Sanchez winning battle of USC backups, so far

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Sanchez winning battle of USC backups, so far

His shoulder is feeling much better, his comfort with the offense is where it needs to be and his second season should be the time when Matt Barkley makes his move up the depth chart.

But when the Eagles held their third and final practice Thursday of their first OTA, Barkley was in the same place he was last year as a rookie, staring up at two quarterbacks.

Nick Foles took the first-team reps, newcomer Mark Sanchez was the next guy up and only then did Barkley get his turn with the offense.

“It’s been like that [for the first two days], so it didn’t come as a surprise to me,” Barkley said. “I didn’t know what to expect [going into OTAs]. I just agreed with the coaches and assumed that they know what’s best for the team. So I’m just trusting them and keeping working hard and trying to make the most of my reps.”

Barkley, the second-year pro from USC, said he doesn’t invest much thought into spring depth charts or hierarchy, but his body language suggested that he isn’t thrilled to play third fiddle once again.

The same quarterback who destroyed Pac-12 conference records is stuck behind two other Pac-12 signal callers whose college careers weren’t as decorated as his.

One of them, Sanchez, just missed an entire season after injuring his shoulder last preseason with the Jets, who had already moved on from him after two disappointing seasons.

“He’s also an NFL vet and he’s a pro,” Barkley conceded. “He trains like one. So I don’t have a say in it, if that’s what you’re asking. I’m dealing with what I can do and that’s make the most of the reps I have.”

Sanchez, culprit of the infamous “butt fumble,” likewise dismissed his current position right behind Foles on the QB totem pole.

After undergoing surgery that forced him to the sidelines all of last season and then finding his walking papers early this offseason, Sanchez’s objective right now is to get his bearings straight in a new city and new offense.

“I don’t really care about that,” he said about taking second-team reps ahead of Barkley. “I’m competing against myself. I’m competing against the defense. The quarterbacks, we compete against ourselves in the weight room, in the classroom, on the field.”

Asked if he felt his confidence boosted by running with the second team, Sanchez said he’s “not putting too much into those things.”

“It doesn’t matter,” he added. “I’m absorbing the offense. I’m learning it the very best I can and I’m competing my ass off. That’s what I’ve got to do and that’s all I can control.”

Depth charts in May and June rarely look the same in July, August and September. Last year, Chip Kelly referred to his inaugural depth chart as a seating chart written in sand.

This year, Kelly said he’s more certain about some of his starters but cautioned again about reading too much into who’s running where.

Last year, first-round pick Lane Johnson started his OTAs on the second-string offensive line. By next camp, he was already atop the depth chart at right tackle.

“Like I said, I dont even lose sleep over it,” Sanchez said. “It’s not a big deal. I’m doing everything I can to help this team. If my role is going to be helping Nick get ready for the season, help Nick get ready for Week 1 or a preseason game, I’m going to be ready to do whatever they need me to do.”

Barkley’s arm strength is back to normal this spring, more than a year removed from the shoulder injury during his senior season at USC that lingered into his rookie camp with the Eagles.

Although he completed 61.2 percent of his passes on 49 attempts last year, Barkley was also picked off four times and didn’t throw any touchdowns in his three cameos. He was sacked three times and registered a 44.6 passer rating.

Maybe that’s why Kelly wasn’t ready to hand Barkley the No. 2 job off the bat, but Barkley’s velocity is back and the offense doesn’t feel like a foreign language anymore.

“It feels like my offense now,” Barkley said. “Last year, it was kind of like Oregon’s offense, it felt like. But this year it feels like the offense that I’ve been running for a while now. All the calls, all the checks, it just comes to you quickly without having to think about it.”

Sanchez seemed like an odd choice for Kelly, who was looking for a veteran to replace Mike Vick. Kelly places a high premium on quarterbacks who demonstrate repetitive accuracy and limited turnovers.

For his career, Sanchez has completed just 55 percent of his passes and has 69 interceptions in 62 starts. His 3.7 interception percentage ranks 27th among active NFL quarterbacks.

But one reason he signed on to play for Kelly is the appeal of the coach’s spread offense and ultra-fast tempo, which Sanchez thinks can cater to his strengths.

“It’s constantly like a two-minute drill,” he said. “They expect you to blink fast and think fast and move fast, react to things, anticipate. It’s fun. It feels like a fast break. It feels like when Steve Nash was running with the Suns, just dishing the ball. That’s really the way they view the quarterback. Be the point guard, dish it out and roll.”

NFL Notes: Rams' All-Pro Aaron Donald skips OTAs amid contract talks

NFL Notes: Rams' All-Pro Aaron Donald skips OTAs amid contract talks

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- All-Pro defensive lineman Aaron Donald has skipped the Los Angeles Rams' first day of organized team activities while he negotiates a long-term contract extension with the club.

Rams general manager Les Snead says the team knew Donald wouldn't be at their training complex Monday.

Snead acknowledged Donald's absence is because of their contract negotiations, which are reaching "the serious part." The GM is confident Donald will be a long-term fixture on the Rams' line.

The Rams exercised their fifth-year option for 2018 on Donald last month. He will make nearly $7 million next year. Snead has repeatedly said the Rams plan to sign Donald to a long-term deal.

Donald is a three-time Pro Bowler and a two-time All-Pro in his three-year career.

Vikings: Zimmer takes time off after latest eye surgery
MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer finally relented, taking some time away from the team to allow his right eye a proper recovery from his latest surgery.

Better in the spring than during the fall, he realized.

As Zimmer departed Monday for some rest and relaxation at his vacation ranch in rural Kentucky, general manager Rick Spielman said the organization anticipates a return by Zimmer "in a few weeks." Players will take the field Tuesday for the first of 13 scheduled offseason practices, including the three-day mandatory minicamp that runs June 13-15.

"We all agree Mike's health is the priority, and we believe rest and recovery are in his best interest for the long term," Spielman said.

Zimmer directed a free youth football camp Saturday at team headquarters. He revealed to reporters that he underwent an eighth procedure on the eye last week, a trying seven-month stretch that has included several unplanned operations (see full story).

Jets: Former 2nd-round pick Smith waived
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Wide receiver Devin Smith has been waived from the injury list by the New York Jets.

A second-round draft pick from Ohio State in 2015, Smith rarely saw the field for the Jets. He tore his ACL during the offseason workout program after he appeared in four games last season. He started that season on the physically unable to perform list while rehabbing from another ACL tear suffered in December 2015.

If Smith clears waivers, he would revert to the Jets' injured reserve list.

"It's bad luck and bad timing because the kid worked so hard to get back," coach Todd Bowles said last month during the NFL draft. "He has to persevere and adversity will help him get stronger. But unfortunately in this game, over my course of time playing and coaching, you see these types of things. Some of the best athletes get hurt and don't get a chance to get on the field, and it's just bad timing, bad luck."

The Jets also re-signed wide receiver WR Deshon Foxx on Monday. Foxx originally signed with the Jets in January and was waived May 9. The Connecticut product first signed with Seattle 2015 after going undrafted and was waived/injured with a hamstring injury that August.

Buccaneers: TE Howard signs rookie deal
TAMPA, Fla. -- Tight end O.J. Howard has signed his rookie contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Howard, who was the 19th overall pick in last month's NFL draft, signed a four-year deal on Monday that includes a team option for a fifth season. He is the first of Tampa Bay's six draft picks to sign.

Howard, who is 6-foot-6 and 251 pounds, was a third-team Associated Press All-America selection last season. He started 12 of Alabama's 14 games last season and had 45 receptions for 595 yards and three touchdowns.

The drafting of Howard and signing DeSean Jackson in free agency should give Jameis Winston more options in Tampa Bay's passing game.

The Buccaneers also announced that defensive end Jacquies Smith has signed his restricted free agent tender.

Doug Pederson: Dak Prescott knew he didn't have to win by himself

Doug Pederson: Dak Prescott knew he didn't have to win by himself

For the most part, Carson Wentz had a pretty successful rookie season. 

Sure, the Eagles finished with a 7-9 record, but Wentz did enough to continue the franchise's belief that he is indeed the quarterback of the future. 

Another guy in Dallas did the same thing with the Cowboys. Actually, Dak Prescott had an even more impressive rookie season, leading the Cowboys to 13 wins, while winning the Offensive Rookie of the Year award. 

Prescott, a fourth-round pick, had a great year but didn't try to do too much. And that's what impressed Eagles head coach Doug Pederson the most. 

"[Prescott] understood this right away, that he didn't have to win the game for them," Pederson said on The Doomsday Podcast, hosted by Matt Mosley and Ed Werder. (Pederson also talked about running the Rocky steps). "He knew that he had a good defense, a tremendous offensive line, a great runner, he had some veteran players that he could rely on and he learned that early. As soon as he had the opportunity to play and that was early, from Day 1. 

"That's something that a young quarterback, sometimes it takes them a while to figure out the game that way. That's the impressive thing, that he learned how to handle that business that well, utilize the people around him and understand that he didn't have to go win the game."

While Prescott had plenty of help during his rookie season, it was pretty evident Wentz was lacking in that area. 

Prescott had a great offensive line, Dez Bryant, Ezekiel Elliott and others. Wentz had an offensive line that was missing Lane Johnson, an often-injured Ryan Mathews and receivers like Nelson Agholor and Dorial Green-Beckham playing serious snaps. 

So it made sense when the team went out this offseason and signed Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith, and recently LeGarrette Blount, as free agents, finally getting Wentz some real help. 

"We had opportunities to get those two guys and it was obvious last year, we were young at the wide receiver position," Pederson said. "We needed some leadership, some veteran presence there and we went out and got that with Torrey and Alshon. We still want to build through the draft, we still want to acquire young talent. 

"LeGarrette Blount now is a guy that gives us that big back, running back, that can come in and compete and hopefully he does everything he did at New England the last couple of seasons. He had 18 rushing touchdowns for over 1,000 yards and we just expect that same level of performance here."

Maybe having weapons will allow Wentz to do what made Prescott so impressive to Pederson in 2016: not too much.