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News, Notes And An O-Line Update

There is no greater indication of Doug Pederson's core philosophy of winning football than what happened in some of the moves the Eagles have made in this offseason. Certainly, yes, the overarching commitment at quarterback is huge, and Pederson clearly values being strong there one through three on the depth chart. Look more closely and you'll see where the Eagles have dug deep to have success.

Coming to terms with defensive tackle Fletcher Cox represents an ultra-important short-term and long-term move for the Eagles in many ways. He's yet another core player the team has locked up with a new contract and he gives the defensive line an All-Pro presence who is capable of controlling games. The Eagles feel very good about what they have up front.

On the other side of the line of scrimmage, the Eagles have addressed the offensive line in several significant ways, which have been detailed throughout the offseason. Signing guard Brandon Brooks and guard/center Stefen Wisniewski in free agency and adding two players in the draft give the Eagles much more depth, much more talent and the moves allow coach Jeff Stoutland to have so much more flexibility than he's had in the past when the Eagles really didn't do much after taking tackle Lane Johnson No. 4 overall in the 2013 NFL Draft.

"Most importantly, we have a lot of depth, which has been a little bit of an issue here," Stoutland said. "With the additions we created a lot of depth and that's really important over the course of a long, physical season. We've got the right people. Now, we just have to put them in the right place.

"I'm excited. I'm always excited. I love coaching these guys. They are a great group. They're eager to learn and to this point they've done a great job."

The optimism begins with left tackle Jason Peters, who is healthy after a tough 2015 season. Peters didn't miss a day of work in the spring and he's still, as Stoutland thinks, one of the elite left tackles in the league.

"I can't say enough about how Jason performed this spring. He had a really good spring and he's going to be ready to go this season," Stoutland said.

Allen Barbre took the first-team reps at left guard throughout the spring, but Stoutland expects competition. Wisniewski is a capable veteran and third-round draft pick Isaac Seumalo, who missed every bit of practice following the post-draft rookie camp as he abided by the NCAA graduation rules, is expected to get a long, long look. Stoutland did nightly Skype and whiteboard work with Seumalo during the spring to give the rookie some mental reps, so while Seumalo has missed some reps – Stoutland estimates that the offensive line had 800 reps in the practices – that he will never get back, he has the concepts down from a mental standpoint.

The biggest addition to the line, literally, was the signing of Brooks in free agency. He is the starting right guard and teams with tackle Lane Johnson. Stoutland thinks Brooks is pretty special, even more so now that he's gotten to know him. The way Brooks uses his hands, his massive physical size and the athletic ability he has shown getting to the second level has impressed Stoutland.

"To have a guy like him with his intelligence and his physical presence next to Lane – Lane hasn't really had that – when you work together with someone you begin to grow together and I know that's already started to happen," Stoutland said. "It gives the players around him confidence. He's done a great job so far."

Don't overlook the offensive line. In fact, get excited about what the Eagles have done to improve an area of concern the last couple of seasons.

  • Speaking of depth, the Eagles think they've found some in the secondary both at cornerback and at safety. The tandem of Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod gained some attention in the spring, but who is there behind them? Chris Maragos and Ed Reynolds remain from last year, but there is also competition in the form of converted corner Jaylen Watkins and rookie Blake Countess. "I like what I've seen. Of course, when the pads go on the physical part of the game comes into play, but we're going to have good competition," safeties coach Tim Hauck said. "The way that Malcolm and Rodney communicate and the range they have, that's really exciting. Jaylen has come a long way in a short period of time so I want to see him in pads, and Blake has picked up everything really quickly. Ed is an intelligent football player who gets to the right spot and Chris has experience in this league and can play safety, as well as being a core player on special teams."
  • How is Jordan Hicks coming along in the middle of the Eagles defense? "I've been encouraged by Jordan," linebackers coach Ken Flajole said. "He's a sharp young man. I think he likes the leadership role that he has to assume as the middle linebacker in this defense. His big deal is just staying healthy. I think he's worked hard to do that. Hopefully he'll have a great season and stay healthy. If he can stay healthy, I think he's going to be ready to have a great year for us."
  • The kickoff return game is, from this perspective, going to be very much alive this season. Look for Josh Huff to be the primary return man with his physical running ability. The new rules, if you have forgotten, state that a touchback will be brought out to the 25-yard line, rather than the 20-yard line in the past. I'm going to keep banging the drum: Are teams really just going to give up 5 yards on defense? I think not. Look for kickoffs blooped inside the 5-yard line and a revitalized play on kickoff returns. The days of touchback after touchback for this season – and the new rules apply for 2016 only – are going to make the kickoff return very much a live play once again.
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