The Philadelphia Eagles just can't stop gushing about Sam Bradford. Earlier this week, offensive coordinator Frank Reich said "it's not an overstatement" to say Bradford has been "off the charts." Prior to the team's last OTA practice on Friday, head coach Doug Pederson heaped even more praise upon his projected starting quarterback for the 2016 season.
"I feel like Sam is doing exactly what I've expected of him and what he's expected to do," said Pederson. "He's having an outstanding offseason right now. These OTAs have been great for him."
Reports of Bradford's performance in spring practices have been mixed. Some, such as myself, have seen a fair share of good and bad moments. So what specifically has stood out to Pederson so far?
"One is leadership," Pederson explained. "The fact that he's embraced that huddle. It's his huddle. He steps in every day when we get ready to compete and he's aggressive with the guys in the huddle and that's great to see from your leader and from your quarterback."
"The way he has anticipated throws, his accuracy on throws, how well he sees the field. He throws a nice ball; a nice, deep ball; Things like that have really made him the guy that I knew he was. Those are things that are exciting, finishing up our off-season and getting ready for camp."
Pederson also likes what he's seen out of the team's other two quarterbacks: veteran backup Chase Daniel and talented rookie Carson Wentz.
"I think Chase is right there as the backup right now and he's pushing and challenging Sam from the aspect of not only on-the-field stuff, but in the classroom, as well," he said.
"And Carson [QB Carson Wentz] is learning. Carson has been doing very well. Each day he's taken a step in the right direction and you know, it's a great room. The room has a lot of great conversation, a lot of great dialogue, bouncing ideas, coming to me with ideas about plays and situations. It's been everything I've expected."
Still, Pederson is clearly committed to Bradford as the starter. When asked for approximately the billionth time this offseason if Bradford is his starter, Pederson confirmed that notion once again.
"I think so," said Pederson when asked if Bradford has separated himself from the team's other quarterbacks. "I think so. I think he's done an outstanding job."
"Again, when you're spreading reps equally, with three guys, that's what you want to see, and I think he's really done a nice job and taken that next step to be the leader of this football team and be the starter, and he's done a good job there."
Bradford is clearly the guy for now. But what if he gets clearly outplayed this summer by Daniel and/or Wentz?
"I'll answer that question when we get there," said Pederson.
Read below for a transcript of Pederson's press conference.
Eagles Injury Update
COACH PEDERSON: Before you guys ask questions, just wanted to update you on a couple guys that haven't been out there injury-wise.
Starting with [LB] Jordan Hicks, coming off a quad spasm. He's been getting treatment and rehab and he'll actually be back out there next week during the mandatory portion of practice. He'll do our warm up and individual [drills]. It’ll be on a limited basis, but you will see him back out there next week.
[WR] Reuben Randle, you know, had the gallbladder surgery and he, too, will be back out there on a limited basis, but you'll see him in the warm-up individual portion of practice and then he’ll be limited in the team-rep portion.
Then the two guys on defense, [CB] Nolan Carroll and [CB] JaCorey Shepherd, both of those guys have been cleared for team activities next week and we'll monitor their progress. They are doing extremely well. They are doing warm up and individual during this Phase 3 portion of practice during the offseason and they will be ready to go next week. So just wanted to update you on those four guys.
What is the consequence from you if Fletcher Cox and/or Darren Sproles don't show up to mandatory minicamp?
COACH PEDERSON: Well, that’s a team issue. I'm not going to get into what we are going to do and things like that, but we'll keep those in-house and make those decisions if need be.
Other than the word ‘mandatory,’ is next week's camp any different from what you guys have done the last couple weeks?
COACH PEDERSON: No, it's actually going to be formatted much like we did in April for the voluntary veteran mini-camp. So we will have a walk-through practice in the morning and then the full practice in the afternoon. So it’s a little different structurally, but it will be the same as what you're seeing now.
You have a bunch of undrafted rookies in here. Have any of those guys stood out to you?
COACH PEDERSON: Yeah, you know, these guys, they are in a unique situation: one, because they are usually running with the third team and not getting a ton of reps. One thing we have tried to do as a staff, is balance out the reps three ways so everybody is kind of getting equal opportunity. We got guys in here that -- we've got some of our young receivers that are beginning to kind of show flashes and signs of potentially either making your roster, or more specifically, making your practice squad roster down the road.
Defensively, there are some defensive linemen in there that have really shown flashes of giving us depth at that position. And you know, it's something that you've got to continue to monitor -- especially once you get into training camp when the reps begin to increase for the three units -- that these guys are getting the time spent on the practice field, No. 1, so that we can evaluate them properly as a staff.
In the practices that we have seen, C/G Stefen Wisniewski has taken most of his snaps at center. Is that the plan for him going forward or do you want to see him more at left guard?
COACH PEDERSON: No. He can play multiple spots and he was brought in to play multiple spots, so we want to expose him not only to guard, but also center. And of course, we've got Isaac [G Isaac Seumalo] sitting there, too, who we drafted and can come in and also play the center position.
But the more position versatility that you have in the offensive line, which I feel like we have right now, just exposes our guys to a bigger and better scenario down the road. Again, you look down the road and injuries are going to happen in the course of the regular season, and to have guys that can play multiple positions is very beneficial.
To follow up on that, do you see Wisniewski competing with C Jason Kelce for the first-team center job?
COACH PEDERSON: I see him probably more as a guard right now, you know, with the opportunity to be a backup center.
He's really done a nice job at both positions. Kelce is definitely a solid, solid center and it would take quite a bit to knock him out of that spot. But yeah, just that position versatility with him and some of the guys that we have has been very beneficial this spring?
Did you feel the need to get on the same page with your coordinators? Last week your coordinators seemed to indicate that the quarterback position was more of a competition than --
COACH PEDERSON: It's still a competition. Listen, I brought guys in here at all positions for competition. That's what makes you better. Iron sharpens iron. Don't misunderstand what we're saying. Competition at every position -- quarterback's not -- I've played the position. [Former Eagles QB] Donovan McNabb was drafted to take over my spot eventually. That's just the nature of the deal.
But competition is great. It helped me as a quarterback. I look at what Sam's done and he's taken this thing and run with it. It's unbelievable what he's done. I'm so excited about the direction he's going, and the stuff that he's doing on the field right now are the things that I expected and what I saw at the end of the season last year from Sam Bradford. And my message has always been, ‘Don't look over your shoulder, look forward,’ and that's what he's done. He's embraced it.
You know, competition is great at all levels. I mean, we’ve got competition at the corner position right now. There are a lot of good corners. We have a lot of great depth. There's competition at the offensive line position.
Just understand that that's part of this business and right now, during the offseason, OTAs and even the first part of training camp, you want to see what guys are made of, and you know, give everybody the best shot to be your Day One starter come September 11.
With mini-camp coming up next week, what do you want to come out of this spring having achieved? Knowing that you have nothing after next week until training camp, what's paramount?
COACH PEDERSON: I think the biggest thing is to just come away healthy, first thing. Just get out of here without any injury. Second thing, is we have put a ton of offense and defense and special teams in, and the retention level of what the players have learned throughout the entire offseason has been very good.
So what they will retain from the end of next week for about six weeks until they return, how much of that will retain? And just the fact that they have come together as a football team: this is a group with a new football staff, a new head coach, a new message and a new direction. The fact that the guys have embraced it. They are challenging each other and that's the thing you see on the football field. They are competing every single day, offense versus defense. But that's what you want to see. You want to see the guys take it as far as they can go and they are embracing that and coming away with a good team unity and those are things you want going into training camp and going into the regular season.
Looking at your running backs -- and I know it's hard to evaluate them without pads -- but what sort of things do you look for at that group right now?
COACH PEDERSON: Just from the mental aspect of things. Blitz pick-up, assignments, they can detail their footwork. Are they hitting the exact hole? Where are their eyes and are they reading the proper down-lineman or linebacker on certain runs? How well are they running routes out of the backfield?
Those are things that you can do now, obviously without pads. Now once we get into pads during training camp, the physical nature of that position really begins to take over. I want to see [TE] Chris Pantale; I want to see if he can not only take blocks on, but if he can become a fullback position for me. I want to see our runners in blitz pick-up. I want to see [RB] Wendell Smallwood and [RB] Kenjon Barner and [RB] Ryan Mathews and Sproles. I want to see these guys pick up linebackers and the physical nature.
But right now, it's about mental assignments, understanding the footwork of not only routes, but runs, and just coming away with that understanding going into camp.
How are Smallwood and Barner doing?
COACH PEDERSON: Doing really well. Kenjon is having a good spring. Really been excited about him and Wendell is picking it up well and having a good spring, also. I like the way he runs routes out of the backfield. He's got great hands and I think it's something that is just a gift that he has and something that we actually saw when we were scouting him this offseason. So I'm excited about the runners and then you mix a Darren Sproles in there and you've got a pretty good group.
What have you seen from WR Jordan Matthews on the outside?
COACH PEDERSON: Jordan, again, he's been good on the outside. He's better inside because he’s got that big body and he knows how to sort of use it in space. One thing that he can do, particularly in tight areas, is separate from man-to-man type coverages. That's one thing we've seen [from him] this spring from the slot position. Again, he’s a position-versatile guy that you can move around.
Our receivers, in this offense, are going to have to know multiple spots. They are going to have to know an outside spot and an inside spot because we move them around so much by formation. I've been excited about him and his work ethic and the way he challenges his room and his guys each and every day out there on the field.
At this point in the offseason what can you see out of Carson Wentz? What is the big challenge that he is facing?
COACH PEDERSON: With Carson, it's about the mental aspect of the game: just understanding, No. 1, our philosophy offensively, and then No. 2, just the offense in general.
He's so smart and sharp that he's really picked it up well. The retention level's there. He still makes a couple of, you know, blunder calls in the huddle from time to time, but he's right on it and can fix it without really being corrected. He kind of knows it once he says it and can fix it.
And then just his athleticism. You've seen that a couple of times in practice with the way he can either scramble or on a particular zone read, one of our RPO-type plays [run-pass option] where he has a chance to run, you're seeing that, and those are the flashes that you want to continue to see with him. It's all part of his growth, all part of the development of him and just understanding our offense.
What do you mean by ‘blunder calls?’ Is that just using incorrect terminology?
COACH PEDERSON: Yeah, like his processes -- our offense is very wordy and there are some play calls that can get real long and he might get, for instance, a term flipped or might get it out of order in the way we want him to call in the huddle, and he'll stop and fix it, because he knows it in his mind, but as a quarterback, if you don't repeat it over and over and over, sometimes it comes out a little bit backwards. But then he stops, he fixes it and we move on.
Is that a rookie thing or does everybody struggle?
COACH PEDERSON: Everybody will struggle because it's new terminology for everybody. All the quarterbacks will have their moments with that, even Chase, who has been in the system for three years. He's going to miss a call or he's not going to hear something in the headset because we are using the communicators in practice so there's something that can be missed. It's just part of the growth process and after a while, just settles in and becomes second nature.
Getting back to the receivers, what have been your impressions of WR Chris Givens?
COACH PEDERSON: Chris has been one of those guys that added depth at the spot. I like his speed and athleticism. He's a veteran player who obviously has played in several games and has that experience there. But has really done a nice job in these nine OTAs with today being the 10th one, but I feel like he's a guy that's really going to help us down the road. With his continued growth in the offense, just expanding his role a little bit and he's a guy that you can really move around and utilize his speed in different aspects of your offense.
Offensive coordinator Frank Reich has been calling plays in practice. Will you do that through training camp and through the season?
COACH PEDERSON: Yeah, it's hard for me to call plays because you're trying to watch practice both offensively and defensively and special teams. So right now, it's good that he can actually use that communicator so the quarterbacks can hear his voice in their helmets and we'll continue that through training camp.
You will be the only voice in their helmet at game time, correct?
COACH PEDERSON: Yes, and those are some things we have to work out with the head set and equipment and all that, but yeah, there's that possibility that they will be -- they are hearing my voice anyway because I'm continually just talking to them -- I'm standing closest to the huddle. We are still communicating that way. As long as Frank and I are saying the same things, it's just a different tone.
Did you call plays during practice in Kansas City?
COACH PEDERSON: Yes.
What did defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz tell you about CB Leodis McKelvin before you guys signed him? What do you see from him?
COACH PEDERSON: He loved everything about him. Loved everything about him. The way he practices; the way he thinks the game; he's smart. He brings an edge to that position. Brings an aggression to that position. And, you know, needing depth at the time, the availability of a guy like Leodis with his experience really intrigued not only him but myself to go ahead and get another veteran guy in here with a group that's fairly young. So it was kind of a win-win for us to go get a guy of his caliber at corner.