July 23, 2017

Full Eagles training camp preview, position-by-position

Eagles NFL
071917EaglesTrainingCamp Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice

Eagles training camp will begin on Monday.

Over the last couple of weeks, we've been previewing each of the Eagles' positional groups, one by one. Here we'll combine them all into one convenience place.

Quarterback

The quarterback depth chart:

Carson Wentz Nick Foles Matt McGloin Dane Evans 

Carson Wentz

Obviously, Wentz is the unquestioned starter heading into 2017, unlike last year when he entered training camp as QB3. Most NFL people see that as an advantage to the quarterback, knowing that he is 'the man,' as long as the player has the temperament to handle it, which Wentz seemingly does.

As for Wentz's skill set, about midway through camp a season ago, it was very clear (to me, anyway) what Wentz's strengths and weaknesses were. Seriously, go read this. Sometimes training camp can provide false reads of players. That was not the case with Wentz. His positive and negative traits were easily identifiable. Everything we saw in camp carried over into the regular season.

In his rookie season in the NFL, Wentz did a lot of encouraging things. He showed arm strength, mobility, toughness, leadership qualities, and smarts. That's a good start. However, one of the most important traits for an NFL quarterback, accuracy, was an issue at times. More specifically, Wentz had a propensity to sail passes over the heads of his receivers.

Throughout OTAs and minicamp, Wentz's tendency to sail passes continued. He has to fix that, and soon.

Nick Foles

The Eagles spent a lot of money on their backup quarterbacks over the last two seasons. Chase Daniel ate up $5 million in cap space in 2016, and he'll count for $6.1 million in dead money in 2017 following the Eagles' decision to release him this offseason. Daniel did have one pass attempt that he completed for 16 yards though, so maybe it was all worth it.

Meanwhile, Foles signed a new two-year deal worth $11 million. That's a lot of money wrapped up in two backup quarterbacks.

While there's certainly a great argument that the Eagles mishandled their backup quarterback situation over the last two years, money-wise, there's little question in my mind that Foles is a significant upgrade over Daniel. While Daniel doesn't have much of a resume in actual games, I did get to see him in training camp every day for a month, and obviously, as everyone saw, his play in the preseason was uninspiring.

Foles' name is now tainted after a bad tenure with a horribly run Rams team, but in my view, he's an excellent backup, and there's an argument to be made that's he's better than a very small handful of quarterbacks that will start Week 1 this year.

Last season with the Chiefs, Foles stepped in for Alex Smith against the Colts and Jaguars. The Chiefs won both games, with Foles providing quality backup play. Here are all of Foles' pass attempts from that game:


There's some good, some bad above, but Foles is clearly a quarterback you can win games with in a pinch. Should the Eagles need him at some point, he'll be in an offense he already knows, and should be able to provide competent QB play.

Matt McGloin

McGloin has appeared in 13 games over his career, all with the Raiders, starting seven. His career record there was 1-6. Here are McGloin's professional and college numbers:

Matt McGloin Comp-Att (Comp %)Yards (YPA) TD-INT Rating 
 Raiders (2013-2016)161-277 (58.1%)1868 (6.74) 11-11 75.3 
 Penn State (2009-2012) 513-894 (57.4%)6390 (7.1) 46-19 130.2 


With Wentz and Foles ahead of him, McGloin will be the Eagles' third quarterback, at best. Around half the teams in the NFL only keep two quarterbacks. The Eagles themselves were one of those teams a season ago, when they only kept Wentz and Daniel after trading Sam Bradford. McGloin is essentially competing against himself and the Eagles depth in general for a roster spot.

Is there a camp battle to watch at QB?

Nah. Obviously, Wentz is the starter, and Dane Evans is a camp arm. If you really, really squint hard enough (or if you're just a Penn State alum), maybe you can see a camp battle (I disagree that it even is one) between Foles and McGloin. Barring some unforeseen amazing play from McGloin in camp, the depth chart is very clearly Wentz-Foles-McGloin-Evans.

Running back

First, here's a look at the running backs likely to make the final 53-man roster:

LeGarrette Blount Darren Sproles Donnel Pumphrey Wendell Smallwood 


Beyond Blount, Sproles, Pumphrey, and Smallwood, 2017 undrafted free agent Corey Clement and 2016 undrafted free agent Byron Marshall will try to prove that they deserve to stick on the roster. And then there's Ryan Mathews, who the team is almost certain to release.

The Eagles have an interesting group of backs. Before they signed the 6'0, 250-pound Blount, their top three backs averaged a height and weight of 5'8, 189:

Player Height Weight 
 Darren Sproles5'6 190 
 Wendell Smallwood5'10 208 
 Donnel Pumphrey5'9 170 
AVERAGE 5'8 189 


Sproles has been a skilled receiver for the entirety of his career in the NFL. His value is in creating mismatches against opposing defenses, and obviously, on special teams. Pumphrey and Smallwood both showed glimpses of receiving ability in college as well as offseason practices, but they will have to prove that they can be effective that way in games. They will also have to show that they can be trusted in pass protection.

Blount, meanwhile, gives the Eagles the bruising back element that they would otherwise be missing. He was especially good last season in third- and fourth-and short situations, which is an area where the Eagles' offense struggled last season. Blount could also have added importance to this team that he may not elsewhere because of Doug Pederson's penchant for gambling on fourth down.

Pederson would prefer a three-down back who can run inside, run outside, catch, and pass protect. He doesn't have that, and running back may once again be an offseason need after the 2017 season. 

Still, this group can be unspectacular but effective if the Eagles can find the right balance. The trick for the Eagles' offensive coaching staff will be finding a way to utilize all the strengths of their backs, while not being predictable in calling plays. That's easier said than done.

Training camp could reveal hints as to how the Eagles intend on using their diverse committee of backs.

Wide receiver

First, a look at the wide receivers likely to make the final 53-man roster:

 5
Alshon Jeffery Torrey Smith Jordan Matthews Nelson Agholor Mack Hollins 


In 2015 and 2016, the Eagles had one of the worst wide receiver corps in the NFL, if not 
the worst. They most definitely improved that unit with the free agent acquisitions of Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith, but they are certainly not among the "top (fill in the blank of whatever your Eagles fan friend has unrealistically ranked them)" in the league, as we mentioned in our Eagles dumpster fire piece earlier this offseason.

• Jeffery is very talented and has put up big numbers in the past, but he also comes with some injury and suspension concerns. That said, Jeffery looked like the real deal during OTAs and minicamp, where he was easily the Eagles' best receiver.

• After a promising start to his career in Baltimore, Smith was very bad with the 49ers the last two seasons. He has to prove he's closer to the player he was with the Ravens than the one he was in San Francisco.

• Jordan Matthews is a nice slot receiver, but that appears to be his ceiling.

• Nelson Agholor's first two seasons in the NFL were atrocious, but after a decent (and I stress decent) spring, people are putting him in the Hall of Fame. Agholor suddenly being good is wholly unrealistic. We'll see.

• Hollins should contribute immediately on special teams. To be determined if he can make any kind of impact early in the regular offense.

Beyond those five receivers, I would order the rest of the group competing for a job like so:

  1. Marcus Johnson: The team liked him last year, but he got injured during camp, which cost him a roster spot.
  2. Shelton Gibson: Very poor performance during OTAs and minicamp, but as a fifth-round pick, he'll get every opportunity to climb out of the hole he dug.
  3. Greg Ward: College quarterback who has looked comfortable making the transition back to receiver, where he played early in his career at the University of Houston.
  4. Bryce Treggs: Had one really nice day during minicamp, but he'll have to have a lot more of those to make the club.
  5. Paul Turner: Good hands, but size and athletic limitations will always haunt him.
  6. David Watford: Former college quarterback who managed to stick on the practice squad last year, but struggled during the spring.

If we're looking at the Eagles' top 5 receivers this year vs. last year, it looks like the chart below:

 Eagles WRs
 2016Jordan Matthews Nelson Agholor Dorial Green-Beckham Josh Huff Bryce Treggs 
 2017 Alshon JefferyTorrey Smith Jordan Matthews Nelson Agholor Mack Hollins 


The Eagles are far from done rebuilding their receiving corps, but that is still a big difference.

Tight end

A look at the depth chart at tight end:

 5
Zach Ertz Brent Celek Trey Burton Anthony Denham Billy Brown 

Over the last two years, Ertz suffered early season injuries, limiting his effectiveness in the first half of the season. Also in each of the last two seasons, he turned up his production big-time late in the season.

Ertz's production by month the last two years:

Zach Ertz Rec Yards YPC TD 
 September14 151 10.8 
 October25 269 10.8 
 November37 347 9.4 
 December/January77 902 11.7 


While Ertz's production was less meaningful to Eagles teams that were already out of the playoff hunt, and something of a tease, he has shown that he can be a major weapon in the Eagles' offense if he can stay healthy.

There's also the argument that Ertz has not had quarterback consistency over the course of his career. In 2013, he had Mike Vick and Nick Foles. In 2014, he had Foles and Mark Sanchez. In 2015, he had Sam Bradford. And finally, in 2016, he had Carson Wentz.

There's something to that, as rapport between a quarterback and his receivers can take time.

If Ertz can be the receiver he has been late in the season, but in meaningful games, there's no reason he can't be a top-five type of receiving tight end in the NFL. It'd also be nice if he could make more of an effort in trying to get yards after the catch.

As for the rest of the bunch:

• Celek took a million dollar pay cut this offseason, reducing his salary from $4 million in 2017 to $3 million. A season ago, Celek signed a contract extension that essentially served as a pay cut as well.

Celek is easily still the best blocking tight end on the roster, although at the age of 32 he isn't quite what he once was in that regard. In recent years, Celek's receiving numbers have fallen off dramatically. In 2016, Celek averaged less than one catch per game and he did not score a touchdown for the first time in his career.

He is scheduled to count for $5 million against the cap in 2018. While he has had a long, productive career in Philadelphia, there's no way he will stick on the roster at that time at that number. If you're a Celek fan, enjoy him now, because this could be his last year in Philly, unless he takes another substantial pay cut once again next offseason.

• A season ago, Burton was one of the stars of training camp, and he still only played 29 percent of the team's offensive snaps in the regular season despite horrid play from the wide receivers. He is an excellent special teams player, and has flashed potential in the regular offense, but his hands can be an issue. In 2016, by my count, Burton had four drops on 37 catches, for a drop rate of 9.8 percent. By comparison, Jordan Matthews, who is often criticized (rightfully) for his hands, had a drop rate of 9.9 percent.

Burton's blocking and his hands will have to improve to see more opportunities in meaningful offensive situations.

• As for Denham and Brown, the Eagles really seemed to want Chris Pantale to give them a reason to keep him on the roster last season, but he could not. That serves as evidence that the Eagles could consider keeing a fourth tight end if someone wows them, but it's more likely that either Denham or Brown end up on the practice squad.

From a developmental standpoint, Brown is an interesting player. In 2016 at Shepherd University, Brown had 99 catches (led D2) for 1580 yards (second in D2) and 22 TDs (tied for second in D2) as a wide receiver. He has since bulked up a bit in preparation of playing tight end in the pros.

Offensive tackle

First, here's a look at the depth chart at offensive tackle:

 Eagles OTs
 LTJason Peters Dillon Gordon Matt Tobin Victor Salako 
 RT Lane JohnsonHalapoulivaati Vaitai Allen Barbre Taylor Hart 


In 2016, Jason Peters led the NFL in false starts, with 10 of them. In fact, the next closest player had six. Still, despite that flaw, Peters had a very good season (outstanding for his age), as he kept his rookie quarterback clean.

At some point, Peters' body is going to break down. As we noted in our Eagles dumpster fire piece, you have to go all the way back to 2001 to find a player older than Peters who started at least 10 games at left tackle in a season. In other words, we're in something of uncharted waters in regard to a player of Peters' age starting at the most important position along the offensive line.

The Eagles will rest Peters as much as they can during training camp to keep his body fresh, which was an approach that paid off last season. 

At right tackle, there was a noticeable difference in the play of the offense in general in games that Lane Johnson played, and ones he didn't. 

The Eagles were 5-1 in games that Johnson played last season, with an average of 27.7 points scored per game. In games he missed, the Eagles went 2-8, with just 20.1 points scored per game. That's not a coincidence. After Johnson was lost for 10 games with a suspension, the Eagles had to play four different right tackles in his absence, and struggled mightily to pass protect on that side of the line. His (presumed) presence this season should give the Eagles a significant boost.

As for the backups, the Eagles aren't quite as deep at tackle as they are on the interior of the line, but they do still have competent depth. The first guy off the bench would be Vaitai, who would fill in at right tackle if either Peters or Johnson went down. Johnson would likely slide over to left tackle in the event Peters got hurt.

Beyond Vaitai, the Eagles have a seasoned veteran in Allen Barbre, who can fill in at multiple spots along the line, though his roster spot isn't guaranteed. And then there's Dillon Gordon, and intriguing athletic converted tight end who was playing the role of the sixth lineman in jumbo sets during spring practices.

Tobin has experience at tackle as well, though he'll have an uphill climb to make the roster this year, as will Hart and Salako.

Interior offensive line

First, here's a look at the depth chart at guard and center:

Eagles interior OL
 LGIsaac Seumalo  Allen BarbreDallas Thomas Aaron Neary 
 CJason Kelce Stefen Wisniewski Josh Andrews Tyler Orlosky (R) 
 RGBrandon Brooks Chance Warmack Darrell Greene  


After an offseason of speculation, it would appear that the Eagles will hang onto Jason Kelce for at least one more season, barring a trade, which now appears unlikely. Kelce did not play well in the first half of the season in 2016, but his play picked up significantly late. As any Eagles observer is aware by now, Kelce's athleticism allows him to do things in the screen game and the outside run game that other centers couldn't dream of doing, but his lack of bulk is a major hindrance against much bigger defensive tackles.

On one side of Kelce is Brooks, who was something of an underrated free agent signing last offseason, even with his battle with anxiety, which caused him to miss two games. When he played, Brooks was quietly among the best guards in the NFL last season. He and Lane Johnson pair to form perhaps the best RG-RT combination in the league.

On the other side of Kelce will likely be Seumalo, who got the first crack at the starting LG spot during spring practices. Seumalo played LG, RG, and RT his rookie season, and showed promise as a potential long-time starter in the NFL, with the versatility to play multiple positions should other guys along the line go down. He could become a valuable asset to the Eagles for the foreseeable future for the flexibility that he allows.

As for depth, the Eagles are loaded with it along the interior of their OL. Barbre, Wisniewski, and Warmack have a combined 167 career starts. I would imagine it's unlikely that there's another team in the NFL that can boast that much experience among their interior OL backups.

As for the deeper depth along the OL, the player to watch is center Tyler Orlosky, who was a highly rated prospect by some heading into the 2017 NFL Draft, but did not get drafted. He sat out spring practices with a strained MCL, but it is expected that he will be ready to go for camp.

Defensive end

First, here's a look at the depth chart at defensive end:

Eagles DEs
 LDEBrandon Graham Vinny Curry Steven Means  
 RDEChris Long Derek Barnett (R) Alex McCalister Marcus Smith 


Because of the importance of the position, and the Eagles' solid depth here, we'll address each player one-by-one:

Brandon Graham

There's an argument to be made that Graham was the Eagles' best player in 2016, as he generated a lot of pressure, and was excellent against the run. He also happens to be on a very team-friendly contract, so the Eagles are finally getting a lot of bang for their buck on a player who had a slow start to his career.

Graham isn't without his detractors, however. Many observers can't get past the fact that his season high total of sacks over his career is 6.5. That's a narrow-minded way of reviewing his overall play the last two seasons, although it's certainly fair to say that at some point Graham is going to have to convert more of his pressures into sacks.

Chris Long

We have Long listed with the starters, but if all goes well with rookie Derek Barnett, Long likely be a starter for long.

After the Eagles made the obvious decision to release Connor Barwin prior to the draft in a money-saving move, they were left with a gaping hole at defensive end. Long turned 32 years old this offseason and should provide defensive line depth. He is more of a traditional 4-3 defensive end than Barwin was, although, like Barwin, Long's career is in its waning stages.

Long does represent formidable competition for Barnett to have to go out and earn a starting job.

Derek Barnett

After the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft, there were a lot of Eagles fans that hated the selection of Barnett, which really surprised me. I polled the unhappy fans why they didn't like the pick, and the reasons were all over map. A sampling:

  1. The talent that remained on the board was better than Barnett. 
  2. Defensive end wasn't a need. The Eagles already had Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry, and Chris Long.
  3. You can get pass rushers later in the draft.
  4. Barnett isn't athletic.
  5. He's too similar to Brandon Graham.
  6. He's too similar to Marcus Smith.
  7. He's too small.
  8. He's a one-trick pony.
  9. Because he's so reliant on his outside pass rush, professional offensive tackles will easily shut him down.

You can convince me to some degree on point No. 8. I disagree with all the rest and went into much greater detail on why back in May.

During spring practices, which aren't great for evaluating line play because they're not in pads, Barnett flashed some serious ability, getting the best of Lane Johnson on a number of occasions. Once the pads go on, there may not be a player I'm more interested in watching than Barnett.

Vinny Curry

During the 2016 offseason, Curry signed a five-year, $46.25 million contract. In the first year of his new deal, Curry had a disappointing season, posting just 26 tackles and 2.5 sacks while playing only 42.6 percent of the Eagles' defensive snaps. 

Curry's cap numbers over the remainder of his deal, via OverTheCap.com:

 YearVinny Curry cap number 
 2017$9,000,000 
 2018$11,000,000 
 2019$11,250,000 
 2020$12,000,000 


Next offseason, if the Eagles decided to move on from Curry and get out of that deal, they would save $5 million in cap space, with $6 million in dead money.

Curry just turned 29 in June. There's no more wiggle room for upside or potential. For Curry to have any chance of sticking with the team beyond the 2017 season, his production must increase drastically. With the Eagles having already added Long and Barnett this offseason, it will be difficult for Curry to produce, as his snaps could be limited even further.

Still, Curry can help the team in 2017. He was injured early in the 2016 season, and said he wasn't back to 100 percent until the last quarter of the season. If he can produce anything close to the nine sacks and four forced fumbles he had in 2014, that'll be a big help to the defense from a player whose expectations have dropped.

Steven Means

Means had a great camp a season ago, and he made the team, however, he didn't often suit up, as he appeared in just eight games. Means isn't much of a special teams contributor, so he'll either have to improve there this offseason, or have another really strong camp at DE to stick. It helps that Marcus Smith is almost certainly on his way out.

Alex McCalister

I know McCalister is a fan favorite (or hope, or whatever) for his freakish length and athleticism, but I'm sorry, I just don't see anything there at all. I think he's a long shot to make the roster.

Marcus Smith

Smith voluntarily missed all of OTAs, because, um... ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

When he showed up for mandatory minicamp, Jim Schwartz buried him on the fourth team defense, behind Means and McCalister.

Smith's base salary this season is $889,515, with a roster bonus of $594,000 coming on the third day of training camp, according to former NFL agent Joel Corry. If the Eagles were to trade (lol) or release Smith prior to the third day of camp, they would save $1,483,515. 

That is a no-brainer.

Defensive tackle

First, here's a look at the depth chart at defensive tackle:

Eagles DTs
 DTFletcher Cox Destiny Vaeao Elijah Qualls (R) Justin Hamilton 
 DT Tim Jernigan Beau Allen (injured)Gabe Wright Winston Craig (R) 


Fletcher Cox was a dominant defensive tackle last season. Opposing offenses often identified him as the player they could not let beat them, and he still posted decent numbers. On the season, he had 43 tackles, 6.5 sacks, and one forced fumble.

Still, the Eagles need more from him.

Considering the new six-year, $103 million contract extension he signed last offseason, Cox is expected to play at an elite level, not "just" a great one. Cox also missed a portion of OTAs, for which he was rightfully criticized (though some of it was a little over-the top). I can say with some level of confidence that Cox's three-day absence from OTAs probably won't cost the Eagles any games this season. However, you'd prefer that one of your self-described "leaders" of the team just show up for everything.

The defense will go as Cox goes. If he can be the elite play-making force the Eagles paid him to be, the effect of his play will trickle down to the edge rushers outside, as well the linebackers and defensive backs behind him.

At the other starting DT spot, the Eagles traded draft positioning for Timmy Jernigan, who will replace free agency departure Bennie Logan. Jernigan has been a solid player for the Ravens, posting good numbers from his defensive tackle position, shown here:

Timmy Jernigan Tackles Sacks FF FR 
 201423 
 201537 
 201631 
 TOTAL91 13 


Jernigan is in the final year of his rookie contract, and will be a free agent after this season. While his current price tag may be low now (a smidgen over a million on the 2017 cap), the Eagles may be in a similar situation next offseason with Jernigan that they were in this offseason with Logan.

During spring practices, Jernigan showed the ability to penetrate through the line, although as we always note, line play is very difficult to evaluate when players are not going full contact in pads.

As for the rest:

• Beau Allen suffered a serious pectoral injury in April. It is unknown when he'll be fully recovered.

• Destiny Vaeao returns after making the team a year ago as an undrafted free agent. He's just a guy, and will have to earn a roster spot once again.

• Elijah Qualls was picked in the sixth round, much later than draft experts had him slated. He missed most of the spring because his college (Washington) is on the quarters system. Qualls will have some catching up to do.

• Gabe Wright got a lot of playing time during the spring after signing with the team this offseason, even getting some first-team reps, but that was mainly because Jernigan, Vaeao, and Allen have all missed varying amounts of time during the spring with injuries.

• Winston Craig is something of a dark horse to make the roster, in my opinion, as the Eagles lack quality depth at DT.

• As for Justin Hamilton, uh, ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

Linebacker

First, here's a look at the depth chart at linebacker:

Eagles LBs
OLB Nigel Bradham Najee Goode  
 MLB Jordan Hicks Joe WalkerDon Cherry 
 OLB Mychal Kendricks Nathan Gerry (R)Kamu Grugier-Hill 


As PhillyVoice first reported a few weeks ago, Jordan Hicks injured his hand while on his honeymoon in Greece. To be determined if Hicks will be a full go when training camp begins.

Hicks has been a playmaker through his first year and a half in the NFL. In just 24 games (he missed eight games his rookie season), here are his numbers:

Jordan Hicks Tackles Sacks INT PBUs 
 24 games 13514 


Hicks is a Pro Bowl-level talent, and the young quarterback of the defense. His continued development is crucial to the success of the defense.

At the other starting spot, Nigel Bradham returns, but with questions. According to Tim McManus of ESPN, Bradham will avoid jail time for his alleged assault of a "cabana boy" last summer. However, while Bradham may have avoided more serious consequences from the courts, he may still face discipline under the NFL's Personal Conduct Policy.

That is only one of two off-field incidents that Bradham was involved in last year. McManus' report also notes that Bradham is scheduled for a July 24th hearing stemming from his October 2016 arrest for carrying a loaded gun in his carry-on bag at the airport.

In 2016, Bradham played more snaps than any other Eagles linebacker. 

Eagles LBs Snaps Percentage of snaps 
 Nigel Bradham990  97.1%
 Jordan Hicks971  95.2%
 Mychal Kendricks273  26.8%

He was a quality free agent signing, although his play on the field was overshadowed by his missteps off of it. To be determined if he'll face discipline from the NFL this season. If so, the Eagles are not flush with quality depth at linebacker.

As for the other "starting" linebacker spot (it really ins't), Mychal Kendricks is still, just, uh, there. The Eagles tried to trade Kendricks this offseason, even reportedly coming close to a deal with the San Francisco 49ers back in February.

While Kendricks has been bad at times, he has flashed his athletic ability at other times. Unfortunately for Kendricks, Jim Schwartz has been unable to find creative ways to use him to the best of his abilities. For example, in the view of many talent evaluators, Kendricks' best trait as a linebacker is his blitzing ability. In 2016, Kendricks rushed the passer a grand total of just nine times, according to ProFootballFocus. That's simply a misuse of a player.

Kendricks could still be dealt, but with each day that passes, it becomes less likely. #Analysis.

As for the backups:

• Joe Walker: Walker will have to show that he has recovered fully from his ACL injury during the preseason last year. At the time, Walker was looking like a Schwartz favorite during training camp. He could be the backup middle linebacker to Hicks as well as a special teams contributor, but his roster spot is far from guaranteed.

• Nathan Gerry: At Nebraska, Gerry was a safety who will convert to linebacker in the pros. Gerry was something of a ball hawk in college, picking off 13 passes his last three years.

The question likely won't be whether or not Gerry can cover well enough at the pro level from his linebacker spot. It will be whether he can hold up physically as a linebacker at 218 pounds. Throughout OTAs and minicamp, Gerry showed good instincts in coverage, as you might expect from a former safety. During OTAs and minicamp, he picked off at least two passes in media-attended practices. He has also put on about 10 pounds since he weighed in at the Combine.

Gerry will be an interesting player to watch when the pads go on.

• Najee Goode: Goode is a career roster bubble guy who can play multiple linebacker positions as well as special teams.

• Kamu Grugier-Hill: Grugier-Hill was a post 53-man cutdown signing a year ago, whose roster spot may be challenged by the addition of Gerry. Grugier-Hill will have to show that he can be more than just a special teams guy.

• Don Cherry: I would call Cherry a camp body, but he's gotten some work with the first-team special teams units, which is at least mildly interesting, that is if you find deep backup and special teams depth mildly interesting.

Cornerback

First, here's a look at the depth chart at corner:

 CBJalen Mills Aaron Grymes Dwayne GratzRandall Goforth (R) 
 CBPatrick Robinson C.J. Smith Mitchell WhiteSidney Jones (R) (injured
 Nickel CBRasul Douglas (R) Ron Brooks Jomal Wiltz (R)  

In the 2017 NFL Draft, it was crystal clear that the Eagles were going to select cornerbacks in what was thought to be a very deep and talented corner draft. They grabbed Sidney Jones, who was a potential top 10-15 pick had he not ruptured his Achilles at his Pro Day, in the second round. In the third round, they grabbed Rasul Douglas, a bigger corner with good instincts and ball skills, but very questionable long speed, as he ran a 4.59 at the Combine.

And then there's Jalen Mills, who was a seventh-round rookie a season ago. He had some decent moments in 2016, but did not produce any turnovers. In coverage, there was a lot more bad than good, as Mills was susceptible to the deep ball. Heading into 2017, it is expected that Mills will be better, but he has a long way to go before anyone could consider him an ideal starter.

The Eagles may have some answers long-term at corner if Jones, Douglas, and Mills all pan out, which is a realistic scenario. However, the 2017 season could be ugly.

The Eagles' top three corners heading into 2017 training camp, as noted in the depth chart above are, in order, a second year player who struggled as a rookie (Mills), a late Band-Aid free agent signing (Robinson), and a rookie who was barely a top 100 pick (Douglas). Uh oh. The Eagles' front four better create pressure early and often, or it could get ugly on the back end.

The player everyone will have their eye on during camp will be Douglas, who showed good instincts and ball skills during the spring, but was also beaten deep a few times. Douglas has a chance to start, and Jim Schwartz has a history of playing rookie corners early

As for the rest of the bunch:

• Sidney Jones: Jones is still recovering from his ruptured Achilles and will miss all of training camp and the preseason. He has the tools to become a No. 1 corner in the NFL, but will have to prove that he can be the same player he was, pre-injury. Back in May, we spoke with Dr. Larry Miller, who is the chairman and chief of orthopedic surgery at Cooper University Hospital, about Jones' chances of playing this season, as well as his chances of returning to 100 percent.

• Aaron Grymes: Grymes was poised to make the final 53-man roster last season, but he got injured in the second preseason game, killing his chances. He eventually rejoined the team, appearing in one game. Grymes had a strong spring, making a number of plays on the football, including a handful of interceptions.

• C.J. Smith: Smith initially made the final 53-man roster, only to be demoted to the practice squad after the Eagles added three players on waivers. He was eventually added to the 53-man roster again, and appeared in 10 games.

• Ron Brooks: Brooks was a "starter" last season in the slot before suffering a serious quad injury against the Redskins. Last year he was a roster lock. This year? Not so much. After taking a pay cut this offseason, Brooks will be fighting for a roster spot.

• Dwayne Gratz: Gratz was added to the roster late in the season after the Eagles' injured reserve list began piling up. Gratz was a former third-round pick (64th overall) of the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2013. In his fourth year with the Jags in 2016, he was released and claimed off of waivers by the Los Angeles Rams. The Rams released him a month later. Gratz did not stand out (in a good or bad way) in the spring.

• Mitchell White: White is something of a dark horse to make the team for me this camp. In the spring, he looked solid in coverage, albeit against the third stringers.

• Jomal Wiltz: Wiltz is an undrafted free agent with good speed (he ran track at Iowa State), and has the willingness to stick his nose in and make tackles. He wasn't drafted because he's small, at 5'10, 180. 

• Randall Goforth: Another undrafted free agent, with corner and safety versatility.

Safety

First, here's a look at the depth chart at safety:

 Eagles safeties 1 2
 SMalcolm Jenkins  Jaylen WatkinsChris Maragos 
 S Rodney McLeodTerrence Brooks Tre Sullivan (R) 


After a long stretch in which the Eagles had some pretty crappy safety play, the Eagles finally had a duo they could be proud of last season in Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod.

Jenkins is a great player. In previous years with the Eagles, he did an outstanding job putting himself in position to make huge plays, and while he capitalized on some of those opportunities, he left some of the table. The difference between finishing those big plays – and not – was arguably the difference between Jenkins being a great safety and an Ed Reed type of safety.

In 2016, Jenkins made the most of his big play opportunities, although there were far fewer of them because he was tasked with playing slot corner after Ron Brooks was lost for the season.

Jenkins can do everything. Need him to play single high? He can do that. Need him to slide down into the slot and cover receivers or tight ends man-to-man? He can do that. Need him to play in the box and be physical against the run? He can do that. Want to send him on a blitz? He can do that.

There are no obvious flaws to Jenkins' game, and he is, in my view, a top five safety in the NFL.

McLeod started off the season hot, making big hits and producing turnovers, but as the season progressed, he became more passive. McLeod is at his best when he's flying around, unafraid of making a mistake. If he can get back to being that kind of player in 2017, the Eagles will once again have one of the best safety duos in the NFL.

As for the Eagles' depth at safety, there's a very interesting battle between Jaylen Watkins and Terrence Brooks for the No. 3 safety job.

Watkins has really improved as a tackler from when he first got to Philly, but he struggled at times with mental errors, which led to some busted coverages. The Eagles would love to see someone step up and and take the No. 3 safety job away from him.

The best chance for that is Brooks. Last season, Brooks only played three snaps in the regular defense on the season, but he made them count, picking off Eli Manning to seal the Eagles' win over the Giants Week 16. Otherwise, he was a special teams contributor only, and often inactive on game day.

During the spring, Brooks has looked good in practices. Physically, Brooks is jacked up, and has the ability to deliver big hits over the middle. He could be a fun player to watch once the pads go on.

As for the Eagles' deeper depth at safety, Chris Maragos returns as one of the best special teamers in the league, and a decent enough option at safety in emergency situations. The Eagles also signed Tre Sullivan during the undrafted free agency phase of the draft. In watching some of his play in college, Sullivan is willing throw his body around and hit people.

Specialists

First, here's a look at the depth chart at the specialist positions:

 
Caleb Sturgis  
 Donnie JonesCameron Johnston (R) 
LS  Jon DorenbosRick Lovato 
KR Wendell Smallwood Nelson Agholor 
PR Darren Sproles Donnel Pumphrey 


Sturgis had a nice season after soundly beating out Cody Parkey in training camp. Sturgis' numbers on the season:

 Caleb Sturgis20-29 30-39 40-49 50+ 
 201611/11 11/11 7/10 4/6 


Sturgis was perfect from inside of 40, going for 22/22, although he did miss one PAT (27/28). On the season as a whole, Sturgis was 33/38, or 86.8 percent, which was good for 10th in the NFL. Perhaps what is most encouraging about Sturgis is that he has improved every year:

Caleb Sturgis FG percentage 
2013 76.5% 
2014 78.4% 
2015 81.8% 
2016 86.8% 


He also did a great job on kickoffs, lofting kicks with good hang time, allowing the Eagles' coverage units to get down the field to almost always make tackles shy of the touchback mark at the 25-yard line. In fact, opposing teams averaged 19.1 yards per kick return, which was second-lowest in the NFL.

Because he played so well last season, Sturgis earned the right to go through training camp this camp with no competition. While it's good news for the team that they may have found a gem in Sturgis, one of my favorite training camp battles every season is the kicker battle. There will be none this year. Life is hard.

At punter, Donnie J'owns returns once again after signing a three-year contract extension. The Eagles do have another punter in camp, but he's only there to give Donnie a breather every now and then.

At long snapper, Jon Dorenbos returns, though he had to recover from a serious wrist injury. Dorenbos' recovery will be a minor storyline to follow throughout camp.

At returner, Darren Sproles will almost certainly handle punt return duties once again, although Donnel Pumphrey is getting a lot of work there as well.

While he did not return kicks or punts much in college, fielding kicks and punts is something Pumphrey worked on quite a bit at San Diego State. During srping practiceds, as we've noted in our practice observations, Pumphrey looked completely comfortable catching kicks and punts, which is a lot harder than it looks.

"During practice, I caught all of the punts," he said. "Even before games I was catching kicks and punts. It's natural for me. We had great specialists at San Diego State, and most of time on offense we were running the ball so they wanted to keep my health level up and just focus on the running back spot."

In other words, Pumphrey was the offense in college, and his coaching staff did not want to risk getting him injured on special teams. In the pros, it appears that the Eagles envision a diverse, creative role for Pumphrey, and are heavily testing out what he can do for them in multiple phases.

At kick returner, after Josh Huff was released last season, Wendell Smallwood, Kenjon Barner and Nelson Agholor got most of the kick return reps. For now we'll pencil in Smallwood for that job, though Agholor and Pumphrey could also be in the mix there as well.


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