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June 03, 2018

New faces adjusting, starting to feel at home in Eagles locker room

Eagles Executive Vice President of Football Operations Howie Roseman's task this offseason was perhaps more intimidating than it was last season.

With the expectation of repeating as Super Bowl champions from fans, and a target from every other team in the NFL looking to adapt to the Eagles strengths, (and of course the usual salary cap, draft pick and roster decisions to make), Roseman went about his business this winter and spring. He brought in some new faces (Michael Bennett, Mike Wallace, Haloti Ngata, Richard Rodgers and others) to replace departing favorites (like LeGarrette Blount, Brent Celek, Mychal Kendricks, Torrey Smith and more).

He, along with owner Jeffrey Lurie, also had to figure out how to replace departed offensive coordinator Frank Reich and did so by promoting Mike Groh from within. With OTAs in full swing but very little known about whether the team will have much of a new look or not when the season starts, how are the newest members of the Eagles dealing with the transition?

For veteran wideout Wallace the move from Baltimore, about a 90 minute drive up I-95 couldn't have been much easier.

"Everything about this team has been great so far," the 31-year-old receiver said. "It's early but it's good vibes, good people, everyone wants to help everybody, from the best guy on the roster to the newest guy, everyone opened up to me with open arms and said they were happy to have me."

Of course, no matter how successful a player may have been prior (Wallace has a Pro Bowl and Super Bowl appearance on his resume) players need to find their place in a locker room. Which is why Wallace is working on his handshakes.

"I just want to be happy and have fun with my teammates," he said. "They have their handshakes already. I am going to go home and come up with some things, I just get the regular high fives right now — I want to have some good ones."

For running back Jay Ajayi, who will be awarded a Super Bowl ring as he was a member of the team onward after a Week 7 trade, it's a new experience being in camp with his teammates for the first time. Which is why he believes he will be able to become a workhorse amongst a relatively inexperienced group of running backs.

"It’s a competitive environment," Ajayi said. "We are working on this practice field to do something special. Not many teams can say they’ve done back to back. We want to bring another one out to Philly. The energy we work with, the competitive spirit… on offense we have continued to jaw trash talk and keep each other going."

Overseeing Ajayi, Wallace and the rest of the offense is former wide receivers coach Groh. The young aspiring offensive mind feels like a good fit with the Birds as he wants to simultaneously replace Reich without missing a beat while putting his own mark on things in the Nova Care complex.

"To help support coach in the same way that Frank did," Groh said of his goals as offensive coordinator. "If we can do that, coach [Doug Pederson] will call a great game, but he needs support from the guys in the hallway upstairs in the offense.

"I don’t see the structure of how we operated last year being much different, at this point I think I’ll probably be downstairs [during games and not in the booth]. I feel like I have to be a product of the people that I've been around. Obviously I learned a significant amount from coach Reich, I was able to watch how he and Doug worked together and hopefully I was observing the right things.

As Roseman admitted after winning Super Bowl LII, it would be naive for the Eagles to expect to do the exact same thing and win again, in an evolving, aging and changing league.

“We want to get better. We want to continue to be in a position to get better,” Roseman said in February. “So we’re going to have to make tough choices. It’s not like we can just bring the band back together and expect the same results. That’s part of what we have to do out here. There are going to be some tough [decisions] that we have to make, but talking to coach  and our staff, we understand that that’s the mentality that we have to take to have a chance to get back here again.”

If Roseman — who has made 15 trades since taking over as de facto GM again in 2016 — does anything it's take chances. We'll see if the latest batch pays off like the last batch did.

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