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Six Things We Learned From The Assistant Coaches

Dave Spadaro and Chris McPherson recap the biggest takeaways from the Assistant Coach Media Day on Monday ahead of the team's mandatory minicamp.

Chris Wilson: What's The Next Step For Derek Barnett?

Derek Barnett capped off an incredible rookie year when he recovered the fumble forced by Brandon Graham in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl. The fumble recovery led to the Eagles' final points and extended their lead to eight.

Barnett, the team's first-round pick in 2017, had five sacks in the regular season, earning All-Rookie Team honors from the PFWA. In addition to his Super Bowl highlight, Barnett strip-sacked Vikings quarterback Case Keenum in the NFC Championship Game. That turnover resulted in the Eagles taking a 21-7 lead en route to a blowout win.

It turns out Barnett wasn't fully healthy during the road to the Super Bowl. He had surgery in the offseason to repair a sports hernia and still made an incredible impact on the playoff run.

"He's tough as nails. He's got a high football IQ. He's a mentally tough kid," defensive line coach Chris Wilson said. "The thing you like more than anything is just how coachable he was, not only from our room as coaches but he wanted to learn what the vets knew. I'm really excited about what he's done this offseason. Obviously, that's got to carry over to this season."

Barnett played 41 percent of the snaps on defense in his rookie season. With last year's starter Vinny Curry now in Tampa Bay, the door is open for increased playing time.

"I think taking on that leadership role in regard to being a key contributor. It's Year 2," Wilson said. "It's a big jump for him being on the field every down, and I think that's the next big phase for Derek overall, being an every-down player." - CM

Jeff Stoutland: Jason Peters Is On A Mission

Jason Peters didn't play in the Super Bowl, but his impact on the team was evident.

Pro Bowl tackle Lane Johnson ran out of the tunnel that evening at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis holding up Peters' No. 71 jersey. At the team's afterparty at The Depot, it was Peters who walked in hoisting the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

Peters suffered a season-ending knee injury in the October win over Washington. He's participated in individual drills and group installation this spring with an eye on returning to the form that earned him nine Pro Bowl nods in his illustrious career.

"To have him back on the field and watch that guy kick slide and run block, he's a special, special player. Those guys don't come around very often," offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland said. "He wants to be coached. He doesn't act like he has all of the answers. He really wants to be coached."

Stoutland has been with the Eagles since 2013. He noted that every year there are questions from analysts about whether Peters can remain one of the elite tackles in the game.

And Peters has been able to answer the bell, time after time again.

"He just has this drive to him, even now," Stoutland said. "It's actually more now than I've seen him. He's a man on a mission from God right now." - CM

Tight End: New Faces Off To Promising Starts

Stability meant a lot of success for the Eagles’ tight ends the last few seasons with the trio of Brent Celek, Zach Ertz, and Trey Burton together. It worked so well as the players, together with tight ends coach Justin Peelle, made for a highly productive and diverse trio. But now the picture has changed. Burton signed as an unrestricted free agent in Chicago. Celek was released. Ertz, who has become a Pro Bowl player under Peelle’s tutelage, remains.

Ertz is joined by veteran Richard Rodgers, signed in free agency after four seasons with the Packers, and rookie Dallas Goedert, the team’s first pick (second round) in the NFL Draft. The Eagles are also developing Joshua Perkins, who has seen time with Atlanta, Billy Brown, and Adam Zaruba. Barring anything unforeseen, however, Ertz, Rodgers, and Goedert will be the first three tight ends on the depth chart this season as the Eagles turn the page, sort of, at the position.

“I’m excited about them,” Peelle said. “Zach is playing really well right now, running well, his routes look clean. Obviously, it’s exciting about what Zach has done in the past, and he keeps improving. Richard has done a nice job. He brings some experience to the group. Dallas is picking up the offense, and he’s done a good job transitioning to the NFL.

“All of the guys have played really well and picked things up. Perkins has been a nice surprise with his athleticism, his professionalism. Billy you can start to see making strides, which is encouraging. Adam’s only been playing the position for about a year. I’m excited about all of those guys."

Ertz has “embraced” the role of veteran leader with Celek no longer on the roster, and it seems to have come naturally after the “leadership-by-committee” approach of last season.

As for any concerns, the Eagles need to replace Celek’s in-line blocking and that’s hard to evaluate without wearing pads in the spring. Peelle says he “sees signs that we will have what we need” in the area of blocking in the run game. But until the Eagles get into pads and go full tilt in Training Camp, it’s still a bit of an unknown.

Otherwise, the outlook at tight end is encouraging. Ertz is one of the best in the game. Rodgers is “more physical than he has been given credit for,” says Peelle and Goedert has “made a lot of progress. He’s done a really good job of picking up the playbook. That’s the No. 1 thing." - DS

Duce Staley: Jay Ajayi Ready To Be 'The Guy'

Jay Ajayi practiced at the NovaCare Complex during last year's Training Camp, but it was as a member of the Miami Dolphins.

Acquired at the trade deadline, Ajayi gained 408 yards on 70 carries in seven games for the Eagles at a whopping 5.8 yards per carry. In the playoffs, Ajayi tallied an additional 184 yards in the three games along with six catches for 70 yards.

LeGarrette Blount, the team's leading rusher with 766 yards on 173 carries in 2017, is now with the Detroit Lions. And even with Darren Sproles poised to come back from his season-ending knee injury and promising second-year back Corey Clement in the fold, Ajayi is poised to be the featured back.

"I'm pretty sure that Jay is excited about being able to go out there and dominate and being able to be that guy," assistant head coach/running backs Duce Staley said. "I know Doug (Pederson) is excited about it also. We'll see."

Ajayi is no stranger to being the featured back. In 2016, he had 260 carries, ninth most in the league, on the way to earning Pro Bowl honors. But Staley credits Ajayi with putting his numbers aside for the betterment of the team once he arrived in Philadelphia.

"It's been awesome with Jay. He came in. He was eager to learn. He wanted to know more," Staley noted. "It was like as if he was plugged in with no problems and he kept getting better each week in practice and what he was doing on the field."

Pederson acknowledged the work done by Ajayi this offseason ahead of the spring program. Now, Ajayi will look to carry the momentum of that into the season.

"Just him being focused, coming in, knowing he's the guy, knowing he's the guy that's going to step up there and just put everything on his back and ride with him," Staley said. - CM

Gunter Brewer: It’s All About Developing Relationships

How did Gunter Brewer become the wide receivers coach for the Eagles, replacing Mike Groh when Groh was promoted to offensive coordinator? It started with a simple phone call.

“I was just sitting in the office one day (as the wide receivers coach at the University of North Carolina), and I sent Mike a text (of) congratulations (after Eagles won the Super Bowl). It was the end of the recruiting process for us. He just sent me a message back, ‘Hey, can you talk?’ I said sure,” Brewer said. “He said he might have an opportunity to move in a different position and would I be interested in talking with he and the staff about the position that was there. One thing kind of rolled into another and Coach (Doug Pederson) flew me up.”

Brewer didn’t have any secondary thoughts when he sent the text, but he’s sure glad how it turned out. The Eagles have a talented group at wide receiver, with younger receivers pushing established veterans.

That’s just the way Brewer, who has Carson Walch as his assistant wide receivers coach helping out, wants it.

“Right now, it’s very good,” Brewer said. “Nelson (Agholor) is having a great offseason, and you have some guys behind him who are really getting after it,” Brewer said. “We have a couple of guys injured (Alshon Jeffery, most notably), which is allowing some young guys to get up there – Mack (Hollins) to play a couple of different positions, Shelton (Gibson) to get in there more. It’s been good. Very competitive. We’re all looking forward to camp.”

Brewer coached Hollins in college and says the second-year receiver is “light years” ahead of where he was at North Carolina. Hollins, along with Gibson and Bryce Treggs and Greg Ward and others, are younger receivers competing with veterans such as Mike Wallace and Markus Wheaton for roster spots and playing time.

“It’s very healthy. We’re getting to know each other more every day,” Brewer said. “We want to push them. We have a lot to work with here and we want to bring out the best in all of them. It’s a good situation.” - DS

At Safety, Depth Is The Big Question

Safeties coach Tim Hauck has every bit of confidence that starting safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod will once again be among the best tandems in the NFL, and that “makes my job real simple,” Hauck said. The real question at safety is about establishing depth behind the starters because …

“We really don’t have anybody behind those two,” Hauck said. “If something happens we have to develop somebody or find somebody or, who knows, maybe Corey Graham’s back. I don’t know the answer to that question. We’re working with the guys we have here and get them ready to play the best we possibly can.”

Without pads and contact, there is only so much stock Hauck puts in the spring practices. He does say that Tre Sullivan “has come a million miles from where he was at this point a year ago. But again, you don’t know what he can really do.”

Otherwise, it’s a wait and see at safety. In Jenkins, who has given the Eagles so much with his versatility on the field – he lines up at safety, at nickel cornerback, and as a quasi-linebacker – and McLeod, the Eagles are set with their starters. Behind them, though … - DS

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