5 Philadelphia Eagles Players Who Will Surprise During Training Camp
The countdown to training camp is on for the Philadelphia Eagles. We’re now less than two weeks away from the full 90-man roster reporting to the NovaCare Complex for work on July 25.
As we continue profiling the players to watch this summer in South Philly, we turn our attention to a group of players who could be pleasant surprises at camp. For one reason or another, be it people will be paying attention to them for the first time or it’s our first legitimate peek at their capabilities, expect these next five players to generate some excitement and buzz as soon as the pads are finally on.
With only 11 career carries in the NFL, Chris Polk is sort of the forgotten member of the Eagles’ loaded stable of ball-carriers. That probably tends to happen to most young, untested players who share the same backfield as the league’s reigning rushing champion and a 10-year veteran.
Yet in 2013, Polk accomplished something that neither LeSean McCoy nor Darren Sproles ever has, or any other running back during the post-merger era, for that matter. Polk punched the ball into the end zone for a touchdown three times in one season on a mere 11 handoffs.
They weren’t all goal-line carries, either. Quite the contrary. The shortest distance to score was four yards. The next closest was 10 yards. The longest of the three was from 38.
Polk obviously demonstrated some explosion. He has a no-nonsense running style that’s predicated on getting north-south quickly and hitting the hole hard. It’s simple, yet effective.
Now entering his third season on the roster, Polk’s path to a greater role in Philadelphia’s offense is clearer than ever. As the depth chart stands now, he’s the leading candidate to replace McCoy in the event of the starter’s absence—Sproles is purely a secondary back, while Bryce Brown was traded to the Buffalo Bills on draft weekend.
Seeing as the spotlight will tilt on Polk for a change, maybe he’ll finally get noticed.
It was easy to mistake the addition of Nolan Carroll as a minor signing back in March. Carroll agreed to a two-year deal during free agency that, at least initially, had the appearance of a depth signing with Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher seemingly entrenched as the starting cornerbacks.
Not so fast. Carroll started 22 games for the Miami Dolphins over the past two seasons and could push for a bigger role in Philly. According to Geoff Mosher for CSNPhilly.com, Carroll has already stood out during the Birds’ offseason program.
Even during the spring camps, where it’s next to impossible for defensive backs to excel with no real pass rush in front of them, Carroll managed to impress his coaches and teammates by always being around the ball. Carroll had several breakups during last week’s three-day minicamp.
Can we even still consider a strong summer from Carroll a surprise?
Williams could be a cap casualty in 2015, the final year of his contract, and Fletcher is scheduled to become a free agent after this season. The Eagles are not married to either one of them as a starter.
At 6’1”, 205 pounds, Carroll has plus size for the position, and the 27-year-old seemed to be coming into his own as a playmaker last season, recording two sacks and three interceptions. Based on the rave reviews this spring, he’s certainly a player to monitor in the months ahead.
This is kind of cheating, because good or bad, Ed Reynolds is sure to surprise at training camp. After all, even the Eagles haven’t had much of a look at the kid since choosing the safety in the fifth round of May’s draft.
Due to an archaic NFL rule that prohibits a first-year player from participating in much of his team’s offseason program until after graduation, Reynolds was only with the Eagles for an initial rookie camp and the final full-squad minicamp.
So Reynolds is pretty much a mystery going into training camp, even more so than most rookies. That being said, he’s probably going to come away from this looking halfway decent.
A Stanford product, Reynolds gained a reputation as a ball hawk in 2012. As a sophomore, Reynolds racked up six interceptions that season, three of which he took to the house for touchdowns. It was almost as if he had a sixth sense out there. He wasn’t greeted by the same success the following year, his last, but could a season like that really be a coincidence?
There’s little doubt Reynolds will be far too raw to have a huge impact once the season gets underway. However, those instincts might go a long way toward helping him stand out at camp.
Brad Smith didn’t make the best of first impressions in Philadelphia. By the time he was picked up midway through last season, it was a little late to fully integrate him into the offense. Mostly what we saw from Smith were clunky Wildcat-type plays that had a tendency to backfire.
Don’t let last season color your opinion of Smith, though. He’s coming up on nine seasons as a dynamic playmaker in the NFL, and given a full training camp under head coach Chip Kelly, he could become quite the weapon in the Birds offense.
Smith already surprised by running with the first-team offense as the slot receiver over second-round pick Jordan Matthews during OTAs. Matthews is expected to pass Smith for that role well before the season begins, but even that small nod to the veteran suggests he’s in the team’s plans.
He’s not an every-down player, mind you, least of all at 30 years of age. However, Smith is a threat to catch the ball as a wide receiver, run with the ball out of the backfield or the converted quarterback out of Missouri can even attempt a pass.
Last season, which Smith spent a portion of on the Buffalo Bills’ injured reserve list, broke a string of four consecutive seasons with over 250 total yards from scrimmage. He’s also an excellent special teamer, be it as a return man or on coverage units, and is one of the prime candidates to return kicks this season.
It’s perfectly plausible Smith is a little over the hill now, and his best days are already behind him. Still, something tells me he’s going to look rejuvenated in this offense once he has it down.
What does it say that the Eagles didn’t address the interior linebacker position at all during the offseason? The answer could be something as simple as the club had too many greater-priority needs. Or, another theory is Philadelphia’s front office and coaching staff really like Najee Goode.
Goode made one start in 2013 in place of an injured Mychal Kendricks, but it was one impressive start. In a Week 11 win over Washington, Goode recorded five tackles, a sack and broke up two passes. Not a bad little spot for a player the Birds picked up off the scrap heap in September.
Now that folks actually know who he is, Goode might be ready for the spotlight this summer. A fifth-round pick by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2012, Goode is a tad undersized at 6’0”, 244 pounds, but the 25-year-old showed a knack for making plays in limited playing time last year.
There’s no rush as far as the Eagles are concerned. Kendricks is looking like a key piece in the defense for years to come, while DeMeco Ryans is considered the heart and soul of the defense.
That being said, Ryans is on the verge of turning 30, and defensive coordinator Bill Davis has vowed to reduce the number of snaps his two-time Pro Bowler sees this season. Perhaps Goode can carve out a larger role for himself this year after all.
Regardless, if he continues performing the way he did in relief appearances last season, there’s an outside chance Goode could be Ryans’ eventual replacement. At least, don’t be surprised if you start to hear similar murmurs going around at camp this summer.