McLane: 'Different feel' in Eagles locker room with Huff dismissed

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Josh Huff could face both jail time and NFL discipline.

Whether the message was being sent by Doug Pederson, Howie Roseman, Jeffrey Lurie or was indeed collective, the Eagles' decision to release Josh Huff just a day after Pederson said the wide receiver would play on Sunday was likely intended to put the locker room on notice.

Several players, including safety Malcolm Jenkins, said that was their interpretation. Huff was arrested on gun and marijuana possession charges on Tuesday. A day later, Pederson implied that the 25-year-old receiver would not be disciplined until he "officially" heard something. On Thursday, Huff was gone.

"I think this is more of a distraction than Josh actually getting in trouble, to be honest," Jenkins said. "If you walked in the locker room yesterday . . . we were status quo. We were moving on. But obviously now it's a different feel."

The Eagles clearly wanted to shake that status quo. Linebacker Nigel Bradham had been the only player to be arrested and charged this year before Huff, but there had been other off-the-field incidents, however the severity, that had portrayed the team in a negative light.

Jenkins took exception with the notion that the Eagles have a discipline problem. He noted that receiver Nelson Agholor, who was accused of sexual assault in June, was never charged, and that tackle Lane Johnson's 10-game suspension wasn't for a criminal offense but for taking performance-enhancing drugs.

But Jenkins said he thought Huff was gone because his arrest had come on the heels of Bradham's two separate offense s - a charge for allegedly assaulting a hotel employee and a charge for attempting to carry a concealed weapon onto a plane - and he had the misfortune to be next in line.

"I'm guessing it's more so the timing and what it looks like than the actual offense, to be honest," Jenkins said. "It's not about him owning a gun. I think it's more so just about the arrest, this point in the season, and probably with other guys getting in trouble."

Some players had recently become lax about certain rules, several Eagles said. For instance, three players had been late for meetings on Thursday morning, according to team sources.

With the Eagles at 4-3 and at a crossroads following a difficult loss to the Cowboys, several players said that the release of Huff represented the team drawing a line in the sand. But was it Pederson or the front office with the marker?

"It doesn't matter to us," Jenkins said. "Wherever the decision is coming from, the decision has been made. That's not for us to decipher."

Still, it's hard to imagine that either Andy Reid or Chip Kelly would have been sent to the podium on Wednesday without a final decision. Pederson answered 20 separate questions about Huff before his pleas to change the topic to Sunday's game were answered.

Perhaps it was just the coach's lack of discretion, but the perception, after the Eagles seemingly reversed course a day later, is that Pederson is more of a puppet for Roseman and Lurie than he is a decision-maker.

Reid left little ambiguity as to who was making the final decisions as it pertained to his roster. The same, even more so, could have been said of Kelly.

Roseman said the final decision to cut Huff was made collectively. He also said that the Eagles wanted to go through their process of gathering information before making "the right decision" - about 10 times.

Other than that, the rest of his answers were a bunch of gobbledygook.

There was a clear distinction between Roseman and Pederson in how they handled questions. Roseman lawyered up, while Pederson, when asked about his handling of the players on Wednesday, said that he would wrap his arms around them and "love on them."

But the dumping of Huff now sends a very different, muddled message.

"You know it's a business," said running back Kenjon Barner, Huff's best friend on the team, "and the organization is going to do what the organization needs to do."

Bradham has yet to be convicted, but neither has Huff, who has never before been charged with a crime. But the Eagles have their own security and investigators. They could have simply come to the conclusion that Huff's case isn't as strong as Bradham's.

But despite Roseman's inference that management had spoken to players, many of the team leaders said that they hadn't been approached before Huff was cast off. They said that they haven't received definitive outlines on which transgressions will not be tolerated.

"We don't necessarily know what the line is," Jenkins said. "You know what will get you in trouble. You know what right and wrong is. But I don't think as players you know which trouble is excusable and what's not."

Huff had a role on the team, but it's not as if he wasn't expendable. It's unlikely that quarterback Carson Wentz would have faced the same punishment for the same offense. Huff may have even survived had he been arrested in May rather than November.

"It's like anything, even in football, usually the first guy that throws a punch doesn't get a flag," Jenkins said. "It's usually the second one that gets popped."

The Eagles are hoping there won't be a third.

Marcus Smith surfaces

The improvement has been marginal, but Marcus Smith has contributed more this season than he had during his first two seasons in the NFL.

The defensive end has six tackles, three for loss and one sack through the first seven games. Those numbers might be what Brandon Graham typically gets on any given week, but Smith also plays significantly less, and considering how little production he had before this season, it is notable.

Smith, the Eagles' first-round draft pick in 2014, did not record the first sack of his career until the third-to-last game of last season. He added another two weeks later in the finale, but he had also played more than 32 percent of snaps in a game for the first time.

He's playing slightly more overall this season - 18 percent - than he had in his first two seasons (6 and 10 percent). But he's still behind Graham, Connor Barwin, and Vinny Curry on the depth chart. And yet, he has the same number of sacks this season as Curry (43 percent).

"Yeah, I do want more snaps, but I understand where we are as a defense," Smith said Thursday. "I'm also a team player, too. I know my role."

Smith notched his first sack Sunday against the Cowboys when he beat all-pro left tackle Tyron Smith with a spin move. He followed that up with a run stop one play later.

"He has been productive when he's been out there," defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said.

Smith credited his progress in setting the edge against the run as one reason he's been more productive. He's also had less to do and think about after the switch from a 3-4 outside linebacker to a 4-3 end this year.

The 24-year old Smith hasn't yet justified the Eagles' first-round expense, though. He may never. But he hasn't disappeared. Smith admitted that his draft stock did afford him the luxury of time.

"I don't know how it would have been had I been a fourth- or fifth-rounder," Smith said. "In this league it's 'We need you to get it right now.' I was just fortunate."

Treggs' legs

Bryce Treggs will likely be the main beneficiary of the Eagles' decision to release Josh Huff on Thursday. The rookie wide receiver hasn't been active all season, but even if the team fills Huff's roster spot with another receiver, he is likely to dress on Sunday against the New York Giants.

"That's the impression," Treggs said, "but you never really know until game day."

Treggs, who was undrafted out of California and spent training camp and the preseason with the 49ers, hasn't practiced in Huff's role. The 6-foot, 185-pound receiver said he has practiced primarily at an outside receiver spot. Huff was mostly used on screen plays and jet sweeps.

"It's definitely going to be hard to replace him," Treggs said. "That's my guy. But I know I'm not doing any of that stuff."

Huff leads the NFL with a 36.0-yard kick-return average. Rookie Wendell Smallwood has taken some returns and took one back for an 86-yard touchdown three weeks ago. He will likely be the sole returner now, although Kenjon Barner also could be an option.

The Eagles have been in desperate need of a receiver who can stretch the field. Jordan Matthews is the only receiver who has caught a pass longer than 50 yards. Treggs said that his speed - he ran a 4.39-second 40-yard dash at his pro day - translates on the field and that he can make plays deep.

"The coaches, if I'm out there, are going to put me in a great position," Treggs said. "And then after that it's up to me, and I definitely think I'm capable of doing it."

Five questions: Rodney McLeod

1. Who was your football hero growing up? [Hall of Fame cornerback] Deion Sanders.

2. What is your best football memory? When I first played football I was 6 and I took a sweep 97 yards. That was my moment. That was a pretty big deal.

3. Who is the toughest opponent you ever faced? [Former Seahawks running back] Marshawn Lynch.

4. Who is the best teammate you ever had? [Defensive end] Chris Long [with the St. Louis Rams].

5. What is your least favorite piece of equipment that you have to wear? Thigh pads.

Inside the game

Darren Sproles has about as many touches through seven games as he had during his two previous seasons. But the 33-year-old saw his numbers decrease almost across the board in the second half of both of those seasons, and there is a question as to whether the diminutive running back can hold up at the same pace.

"He's a freak, as they say," Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. "He is a genetic and physical specimen. We all know the size thing [5-foot-6, 190 pounds], but he's probably the strongest guy pound-for-pound on the team."

Sproles has 80 touches this season. He had 73 in his first seven games in 2014 - he missed a game to injury - and averaged 6.5 yards per rush, 12.4 yards per catch, and 15.6 yards per punt return over that span. But his numbers dropped dramatically over the final eight games - 4.6, 7.0, and 10.8.

Last season, he had 79 touches through eight games. He averaged 4.0 yards per carry, 6.9 yards per catch, and 14.7 yards per return over that span, and 3.7, 7.3, and 10.0 in the final eight.

Reich agreed that quarterback Carson Wentz and tight end Zach Ertz have struggled to develop chemistry this season. The latter has only 15 catches for 150 yards in five games. Wentz has targeted Ertz only 20 times. Receiver Jordan Matthews leads the Eagles with 56 targets in seven games.

Ertz said after Sunday's game that his number wasn't being called much this season. Reich said the flow of the game and other extenuating circumstances have kept Wentz and Ertz from getting in sync.

"I can tell you each week, you go in and there's X number of plays geared to go to Ertz," Reich said.

Inside the locker room

The Eagles have had their share of Chicago natives over the years, but there weren't any players from the Windy City celebrating the Cubs' first World Series in 108 years on Thursday.

There were a few from Cleveland, though, that were on the losing side. Jason Kelce said that he loved the Indians so much growing up that his dog was named "Bell" in honor of slugger Albert Belle.

The Eagles center said that he isn't as fanatic about the team. That was apparent when he revealed that he went to sleep when the Cubs were up, 6-3, in Game 7.

"I was like, 'All right, do I really want to stay up and watch this or do I want to go to sleep?' " Kelce said. "In hindsight I regret not staying up."

The Cubs held on to win, 9-8, in 10 innings.

By the numbers

17 - Number of receptions 20 yards or longer that the Eagles have this season. They are tied for second to last in the NFL with the Packers. The 49ers are last with 12.

87 - Consecutive starts for Connor Barwin, the most for any defensive end in the NFL. Only eight active defensive players have more consecutive starts.

11 - Targeted passes in the red zone for Nelson Agholor, who doesn't have a touchdown from inside the 20. Only eight NFL players have more targets. Each has at least one touchdown.