Billy Brown

Eagles players with most to gain at OTAs — TE Billy Brown

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USAT

Eagles players with most to gain at OTAs — TE Billy Brown

The Eagles don’t hit the practice field for another five weeks, yet each year coaches point to players who distinguish themselves at OTAs during the months of April and May.

Six-foot-four. Two hundred fifty-five pounds. Take one glance at Billy Brown strolling through the locker room, and there’s no question he’s built to play in the NFL.

Athleticism isn’t an issue. Brown timed 4.7 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the combine last year, which is an above average speed for a tight end. He also finished third among all wide receivers and tight ends in the bench press with 23 reps.

Big. Fast. Strong. It sure sounds like this Brown has the makings of an elite NFL tight end.

If only it were that simple.

There’s no disputing the Eagles have a need after the departures of Brent Celek (released) and Trey Burton (free agent, signed with the Bears). Zach Ertz remains, but the offense deploys two tight ends about as much as any team in the league.

Brown has an opportunity to work his way into the mix. Perhaps the biggest hurdle is he’s still learning the position.

Signed by the Eagles as an undrafted free agent last year, Brown played wide receiver at Division II Shepherd University. While his size and athleticism impress, running and catching the football are only part of the job description now. Even young men who played tight end their entire college careers often struggle to adapt to the position’s demands in the NFL.

Over the next bunch of weeks, Brown needs to demonstrate a stronger grasp of what is still a relatively new role. And he needs to somehow stand out as competition is being added around him.

The Eagles signed veteran Richard Rodgers two weeks ago. Rodgers recorded 120 receptions for 1,166 yards and 13 touchdowns over four seasons with the Packers, so he’s a proven commodity.

Surely the Eagles will add at least one more tight end in the draft as well, possibly as early as the first round.

Brown has a natural advantage. There aren’t many people who are going to look better at a workout, which is basically what phase one and phase two of OTAs boils down to.

But does Brown know and understand all of the finer points that make a tight end a tight end instead of a wide receiver?

Brown dominated at Shepherd, amassing 188 receptions, 3,072 yards receiving and 32 touchdowns over his final two seasons alone. It’s not difficult to envision him becoming a weapon in the Eagles’ passing attack.

Only there’s a lot more to playing tight end in the NFL than running routes. Brown must show improvement in the other aspects of his game this spring if he’s to have a realistic shot at earning a roster spot come summer.

Leftovers from breakfast with Doug Pederson

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Leftovers from breakfast with Doug Pederson

ORLANDO, Fla. — While several reporters gathered at the round table next to Doug Pederson and piled their plates full of eggs, fruit and breakfast meats, Pederson decided to go without. The questions were plenty filling. 

The Eagles' head coach arrived at his hour-long media session a tad before the 7:15 a.m. start time and after jokingly checking his watch a few times, agreed to begin. He even went a bit long. 

So an hour-long media session went to about 65 minutes and covered a huge range of topics from Michael Bennett, enjoying the afterglow of the Super Bowl, and, of course, the quarterback situation

Plenty of other topics too. Here are a few more: 

• The Eagles lost several pieces, including Vinny Curry, Patrick Robinson, Beau Allen and LeGarrette Blount. Then, they brought in players like Bennett, Haloti Ngata and Mike Wallace. Pederson was asked about trying to keep the chemistry from last year's Super Bowl run. 

"I don't know if you keep it as much as you rebuild it again," he said. "Our team will be different. It's just the nature."

• The process of rebuilding that chemistry will begin this spring at OTAs. During Pederson's two years, attendance at the "voluntary" training sessions has been nearly perfect, but this year the Eagles played into February. Pederson understands players' bodies might not have had a long time to recover, but he can be smart with the workload he puts on them in the spring. He hopes the attendance stays up. 

"When we left back in February, I encouraged everybody — that was gonna be a concern," he said. "And when I talk about the other side of success, that's what I talk about. Guys not showing up for OTAs. Guys not showing up for the offseason program, thinking they've arrived. I don't think that we have that kind of group. It is hard when you can't communicate with them in the offseason."

• Pederson was asked to name a player who could step up like Nelson Agholor did in 2017. He named Sidney Jones and Mack Hollins first before mentioning Derek Barnett and four young receivers (Greg Ward, Rashard Davis, Bryce Treggs, Shelton Gibson). 

• The Eagles have to find a new slot cornerback after Robinson left in free agency on a pricey deal from New Orleans. Pederson said Jalen Mills and Daryl Worley can both play inside and Mills has the ability to play outside in the base package and move inside on nickel, so that's an option. 

The slot corner spot is much different from playing outside; it takes a different kind of player. 

"One, you gotta have a good change of direction, your short-area quickness," Pederson said. "You don't necessarily have to have the long speed in there. You've got to be tough as nails, you know? You've got to be able to stick your nose in there and make a tackle." 

• At tight end, the Eagles lost Trey Burton in free agency and cut Brent Celek, so they have to replace them. Pederson wouldn't rule out bringing in a free agent or drafting a TE. He also mentioned Billy Brown and Adam Zaruba, two younger players already on the roster. Pederson also said he wouldn't rule out bringing back Celek on a cheaper deal (although that seems unlikely). 

• Cameron Johnston is the only punter on the roster. Pederson said there's a chance they bring in another to compete with him. 

• When asked if he could call the "Philly Special" again, Pederson said no. "There's no way you can call that again," he said. "It's out there."

He wouldn't say it's dead, though, just on the back burner: "[It] may retire and come back."

Roob's 10 late-March Eagles observations

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Roob's 10 late-March Eagles observations

Some random late-March thoughts on Michael Bennett, Cris Carter, Mike Wallace, Billy Brown and (of course) Nick Foles in this weekend’s 10 Random Eagles Observations!

1. I have no idea what Michael Bennett did or didn’t do on Super Bowl Sunday at NRG Stadium last February, but I do know this is a precarious situation for the Eagles. Team chemistry was the Eagles’ biggest strength last year, and that’s not easy to duplicate when the roster changes. What Bennett is accused of is truly terrible. But it’s a weird story. How is there no video of an incident that occurred at a Super Bowl? Aren’t there cameras everywhere? And why didn’t the cop who allegedly witnessed the incident arrest Bennett once he was assured the alleged victim was OK? Bennett didn’t go anywhere. The 14-month gap between incident and charges is odd. And how could the Eagles not know about the investigation? The bigger question is exactly what kind of person are the Eagles getting in Bennett, and is he someone they want in the locker room for the next year. Maybe the answer is yes. Doug Pederson, Howie Roseman and Joe Douglas seem to have a pretty good feel for this stuff. But this is definitely a major distraction and just about the last thing the Eagles need to deal with right now.

2. If the Eagles don’t sign a veteran tight end, keep an eye on Billy Brown, who had an impressive training camp last summer and spent the season on the practice squad. He’s 6-foot-4, 260 pounds with great hands. Yeah, he was an undrafted rookie. But remember, that’s how Trey Burton started out.

3. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you Mike Wallace isn’t a significant upgrade over Torrey Smith. Wallace last year had 16 more catches (52 to 36), 318 more yards (748 to 430), twice as many TDs (4 to 2) and a much higher yards-per-catch average (14.4 to 11.9). Over the last two years, the difference is more dramatic (124 for 1,765 to 56 for 697) with inferior QBs. And Wallace is cheaper. With Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor and Wallace, the Eagles are loaded at wideout.

4. I heard Cris Carter ripping Nick Foles the other day, saying he’s not an NFL-caliber starter and only had a handful of good games last year. He also only played a handful of games. And one of them was the Super Bowl, if I remember correctly? Foles may never get credit outside Philly for what he accomplished last year, but at this point, it doesn't matter. The Lombardi Trophy lives at the NovaCare Complex now.

5. Speaking of Foles, in the 2017 postseason on third down, he was 26 for 32 for 398 yards and four TDs and a 158.1 passer rating.

6. Read that again. Foles threw six incomplete passes on third down during the entire 2017 postseason.

7. The Eagles converted 71 and 62 percent of their third downs in the NFC Championship Game and Super Bowl, respectively. They had only converted 62 percent of their third downs in consecutive games twice previously since 1991.

8. The conversations about whether the Eagles are better or worse than last year are silly, considering we're six months from opening day. The Eagles last year added Chris Long, Patrick Robinson, Tim Jernigan, LeGarrette Blount, Corey Graham and Ronald Darby later in the offseason than it is now. And Jay Ajayi during the season. The roster is a long way from being a finished product.

9. I’ve got Derek Barnett with 12 sacks next year. Interesting that from Week 6 on, Barnett had only one fewer sack than Brandon Graham (6 1/2 to 5 1/2). You could just see him getting better and better each week. Can’t wait to see the 2018 version of Derek Barnett.

10. And finally, we need to keep throwing out Carson Wentz stats so nobody forgets just how freaking talented he is: Wentz had 10 games last year with two or more touchdowns and one or fewer interceptions. Only four quarterbacks in NFL history have ever had more through 13 games: Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Tony Romo. Pretty good company. Except for Romo.