Eagles Rookie Camp Primer: Keep an Eye on Seumalo, Smallwood
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) — Carson Wentz is obviously the main event when the Eagles open up their annual rookie minicamp on Friday but the No. 2 overall pick is expected to be brought along slowly with the intent of redshirting the former North Dakota State star for the entire 2016 season.
Whether that plan is feasible remains to be seen and likely depends on just how well Sam Bradford, or Chase Daniel for that matter, handles being the bridge and if Philadelphia can stay in contention in the NFC East for the majority of the 2016 season.
As far as immediate impact, though, keep your eye on two players, third-round pick Isaac Seumalo, who figures to get every opportunity to push for the starting left guard spot, as well as fifth-round running back Wendell Smallwood, who needs to seize control of an opportunity to spell the oft-injured Ryan Mathews in the team's backfield.
Here are the major storylines to keep an eye on this weekend:
ADVANTAGE SEUMALO: The Eagles are going to throw a cast of thousands at left guard in an effort to find the answer, starting with last year's incumbent Allen Barbre and free-agent pickup Stefen Wisniewski, a long-time starter at center in both Oakland and Jacksonville.
Andrew Gardner, who won the RG spot in 2015 before going down with a Lisfranc injury, and second-year player Malcolm Bunche may also get a little lip service but the priority is getting Seumalo up and running as quickly as possible.
Remember the Eagles only had two priority picks (first through third rounds) in this year's process and Wentz isn't going to be asked to hit the field early. It's natural for any GM to want his picks to succeed but after a year in exile and many doubters questioning his talent-evaluation skills, Howie Roseman really wants to prove something and the only pick who can do that for him immediately is the versatile Oregon State interior lineman.
LARGE EXPECTATIONS: It may not be fair to expect a fifth-round pick to contribute right away but that's what the Eagles need out of Smallwood, the Wilmington native who needs to join a RB-by-committee setup in the backfield.
Mathews' history says he's not going to be a bell cow who can carry it 25 times a game without getting banged up and Doug Pederson would prefer to limit the 33-year-old Darren Sproles' touches by keeping him as a traditional third-down back. That means there will be plenty of carries to be earned for the fresh legs Smallwood provides and if the rookie looks like the real deal, the Eagles will rest a little easier. If he looks overwhelmed the Eagles are going to need to add something via the trade market.
RECEIVING OPTIONS: Let's be blunt, the Eagles' receiving corps is a problem. Jordan Matthews was a volume player in Chip Kelly's volume offense who dropped the ball far too much and was used strictly as a slot option. He's nowhere near a WR1 in the NFL but he's the best wideout on this team by a country mile and Pederson and Co. will try to expand his value by at least giving him a chance to play outside the numbers.
Nelson Agholor was awful as a rookie last season and almost has to be better as a sophomore but expecting a difference maker after what we saw last year is nothing more than blind faith. As for Josh Huff, he's more of a return guy you need to manufacture touches for and could be in danger of losing his roster spot without Kelly's protection.
The Eagles brought in a series of veterans on make-good, one-year deals led by the talented but inconsistent Rueben Randle, as well as deep threats Chris Givens and T.J. Graham. Also in the mix, however, are five undrafted free agent receivers led by the rangy Cayleb Jones as well as potential slot options Hunter Sharpe and Byron Marshall. My guess is that at least one UDFA with join a core of Matthews, Randle and Agholor come September.
DEFENSIVE TACKLE HELP: The Eagles will be solid on the interior up front with Fletcher Cox and Bennie Logan but the depth is shaky with the underwhelming Beau Allen and Taylor Hart joined by free-agent pickup Mike Martin, who missed most of last season in Nashville due to injury. Those three pedestrian options should get plenty competition by a trio of rookie additions, Connor Wujciak, Destiny Vaeao and Aziz Shittu, all high-level UNFA options.
LINEBACKER-UP: The instinctive Jordan Hicks is set to take over in the middle of the Eagles defense but his injury history dating back to University of Texas has to be a concern and Philadelphia doesn't possess numbers at the LB position, a fact that will give seventh-round pick Joe Walker every opportunity to snare the reserve mike job. Like Hicks, Walker's strength as a player is his innate feel for the game but he doesn't bring the same physical skill set to the table.
VERSATILE DBs: Jim Schwartz probably doesn't have any cornerbacks penned in on his depth chart with second-year talent Eric Rowe scribbled in with the darkest pencil. Former Buffalo starter Leodis McKelvin and Nolan Carroll will likely battle for the other starting spot and perhaps the nickel position with Ron Brooks and second-year players JaCorey Shepherd, Denzel Rice and Randall Evans in the mix.
The real wild cards, though, are versatile rookies Jalen Mills and Blake Countess, who both have experience playing safety and in the slot on the college level. Mills is of particular interest because he is the more talented of the two will likely settle in as a backup to Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod at safety. However, if Mills is also deemed capable of also handling things in the slot that opens up options as far as how Schwartz can juggle his talent in the defensive backfield.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973ESPN.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen