It's believed the Philadelphia Eagles will have one of the top safety tandems in the NFL this year. Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod combine to form a talented duo on the back end. But while the Birds might be set at safety, there are still question marks in the secondary when it comes to the cornerback position. Who will be the two starters on the outside? Who will work in the slot?
Now that the Eagles' spring practices are over, it's clear the team has one starter in mind on the outside: Leodis McKelvin. The veteran cornerback looked very good during workouts. He recorded a number of pass breakups and interceptions. Doug Pederson praised the former first round pick prior to the team's last minicamp practice.
"Leodis has probably been the guy that's really stood out the most to me," Pederson said. "He's a guy that it seems like he's making plays quite a bit, knocking PBUs and getting his hands on balls and doing the things that you expect from a veteran corner. He’s a smart guy, very athletic and [we’re] excited for the upcoming season with him."
Another player who has stood out at cornerback is Jalen Mills. Many draft "experts" considered Mills to be a steal for the Eagles in the seventh round. After watching Mills in practice, it's easy to see why. Like McKelvin, Mills has been actively making plays on the ball. The rookie has taken some first team reps at outside cornerback this spring.
When asked about which rookies (other than Carson Wentz) have impressed Pederson the most so far, Mills was the first name mentioned by Philadelphia's head coach.
"You know what, I love his competitiveness," Pederson said. "I love the aggression that he has playing that position and he doesn't back down from any of our veteran receivers or tight ends or any of the guys that you normally might see on a normal basis might do that."
"He's challenging guys. He's got great quickness and transition in and out of breaks; smart kid; eager to learn. Those are things that really have stood out with me."
McKelvin and Mills are off to a nice start, but the depth chart is obviously far from finalized at this point given that training camp is still over a month away. Nolan Carroll and Eric Rowe are also working with the first team. Denzel Rice made some plays in the spring as well.
The Eagles don't have star power at cornerback, but they do have a healthy competition that could bring out the best of their options.
Read below for a transcript of Pederson's Thursday press conference.
Q. What's your message to these guys as they head out these next six weeks?
COACH PEDERSON: Obviously, I won't divulge everything I said to them, but really just kind of in a nutshell, it’s just to get away, enjoy their families, enjoy the time off, kind of rejuvenate the batteries a little bit, recharge and come ready for a tough, physical training camp.
Q. Having gone through your first OTAs and mini-camp as a head coach, while also dealing with the minor distractions such as the absence of QB Sam Bradford, DT Fletcher Cox and RB Darren Sproles for portions of the offseason program, how would you assess how you got through all that?
COACH PEDERSON: One day at a time, honestly. I didn't necessarily worry myself too much about those situations. Again, it goes back to just the way the offseason is set up and the fact that the entire program, outside of these last four days, is a voluntary program, and I just can't -- I've got to worry about the guys that are here during those times, and focus on those guys. I think at the end of the day, we're just very fortunate that everybody is here this week and getting through this offseason and getting ready for camp.
Q. What do you know about the team that you didn't know before this process began?
COACH PEDERSON: It's a very smart football team; meaning they have picked up the schemes extremely well. This is a group that also has some tremendous leaders on the football team, guys that I've seen sort of from afar kind of taking charge at their position groups. Another thing is they have bought into the things that I've talked to them about, and that's encouraging. The [idea] that I can trust them and they can trust me and that's the bottom line in this deal. You know, we come to work every day ready to go, and looking forward to camp.
Q. Among the rookies, both drafted and undrafted, has anyone in particular stood out aside from QB Carson Wentz?
COACH PEDERSON: You know, the thing with -- and the reason I hesitate [to answer] is [when] I think of rookies, when these guys come in here, they don't need to necessarily prove themselves and that's kind of been my message to them: that they are learning. I think of guys like [CB] Jalen Mills and [S] Blake Countess in the back end. I think of -- I wish Isaac [G Isaac Seumalo] could have been here the entire spring. I think more about him probably than I do the guys that are here. I like what I've seen from [RB] Wendell Smallwood, [a] draft pick. Some of the young receivers have put themselves in a position to not only compete for roster spots, but just to show, not only us -- And my message, too, to these guys, to the young players, is that special teams becomes a big part of their success, especially early on in their careers and how they can make a roster on special teams. And [also] the fact that they are not only auditioning for our team, but there are 31 other teams that they audition for. These guys have done a great job. They still have a couple of weeks left to work, but they have done a good job.
Q. You mentioned special teams. Where do things stand between K Caleb Sturgis and K Cody Parkey?
COACH PEDERSON: Again, that's a great battle going on right there. We know Cody is coming off the injury from last year and he's still working himself back into shape, so to speak. But it's going to be a great competition going into camp. You know, not making any decisions today on that spot, but I like what I've seen out of both of them.
Q. The fact that CB Nolan Carroll was able to participate in the team drills yesterday, how much of a confidence boost do you think that is for him knowing that he's pretty much all the way back heading into training camp?
COACH PEDERSON: Yeah, it's a tremendous boost for him mentally. It's great to see him back out there and compete and get a few reps on the field. For him, more than anything, it's just the confidence level now of just being out there and trusting the injury and pushing it to the fullest. It’s great to see him back in that role.
Q. TE Brent Celek is entering his 10th season as a player. He was a fifth-round pick from the University of Cincinnati and he has now played in Philadelphia under various coaches and with various quarterbacks, and he's still here. Can you speak as someone who has been around the league as long as you have about the accomplishment of that? For being around him, what has made him so effective?
COACH PEDERSON: Yeah, the biggest thing with Brent is he's basically a pro's pro. That guy comes to work every day. He's a sharp kid. He knows how to get himself physically ready for the next season. A tough kid. Smart. He has battled through his injury streak, as well, through the course of his years. But [he’s] a guy that when I was here before, was really someone you can trust on offense and really kind of put a load on him at the tight end position. He's learned the position. He's learned how to run routes, compete, [beat] man coverage [and] zone coverage. He's very smart and it just comes with experience. It comes with playing a ton of games, and [he’s a guy that I look forward to counting on this season.
Q. How far behind is Seumalo right now and how long will it take him to catch up once you start training camp?
COACH PEDERSON: One of the things that we can do in the offseason this time of year with our young players that aren't here, is we can Skype with them. So Coach Stoutland [offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland] has had the opportunity to Skype and spend a lot of time [talking to him]. Plus with the iCloud and things now, [Seumalo] is able to watch some practice tape and look at some things that way and go over some of the detail stuff.
The biggest thing, is just missing the reps; and physically being out there on the field. It's one thing to do it in the classroom; it's another thing to take it to the field and execute the same thing when bodies are flying around. So that part's valuable and obviously, he's missed that. But he’s a sharp kid. I don't think he's going to have any trouble once he gets into rookie camp to really show us what he can do.
Q. Where will you have Seumalo working when he does get here?
COACH PEDERSON: Left guard.
Q. What's your opinion on the college graduation rule for players like Seumalo who have to stay at school in the spring? Should that be changed?
COACH PEDERSON: Funny, because I was just thinking about that this morning. I guess my feeling on it is these guys, once their college football season is over, whatever their academic status is at the time, most of them are training for the Combine and pro days, and are probably not in school at the time that they declared for the NFL Draft. And I think it's something -- it's an ongoing discussion obviously with the NFLPA and the league. I wish we could have him here, but we've got to abide by the rules and we'll coach him up as fast as we can.
Q. Bradford said that he gained a lot of respect for you because of the way you handled his offseason situation. What does that mean coming from the starting quarterback in terms of building that relationship?
COACH PEDERSON: It means that -- and this goes, it's a two-way street -- the trust factor is there, and that's what you want to see with your starting quarterback. With a guy that has said that [he] took some time away to evaluate the situation and then to come back and go, ‘Hey, you know what? Maybe it's okay. Maybe we're going to be all right.’
For him to do that and then to come back and to trust me that way -- Because one of the things that I've told you guys and I've told the team, even from day one, is to be open and to be transparent. I'm going to do that with any player and let them know where they stand and where I stand on issues. It's great that he has done as well as he's done and he's put himself in a great position now going into training camp.
Q. You have been around this team since early April, you have things rolling and now you have to shut it down for six or seven weeks. Would you prefer to keep going or are you happy with this break coming up?
COACH PEDERSON: I like the break, too. We spend a lot of hours here as coaches in the offseason, and really this spring, putting our philosophy together and putting our plan offensively, defensively and special teams together. Then you get to this time of the year and it's time to spend these next couple of weeks with your family and again, get away from it, get away from the players, recharge the batteries and come back fresh and ready to go on July 24.
Q. As far as training camp, what's the benefit of having the rookies, the quarterbacks and selected veterans report here three days early?
COACH PEDERSON: The benefit, particularly for the quarterbacks, it gets them lathered up for three days going into camp. For us as coaches, the benefit is we're back into football mode. You're off for six weeks and your mind kind of gets away from football, and this really gives us as coaches a chance to kind of dive back into the X's and O's of it, and our minds and bodies are fresh when the vets report.
And then it's a chance to really focus one-on-one with the young players, give them another three days to learn the offense and to coach them specifically, because as you know, once the vets get here, their reps decrease just a little bit and they don't get as much time. So it's good from that standpoint.
Q. How can you fix the drops? There were a lot last season -- and I know you weren't here for that -- but the receivers talked about they have to be better. What can you do as a coach to get them in better position to make those catches and finish those plays?
COACH PEDERSON: The biggest thing – Really it's an individual thing that they can continue to work on. But if I don't help them in a way of -- I set JUGS machines up and tennis ball machines up after practice, where I make all the skill guys -- receivers, tight ends, DBs, running backs, [linebackers] and anybody that's going to touch the football – go over and catch off the JUGS. And it’s not just standing in front of the machine, that's the easy one. Make the tough catch and just focus on that and just do it day-in and day-out. We'll continue that through training camp.
I think you just have to continue to make a conscious effort of that. You go through a season where you're going to have drops, obviously, and there's peaks and there's valleys, and you try to minimize all that. But the more we can expose them to touches, will eliminate the drops.
Q. When you have had to go to Wentz and correct him on something, whether it be footwork or a read, what kind of response has he had to constructive criticism?
COACH PEDERSON: Oh, he's been like a sponge that way. He really does want to learn. One thing with Carson, is he's seeing the field extremely well. He's doing things out there that you might not see while watching practice, that we see while watching practice, from a communication standpoint with the offensive line: protections, subtle changes with routes, things that he sees that most people won't and most young quarterbacks don't at this [point] with where we are in the offseason.
But he's absorbing everything. He's learning. He wants to get better. Those are the things. And when you talk to him, he listens and makes the correction the next time he's out there.
Q. You have a while before you have to put together the 53-man roster, but while you’re watching the practices in the spring, do you start to formulate it in your mind a little bit?
COACH PEDERSON: I think you have an idea in the offseason. You obviously know what you had coming back from last year, and of course your roster makeup and chemistry changes every year. It's a new team, regardless of the new coaching staff or not. Next year we will be a new team, as well. Yeah, you begin to kind of go, ‘Okay, pencil in guys here and there,’ and try to figure that out.
And that's the beauty of, I think, having 90 guys in camp, is the fact that you get to see the competition at every position and at every level, to really make the best [decision]. And we're deep at a lot of spots. Offensive line is one that's extremely deep and it's going to be tough to make some decisions there, but that's the beauty of what we have, is being able to see these guys compete and play on a daily basis and then formulate those opinions as we go.
Q. As far as numbers go, do you have kind of a set idea of X amount of defensive backs, X amount of offensive linemen, etc.?
COACH PEDERSON: You have a rough idea, and Howie [Executive Vice President of Football Operations Howie Roseman] and I continue to meet on those. And again, as you know, once you get to the regular season and the way games are played, you want to make sure you're covered in all areas. But you go in having a general idea of how many you want at each spot.
Q. What have you learned about how far along Wentz is on a development scale in terms of what it takes to be a competent NFL quarterback? What have you been able to gauge since working with him?
COACH PEDERSON: He's right on track where he needs to be. We get into camp now. And his maturity -- the thing is, too, from today until when they report in July, is how much retention that these players will keep. He's one that's going to continue to study the entire six weeks. He's not taking this time off. He's going to continue to learn and grow with the system. But he's definitely in a good position going forward so that when he comes back, there shouldn't be any glitches with him executing, calling and running the offense.
Q. How frequently do you and Roseman meet, and what has the communication been like with the front office?
COACH PEDERSON: The communication has been great. We talk every single day. He and I are still constantly going to talk. We've set up opportunities in the next couple of weeks to still visit and communicate on the team and what we're doing there. The communication, I've been very pleased and very happy with where we're at and with working with the personnel department.
Q. When Seumalo finally comes in here for training camp, do you think he'll be the primary guy competing with G/T Allen Barbre for the starting left guard position?
COACH PEDERSON: I wouldn't say he'd be the primary guy, because we've got several guys. [C/G Stefan] Wisniewski is in that group. There are several guys that we can roll. And one thing about Allen Barbre, too, is he's a guy that can also play tackle for you and he can be a swing guy. That's the beauty of where we are now with the offensive line, is the fact that we have some guys that can play some multiple spots. But just getting him enough reps at all those positions will be the key in training camp.
Q. The quarterbacks, receivers and tight ends, a lot of them said they were going to get together over this break and work out and train together to have a better relationship as they are all learning. How beneficial do you think that is for these guys to go outside the program on their off time and get together and work out?
COACH PEDERSON: I think it's great. It's that bond you want with your team. You want your leaders to spend time together. You want the guys that are going to go to battle every Sunday to be together. I think it just builds that chemistry and that bond between the players, and it's great to see. It's great to see that your team is coming together that way and they are wanting to do that outside of me sort of making them or forcing them to do it, which I would never do. But it's great to see that from your own players.