Seumalo, Vaitai comfortable heading into Year 2 after busy rookie seasons

Seumalo, Vaitai comfortable heading into Year 2 after busy rookie seasons

Had everything gone to plan in 2016, Isaac Seumalo and Halapoulivaati Vaitai would have spent their rookie seasons watching from the sideline. 

Everything didn't go to plan. 

Allen Barbre had a hamstring injury, Lane Johnson was suspended for 10 games and Brandon Brooks lost two games as he dealt with anxiety issues. 

As a result, Seumalo and Vaitai, third- and fifth-round draft picks, respectively, aren't just one year into their NFL careers. They've also played significant NFL snaps. 

And this year, they'll arrive at training camp as seasoned veterans, not green rookies. So which has had the greater impact: the year or playing time? 

"It’s both," head coach Doug Pederson said. "It's a combination of both. But the biggest thing is the actual playing time last year has really put them in good position this year."

Vaitai ended up playing in seven games with six starts. He played a total of 423 snaps as a rookie and filled in for Johnson until he went down with a knee injury. After a rough start — really rough — Vaitai settled in and showed signs that he could possibly be the Eagles' right tackle of the future. 

When asked about the difference in Vaitai from last year to this year, offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland laughed before answering. 

"Night and day, apples and oranges," Stoutland said. "Just his understanding of the position, his balance, his body control, the way he uses his hands. This is a lot faster game than college."

Vaitai found out about the speed of the game first-hand in Week 6 last year. Thanks to Johnson's suspension, Vaitai started at right tackle and didn't have a bad game. He had a horrible game. 

He didn't need to think very long when he was asked what his "welcome to the NFL" moment was. 

"It was that game," he said. "Because in camp I'm going with the threes and twos. I was still a rookie, but when I got thrown into the fire, I learned real quick that if you're not doing great, then you're out. I didn't want to be a disappointment to my family and be that guy who gets drafted and then is out the next year."

Seumalo ended up playing in nine games with four starts and a total of 335 snaps. He played four positions along the offensive line; the only one he didn't play was his most natural spot at center. 

"It's not just the year, it's the playing experience," Stoutland said. "He's played in nine games I think he started four of those games. ... He played a lot of football in his first year. Just that experience in playing those positions and understanding the angles we need to take. He's a very intelligent player. I love coaching players of his magnitude. They have talent, they're smart. Really all you do is coach him one time on something and he pretty much has it."

Seumalo didn't get to play at center last year because veteran Jason Kelce didn't miss any of the 1,133 snaps in 2016. Kelce is still on the team, but it seems like the Eagles are grooming Seumalo to eventually take over. Even this spring, the second-year lineman has been taking some first-team reps at center. 

That's actually how Seumalo thinks he got better. By learning the center position, he gained a better grasp of the offense. That, combined with a year under his belt and significant playing time, have him feeling much more confident heading into Year 2.

"Training camp was tough and a grind and the season is just long," Seumalo said. "Now, I know what to expect a little bit more."

Eagles LBs coach thinks there's more ceiling for Jordan Hicks

Eagles LBs coach thinks there's more ceiling for Jordan Hicks

Jordan Hicks is a good middle linebacker. 

After his first two seasons in the NFL, the former third-round pick has piled up some eye-popping numbers. 

In his first 24 games in the league (his rookie season was cut short with a pec injury), he has seven interceptions, 14 passes defensed, four fumble recoveries, a forced fumble and two sacks. 

He's just the fifth player in NFL history — and only linebacker — to have that many INTs, fumble recoveries and forced fumbles in the first two years of his career. 

Hicks, who turns 25 later this month, is already really good. The next step is to become great. 

Is there room for more growth? 

"I would hope so," Eagles linebackers coach Ken Flajole said last week. "We're all emotionally tied in with our guys. I think he's done a great job for us. Is there room for improvement? No question. But he works at it. It's important to him. I know it's important for him that he puts the team success above himself. 

"I would suspect that there's more ceiling for him at linebacker. And I expect him to work at those things." 

Hicks actually had a chance to work on some of those things this offseason. As he exited last year, it was clear Hicks possessed ball-hawk traits, but admittedly needed to get better against the run. 

After his first NFL season, Hicks was stuck recovering from his torn pectoral and subsequent surgery. The rehab didn't allow him to strength train as much as he would have liked. 

This year, it's been a different story. He's hit the weight room hard, put on some extra weight, and hasn't been hamstrung by a tedious rehab process. 

"It's been great, man," Hicks said. "Having a full offseason to get in rhythm, having a full offseason to lift and get stronger and not have to take a step back to rehab and do everything over again, it's huge. Huge. To just build and stack and stack on top of each other."

Flajole agrees with Hicks, that the extra time in the weight room will help him against the run, specifically at the point of attack.  

Flajole isn't the only person in the NovaCare Complex who thinks big things are still ahead for Hicks. After the season finale against the Cowboys last season, Malcolm Jenkins said he thought Hicks is "trending to be one of the better linebackers in this league."

While Hicks wants to improve his run defense, it's undeniable that the strength of his game — to this point — is his knack for being around the ball. He always seems to be making a big play, whether it's an interception or a fumble recovery. 

It might seem like chance, but Flajole doesn't discount it as such. 

"He's a very instinctual guy and I think he understands the game," Flajole said. "The thing that can't be discounted for Jordan is that he works at it. He watches a lot of tape and because of those things, he feeds off of tendencies that the offense would give him, either by down and distance or formation. And he uses those to his advantage." 

For the second straight year, Hicks will be in the same defense under Jim Schwartz and will have the same battery mate in Nigel Bradham, who enters the second year of his two-year deal. 

At some point before the 2017 season starts, Hicks will set some personal goals for himself, like he does every year. While he hasn't set them yet, Hicks said they are normally leadership-based or stat-based. 

"It definitely gives you something to reach for and keep you on track," Hicks said. "Just like you set team goals. If you're not setting goals, you're just working towards nothing, just shooting in the air at nothing." 

One thing the goals won't be is accolade-based. Sure, Hicks would like to be named to his first Pro Bowl, but that won't be on the checklist. 

If he gets better than he's been in Year 1 and 2, it'll only be a matter of time before the recognition catches up with his stats. 

"I'm not really worried about the accolades at this point," he said. "It's not really what I'm focused on. I believe that if you're doing what you need to do, day in and day out, you're giving it everything you got, the rest will come. I'm focused on what I can do for this team, what I can do to make this team the best it can be. And let the rest fall in place."

Eagles OL coach knows Chance Warmack like back of his hand

Eagles OL coach knows Chance Warmack like back of his hand

The last time Chance Warmack played under Jeff Stoutland, he was an All-American, first-team All-SEC and helped the Crimson Tide win a third national championship in four years.

A lot has changed since then.

Stoutland joined Chip Kelly's staff in Philadelphia the next year, and Warmack was selected 10th overall by the Titans in the 2013 draft. Stoutland's coaching style has translated to the NFL, but Warmack's dominance hasn't.

Now reunited after Warmack signed a one-year deal to join the Eagles this offseason, the duo is trying to re-find some of that magic.

"Chance and I had a lot of success together in the past," Stoutland said. "I know Chance like the back of my hand, and I'm excited about getting back with him, getting back together and getting him back to the level he played at when we were together before.

"I don't want to get into where he was at before because I wasn't there. I just know when I was with him, I know where to start, I know where his vulnerabilities are and I know where he needs to improve."

Warmack went to Tennessee and became an instant starter. He started 48 games with the Titans until he landed on injured reserve early last season with a hand injury.

But he wasn't the type of dominant player the Titans thought they were getting.

Sure, Warmack was a starter with the Titans, but he never lived up to his draft status, and the team elected to forgo exercising the fifth-year option on his contract. Arguably his best season came in 2014 when ProFootballFocus ranked him as the 16th best guard in the NFL.

That's not bad, but not nearly the kind of production the Titans expected when they took him with a top-10 pick, especially as a guard. In Warmack's 2013 draft class, he was actually the second guard taken, three spots after Jonathan Cooper, who has actually had less production since entering the league after breaking his fibula and missing his rookie season.

But those two are the only guards who have been taken in the top 10 since 1997. Of the 15 guards taken in the top 10 in the modern era (since 1970), three have become Hall of Famers.

Warmack isn't even a starter right now. But he's hoping Stoutland will be able to help him find what once made him a special prospect.

"He's a very direct coach, puts his hands on you," Warmack said. "He wants you to do it a particular way, he's very detailed. You can respect that a lot as a player. Just plugging in every day, man. You're trying to get better as a player every day, little by little."

Why is Stoutland the right coach for Warmack?

"I guess I just know the buttons to push in coaching him," Stoutland said. "I know the technique that he needs to perfect to be better. I guess, like anybody else here, if you had success somewhere with somebody, then you feel good about it."

It's been over four years since Warmack and Stoutland worked together, but Warmack said the O-line coach is the same guy now that he was when Warmack was a 19-, 20-year-old kid.

Warmack will turn 26 in September.

"Same guy. Very detailed coach," Warmack said. "Looks at every little thing that could make you a better player on the field. You gotta appreciate that."

With Tennessee, Warmack played right guard, a spot that's spoken for by Brandon Brooks in Philly.

Warmack's decision to come to Philly on a one-year deal was clearly influenced by the opportunity to play under Stoutland again. But it starts with himself.

"I have to have high expectations for myself," Warmack said. "It's just icing on the cake to have a coach who knows you and knows how you think and can elevate you."