3rd-rounder Josh Huff reunites with Chip Kelly

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3rd-rounder Josh Huff reunites with Chip Kelly

For the first time in nearly a quarter of a century, the Eagles have drafted two wide receivers in the first three rounds of the draft.

After releasing DeSean Jackson and Jason Avant, who had the top two reception totals of any Eagles receivers over the past two decades, the Eagles moved to replace them on Friday.

They began the day by selecting Vanderbilt receiver Jordan Matthews in the second round (see story) and finished it by adding Oregon receiver Josh Huff in the third.

“It’s lovely to be reunited with him,” Huff said. “When I saw that 215 come up on my phone, I started to cry. It’s a dream come true for me. Can’t wait to get out there and come to work.”

‪Huff (see bio), the 86th player taken in this year’s draft, is the first Oregon player Chip Kelly has drafted since he left the Ducks to become the Eagles’ head coach last year.

Huff said Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost told him recently the Eagles would draft him in the third round.

“Obviously, I know him extremely well,” Kelly said. “Outstanding young man, great position versatility. Josh played every wide receiver position at Oregon, played a little running back early in his career, he’s returned kicks, he’s an outstanding special teams player.

“He’s a physical football player, a shade under six feet, he can run, he’s got a nasty presence about him. Really excited to see if we can add him to the group.”

Huff said the fact that he was drafted by his college coach means he’ll have to work that much harder to show he’s not just here because of who he played for in college.

“Go in and prove myself and prove that the reason he drafted me isn’t just because I played for him,” he said.

This is the first time since 1990 the Eagles have taken two wide receivers within the first three rounds. That year, they drafted Mike Bellamy in the second round and Freddie Barnett in the third -- then added Calvin Williams in the fifth.

And there could be a third on Saturday, when the Eagles have picks 101, 141, 162 and 237.

"We're not averse to taking another one tomorrow, either,” Kelly said.

But even though the Eagles went into the draft with only Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper on the roster as experienced wide receivers and this was considered the strongest wide receiver draft ever, Kelly said the Eagles weren’t necessarily focused on taking wideouts with two of their first three picks.

It just worked out that way.

“We’re following exactly the way [the board] was,” Kelly said. “It’s staring you in the face. He was the highest-ranked guy we had. … You just keep picking the names off the board and look up, who’s the highest-ranked guy?”

‪Huff caught 144 passes for 2,366 yards at Oregon and had a breakthrough season last year with 62 receptions for 1,140 yards and 12 touchdowns. He averaged 18.4 yards per catch last year -- one of the top-20 figures in Division I -- and 16.4 in his career.

‪Huff also returned kickoffs as a freshman, averaging 24.7 yards on 23 returns.

It wasn’t until his senior year that Huff even had 500 receiving yards in a season. But he made a huge jump this past year.

“Just hard work, dedication and just staying patient and waiting my turn,” he said. “I had a great offensive team at Oregon, a lot of off weapons and I had a great quarterback in Marcus Mariota.”

‪The Eagles went into the third round with picks 83 and 86 but traded No. 83 -- acquired Thursday from the Browns -- to the Texans in exchange for two Saturday picks -- No. 101 overall in the fourth round and No. 141 overall in the fifth round.

Kelly said he considers Huff a potentially outstanding special teams player as well as receiving depth.

“He’s got an opportunity to play in the National Football League and he’s graduated from college,” Kelly said. “He’s a great young man.”

Kelly said he removed himself from early talks about Huff, since he coached him in college, and he didn’t want his relationship with his former recruit to shade his opinions.

“I try to divorce myself from that situation,” he said.

Jim Schwartz: Eagles' defense 'rather attack than read'

Jim Schwartz: Eagles' defense 'rather attack than read'

For all his talk about schemes and technical minutiae, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz’s coaching philosophy is pretty simple.

“In a nutshell, we want to allow less points than our offense scores," Schwartz said. "Rankings, stats — the only thing that matters in this league is wins and losses. I’ll take a 42-41 game; I might not sleep well afterwards, but I’ll take it. I’d rather have that than a 7-3 game that you lose.”

That said, Schwartz emphasized his defense’s attack-first mindset after the second day of Eagles training camp at the NovaCare Complex on Tuesday (see Day 2 observations).

“We want to be an attack defense,” he said. “We want to put pressure on the quarterback.”

While Schwartz has preferred that style throughout his coaching career, he’s always cognizant of his personnel and what sort of approach best suits them. For the Eagles, he feels that a defense in which the front four is putting pressure on the quarterback and the linebackers and defensive backs are playing aggressively is the perfect system (see story).

“I think [this defense] fits the guys really well here,” Schwartz said. “And I think if you’d ask them, they’d rather attack than read. It puts us in a little better position to rush the passer, it puts us in a little better position to set hard edges. It’s been our philosophy. And I think if you ask offensive coordinators, they’d tell you the same thing — if you can get there with four, you have a big advantage as a defense.”

Schwartz talked extensively about how he’s altered his defense depending on the strengths and weaknesses of his players. Looking at defensive ends in particular, Schwartz explained his ends don’t all line up in an identical “Wide 9” alignment. Rather, he noted that the positioning and technique for the pairings of Jevon Kearse and Kevin Carter and Kyle Vanden Bosch and Antwan Odom during his time as defensive coordinator in Tennessee (2001-08) varied considerably from that of Cliff Avril and Ziggy Ansah when he coached Detroit (2009-13), and Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes in Buffalo (2014).

“We try to match the talent that we have to the techniques that we’re asking guys to play,” Schwartz said. “And even here, some of the stuff that Brandon [Graham] is doing is a little different than what Vinny [Curry] is doing.”

As for the Eagles’ biggest offseason decision, defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, Schwartz is very confident in Cox’s ability to thrive in his defense.

“[Cox] fits our scheme," he said. "I think we have some things for him that should fit him well. He’s a tough matchup; he’s a tough matchup vs. guards, he’s a tough matchup vs. some tackles, and I like some of the stuff that they did with him here last year, moved him around a little bit … it’s our job to create matchups for him.”

Even though Schwartz loves to discuss the details that make his defenses succeed, he understands it’s his job to clearly teach his schemes so that his players are able to react and, of course, attack, instead of thinking excessively on the field.

“We want to put guys in good positions, communicate well, play what fits them, all those things are important to us,” he said. “We’re not trying to set a record for being difficult.”

Undrafted rookies Byron Marshall, Aziz Shittu face uphill battle with Eagles

Undrafted rookies Byron Marshall, Aziz Shittu face uphill battle with Eagles

Defensive tackle Aziz Shittu spent this spring in Stanford University classrooms, working toward his degree in psychology, just hoping his NFL dream wasn’t slipping away.

Like third-round pick Isaac Seumalo, Shittu and fellow undrafted rookie Byron Marshall missed all team OTAs and the minicamp because of the arcane NCAA/NFL graduation rule, which preys on schools that operate on quarters systems.

But unlike Seumalo, nothing is guaranteed for Shittu or Marshall.

It’s tough enough to make an NFL roster as an undrafted player. Now, they have to try to do it after missing the bulk of team activities this spring.

“It’s tough,” said Shittu, who earned his degree after taking 19 units at Stanford this spring. “It’s tough to be in two places at once. But I know how important it was for me to get my degree and I couldn’t come here because of the graduation rule.

“I got my degree and was able to focus as much as I could on what they were doing out here. It’s tough to be at two places at once, but I tried my best.”

Earlier this week, Seumalo said while he was at Oregon State this spring, he Skyped with offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland four or five times per week for a half hour to an hour at a time.

The undrafted players weren’t afforded that luxury.

Shittu was in contact with defensive line coach Chris Wilson, but “it wasn’t too often.” Marshall, meanwhile, didn’t have any contact with coaches during his time away, but kept in contact with his former Oregon teammates Kenjon Barner and Josh Huff, as well as fellow undrafted running back Cedric O’Neal.

Both Shittu and Marshall said the biggest hurdle for them upon their return to the team is burying themselves in the playbook. They are trying to soak up as much as possible at the NovaCare Complex during the day before retiring to their hotel rooms to study the playbook even more.

They’re playing catch-up.

But don’t tell them that.

“I wouldn’t call it that,” Marshall said. “I know I have a little more work to do, but I wouldn’t call it that.”

“You could say that,” Shittu said, “but it’s just trying to stay focused on what I have to do here at training camp. The past has happened already. Now, I’m just focused on what I have to do in the future.”

Shittu and Marshall said there were other teams interested in them after going undrafted, but thought they fit better with the Eagles.

Shittu was being courted by the Eagles and Houston Texans, but thought the Eagles’ 4-3 scheme (the Texans run a 3-4), along with opportunity to make the team thanks to depth issues, made Philly an obvious choice. This week, in addition to working as a defensive tackle, Shittu has also taken snaps as a defensive end. He said he’s happy to become as versatile as he can.

Marshall cited Doug Pederson’s offense as the main reason he came to the Eagles. He thinks it plays to his strengths. In college, Marshall made a huge impact not only in the run game, but also catching passes out of the backfield and as a receiver. Since he’s been in Philly, the Eagles haven’t talked to him about playing receiver.

While Shittu already finished school, Marshall hopes to earn his degree in journalism and communications from Oregon next spring.

For now, he’s just trying to stick with the Eagles.

“I don’t see it as an audition [for other teams],” Marshall said. “I’m out here trying to make this team. I’m doing everything I can to do that.”

Eagles release oft-injured LB Travis Long, roster at 89

Eagles release oft-injured LB Travis Long, roster at 89

Injury-plagued linebacker Travis Long, once a top prospect under Chip Kelly and Bill Davis, was released by the Eagles Wednesday morning.

Long was released after just two practices of training camp. He’s suffered three torn ACLs since the fall of 2012. 

Long had 9½ sacks as a senior at Washington State but suffered a torn ACL late in the season in a game against Arizona State in Tempe, Arizona, and went undrafted.

The Eagles signed him late in the offseason, and he spent the entire 2013 season on the practice squad.

After a very good preseason in the summer of 2014, he suffered a torn left ACL during a preseason game against the Jets, ending his season. He rehabbed for year, then suffered another torn left ACL early in training camp last summer and missed another season.

So despite being with the Eagles for the entire three years of Kelly’s regime, he never set foot on the field for a regular-season game.

Long, who turned 25 on Sunday, had 20½ sacks and 201 tackles in 47 starts at Washington State. He was an honorable mention Pac 12 pick as a senior and the Cougars’ defensive MVP.

Long’s release leaves the Eagles’ roster at 89, one below the training camp limit of 90.

The Eagles are extremely thin at linebacker. With Long no longer in the picture, they have six backups behind projected starters Mychal Kendricks, Jordan Hicks and Nigel Bradham, whose short-term future is up in the air after his reported arrest in Miami.

The backups are undrafted rookies Myke Tavarres, Don Cherry and Quentin Gause, rookie seventh-round pick Joe Walker and older veteran street free agents Deontae Skinner and Najee Goode.