A young linebacker who’s trying to earn playing time, a promising young cornerback and a comparison from Eagles history to AJ Brown.
With the first few days of training camp in the books and the preseason opener just 12 days away, here’s this weekend’s initial preseason edition of Roob’s 10 Random Eagles Observations.
1. Too many linebackers? OK, that’s a new one. The team that brought you Jamar Chaney, Ernie Sims, Zach Brown, Joe Mays, Quinton Caver, Omar Gaither, Matt McCoy, Eric Wilson, Barry Gardner and a thousand others now has — gasp — an embarrassment of riches at off-ball linebacker, with fourth-year undrafted TJ Edwards, rookie Nakobe Dean and veteran free agent Kyzir White in the main rotation. And guess who’s off to a terrific start the first few days of training camp? None other than Davion Taylor, the third-year outside linebacker from Colorado. Conventional wisdom coming into camp was that Edwards, Dean and White would get the lion’s share of the LB snaps. But Taylor is making things really interesting. You take everything for what it’s worth this early in camp, but Taylor has been as sharp as anyone on defense so far. He didn’t play badly last year in six starts before he got hurt, but so far he’s been quite a playmaker, active, quick, instinctive, athletic. And while it’s too early to say where he might fit among Edwards, Dean and White, if he keeps this up, Jonathan Gannon will have no choice but to find reps for him. Somewhere.
2. Another guy that’s jumped out these first few days of practice is James Bradberry, and it’s hard to say that’s a surprise, since the guy is an established upper-level pro who made a Pro Bowl two years ago. But seeing him snap after snap, you really do appreciate how solid a cornerback he is. His size and speed aren’t world class, but he’s very smart and athletic, and his measurables are plenty good enough. Really curious to see Bradberry and Darius Slay in action once the pads go on.
3. I still don’t think Jalen Reagor is going to be here when all is said and done, but I give him credit for coming into camp in outstanding shape and catching the ball when it’s been thrown to him. Nothing crazy, no circus catches, no highlight-reel stuff, but he’s done what he’s been asked to do, and considering where he was last year that’s good to see. I’m not going to make too much of it because it doesn’t mean a lot in the big picture, but one thing it does mean is that he’s coming in with more confidence than he showed at any point last year, and that’s encouraging . I don’t know if Reagor will ever make an impact in the NFL, but very simply I’d rather see him catching the ball right now than not catching it.
4. Zech McPhearson still has to show he can give the Eagles consistent reps to emerge from the pack and solidify that third outside cornerback spot, but one thing I really like about him is that he doesn’t back down from anybody. Whether he’s getting a rep against AJ Brown or DeVonta Smith or an undrafted free agent, he’s up there battling in his face. He’s aggressive in coverage, and it’s really shown in the early days of camp. He’s got a little bit of swagger to him. It’s early, but he’s come a long way from last year.
5. This is the first Eagles training camp since 2012 at Lehigh where music doesn’t blast non-stop from massive speakers strategically located in all corners of the practice field. Chip Kelly introduced blaring music to Eagles practice in 2013, saying he believed that it taught players how to focus in difficult circumstances. Doug Pederson kept the music, and Nick Sirianni used it last year. But the music is gone. I haven’t had a chance to ask Sirianni why he pulled the plug, but my hunch is that his practices are held at such a brisk clip with a huge emphasis on efficiency, and with music blaring, it has to be difficult for players to hear the coaches during or between plays. So if there’s a coaching point or if a player had a question, the players and coaches could have trouble hearing each other. Then the next play gets delayed while things get sorted out, and all of a sudden guys are standing around and practice is falling behind. We all know communication is one of Sirianni’s core values, and anything that gets in the way of communication in practice is a problem. The Eagles are even using bullhorns now to call out plays and formations. It’s all about maximum efficiency. Get on the field, get your work done and get off the field. Deafening music didn’t help.
6. Chatting with Devon Allen Saturday really brought home just how challenging what he’s trying to do is. Not only is he trying to play football for the first time in six years, he’s trying to do it at the most competitive level in the world against guys who have been doing this for years. “It’s just learning how to play again,” the two-time Olympic hurdler said. And trying to do it against elite cornerbacks after not touching a football since 2016. That’s a lot. Allen seems confident and up for the challenge, but he understands what he’s facing. “It’s really fun,” he said. “But it’s not easy.”
7. From 1982 through 2000 — a span of 19 seasons — the Eagles did not have a single Pro Bowl offensive lineman. Since 2001, they’ve had 30. In fact, from 1970 through 2000 — a 31-year span — their only Pro Bowl offensive linemen were Stan Walters in 1978 and 1979 and Jerry Sisemore in 1979 and 1981. Since 2001, nine different Eagles linemen have made a total of 30 Pro Bowls: Jason Peters (7), Jason Kelce (5), Brandon Brooks (3), Lane Johnson (3), Tra Thomas (3), Evan Mathis (2), Shawn Andrews (2 ), Jermane Mayberry (1) and John Runyan (1). Jeff Stoutland has had five of his linemen get picked to a total of 17 Pro Bowls. Amazing.
8. I really don’t have any doubts about Marcus Epps. He’ll be fine.
9. Trying to figure out a comp for AJ Brown from Eagles history and I came up with Irving Fryar. The Eagles’ best wide receivers — and there haven’t been a ton of them — have been the long, skinny, wiry speedster variety. DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, DeVonta Smith, etc. TO was both fast and physical, but he was a few inches taller. Brown is different. He can run just fine, but he’s thick, solid, powerful and more likely to run through you than run around you. Fryar was from the same mold — a tough, physical receiver who embraced contact. Brown is going to be fun to watch.
10. The last Eagle other than Jason Kelce to start a game at center? How about that David Molk! The one-time Chargers seventh-round pick out of Michigan made four starts in his career, and they were all when Kelce missed four games in 2014 with a sports hernia. Molk only played six more snaps the rest of his career. Kelce has played 8,786 snaps since returning.