Eagles vow not to lose intimidation battle vs. Pats


Eagles vow not to lose intimidation battle vs. Pats

The Eagles are headed to Foxboro on Tuesday for the start of joint practices, but unlike last year, they’re bringing some extra motivation.

Apparently, only one team brought the proper level of intensity and intimidation to last year’s scrimmages in South Philly, and it wasn’t the home team. Both teams were warned about getting too physical, but the Eagles felt they were the only team playing by the rules.

This time, there’s just one rule.

“When we strap up, we’re gonna be ready to go,” cornerback Bradley Fletcher. “We want to have a little something to it that maybe we didn’t really have last year, so we’re gonna have a lot more of that this coming week.”

For whatever reason, the Eagles were a little too gracious when they welcomed the Patriots to the NovaCare last August for a couple of practices leading up to their preseason game.

Pats quarterback Tom Brady, in particular, seemed right at home finding his new receivers against an Eagles defense that offered very little resistance -- except, of course, Cary Williams, who was tossed out of one practice for tussling.

That’s another issue, some Eagles acknowledged.

Despite an agreement between coaches Chip Kelly and Bill Belichick to kick jousters out of practice, a message shared by each coach in meetings with his respective team, only one team seemed to tone down on contact and extracurricular activity.

Apparently, it wasn’t coincidence, either.

“I had that same meeting in New Orleans and we got whooped,” safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “We got sucker punched, so I think we’ll have our guard up this time.

“The coaches tell you, ‘Hey you’re going to get kicked out of practice if you fight,’ and all this and you go up there thinking ‘OK, this is gonna be a practice,’ and they’re ramped up. It’s hard to turn that switch on once you turn it off.”

So the Eagles were already dialed up Monday afternoon, even after a routine walkthrough without pads, especially the defensive backs. They had their sights set on revenge and showing the Patriots what’s in their DNA.

No more Mr. Nice Guys.

“The tempo is definitely going to go up some more when you go play against a different team for a few days,” Fletcher said. “We’re gonna have the pads on and it’s gonna ramp it up, so we’re definitely going to be be ready for it.”

About a week ago, Williams made headlines for critical comments about joint practices and about the Patriots, who were once penalized for illegally videotaping an opponent’s defensive signals. Williams expressed concern about another team -- especially the Patriots, citing Spygate -- having an up-close look at their playbook and personnel. He said these practices weren’t beneficial.

Jenkins disagreed. Sure, the Pats get an idea of what the Eagles will do, Jenkins said, but it’s a two-way street.

“Now, there’s things that you have to do. You’ve got to change some of your signals because you’d be dumb not to take notes on what the other team is doing,” he said. “So from that standpoint you don’t want to open up your entire playbook when you’re there.

“But I think it’s good for your team to kind of come together and go against another opponent in practice day after day. I think it brings you closer, because you really got to have each other’s back every day when you’re out there. It gets ramped up and turned up and you really get to really see who likes to compete and who shies away from competition.”

The Eagles didn’t have joint practices in the 14 years Andy Reid coached them, but Reid liked conducting his annual camp away at Lehigh for the same reasons Kelly likes joint practices, for the camaraderie building and intensity.

Reid’s teams bonded in dorm rooms and cafeterias for two long weeks away in the mountains. His practices always featured tackling, so fights frequently broke out and alliances were formed quickly. Kelly’s team bonds through combat against other opponents.

“I think it needs to be that way,” Jenkins added. “It’s competition that’s gonna bring the best out of both teams, and we can always get told to slow down. You don’t wanna ever have to tell anybody to speed up.

“The biggest thing is compete as a team. Go out there and really day in and day out, period in and period out, compete and see where we stand. We definitely don’t want to go out there and get pushed around. We’ve got to start out fast, from practice [until] the game and really just establish ourselves and see what we’ve got.”

Agholor, Huff and Green-Beckham avoiding Eagles' trade rumors

Agholor, Huff and Green-Beckham avoiding Eagles' trade rumors

While head coach Doug Pederson on Wednesday denied reports the Eagles have inquired about the availability of veteran wide receivers (see story), it's fair to wonder how those rumors affect the psyche of the guys who are already here. True or not, there's a reason why stories about trades are believable.

The Eagles' current crop of receivers hasn't been very impactful, particularly Nelson Agholor, Josh Huff and Dorial Green-Beckham. Yet despite disappointing numbers, constant questions about their lack of production and now rumblings somebody like Torrey Smith or Alshon Jeffery could be coming to take their jobs, the young trio doesn't sound too worried.

"We all have a job to do here, and if you're worried about somebody else, you're going to lose sight of your own job," Agholor said. "Just like anybody else in any workplace, you need to focus on yourself and execute your job."

"That has nothing to do with me," Huff said. "As long as I'm confident in the way I do my job, everything else will speak for itself."

"It's something I'm completely not worried about," Green-Beckham added. "I'm really just focusing on myself and whatever happens, happens."

Not only do the Eagles' wideouts sound genuinely unconcerned by trade rumors, they almost seem to welcome the competition.

"It motivates you, especially if you're still around," Agholor said. "Or if you get sent somewhere else, you understand that you have to wake up. You have to wake up and you have to make plays."

"I'm a competitor," Huff said. "I'm not going to say no to a competition, but if they do want a veteran receiver, so be it. It doesn't bother us."

It's certainly the right attitude to have, maybe even the only one. Still, trade rumors — whether rumors are all they are or not — is a clear indictment of this group's performance this season.

Jordan Matthews has been OK, but far from a prolific No. 1 receiver who makes up for a lack of complementary weapons. The third-year player is currently on pace to finish 2016 with 67 receptions for 944 yards and five touchdowns, all of which would be down from his previous season's totals.

Agholor is second on the team with 18 receptions for 191 yards, Huff has 12 catches for 63 yards and Green-Beckham has 13 for 139. All three have found the end zone once, as well.

What's troubling about those numbers is that not only the lack of production but also the lack of plays they've made down the field. Agholor and Green-Beckham are both averaging less than 11 yards per reception, while Huff is averaging a paltry 5.3.

It's no wonder the Eagles' front office would show interest in deep threats like Smith and Jeffery, both of whom are proven capable of stretching the field.

"I just work every day and try to get separation to the best of my ability," Agholor said. "I have a great receivers coach that tries to help me with my releases and fine-tune that, but the most important thing I feel like with creating separation is a mindset, because this is a league where it's good on good every day."

"It's just what the coaches see, what the coaches want from us," Huff said. "Obviously, would I want to get the ball downfield? Yes. Has it gone that way? No, but my job is to continue to get better each and every day, and once my number is called, I'll be ready to make that play."

Pederson defended the big-play ability of his wideouts.

"Nelson can stretch it," Pederson said. "Josh can stretch it. But I think it's protection and design of the play. When I think of stretching the field, I mean, a guy can run fast and that can be stretching the field, but who can really take the top off?

"Those two guys are two that can do that."

Agholor, the Eagles' first-round pick in 2015, has faced these kinds of questions since his underwhelming rookie season. He's getting used to people doubting his ability, but that's not stopping him from keeping a positive attitude.

"I think the most important thing is to progress each day, and have a next-play mentality, too," Agholor said. "Some of the greatest players in this league, they drop balls, I'm sure guys have probably jammed them before, however it goes, but the best thing they can do is just bounce back, line up again and win the next matchup.

"I want to continue to have that mindset and allow it to speak for itself so I don't have to sit here and tell. If every time you're all asking me that, it must mean you all don't see that."

Green-Beckham has a little bit more of a unique perspective on this matter than Agholor and Huff. While the second-year receiver is staying positive and motivated, as well, he's been on the other end of these rumors and was ultimately traded from the Titans to the Eagles back in August.

Because he's been with the team for only a couple of months, Green-Beckham didn't seem too worried he's running out of opportunities with the Eagles.

"I just got here, so I don't think I'm going to end up leaving when I just got here," Green-Beckham said. "For some guys, you really have to worry about that, and you just have to focus on trying to compete, trying to get better and better each and every day and doing the little things."

Green-Beckham also knows better than anyone how such a trade would increase expectations on the players already inside the locker room, and he had a message for his teammates.

"I just know how it feels for guys who come in as traded, and for guys who've been here, you just have to understand you're going to have to compete when stuff like that happens," Green-Beckham said. "It makes your job a lot hard, but you just have to focus more.

"It's a business. Like they say, the NFL stands for not for long, so you always have that in your thoughts, and know every opportunity, you have to take advantage of it."

After 'soul searching,' Jaylen Watkins in line for major role with Eagles

After 'soul searching,' Jaylen Watkins in line for major role with Eagles

Every morning on his way to work, Jaylen Watkins drives down Broad Street toward the NovaCare Complex and thinks back to his three months on the Bills' practice squad.

The former fourth-round pick out of Florida in 2014 joined the Bills' practice squad after the Eagles cut him last Sept. 5 in what he has previously referred to as a “humbling” experience.

“I try to never forget that moment because it was definitely a soul-searching moment,” Watkins said Wednesday. “Anyone who is released or fired from their job, you have to do some soul-searching.

“Every day that I drive down Broad Street, I think about Buffalo and how far I’ve come and just not wanting to be on a practice squad again. Nothing’s wrong with the practice squad, but my goal is to be on the 53 and making contributions to the team.”

Watkins isn’t just on the Eagles’ 53 after rejoining them late in 2015. For the rest of the 2016 season, he’s also expected to have a major role.

After Ron Brooks was lost for the season when he tore his quad tendon against the Vikings, Malcolm Jenkins is the Eagles’ new slot cornerback. That means that Watkins, 23, will be the second safety on the field in the team’s nickel package.

That meant that he played 46 snaps against the Vikings after Brooks went out. And with how much teams pass in the current NFL, he’ll probably play a considerable amount the rest of the season.

“It’s something that I’ve been waiting for and I’ve just been patient,” Watkins said. “I’ve been waiting for this experience, so I’m just excited. This week was amazing for me. … It was good for me this past week to be in the game plan and putting yourself in position that this could possibly be me on the first play of the game.”

Jenkins has said multiple times that he enjoys playing as the slot corner, but until Brooks went down, the team thought it was better off with him staying at safety.

With the secondary shuffle, what’s different with Watkins at safety instead of Jenkins?

“Nothing really, man,” the Eagles’ other starting safety, Rodney McLeod, said. “It’s been a next-man-up mentality this whole year. … Guys have a lot of experience back there. I don’t think we’re going to miss a beat. It’s obviously an unfortunate situation with Ron playing great. But Jenkins is ready and so is (Jalen) Mills and Watkins.”

Watkins was drafted by the Eagles in the fourth round in 2014 and played just four games as a rookie before he was cut at the start of his sophomore season. He spent three months in Buffalo, where his younger brother Sammy is a star receiver.

When Jim Schwartz became the Eagles’ defensive coordinator, Watkins was moved to safety. He quickly asserted himself as the first option off the bench at that position.

And just like McLeod and Jenkins, he’s a safety with a history and knowledge of every position in the secondary.

“He’s kind of our Tyrann Mathieu a little bit as far as being able to play safety, being able to play nickel, being able to play corner, being able to play all those positions,” cornerback Nolan Carroll said. “A swiss-army knife if you want to call it that. For him, it’s just about continuing to get reps, continuing to be confident.”

Jenkins, McLeod and Watkins are so interchangeable, Watkins joked that sometimes they get confused because they forget which position they’re playing. According to McLeod, there haven’t been any communication issues between him at Watkins when Jenkins moves down into his role as the nickel corner.

Watkins still thinks about his time in Buffalo, but he also thinks he’s a much better player now than he was before he went there.

“Just more confident player, I would say,” Watkins said. “My coaches believe in me. My teammates believe in me. Now, I’m just confident and relaxed when I go out and play, making plays, doing what I did in college. I think I’m a much better player than before.”