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Nine Takeaways From Rookie Camp

Posted May 8, 2015

All six Eagles draft picks along with three undrafted rookies with local ties met the media at the NovaCare Complex Friday after their first day of practice as professionals. Here's everything you need to know about the first day on the job for the rookie class ...

Agholor Focused On The Small Gains

Nelson Agholor is well aware of the lofty expectations placed on first-round picks, but expectations are nothing new for the Eagles' newest receiver. Agholor ascended the ranks through high school and became a five-star college recruit. He thrived at the University of Southern California, a school known for producing top-notch receivers.

But will Agholor be inserted in the Eagles' starting lineup right away? That question isn't on Agholor's mind right now. Instead, the Eagles' newest offensive weapon is focused on getting better each and every day, and if he can do that, his ability to make an impact right away for the Eagles will follow shortly after.

"That's not the conversation right now," Agholor said on Friday. "The conversation is about me getting better. Today was a great day. I got out there and kind of understood a little bit more of the NFL speed. I put some more things on film to learn from. When Week 1 comes, I think that will be an easier conversation for us to have, but right now it's all about me trying to find myself.

"My mentality is to progress. I want to be a better player today and I want to be a better player tomorrow. I'm not worried about saying that I'm the guy. I'm worried about getting better every day and I let the chips fall where they may from there."

Fans may be looking for Agholor to step in right away due mostly to the fact that the Eagles have a hole to fill on their wide receiver depth chart. With Jeremy Maclin heading to Kansas City, Agholor could conceivably bring some of the same Maclin-type skills to the table, making him a hand-in-glove fit for the Eagles offense.

Agholor understands the comparison, but he maintains that while it's simple to match him up with Maclin from a size and speed standpoint, Maclin has one very important thing that Agholor is currently lacking – experience.

"I have an understanding of the kind of player he is," Agholor said of Maclin. "Obviously, he had a great career here and I'm aware of the things he does but I think we're two different people because I have not played in the NFL yet and he's already proven himself. I'm here to develop and to get an opportunity to play the game."

As Agholor develops, he's going to be able to do so with a young wide receiving corps alongside him. Agholor joins Jordan Matthews and Josh Huff in a young and explosive receivers group, with Riley Cooper serving as the veteran mentor.

According to Agholor, all three youngsters have a chance to achieve something great as they continue to push each other to get better.

"I think we're going to do something special here because of the people that are already here," said Agholor. "It starts with the coaches and then the players. Those guys love the game of football as much as I do and I think we're all going to push each other and try to get better."

Eagles fans are already buzzing about Agholor's potential in Chip Kelly's scheme, and while they have every right to do so, Agholor won't be reading much into it. Instead, he plans to control only what he can and let the rest work itself out.

"Me telling you today that I want to grow every day as a football player and learn the offense and learn how professionals prepare, those are controllable things," said Agholor. "It's not about me going out there and catching 10 passes a game, because those things I really can't control. How I live is about easy aspects of life."

Rowe Taking It Slow

The Eagles had a clear need in the secondary entering the 2015 NFL Draft. Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher and Nate Allen, all three starters in 2014, were no longer with the team. So when the Eagles selected Utah defensive back Eric Rowe in the second round, there were immediately thoughts of him being inserted into the starting lineup right away.

Rowe isn't thinking that far ahead, though, and is instead taking a day-by-day approach to learning the NFL game as he begins his first set of workouts as a Philadelphia Eagle.

"The approach is that I want to better myself," Rowe said on Friday. "I can't say that I'm going to be a starter Week 1. In the NFL, that's definitely not how it works. You've got to earn your spot and earn respect just like a freshman coming into college.

"You have to learn from the people ahead of you. For right now, I just want to better myself and have the mentality of just competing. If you compete, everything will fall into place."

Rowe earned respect from the Eagles officials as they met with him during the pre-draft process, starting at the Senior Bowl. Rowe admits, however, that there was one man in the meeting who was tough to read.

"I walked into the room and there were about seven people. I remember seeing Coach Kelly and when everyone was asking me questions he would just lean back and right down everything that I said," Rowe explained with a laugh. "I was like ‘Man, what is he writing? Am I saying something wrong?'  He wouldn't even budge a smile at me. I tried to crack a joke and there was nothing. I was like ‘Man, this guy is tough.' That was my first impression."

Fast forward a few months, and that expression on his coach's face changed pretty quickly upon greeting him at the NovaCare Complex.

"He was excited, he was happy, he cracked a smile and joked with me," said Rowe. "It was like he was a totally different guy than I first met, but it was a pretty cool experience. "

It's clear that Kelly and the Eagles front office did indeed think very highly of Rowe, as evidenced by them trading two fifth-round picks to move up in the second round to land him. That would seem to place a lot of pressure on the Eagles rookie to perform at a high level, but dealing with pressure is no sweat for Rowe.

"I really don't feel the pressure of being the guy and having to make plays," Rowe said. "I feel like if I keep competing and working on my technique and my craft, then everything will fall into place."

Hicks Fluent In Many Defenses

Linebacker Jordan Hicks played for four defensive coordinators in his five years at the University of Texas. While he had to constantly adapt, it will help ease his transition to the NFL.

"It's really helped me a lot learning conceptually and understanding what offenses are trying to do to beat you," Hicks said. "I learned so many different techniques, so many different schemes - man, zone - everything you can think of I've probably done it to some extent."

At 6-1, 236 pounds, Hicks thrived as a senior notching 147 tackles while earning second-team All-Big 12 honors. The best part for Hicks is that playing in Charlie Strong's defense last year was the most comparable to what the Eagles play, according to the third-round pick.

Hicks' sensational senior season was also a testament to his perseverance when it came to injuries during his college career. After a promising second season, Hicks suffered a season-ending hip injury three games into the 2012 campaign. One year later, he started four games before succumbing to an Achilles injury.

"For me, it's changed my mindset in the fact that it's prepared me for life," Hicks said of the injuries. "You realize that in one play, everything can be gone, so you don't take these moments for granted."

Shepherd Does Not Lack Confidence

Sixth-round pick JaCorey Shepherd knows that successful cornerbacks need to have a certain personality on the field. Namely, the belief that you can stop anyone from catching the ball, even if the receiver is bigger and faster.

"That's my approach," Shepherd said. "You can't play corner if you don't have that approach. I obviously wouldn't be in this position if I didn't attack things that way."

Shepherd faced a deluge of questions about his speed Friday because he ran a 40-yard dash that failed to break the 4.6-second mark at Kansas' pro day. But the 5-foot-11 Shepherd was suffering from a hamstring injury at the time. Perhaps, though, the lack of blazing speed on that day was a blessing in disguise that landed Shepherd with the Eagles.

"I definitely use the round I got picked in as motivation," Shepherd said. "But like I said from the beginning, that never really mattered to me, I just wanted the opportunity. To be labeled as maybe a slower corner, I know that's not me, especially if you watch tape, playing in the Big XII conference, there weren't too many times that I got a deep ball completed on me. That definitely does motivate me to show that I'm not that player, that's not me."

Timed speed, meanwhile, is wholly irrelevant on the field itself, especially when Shepherd will be asked to do what he did in college – press the receiver.

"I don't care what (the receiver) runs," Shepherd said. "He can run a 4.1 for all I care. I trust my speed. I mean, you can't run if you can't move, so if I get my hands on him he can't go anywhere. If I get my hands on him, that's going to disrupt his speed, so that 4.2 goes to a 4.4. I don't care what he is, what he runs, I'm getting up there and challenging him."

At Kansas, Shepherd's Jayhawks never won more than three games in a single season. That losing took its toll on Shepherd, though the former wide receiver found ways to motivate himself amid the losses.

"I'm a competitor," Shepherd said. "We may lose the overall game, but I'm not going to lose against the guy that's lined up against me. Regardless, that's how I play. I don't care what the score is, I don't care if I'm going against a first-string or a fourth-string because the score is run up on us, but the guy across from me is not going to win. That's how I play. I represent me, I represent my name on my back and I represent the University of Kansas. That's just how I've always been in my life."

That competitor will have his work cut out for him in the jockeying for spots in the Eagles' secondary. With three cornerbacks drafted among the Eagles' six picks and spots up for grabs in the Eagles' defensive backfield, Shepherd is looking forward to earning his place.

"I'm actually a guy who, I like challenges," he said. "I don't like anything that's easy. I never had anything handed to me, I always had to earn it and prove myself. Going into a situation where I have competition here as well, I think that benefits me because you actually get the best out of me when I do have competition."

Evans Looks To Maintain Walk-On Mentality

For sixth-round pick Randall Evans, the first day of Rookie Camp was no different than the first day at Kansas State University.

He arrived in Manhattan, Kansas as a walk-on, earned a scholarship and started 31 games over his four seasons with the Wildcats. He was a first-team All-Big 12 selection as a senior.

On Friday, Evans started his NFL journey without a secure spot on the Eagles' 53-man roster.

"I still have to have that walk-on mentality. I still have to have that underdog, that I've got to earn it," Evans said. "I think it stays the same. It helped me from the standpoint that nothing was given to me. I have to earn it."

The 6-0, 195-pound Evans primarily played in the nickel cornerback spot and relished it since it provided him his first opportunity to get on the field. He also looks at the nickel as a tougher spot to play than on the outside.

"Nickel is harder than playing cornerback because you're in the middle of the field," said Evans, noting that you have to be good against the pass and the run at nickel. "It's more challenging."

Evans said that the Wildcats aligned in off-coverage to prevent the deep ball, but that he can play press as well. The Eagles spent three draft picks on the secondary hoping to fix a defense that allowed a league-worst 72 plays of 20 or more yards in 2014.

Mammoth Mihalik Sees Familiar Faces

When Brian Mihalik walked into a crowded studio for his first press conference in front of the Philadelphia media, he was head and shoulders above everyone else in the crowd – literally.

Standing tall at 6-9, the Eagles' seventh-round draft pick introduced himself to the local media on Friday afternoon. The former Boston College defensive end talked at length about his length and why his frame poses such a challenge for opposing players.

"I think my arm length (is my biggest strength)," said Mihalik. "Just being able to get players away from me and then being able to get rid of them. The (coaches) look for guys that are not only tall but have longer arms so they can extend well."

Some might wonder if Mihalik, given his size, ever considered a pro basketball career rather than one on the gridiron, but he explained that he wasn't always on the taller side. In fact, Mihalik's growth spurt didn't come until later in his life.

"I wasn't all that tall growing up," Mihalik explained. "At the beginning of my freshman year in high school, I was 5-11. By the next year I was 6-4 and the next year I was 6-7. It was all in the span of about two years."

After his high school days were finished, Mihalik landed at Boston College where he played 44 games, finishing his career with 86 tackles and 8.5 sacks, and it was there where he met a few coaches who would ultimately be with him at the NFL level as well.

"Coach (Ryan) Day was our offensive coordinator up until last year," said Mihalik. "Coach (Bill) McGovern was my defensive coordinator freshman and sophomore year and coach (Mike) Dawson was assistant defensive line coach my freshman year, so I know them pretty well."

One coach with whom Mihalik was not familiar is his new defensive line coach, Jerry Azzinaro, who has made a quick impression.

"You can tell just how much he knows," Mihalik said. "Everyone that I know has a lot of respect for him as a coach. He just brings a wealth of knowledge and I look forward to working with him."

Mihalik enters his first rookie camp surrounded by some familiar faces and a familiar team name, but the familiarity that may just matter is the one he has with the Eagles' 3-4 defensive look.

"We did a little bit of a base 3-4 defense here and there at Boston College," he said. "There are definitely some differences to it, some things that I'll have to get used to, but it's a position that I project well to with my size. I thought I was going to play in a 3-4 no matter what, and I'm excited to play in this one."

Coccia Goes From 700 Level To The Practice Field

Undrafted rookie center Mike Coccia knows exactly what he's getting into as a Philadelphia Eagle because the Bethlehem, Pa., native has been a die-hard Eagles fan for as long as he can remember. Starting in 2000, when Coccia was just 8 years old, he and his father, Silvio, would attend Eagles games at veterans stadium, where they had season tickets in the 700 level.

Since then, the Coccia's seats have upgraded to section 124 at Lincoln Financial Field. Now, though, the hope is that there will be an empty seat come game day as Coccia tries to earn himself a spot on the sideline.  

"It's pretty cool," Coccia said of the opportunity to play for his favorite team. "I always said that I wanted to play for the Eagles. I always said that I wanted to play in the NFL. And now that it finally happened, it's a pretty unbelievable feeling. A lot of hard work has gone into it and now that it's all paid off, it's very rewarding."

Coccia's odds of making the team, whether on the 53-man roster or the practice squad, are greater considering the absence of drafted offensive linemen in the rookie class. But there's certainly plenty of work to do for the kid who grew up idolizing Jon Runyan and Brian Dawkins to prove himself this summer.

Also working in Coccia's favor is his familiarity with the scheme. Coccia started all 44 games of his college career at New Hampshire, where the offensive scheme remains one with Chip Kelly's fingerprints all over. The transition from that offense to Kelly's NFL offense is the primary reason, not the fandom, why Coccia chose to join the Eagles despite heavy interest from the Atlanta Falcons and Oakland Raiders.

"When I made the decision, that was pretty much the main factor," Coccia said. "I'm pretty familiar with the system, the whole scheme and all of that. If there's one scheme in the NFL that will help me succeed, it's this one."

Stoutland Recruits Bunche For The Second Time

When Malcolm Bunche chose to sign with the Eagles as an undrafted free agent, it was not the first time he committed to offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland. As a high school senior in 2009, Bunche made the decision to leave Newark, Del., for the sunny confines of south Florida, where he would suit up for the MiamI Hurricanes. Bunche's main recruiter throughout the process was Stoutland, then the offensive line coach for Miami.

Six years later, the two have reunited with the Eagles, after each made separate stops of their own. Bunche redshirted his first year with the Hurricanes in 2010, a tumultuous season that saw head coach Randy Shannon fired, leaving Stoutland as the interim head coach. After that year, Stoutland would leave to become Alabama's offensive line coach. Bunche went on to start games in three straight years for Miami before he made a decision to depart as well, transferring as a graduate to UCLA before the 2014 season.

Bunche's season at UCLA did not go quite as anticipated as he lost the starting left tackle job before then losing a starting spot altogether (he had been moved to left guard). It was not a shock, then, that Bunche went undrafted in last week's NFL Draft, though it was a pleasant surprise when he heard from his old coach.  

"Talking with coach Stoutland (when he called during the last round of the NFL Draft)," Bunche said, "he told me ‘You're the one guy that we want here. We didn't draft any linemen so you have to make a name for yourself and you have to put in the time and effort into the weight room and the film room and show that you want to be here.' And that's what I'm going to do."

Because of that lack of drafted offensive linemen, Bunche has as good a shot to make an impression this summer as any undrafted rookie on the roster. His two biggest priorities in that roster push will be proving his versatility and his fitness.

"Coach Stoutland talks to me about playing multiple positions," Bunche said. "Right now I'm at right tackle, but he brings it up to me every day. Be ready for guard, left guard or right guard. I just have to be mentally prepared.

"First, I need to get in shape. But my strengths, I'm a physical player. I love being physical. My footwork is good. But it all starts with being in shape. You can't go anywhere if you're dogging it, you're not in shape, you're sweating, you're not making good plays because you're tired."

Bailey: My Play, Not My Numbers, Will Do The Talking

Wide receiver Rasheed Bailey has NFL size at 6-1, 205 pounds. He was a sensational receiver at Division III Delaware Valley setting a plethora of school records. He was named the Middle Atlantic Conference Offensive Player of the Year after leading all of Division III with 1,707 yards receiving and 19 touchdowns to go with 80 receptions.

It still wasn't enough to get Bailey drafted, but he is still in a position to make an NFL roster after signing with the Eagles as a rookie free agent.

"I have a lot still to prove. Even though the numbers I had, the records I broke and stuff like that, I still have a lot of work to do. I have to prove it on another level and that's why I'm here," Bailey said. "I'm going to prepare myself for a fight and let my play do the talking, not my numbers."

A Philadelphia native who played tight end at Roxborough High, Bailey grew up an Eagles fan and has no problems making the shift from fan to roster hopeful.

"No, it's not hard at all because I have that drive, that passion, everything that Philly is," Bailey said. "I'm trying to bring it to this football team. I'm excited and I'm going to wear that Chip on my shoulder, coming from a small school, being a fan now being a player and I'm going to give everything I've got every day."

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