With rookie minicamp in the book and full-squad workouts five days away, it's time yet again to drain the old reporter's notebook.
1. It didn’t come as a complete shock when Andy Reid said earlier this week that Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman would be his starting safeties when OTAs begin Tuesday. But it did hammer home – once again – that Jaiquawn Jarrett is not ready to start in the NFL. While formal full squad practices start in five days the Eagles have been at work since mid-April. Jarrett was supposed to benefit from a full offseason. If he had showed any improvement in the classroom – where the bulk of work has been done over the last month – you may have seen the Eagles hand him the job now knowing full well that there was still plenty of time for Coleman to win it back. But the Eagles want Coleman, who also has never had a full offseason, to get the repetitions. Of all the safeties on the roster, I’ve been told Coleman is the one that best “gets it.” Jarrett, meanwhile, continues to struggle. I recently asked a defensive coach where the Temple product had issues he made a running motion with two fingers. Because Jarrett doesn’t have elite speed – or anywhere near it – he needs to make up for it by thinking one step ahead. And right now he’s a step behind. Reid didn’t draft a safety, nor did he acquire a free agent one, so he may not be as concerned as others are about the position. The fact that he expended two second round picks in the last two years may have had more to do with the oversight than anything. The Eagles have been rumored to be talking with Yeremiah Bell, but they aren’t likely to sign the former Dolphins safety. Undrafted rookie Phillip Thomas could push for a roster spot. As for Jarrett, there’s still time – a month of OTAs, training camp, the preseason -- for him to supplant Coleman and justify that second round pick.
2. I wrote a rather long column on Sunday laying out negotiations as the Eagles and LeSean McCoy attempt to reach an agreement on an extension. But I left out one facet, though – Reid’s role in getting a deal done and possibly keeping McCoy from holding out. Eagles players, by and large, love to play for Reid. He can often help keep the ones that are underpaid focused on the task at hand. He tried with DeSean Jackson, and it worked for some time, but ultimately the wide receiver was too strong willed. Reid is the Eagles’ good cop when it comes to contract negotiations. Joe Banner was often the bad cop. The Eagles president didn’t mind playing the role if it meant getting fair market value, but it often made it seem as if Reid had nothing to do with the business side of football. He does in that he decides which players should stay or go, which ones he wants long term and which ones he REALLY wants long term. And yet, for years players unhappy with their deals (e.g. Sheldon Brown) would take shots at the front office and give Reid carte blanche. McCoy has a great relationship with Reid (and a not-so-bad one with general manager Howie Roseman, who is negotiating for the Eagles). McCoy won’t want to disappoint the coach if it comes to sitting out either minicamp or the start of training camp. On Sunday, Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora resumed his feud with McCoy when he tweeted “Happy Mother’s Day” to the Eagles running back. McCoy, though, held off firing back because Reid asked him not to. Negotiations between both sides remain productive, but if they were to go sour the McCoy/Reid relationship could smooth out any bumps.
3. The Eagles have signed seven of their nine draft picks. Only first round defensive tackle Fletcher Cox and third round quarterback Nick Foles remained unsigned. The Eagles don’t expect there to be any snag in getting signatures on contracts by the start of camp. While the new CBA has simplified negotiations overall there is some discretion in the first round and oddly also the third round, per NFL sources.
4. It’s difficult to put much stock in how Foles performed during rookie camp last weekend, but the Eagles were happy with what they saw. He was throwing to a bunch of wide receivers that will probably never play in the NFL, and sometimes against defenses stacked to stop the pass, but Foles completed 74 percent of his throws during the minicamp. During his senior season at Arizona, Foles completed nearly 70 percent of his passes. So he’s accurate. The concern with the 6-foot-5, 243-pound quarterback has been his mobility. He appeared to move pretty well during camp, although he didn’t have Jason Pierre-Paul chasing him. One coach told me on the side that Foles will play in the league for a long time. He didn’t say if it would be as a starter or as a backup. He’ll be the third string quarterback this season. Mike Kafka “is so far ahead at this point” for the backup spot I was told. Kafka, of course, is competing with Trent Edwards for the No. 2 spot, but he appears to have the edge heading into OTAs.
5. Fantasy-league owners, take note: Jeremy Maclin could be poised for a breakout season. I recently asked one Eagles coach to give me the name of a player that will make his first Pro Bowl this season and he said Maclin’s name without hesitation. It’s going to be difficult for the Eagles wide receiver to rack up Megatron-like numbers. For one, he isn’t as good as Calvin Johnson, and, two, the Eagles have more offensive weapons than the Lions. But Maclin has had the look this offseason of a player that is ready to take that next step. (He also has a little extra motivation in that he’s entering the fourth year of a five year contract.) Last season would have been the “next step” year if he hadn’t had the cancer scare that wiped out most of his offseason. He still put up respectable numbers – 63 catches for 859 yards and 5 TDs – but he missed almost four games because of injury – wear-and-tear injuries that might have been reduced had he had a regular camp and preseason. I saw Maclin last week and he said he was a solid 205 pounds, seven more than his listed 198.
6. Maclin isn’t the only Eagle to increase his weight this offseason. Many players bulk up anticipating the weight loss that typically occurs during the season. Defensive end Phillip Hunt, cornerback Curtis Marsh and linebacker Keenan Clayton are a few of the defensive players that added muscle. But Casey Matthews looks like the guy who’s made the biggest physical transformation this offseason. A few reporters and I saw him a few weeks ago at the NovaCare and he looked huge. He recently told the team’s Web site that he weighs 250 pounds, 18 (!) more than his listed 232 from a season ago. When I first saw him I questioned the notion of adding so much weight. He played his best last season when he subbed in on passing downs. But with DeMeco Ryans slated to play all three downs, and Mychal Kendricks looking as if he’ll play against the run and pass, Matthews may have figured his best shot at seeing the field would be to be to improve against the run. He was woefully overmatched last season and was often eaten up by run-blocking offensive linemen. Perhaps he thinks the weight will help him fend off blockers and in turn help him beat out the poor-tackling Brian Rolle at weak-side linebacker. I like his chances.
7. The Eagles used a fullback last season much less than they had in previous years, but I don’t think they’ll completely phase out the position despite rumors they may. Stanley Havili, right now the leading candidate to replace Owen Schmitt, isn’t going to remind anyone of Franco Harris. But there are still a number of plays in the Eagles offensive playbook that call for a lead blocker and I’m not sure if a tight end like Clay Harbor can fill that role consistently. The Eagles signed a couple of undrafted rookie fullbacks to push Havili, suggesting that they still want to keep what has become an endangered job.
8. Every season some unknown comes out of nowhere to make the Eagles roster. Could Brett Brackett be this year’s Cinderella story? The tight end, signed to the practice squad in the middle of last season, is apparently trying to make the most of his opportunity. He’s been a regular at the NovaCare this offseason, working out endlessly to increase his strength. Brackett ended his career at Penn State as a wide receiver, so he’s still new to the tight end position. But his ball-catching on the scout team last season caught the team’s eye and he has the drive to become a better blocker, which is often half the battle. The Eagles won’t likely carry three tight ends, but it’s not as if Harbor has a stranglehold on the backup spot to Brent Celek. Brackett’s odds remain long, but he’s no dark horse.
9. One of the best roster battles could be waged at fourth and fifth wide receiver spots. Riley Cooper and Chad Hall filled those roles by the end of last year, although the Eagles started the season with only four wideouts on the roster. Both could be out of jobs, however, I think Cooper has a better shot to stick around than Hall. Sixth round receiver Marvin McNutt would appear to be the guy the Eagles want to push Cooper. He’s similarly sized (6-3, 220 pounds), but projects to be more of a slot receiver than a flanker like Cooper. He’s not very quick off the line, but neither is Jason Avant. McNutt has also never played special teams and that is a mandatory requirement for a fifth receiver. Cooper shined on special teams last season. Hall was brought up from the practice squad in the middle of last season to help in the return game. He did nothing to make the Eagles believe they didn’t need to upgrade in the offseason. So they signed Mardy Gilyard in January, drafted cornerback Brandon Boykin and brought in undrafted rookie Damaris Johnson. Lightning quick at 5-8, 175, Johnson finished he career at Tulsa as the NCAA’s all-time leader in kickoff return yardage.
10. I ran this depth chart by someone from the Eagles, and while he wouldn’t confirm my accuracy, he did say that I was close to on target – not that many of slots should come as a surprise (Notes: Not every player on the roster is reflected on this depth chart; this is projection of how the chart will look, not necessarily how the first, second and third teams will be aligned during practices):
WR: 18 Jeremy Maclin – 14 Riley Cooper – 16 Chad Hall/13 Damaris Johnson
LT: 77 Demetress Bell/[71 Jason Peters] – 65 King Dunlap – 76 Thomas Welch/74 D.J. Jones
LG: 69 Evan Mathis – 78 Brandon Washington -- 64 Mike Gibson
C: 62 Jason Kelce – 64 Mike Gibson/68 Steve Vallos – 61 Zane Taylor
RG: 63 Danny Watkins – 73 Julian Vandervelde -- 68 Steve Vallos
RT: 79 Todd Herremans – 65 King Dunlap – 67 Dennis Kelly
TE: 87 Brent Celek – 82 Clay Harbor – 85 Brett Brackett
WR: 10 DeSean Jackson – 81 Jason Avant – 83 Marvin McNutt/80 Ron Johnson
FB: 39 Stanley Havili – 41 Emil Igwenagu – 37 Jeremy Stewart
RB: 25 LeSean McCoy – 28 Dion Lewis – 34 Bryce Brown/32 Chris Polk
QB: 7 Michael Vick – 3 Mike Kafka/11 Trent Edwards – 9 Nick Foles
LDE: 93 Jason Babin – 54 Brandon Graham – 75 Vinny Curry
LDT: 97 Cullen Jenkins – 91 Fletcher Cox -- [78 Maurice Fountain]
RDT: [98 Mike Patterson]/90 Antonio Dixon– 94 Derek Landri – 72 Cedric Thornton
RDE: 58 Trent Cole – 55 Darryl Tapp – 76 Phillip Hunt
WIL: 52 Brian Rolle – 50 Casey Matthews – 57 Keenan Clayton
MLB: 59 DeMeco Ryans – 56 Akeem Jordan – 96 Greg Lloyd
SAM: 95 Mychal Kendricks – [51 Jamar Chaney]/53 Moise Fokou– 48 Monte Simmons
LCB: 23 Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie – 31 Curtis Marsh – 27 Brandon Hughes/35 Trevard Lindley
RCB: 24 Nnamdi Asomugha—21 Joselio Hanson – 22 Brandon Boykin
SS: 42 Kurt Coleman – 26 Jaiquawn Jarrett – 45 Phillip Thomas
FS: 29 Nate Allen – [30 Colt Anderson] – 37 Wade Bonner
P: 8 Chas Henry – 4 Ryan Tydlacka
K: 6 Alex Henery
H: 8 Chas Henry – 81 Jason Avant
PR: 10 DeSean Jackson – 18 Jeremy Maclin – 16 Chad Hall/22 Brandon Boykin
KR: 16 Chad Hall – 22 Brandon Boykin/19 Mardy Gilyard – 13 Damaris Johnson
LS: 46 Jon Dorenbos – 47 Matt Camilli
[player] – Injured. Italics – rookie.