Philadelphia Eagles Training Camp: Week 2 Stock Report
With over a week’s worth of practices in the books, it’s time once again to look at the movers and shakers at Philadelphia Eagles training camp. With even more data and observations to reflect on, we’re starting to witness a larger number of players’ stocks positively or negatively affected as the summer marches forward.
The Eagles don’t play their first preseason game until Friday, which is when we’ll really start to see the needle move for players who are competing for bigger roles or roster spots. That being said, plenty have impacted their opportunities to do just that one way or the other already.
Stock Up: Darren Sproles
In the interest of full disclosure, I was a little skeptical initially when Philadelphia traded a fifth-round pick to the New Orleans Saints for Darren Sproles. He’s a 31-year-old running back coming off of what was in many respects his worst season since becoming a fixture in the San Diego Chargers’ offense in 2008.
If training camp serves as any indication, Sproles might be poised to put his disappointing ’13 campaign behind him. He’s been an absolute menace catching passes out of the backfield and slot, while his shifty, low-to-the-ground style looks like a perfect fit for head coach Chip Kelly’s zone-read rushing attack.
In addition to his presence in the offense, Sproles appears to own the inside track for at least one of the return specialist jobs. The unofficial depth chart at PhiladelphiaEagles.com, which was just released after Monday’s practice, lists Sproles as the No. 1 punt returner.
Perhaps Sproles’ supposed decline last season can be blamed on some nagging injuries. While he was only inactive for one game, knee and ankle problems landed Sproles on the injured report throughout the season.
Whatever was to blame for his reduced effectiveness last season, Sproles appears to have to put it behind him in Philadelphia. He’s looking less like a spell to help keep LeSean McCoy fresh and more like an integral part of the Eagles’ plan on offense and special teams.
Stock Down: Chris Polk
On one hand, Chris Polk appears to have the No. 3 running back job locked down. Then again, injuries are once again limiting the third-year back in training camp, and sooner or later, one has to wonder if that creeps into the minds of the coaching staff.
Polk hasn’t practiced since July 29 due to a hamstring injury. According to Geoff Mosher of CSN Philly, Chip Kelly originally stated he’s expected back soon, but so far, there’s been no sign of his return. Polk also battled shoulder and toe injuries during his rookie season in 2012 until he was finally placed on injured reserve after seven games.
I keep going back and forth over whether Polk’s roster spot could be in jeopardy. He showed explosive potential in Kelly’s offense last season, becoming the first running back in NFL history to run for three touchdowns on only 11 carries (the shortest was from five yards out, the longest from 38). Polk’s role was expected to rise with Bryce Brown being shipped to the Buffalo Bills over draft weekend.
Besides McCoy and Sproles, the Eagles do have three other runners in camp, so they’re not necessarily married to Polk, either. Matthew Tucker is in his second season with the team, while undrafted rookies Henry Josey and David Fluellen are prospects of intrigue.
The one thing Polk seems to have going for him right now is none of Tucker, Josey or Fluellen has really blown the doors off of the competition this camp. Still, Polk seems unlikely to be thrust into action for the Birds’ first preseason game on Friday, which means his injury is providing those players with opportunities. Is Polk so indispensable that his competition can be ignored?
Stock Up: Ifeanyi Momah
There was a lot of buzz surrounding Ifeanyi Momah when he first signed with Philadelphia as a free agent last offseason. Who doesn’t love a 6’7” wide receiver who reportedly clocked a 4.4 in the 40-yard dash?
Once the Eagles got Momah into camp, though, it became instantly clear he was far from contributing. A raw prospect with just 39 career receptions at Boston College, Momah didn’t play anywhere near as big or fast as his measurables. The torn ACL that ended his senior season caused him to go undrafted, and sitting out a year of football undoubtedly hurt Momah’s confidence and preparation as well.
Momah didn’t even make the practice squad in 2013, not in Philly or anywhere else, so when he was still available in January, the Birds brought him back for another shot. That’s beginning to look like a great decision.
The difference in Momah’s performance has been night and day. He’s running much better this time around—getting actual separation from defensive backs—whether it’s because he’s in better shape or is more familiar with the offense and what the coaches expect. And the way Momah is using his massive frame to shield defenders and his catch radius to make highlight-reel grabs is especially impressive.
Momah is still something of a long shot to make the roster unless he can carve out a role on special teams as well, which he’s been unable to do thus far. In terms of pure receiving ability, however, Momah easily has been one of the three or four best wideouts at camp up to this point.
Stock Down: Arrelious Benn
Arrelious Benn was already facing an uphill battle to make the roster. Heck, the Eagles already released him back in May so they could bring him back at a reduced salary. Plus, the reality is the coaching staff will be hard-pressed to rely on any player who’s been injured as frequently as Benn over the past few seasons.
As if the writing weren’t already on the wall, this camp has done Benn no favors. The former second-round pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is having trouble getting separation from all but the lowest cornerbacks on Philadelphia’s depth chart. Benn isn’t winning 50-50 battles for airborne passes, either.
It’s a shame, as Benn once showed a lot of promise, catching 55 passes for 836 yards and five touchdowns over his first two seasons in the league. Unfortunately, he only has four receptions in the two years since, largely due to his constant battles with injuries.
Benn’s 2013 campaign was erased by a torn ACL after the Eagles sent a sixth-round pick to acquire the receiver from Tampa. It’s possible, if not likely, he’s still slowed by the knee. Whether it’s diminished speed or a lack of confidence coming out of his breaks, opposing defensive backs simply do not appear to be fooled by Benn.
Perhaps Benn can save himself with a standout effort on special teams, but it’s not known as a huge strength of his. The harsh truth is Benn does not appear to be long for this squad based on his health history and performances during this camp.
Stock Up: Beau Allen
Seventh-round pick Beau Allen probably imagined it would take a little while until he was elevated to starter in the NFL—maybe a season or two. But thanks to a sore hamstring for Bennie Logan, Allen already finds himself running with the first-team defense at nose tackle just one week into training camp.
Some observers, such as Jeff McLane of The Philadelphia Inquirer, believe Allen’s presence in the lineup could be a sign of things to come. Could the rookie supplant Logan at nose tackle permanently by season’s end?
Unless Logan’s hamstring keeps him off the field all summer or lingers into the regular season, that may seem unlikely. Then again, Allen holds one distinct advantage over the incumbent—size. At 6’2”, 333 pounds, the Wisconsin product is the largest defensive lineman on the team.
Eagles fans were clamoring for the team to add a classic space-eater at nose tackle during the offseason, but waiting until Round 7 of May’s draft probably wasn’t what most had in mind. And yet, here’s Allen, climbing the depth chart rapidly.
There’s limited contact at Chip Kelly’s training camp, so we won’t have a true sense of Allen’s potential until a few preseason games are in the bag. In one-on-one drills against the offensive line, though, Allen has been every bit the load to block you would think.
Stock Down: Jake Knott
You had to know it was going to be difficult for Jake Knott to make the 53-man roster. Knott spent the 2013 season with the Eagles, appearing in 12 games, but it’s difficult to keep a spot for a reserve linebacker who’s facing a four-game suspension for PEDs.
Just to show how far out of favor Knott has fallen, take a gander at the Birds’ unofficial depth chart that was released on Monday. He’s gone from being a rostered backup to busting it with the fourth-string defense.
Staff members for the team’s website aren’t the only ones who noticed Knott’s diminished presence at camp. When I asked starting interior linebacker DeMeco Ryans on Monday who besides Najee Goode was standing out among the guys fighting for roster spots behind him, the two-time Pro Bowler discussed Casey Matthews and Emmanuel Acho, but failed to mention Knott.
Of course, being buried on the depth chart the way he is, it’s nearly impossible for Knott to succeed. Maybe that’s kind of the point.
Stock Up: Malcolm Jenkins
Malcolm Jenkins’ arrival in Philadelphia was met with skepticism. If he was a better option than Pro Bowler Jairus Byrd in free agency, why did the New Orleans Saints sign Byrd and allow Jenkins to walk? Plus, metrics site Pro Football Focus (subscription required) ranked Jenkins among the worst safeties in the NFL in 2013 in tackling efficiency.
While it’s true he could stand to improve in some areas, the very simple reason the Eagles liked Jenkins is because he fits their scheme. Defensive coordinator Bill Davis used his safeties in man-to-man coverage against receivers and tight ends quite a bit last year, which just so happens to be Jenkins’ strength.
That’s not altogether surprising, given the sixth-year veteran played cornerback in college at Ohio State.
Jenkins has been showcasing that ability during training camp. Whether it’s one-on-ones, seven-on-seven or team drills, he’s flashed brilliant coverage against almost all of the Birds’ top weapons. That includes the likes of No. 1 receiver Jeremy Maclin, rookie phenom Jordan Matthews and shifty running back Darren Sproles.
On top of winning those battles, Jenkins has had a nose for the ball. By my own count, he’s Philly’s unofficial leader in interceptions at this camp. The Eagles aren’t tackling yet, so it remains to be seen just how much of an issue that truly is for Jenkins, but if he can take away an option for the quarterback in the passing game as effectively as he’s demonstrated, some flaws can be overlooked.
Stock Down: Earl Wolff
The Eagles probably wouldn’t mind if Earl Wolff would defeat Nate Allen in their battle for the starting safety job opposite Jenkins. While Allen was serviceable last season, if that was his ceiling, the club can do better.
Yet soon after the coaches started rotating Wolff in with the first-team defense last week at practice, suddenly he was unavailable. Knee soreness kept the 2013 fifth-round pick out of workouts last Thursday and Friday, making those missed opportunities to pull ahead of his competition.
And before you jump all over me for giving an injured player a hard time, prior to Wolff’s return on Sunday, Chip Kelly told the assembled media, “It’s his call,” in reference to when the second-year safety could return.
It’s not really our place to judge Wolff’s physical condition from afar, but every rep is so vital right now if he intends to unseat Allen. When Wolff was trying to return from a knee injury in time for the playoffs last season, Kelly stressed he needs to practice in order to play, per Phil Sheridan of ESPN.
Wolff has been back practicing so far this week, although on Monday, both he and Nate Allen were working with the second-team defense, while Chris Maragos ran with the ones. Maragos has never started a game in his four-year NFL career.
Maybe it’s just me, but that seems like a not-so-subtle message directed at both Allen and Wolff.