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Six Takeaways From The Assistant Coaches

Posted Aug 19, 2014

On Tuesday, the Eagles' assistant coaches provided updates on the progress of players as well as some position battles heading into Thursday's crucial preseason affair with the Pittsburgh Steelers ...

Bill McGovern: Just A Matter Of Time For Marcus Smith II

While Chip Kelly and Bill Davis have acknowledged that first-round pick Marcus Smith II still has some ways to go before he’s expected to be a serious contributor to the starting defense, Smith’s position coach explained that it’s just a matter of time for the talented rookie.

“He’s growing,” said Bill McGovern. “It’s just like all the other rookies. There are times when he’s getting it and you get fired up and there are times when he misses one or two things. It’s the saturation point right now where it’s kind of coming out of his ears, so we’re just going to keep trying to feed him, keep trying to go forward. It’s just about when it soaks in and all of a sudden the light goes on for him and all of a sudden the game slows down.”

Smith said last week that his greatest area of focus at the moment is in the pass rush, where he’s trying to incorporate a bull-rush move.

“One of the biggest things we’re working on with him is the pass rush obviously,” McGovern said. “He has the athletic skill set that’s great, we’re excited to work with him, but it’s one of those things where he also needs to fine tune. It’s different; you don’t go against a Jason Peters a lot in college. You’re facing a lot of guys like Jason Peters or close to him every Sunday, so your mistakes are magnified and it’s one of those things where if you’re working every little detail will pay its dividends and if you don’t, it’ll show the other way.”

Ted Williams: Zach Ertz Is "A Rarity"

Tight ends coach Ted Williams recalled on Tuesday the moment he knew that second-year tight end Zach Ertz was special.

"When I went to work him out (before the 2013 NFL Draft). I stood downfield about 20 yards, told the gentleman who was throwing the ball what I wanted done, and watched him run at me. I was so impressed," Williams said. "The body language never hinted in terms of what he was going to do. Everything was off the ball, full speed ahead and then do what you need to do athletically as you go."

Williams' eye for talent and teaching ability has molded some of the franchise's best running backs over the years from Duce Staley to Brian Westbrook to LeSean McCoy. Now, Williams is using his knowledge to bolster a talented trio of tight ends in Ertz, Brent Celek and James Casey. Williams called Ertz "a rarity" for his combination of size and athletic gifts.

"If he continues to develop and grow in all aspects that he needs to, he can be one of the best," Williams said. "He's embraced the position. He's embraced what the league brings to those who accept. He's coming forward in that regard."

Will Penalties Make Defense More Aggressive?

Now that we know how the NFL refs will be calling contact in the secondary, the relevant question is how it will affect game-planning for the Eagles defense moving forward. Defensive coordinator Bill Davis was asked if he’ll feel the need to send more blitzes than usual.

“You’re better off, if the guys have to cover them the whole time anyway, let’s bring six, let’s bring seven,” Davis said. “Let’s overload it so the ball has to come out and come out ugly if we’re going to get flagged for any kind of contact anyway … More pressure will help the ball come out quicker.”

Defensive backs coach John Lovett joked that he'll need to bring in additional teaching tools if necessary.

"I told the guys the other day, 'Listen, if we keep holding people I'm going to bring in boxing gloves.' That's not really fair," said Lovett, of the device used by other teams. "It's more of the grabbing of the jersey which is a natural reaction than it is with actual contact downfield. We coach them through all of those techniques and give them tools that they can use instead of those."

Jeff Stoutland: Allen Barbre's Making Strides

The offensive line has been under the microscope all Training Camp. Last year, the same five players started all 17 games (including playoffs). That doesn't happen often. This year, the Eagles will be without starting right tackle Lane Johnson for the first four games due to a suspension. Allen Barbre has taken the first-team reps at right tackle all throughout Training Camp and the preseason. Offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland is thankful head coach Chip Kelly made the decision to give the reps to Barbre.

"We have seen the biggest move this week following the Patriots game leading into the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. I've seen the biggest jump in improvement in all of the little things," Stoutland said. "You have to realize Al was always a left-side player. He played in a left-handed stance. ... If you've been in a left-handed stance your whole life, it's not as easy as you think. Some players make the adjustment a lot easier than others. I can see the difference in Al feeling more comfortable. He's a lot more communicative to the people around him. I know that he's feeling more comfortable."

Pat Shurmur: Nick Foles Has Improved

One of the popular narratives entering this season is that defenses will be better prepared to face quarterback Nick Foles now that they have a season's worth of game tape. Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur downplayed that statement on Tuesday.

"I think it's overstated. I think quarterbacks have strengths and weaknesses. I think quarterbacks and people at all positions work on their total game all of the time, so Nick's getting better in some areas that he wasn't strong at last year and he's trying to fine-tune some of the areas that he's been doing well," he said. "Then defensive schemes try to stop you as an offense. The best way to do it is to make the quarterback inefficient. That's the best way to do it. If you don't have confidence to drop back and throw it, then it's tough to move the ball. Then all you're going to do is run and they collapse that. I think the fact that people have seen him play, they saw last year's Nick, this year he's better at some things."

Bob Bicknell On The Battle For WR Depth

The Eagles have been hit harder by injury at wide receiver than any other position during Training Camp, but there have been a few silver linings to those injuries. First, the bumps and bruises that sidelined Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper were not serious enough to prevent either from expecting to lace up the boots come Thursday night. Second, the absence of the two starters has allowed for players like Ifeanyi Momah to soak up the extra practice reps.

Momah, of course, has been one of the focuses of camp thus far simply because of how much improvement he’s made since last season.

“I think he thinks a little bit quicker than he used to, and probably because he’s gotten so many reps he’s seen things so many different times,” said wide receivers coach Bob Bicknell. “I think he’s got more confidence in his hands … He’ll still have lapses in certain technique things when he’s catching the ball. But he also just knows the offense. So now it’s, ‘OK, I’m here and I’m running this,’ where it used to be, ‘What is this?’ Truthfully, he didn’t know the mechanics of running certain routes. I think he’s done an unbelievable job of working as hard as anybody trying to get himself in a good situation.”

As Chip Kelly has preached, Bicknell also makes sure his players know that special teams will play a major factor in roster decisions. Bicknell cited Arrelious Benn, Quron Pratt and Jeff Maehl as some of the standouts in that area, but he said he’s been pleased with the effort from his group as a whole.

“I talk about it all the time, because I know obviously that’s important number one. Number two, it’s important for them to be involved in that as a player because you never know where you’re going to be fitting in the roster,” said Bicknell. “Obviously it’s extremely important. As a coach, I’ve always taken great pride in receivers taking that as an important role and trying to play on as many special teams.”

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