Philadelphia Eagles: Early Rookie Progress Reports

Andrew KulpContributor IJune 3, 2014

Philadelphia Eagles: Early Rookie Progress Reports

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    Jason DeCrow/Associated Press

    The second week of full-squad practices got underway for the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday. Yesterday, we looked at players whose stock is on the rise. Today, we’re checking in with the latest on some big-name rookies.

    As always, there’s a ton of intrigue around the Birds’ draft class. These are some of the first times members of the media get to see how these rookies interact on the field as members of the Eagles, and you know what they say about first impressions.

    Ultimately, what you’re really looking for in these progress reports is that these young players don’t look out of place or aren’t falling too far behind on the depth chart. So far, that doesn’t seem to be the case with anybody really.

    That being said, the Eagles aren’t exactly handing out jobs to these players. Not one rookie is running with the first-string offense or defense at this point, so in that sense, the progress is slow. However, as is often the case at OTAs, there’s a bit of reading between the lines to figure out what’s really going on.

Marcus Smith

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    When Marcus Smith’s name was called in the first round of the draft, it was widely assumed the Eagles were preparing for life after Trent Cole. The two-time Pro Bowler turns 32 this year and is a likely cap casualty in 2015 when, according to Spotrac, his salary is scheduled to rocket north of $11 million.

    Some analysts even had Smith pushing Cole for playing time this season. However, as of the first few weeks of OTAs, the two of them don’t even play the same position. Matt Allibone for CSNPhilly.com reports the rookie outside linebacker has practiced exclusively on the left side of the defense behind Connor Barwin.

    While most expected the Louisville product to challenge the 10-year veteran Cole for playing time on the right side, Smith has so far learned only Barwin’s position, also known as the “Jack” linebacker.

    It is unlikely that Smith will seriously threaten Barwin for the starting spot, but at the very least, playing behind him may help Smith learn the multiple responsibilities that outside linebackers in Billy Davis’ defense need to master.

    It’s an interesting development to say the least, but it makes sense. A converted quarterback, Smith is very raw for a pass-rusher coming out of college, to the point where he could struggle to contribute in that role as a first-year player. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Cole rushed the passer 78 percent of the time on passing plays in ’13.

    However, Smith’s tremendous athleticism can still be put to good use on the left side, where Barwin is more a jack of all trades. PFF’s numbers indicate Barwin dropped into coverage more than any 3-4 outside linebacker in the NFL.

    Brandon Graham’s continued presence on the roster might be forcing Smith to the left side as well, as Graham is not equipped to play that position.

    It’s entirely plausible Smith is viewed as the likely long-term solution for Cole on the right side, but the coaching staff believes he’ll have more opportunities to get on the field this year in the Jack role. It doesn’t hurt for a versatile player like Smith to learn multiple positions, either. Whatever the case exactly, this is not the situation everybody was expecting.

Jordan Matthews

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    Michael Perez/Associated Press

    When the Eagles traded up 12 spots to No. 42 overall for Jordan Matthews, head coach Chip Kelly announced the offense had just found its new slot receiver. As it turns out though, it appears Kelly is going to make the kid work for it.

    Matthews was absent from OTAs last Thursday, so when Brad Smith was running with the first-team offense, we thought nothing of it. When practice resumed on Monday, however, Jeff McLane of The Philadelphia Inquirer reports Smith was still with the ones, while Matthews was bumped down to the twos.

    The rookie has been running with the Eagles' second team behind veteran Brad Smith during organized team activities, but it's really only a matter of time before Matthews either wins the job or it is handed to him.

    The Eagles didn't draft Matthews in the second round for him to sit and watch. However, there will be a learning process and the usual bumps in the road that many receivers - even highly drafted ones - face once they reach the NFL.

    As McLane suggests, there’s probably not a whole lot more going on here other than the coaching staff preferring Matthews to seize the job rather than have it handed to him. If practices continue to go like they did on Monday, that doesn’t sound like it will be a problem.

    Quite a few reporters in addition to McLane noted that Matthews looked very impressive throughout his first full-squad practice. You can count on this rookie being promoted to first team by training camp.

Josh Huff

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    Michael Perez/Associated Press

    While Matthews seems destined for big things in 2014, we can’t necessarily say the same for third-round pick Josh Huff. Of course, the expectations aren’t nearly as high, either. With Matthews and veterans Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper, there’s plenty of competition at wide receiver this season.

    Of course, it’s somewhat surprising to hear Huff really isn’t on the radar at all during these first few full-squad practices. According to Ed Kracz for the Burlington County Times, Huff not only has failed to make any appearances on the first- or second-team offenses during 11-on-11 drills, he hasn’t been running with the third-stringers, either.

    It’s especially odd because Huff has a distinct advantage over quite a few receivers on the roster. He actually played in Chip Kelly’s offense at the University of Oregon.

    The rookie wideout is a virtual lock to make the final 53-man roster, which makes where he falls on the depth chart in May irrelevant. Furthermore, his biggest contributions this season are expected to be made on special teams, either as a return man or on the coverage units.

    Still, there is little in the way of progress to report in Huff’s case, as he’s apparently being forced to start at the bottom of the totem pole. A motivational tactic, perhaps?

Jaylen Watkins

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    Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

    There were plenty of reasons to draft Jaylen Watkins—size, athleticism, football IQ. One of the most prominent qualities, though, was his versatility.

    Watkins played all over the secondary for the University of Florida. Outside cornerback, nickel corner, safety...you name it. So when he wound up in midnight green on draft weekend, there was immediately a question of which position he would play in Philadelphia.

    We have our answer—so far anyway. Dan Klausner for PhiladelphiaEagles.com writes that Watkins has only been asked to play corner since arriving in the NFL:

    Said versatility won’t come into play immediately, however, as he will start his Eagles career as a cornerback.

    “That’s what I’ve been playing my whole life,” Watkins said. “I was recruited to play it at Florida. Initially, that’s what I played the first three years, and even my last year I played a little bit of it. Safety was something that came along just kind of naturally, so I’m still growing at the position.”

    Sheil Kapadia for Philadelphia Magazine mentioned a few weeks back he thought Watkins might even have a shot to compete for a starting job. As Jeff McLane for The Philadelphia Inquirer notes, however, Watkins is currently running with the third-string defense opposite Roc Carmichael. The idea that Watkins, in his rookie year, is going to climb over Carry Williams, Bradley Fletcher or even free-agent addition Nolan Carroll seems like a bit of a stretch at this juncture.

Ed Reynolds

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    Michael Perez/Associated Press

    As was the case last week, safety Ed Reynolds still is not permitted to participate in OTAs. Under league rules, draft picks are ineligible until after the school year has ended, and Stanford’s apparently has not.

    However, as Zach Berman for The Philadelphia Inquirer explains, Reynolds isn’t being left out of the loop. Innovators that they are, the Eagles are finding ways to keep their fifth-round selection up to date on the latest developments as he finishes up his degree.

    "I'll be able to have the playbook with me, so [I'll be] having those mental reps now and also carrying them over when I'm gone," Reynolds said last week. "But all the physical reps, I can do [during rookie minicamp] and get as many as I can. It's muscle memory, doing my assignment, aligning correctly."

    Reynolds still has classes to attend at Stanford. He has arranged with the Eagles coaches to Skype from Palo Alto, Calif., and he will listen to all the Eagles' meetings via podcast. Reynolds also must stay in shape while he's away from the team's regimented program at the NovaCare Complex.

    This additional time away undoubtedly hurts Reynolds’ odds of making an impact on defense in his rookie year. Then again, with the confidence the coaching staff is currently showing in Nate Allen, such an opportunity might not exist anyway.

    That being said, there is clearly no progress to report on Reynolds, because he isn’t even at the NovaCare Complex right now. At least it’s for a good reason.