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May 12, 2017

Five things to watch for at Eagles rookie minicamp

The Philadelphia Eagles offseason workouts begin with rookie minicamp on Friday, a day after they signed signed seven of their draft picks – all of them except first-round pick Derek Barnett – and announced the signing of 10 undrafted free agents.

Unfortunately, some of the players who fans are most anxious to get a look at – namely free agent wideouts Alshon Jeffrey and Torrey Smith, as well as second-year quarterback Carson Wentz – won’t be taking part in the rookie camp. Typically, some select veterans and newly-acquired players attend, but that’s not expected to be the case for the Eagles this year.

That, however, doesn’t mean there’s a shortage of things to keep an eye on. Here are a few we’ll be following:

Shelton Gibson’s speed

His combine numbers weren’t impressive (a 4.5s 40-yard dash), but if you watch the tape on Shelton Gibson there’s no denying his speed. The 5-foot-11 receiver out of West Virginia could turn out to be a steal for the Eagles in the fifth round. And on a team that was in desperate need of a deep threat last year after Nelson Agholor failed to take the next step in his second season, a guy like Gibson should be a welcome addition.

The real fun will come when Gibson gets to line up wide of Carson Wentz, but in the meantime, we’ll have to settle for simply enjoying the rookie’s raw speed. That, and the fact that how well he plays in camp will have a direct impact on whether or not guys like Agholor and Dorial Green-Beckham still serve a purpose on this team.

Rasul Douglas’ speed

Gibson’s college teammate, cornerback Rasul Douglas, is known for his physicality – in fact, he and Gibson used to get into it during practices at West Virginia – and ability to hold his own against bigger receivers. But if he wants to be a dependable NFL cornerback – something the Birds desperately need – this third-round pick is going to need to show he has the speed to keep up with guys like Gibson. 

That’s going to be especially important with second-round pick Sidney Jones still recovering from Achilles surgery with no timetable yet for a possible return. It even has some wondering whether he'll be one of the Birds starting cornerbacks by Week 1.

Derek Barnett’s potential

The Eagles’ first-round pick is the only one who hasn’t yet signed. But don’t worry, that likely has more to do with their current cap situation than anything else. And yes, fellow defensive end Brandon Graham is reportedly seeking a new contract, but unless they decide to get rid of the former first-rounder (which isn’t happening), it’s not like space for Barnett is going to suddenly appear. 

Of course, the Eagles could part ways with a different, former first-round pick in Marcus Smith, who is entering the final year of his rookie deal after having his fifth-year option declined by the team. If Barnett can show that he’s already able to give as much as Smith – and that’s not a particularly high bar to reach – then it would make perfect sense to replace the 2014 model, Smith, with the shiny new 2017.

Nathan Gerry’s size

If you’ve seen a picture of the former Wisconsin safety, you’ll know he’s not to be trifled with. He’s jacked, which is why it wasn’t totally surprising to hear Howie Roseman introduce him to the media as a linebacker, his new position with the Eagles.

At 6-foot-2, 218 pounds, Gerry doesn’t need to add too much to fit in as a linebacker. And if he can prove to be strong enough to cover the run in the NFL, his experience as a safety will almost certainly give him an edge when he’s asked to drop back into coverage. Whether or not the impacts what they do with Mychal Kendricks remains to be seen.

It would be a nice weapon for defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz to have in his arsenal, but before he can worry about that, he has to make sure the fifth-round pick can actually play the position at the next level. He played linebacker earlier in his career before being moved to safety, so it's not a question of learning a something entirely foreign. It's about how he stacks up to the much larger completion he'll be facing in the pros.

Jerod Evans' arm

No Carson Wentz. No Nick Foles. No Matt McGloin even.

So who is going to be throwing guys like Gibson and Mack Hollins the ball? Well, for starters, there’s Virginia Tech product Jerod Evans, who only placed one season there but posted pretty solid numbers (3,552 yards, 29 TDs, 8 INTs). The undrafted free agent wasn’t happy about being passed over in the draft, so he’s going to come into camp with something to prove. He’s also the only QB signed by the Eagles who will be taking reps this weekend – the others, Dakota Prukop and Dane Evans, are in camp on tryouts – so look for him to see plenty of action.

There’s no doubt about who the Eagles starting quarterback is going forward, but there’s no reason to think Evans can’t challenge McGloin for the third spot on the roster. And if he plays well enough, he could even pass the former Penn State quarterback for place on the 53-man roster.

Follow Matt on Twitter: @matt_mullin

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