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A Spin Around The Locker Room

Posted Oct 13, 2016

C.J. Smith isn't satisfied. Alex McCalister is doing his thing in the shadows of Injured Reserve. Caleb Sturgis is, shhhh, in the best groove of his life. And the Eagles' defense prepares for a stacked Washington offense, Jordan Reed or not ...

C.J. Smith isn't satisfied. Alex McCalister is doing his thing in the shadows of Injured Reserve. Caleb Sturgis is, shhhh, in the best groove of his life. And the Eagles' defense prepares for a stacked Washington offense, Jordan Reed or not.

This is the Eagles' locker room after practice only a few days away from the NFC East opener against Washington, with a lot of stories to discuss ...

1. JORDAN REED: WILL THE TALENTED TE PLAY FOR WASHINGTON?

The Eagles know full well how dangerous tight end Jordan Reed is as a receiver down the field and in the red zone. After all, Reed had 87 receptions and 11 touchdowns a season ago, including nine catches, 129 yards and a pair of touchdowns in a December win over the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Reed sounds very questionable to play on Sunday now that he is in the concussion protocol, but the Eagles aren't taking any chances.

"I'm preparing for him to play. In my book, he's in the top three in the league. He hasn't gotten a lot of the recognition that he deserves because he struggles to stay healthy, but when you talk about the matchup problems he presents there aren't many players who make it so tough," safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "Whether it's a linebacker or a safety, he's still able to get open against man coverage and he's able to win in zone. He's a special talent. When I see the schedule and look at the tight ends that we'll play, he's always one that I circle."

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The Eagles plan to give the Redskins different looks with the defense, so neither Jenkins nor fellow safety Rodney McLeod will have the sole responsibility of covering Reed or, if he can't play, Vernon Davis. Linebacker Nigel Bradham will have some of that coverage, too, and the Eagles will play zone at times.

If the Redskins don't have Reed, who did not practice on Wednesday or Thursday, they would turn to Davis, an 11-year veteran who once upon a time was a premier pass-catching tight end with the 49ers. Davis made two Pro Bowls with San Francisco. Davis can still run, but he doesn't bring Reed's versatilty to the table.

"They use him as more of a traditional tight end. Jordan can line up at wide receiver, in the slot or at tight end. Vernon has been more in their protection, more out of their tight end, in-line protection," Jenkins added. "But when you watch the tape he's still running well and that's one thing he's always been able to do well and that creates matchup problems, too."

Washington has a lot of weapons with DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garçon and Jamison Crowder at wide receiver, and Matt Jones and Chris Thompson in the backfield. Losing Reed would be a blow, no question. The Eagles still have a lot of Washington firepower to account for on Sunday.

2. NIGEL BRADHAM: WELCOME TO THE NFC EAST

Linebacker Nigel Bradham has been one of the standouts of the Eagles' defense in the first quarter of the season with a valuable, versatile role. Sunday represents his first NFC East action, and while the locker room treats every game with urgency, playing in the division has some added importance.

"We know what the division means. We win the division, we are in the playoffs," Bradham said. "You know that going in. We know what kind of rivalry this is, we know how good they are as the defending champions in the division and we have a chance to get things started the right way on Sunday."

3. C.J. SMITH: ACTIVE, BUT THAT'S NOT ENOUGH

Cornerback C.J. Smith initially made the 53-man roster with an impressive Training Camp and preseason, only to be released when the Eagles claimed players off waivers the following day. He was signed to the team's practice squad and was promoted to the 53-man roster on Thursday. He may not be active for Sunday's game against Washington, but Smith's goal is to keep working hard and help this football team win.

"It feels good, but you've got to keep working. It's not the end goal. The end goal is to make an impact for this team," Smith said. "I've been preparing like I'm going to play, even when I was on the practice squad, and that's how you become a better player. Coaches do a good job of holding you accountable, so that's helped me a lot."

4. ROOKIE McCALISTER BULKING UP FOR NEXT YEAR

Rookie defensive end Alex McCalister is making the most of his time on Injured Reserve. A seventh-round draft pick from Florida, McCalister weighed 239 pounds in the summer and, frankly, had a tough time gaining leverage with his 6-6 frame. A torn calf muscle suffered in the preseason ended his rookie campaign, but it may turn out to be a blessing in disguise.

"I've been training. Lifting, working hard," McCalister said. "It has made such a big difference. I see the gains. I feel them. I am more explosive. I just need to get the calf all the way healed so that I can run and work my legs and improve there, but my body is different."

McCalister says he is up to about 252 pounds and he's gained a lot of muscle, which is obvious looking at his arms and chest. The Eagles like his long arms and his get-off at the line of scrimmage, so he could be an entirely different player next spring as he prepares for 2017.

"I'm just going to keep pushing my body, keep getting ready and when it's my time, take advantage," McCalister said. "Day by day, I feel a lot different and a lot better."

5. STURGIS WANTS TO STAY IN HIS GROOVE

OK, so placekicker Caleb Sturgis had an up-and-down preseason. He suffered a concussion in the pre-game warmups before the game at Pittsburgh when he was hit in the head - while not wearing a helmet - by a Donnie Jones punt, but Sturgis recovered to beat out Cody Parkey for the job.

Now Sturgis is on a roll, having made his last 10 field goal attempts and hitting on kicks from 53 yards, 50 yards and 49 yards, after missing a 46-yard field goal attempt against Cleveland in the opener.

He's on a roll. He's got a huge leg. And he doesn't want to do anything to upset his stride.

"I feel like I'm in a pretty good groove, and it starts out here on the practice field. When you hit it well on the practice field, it usually carries over to the games," he said. "I started out a little slow, but I keep working on things, cleaning up my mechanics. I'm always working on the little things."

Sturgis has the range, on a wind-free day, of between 55 and 60 yards. That's huge for any kicker, particularly one on the weather-crazy East Coast. A fifth-round pick of the Dolphins in 2013 from Florida, Sturgis scored 111 and then 128 points in his two seasons in Miami, making 26-of-34 field goals as a rookie and 29 out of 37 field goal kicks in his second season with the Dolphins.

Then he lost his job to Andrew Franks, who has made 17-of-21 field goals with the Dolphins and 33-of-36 PAT kicks.

"I'm just going to keep working at my game," Sturgis said. "You can never be satisfied in this business."

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