Good morning, Eagles fans. It’s a good morning, indeed, because the Eagles are in uniform and practicing for the second week of a three-week stretch this offseason. Sure, it’s only OTAs in shorts and T-shirts, but it’s still intriguing to get the first looks at this year’s group with a new coaching staff.
Tuesday’s practice session was open to the media for about an hour, and most of the team was present. A few notable absences were Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, and Darius Slay. Zach Ertz was also a no-show, although that isn’t as surprising.
Maybe the black jerseys the offensive players wore Tuesday were just flattering, but both Brandon Brooks and Nate Herbig appeared to be noticeably slimmer than they were last year. Herbig played reasonably well last season when given the opportunity, but will likely be Brooks’ backup this season. Brooks is coming off his second torn Achilles. Seeing both of them coming into OTAs in good shape would seemingly bode well for the right-guard position this season.
Media is allowed to watch only warmups, stretching, and then individual drills, so on-field observations can be a little hard to determine with such limited exposure. That said, the players have plenty to report about their new coaches.
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The full Eagles roster is getting its first exposure to the team’s new coaching staff this month during OTAs, and a few changes have become apparent.
New head coach Nick Sirianni brought a few new pieces of equipment with him from Indianapolis, including whatever this thing is, but the philosophy changes are what have caught most players’ attention, including linebacker Alex Singleton.
Defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon emphasized gang tackling and effort to force turnovers during his introductory news conference last week. Singleton, who had a team-high 120 tackles last season even though he started only 11 games, called it Gannon’s “hits” principle, and said it’s a good fit for him.
“The principles, the way we get to get to the ball as a team and the team defense that we’re going to be playing, I’m excited about it,” Singleton said. “It fits well with how I play. Coach kind of came on here and talked about the ‘hits’ principle, and getting to the ball is something I pride myself with, so hopefully I fit into that nicely.
“They want fast, physical guys that get to the ball,” the 27-year-old linebacker added. “That’s something that I’ve always prided myself with. No matter what the play is, I want to be out on the tackle, I want to be out on the hit, not just out on the [TV] screen. That’s something that the principles in our defense is just playing fast, being around the ball, causing turnovers. Those are things that play well with how I play.”
It’s fair to point out there isn’t a defensive coordinator in the league, including Jim Schwartz last season, who doesn’t want his entire team running hard to the ball. The Eagles invested very little in their linebackers during Schwartz’s five-year tenure as the team’s defensive coordinator, but it’s safe to assume he expected gang tackling the same way Gannon does.
The difference is likely in how much time and energy is placed on reinforcing that desire, which is something Singleton’s fellow linebacker T.J. Edwards noted when asked about what’s new about the team’s coaching staff.
“There’s been an emphasis on completely different set of goals and rules and things that we want to accomplish as a football team,” Edwards said. “ ... Every year you start out with having your team goals, your unit goals, and your position goals, and I just think every day, no matter what we’re talking about, we’re coming back to those things and coming back to what we want to emphasize for the day. Just in general, we go in every single day and we know the emphasis of what we’re doing.”
Edwards and Singleton have undergone one of the biggest adjustments between staffs on the team, transitioning from 66-year-old linebackers coach Ken Flajole to 27-year-old Nick Rallis.
Rallis is a position coach for the first time in his coaching career after spending the last three years as an assistant on the Minnesota Vikings’ staff. He was a linebacker at the University of Minnesota from 2012-16.
“Not shot at Flaj, but obviously it’s a little more youthful,” Singleton said. “Coach Rallis, obviously Flaj had 40-plus years of experience in coaching and Rallis obviously doesn’t have all that, but he puts in that time. ... He is the guy that is in here 24/7 trying to catch up on that, and that’s an exciting guy to play for. He never second-guesses himself in a meeting, on the field, the drills, he participates in them fully. We graduated the same year; he can still play a little ball. He moves around with us, it makes it fun, so his knowledge is par none to any coach I’ve had.”
What you need to know about the Eagles
Avonte Maddox said improving his eyes will be the key to reversing last season’s misfortune. Les Bowen writes about how the Eagles cornerback is ready to play wherever Jonathan Gannon wants him.
The indication might be that this is a rebuilding season for the Eagles. Just don’t tell Jason Kelce, Brandon Graham, and Lane Johnson that. Paul Domowitch explains why the older players aren’t ready to throw this season away.
Speaking of Gannon, Jeff McLane details the points of emphasis brought up by the new defensive coordinator in his first news conference since being hired earlier this offseason.
Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen also had his first chat with reporters. Yours truly breaks down what we’ve learned about the team’s new offensive scheme so far.
We heard from special teams coordinator Michael Clay last week as well. Bowen caught up with a familiar face, Chip Kelly, who coached Clay at Oregon and brought him to Philly back in 2013.
Jalen Hurts doesn’t seem fazed by Nick Sirianni’s reluctance to name him the starting quarterback. Domo has the 23-year-old’s comments on the matter: “Rent is due every day.”
Ryan Kerrigan also had an introductory press conference. As Bowen explains, the veteran defensive end isn’t worried about playing in a 4-3 front after spending most of his career as a 3-4 outside linebacker.
From the mailbag
How many skill position players do you think we hold on to at each position (RB, WR) and who are some of those bubble guys that can make the leap? Lot of young options with variety in sizes and ability. — from Neer Ray (@NeerRayNFL) on Twitter
Good question, Neer. There’s still a lot of time before we really know who has performed well enough to earn a roster spot, but my best guess is two quarterbacks, four running backs, and six wide receivers.
Which four running backs? I’d bet on Miles Sanders, Boston Scott, Kenny Gainwell, and Kerryon Johnson. Again, it’s very early, and Adrian Killins, Jordan Howard, Jason Huntley, or Elijah Holyfield could earn the fourth spot in training camp, but I’d say Johnson is the leader going into training camp. If he looks healthy, he could be a productive runner on limited touches.
At wideout, DeVonta Smith, Jalen Reagor, and Greg Ward are absolute locks. Travis Fulgham should also be a lock, unless he has a dreadful camp. JJ Arcega-Whiteside might find out his time’s up, depending on how he fares in a competition against John Hightower, Quez Watkins, and several newcomers for the last spot or two.
At quarterback, the only question is whether Jaime Newman stays on the active roster after training camp. There’s a chance they don’t want to risk Newman’s clearing waivers if they like him after the summer’s over, but he did just go undrafted. If they can afford to keep him on the roster, they will, though.