Philadelphia Eagles

After finally turning a corner, Eagles' Shelton Gibson hopes to keep it going

After finally turning a corner, Eagles' Shelton Gibson hopes to keep it going

It was something Eagles wide receiver Shelton Gibson started doing while in college at West Virginia. 

It was a little way for him to keep his focus. 

Gibson would scribble the words "What are you going to do to be great today?" on a notepad and put it on the dashboard of his car to serve as a near-constant reminder. 

"And every time you get into your car, you see it," Gibson said Thursday. "You sit there in the car and you think. Where am I driving to right now? Am I driving to go to the field or am I driving to go see a girl or something?"

The notepad will be back on the dash over the next month and a half before training camp, as the fifth-rounder tries to keep his momentum going in the right direction after a solid last two days of the mandatory minicamp. 

Those last two days were very much needed.

Before the penultimate practice, this spring hadn't exactly gone to plan for Gibson. By his own admission, he was struggling greatly, and it was pretty evident for those who watched him play during OTAs. He dropped pass after pass, wasn't running crisp routes and looked like he just wasn't ready to be in the NFL. 

"It's definitely tough. It's never going to be easy," Gibson said. "This game is about how you can bounce back. There's always a learning curve. Whether it's your first year of high school or your first year in college or in the NFL, you always have a learning curve."

But something happened recently that turned everything around for Gibson — at least he hopes. During Wednesday's practice, he caught a ball in heavy traffic during a team portion of practice. A few minutes later, he made another tough catch. Then Thursday, he didn't seem to be in over his head anymore. 

Gibson said receivers coach Mike Groh gave him a different way to learn his plays. Instead of just learning his "X" receiver position, Groh gave him a new way to write down the plays and learn all the receiver spots, from one side of the field to the other. 

This new method helped Gibson understand the offense better and helped him slow everything down. 

"It's just like, I gotta slow it down," he said. "I always play fast and even when I run out there 100 miles per hour, if I'm doing the wrong assignments, then that's not a good thing. Even with catching the ball, I was so thrown off by 'oh I have to run right here, am I in the right split, running the right depth' and then I just get lost. That's what I was saying, I just have to sit down, slow down and focus." 

Gibson isn't the first player to come to spring practices and struggle and he certainly won't be the last. But as a receiver, his problems were much more noticeable than from players at other positions. 

Head coach Doug Pederson said the best way to help a struggling rookie is to "define a specific role" for that player; let them focus on what they need to do. After that, they can give them specific plays that they know. 

"So with young players," Pederson said, "you can start building their confidence back that way if you just get real specific with them and limit some of the action that they are seeing but also give them plays, again, both sides of the ball that they are comfortable executing."

Gibson admitted that during the OTAs and even the first day of minicamp, he wasn't playing with his typical confidence and it showed on the field. 

"When I first came in here," he said, "I was all over the place, just thinking a lot."

Finally, over the last two days, Gibson started to make some progress, but it came as the entire team is heading out on break. He was invited by Wentz to go to North Dakota with the rest of the skill position players and plans on attending (see story)

Until then, it'll be on Gibson to stay on himself. He said right now is the hardest part.  

"People go home and you lose that waking up every day at 6 a.m. and going to work and training every single day and working on your stuff, your craft," he said. "You go home and see your friends and you want to go see a movie that's coming out tomorrow or anything like that. Or are you going to go home and work? My intention is to go home and work." 

Chris Long to Malcolm Jenkins: 'I'm here for you'

Chris Long to Malcolm Jenkins: 'I'm here for you'

Eagles defensive end Chris Long became the first white professional athlete to actively participate in the national anthem demonstrations designed to cast a light on racial and social injustices.

Before the Eagles' preseason game against the Bills on Thursday, Long put his arm around safety Malcolm Jenkins (see story), who has raised his right fist in the air during the playing of the anthem since last season. Long explained he felt it necessary to show support for the cause in the aftermath of violence in his hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia.

"It's been a hard week for everybody," Long said postgame. "It's not just a hard week for someone being from Charlottesville. It's a tough week for America.

"I've heard a lot of people say, 'Why do athletes get involved in the national anthem protests?' I've said before that I'll never kneel for an anthem because the flag means something different for everybody in this country, but I support my peers. If you don't see why you need allies for people that are fighting for equality right now, I don't think you'll ever see it.

"Malcolm is a leader and I'm here to show support as a white athlete."

Long spoke out about the Charlottesville protests on Sunday (see story), making the case that his stance is not about politics, but "right and wrong." One day earlier, protests over the removal of Confederate memorials turned tragic when a counter-protester, Heather Heyer, was killed.

After the events that unfolded, Long could no longer sit idly by.

"I was inspired by a lot of the allies that were there to stand up against hate in my hometown and I wasn't able to be there to protest or to stand up against hate," Long said. "People like Heather Heyer gave their life for that and I was inspired by that.

"I just told Malcolm, 'I'm here for you.' I think it's a good time for people that look like me to be there for people that are fighting for equality."

Jenkins said he was aware Long was going to take part in the demonstration, and was appreciative of his teammate's backing.

"Before the game, he approached me and he wanted to, in his own way, send a message of support," Jenkins said.

"I think he understands that he could never necessarily know my experience as a black male, but in the light of all that's going on, as a white male, he understands that he needs to be an ally. He expressed that desire to me, and so I thought it was appropriate to show that gesture of support."

Though Jenkins' demonstration has not garnered the mainstream national attention of some of the other high profile athletes who have sat or knelt during the anthem, he has been among the most outspoken. The Pro Bowl safety is involved in various social programs and has even spoken to Congress about social injustice in the United States.

"The biggest thing is to continue to call attention to the things in this country I think everybody after the past week has been focusing on," Jenkins said.

"If we want to eradicate hate from our country, drawing attention to not only the hate itself, but the products of those hates. If you look at the long history of our country, and how especially in our justice system we talk about police and community engagement — the duality of our justice system right now, communities of low income and communities with color have completely different interactions with the justice system than that of our counterparts — and in the light of everything that's happening, just continuing that discussion."

Jenkins wasn't the only of Long's teammates to show respect for the stance he took. Eagles cornerback Ron Brooks, who himself knelt for the anthem on Thursday, also took notice that another person was using their platform to further the cause.

Brooks didn't get too caught up in the fact that Long is white and anthem demonstrators have been predominantly black. Anybody who's willing to take a stand is needed.

"I'm not too concerned about whether it be a white person, black person, they could be Anglo-Saxon, whatever race, it doesn't matter," Brooks said. "Just him showing his support — I think a lot more people need to action and not just be quiet and let things go to the wayside.

"I admire Chris for standing up for something and show support for injustices that are going on. Whether the person was Malcolm, or whether the person had been [Carson Wentz] or anyone else, just that support and speaking up and using your platform."

Carson Wentz, Eagles offense finally find some rhythm after stagnant start

Carson Wentz, Eagles offense finally find some rhythm after stagnant start

BOX SCORE

On the first nine offensive plays of Thursday night's game against the Bills, the Eagles' offense gained a total of five yards. 

Five. 

To say the Eagles' offense stalled early in the team's 20-16 preseason win over the Bills would be a bit of an understatement (see Instant Replay). They needed a spark. 

Doug Pederson initially wanted Carson Wentz and the first-team offense to play just one or two series. But after the team's third 3-and-out, which included Wentz's taking a big hit, to start the game, he sent Wentz and his unit back into the game.

"You want to get your offense going," Pederson said. "There is a fine line. But there's a lot of pride with those guys and they understood that I wasn't completely happy with the performance early and they wanted another opportunity."

Through three drives, seven of the Eagles' nine plays netted one yard or fewer. 

Things just weren't working. 

"It can be tough," Wentz said. "The first couple drives it was definitely frustrating, coming out 3-and-out every time. I missed a couple throws, couldn't get the running game going. It was frustrating. Again, we'll go back, watch the tape, evaluate and keep building this thing." 

When Pederson sent his offense into the game with just under five minutes left in the first quarter, the Eagles began to use a hurry-up offense (see 10 observations). It was a tactic to find some sort of rhythm and the tempo. It did the trick. 

First, Wentz hit Alshon Jeffery for nine yards. Then Nelson Agholor for seven. Jeffery for 14. LeGarrette Blount for 17. Then Blount ran for eight. Before no time, the Eagles had traveled down deep into Buffalo territory. 

"Going back to last year, Coach Pederson has always had a feel for when's the right time to do then, when you kind of need a spark," Wentz said. "That's what he felt tonight. It was effective."

Eventually, though, Blount caught a short pass and fumbled the ball away. That ended the first-team offense's day. But at least they got some semblance of rhythm before leaving. 

Still, it wasn't a strong showing from Wentz and the first unit. Pederson attributed the slow start to the lack of game-planning. He thinks things will be different once they begin preparing specifically for other defenses. 

Neither Wentz nor Pederson is concerned. 

"I don't," Pederson said. "Because I see it in practice every day. I know what they're capable of doing." 

"Was the performance great? By no means," Wentz said. "This is definitely not where we want to be, but I definitely don't have doubts. I know we have the right guys, we have the right scheme, we just have to put it together."

The Eagles were without their normal starting offensive line Thursday, which might have played a role (see Grading the Win). Jason Peters missed the game for personal reasons, which meant Lane Johnson had to switch sides and Matt Tobin came in at right tackle. And last week, the team was without starting right guard Brandon Brooks. 

Perhaps that's one of the reasons the run game struggled so much to start the season. 

Through two games, Blount has just nine carries for 17 yards. Not a great beginning to his time with the Eagles. 

"It's going OK," Blount said. "Obviously, we have a lot to improve on, we have a lot of corrections to make. It's not going as smoothly as any of us want it to go. But it's the preseason, we're still in camp, this is the time to make the corrections and not take it over into the regular season."

Pederson blamed the lack of running attack on the absence of game planning. Wentz thinks the Eagles will be able to game plan more for the Dolphins next Thursday, even though they will practice with them during the week. 

And if they can't get things going, Pederson can always call for the hurry-up offense. 

"It's one of those things, you can't do it too much," Wentz said. "Going back to last year, coach has always had a really good feel when's the right time to do that. When's the right time to push the tempo, when you need a spark. Tonight we needed a spark."