Here’s what we learned this Spring.
The Philadelphia Eagles held their final minicamp practice on Thursday to close out the team's 2017 spring offseason workout program. It's been nearly two months since the regiment originally began on April 17.
Here’s a look at 10 things we learned based on the seven Eagles practices open to the media this spring.
1 - No major injuries
Always the most important takeaway. The Eagles made it through the spring relatively unscathed.
This isn’t to say Philadelphia’s roster is 100% healthy. Beau Allen suffered an injury while training in February. Jordan Matthews missed most of spring practices due to knee tendinitis. There’s still no timetable for when Sidney Jones will be ready to play.
The Eagles still have some injury situations to get through, but at least they didn’t add any new major injuries to the list this spring.
2 - Carson Wentz started slow but finished strong
Carson Wentz was far from lights out this spring. The second-year quarterback struggled with his accuracy. He made some questionable decisions. He lacked the consistency you’d ideally like to see.
Throughout this time, I kept saying it’s too early to press the panic button. Because what do spring struggles mean if Wentz comes out looking sharp in the real games? But at the same time I totally get the reason for concern. Wentz is the cornerstone of this franchise. If he ends up being a bust, the fate of this current regime is doomed.
There are some factors worth noting when discussing how Wentz looked this spring. First, he underwent changes in his mechanics. It’s hard to expect him to make these changes and instantly be a perfect passer. Another factor is that Wentz is getting used to some new personnel at wide receiver.
One Eagles fan who called in to last week’s BGN Radio show on SportsRadio 94WIP had an interesting theory about Wentz. The quarterback had vision correction surgery performed on him in April. The people who get this procedure done typically have an adjustment period when it comes to depth perception. So maybe that’s something worth considering as well.
Wentz was ultimately able to put his struggles behind him and finish spring practices on a high note. His deep passing was especially impressive. Here’s hoping Wentz picks up in training camp where he finished off.
Quick notes on the other Eagles quarterbacks: I wasn’t really impressed by what I saw out of Nick Foles. Matt McGloin had some nice moments with some struggles mixed in. Dane Evans will be a camp arm at most.
3 - The Eagles’ wide receiving corps looks significantly improved
The Eagles had the NFL’s worst group of wide receivers in 2016. I don’t want to jinx things here, but I feel pretty good about saying that won’t be the case in 2017.
Alshon Jeffery is a stud. He’s the real deal. Don’t let anyone else fool you otherwise. He caught everything thrown his way and made some special catches that other receivers simply can’t make.
Torrey Smith looked good. He definitely still poses as a deep threat. I didn’t see too many drops from him either.
I wrote an entire article about how Nelson Agholor really stepped up this spring. At the very least, he looks like a competent NFL player now.
Jordan Matthews barely practiced, but we already know what he is: a solid slot guy.
Mack Hollins didn’t do anything special but he was generally reliable. 2016 undrafted free agent Marcus Johnson made some nice catches.
Dorial Green-Beckham and Shelton Gibson were really the only two wide receivers who struggled.
Overall, new WR coach Mike Groh has seemed to do a nice job with this group. Wentz finally has some actual NFL wide receivers to work with now.
4 - This Eagles pass rush is going to eat
I’m going to try to keep this point brief because I want to write a separate article with expanded thoughts on this topic. But yeah, I really do think this Eagles pass rush could be really good. The “loss” of non-pass rushers such as Connor Barwin and Bennie Logan combined with the addition of guys like Derek Barnett, Timmy Jernigan, and Chris Long should really help. The pass rush showed up early and often this spring.
5 - Cornerback is still a big concern
Corner is still the Eagles’ most obvious weakness on the roster. Philadelphia’s defensive backs were burned on numerous occasions this spring. In fairness, they weren’t allowed to press and it’s not like the quarterback can be physically sacked. But the truth is players like Jalen Mills and Rasul Douglas are vulnerable to getting beat deep. Mills and Douglas had nice moments, without question, so I’m not saying this group is entirely hopeless. But there are going to be a lot of struggles.
I think Patrick Robinson, who I’d say looked “fine” this spring, and Mills will be the Week 1 starting corner. Douglas figures to see playing time but he’ll need to stop being so grabby before he locks down a starting role. The slot corner spot is still open with Ron Brooks being unable to participate in spring practices. Aaron Grymes, who had a nice spring, might steal that job away from Brooks.
It remains to be seen if/when Sidney Jones will be ready in 2017. I’d still recommend going into this season not expecting anything from him. He could be a really nice piece by next year at the latest, though.
6 - The Eagles feel really good about their offensive line
Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich said he feels like their second team offensive line could be starters elsewhere in the league. Philadelphia does certainly have a lot of depth there. For now, the starting lineup looks like:
LT - Jason Peters
LG - Isaac Seumalo/Allen Barbre
C - Jason Kelce
RG - Brandon Brooks
RT - Lane Johnson
Only the left guard spot remains to be determined. Seumalo and Barbre have been splitting reps there. Seumalo has also been getting some reps at center, interestingly enough.
I don’t think Johnson is crazy to say the Eagles have one of the best offensive lines in the league assuming this unit stays healthy. This is a nice group. The Eagles have decent depth with the likes of Stefen Wisniewski, Chance Warmack, and Halapoulivaati Vaitai around as well.
7 - The running back rotation will be interesting to watch
I’ll be pretty interested to see how the Eagles split carries this year. LeGarrette Blount figures to get the most of them. Darren Sproles is going to get his playing time. Donnel Pumphrey was a running back in college but the Eagles don’t seem to be restricting him to that role. He’s lined up in the slot, outside, as a kick returner, as a punt returner ... you name it. I’m confident Wendell Smallwood will make the roster. I’m just not sure how much he’ll play.
8 - This year is Zach Ertz’s year (again, again)
Just another offseason where Ertz looked good in spring practices. That means this is his breakout year! Jokes aside, maybe it’s the case. Wentz sure loves throwing to him. The continuity between those two could pay off.
I’m still sticking to my theory where Ertz reverses expectations and plays well at the beginning of the season but slows down towards the end.
9 - Eagles rookies showed some promise
I’ve already talked myself into Derek Barnett: Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate. I can’t get over how impressive the 20-year-old pass rusher has been. He might really catch some people by surprise this season.
Despite his deep coverage struggles, Douglas shined overall this spring. He was very active in breaking up passes and being around the ball. There’s some potential there.
Hollins didn’t drop many passes.
The Eagles seem to be carving out a role for Pumphrey.
Nate Gerry looks good in coverage. Now he just needs to prove he can handle himself as linebacker when the pads go on.
Elijah Qualls only got to practice this week due to the NFL’s graduation rule.
10 - Doug Pederson has some more polish
I think Pederson has subtly shown some growth. He’s not without his awkward moments still, but he generally seems to have a better command at press conferences. I also like the competition system he created this offseason.
Pederson still has a lot to prove. I just think he’s settling in more in Year 2.
11 - Random notes
Here are some miscellaneous notes that didn’t fit into other sections.
A few long shot guys who had nice moments: cornerback Mitchell White, tight end Anthony Denham, wide receiver Marcus Johnson.
Terrence Brooks deserves to be the third safety over Jaylen Watkins.
Bryce Treggs hasn’t looked bad.
Taylor Hart’s transition to offensive tackle isn’t going to save his career.
Rodney McLeod had a good spring but we already know he’s good so it didn’t get as much attention.
Caleb Sturgis is providing no cause for concern.
Cameron Johnston won’t beat out Donnie Jones but he has a good leg.
Billy Brown’s size intrigues me. The former wide receiver is now playing tight end.
Marcus Smith probably practiced with the Eagles for the last time this spring.
My notes from individual practices can be found below. Don't forget that players begin to report for Eagles training camp on July 24.
[May 23] - [May 30] - [June 5] - [June 8]
[June 13] - [June 14] - [June 15]
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