Sanchez winning battle of USC backups, so far

ap-eagles-barkley-sanchez.jpg

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.”

With realistic shot at 53-man roster, undrafted Myke Tavarres feels he fits Eagles' scheme well

With realistic shot at 53-man roster, undrafted Myke Tavarres feels he fits Eagles' scheme well

Some scouts and draftniks were surprised Myke Tavarres' name had not been called after the dust settled and all seven rounds were complete in May's NFL draft. At that point, the Eagles weren't about to let a potential diamond in the rough show up on another club's 90-man roster.

The Eagles reportedly gave Tavarres $95,000 in guaranteed money to sign, one of the highest sums awarded to an undrafted free agent in the NFL in 2016, and it wasn't difficult to understand why. Linebacker is a position of need for one thing, so much so there's an excellent chance a lesser-known prospect out of an FCS program like the University of Incarnate Word has an excellent shot at making the team.

Yet Tavarres is an impressive individual as well, both as an athlete and a person. You can learn a lot about his character based alone on the mantra he has tattooed on his arm.

"In high school I used to wrestle, and my coach before every big match, he would read me this quote, and this quote has gotten me through everything," Tavarres said at training camp this week. "It says, 'If you do not try, then you do not do, and if you do not do, then why are you here?' Pretty self explanatory."

And while Tavarres is serious about playing football, it's clear he has his priorities straight. While he declined to get into why exactly he transferred from Arkansas to Incarnate Word after one season, it certainly wasn't because he worried about being drafted or a career in the NFL at the time. It was what he felt was best for him.

"I actually had a close friend that played corner out there," Tavarres said, "and he said, 'You'd love it out here, the coaches are pretty relaxed. It'll be a good opportunity for you to go out there and just have fun and play the game.' So after that I decided to go there.

"Honestly, I wasn't even worried about the NFL when I got to Incarnate Word. I was more focused on getting my degree, finishing school. Then toward the middle of the season, they were like, 'Hey, you've got a pretty good shot to play in the NFL.' After that, I was like, 'Alright, let's go ahead and go for it.'"

It's also telling of his personality what Tavarres' attitude is toward going undrafted.

"I'm not too upset and I wasn't really that worried," he said. "I knew I was going to get an opportunity somewhere, and that's all I ever asked for was an opportunity."

As impressive as his determination is, you can learn a lot about Tavarres' physical ability just from looking at the numbers, too. As a senior — his only season with the program — he posted 110 tackles, 22½ tackles for loss and 8½ sacks. He was so versatile, he even saw a limited number of touches as a running back and kickoff returner.

Listed at 6-foot-1, 230 pounds, Tavarres also mentions he actually came into camp up to 240, not to mention he might be even faster than people think. At least he claims a trick of the stopwatch may have caused a sizable discrepancy in his 40-yard dash time compared to what is on the books from his pro day.

"It was a 4.7, but," Tavarress said, "realistically I found out after I was running, I moved my hand before I started running, and what my trainer and my agent had was a 4.4."

Not that he ascribes too much importance to the actual time anyway.

"People spend so much time worrying about 40-this, 40-that," he said. "If you can play ball, you can play ball."

The challenge now for Tavarres is picking up a defense he's never played in before. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he also says that's part of what attracted him to the Eagles. While he was used primarily as a pass-rusher in college, Tavarres believes his skillset is better suited for playing linebacker in a 4-3.

So far, Tavarres feels the most comfortable at strongside, where his speed and strength are valuable attributes for covering tight ends.

"It's been a lot harder for me than it would be for most guys because they've all played in a 4-3 scheme," Tavarres said. "I played in a 3-2, which is pretty much just a standard defensive end rushing the passer, so it's all been relatively new to me, but I'm adjusting and acclimating as much as I can.

"For a linebacker like me, I can play side-to-side, so that would be really good for me. That was really the most reason why I decided to come here."

The Eagles' lack of depth at linebacker didn't hurt either. Mychal Kendricks, Jordan Hicks and Nigel Bradham seem set as the starters, but the only backups with NFL experience currently on the roster are Najee Goode and Deonate Skinner. That leaves seventh-round pick Joe Walker, Tavarres and fellow undrafted rookies Quentin Guase and Don Cherry likely competing for at least one, possibly two spots.

All Tavarres wanted was an opportunity, and he has one here. He's also confident he knows what he has to do to take advantage of what's in front of him and make the 53-man roster.

"Hard work. Dedication. Special teams," Tavarres said, with the latter being what he hopes will help set him apart.

"My goal on every single special teams play is to be the first one down there and not just to get down there, but make the play, make the tackle."

Obviously, special teams will be a huge factor in the Eagles' decision, although the organization may have tipped its hand a bit with the nice bonus it paid Tavarres as far as what it thinks of his chances. Undeniably a bit raw, he has the talent and right attitude to play at the next level, which makes for one intriguing prospect to watch this summer.

Eagles trying out unique helmet camera for film practice

Eagles trying out unique helmet camera for film practice

Blake Countess had three eyes on Wednesday.

The first two were under his helmet, scanning the field in anticipation of throws coming from fellow rookie Carson Wentz.

The third was on top of his helmet.

The rookie safety wore a small cylindrical camera, about the width of a silver dollar, on the top left of his helmet — just above the Eagles’ logo — during the third practice of training camp. The footage from the camera will give the team a different vantage point while looking at practice film.

“Technology, you can't stay up fast enough with it,” head coach Doug Pederson said after practice. “Those are great devices to have. In fact, we used them in Kansas City with the quarterbacks. We've had them on their helmets before.

“It gives you an opportunity to kind of see from the players' vantage point where they're looking, where their eyes are. Are they in the right direction? Are they on the right reads? And defensively are [they] in the right spots? And then you can evaluate and help correct the player.”

On Wednesday, Countess was the only player wearing the camera, but the rookie said the team plans on using them more, eventually for receivers and quarterbacks.

How can it help Countess to get better?

“Eye progressions, just seeing where I’m looking at and being more disciplined with my eyes,” the sixth-round pick said. “Throughout the play, if your eyes are bad, you’re probably going to get beat, especially as a defensive back.”

Pederson said sometimes the helmet cams give back some shaky video, so using it on Countess was a test of sorts.

But the Chiefs used them for their quarterbacks and if the feedback from this preliminary camera is good, the Eagles might put them on the helmets of their quarterbacks soon.

“The thing is, too, with technology,” Pederson said, “if it helps you win football games, I'm all for it.”

As for Countess, the team told him about the camera on Tuesday and when he got into the locker room on Wednesday, there it was, attached to his helmet.

Why did they pick him?

“I don’t know,” he said with a laugh. “I wish I knew.”

Eric Rowe explains 'hiccups,' ready for fresh start in pads

Eric Rowe explains 'hiccups,' ready for fresh start in pads

Earlier this week, Doug Pederson admitted cornerback Eric Rowe had some “hiccups” during the spring, and seemed to indicate they stemmed from learning a new defense. 

Rowe says that wasn’t the problem at all.

“It wasn’t the new defense that was giving me whatever hiccups [Pederson] was talking about,” Rowe said on Wednesday as he reported for his second training camp (see Day 3 observations). “It was just, I was having trouble breaking on top of the routes, specifically the curl routes. But fade ball, deep post, digs, I didn’t have any trouble there. It was just curl routes. I just knew I had to work on it after the OTAs.”

Rowe, 23, said the problem was technical; he just needed to get his feet down quicker.

Whatever the problem, whatever the hiccups, it seems as though Rowe’s standing within the organization and on the depth chart isn’t what it once was.

Many thought he would be a starter in 2016, like he was at the end of 2015, but that wasn’t the way things were in the spring. Instead, Leodis McKelvin and Ron Brooks took those positions, and it looks like Nolan Carroll, returning from an injury, and rookie Jalen Mills, who hasn’t yet practiced in pads, are vying for playing time, too.

In back-to-back days earlier this week, Pederson and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz failed to mention Rowe’s name while listing players at the cornerback spot. Coincidental omissions or a vocalized unofficial depth chart?

Rowe could possibly go from starter to deep bench player, but that’s not what he’s planning on.

“I know I had a little ups and downs in OTAs, but now the pads are coming on,” Rowe said. “I feel like it’s a fresh start for me and I’m just ready to get out here.”

Pads go on Saturday.

“Right now, I think I still stand in a good position (with the team),” Rowe said. “Football is about the game with pads on. Now we’re really about to see in a couple days when we put the pads on.”