Clayton Thorson

5 winners and losers from Eagles' spring practices

5 winners and losers from Eagles' spring practices

The Eagles wrapped up their three-day mandatory minicamp with a short indoor practice on Thursday and are now on a break until training camp in late July. 

In total, there were 13 practices this spring, 10 OTAs and three minicamp days. Of them, reporters were allowed to watch seven of them. I was at all seven, but this piece comes with the caveat that I was allowed to watch just over half of the team’s total practices this spring. 

I think by now you’ve realized that Carson Wentz is a big winner from the spring. Even without his play on the field, he got a huge contract extension with over $100 million in guaranteed money. And on the field, he’s been really good too. He’s looked so good, Howie Roseman joked he felt more pressure to get the deal done with every practice. Wentz, sans knee brace, looks healthy, he looks strong, he looks like the guy who had a near-MVP season two years ago. Wentz has been showing off his arm strength, touch and mobility over the last few weeks. He could be in line for a big season. 

Anyway, here are five other winners and losers from the last few weeks: 

Winners 

Dallas Goedert 

The Eagles don’t even consider Goedert to be a backup as he enters Year 2. They have two starting tight ends and are going to play in 12 personnel quite a bit this season. We started to see it last year, but in these camps, Goedert is always using his big body to separate the ball from defender. He’s a clear red-zone threat and will likely be used in that role again. Four of his 33 catches last year (12 percent) went for touchdowns. Expect more of that this year.  

JJ Arcega-Whiteside 

As the fourth receiver, I’m not sure how much Arcega-Whiteside is going to play as a rookie, but he will deserve snaps in the red zone. We’ve seen incredible body control from the second-round rookie this spring. It seems like every practice, we’ve seen him leap up and make spectacular grabs, using his basketball background and elite body control. He has been very impressive. 

Boston Scott 

The stout running back has looked good in these practices and has drawn comparisons to Darren Sproles. That might be a little premature, but it’s easy to see why. Scott is a short back with some cutting ability and ability to catch out of the backfield. Really, being a punt returner might be his best chance of making the roster as the Eagles’ fourth running back. 

Avonte Maddox 

Without Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills, Maddox has gotten all first-team reps this spring, along with Rasul Douglas and Sidney Jones. Honestly, all three have looked good, but I wanted to single out Maddox, who has thrived inside and outside. I found it interesting that at times this spring, he’s been playing outside in base and inside in nickel. I’m still not saying he absolutely has to be on the field as a starter, but he’s making a strong case. 

Andrew Sendejo 

Everyone was ready to cut Sendejo to save a compensatory pick and maybe that still happens, but I think he has a good shot of sticking around. He’s clearly the third safety and has consistently made plays all spring. I guess that’s to be expected for a well-rested 31-year-old veteran. When Malcolm Jenkins showed up for minicamp, it was Sendejo and not Tre Sullivan as the other starting safety in the absence of recovering Rodney McLeod. 

Losers 

Miles Sanders 

The rookie second-round running back participated in rookie minicamp but missed all 13 practices in OTAs and mandatory minicamp with a hamstring injury. It’s not the end of the world, but even Doug Pederson admitted “it hurts a little bit.” It’ll be up to Sanders to stay in the playbook and catch up quickly when training camp comes. 

Clayton Thorson

The rookie QB got off to a hot start, but really cooled off later this spring. There’s a lot going on for a rookie quarterback and maybe it just started to overwhelm him a little. He clearly has plenty of arm strength and his legs are better in person than on tape, but his accuracy hasn’t been great recently. All a part of the learning curve for a fifth-round rookie QB, I suppose.  

Cre'Von LeBlanc

It’s not that Strap hasn’t played well this spring; he actually has. But even without Darby and Mills, he still didn’t get any first-team reps. In the practices we’ve seen, all those reps went to Douglas, Jones and Maddox. LeBlanc played really well in the slot as a starter late last season, but he’s been relegated to the second team this spring. He’s the sixth CB on the roster.  

Shelton Gibson 

This time last year, Gibson had a tremendous offseason; haven’t seen that this year. I didn’t really notice Gibson too much all spring and then he got hurt, missing the last two days of camp with an undisclosed injury. Before the injury, guys like Arcega-Whiteside, Charles Johnson and Greg Ward were getting first-team reps over him. Gibson is a really good gunner on the punt team, but will that be enough to keep his roster spot? And, now, it looks like Mack Hollins will be back for training camp. 

Stefen Wisniewski

Wiz couldn’t find a starting job as a free agent so he returned as a backup here. Fine. But this spring, the Eagles have been using Halapoulivaati Vaitai as their first-team right guard in place of a recovering Brandon Brooks. And it seems like the Eagles are prepping Big V to play there this season if Brooks isn’t ready to go for the opener. Maybe this is just a case of the Eagles’ knowing what they have in Wiz, but it doesn’t seem great that he might not be the top backup guard.

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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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Clayton Thorson must learn to fit into Eagles' tight-knit QB room

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USA Today Images

Clayton Thorson must learn to fit into Eagles' tight-knit QB room

You can't ask Carson Wentz a question without him praising Nick Foles and Nate Sudfeld. Same with Foles and Sudfeld. Ask them about themselves, and they start raving about their teammates.

From Sept. 4, 2017, when the Eagles signed Sudfeld off the Redskins’ waiver wire, until this past Feb. 27, when Howie Roseman announced that the Eagles would let Foles walk as a free agent, Wentz, Foles and Sudfeld formed an Eagles QB mutual admiration society.

They all kind of look the same and they all talk the same and for 17 months they were inseparable.

Now that’s all changed.

Foles is a Jaguar, Wentz is the unchallenged No. 1 QB, Sudfeld enters his fourth year as the de facto No. 2, and into that quarterback room comes Northwestern rookie Clayton Thorson.

The new guy.

Thorson, the Eagles’ fifth-round pick, said he’s heard a lot about the Eagles’ quarterback room and how supportive everybody is, and he’s eager to find his way into that dynamic.

I have heard it from the Eagles coaches. Hearing it from them and talking to them through this process, but also from other teams. You hear it in the media, too. It’s (mainly) about football for them, and I am excited to be a part of that.

Thorson was the eighth quarterback taken this past weekend, and while nobody expects him to play for the Eagles anytime soon — if ever — as we’ve learned the last couple years, it's huge to have a healthy quarterback room where all the QBs work together for the common good of the team.

Safe to say without mutual respect, support and communication in that QB room, there is no Nick Foles magic in 2017 and no parade down Broad Street.

And safe to say without Wentz and Foles sharing their knowledge with Sudfeld, the Eagles wouldn’t be in a position where they could rely on him as the No. 2 going into a Super Bowl.

“It tells me a lot,” Thorson said. “It says a lot about that coaching staff and how they helped develop the guys who aren’t the starters. It also says a lot about Carson, too.”

Knowing Wentz and Sudfeld, they’ll welcome Thorson into that room the same way they welcomed Foles two years ago.

It’s kind of just like high school,” Thorson said. “Going to college, you come in as the guy and obviously there are other guys there. I learned from Trevor Siemian (now with the Broncos) my freshman year of college. I’m really looking forward to getting in there and learning from Nate and Carson and those great coaches. Just keeping myself ready to go at any moment.

Thorson could end up as the Eagles’ starter one day. He could become Wentz’s No. 2 if Sudfeld leaves after this year. Maybe the Eagles develop him and trade him for a pick.

Whatever the future holds, Thorson seems like a perfect fit in a quarterback room where working together so everybody improves is a way of life.

It’s just getting in there and learning from them. Obviously, Carson has the keys to the car, he knows it all and I’m sure Nate does too. So I’m looking forward to learning from them, but also becoming good friends with them and supporting them and competing my butt off. I’ve heard such great things about that room, obviously to see Nick go away, I think it’s just a great opportunity for me.

Interesting that the Eagles have drafted a quarterback every three years since 2001:

2001: A.J. Feeley, 5th round 
2004: Andy Hall, 6th round
2007: Kevin Kolb, 2nd round
2010: Mike Kafka, 4th round
2013: Matt Barkley, 4th round
2016: Carson Wentz, 1st round
2019: Clayton Thorson, 5th round

The only other QB they’ve drafted during that span is Foles in the third round in 2012.

Doug Pederson — and Andy Reid before him — loves having a young developmental quarterback to learn from the older guys, and by drafting one every few years you keep that cycle going.

You can't ask for a healthier QB situation than the one the Eagles have had the last couple years. It's up to them to keep that going with a new guy in town.

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