Philadelphia Eagles: 5 Players Whose Stock Is on the Rise After OTAs
The Philadelphia Eagles’ offseason program ramped up another level last week, as full-squad practices got underway during OTAs. Slowly but surely, the Birds continue their preparations for training camp.
Members of the media were invited to watch practice on Thursday, providing our first real glimpse into the club’s progress on the football field since the 2013 campaign wrapped. And based on some of the initial reports emanating from the NovaCare Complex, a handful of players’ stocks are already on the rise.
Now, it should be noted that these are the earliest observations of a process that’s still in its infancy. I believe it’s a tad disingenuous to suggest anybody’s “stock” is seriously “on the rise” after a few measly practices in shorts and T-shirts.
Nobody is winning or has even taken the lead in any roster battles. If there is truly an open competition at a position, nothing decisive is going to happen until training camp—regardless of how the depth chart reads today.
That being said, it pays to start out on top. Positive practice reports never hurt anybody, either. So, with all that being said, here’s the latest analysis on the good work at OTAs.
It was only a few months ago when we weren’t even sure Nate Allen would be back in midnight green. The Eagles allowed the fifth-year safety to test free agency despite starting all 16 games at safety for them in ’13.
Once Allen finally did re-sign, it was a one-year deal with no promises of keeping the starting job. He would have to battle it out in training camp against Earl Wolff, the previous year’s fifth-round pick.
Despite the tepid endorsement, Allen remains the starter—for now. Prior to practice, Zach Berman of the Philadelphia Inquirer got head coach Chip Kelly to confirm Allen is currently running with the ones in practice.
“Nate's the first guy up,” coach Chip Kelly said Thursday. “And Earl is in running with the second group right now. And both have done a great job in the offseason program. We're excited to see those guys play it out.”
Obviously, the key words there are “play it out,” as in this summer during training camp. I wouldn’t go so far as to call Allen the front-runner or anything like that quite yet.
He could be tough to unseat, though. Despite being labeled a second-round bust, Allen improved gradually last season as defensive coordinator Bill Davis restored stability to the entire unit. By the end, he was competent, consistent—solid even.
Allen finished ’13 with a career-high 82 tackles to go along with one sack, one interception and one forced fumble. If that’s his ceiling, the Eagles could probably stand to upgrade.
Clearly, the franchise isn’t convinced that player is on the roster…yet.
Perhaps no NFL quarterback needed a change of scenery more than Mark Sanchez. So when the New York Jets finally released their former fifth overall draft pick after five fruitless seasons, the Eagles wasted little time.
Based on Don Banks’ feature piece for SportsIllustrated.com, Sanchez couldn’t be more thrilled for the opportunity. Not only does he join the league’s No. 2 offense from a season ago—he enters OTAs as No. 2 on the depth chart.
But in reality, it would seem that order already has been reversed on the depth chart, with a re-energized Sanchez, the former Jets' starter and erstwhile savior, taking most of the second-team snaps in the team drills. [Matt] Barkley, who has what was thought to be the key edge in experience in Chip Kelly's style of fast-break football, was working mainly with the third team, just as he did during his rookie season of 2013, behind starter Nick Foles and backup Michael Vick.
Many assumed Sanchez was signed to serve as the backup to Foles, but Kelly assured reporters there will be a competition with fellow USC product Barkley. As Banks notes, though, Sanchez holds a distinct experience advantage.
Some would argue Sanchez’s experience—a career 71.1 passer rating—is why the Eagles should’ve steered clear. However, Sanchez was never surrounded by much talent on offense in New York. That won’t be the case here.
Sanchez deserves a fresh start, and he sounds downright giddy about getting one in Philly. Don’t rule out Barkley winning the job quite yet, but the Eagles certainly dropped a huge road block in his path.
In the three seasons since the Eagles used a fourth-round pick on Alex Henery, two separate coaching staffs have entrusted him to attempt a grand total of five field goals of 50 yards or more. In 2013 alone, 17 NFL kickers tried at least that many.
So when the team signed Carey Spear, an undrafted free agent out of Vanderbilt, fans rejoiced. I mean, who doesn’t want the dude known as “Murderleg” to win this competition, right?
Well, it sure sounds like Kelly won’t have to think twice about those long field goals anymore. Eliot Shorr-Parks for NJ.com noted Spear looked impressive on three-point attempts and kickoffs alike.
Kicking off to the side as the Eagles' offense and defense participated in 11-on-11 drills, Spear showed the leg strength that led to his fame. He drilled field goals from 40 yards and beyond, with plenty of room to spare. When the team practiced kickoffs, Spear put the ball into the end zone.
"I'll kick whenever they send me out there," said Carey, who said his range is 66 yards.
Sixty-six yards? Henery couldn’t even knock down a 48-yarder in Philadelphia’s 26-24 first-round playoff loss to the New Orleans Saints. We can all count. Those points would’ve helped.
Comparing field-goal accuracy from college to the pros can be tricky, because the hash marks are narrower in the NFL, which makes kicking easier. Spear is already statistically better than Henery on kickoffs, though, by a wide margin. Spear nailed touchbacks on 64.6 percent of his kicks in ‘13 compared to 41.1 for Henery.
The buzz on Murderleg is real. Sounds like the Eagles will have a real NFL kicker this season.
As it turned out, rookie wide receiver Jordan Matthews was not at OTAs on Thursday. Relax—Tim McManus for Philadelphia Magazine explained Matthews was at an NFL Players Association event.
However, Matthews’ absence meant somebody else would have to line up with the first-team offense in three wide receiver sets. As a result, we learned something about the depth chart.
Smith is currently battling it out with a whole host of players for the fifth and likely final receiver spot on the 53-man roster.
In all honesty, Smith may make the most sense. Entering his ninth NFL season, the former signal-caller for the University of Missouri has carved out a niche in NFL offenses as a receiver/Wildcat specialist. He also can contribute on special teams, either as a return man or on the coverage team—an absolute must for a WR5.
Plus, Kelly likes him. The mastermind head coach worked Smith into his offense immediately as both a wideout and in a handful of gimmick plays.
Fans are high on options like Arrelious Benn and Ifeanyi Momah, but those guys might be all sizzle and no steak. Smith doesn’t have as much potential, but when you get down to that level of the roster, it’s about practicality.
Many questioned the Eagles targeting exiled New Orleans Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins over the more decorated and expensive Jairus Byrd or T.J. Ward in free agency. But while his peers are in the news for the wrong reasons these days, Jenkins is drawing rave reviews at OTAs.
In particular, it’s his leadership that’s been getting Jenkins noticed so far. Geoff Mosher for CSNPhilly.com spoke to second-year safety Earl Wolff, who talked about what an influence the newcomer has been already in the secondary.
He’s making me a better player. I meet with him every morning at 7:30 in the morning before everybody gets here. I work out with him in the weight room. His work ethic is crazy. He deserves everything he has. I just met the guy. I just think he can elevate my game as well as elevate the guys around him.
Jenkins is no slouch on the field, either. He started at safety for a Super Bowl championship in ’09, not to mention in the league’s No. 2 pass defense just last season. It doesn’t necessarily show up in the numbers, but the guy is a solid contributor.
As for Byrd and Ward, neither situation is expected to result in missed time this season. That being said, back surgery isn’t a promising start for Byrd after the Saints awarded him $26 million guaranteed, and Ward could not have endeared himself to the Denver Broncos organization with his recent legal troubles.
The truth is Jenkins was a better scheme fit for Philadelphia than Ward, while Byrd’s injury issues are nothing new. Regardless, countless articles are painting Jenkins out to be nothing less than a breath of fresh air at the safety position for the Eagles. His competitors are stepping on landmines.