PHILADELPHIA − It’s easy to get excited about the spring standouts given the proper context.
For the Eagles, the context is different from most teams. They’re a veteran team coming off the Super Bowl, and they had only six practice sessions, otherwise known as organized team activities, when teams were allowed a maximum of 10.
In addition, the practice sessions were voluntary, and a good number of the veterans missed a practice here and there. That gave several players vying for a roster spots a chance to get some first-team reps. That gave them a chance to make a positive impression heading into training camp, which begins July 26.
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This, after all, is how three players last year made the 53-man roster as undrafted free agents. That included safety Reed Blankenship, cornerback Josh Jobe and wide receiver/punt returner Britain Covey.
Blankenship ended up starting five games last season when Chauncey Gardner-Johnson went on the injured list. Incredibly, Blankenship ended up playing more snaps than any Eagles rookie last season, and that included first-round pick Jordan Davis.
Blankenship, who’s hoping to become a full-time starter this season, had some advice to those hoping to duplicate his success:
“At the end of the da,y it’s a business,” he said. “But you have to show everybody you love the game and you go hard every day. You have to have that mentality that you’re going to make somebody look at you. That was my goal. I just wanted somebody to know who I was.”
So here’s who stood out for the Eagles this spring:
Elliss spent most of last season on the practice squad until becoming a late-season addition to help shore up the special teams unit. Elliss did that, staying on the active roster through the Super Bowl, but he never played a down at linebacker. That could change this season after a strong OTA showing in which he intercepted a pass in each of the two practices opened to the media. The first was against Marcus Mariota, the second against Jalen Hurts. Nakobe Dean is a virtual lock for one of the starting jobs, but Elliss could find himself in the running for the other with free agent signee Nicholas Morrow, along with returnees like Shaun Bradley, Kyron Johnson and Davion Taylor.
Joseph Ngata, wide receiver
The first four spots are practically guaranteed to A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith, Quez Watkins and free agent signee Olamide Zaccheaus. That leaves Ngata, an undrafted free agent from Clemson, in a battle with at least three others for one or two spots. Covey would seem to have the inside track for one of those spots as a punt returner. But Ngata, at 6-foot-3, 217 pounds, has shown good range and an ability to get 50-50 balls so far. He’ll have to beat out veteran Greg Ward along with Olympic hurdler Devon Allen, among others, for a spot.
Of all the Eagles’ rookies this season, Brown could end up playing the most, especially if he wins a starting job next to Terrell Edmunds. Blankenship got the first-time reps in the June practices. But Brown was impressed with his knowledge of the system. And the Eagles didn’t draft him in the third round to sit behind an undrafted guy.
“Just his mindset, his growth mindset that he has to get better,” Eagles defensive backs coach D.K. McDonald said. “He’s never pleased with where he’s at. Guys who have that type of mindset, they’re always going to work hard to try to improve, and that’s what he does every day.”
Jalen Carter and Nolan Smith, defensive linemen
There’s little concern about the Eagles’ two first-round picks making the team. But the OTAs were important for Carter and Smith to get some time on the field, learn from the veterans, and show that they’re ready to compete. Their real test will come during training camp, but both Carter and Smith showed that they’ll be ready.
“I think you just see their athletic ability and the drill work,” Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said. “They’re getting a lot of individual work. So, you’re seeing the things that we saw on tape of what they do well, and the power, their athletic ability, their personalities.”
On two different occasions, Sirianni was asked about the running back competition now that the Eagles have added D’Andre Swift and Rashaad Penny to a rotation that also included returnees Boston Scott and Kenny Gainwell. And each time, Sirianni raved about Trey Sermon, the 49ers’ third-round pick in 2021 whom they released last summer. Sermon then spent most of last season inactive on game days. Sermon has the benefit of playing with Hurts for a season at Oklahoma before transferring to Ohio State. If Sermon is in the mix for a roster spot this year, it will come at the expense of a veteran.
The Eagles seemed to have targeted long cornerbacks who can run. They drafted Kelee Ringo, who’s 6-2, 207 pounds, in the fourth round, and signed Garner, who’s 6-2, 212 pounds, as an undrafted free agent from LSU. Garner had a nice interception last week in practice while covering Zaccheaus. He also got Sirianni’s attention for celebrating a little too much as Sirianni told him to ramp it down. The Eagles, of course, are set with starters Darius Slay and James Bradberry. They also signed Greedy Williams as a free agent, in addition to bringing back Jobe. So Garner has his work cut out for him, even after they moved Zech McPhearson inside to nickel.
Contact Martin Frank at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @Mfranknfl.
This article originally appeared on Delaware News Journal: These 7 players stood out at Eagles’ OTAs, including these 2 longshots