Tag Archives: Eagles Training Camp

Philadelphia Eagles Training Camp 2017: Improving Cornerback Position Critical to Birds Success This Season

29 Jul

 

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Eagles rookie cornerbacks Rasul Douglas (32) and Jomal Wiltz (30) are competing to get playing time in the Eagles secondary. Photo by Webster Riddick.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

With a group of new players and rookies and a ton of expectations, the Philadelphia Eagles 2017 squad started training camp on Monday with more questions than answers.

But fans are hoping that once the team gets these questions answered, the Eagles will be a shoo-in for a playoff spot and possibly a Super Bowl.

Among these questions fans and coaches have is How much better will quarterback Carson Wentz play now that he has more weapons to work with? The Eagles signed wide receivers Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith in the off-season, giving Wentz two more weapons to work with. He’ll also have running back LeGarrette Blount behind him, and the team is hoping that he can duplicate his career-high 1,161 yards rushing and 18 touchdowns from last year. Coaches will also be keeping an eye on diminutive rookie running back Donnel Pumphrey to see if he can be an every-down running back despite weighing just 178 pounds.

On the defensive side of the ball, the weakest link on the Eagles squad appears to be the secondary in general and the cornerback slot in particular. That’s because you have a group a group that hasn’t played with each other much that includes a group of talented, but untested rookies and a second-year player still trying to find his way.

“We’re going to continue to look to bring in guys, if we can, to create as much competition at that spot,” said head coach Doug Pederson during his post-practice press conference on Monday. “It’s obviously a spot we’re going to keep our eyes on throughout camp, but it gives a couple of our younger guys a chance to get some valuable reps.”

Rookie and former West Virginia star Rasul Douglas is among the group of Eagles first-year players that could crack the starting lineup or at the very least get some time on the field.  If you know something about his past, this is a young man whose motor is on all of the time.

Before transferring to West Virginia, Douglas played his collegiate ball at Nassau Community College as a walk-on and there were times he had to rely on ordering the McDonald’s dollar menu for meals because he didn’t have a lot of money. That experience fueled his determination to succeed once he got to West Virginia, he said.

Douglas will certainly need that kind of hunger (pardon the pun) to get playing time on the field, much less a starting spot. Especially since the competition appears to be really tough in his chosen slot.

“All of us have a chance to be a starting cornerback every position is open and up for grabs,” said Douglas, who intercepted eight passes in his final season at West Virginia. “We’re all trying to compete and get better every day. We’re definitely working and improving.”

The presumed starters at the cornerback positions are second-year corner Jalen Mills and 10-year veteran Patrick Robinson with Ron Brooks, who missed last 10 games with a torn quad last year, playing in the slot. The Birds also signed five-year veteran Dwayne Gratz. Also, veteran corner and former Canadian Football League standout Aaron Grymes returns to the Eagles after being cut last year.

If anything is going to prepare the Eagles young cornerback group for the upcoming season is the group of wide receivers they’ll be going up against in practice. Smith and Jeffrey are veteran receivers who know how to stretch defenses.

During the Eagles mini-camp in June, it was Jeffery who said that he liked Douglas’s potential at the cornerback spot and predicted that the rookie could have as many as five or six interceptions for the Eagles.

If that’s the case, the Birds could make a run for the division title this year.

“(Jeffery) has played against some of the best cornerbacks in the NFL,” Douglas said. “To hear something like that and being a rookie, not knowing and just playing off the athleticism means a lot.”

Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said his young corners competing  against quality wide receivers in practice can only help the maturation process.

“I think the competition helps them. Whether it helps them to develop quicker, I don’t know. But I know that competition is going to bring out the best in them,” Schwartz said. “If they make a mistake in technique, it will show. You can’t cover it up against a veteran player. So I think that’s probably the biggest part of that equation.”

But players like Douglas are going to have to learn from players like Brooks and Robinson. Douglas said there were times he struggled during OTAs, but the veteran told him that there are going to those days when receivers get their catches.

“When we first came out here, we were out here just running around, trying to make a play,” he said. “They (the veterans) were like, Look young fella, they (wide receivers) get paid like you get paid. You can’t take away everything.”

The Eagles secondary will certainly need a push from the front seven to get pressure on quarterbacks. On the defensive line, former Baltimore Raven Tim Jurnigan along with defensive end Chris Long will give the Birds a solid rotation.

Meanwhile, rookie and No. I draft pick Derek Barnett is looking to join Brandon Graham as a starting defensive end.

“OTAs were very competitive. I’m competing with guys who’ve been in the league for a while and guys who’ve been in the league for two or three years. It’s all good competition,” Barnett said.

Despite breaking former Eagles great Reggie White’s all-time sack record at the University of Tennessee and being the Eagles No. 1 pick, Barnett knows he’s still got a lot of work ahead of him.

“What I did in the past doesn’t mean nothing, being a first-round pick doesn’t mean nothing,” Barnett said. “I still gotta come and go to work every day, improving my craft and showing the coaches they can trust me and showing my teammates they trust me on the field as well.”

The road to the Philadelphia Eagles 53-man roster for the 2017 season begins with the team’s first pre-season game against the Green Bay Packers on Aug. 10.

Countdown to Training Camp: Can Malcolm Jenkins Lead the Eagles Secondary

17 Jul

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

PHILADELPHIA—The last time the Eagles had a true enforcer at the safety position was in January of 2009 when Brian Dawkins started for the Birds in the NFC Championship game against the Arizona Cardinals.

Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins walking off the field with Eagles backup quarterback Mark Sanchez. Jenkins is fast becoming the leader of the Eagles secondary. Photo by Chris Murray.

Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins walking off the field with Eagles backup quarterback Mark Sanchez. Jenkins is fast becoming the leader of the Eagles secondary. Photo by Chris Murray.

Since then, none of Dawkins successors at that position have come close to matching his intensity or effectiveness at that position. For all that was said about the improvement of the defense in 2013, the Birds defensive coaches were not happy with the play at the safety position-both free and strong.

The Eagles pass defense ranked 32nd in passing yardage and the coaching staff attributed that to the back end of the defense at the safety position. Assistant defensive backs coach Todd Lyght said tackling was the main culprit.

“In an NFL defense, you have to have great tacklers at the safety position because that’s the last line of defense,” Lyght said. “Last year, we missed some tackles at the safety spot that really hurt us and gave up some big yards. That’s part of the game. That’s one area we’ve addressed and we’re going to get better at. … The big thing for us is that we have to be tacklers in the secondary.”

Malcolm Jenkins (27) participates in minicamp drills in late June. Photo by Chris Murray.

Malcolm Jenkins (27) participates in minicamp drills in late June. Photo by Chris Murray.

The most notable acquisition from the offseason is former New Orleans Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins. Defensive Coordinator Billy Davis likes Jenkins versatility because he’s also played at the cornerback position. He said Jenkins is a physical player who is also good at pass coverage.

“I think Malcolm is going to wear a lot of hats for us and hopefully there’s a lot of big hits in the secondary and Malcolm’s apart of that,” Davis said. “His ability to cover, his ability to play multiple roles and wear a lot of hats is what attracted us to him. … He’s not just a box hitter or a post safety, he can do both. I think those are the things that separate Malcolm.”

Last season with the Saints, Jenkins had 68 (44 solo) tackles season with two forced fumbles, two interceptions and six passes defended.
Jenkins said he wants to bring his knowledge of opposing offenses, his ability to deliver a hard hit and his knack for covering receivers.

“In the secondary I feel we have the toughest jobs out on the field and the safety position is demanding because you have to need the knowledge to put guys in the right position because you’re the quarterback of the defense,” Jenkins said.

“It’s also becoming one of those positions where you have to be in the box but you also have to cover receivers and cover tight ends. It’s very demanding both physically and mentally.”

What has impressed the coaching staff about Jenkins during the organized team activities and minicamp is his leadership on and off the field working with players like Earl Wolfe and Nate Allen.

“Malcolm Jenkins is a great leader,” Lyght said. “I love what he’s brought to the room. His intelligence, his tenacity, his intensity in practice and I love his leadership qualities because he doesn’t really get on the players, but the way he leads, he turns everything into a competition which elevates everybody’s intensity.”

Lyght said that Jenkins has had a positive influence on younger players like Wolfe, who went from sitting in the back of the class during film sessions to up front with Jenkins.

Davis said Jenkins often leads the group in film sessions and meetings long before the coaches come into room to get things started.

“They’ve had meetings without us which is a great sign,” Davis said. “These guys get together and they watch film. They’ve got 100 questions. These are the signs that the guys are doing their work.”

During minicamp, Jenkins made that he’s not necessarily the inside the box free safety that Dawkins was or is going to play the role that Earl Thomas plays in the Seattle Seahawks secondary.

“One of the reasons they brought me in is because for this specific scheme you need safeties that can be versatile you don’t have a true free or strong safety,” Jenkins said. “Both guys have to play in the box, both have to cover receivers and both have tight ends and have to be the quarterback.”