Prior to the Eagles’ final OTA practice open to the media on Thursday, Doug Pederson was asked about which players have stood out in offseason practices so far. Pederson listed six names in total, including three players Philadelphia selected in the 2017 NFL Draft.
There has been a lot of guys. You talk about our rookies: Rasul Douglas has shown some strides here in the last couple practices and Donnel Pumphrey on offense, being able to move him around a little bit and put him in that kind of Darren Sproles mold, offensively. Derek Barnett, obviously, is going to be a good player for us and is going to be a nice little addition to our defensive line.
The veteran guys, you watch Alshon [Jeffery] in the red zone and his big body presence that we've been able to [use] and his relationship with Carson [Wentz] and guys that have really stood out right there.
With Jason Peters not here, Lane Johnson has been getting reps at left tackle and that has been beneficial for him. Then Big V [Halapoulivaati Vaitai] getting reps at right tackle, so those two guys have really stood out. And then just the impact of having the guys in their second year, offensively and defensively, overall has really been a bright spot for us all spring.
Here’s my quick take on each player based on what I’ve observed in OTAs.
Douglas - The No. 99 overall pick in this year’s draft started OTAs playing first team outside cornerback only when the Eagles used their nickel package. Yesterday, Douglas got first team reps on the outside in Philadelphia’s base defense for the first time. Douglas has had an active spring. He gets his hands on a lot of passes. Given the Eagles’ uncertainty at cornerback, Douglas has a good chance to earn playing time this season. It’s probably a good sign that he was the first player mentioned by Pederson.
Pumphrey - Go back to what Dave Spadaro said about Pumphrey in a column for BGN: “Donnel Pumphery isn’t a running back here. He’s a “move” player. He lines up in the slot. He moves around the formation. He takes some handoffs. The idea is to get Pumphery in space in this offense. I say his rookie year is a learning season behind Darren Sproles.” Spuds isn’t wrong. Pumphrey has been used in the slot quite a bit. When Frank Reich was asked about Pumphrey, the Eagles offensive coordinator mentioned wide receiver qualities when praising the rookie. Something to keep in mind given the possibility of a Jordan Matthews trade. It’s unclear how big of a role Pumphrey will play as a rookie, but he’s clearly caught the attention of the coaching staff.
Barnett - Philadelphia’s first round pick has been very impressive this spring. The 20-year-old edge rusher has had no problems generating “pressure” on a consistent basis. He’s even had success going up against the aforementioned Johnson. Vinny Curry has been lining up with the first team at defensive end but Barnett could steal that job away from the veteran. It’s only June, and I might be getting ahead of myself here, but screw it. I think there’s a pretty decent chance Barnett could be Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Jeffery - Watch this one-handed catch Jeffery made in practice on Thursday. Need I say more? The guy is the real deal. He’s caught virtually everything thrown his way. He’s a huge target. He projects to be a great weapon for Wentz this season. It’s just a matter of Jeffery staying healthy and avoiding suspension.
Johnson - The man who said the Eagles might have the best offensive line in the NFL this year has been taking reps at left tackle with Peters skipping OTAs. He’ll obviously shift back to right tackle if/when Peters shows up for mandatory minicamp next week. But Johnson hasn’t looked bad on the left side by any means. Sure, Barnett beat him a few times, but Johnson also won a number of those battles. He’s looked good for the most part.
Vaitai - Can’t say I’ve noticed a ton of Big V. He jogged off the practice field early yesterday after going down and holding his hip. The feeling here is Vaitai might make a nice swing tackle off the bench but I’m not ready to say he’s a sure-fire starter.
Take Pederson’s impressions for what their worth. Last year at this time, he said Leodis McKelvin (RIP) was one of the most impressive players during spring practices. He wasn’t wrong, but that didn’t turn out to mean much since McKelvin obviously struggled a lot during the regular season. Pederson also praised Jalen Mills last year. The rookie cornerback ended up being higher on the depth chart than originally expected; he beat out 2015 second-round pick Eric Rowe.
Check out Doug Pederson’s entire press conference via the Bleeding Green Nation Facebook page. (Click here or watch below.)
Eagles head coach Doug Pederson speaking now!Posted by Bleeding Green Nation: For Philadelphia Eagles Fans on Thursday, June 8, 2017
Q. You have a lot of running backs that you can move around the formation. Clearly, that's intentional. This is an obvious question, but why is that so important in this offense? (Paul Domowitch)
DOUG PEDERSON: Well, I think with our offense -- and really you look around the league, and a lot of offenses are very versatile with running backs that can do dual roles. Obviously, they can run the ball and carry the ball from the backfield, yet they can [also] give you a match-up problem, possibly, as a receiver. So that's something that I think [is due to] the way the game is evolving and because we've become more of a passing league, as they say, I think now you look for guys that can do dual roles.
Q. Why are you having joint training camp practices with the Dolphins? How did that come about? (Martin Frank)
DOUG PEDERSON: Well, why not? We play them in Week 3 of the preseason. [Miami Dolphins head coach Adam Gase] and I have had a good relationship over the last couple years, and we actually were kind of thinking the same things, along the same lines.
I think it's good at that time of year, in training camp, specifically. [Your team has] been beating on each other for a few weeks, and then you get a chance to practice against somebody else in a controlled environment. It’s good. Then you have an opportunity to play a game a couple days later.
Q. Do you have any interest in signing free agent WR Jeremy Maclin? (Jeff McLane)
DOUG PEDERSON: At this time, no.
Q. How concerned are you with WR Jordan Matthews’ knee issue, and where is he right now physically? (Reuben Frank)
DOUG PEDERSON: Physically he's fine. Again, we're taking this as a one-day-at-a-time approach. We've still got a long way before we play games. He's doing everything in his power, and working with [Eagles director of sports medicine/head athletic trainer Chris] Peduzzi and our docs to get ready. He'll be fine heading into training camp.
Q. What are your thoughts on situation with DE Marcus Smith? I know it's voluntary, but what are your thoughts on him not showing up? (Zach Gelb)
DOUG PEDERSON: That's it. It's voluntary.
Q. Do you expect him here next week? (Ed Kracz)
DOUG PEDERSON: I do. I expect all our players back next week.
Q. Is there any update on how rookie CB Sidney Jones is doing? What is the communication with him while he is out in Seattle?(Zach Berman)
DOUG PEDERSON: Yeah, the communication has been [there] -- and we have to be very specific based on CBA rules -- but he's been doing well. [Next week] will be the first time since rookie mini-camp that we've had a chance to put our eyes back on him. So it will be good to get him back in the building and see where he's at from not only conditioning, but rehab and everything that's going on.
Q. Is his walking boot off now? (Zach Berman)
DOUG PEDERSON: Yes. Yeah.
Q. How about DT Tim Jernigan? He kind of limped off earlier this week. Is he okay? Is he going to practice today? (Ed Kracz)
DOUG PEDERSON: Yeah, he's fine. Just precautionary the last couple days, but he'll be good to go today.
Q. Are there any updates on LB Nigel Bradham and the court cases? (Jimmy Kempski)
DOUG PEDERSON: Nothing yet, no. Nothing yet.
Q. Who is paying fullback?
DOUG PEDERSON: Right now, it's just kind of by committee. [TE] Trey Burton has been in there and [T] Dillon Gordon has been in there, which we did last year in the preseason, if you remember. We've got a couple guys. [DT] Beau Allen was in there last year. So we'll see where that goes.
Q. Back to the running backs. Last year looking back at some of the games, you used some different formations and called some plays on fourth-and-2 where QB Carson Wentz kept the ball. How much more flexibility do you have this year with a guy like RB LeGarrette Blount in short-yardage situations? Is that an advantage that you maybe didn't have a year ago? (Rob Kuestner)
DOUG PEDERSON: I think that's one of his strengths, obviously, are those short-yardage, goal-line situations. He's a bigger guy [at] 240-plus pounds. Goal-line situations, as well, I think is [an area] that you can still stay creative -- even with guys like LeGarrette -- you can still stay creative on offense and utilize their strengths, but it does give you a little more of a power running game in those situations.
Q. You have two guys on your roster who have made the transition from college quarterback to wide receiver in David Watford and Greg Ward. What goes into that transition and why do those two guys have the skills to make it? (Dave Zangaro)
DOUG PEDERSON: Well, I think the biggest thing is they're both athletes. Meaning you can kind of line them up anywhere and they can play and they'll be successful. These two guys being former quarterbacks have the mindset, the skill set and the athletic ability to transition into a wide receiver position.
It's kind of like a tight end that can come back in the backfield and be used as a fullback. It's kind of in that same realm.
These guys are smart guys. They're hard workers. They're used to the ball in their hands from being a quarterback to now being a receiver. So they're used to carrying the ball and catching the ball. Both have a dynamic skill set that's been fun to watch this spring.
Q. You have talked about how immediately after the season you looked at your coaching and some of the decisions that you made in your first season. Sort of a self-autopsy. What have you looked at and felt needed to be changed? (Jeff McLane)
DOUG PEDERSON: Well, I don't think a lot has to be changed. I think things can be better. I think you can just improve upon what we've done. One of the things, as coaches, that we look at in the offseason, is how well can we better ourselves from a schematic standpoint and better ourselves from a coaching standpoint? That just comes down to studying our offense and defense, and special teams.
It's no different for me. Even though I'm studying all aspects of our team, specifically offense, [it’s just about] how can I help? How can I help the offensive staff? How can I help Carson and the players be better? Can we improve our scheme? Can we tweak a route here or there? Can we tweak a blocking scheme? Part of the offseason is looking for new ideas and looking for creative ways to put our guys in successful situations. So those are the things that we've been able to do. So from my standpoint, it's just making what we have better.
Q. What about your aggressiveness? What kind of conclusions have you come to? Do you still intend to be as aggressive? (Jeff McLane)
DOUG PEDERSON: Listen, I'm going to be as aggressive as I can, when I can. That’s who I am. You know, without sacrificing the team or putting ourselves in bad situations, we've definitely got to have all the information when you make these decisions, but at the same time, I want to show the aggressiveness, and show the team and the guys that my confidence level is extremely high in the guys to execute a fourth-down play, a short-yardage play, a goal-line play, or whatever it is. So I'm going to maintain that aggressiveness.
Q. Blount has never been a pass receiver out of the backfield in his career. Does that limit how you can use him? Is it something he can develop later in his career? (Reuben Frank)
DOUG PEDERSON: Yeah, he's actually a pretty good pass catcher. When you watch him at practice and in some of the drills that we've put him in, he's pretty smooth. Maybe he doesn't have the numbers and all that, and he hasn’t been used that way, but I'm very comfortable putting him in situations where we can throw him the ball.
Q. There are a lot of new bodies at wide receiver this year. How do you see the chemistry with them and Wentz sort of developing? (John McMullen)
DOUG PEDERSON: It's been one of the bright spots of the spring, quite honestly, to see these guys. To see Alshon [Jeffery] come in here and Torrey [Smith] come in here, to work with the young players. To get Nelson [Agholor] and the progression of where Nelson's at, and DGB [Dorial Green-Beckham], it's all sort of collectively coming together. These guys are rallying around each other in practice; they're encouraging each other in practice; they're challenging each other in practice. It's fun to see.
The ones that are working with Carson are obviously working out some timing and details in the routes, and that's what this spring and this next week is about. So it's been a real bright spot for us this spring.
Q. When you talked about Jordan Matthews last week, you mentioned the knee tendinitis and classified it as precautionary. He's out again this week. Is that injury a little more serious than you thought a week ago? If this was the regular season, would he be practicing now? (Jimmy Kempski)
DOUG PEDERSON: If this was the regular season, Jordan would be fine. He'd be able to go. It's just we're not playing games [right now]. I understand what Jordan can do and his impact to the team and his relationship with Carson. I get all that. But listen, I want our guys healthy for July and August, and obviously, September. So I'm not concerned with Jordan and where he's at. Just can't wait to get him back out there.
Q. Does he have a chance to practice next week? (Reuben Frank)
DOUG PEDERSON: There is a chance. We've got to see where he's at. Again, he's day-to-day with that. Just understand that I don't want to push anybody or rush anybody back out there.
Q. How has rookie Nathan Gerry been doing in transitioning from safety linebacker? (Martin Frank)
DOUG PEDERSON: Really good. Really good. He's a smart kid. It's definitely a different role for him. He is comfortable, however, around the line of scrimmage because he's played down as a safety. Now he's playing more in the box and there is a lot more happening there from a linebacker's position.
But he's done a good job. He's a hard worker; he's smart; he's instinctive. You know, it will be interesting to put the pads on in July and August and see, physically, where he's at.
Q. Do you expect to have LB Joe Walker back for training camp? (Martin Frank)
DOUG PEDERSON: Yeah. We expect to. Again, he's another one, much like Jordan, where I just don't want to rush these guys out there. But we expect him in camp to be ready to go.
Q. You said you're not interested in signing WR Jeremy Maclin right now. Why not? (Dave Zangaro)
DOUG PEDERSON: Why not?
Q. Yeah, why not? (Dave Zangaro)
DOUG PEDERSON: Love the guys that we have. We're always constantly looking and obviously trying to better our roster at every position, but at this time, I'm very pleased with what we're working with and what we have. We have some young talent that's playing extremely well.
So going forward next week and on into camp, what I'm trying to see is where our young guys are and how well they can handle the workload with what we're trying to do offensively and in our passing game.