The Eagles' assistant coaches spoke with the media on Monday. Dave Spadaro and Chris McPherson offer nine takeaways from the hour-long session.
1. DeFilippo "Absolutely" Expects Wentz To Push Ball More
Carson Wentz's critics like to point to a stat from his impressive rookie campaign - 6.23. That's his yards per attempt, which was next to last among starting quarterbacks last season. Those who aren't aboard the Wentz Wagon will argue that this number shows he doesn't have the arm talent necessary to threaten NFL defenses on a consistent basis.
Quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo "absolutely" sees that number rising in 2017 for a number of reasons.
First, the experience.
"I think you're going to see Carson see the field better in Year 2 where we had some shots dialed up that we may have missed or we were a little bit leaky in protection or we didn't get open," he said.
"There's a lot of factors in yards per attempt that's not just the quarterback pushing the ball down the field."
Second, the Eagles invested in a lot of talent at offensive line, running back, and wide receiver this offseason. DeFilippo raved about the additions at wide receiver in particular.
"The thing that's very comforting for a quarterback, and I've coached a lot of these guys, is when a receiver whether it be a receiver, a tight end, a back, it doesn't matter, a guy that catches the football has a big catch radius where you don't have to be strike-point accurate all the time because it's hard," DeFilippo said.
"There's guys coming in your face. There's hands in your face. You're trying to find lanes. If you can throw a guy open, and feel confident that he's going to be able to extend his hands outside his body to catch the football, that gives you a lot of confidence as a quarterback.
"Alshon (Jeffery) and Torrey (Smith) have shown that they have catching radiuses that are really going to help our offense.
"I think the combination of things I just mentioned and him seeing the field better, the yards per attempt number will naturally go up." - CM
2. Staley Wants Run Game To Power Offense
Running backs coach Duce Staley looks at the investment in veteran LeGarrette Blount and rookie Donnel Pumphrey as a sign that head coach Doug Pederson wants to feature the run game more in 2017.
"You want to be in a position where you can help Carson and the guys that we have in the backfield can help. To get back to pounding the ball a little bit. Just imposing your will on these defenses," Staley said. "Getting Blount out there in the secondary, I'm pretty sure those safeties will think twice about hitting him. You want to be able to help Carson. We've got the weapons around him now to help."
Staley said that the identity of the team will be determined in Training Camp once the pads go on, but he loves the versatility of the run game this year.
"It's a great mixture of speed and power," he said.
The Eagles finished 11th in rushing last season, but 18th in yards per carry. And from an explosiveness standpoint, the longest carry of the season went for 30 yards. Only the Giants had a top carry that went for fewer yards.
Wentz attempted the fifth-most passes as a rookie last season. The added weapons in the run game can potentially ease the burden and make the quarterback more efficient. - CM
3. Linebacker: Hicks Grows Into Focus In Middle Of Defense
One of year of working with Jordan Hicks is enough to convince linebackers coach Ken Flajole that the Eagles have someone who could be pretty darn special in the middle of the defense.
"We've got a very instinctual guy who had a solid year for us and I think is trending up right now. Smart kid," Flajole said. "He had a full offseason to weight train whereas going into the 2016 season he really didn't just because of that (pectoral) injury. I think he's got a high ceiling for us right now. I'm anxious to watch him ascend and play in 2017. He's done a nice job and I expect him to be a cornerstone for our defense."
There have been some questions about the Eagles' linebacker room, and the answers are still to come. How does Mychal Kendricks fit in the group after playing less than 30 percent of the snaps in 2016? Is there enough depth behind projected starters Hicks, Kendricks, and strongside linebacker Nigel Bradham?
One of the players in question is draft pick Nathan Gerry, who is making the transition from college safety to NFL linebacker. Flajole is pleased with what he's seen to date. Remember, though, the pads have yet to go on.
"He's a sharp guy. I've been impressed with his intelligence. Again, there are still questions to be answered and a big part of it will be when we throw the pads on in Training Camp and start banging it around," Flajole said. "So far, so good. He's done a nice job."
As for Kendricks, Flajole said, "Myke's done a good job for us, No. 1. I know this: I know he's important to our defense. I'm glad he's here."
Flajole summed up the state of the way linebackers are used in the NFL, and he's right: "It's a nickel league with a two-linebacker set right now and unfortunately, the numbers crunch a little bit not in his (Kendricks') favor right now." - DS
4. Undlin: Young And Growing At CB Positions
Defensive backs coach Cory Undlin knows he has a young group at the cornerback positions, and he's OK with that. What is this group missing? It's easy, but it's also impossible to replicate.
"There is no substitute for experience, and that's the biggest thing these young guys have to get," Undlin said. "I would say the experience part of it is games."
Nothing is set in stone with the cornerbacks, that much is clear. Jalen Mills returns for his second season and has lined up as a starter in the Organized Team Activities. Patrick Robinson is an NFL veteran who has a chance to earn a starting job. Rasul Douglas is a talented third-round draft pick. Ron Brooks is recovering from a torn quad and can help the team at the nickel position, at the very least. C.J. Smith is one of a number of young players working hard to impress.
Second-round draft pick Sidney Jones is recovering from a pre-draft Achilles tendon tear and Undlin has been able to teach him some of the playbook via Facetime sessions in the evening, but there is no telling when Jones will be ready to practice.
Douglas has been a focal point here, and Undlin likes the progress the West Virginia product has made.
"I like his length, like his change of direction, I like his mindset. The guy loves ball," Undlin said. "He's only been here for a month and he comes in every single day with the mindset to get better. He loves ball. He wants to talk football all the time. He loves to watch tape, texting me, and all that other stuff. I like where he's going."
As for Mills and Smith, in their second seasons, a big jump would help the secondary so much.
"They're both trending upward," Undlin said. "Both getting better. Both have done a good job here. Through nine practices, they've both made some plays and they've both given up some plays." - DS
A day before minicamp begins, the Eagles assistant coaches met with reporters at the NovaCare Complex to discuss the current roster.
5. Stoutland's Offensive Line: Deeper Than He's Had Before
Jeff Stoutland has been the Eagles' offensive line coach since 2013 and he's enjoying the efforts the organization has made to rebuild the depth chart. Up and down the roster, the Eagles have offensive linemen who have started previously in the NFL, and who could start now if needed.
That's a good thing in the marathon NFL, where depth is critical.
"In 2013 that was an unusual year. I don't think we had any injuries that year. I think all five players started every game that year," Stoutland said. "Since that time, every year has been something, and I think that's more normal in the NFL. To be able to have depth, to be able to move people around and give people experience at those positions, when injuries do arise, you feel going in better about the group and how you can handle adversity."
With the mandatory minicamp here, and with Jason Peters present to make the offensive line room complete, Stoutland is very happy with the assembled players.
"I feel very good. I feel like we have a lot of depth. I feel like the younger players need to understand that we need to see improvement," Stoutland said. "The older guys, I know what they are capable of. Some of the younger players, there needs to be a push to get better and improve. You go back to any of these years, some of those guys were called on to play. They need to be ready if they are called on, so I expect to see them make that push through this camp and then when Training Camp gets here." - DS
6. Wilson Hints At A Different Role For Cox
In order to help free up Pro Bowl defensive tackle Fletcher Cox from double teams this upcoming season, defensive line coach Chris Wilson said that the Eagles could move him from his left defensive tackle spot to try and create some better matchups.
"One of the big things we're going to try and address with him is him attacking on the perimeter at times, moving him around to not only use his size but some of the speed and quickness he possesses on the edge and different places," Wilson said.
"Fletcher's been really receptive. He wants to win. That's the page we're all on right now."
Cox led the team with 6.5 sacks and was second with 10 tackles for loss in 2016 despite opposing offenses game-planning to disrupt him. Wilson coached Cox at Mississippi State and remains impressed with how he maintains his focus.
"What he's learned how to do is temper his frustrations, not his expectations," Cox said. "He still has the same expectations that he's always has - to be dominant and to win one on one. But what he does is he's got a temperament. He understands what it does to allow other guys to create one on ones for them. He's been a great teacher on the sideline for me in that regard." - CM
7. Fipp: No Comparison To Darren Sproles
Darren Sproles has made the Pro Bowl in each of his three years in Philadelphia. The first two trips to the all-star game came as a return specialist.
The Eagles selected running back Donnel Pumphrey in the fifth round of the 2017 NFL Draft. Pumphrey has been compared to Sproles because of his size - Pumphrey is 5-9, 180 pounds and Sproles is 5-6, 190 pounds.
But to Dave Fipp, who has coordinated the league's best special teams unit in two of the three past seasons, that's as far as those comparisons should go.
"I wouldn't compare anybody to Darren Sproles and what he's done in his career in this league, but I'm definitely excited about Pumphrey," Fipp said.
"I think he can be a returner. He showed up the ability to catch the football well this offseason. Obviously, there's no tackling or anything like that so what you see is limited, but we're definitely excited about Pumphrey. He has a role as a returner at some point. When will that be? Who knows?" - CM
8. Peelle: Consistency At QB Will Be Good For Ertz
Since he was selected in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft, tight end Zach Ertz has caught passes from Michael Vick, Nick Foles, Mark Sanchez, Sam Bradford, and now Carson Wentz.
2017 will mark the first time that Ertz will be on the receiving end of throws from the same starting quarterback. Tight end coach Justin Peelle thinks that chemistry will help on the field this season.
"You get all of the reps and you start to get different looks at different plays. The more that these guys work together, but if you watch them out at practice, even when they're not in there, they're talking about what they saw," Peelle said.
"They like to work. They enjoy it. They want to be the best."
Ertz has improved his catch total in each of his first four NFL seasons. He's in the top eight of all tight ends in catches, yards, and first downs since entering the league. But Ertz doesn't seem to get his due in national circles.
"I don't know. I love coaching him. I think he's good for this team," Peelle said. "I think he comes to work every day with the right attitude, trying to get better. He's had some success. He's a pleasure to coach. He's very highly respected in this organization." - CM
9. Hauck: Eagles Can Better Utilize Safeties In 2017
The Eagles installed a new defense in 2016 and implemented a new starter at safety in Rodney McLeod.
Now that McLeod and Malcolm Jenkins have a year under their belts together, safeties coach Tim Hauck sees the Eagles being able to get a jump on 2017 knowing how the two complement one another.
"Last year was a big learning process," Hauck said. "What did we want? What could they do? How were they going to fit into the system? What were going to be their strengths? What were going to be their weaknesses?
"Now it's just fine tuning. They're used to working with one another. They work really well together and they've been through a whole season together so they know how to react to different situations."
McLeod led the team with 117 tackles last season, while Jenkins was second with 114. - CM