Avant saw release coming, no ill will toward Birds

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Avant saw release coming, no ill will toward Birds

Jason Avant saw the writing on the wall. Or, more accurately, saw the writing on the stat sheet.

As his role diminished last year, the Eagles’ popular veteran wide receiver gradually began to realize that 2013 would be his last season in Philly.

“You start seeing things when your role gets a little bit taken back and you don’t get as many opportunities as you had, as many plays that are called for you,” Avant said Tuesday in a wide-ranging interview with Comcast SportsNet’s Derrick Gunn.

“Not necessarily when the quarterback is scrambling and you’re the last option. There were a lot of those this year.”

Avant, who has played more games at wide receiver than any Eagle over the last 35 years, was released by the Eagles on Tuesday after 116 games, 297 catches, 3,646 yards and 12 touchdowns.

The numbers don’t come close to defining Avant, an inspirational locker room leader, a fearless special teamer, a clutch big-play receiver and an athlete as unselfish and humble as any pro you’ll ever see (see story).

“I knew [being released] was likely, but you never know in those situations,” Avant said. “I was 99 percent sure but there was still that one percent chance.

“But at the same time, I really respect the Eagles for letting me know so soon, so I can be on the market before free agency. That’s beneficial to you rather than go into it with 100 other players.”

Only four wide receivers in franchise history played more games than Avant -- Harold Carmichael, Bobby Walston, Pete Retzlaff (who was also a tight end) and Charles Smith.

Avant is one of only 12 NFL wide receivers who finished 2013 with the same team he started 2006 with.

“People don’t realize, eight years in the National Football League, that’s like 20 years in someone else’s work,” Avant said. “I talk to kids now who say, ‘I remember you when I was a little kid!’ A little kid? Are you kidding me?”

Avant, the Eagles’ fourth-round pick in 2006, made a name for himself as a clutch third-down receiver with a highlight-reel knack for remarkable one-handed catches.

This year, playing in Chip Kelly’s offense, he caught just 38 passes for 447 yards, both his lowest totals since 2008.

“I believe … if there weren’t contracts and there wasn’t a salary cap I’d still be here,” he said. “But when your [salary] numbers are going up and your production doesn’t look the same, there has to be some type of release to relinquish that pressure.”

Avant told Gunn that 2013 was the most frustrating year of his career.

“By far,” he said. “Not necessarily from a selfish standpoint of a numbers situation, just with knowing that I could be used different, that I could help the team.

“That’s one of those things with the new coaching staff -- which is a great staff, which is a great coach -- but every player doesn’t fit, and I felt like that square trying to fit into a triangle. I felt like that at times.

“Because I have a very unique way of getting open and doing certain things. As everybody knows, I’m not a blazer, but I’ve been able to get open consistently, and when you have a new coaching staff, everybody’s not accustomed to that. Coach [Andy] Reid wasn’t accustomed to that. I had to make him believe in me in order to do what I do.

“It was frustrating because you can’t play the way you want to play. Coach Kelly and Coach Bick (receivers coach Bob Bicknell), it’s a great staff. I just don’t fit what they do.”

Avant spoke several times during his 20-minute interview with Gunn about the fans and how pleasing them drove him and motivated him.

He spoke about the relationships he built during eight years with the Eagles, mentioning everybody from his coaches and teammates to the security and maintenance guys at the NovaCare Complex.

“That’s the hardest thing about it,” he said. “The relationships with the media members, my teammates and fans here, church family, all those people. Those are the things that I’ll miss.”

Avant, who turns 31 next month, believes he can still play and said he hopes to sign somewhere before the start of free agency Tuesday.

The Chiefs, coached by Reid, and the Jets, with offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, are obvious candidates.

“I’ve been here eight years and sometimes it’s good for a fresh start,” he said. “I know I still can play.”

Asked about his legacy, Avant said it goes far beyond football, far behind all the circus third-down catches and key blocks in the running game that may have gone unnoticed by most fans.

It’s all about being a good person, a good role model, a good teammate.

“Would I love to make the Pro Bowl? Would I love to have catches and new contract? Yeah, you love those things,” he said.

“But at the end of the day, you want your significance to have more effect on what you did outside the field and the type of people that you affect day in and day out and what type of person you are,” he said.

“I want that to be my legacy. That should mean more than what you do on a football field, and that’s what I wanted to leave. …

“I just hope the fans would know that I respect them, and that I care for them, and that I thought about them when I was playing.

“Hopefully, I played this game, blocking, tackling, running -- as best as I could. That was my role for years and years and years. To assist someone else to be great. Hey, everybody has a role. Everybody can’t be Michael Jordan or DeSean Jackson or Jeremy Maclin. A team just doesn’t work like that.

“There has to be someone who concedes and says, ‘No, you go ahead, you do your thing. As long as we’re winning, I’ll stay back,’ and that was my role here. To stay back and do what was asked of me and catch a couple passes over the middle.

“Could I have done more? Probably. But I loved doing it because it was going to help the team, help the city, help the team win.”

Darren Sproles signs 1-year extension with Eagles

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USA Today Images

Darren Sproles signs 1-year extension with Eagles

The Eagles on Friday signed running back Darren Sproles to a one-year contract extension. 

Sproles had been scheduled to become a free agent after this season. He signed a two-year extension in 2014 after the Eagles acquired him from the Saints for a fifth-round pick. 

(more coming ... )

 

Jason Peters impressed by Doug Pederson, questions Chip Kelly

Jason Peters impressed by Doug Pederson, questions Chip Kelly

Heading into his 13th season, Jason Peters has experienced a lot during his exceptional NFL career. So when the eight-time Pro Bowler says head coach Doug Pederson is more respectful of veteran players than the previous regime under Chip Kelly, you take notice.

"I think so," Peters stated frankly on Thursday at training camp (see Day 4 notes). "The last couple years, there wasn't a lot of vets, and any vet that stood up and had something to say, we got rid of him.

"Doug was a player here, he understands veteran players and he understands the game, so I think it's better."

Addressing the media for the first time since last season, Peters faced a series of questions about how Pederson differs from his unique predecessor. Schemes and philosophies were topics of discussion, as well, but perhaps the sharpest criticism levied by Peters was Kelly's lack of appreciation for what an NFL player goes through to be ready on Sunday.

"Any time you've got a coach who's been there, done that, he knows about the trenches and he knows about the two-a-days, it definitely helps with a veteran team as a whole," Peters said.

Peters admitted Kelly's practices took their toll on players. If that sounds like a familiar complaint, it's probably because former Eagles cornerback Cary Williams voiced a similar opinion in 2014. On Thursday, Peters echoed and expanded upon Williams' sentiments.

"The same practices that we did in training camp were the same spring practices, exactly the same, so it's pretty much we had training camp the whole offseason," Peters said. "Even OTAs were the same exact practice. It kind of wore us down."

Peters also maintained the unusual practice schedule during the regular season was no help, either.

Most teams practice Monday and take Tuesday off. Kelly did the opposite, so there was no real break leading up to gameday.

"We practiced on Tuesdays when Chip was here, and you felt it on Sundays," Peters said. "I did anyway."

Pederson has mentioned on several occasions the Eagles intend to do everything they can to keep Peters fresh and prepared for Sundays this season, which the 34-year-old says is "just being smart." One way that could manifest itself is an occasional day off during the week.

Although Peters' criticisms of Kelly weren't limited to the workload on veterans, the left tackle indicated the constant uptempo attack may not have done the offense many favors, either.

"If you run 100 times in a row, back to back to back, don't you think your 50th time you're going to be a little slower?" Peters asked. "But if you get a little bit of a rest, you're going to be a little bit faster.

"It's give and take. When you go back to the huddle and you get that wind, you're just a little stronger when you go back to the line, so I think it will help."

Peters added that the simplicity and predictability of Kelly's system became a problem, as well.

"I mean, this is the National Football League, and if the running back is to the left and you're running the zone read, where do you think the ball is going?" Peters asked rhetorically. "To the right.

"They caught up to us. We had some good years there back to back, then last year we had that down year. We just needed to change a little bit up, especially with [quarterback Sam Bradford] back there. They know he's not gonna run it, so it kind of put our hands behind our back."

While Peters believes the return to a more sophisticated, traditional NFL offense under Pederson — one that uses snap counts and chip blocks to help its offensive linemen — will be an enormous improvement for the Eagles.

Peters knows it's on the players to do a better job in 2016, too. At the same time, he feels as though the deck might've been just a little stacked against them.

"We can't really blame it on that, we're professionals," Peters said.

"[The coaches] call the play, and we execute it. But when the [opponents] know, and they're professionals too, and they know what the play is, it's tough."

Eagles camp Day 4 notes: Brandon Brooks out; starting O & D

Eagles camp Day 4 notes: Brandon Brooks out; starting O & D

As the Eagles kicked off their first full-squad practice in the bubble on Thursday afternoon, a big part of the offense was missing. 

Starting right guard Brandon Brooks was nowhere to be found. In his place, with the first-team offense, was veteran Stefen Wisniewski. 

Brooks, who signed a five-year, $40 million deal to join the Eagles this offseason, missed practice with a hamstring injury and is listed by the team as day to day. 

The only other player that missed practice is running back Ryan Mathews, who is on the Active/Non-football Injury list with an ankle injury he suffered while training last week (see story).

Offensive starters
Thursday’s light afternoon practice was what Andy Reid used to call a “10-10-10” practice. The term is back under Doug Pederson. Basically, it’s a light practice that goes continually through offense, defense and special teams. But it’s not very conducive for observations because of the format, which is meant to allow the offense or defense to look good. 

But we did get a chance to see the starting units. 

Here’s what the first-team offense (they came out in 11 personnel) looked like to start practice: 

QB: Sam Bradford
RB: Darren Sproles (Mathews was out)
TE: Zach Ertz
WR1: Nelson Agholor
WR2: Chris Givens
Slot: Jordan Matthews
LT: Jason Peters
LG: Allen Barbre
C: Jason Kelce
RG Stefen Wisniewski (Brooks was out)
RT: Lane Johnson

Notes: It’s worth noting that Matthews is still working in the slot way more than he is outside. And Givens, after a nice spring, got the nod to work outside with the first team.

Defensive starters
The defense first came onto the field in the nickel package, so we’ll start there: 

LDE: Vinny Curry
RDE: Connor Barwin
LDT: Fletcher Cox
RDT: Bennie Logan
LB: Jordan Hicks
LB: Mychal Kendricks
LCB: Leodis McKelvin
RCB: Nolan Carroll
Slot: Ron Brooks
S: Malcolm Jenkins
S: Rodney McLeod

Notes: We listed the defense in nickel, but when the Eagles were in base, Nigel Bradham was on the field as the strongside linebacker. The most important thing to note is that when the team was in base, Ron Brooks stayed on the field and moved outside. That’s what the team did most of the spring and it hasn’t changed yet. We’ll have to keep an eye on that. 

North Dakota’s hero
Earlier this week, there were several reporters and a TV crew from North Dakota to watch the progress of their hometown hero Carson Wentz. Wentz said it was cool to see some familiar media faces, especially because he knows how closely fans in his home state are still following his career. 

The rookie hasn’t been home much recently, so he wasn’t sure if the buzz has died down at all since the draft, but he suspects there are many more Eagles fans at home now. 

“I know now that football season is starting to kick up, it’s starting to heat up back home,” he said. “Everyone’s all interested in the Eagles, more than just the local teams around there. It’s pretty exciting. Exciting time for the state of North Dakota, for sure.” 

Odds and ends
• We’ll start with Wentz, who made a great toss on Thursday down the field about 40 yards to shifty wideout Paul Turner. Just a beautiful ball from the rookie. 

• Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Jalen Mills made another play. This time, he was able to get between the ball and Jordan Matthews near the right sideline. Perfect coverage. If he keeps this up once the pads go on Saturday, he’ll earn some playing time this season. 

• Jason Peters spoke for the first time this year after Thursday’s practice. We’ll have plenty on his thoughts and comments, but here’s what stuck out to me: He really didn’t like the way Chip Kelly did some things. He clearly didn’t like the tempo offense or Kelly’s management style. When asked, Peters agreed that Pederson’s staff is way more veteran player-friendly. 

“Any vet that stood up and had something to say, we got rid of him,” Peters said. Yikes. 

• Sproles, Agholor and Rueben Randle worked as the punt returners on Thursday. Obviously, Sproles is the guy, but this gives us an idea of the depth there. 

• Pads go on Saturday. 

• The first open practice (of two) is this Sunday at the Linc at 10 a.m. No tickets needed, just show up.