Andrew Kulp

Eagles backup quarterback spot appears to be Nate Sudfeld's to lose

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Eagles backup quarterback spot appears to be Nate Sudfeld's to lose

The Eagles aren’t saying it. Nate Sudfeld isn’t saying it. But Sudfeld is the Eagles’ backup quarterback.

Who an organization brings in this time of year to compete with its backup typically speaks volumes about how they feel about said backup. When executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman proclaimed in February the Eagles were looking at veteran signal callers, people thought Teddy Bridgewater, Ryan Fitzpatrick, maybe Tyrod Taylor.

The Eagles used a fifth-round draft pick on Clayton Thorson and signed free agent Cody Kessler a couple weeks ago.

Meanwhile, Sudfeld received a second-round tender from the club as a restricted free agent this offseason — the second-largest qualifying offer — signing for over $3 million in April.

“It was really exciting,” Sudfeld said after Tuesday’s practice. “That really kind of gave me a vote of confidence and just was really exciting because again I wanted to be here and I have another year to keep getting better and developing here.”

Sudfeld’s contract isn’t guaranteed or anything, so in theory, Kessler — a former third-round pick with 12 not-awful starts under his belt — could steal the job. Yet, even listening to the language Eagles coach Doug Pederson used, it’s clear what the expectation is.

“Nate has an opportunity to really compete and solidify the No. 2 spot,” Pederson said on Tuesday. “He gets an opportunity and it’s a great opportunity for him to do that.

“Depth brings a lot of competition. At that spot, there is no exemption. Looking forward to that.”

Some might think it a gamble for the Eagles to hitch their wagon to a backup who’s thrown just 25 passes in NFL regular season games. Then again, the club’s trust in Sudfeld has never waned, going back to his rookie year in 2017 when he served as Nick Foles’ backup throughout the playoffs and Super Bowl.

Clearly, the Eagles see something in the 25-year-old the rest of us simply haven’t yet had the chance to experience. They stashed him on the 53-man roster for the better part of two seasons. They’ve watched him grow as an athlete and quarterback.

“I feel like I’ve improved in a lot of ways since Washington,” Sudfeld said, referring to where he got his start as a sixth-round pick out of Indiana in 2016. “I think physically I’ve developed a lot. I think I was kind of a late bloomer, so I feel like I’ve gotten a lot stronger in the weight room, faster on the field. I just feel like physical development’s been huge. And then just being in the NFL a couple years, some great systems and great coaches, just understanding ball a lot more and seeing situations and being able to apply it.

“I think arm strength has improved, velocity, weight room just in general, core, everything. I just feel a lot better.”

That doesn’t mean the Eagles will simply give Sudfeld his spot. Kessler is an intriguing prospect — he was reasonably accurate and took care of the football (64.2 completion percentage and 5 interceptions in 17 career games) as a member of bad Browns and Jaguars squads. Thorson, too, while likely more of a project, could take a surprise leap at the next level.

Whether because he’s confident in his ability or simply understands the situation, Sudfeld doesn’t seem to be sweating the competition.

“Nothing’s ever going to be handed to you, and you don’t want it that way,” Sudfeld said. “There’s no sense of entitlement. Everything’s earned. I’m just trying to improve myself as much as possible, try to be the best version of myself, work on my craft. I know if I can keep improving and become a better player, it’ll all take care of itself.”

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Eagles' DBs built in Malcolm Jenkins' image, but ready for 'Old Head' to return

Eagles' DBs built in Malcolm Jenkins' image, but ready for 'Old Head' to return

It was strange seeing the Eagles take the field for practice and not see a No. 27 flying around on defense. One would think it would be even stranger for a young group of defensive backs that at times leans on Malcolm Jenkins for guidance.

But while Andrew Sendejo and Tre Sullivan may have been the first-team safeties on Tuesday, it was business as usual for the remaining members of the Eagles’ secondary at OTAs – even if it’s not business as usual for Jenkins right now.

“I would say no,” said Sullivan, responding to whether the defensive backs room is any different without Jenkins. “The only reason I say that is because Malcolm, he does a great job being a leader, really just making us focus on every task at hand.

“It’s the same thing without him being in the locker room.”

Jenkins is a no-show at voluntary workouts so far, purportedly in pursuit of a pay raise. The three-time Pro Bowler has never missed a game in his five seasons with the Eagles. Prior to April, he had barely taken so much as a snap off during that span, much less skipped or been held out of a practice or meeting.

As much time as Jenkins has spent making plays that bring Lincoln Financial Field to a roar, he’s spent more setting an example for players in the locker room. He’s tutored young defensive backs, demonstrated how to handle success and failure in the NFL, been an outstanding citizen away from the field.

The 31-year-old safety has been the definition of a pro, and his actions appear to have rubbed off on teammates.

“Everybody holds each other accountable in that room no matter if we’re young or older,” said Avonte Maddox, reciting the line about accountability Jenkins has used often. “It doesn’t really matter.”

The DBs were putting in extra work after Tuesday’s practice and weren’t easy to track down in the locker room. Those who did speak didn’t sound your typical 25-year-old athletes with three-and-a-half seasons in the league – the average age and experience level of the group sans Jenkins.

Just another day at the office. They sounded like leaders themselves.

“It’s been kind of the same,” said Cre’Von LeBlanc. “We just have to keep focusing on what we can focus on today, the plays, we tell everybody who’s here. I wouldn’t say that it’s any different. The guys are the guys once the day is over.”

The room is not completely devoid of veterans, either. Sendejo, though he just arrived in free agency, is 31 with eight years NFL experience. And Rodney McLeod, who will likely start alongside Jenkins at safety, is rehabbing from injury and not practicing but is in the building.

Still, you can see Jenkins’ fingerprints all over this secondary. You could see it when a struggling, injury-depleted unit with Jenkins as its sole survivor turned its season around and became a strength of the team in 2018. You can hear it while speaking to younger players who sound wise beyond their years.

Without a doubt, Jenkins is far more valuable than what he brings to the Eagles defense as a multi-dimensional weapon that lines up at safety, cornerback, linebacker, wherever is asked – and he’s pretty good at all those things, too.

“When he is back, he makes his presence known,” Sullivan said. “Malcolm is a very vocal guy and outstanding leader. He’s a great guy to lean on.”

Right now, there’s no talk Jenkins might not return, or the Eagles might not reward him. Everybody seems to expect him back eventually, probably a little richer.

Then again, Jenkins has his troops trained so well and on such an even keel, it would be difficult to tell if there was a pang of concern.

“The room’s still the same,” said Maddox. “Still have energy, still holding each other accountable.

“Guys are still working together, laughing, playing around, so when it comes down to it, it will be great when he gets back in there and we’ll be able to have ‘Old Head’ in there.”

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With new perspective, hard to find fault with Eagles’ draft

With new perspective, hard to find fault with Eagles’ draft

I can’t find a single fault with the Eagles’ draft this year. The entire class gets an A-plus in my book.

I also didn’t have any preconceived notions about what the Eagles should do going into the draft. I didn’t research hundreds of prospects like I did in years past. I didn’t read a single mock draft. I wasn’t of the opinion there were certain positions the club needed to prioritize in the first round, and I certainly couldn’t identify my favorite sleeper target in the seventh.

Most I enjoyed any draft since… possibly ever.

You can write me off and say that just means I don’t know what I’m talking about. Admittedly, my only knowledge going into the 2019 draft was what I absorbed naturally by being connected to the NFL, which is still probably a good bit more than the average person. I just couldn’t regurgitate a bunch of stats and measurements I gleaned from scouting reports or tell you who Todd McShay had the Eagles taking in his 700th mock and why his imaginary choice was ill-conceived.

But my newly relaxed attitude toward the draft gave me a different perspective on the Eagles’ class. I didn’t see college athletes I had studied or devise a blueprint for how the weekend should go. I simply saw a shrewd move to trade up and steal a highly touted left tackle prospect in the first round. I saw an obvious need filled with a running back, then another weapon for Carson Wentz in the second. And I saw a pair of Day 3 picks with low percentages of panning out regardless of who they are, where they’re from or what they play, and no reason to be bent out of shape.

So, when I read the day-after report cards on the Eagles’ draft – an exercise always fraught with folly – the grades were far more divisive than I had anticipated, with marks ranging anywhere from an A to a C. C? What was not to like?

The Eagles passed on Player X with the first pick? Well, yeah, a potential top-10 talent at an integral, difficult-to-fill position slid to No. 22. It changed the team’s plans, too. Again, I wasn’t pulling for any one player, so this looked like a tremendous value to me, nothing more.

The Eagles had a more pressing need at Position Y in the first? I suppose you could make that argument, as it’s subjective, though Jason Peters is 37, on the final year of his contract and coming off consecutive injury-plagued seasons. Seemed like a plenty big need.

The Eagles made only five picks? Again, a rare opportunity to get their left tackle of the future in the 20s altered plans, so they dealt a couple extra picks to move up. They also swapped a seventh for a current NFL player. Stocking up on a bunch of late picks like cheap scratch-offs is fine, but if they came away with the cash in hand instead – meaning guys who can all play – that’s clearly preferable.

The Eagles lost too many picks in the trade up? To answer a question with another question: Would you rather a starter at left tackle for the next decade or a couple more Day 3 talents who may not make it to next season?

The Eagles took a flier on a developmental quarterback they liked? I wasn’t aware Nate Sudfeld is a proven commodity as a backup or is even guaranteed to be here a year from now. We’re in the fifth round, so not really sure why this is even an issue.

The Eagles didn’t address Position Z? Maybe the front office didn’t view it as a glaring need, or the draft board simply didn’t present an opportunity. Teams can go in with a mindset they’re going to tackle a specific problem, but people would be more upset over a bunch of obvious reaches or passing up superior talents just to fill holes.

Had the Eagles drafted Jon Harris or Marcus Smith, I would’ve recognized there was a problem. Otherwise, the whole thing is unpredictable to a degree that borders on random.

Am I saying the Eagles authored the perfect draft? No, and I’m sure such a thing does not exist. But in my eyes, most of these players were just names on a list prior to this weekend, and the needs of a roster already brimming with talent were all relatively equal.

Viewing the draft through that lens and blocking out much of the noise – oh, and reminding myself this front office built a Super Bowl champion not two years ago – made me far more content with everything the Eagles did.

I’ve gotta tell you, it’s a better feeling than trying to nitpick the class to death when nobody knows how the players will even turn out.

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