Brad Smith aims to help Eagles at wide receiver

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Brad Smith aims to help Eagles at wide receiver

Brad Smith has played many positions throughout his eight years in the NFL.

Wide receiver. Backup quarterback. Kick returner.

He also spent time in the backfield as a Wildcat specialist earlier in his career with the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills.

Now, entering his ninth season and second with the Eagles, Smith is trying to focus on becoming a better receiver.

“I’ve played receiver during my career off and on,” Smith said Tuesday after practice. “Now, being able to work on the nuances a little bit more, especially with this offense -- kind of knowing what they’re looking for has been a blessing.”

When the Eagles released their first official depth chart on Monday, Smith was listed as the first-team slot receiver, something of a surprise considering he caught just two passes for 27 yards last season.

“I’ve never really played much slot,” Smith said. “Coaches have always moved me around for different packages and personnel, so I’ve played a little bit of everything.”

In eight years, only twice has Smith finished a season with more than 20 catches and 200 yards, the last time being in 2011 with the Bills, when he caught 23 passes for 240 yards and one touchdown.

The last time Smith finished a season as one his own team’s top three wide receivers in terms of yards? That would be 2007 with the Jets, when he caught 32 passes for 325 yards and two touchdowns playing behind Jerricho Cotchery and Laveranues Coles.

In fact, Smith has only four more career receiving yards (976), than he does career rushing yards (972). His most impressive year as a pro was in 2010, when he finished with 1,432 kick return yards, 299 rushing yards and three total touchdowns, yet caught just four passes for 44 yards.

Still, the Eagles have been impressed with his performance as a receiver in camp thus far.

“He’s one of the guys that’s really benefited from all the reps he’s getting,” offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said Tuesday. “He’s done a great job. I think he’s improved by leaps and bounds from a year ago within our offense.

“He’s a veteran player. He’s a very steady competitor and player on special teams and he’s developing himself more as a wide receiver within our offense and he’s done a good job.”

No matter how much Smith has improved as a wide receiver, it is still difficult to imagine him finishing the season as the team’s first option in the slot.

Rookie second-round pick Jordan Matthews is currently listed behind Smith on the depth chart, and it is likely the Eagles are keeping him on the second team as a way of bringing him along slowly. It would be very surprising if Smith finished the season with more catches or yards than Matthews.

“We don’t view it [as a competition],” Smith said. “We’re trying to get better individually because ultimately when it comes down to it, it’s can we win games as a team.”

Even with his current place on the depth chart, it’s not a guarantee that Smith will end up on the Eagles' final roster.

The first four spots are locked up by starters Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper and rookies Matthews and Josh Huff, leaving just two more receiver spots. While it is likely that Smith will snag one of those spots, he still has plenty of competition in Arrelious Benn, Ifeanyi Momah, Damaris Johnson and Jeff Maehl.

While Smith’s versatility would seem to give him an edge over those players, it's still debatable as to how much of his versatility the Eagles really need. Last season he received only two carries and returned just four kicks.

When asked what he would like his role to be, Smith predictably responded, “Whatever Coach wants.”

As he is currently not listed as one of the team’s kick returners, it seems as though Chip Kelly wants him to focus on improving the team’s depth at wide receiver, something the Eagles certainly could use.

“Coach moves us all around a lot,” Smith said. “There are certain formations we could be anywhere. As far as game planning, Coach could come up with anything.”

NFL Notes: Browns trade '13 No. 6 pick Barkevious Mingo to Patriots

NFL Notes: Browns trade '13 No. 6 pick Barkevious Mingo to Patriots

CLEVELAND -- Barkevious Mingo never really fit in with the Browns.

The Patriots will try to find an ideal spot for him.

A major disappointment in Cleveland, Mingo, the No. 6 overall pick in the 2013 draft was traded to New England on Thursday.

The Browns received a fifth-round pick in the 2017 draft for the linebacker.

Mingo, a former LSU standout, has recorded just seven sacks in three seasons and spent much of last season on special teams.

Mingo's size -- 6-foot-4, 240 pounds -- and speed have made him intriguing, but Cleveland's coaching staff couldn't find the best way to utilize him. The Browns moved the 25-year-old Mingo from outside linebacker to inside earlier this summer.

Cleveland declined to exercise the fifth-year option on Mingo's rookie contract in May. With the trade of Mingo, left tackle Joe Thomas and cornerbacks Joe Haden and Justin Gilbert are the only first-round selections by Cleveland from 2007 to 2014 that are still with the team (see full story).

NFL: Harrison, Matthews and Peppers talk with PED investigators
Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison and Green Bay Packers defensive players Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers met this week with NFL investigators looking into allegations linking them to performance-enhancing drugs, the players' union said Thursday.

Matthews and Peppers met with league representatives on Wednesday, while Harrison did so on Thursday, according to the NFL Players Association.

Last week, the league threatened Harrison, Matthews, Peppers and free agent Mike Neal with indefinite suspensions if they did not meet with investigators. All of them were mentioned in an Al-Jazeera television interview with Charlie Sly, who worked as an intern at an anti-aging clinic. In the December report, Sly made claims of PED use by several athletes, including Harrison, Peyton Manning and the three others, but later recanted his claims.

The since-retired Manning was cleared after a separate NFL investigation in which he granted interviews and provided all records sought by league investigators.

The league's deadline for cooperation from the four current players was Thursday. The NFL first notified the four on Jan. 11 about the investigation into the Al-Jazeera report (see full story).

Dolphins: Team intensifies efforts for Zika control at stadium
MIAMI -- The Miami Dolphins and Miami Marlins say they've intensified mosquito-control treatments at their stadiums because of the Zika virus.

The Dolphins' stadium is more than 10 miles from the nearest area of the virus outbreak. Even so, the Dolphins say they decided weeks ago to undertake additional treatments as a precaution.

Construction workers are at the site daily completing the latest phase in a $500 million renovation. The first home preseason game is next Thursday against Tennessee.

The Marlins and Miami-Dade County have stepped up spraying in and around Marlins Park "in an abundance of caution," team president David Samson said Thursday. Treatments targeting the mosquito that transmits Zika are being used even though the Marlins play most of their home games indoors under a retractable roof.

Marlins Park is about 2 miles from the nearest area of virus outbreak.

Treatments at the 265-acre Dolphins stadium site include the parking lot and follow recommendations by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention using chemicals approved by the Environmental Protection Agency. Those treatments are expected to continue through the football season and beyond.

Vikings: New stadium sells out for inaugural season
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings have sold out their new stadium for the inaugural season.

The team announced on Thursday that they've started waiting lists for tickets and suites. The official capacity at U.S. Bank Stadium will be 66,655, with more than 60,400 seats committed for the entire season and the remaining single-game seats also sold out.

Returned tickets from visiting team allotments typically make a small number of seats available the week of each game.

The Vikings host San Diego on Sunday in an exhibition game, their first action at the $1.1 billion venue. The regular-season opener is on Sept. 18 against rival Green Bay.

On Eagles' roster bubble, Marcus Smith finally showing signs of improvement

On Eagles' roster bubble, Marcus Smith finally showing signs of improvement

Final cuts are a little over a week away. Marcus Smith is trying to impress a coaching staff that didn't draft him. Steven Means has had a very good preseason. Smith has little to show for his first two NFL seasons.

If time is running out on the former first-round pick from Louisville, it's not weighing on him.

"I try not to think about those things," Smith said. "Just go out there every single day and not worry about what's going on around me because everything will take care of itself."

Smith, in his first year as a 4-3 defensive end after struggling in two seasons as a 3-4 linebacker, missed the preseason game against the Bucs with a concussion but actually played very well Thursday night in Pittsburgh, with four tackles, a sack, two tackles for loss and a quarterback hurry.

It didn't count. But it was the kind of performance the Eagles have been waiting for since they made Smith the 26th pick in the 2014 draft.

Smith played just 68 snaps as a rookie, getting more than seven snaps in only four games. Last year, he played five or fewer snaps in nine of 16 games.

But new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz has given Smith every opportunity to shine, and he liked what he saw in Pittsburgh.

"The thing I'm most proud about with Marcus is that he's done a good job in the run game," Schwartz said.

"He's a very skilled athlete. He's fast and he's smooth. I think he was a quarterback when he first went to Louisville. I mean, that stuff shows. Where he's really making good improvement is setting the edge of our defense [and] attacking tackles.

"He did that against a physical group from Pittsburgh. That was a great sign."

Smith was asked about his run defense being an underrated part of his game, and he disagreed with the assessment.

"For myself, it's not an underrated part,  but everybody else thinks that it's underrated because they see me as just a pass rusher," he said.

"But I also know that I can play the run and stop the run and rush the passer at the same time, and when you have both those tools then it allows the coaches to be able to put you in the game more."

When the preseason began, it was just kind of a foregone conclusion that Smith's time in Philly had run out.

Now, he's battling not only for a roster spot, presumably with Means, but also for playing time behind defensive ends Vinny Curry, Connor Barwin and Brandon Graham.

Smith insists he's not worried about where he fits in on a roster that's loaded on the defensive line.

"I don't think about those things because if you think about things you can't control you tend to not do the things that you're supposed to do," he said.

"So I just worry about what I can control and just get better and play well."

Smith is on three special teams units — kickoff, punt and kickoff return — which gives him a few more opportunities to show he belongs.

More than anything, for the first time since he got to the NFL, he's brimming with confidence.

That, more than anything else, was missing the last two seasons.

"I feel really comfortable just because the scheme and the type of defense that we're playing, it allows me to just be a defensive end and go make plays," he said.

"My confidence level is really high. I feel that when I'm out on the field I can't be stopped."

On 'prove-it' deals, have Rueben Randle or Chris Givens proven anything?

On 'prove-it' deals, have Rueben Randle or Chris Givens proven anything?

This offseason, in an attempt to boost a putrid receiving corps, the Eagles went out and signed two veterans in Rueben Randle and Chris Givens. 

Both were one-year contracts, without much guaranteed money — what are commonly referred to as “prove-it” deals. But a couple weeks away from final cuts, their two roster spots seem to be in jeopardy. 

So, have they actually proven anything yet? 

“Well both of them really have come on,” head coach Doug Pederson said on Wednesday. “I think with Chris' skill set, a speed guy, he's done a nice job catching the ball this week – as all of them have done. Rueben is kind of the veteran, the savvy guy, the smooth, more of the silky runner. And [they are] really two veteran guys that lead that young receiver group.”

It will be hard to lead the receiver group if they’re not on the team — and that certainly seems to be a possibility. The Eagles went out and traded for Dorial Green-Beckham, while undrafted rookie Paul Turner has come on strong, fighting for a roster spot. 

Of course Randle and Givens both said they expect to make the roster. They’re confident and they should be. If not, then what’s the point? 

They each came to Philly on such cheap and short deals because they had something different they needed to prove and the Eagles gave them a shot to do it. 

Randle, 25, finished out his rookie deal with the Giants last year with a good season: 57 catches, 797 yards and eight touchdowns. Yet as a free agent, Randle’s deal with the Eagles was worth just $1.025 million with just $500,000 guaranteed. The problem for Randle in the NFL hasn’t been talent, it’s been his personality and his perceived effort. 

Talking in the spring, Randle said the Giants judged him incorrectly because of his laid-back personality. When asked if Eagles view him differently, Randle said, “I hope so.” 

Then there’s the issue of his on-field effort, which came into question while he was with the Giants and has already come into question since he’s been with the Eagles. 

“I understand that,” Randle said. “I feel like I get read wrong because I do a lot of things naturally and it doesn’t seem like I’m giving much effort. I get a lot of [flak] from that. If I go out there and make a one-handed catch and make it look effortless, I get praised for it. If I do all these other things effortlessly, it’s like I’m not giving much effort. It’s just kind of one of those things, you just have to go out there and make some plays and see how it goes from there. I don’t read into it too much. I put my best foot forward each and every game.”

In the first two preseason games, Randle played 54 snaps, was targeted five times and had three receptions for 13 yards.

Then, there’s Givens, 26, who had his best NFL season as a rookie with Sam Bradford in 2012. The Eagles signed him to a one-year deal worth $840,000, with $180,000 guaranteed, hoping he could rekindle the on-field chemistry he once had with the quarterback. 

What did he want to prove coming to Philly? 

“That I’m a guy that they can depend on and I’m a guy that can do more than one thing,” Givens said. “I’m a guy that really takes working on my craft and becoming the best player that I can be to heart. And that I’ve really put in the work and the time to do all the things that I need to do and be in the right place all the time.”

Givens hasn’t played much in the first two preseason games. In 17 snaps, he’s been targeted just once and doesn’t have a catch. Givens said he’s not worried about his lack of preseason snaps because if the Eagles needed to see him play more, he’d be in. 

The veteran also said he doesn’t feel pressured by the younger receivers who are pushing hard for a roster spot; Givens said he’s never been one to worry about what other guys are doing. He just wants to focus on himself. 

So has he proven what he wanted to so far? 

“I think I have,” Givens said. “I feel like I definitely surprised a lot of people as far as being able to run routes and catch the ball and things like that. It’s just one of these things where I continue to work on it every day and being able to show that I can do all the things that are asked of me in this offense.”