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May 29, 2019

Eagles OTA non-participant notes: On Brandon Brooks, Derek Barnett, and Alshon Jeffery

On Tuesday, the Philadelphia Eagles held their second media-attended OTA practice session of the spring. In case you missed our practice notes, you can find them here

Here we'll offer thoughts on some guys who were absent.

Brandon Brooks is coming along nicely

On Tuesday, Jason Kelce said that he thinks Brandon Brooks will be ready for the start of the regular season. Also on Tuesday, former NFL (not the Eagles') team physician Dr. David Chao agreed he looks good, but tempered expectations.

Two thoughts on Brooks:

  1. He has attacked his rehab hard, and seems motivated to be great.
  2. The Eagles shouldn't rush his return. If there's any doubt, hold him out. They'll need Brooks for the playoffs more than the regular season.

Big V, starting RG? 

When the Eagles signed Stefen Wisniewski in May, the assumption here was that he would start at RG if Brooks isn't ready for Week 1. Through the first two OTA practices open to the media, however, Halapoulivaati Vaitai has gotten first-team reps at RG.

"He has a lot of time on task at tackle," Mike Groh said on Tuesday. "Feels very comfortable in the scheme and being able to communicate all of the calls and spit the calls out in a moment's notice. He's jumped in there and done a nice job."

I'm beginning to lean toward Big V starting at RG, and not Wisniewski, if Brooks isn't ready for Week 1.

Derek Barnett is good

As we've noted here repeatedly, Derek Barnett is already a good football player who was off to a great start last year before he got hurt. Doug Pederson remarked at the NFL Annual Meetings that Barnett was "lights out" to start the season in 2018. On Tuesday, Jim Schwartz threw himself on the "Barnett is already good" pile as well.

"I think the next step for a guy like Derek, he was playing at a very high level before he got hurt last year," Schwartz said. "Obviously wasn't able to bounce back from (his injury) and finished the year on the IR. With him it's a matter of picking up where he left off."

Barnett is still recovering from rotator cuff surgery. Barring any setbacks, he should be good to go by training camp.

I would be at OTAs if I were Alshon Jeffery

OTAs are voluntary, and players have every right not to attend them. Players like Fletcher Cox, Malcolm Jenkins, Jason Peters, and Lane Johnson, for example, don't need them, and their teammates aren't affected by their absences. In fact, the added first-team reps can even be good for younger players while the big dogs are away. 

That said, at the risk of entering into "old man yells at cloud" territory, in some cases it's maybe not the best idea for players to skip OTAs. I think one example is Alshon Jeffery. To note, Jeffery played through a torn rotator cuff for the entirety of the 2017 season, as well as cracked ribs in the 2018 playoffs. Nobody is questioning his "heart," to be clear. Also on the injury front, the Eagles are not forthcoming with injuries this time of year because the league doesn't require them to be. As such, it's not a certainty that Jeffery is fully healthy, though there's no reason to assume he isn't.

With those disclaimers out of the way, Jeffery is going to count for about $16 million on the salary cap both in 2020 and 2021. In my view, he has to have a productive 2019 season to justify that pay, and there's now also a receiver with a similar skill set in the pipeline in J.J. Arcega-Whiteside (who oh-by-the-way looks promising so far). During the 2018 season, some believed that Jeffery did not click the same way with Carson Wentz that he did with Nick Foles. While I'm not sure whether I fully agree there or not, getting extra reps during the spring with Wentz couldn't hurt. From a purely personal gain perspective, if I were Jeffery, I'd be doing everything in my power to make sure the team wants to pay me my $12,750,000 next year, and that would include OTA participation.

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