Philadelphia Eagles OTAs: Latest Player Reports and Analysis
We’re into one of the quietest periods of the year in the NFL, but it’s not quite a dark period. The Philadelphia Eagles and 31 other teams are in the middle of organized team activities. While that doesn’t involve much football, players are at the facilities, working out and receiving instruction.
In all honesty, there aren’t a great many stories of interest as players prepare for training camp and the regular season. However, there is always going to be some buzz around the Birds. Here’s a glimpse into a few of the latest reports surrounding Eagles veterans as they continue to ready for the grind ahead.
Is LeSean McCoy Better Than Adrian Peterson?
LeSean McCoy is the reigning NFL rushing champion. He was named first-team All-Pro at running back for the second time in three seasons. But is he the best ball-carrier in the league?
If you ask Shady, the answer—not surprisingly—is an unabashed “yes.” In an interview on ESPN’s First Take, McCoy stated his case as to why he is better than Peterson, the 2012 league MVP.
"My brother always rips me all the time, trying to make me play harder. I say, 'I'm the best,' and he'll say, 'Did Adrian Peterson retire?' I look at the last three years and everything. I think AP has been the best back for so long, and he's been doing it for so long, that's why he automatically gets the best running back [title]," McCoy said.
"But the last three years? I've been All-Pro, first-team, twice. I never leave the field. I block. I catch. I never leave the field. I don't have anybody do my job; I do it myself. Tons of credit goes out to Adrian Peterson. I'm a big fan of his, for sure. But I feel I'm the best."
Peterson took the comments in stride in an interview with Jay Mohr on Fox Sports Radio, but claimed McCoy was only kidding.
“He didn’t really mean it. If you watched his response (he didn’t mean it). I’ve got to give the young guy credit because there is nothing wrong having confidence in yourself. But, you’ve got to speak with more truth. He’s a heck of a running back and I like his style, so I won’t get on him too much.”
McCoy actually might have a point. There hasn’t been a more complete back in the league over the past three seasons. He led the league in rushing and yards from scrimmage in 2013. In 2011, Shady finished No. 1 in rushing touchdowns. He blocks. He catches the ball out of the backfield. He does it all.
Yet, is there a better pure runner than Peterson? It was only one short year ago he ran for over 2,000 yards in a season and averaged an astounding 6.0 yards per carry—coming of a torn ACL no less. It was one of the great individual efforts in NFL history.
My take on this manufactured controversy: It’s hard to compare backs like McCoy and Peterson. Whichever order you want to put them in, though, they’re probably 1a and 1b.
Lane Johnson Ready to Take Next Step?
Lane Johnson experienced his share of welcome to the NFL moments as a rookie, particularly early on. By the end of the season, though, it was easy to forget that the Eagles had a first-year player at right tackle. That’s about the best compliment you can pay an offensive lineman.
Now, Johnson is looking to build on his strong rookie campaign and live up to his billing as the fourth overall draft pick in 2013. According to Les Bowen for the Philadelphia Daily News, Johnson used the offseason to rest up…and to bulk up.
"I know I have the talent to one day be a Pro Bowl player," Johnson said. "That's my goal. I have a lot more confidence this year."
Other than rest, Johnson felt he needed to come out of the offseason with more upper-body strength.
"I wanted to come back more developed," he said. He said he gained about 10 pounds over his 6-6 frame, now weighs "close to 320."
It’s always a great sign when a player is self-motivated. The Eagles would be largely content if Johnson could simply carry over his level of play down the stretch last season into 2014. Instead, he’s putting in the work to improve on his own time.
Based on what we saw last season and what Bowen reports here, Johnson could be on the cusp of making a huge leap in year two. That’s really saying something, because the kid was pretty good already. With his attitude, Johnson might just have what it takes to one day achieve greatness.
6’9” Army Ranger Trying to Make the Team
One of the most intriguing stories during a busy offseason chock-full of them for the Eagles was the signing of Alejandro Villanueva. At 6’9”, 277 pounds, Villanueva is an absolutely massive man battling for a roster spot at defensive end.
Yet that’s not what makes Villanueva’s story so compelling. The fact that he is a decorated Army Ranger who completed three tours in Afghanistan is the amazing part. Ashley Fox for ESPN.com wrote an amazing in-depth piece on the serviceman-turned-football-player’s journey from war zones to the NFL.
Almost three years later on the other side of the world, the 6-foot-9, 277-pound Villanueva signed a one-year contract with the Philadelphia Eagles, who envision him as a defensive end in coordinator Bill Davis' 3-4 scheme. Villanueva is a military man first, but he is chasing his dream of playing in the National Football League by using leave time from the Army.
Villanueva is a mountain of a man, chiseled from his time as a member of the elite Army Rangers, with whom he served in two of his three tours in Afghanistan. He played four seasons at West Point, becoming the team's leading receiver as a senior.
Chip Kelly also talked about what the Eagles saw when they signed Villanueva to a free-agent contract in May.
"When you talk the character component with him, being a captain in the Army Rangers and serving in Afghanistan ... I can't tell you how impressed you are with him as a person," Kelly said. "He was a guy that if you're going to take a shot at somebody, then you'd like to have him on your side."
While it’s impossible not to root for Villanueva once you read that story, the reality is that he is a bit of a long shot to make the team. He hasn’t played football since 2009. And as strange as this might sound to some, you wonder if at 6’9” he’s not too big to play end, as smaller offensive lineman will be able to get under his pad level—leverage.
Villanueva doesn’t seem like the type of man who isn’t up for the challenge though. If nothing else, maybe he can earn a spot on the practice squad while he works his way back into the swing of things in the game of football. A year from now, who can say what the Eagles might have.
Eagles Release, Then Re-Sign WR Arrelious Benn
After missing all of the 2013 season with a torn ACL, Arrelious Benn is trying to get his career back on track and earn the fifth wide receiver spot on the Eagles’ roster. He’ll still get that opportunity, but based on the team’s recent moves, the writing may already be on the wall.
Benn was actually granted his release in May before being re-signed to a one-year deal a week later. Reuben Frank for CSNPhilly.com explains the financially motivated decision.
The Eagles gave Benn a small pay cut from the $1 million base salary he was due under his previous contract, signed last spring.
When they released him, the Eagles told Benn he was free to try to find a better deal with another team but he would be welcome to re-sign with the Eagles at a lower salary.
The Eagles shipped a sixth-round pick to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in exchange for Benn last offseason, then promptly extended his contract by a year. It seemed the team felt this was a player who might be in their short-term plans.
Unfortunately, Benn has been his own worst enemy. The 25-year-old has caught only four passes over the past two seasons due to injuries. He can’t be relied upon to say the least.
While the team was happy to have him back on their terms, the fact that they were willing to release him and allow him to look for work goes to show there isn’t a lot of confidence there. Don’t be surprised when Benn’s name is on the list of final cuts this summer.
DeSean Jackson Says Eagles Teammates Loved Him
Among the myriad reasons DeSean Jackson was allegedly released by the Eagles this offseason, one rumored issue was that the three-time Pro Bowler was not a team player. If Jackson was an issue in the locker room, at least one person isn’t seeing it—DeSean Jackson.
In a recent appearance with DJ Skee, Jackson defended himself from claims that he was a cancer or bad teammate.
“The funniest thing, man: all this stuff like he’s not a locker room player, he don’t get along with his teammates, the people that really know me, they’re like ‘Man where is all this coming from?’ ” Jackson said. “I had teammates texting me and hitting me up, teammates that’s still on the Eagles right now, like ‘What were they talking about you ain’t a team guy, you don’t get along with people in your locker room?’
“Everybody in the locker room loved me, you feel me?” Jackson went on. “I’m gonna put it on the line just how they gonna put it; I’m gonna put it on the line for them too. So it’s like, I know who my real homies are. The real homies stepped up. My boy LeSean McCoy, one of the best running backs in the NFL, he stepped up, he said some real stuff. But in this league bro, a lot of people are scared and afraid to speak up, because they feel like they’re gonna be the next one cut. They feel like they’re gonna be the next one cut. So the ones that really did step up and speak up, I salute all of them.
At this point, the story is hardly worth revisiting. Right or wrong, for better or worse, Jackson is gone and won’t be returning to Philadelphia. The organization made up its mind, and whatever specifically led the team to release a star player in his prime, they had their reasons.
That being said, there were no doubt some players—like McCoy—who were in Jackson’s corner. By and large, however, most members of the Eagles kept their mouths shut in the wake of Jackson’s exodus. Several more offered only half-hearted defenses of No. 10.
Jackson would be best served to do what Eagles fans have been trying to for the past two months, and that’s move on. He’s not rewriting the course of history simply by claiming he was well-liked. Frankly, that was probably beside the point.