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June 10, 2017

Thoughts on the six Eagles players who have stood out to Doug Pederson so far

During his Thursday press conference at OTAs, Doug Pederson was asked what players have stood out so far in spring practices. Pederson praised six players.

"There have been a lot of guys," he said. "You talk about our rookies: Rasul Douglas has shown some strides here in the last couple practices and Donnel Pumphrey on offense, being able to move him around a little bit and put him in that kind of Darren Sproles mold, offensively. Derek Barnett, obviously, is going to be a good player for us and is going to be a nice little addition to our defensive line. 

"The veteran guys, you watch Alshon in the red zone and his big body presence that we've been able to [use] and his relationship with Carson and guys that have really stood out right there.

"With Jason Peters not here, Lane Johnson has been getting reps at left tackle and that has been beneficial for him. Then Big V getting reps at right tackle, so those two guys have really stood out. And then just the impact of having the guys in their second year, offensively and defensively, overall has really been a bright spot for us all spring."

Let's review each of Doug's sexy six:

Rasul Douglas, CB

When spring practices began, the two starting corners were Patrick Robinson and Jalen Mills. Douglas was the first defensive back off the bench, coming onto the field in nickel situations playing outside, with Mills kicking inside to the slot. By the time OTAs wrapped up, Douglas was starting alongside Mills in the base defense, with Robinson playing the slot as the nickel.

Douglas has shown a knack for getting his hands on the football, swatting away several passes, including pass breakups on three consecutive plays during one media-attended practice. His instincts, awareness, and ball skills were the traits that propelled him to pick off eight passes last season, which led the nation. Those traits have carried over into the pros so far.

Jim Schwartz has a history of playing rookie cornerbacks early, although he has never had one start Week 1. If Douglas continues to perform throughout training camp the way he has during the spring, there's a chance that he could be the first.

Donnel Pumphrey, RB

The Eagles have thrown a lot at Pumphrey early, giving him a lot of reps as a receiver in the slot, and probably more reps than any other player as a kick returner and punt returner. So far, Pumphrey has indeed looked good catching the ball and making defenders miss in the open field, although it would be alarming if he didn't, as practices in shells and shorts should be a setting that's extraordinarily favorable for his skill set.

At a minimum, Pumphrey looks very comfortable fielding kicks and punts, which is something he didn't do much of at San Diego State, at least in games anyway. It's looking like the Eagles view him as a long-term answer as a returner.

Derek Barnett, DE

As we noted in our practice observations on Thursday, Barnett was getting by Lane Johnson regularly, to the point where Johnson praised him after practice.

"He had a great day today," said Johnson. "One thing about him is that he has terrific bend, so if you miss with your hands...

"You're not going to break Reggie White's sack record in college if you don't have good traits. His bend is incredible, and he has a great motor, so just a good guy in general."

Alshon Jeffery, WR

I mean, just watch this:

On plays where we might praise other Eagles receivers in recent years for making a play, Jeffery makes them easy. He has indeed looked good so far, especially in a non-padded setting that plays more favorably to speed and quickness than size and physicality. 

Lane Johnson, OT

A silver lining of Peters skipping OTAs, as Pederson noted, was that Johnson got to get in some work at his future home at LT, and Vaitai got some first-team reps at RT.

That said, because they're not in pads yet, evaluating OL play is difficult. We'll just take Doug's word for it that Lane is playing well, his day against Barnett on Thursday aside.

Halapoulivaati Vaitai, OT

This time last year, Vaitai's head was swimming and he lacked confidence. During the regular season last year, Vaitai was forced into action before he was ready, and he struggled mightily his first few games before improving as the season progressed. With six starts under his belt, Vaitai is undoubtedly more comfortable heading into Year 2.

If Vaitai cannot prove that he is a starting-level RT in the NFL, then the Eagles will have to make OT a major priority next offseason if Peters retires (and perhaps even if he doesn't). If Vaitai proves that he is indeed worthy of starting in the NFL, the Eagles will not be forced to overpay or overdraft an OT, and they'll have themselves a pair of young bookends to protect Carson Wentz for the foreseeable future.

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