Pittsburgh Steelers

Shelton Gibson finally showing why Eagles drafted him

Shelton Gibson finally showing why Eagles drafted him

It had been a long time since Shelton Gibson saw a deep ball high in the air heading his way.

It had been even longer since he caught one.

Gibson came to the Eagles last year with a reputation as one of the best deep-ball receivers in college football.

He ranked third in Division I with 22.1 yards per catch his last year at West Virginia and over the 2015 and 2016 seasons averaged 23.0 yards per catch — second-best in the country behind only Jalen Robinette of Air Force.

But we didn’t see it last year. He caught one 14-yard pass all preseason and one 11-yard pass during the regular season.

Thursday night, we finally saw why the Eagles drafted Gibson in the fifth round last year.

In the second quarter of the Eagles’ preseason opener, he separated from Steelers cornerback Dashaun Phillips, raced down the right sideline underneath a Nate Sudfeld bomb, caught it at the 20-yard line and ran into the end zone for a 63-yard touchdown.

That's what we’ve been waiting for.

“It reminded me of West Virginia a lot,” Gibson said at his locker after the game. “Seeing the ball in the air.

“I haven’t seen the ball in the air in a long time. Last preseason, we played the Dolphins I believe, thought I was going to have one in the air, thought I was going to get it. That was probably the last time I had a deep ball in the air.”

Last time Gibson got into the end zone was Nov. 26, 2016, when he caught TD passes of 40 and 71 yards from Skylar Howard against Baylor.

We didn’t see any of that speed or explosion last year. Honestly, Gibson looked defeated as a rookie, a characterization he doesn’t disagree with.

But he’s transformed. He’s made that jump you want to see from Year 1 to Year 2. We've seen it at practice, and Thursday night we saw it in a game.

Whether it’s enough to land him a roster spot remains to be seen.

But there's no question he’s headed in the right direction.

“It’s just confidence, man,” Gibson said. “Going out there and just playing and having fun instead of being there and being like, ‘Oh, well, I’m just going out here and try to impress the coaches.’ No, just go out there and have fun.

“Just gotta be consistent. Doug always said it last year, he always kept coming up to me and saying, ‘You’ve just got to keep stacking days, keep stacking days, keep stacking days,’ so that was my biggest thing. Keep stacking days and having fun.”

How did Gibson get from where he was last year to where he is now?

He barely played as a rookie. Four snaps against the Bears, 17 in the meaningless season-ender against the Cowboys. A few special teams snaps in three other games.

And that was the sum total of his rookie year.

But while he was off the radar he made productive use of his time. He watched. He learned. He gradually became an NFL receiver.

“Super Bowl-winning team,” he said. “Just being on this team last year helped me out a lot. Seeing how they worked every single day.

“Seeing how Nelly (Nelson Agholor) worked. Seeing how Alshon (Jeffery) worked. Seeing how Torrey (Smith) was working.

“Having those vet guys talking to me every single day, it made me want to change in the offseason how I was taking it onto the practice field.

“It had to start in practice. I wasn’t having good practices. So I said I’ve got to practice like it’s a game and everything will carry over into the game.”

This is an extraordinarily deep group of wide receivers.

Agholor, Jeffery and Mike Wallace have the team made. Mack Hollins likely does as well. Markus Wheaton and Kamar Aiken are proven veterans. DeAndre Carter, Greg Ward, Rashard Davis and Bryce Treggs have all had their moments.

Where does Gibson fit in?

Right now, he doesn’t care.

“I’m not playing with cuts,” he said. “If I limit myself to cuts, then I won’t see the big picture.

“I’m just helping the team win a championship. If I look toward that goal, everything else will happen.”

More on the Eagles

In crowded RB competition, undrafted Josh Adams pulls ahead

In crowded RB competition, undrafted Josh Adams pulls ahead

Rookie running back Josh Adams is locked in an intense battle for a roster spot, and every time he came to the sideline Thursday night, he found himself face-to-face with the very running backs he’s competing with.

And all they did was help him.

“Man, we’ve got a great room of running backs,” the Warrington Township, Bucks County, native said. “Everybody’s helping each other out and we’re all competing.

“It was good to come to the sideline and get feedback and look at what I could do differently or just get positive feedback if I’m doing a good job. That’s what kind of room we have.”

Adams had an auspicious NFL debut Thursday night, carrying the football six times for 30 yards and adding two receptions in the Eagles’ preseason opener against the Steelers at the Linc.

With Donnel Pumphrey and Matt Jones out with injuries and Wendell Smallwood having an up-and-down game, Adams really helped himself in his bid for the fourth running back spot behind Jay Ajayi, Corey Clement and Darren Sproles.

He said the messages from the guys he’s competing with definitely helped.

“Just continue to run the ball, trust what I see, be patient, stuff like that,” he said. “It was all good, it was all to my advantage to help me for the next time I go out there. Definitely grateful to have guys like that around me.”

Which tells you a lot about the culture Doug Pederson has created.

Adams went undrafted despite a tremendous career at Notre Dame, and now he’s trying to duplicate what Clement did last year and make the roster as a rookie undrafted free agent from the Delaware Valley.

Adams was emotional after his NFL debut. He sat at his locker and spoke slowly, choosing his words carefully.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Adams said. “Blessed to be here. I’ve been dreaming about this for a long time and I finally got out there. Just wanted to get out there and run around and have some fun.”

Adams ran 15 yards on his first pro carry and also had six- and seven-yard gains and a 10-yard reception.

Smallwood finished 6 for 21 rushing, numbers that were skewed by a five-yard loss in the game’s final seconds. He also scored on one of two two-point conversions but also had that fumble, forced by former Temple star Tyler Matakevich.

It’s still early. There are a few weeks to go before roster cuts. But Adams helped himself. The other backs didn’t.

“I thought Josh did a nice job with the amount of play time that he got,” Pederson said. “All the running backs were going to get some time outside of Sproles. So it increases Josh's reps just a little bit. And I thought Josh did a nice job.

“He did a really good job in protection, No. 1, catching the ball out of backfield, and some of the runs, you can see how big and powerful he is when he hits the edge.”

Adams played high school football at Central Bucks High School South. At Notre Dame, he ran for 3,201 yards with a 6.7 average, 10th-best in the NCAA since 2015. Last year, he rushed for 1,430 yards with a 6.9 average, also 10th-best in Division I.

Watching him, it’s tough to figure out why he wasn’t drafted. But it’s not tough to figure out why the Eagles like him.

“I didn’t care how many carries I was going to get or how much I was on the field,” he said. “Every time I went out there I gave it my all, and that’s all game, whether it’s special teams or offense.”

Can Adams hold off Smallwood, Pumphrey and Jones?

Right now, Adams is ahead of all of them.

“I always feel like I can do better, so that’s what I’m going to focus on,” he said. “I’m going to look at this game and see what I could have done better. That’s what I’m focusing on, getting better at the next practice.

“Right now, I’m just competing. That’s what these preseason games are for, that’s what practices are for too. Try to figure out what kind of player I’m going to be.”

More on the Eagles

Deflategate 2.0: Steelers' Mason Rudolph accused of using deflated football in preseason game vs. Eagles

AP Images

Deflategate 2.0: Steelers' Mason Rudolph accused of using deflated football in preseason game vs. Eagles

Just hours after the Eagles' first preseason game, we were blessed with the dumbest NFL storyline of the year.

Deflategate is back, this time without the fun of Tom Brady being owned by Roger Goodell and the NFL.

In the third quarter of Thursday's Eagles-Steelers preseason game, WIP's Howard Eskin reported that Steelers rookie quarterback Mason Rudolph was using a vastly deflated ball.

In a preseason game.

Whether intentional or not, the ball will be sent back to Wilson, the manufacturer, for review, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.

NFL vice president of football communications Michael Signora told Rapoport that "all footballs were in compliance with NFL rules following the pregame inspection process & all proper procedures were followed. In the 3Q, a football that was found to be defective was removed from play, will be sent back to Wilson for review.”

The Steelers went on to beat the Eagles, 31-14, with Rudolph leading the Steelers to three field goal drives in the second half. Rudolph, the Steelers' third-round pick, finished 7 of 12 for 101 yards.

After a lengthy back-and-forth court battle, Brady was suspended for four games to start the 2016 season for his role in the original Deflategate case and subsequent non-compliance with the league's investigation. Brady was accused of using deflated footballs during the Patriots' AFC Championship Game win over the Colts in 2015.

More on the Eagles