play in the red zone. He doesn’t get back in. 

8/14: Adams misses practice after pulling up lame yesterday. Pump and Corey Clement each miss today as well. That means Jay Ajayi, Darren Sproles, Wendell Smallwood and Matt Jones get all the reps. 

Preseason game 2: Adams and Pumphrey sit with their injuries, which gave Jones and Smallwood plenty of opportunities. They didn’t make the most of them. Smallwood had one yard on four carries, while Jones dropped three passes. Ajayi, minus one bad play in pass pro, head a good night. 

Updated prediction: I still think one of those last four running backs is going to make the roster, but I have no idea which one. For now, I think Smallwood has a slight advantage. 

Third safety 

8/11: Corey Graham made a nice play on a receiver and would have popped him in a real game. 

8/12: Not much here. Graham and Sullivan continue to work with the second team, with Stephen Roberts being the next guy up of note. 

8/13: Trey Sullivan has a really good day, making a few plays in the end zone. 

8/14: Not much again. Graham is the next guy up, but Sullivan gets some significant snaps too. 

Preseason game 2: Graham gets on the field early as a safety so Malcolm Jenkins can play nickel corner a little. Jeremy Reaves has a nice game but gets called for a new helmet penalty. Stephen Roberts gets hurt. 

Updated prediction: This battle hasn’t been much of one for a while. Graham is the third safety. Trey Sullivan is likely on the roster because of Chris Maragos’ injury. Maybe Reaves can sneak on the practice squad.

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Malcolm Jenkins, reluctant face of a movement, remains stoic in fight

Malcolm Jenkins, reluctant face of a movement, remains stoic in fight

There are a lot of people watching Malcolm Jenkins. There are a lot of people counting on Malcolm Jenkins. There are a lot of people inspired by Malcolm Jenkins. 

There are a lot of people who hate Malcolm Jenkins. 

Jenkins feels the hate; he knows it exists. He hears the naysayers. He hears the folks who call him unpatriotic or much, much worse. In 2018, in this internet age, it sort of comes with the territory. Anonymity only fuels the negativity he faces. 

“Anything can be frustrating,” Jenkins said to NBC Sports Philadelphia this week. “Therein lies the power of those who oppose you. If they can get under your skin, they win. So I never allow that to block my judgment or even come off in my interviews.”

Jenkins is uncomfortable with being the face of a movement. 

The Eagles’ 30-year-old Pro Bowl safety admits as much, but he’s not oblivious. He’s uncomfortable with the idea because there are so many others committed to the fight — his fight — against racial injustice and police brutality in the United States. He names them — Colin Kaepernick, Eric Reid, Kenny Stills, Mike Thomas, Russell Okung, Anquan Boldin, Devin McCourty — before allowing that there are even more of whom he’s probably unaware. 

But still, here we are. Jenkins has just finished up a long session in the Eagles’ indoor practice bubble, but during the few hours the team was inside, the sun began to peek out from behind the clouds and it’s now shining. As Jenkins slides outside, stepping on to the asphalt parking lot with his cleats clacking, his manicured black beard dripping with sweat glistens in the sunlight. 

He’s stoic in his resolve. 

Reluctant as he is to claim it, Jenkins knows he’s a face of a movement. His face is second behind perhaps just Kaepernick’s in notoriety throughout this fight over the last two years. As such, Jenkins always speaks comprehensively, deliberately. 

Dealing with the hate

There are a few reasons Jenkins is able to deal with all that negativity. First, he thanks the folks around him who keep him motivated and focused on what’s important. For Jenkins, that’s affecting positive change in matters of racial injustice, police brutality and criminal justice reform. 

His support system definitely helps. 

“I think the other part is constantly having to remind myself about the why,” Jenkins said. “Why we’re doing this and also the results we’re able to see. What we’re trying to tackle is so large and has been here for so long, it can get frustrating with the pace of progress or the things that you read.

“We’ve actually accomplished a ton in two years. So I often have to remind myself about that and who’s counting on not only me but us. And when I think about those things, it helps block out or ignore all that other stuff.”

For how much negativity Jenkins receives, it’s impressive he’s been able to keep his composure. Teammate Chris Long, who has received some similar negativity for simply backing up Jenkins with his words and with a gesture — placing his arm around Jenkins while Jenkins raises his fist in demonstration during the national anthem — is impressed by Jenkins’ maturity. 

More than anything. Long is impressed by Jenkins’ patience with people. 

“He’s gotten a lot of negativity, obviously, from people who disagree with him,” Long said. “Even people that agree with Malc, sometimes want him to do things differently. Everybody has a better plan. Everybody has a better plan for how an influencer should go about their business, even if you agree. So he gets it from everywhere. I just think he’s tremendously stoic about it and just sticks to the plan, sticks to the work he does off the field. He doesn’t waver. And he doesn’t lash out either. So he’s better than me about that.”

How it began

This fight really began for Jenkins just over two years ago. In July 2016, he and some teammates met with Philadelphia police commissioner Richard Ross, some police officers and some community leaders. It was a small meeting, a conversation really, between Jenkins, his teammates and the police force. The meeting was about the struggles between the black community and how it felt about police and what could be done to improve those relations. On the flip side, Jenkins said he wanted to hear law enforcement’s side and learn how he could help. He’s had many meetings with police and legislators since, but that was a beginning.

A few weeks later, Kaepernick kneeled during the national anthem — he sat for the previous week’s game before compromising — and it became a national story. Kaepernick told NFL.com that he was not going to “show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”

When Jenkins saw that form of protest, something clicked. 

“I think for me, it showed that there are other guys out there who are feeling the same frustrations as me amongst my peers,” Jenkins said. “And, two, what Colin taught all of us is how much social capital we have as athletes. We might not be the richest out there or the experts or the politicians. We have social capital and can literally change the dialogue in the conversation worldwide. At that moment, I thought if we can create these different moments in silos as individuals, how impactful could it be if we collectively did something? I think for me, that’s when that vision was planted.”

Why it continues

On Sept. 19, 2016, Jenkins began raising his fist during the national anthem, joining Kaepernick in demonstration. He did it every week until late last season when he felt encouraged by the NFL’s commitment to the causes important to him and his fellow demonstrators. But after this offseason — the NFL created a national anthem policy, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said publicly that his players would be required to stand for the anthem and the President remained outspoken on the topic — Jenkins raised his fist again in the Eagles’ first preseason game. He was joined by young cornerback De’Vante Bausby. Long resumed placing his arm around Jenkins. 

Many times over the last two years, the anthem demonstrations have seemingly overshadowed the reasons for the demonstrations. Last summer, Jenkins even pondered ending his demonstration for fear that the story would become more about him and less about the issues (see story). Ultimately, he decided — and said recently — that there’s simply no better way to reach his audience than demonstrating during the anthem. 

For Jenkins, though, the demonstration isn’t hollow. He backs up his words with action. He has met with lawmakers. He has met with police. He has helped raise money and give back to communities and underprivileged youth through The Malcolm Jenkins Foundation. 

Jenkins is proud of the progress, while still understanding there’s a lot of work left to be done. 

Those two things aren’t mutually exclusive. I’m always proud of what we’ve been able to do. I’m proud of the guys who all contributed and I’m proud of Colin Kaepernick, who started this thing. I’m proud of everybody else who contributed. But I’m also driven by a constant reminder daily in my own walk in my black skin and just seeing what continues to come through in news clips of people being brutalized by police. Knowing that, every day, I get to live my life and go to practice and play this game, and recognizing that we have so many people who, for no reason at all, are sitting behind bars or being robbed of opportunities of education or being robbed of opportunities for advancement economically. That stuff being ever present is constantly motivating.

The issues are still the only driving force for Jenkins, so anytime the conversation begins to veer toward something else, he carefully directs it back. After the White House canceled the Eagles’ invite earlier this offseason, instead of getting in a war of words with the leader of the free world, Jenkins resorted to using giant flash cards, the first of which said, “YOU AREN’T LISTENING.” 

Long praised Jenkins for that move, calling it “brilliant.” 

“He’s very good at moving the needle and getting things done and articulating the points he wants to talk about in really clever ways, in a sound byte news culture,” Long said. “Everything he does is calculated in a really good way and he’s just authentic.” 

Reluctant as he may be, Jenkins is the stoic face of this movement. And the movement is better for it. 

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Nick Foles vs. Tom Brady matchup headlines Eagles' 2nd preseason game

Nick Foles vs. Tom Brady matchup headlines Eagles' 2nd preseason game

Will it actually finally happen? Will Tom Brady actually shake Nick Foles’ hand?

That might be the biggest drama going into the Eagles’ second preseason game, Thursday night against the Patriots at Gilette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass.

Brady famously blew off Foles after the Eagles beat the Patriots in Super Bowl LII Feb. 6 in Minneapolis.

Instead of meeting his counterpart at midfield for the customary postgame handshake, Brady slunk back to the Patriots’ locker room, never to be seen again.

Foles has downplayed the lack of a postgame handshake, but it was definitely perceived by many as a lack of class by the four-time Super Bowl MVP toward the 2017 Super Bowl MVP.

“It’ll happen when it happens,” Foles said after practice Tuesday. “We practiced with the Patriots (in 2014) and I got to stand there and talk to Tom quite a bit he’s a great guy. I have all the respect in the world for him.

“I think everyone’s making a big deal about this and it’s not a big deal at all. I’ve already talked to him before, he’s a guy I’ve always looked up to. You’ve got to admire someone who’s probably the greatest ever and still going strong at even at his age.

“He seems to get better and better. I already had a conversation with him before when we practiced. If we have one in the future, we have one and it’ll be cool.”

Foles didn’t play in the preseason opener against the Steelers because of neck spasms, but he’s practiced this week and will start Thursday night in Foxboro.

Head coach Doug Pederson wouldn’t say how long Foles will play or which of the other quarterbacks would play.

“I do expect him to get in the game,” Pederson said. “For how long I don't know, but I do expect him to get a few plays in this game.”

Obviously, Carson Wentz won’t play and presumably Christian Hackenberg isn’t ready, so Pederson will have Foles, Nate Sudfeld and Joe Callahan available.

And even though Foles won’t say it, there is a certain irony that he’s making his 2018 debut against the team he beat six months ago in one of the most exciting and dramatic Super Bowls in history.

“Pretty familiar with the opponent,” Foles deadpanned.

But as far as seeing deep meaning in a Super Bowl rematch? Foles isn’t having any of it.

“We’re in training camp right now, we’re grinding through it, we’re growing as a team, we have new players, guys rotating in and out, so you stay pretty busy throughout the day.

“Now that we’re getting closer to gametime, we’ll be honing in on who they are and what they do, what coverages they like, what they like to do on defense, but not any reminiscing.

“This is a new season, new people, new players. Obviously we wear the same logos as last year but we both have a new identity. This is the time of year we grow together as a team and that’s really all I’m focusing on.”

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