Midway through the third and final week of OTAs, the Eagles have two practices left before they break until minicamp. There have been a variety of players missing from practice due to either injury or the voluntary nature of OTAs. That’s created opportunity for some of the younger players looking to make their name with the Eagles, and some of those players have spent these weeks grasping the chances that came their way.
Here’s the rundown on three such players, with the caveat that they are by no means the only Eagles excelling at practice. Alshon Jeffery’s catch radius is showing the Eagles obtained exactly the elite receiver they hoped. Derek Barnett is showing the pass rush ability that garnered the career sack record at Tennessee. Those are players living up to expectations; these three are players beating theirs.
Fans will be wary to hear the former first-round pick is the star of practice so far. And Agholor’s first two seasons in the league have definitely been ones to forget, plagued by drops and a lack of production. But with those disappointing years in the rearview and the addition of Jeffery and Torrey Smith has come lower expectations and less pressure for a player where the trouble always appeared to be on some level mental.
While that could help, the arrival of rookies Mack Collins and Shelton Gibson means Agholor and fellow former high draft pick Dorial Green-Beckham will have to fight for their spots on the roster. So far, Agholor is winning that fight. With Jordan Matthews sidelined by injury, he’s been taking over the slot role and he’s been catching touchdowns from Carson Wentz and Nick Foles. He’s reportedly keeping meticulous track of drops that have, so far, largely disappeared.
Without contact and with no threat of an actual sack to the quarterback, receivers have every advantage in these early practices, but that doesn’t take away from how impressive Agholor has been — day in and day out. The good word out of camp on Agholor is in contrast to reports on Green-Beckham and drop issues with Gibson.
He has to keep doing it in games, but if Agholor does manage to thrive while Jeffery, Smith and Matthews draw attention, he could put himself in position for a very large role with the Eagles going forward, since all three of those receivers could potentially see their contracts with the team end next offseason.
Patrick Robinson and Jalen Mills are the default starters at cornerback as camp begins. But when the team goes to a nickel set, Mills has been shifting inside and Douglas has been taking over the first-team spot at the outside position. For a team that’s third linebacker played just 27 percent of snaps last season, the third corner is basically a starter.
Douglas, the second corner drafted by the Eagles this season, is getting his chance while the first one, Sidney Jones, recovered from a torn Achilles. It will likely keep him out through the beginning of the season and means if the Eagles expect improvement in the secondary, it will be coming from either new signee Robinson, or Douglas.
For his part, Douglas has been showing the ball skills that led to an NCAA-leading eight interceptions last season. His size (6-foot-2) has given him the best chance on the Eagles roster to challenge Jeffery in jump balls, and both Jeffery and Smith have raved about his ability and his desire to get better.
The good reviews are coming from all over. Eagles legend Troy Vincent told PhiladelphiaEagles.com that Douglas reminded him of his former partner at cornerback, Bobby Taylor. We should be wary of expecting Douglas to live up to the hype at this point, but the Eagles sure could benefit if he did. You never know, this was the most hyped cornerback draft class of all time.
Jernigan provides a very different matchup next to Fletcher Cox than the departed Bennie Logan.
“He's not physically the biggest guy, but he's very strong and he's very active,” said Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz.
In 24 starts over three seasons in Baltimore, Jernigan had 13 sacks, and that’s a number that could go up in Philadelphia. Schwartz told the media the Eagles scheme is “a lot more attacking. I think it fits him. He can win individual pass rushes, meaning when the center is sliding away, he's a tough matchup for a guard.” With Cox next door, the center could be sliding away to double quite often this season.
But Jernigan has already spent OTAs showing he doesn’t need Cox next to him to be successful. While the Eagles’ Pro Bowl defensive tackle was a no-show at the start of camp, Jernigan wasted no time being labeled a disruptive force and a handful for new starter Isaac Seumalo at guard, just as Schwartz predicted.
There is a bit of bad news with the good, as Jernigan left Monday’s practice with what was eventually diagnosed as an ankle sprain. Expect the Eagles to be cautious through camp. But for a player on the last year of his cost-effective rookie deal, acquired by dropping down in the third round, Jernigan has shown he can be every bit the starter the Eagles need to replace Logan.