The 5 Things to Watch During Eagles Rookie Minicamp
This weekend, the Philadelphia Eagles will continue with their rookie camp, which gives the newest batch of rookies the opportunity to make an impression on the Eagles coaching staff.
"My message last night to the rookies was I played 14 years and I was an undrafted free agent," Eagles second-year head coach Doug Pederson told his newest crop of players, many of which in attendance are undrafted. "So, stick to it. Work hard. Show us what you can do here, and great things are going to happen."
Among those who will take the field for the Eagles include players from their eight-player 2017 draft class, like top pick Derek Barnett. Also in camp are the 30 undrafted free agents and players in camp on a tryout basis, hoping to impress to make it to Eagles training camp.
As Pederson said during the opening of his press conference on Friday, it’s one of his favorite times of the year.
"I just want to say we're excited to get the rookies in here this weekend," said Pederson. "It's our first chance as coaches to put our hands on them and watch them work with our coaches. We're excited and looking forward to getting to work with them this weekend."
Pederson discussed how much playing time the 2016 rookie class was able to earn last season, noting that four of the guys from that draft class ended up playing and having starting roles for the team, in 2016. But added he really has no expectations on how much of a contribution he will end up getting from this years class.
"You never know what's going to happen," explained Pederson. "Obviously, we continued to create competition and depth at the positions and see where this thing ends up at as we get into training camp."
With that in mind, here are five things to watch for in this weekend’s rookie minicamp.
1. Derek Barnett
Having interest in the team’s first-round pick, especially No. 14 overall, happens in every rookie camp - everyone is interested in the top pick. Yet, Derek Barnett’s ability to pick up Jim Schwartz's defense quickly while giving the Eagles another pass rushing option across from Brandon Graham will be a key storyline.
If Barnett is the real deal and if the coaches have confidence in him, the defense will have added a pass rushing end who can help them in a variety of different ways. Pederson said the team will move him around to see what side he is most comfortable.
"We want to work him on both sides of the defensive front, right and left," Pederson explained. "Right now it's just rookie camp, so it's kind of hard until we get him in here with the veterans and really get him working with our guys -- with the guys that we have. So it's a matter of him just picking up the system right now. It's a long time before we play football games and we've got some time to make those decisions."
2. The RB's
Just because the Eagles did not draft a every down running back, does not mean they did not add any more options, as Donnel Pumphrey from San Diego State and Corey Clement from Wisconsin will be on hand this weekend. Do either have a chance to make an impact on this team? Well, with Wendell Smallwood, and Darren Sproles already on the roster, with Ryan Mathews likely on the way out, both of them could find a role on the team. While they haven't found that every down back, Pederson said he is excited about his running back group:
"I'm excited with the guys that we have," Pederson stated.
"You know, Wendell [RB Wendell Smallwood] is coming off his injury last year and he's looking really good right now in the spring drills. We've got [RB Darren] Sproles, and [RB] Byron Marshall is a guy that we’ve been kind of cross-training as a receiver and a running back, and he's been looking really good. And now, Donnel [RB Donnel Pumphrey] is here and Corey's [RB Corey Clement] here, so we have a chance to work some guys in there. I’m pleased with where we're at; I’m excited where we're at and the direction we're headed in that position."
3. Douglas at CB
Of the players the Eagles drafted, none has a shot to make as big an impact as Rasul Douglas does as a rookie. A big corner at 6-foot-2 and 206 pounds, Douglas produced as a two-year starter for West virginia. He lead the nation in interceptions (8) as a senior, and was named first-team All-Big 12.
Pederson talked about what he needed to see from Douglas this weekend and in the OTAs to have the confidence in him to play right away.
"I think the biggest thing with him is picking up the terminology and the scheme." Pederson said. "We know what he can do on the football field. He’s long, he’s aggressive, he has great ball skills. We know that part about him, so it’s just a matter of transitioning over and understanding the defensive terminology."
As Pederson mentioned, Douglas’ has the combination of length and ball skills giving him a chance to produce right away in the Eagles secondary at a position where they are very thin and have much uncertainty.
4. A Pair of Receivers
The Eagles addressed the receiver position both in free agency and in the draft, landing North Carolina’s Mack Hollins in the fourth round and West Virginia's Shelton Gibson in the fifth round. Hollins went a bit later than some predicted, but the Eagles love his size (6-foot-4, 221 pounds), speed (ran a 4.53 40-yard dash at the combine) and production (81 catches, 1,667 yards, 20 TDs in his career). He has the size and speed to be a big play threat in the NFL and a special teams contributor from day one.
As for Gibson, the 5-foot-11, 181-pound receiver was incredibly productive against Big 12 competition, where tallying 84 catches for 1,898 yards and 17 touchdowns while also scoring 10 touchdowns. His disappointing a 40 time of 4.50 seconds could be the reason he was available in the fifth round, but he has the look of a quality receiver but could also take over the kick return duties from day one.
"One thing that both Mack and Shelton [share], and Mack in particular, is special teams value," Pederson described.
"The fact that he's played some special teams in college is beneficial for him. We've just got to, as fast as we can with the limited amount of time that we have in the offseason, get these guys caught up and just, again, create that competition, that depth, the drive at that position to see where these guys are going to fall out."
5. Sidney Jones
While Jones was in town for camp, he will not get a chance to show the skills that have many comparing him to Marcus Peters. While early reports have the Eagles second round pick back on the field in 4-6 months, the Eagles plan to "take it slow" with rookie Sidney Jones, who is recovering from a torn Achilles'.
"The medical staff is happy with where he's at," Pederson said. "But at the same time, we're not going to put any kind of timetable on him. We're going to do right by him and make sure he's 100 percent before we stick him out there on the field."
With that said, Jones will likely begin the season on the PUP list with the hopes he can return in the middle of the year.
He has good size at 6-foot, 186-pounds, has speed, quickness, strength and instincts — as well as desire — all adding up to a risk worth taking for the Eagles in the second round. worth noting that as a rookie.