Tim McManus – ESPN Staff Writer
The Eagles wrapped up their offseason training program this week. Here are some takeaways after observing OTA and minicamp practices this spring:
Carson Wentz is trending in the right direction. He is in the process of tweaking his mechanics, which likely factored into some of his inconsistencies throwing the ball earlier this offseason. Wentz continues to be a work in progress in this area, but appeared to hit his stride during the team’s three-day minicamp, his passes crisper and more on point.
“It’s coming,” said Eagles coach Doug Pederson, who noted Wentz was 11-of-12 during one of the minicamp sessions even though the ball wobbled from time to time. “I would say that obviously he’s been working extremely hard at everything we’ve done. He’s really understanding our offense and our scheme, and that’s part of it, too — making good choices and decisions with the ball. He’s been sharp. It’s exciting to watch him, and just excited now headed into camp.”
Players and coaches alike have spoken about how he has taken on a bigger leadership role in Year 2. More comfortable and in command, the process is very much underway of this becoming Wentz’s team.
Alshon Jeffery is catching everything. Wentz is already seeing the benefit of upgrading the receiving corps. The Eagles receivers were last in the league in drop rate last season (5.8 percent), making the rookie quarterback’s assignment all the more challenging in 2016. During the spring, it’s evident that the number of balls hitting the turf are down from this time a year ago. Jeffery in particular has helped the cause. About as sure-handed as they come, he had just one drop on 92 targets last season, per ESPN Stats & Information. True to form, he has snatched just about every pass in his direction this offseason, including ones that were a bit off the mark. The term “catch radius” always comes up with Jeffery, and you can see why. Wentz’s margin for error increases significantly when throwing in the direction of No. 17.
Donnel Pumphrey a wild card in Eagles’ backfield. At the open of minicamp, the first-team offense took the field with a “pony” personnel grouping featuring shifty tailbacks Darren Sproles and rookie Donnel Pumphrey. Pumphrey was often motioned into the slot and attacked the play as a receiver. At 5-foot-8 and 169 pounds, he does not have the size to be used in a traditional fashion. But the FBS’ all-time leading rusher knows what to do in space and could be a matchup headache, including when deployed in the pass game.
“He really has unique route-running ability for a guy of his size being considered a running back,” Pederson said. “He actually is a very good route runner and he’s smart. He’s a smart kid. Much like Darren Sproles in the fact that we can move him around and take advantage of that, and that could be beneficial for us.”
The mix of smaller backs such as Sproles and Pumphrey with the stout LeGarrette Blount (6-feet, 250 pounds) should keep opposing defenses on their toes.
CB Rasul Douglas has a shot to claim a starting job. The rookie third-round pick out of West Virginia got a lot of work with the first-team defense this spring. When the team went to its nickel look (a package they were in about 70 percent of the time last season), Douglas typically took over one of the outside corner spots opposite Patrick Robinson while Jalen Mills moved into the slot. That doesn’t guarantee that defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz will stick with that personnel grouping come the fall — veteran Ron Brooks is working back from a quad injury and could change the dynamic when green-lighted, for example — but Douglas has done enough with his opportunity to earn more. He has shown off the instincts and ability that helped him become the NCAA’s interception leader a year ago (8), coming up with a number of pass breakups during OTAs in particular. He’s still raw, and the fact that he is in the mix so early speaks in part to the lack of proven talent at the corner position, but Douglas has acquitted himself well overall and has a chance to claim a significant role with a strong training camp.
Derek Barnett looks like he belongs. The first-round pick out of Tennessee has been showing off some of the pass-rushing skills that helped him break Reggie White’s school sack record. He’s received a good amount of reps against standout tackle Lane Johnson, who walked away impressed with Barnett’s bend. While it’s impossible to properly judge a lineman when playing in shorts, Barnett did “win” his share of matchups in team periods — including against Johnson — and overall looked the part. The starting DE spots are currently occupied by Brandon Grahamand Vinny Curry, but Barnett should at least find his way into the rotation to start his rookie season.