The public focus is on the veteran additions the Eagles made to their receiving corps this offseason, but for three days this week, offensive coordinator Frank Reich got to work with his young receivers – draft picks Mack Hollins (fourth round) and Shelton Gibson (fifth), along with undrafted prospects such as former Houston quarterback Greg Ward and 2016 practice squad rookie Marcus Johnson.
What did Reich want to accomplish, before the whole team gathers Thursday afternoon?
"You want to get just simple stuff like alignments, formation. We've got to get in and out of the huddle," Reich said. "There is going to be an increased emphasis on trying to get the play clock going faster this year, maybe a split-second faster than it's been. We've got to break the huddle, get alignment. You can't be shifting around at the end. You've got to be (playing) assignment football. You've got to know what you're doing. It sounds simple, but we've got a lot of formations, motions, movements. Get lined up right.
"The other thing — I really look for this a lot — is how explosive are you off the football? Because in this game, you cannot replace being explosive, and explosiveness starts with those first 5 yards."
Hollins, lauded by Reich as "a big man with size and built for speed," at 6-4, 221, said that to him, explosiveness isn't just how well you get off the line. "Explosiveness in and out of cuts, explosiveness with your hands, catching the ball – be quick with it, grab it, pull it in, tuck it. And then explode and score," said Hollins.
To the first part of Reich's remarks, about getting lined up quickly and efficiently, Hollins noted that running backs coach Duce Staley often exhorts the players to "explode out, explode out" of the huddle, "beat the defense into a stance," giving the quarterback more time to make adjustments.
Overall, Reich gave the usual answer when asked to assess who has stood out.
"As coaches, we get excited now. We see guys do things – we see Mack Hollins made a play, or Marcus Johnson, or 'Pump' (running back Donnel Pumphrey) … As coaches, you get excited. On the flip side, you always temper that because the pads aren't on yet," he said.
Reich said Pumphrey, who said this week he'd never lined up in the slot before coming to the Eagles, has "exceeded expectations" as a receiver so far.
In his session with reporters Wednesday morning, Frank Reich ended up giving a hint about a roster move that would occur later in the day. Reich, asked about the left guard competition between 2016 third-round pick Isaac Seumalo and veteran Allen Barbre, said: "Isaac is a starter, and it's just competition from there."
This was something Eagles coach Doug Pederson hadn't quite said. A few hours later, the team announced Barbre would be released, after 44 Eagles games, 29 starts. The release ended up not happening, as Denver stepped forward with an offer of a conditional seventh-round pick in 2019, a deal the Eagles accepted.
The Eagles brought back linebacker Steven Daniels, a 2016 Washington seventh-round pick they'd acquired on waivers during the offseason, then released … Eagles football operations executive Brian Dawkins was asked if he thought the secondary was better than last year's. Dawkins said he'd wait for live tackling and games to make that assessment, but he said he thinks the team overall has improved … Dawkins was asked about the just-published study that found CTE in the brains of 110 of 111 deceased former NFL players, if the specter of brain damage worries him. "No, it does not. I did everything I could as far as the things that I put in my body, hopefully offset some of those things," Dawkins said. "If something happens later on in life, I'll deal with it, but as of right now I'm a blessed man, being able to still be around football, and help this organization out."