The conclusion of Eagles minicamp marks a five-week break from the organization for Eagles players, though for most that hardly means stepping away from football. Across the board, players will be rehabbing injuries, working with private coaches and grouping up to further what coach Doug Pederson calls a “band of brothers” atmosphere. The most notable development is Carson Wentz inviting his receivers to — where else? — North Dakota to work out and build chemistry ahead of training camp.
It can be just as important what the team does outside the NovaCare Complex as in it, and the upcoming weeks are especially so for some players. Here’s what we bet a few key Eagles will be working on before we see them on the field in Philadelphia again:
Carson Wentz: Keep building the chemistry
As mentioned, Wentz will be heading up a passing camp with his teammates. This isn’t a new trend for Eagles quarterbacks. Donovan McNabb famously held workouts in Arizona and last offseason Sam Bradford practiced privately with Jordan Matthews and Zach Ertz. But this year it’s harder to find a receiver or tight end not planning on attending than one who is.
“It shows the leadership that Carson has and the rapport he has with the receivers,” Pederson said, going on to say that he appreciates that “craft means something to them.”
Chemistry among certain position groups can’t be undervalued. The Eagles, below .500 last season, were a different animal when they had their entire offensive line together.
For Wentz, the reports have gotten better and better throughout the offseason, from a rocky opening to OTAs to a minicamp that has people raving. Since his top targets are new additions and Jordan Matthews is sidelined, the wide receiver with the most career receptions from Wentz on the field is Nelson Agholor with 36. Part of that progression has to be finding chemistry with Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith, and that can only continue when they hole up together in North Dakota.
Nelson Agholor: Keep it going
We’re going to stay in the North Dakota group for the next two topics, but for very different situations. Pederson said the key for players now is to “remember what they’ve done this spring.” Nowhere is that more true than in the case of Agholor. No player has beaten expectations through these camps like Agholor has, and yes, that may be because from many those expectations weren’t very high. But each day of camp came with more impressive catches, more burnt defensive backs and fewer drops for the wide receiver entering his third season.
Matthews’ absence has allowed Agholor to take over the first team reps in the slot, and he’s thrived there. This defined role might have something to do with his emergence, and it’s something Doug Pederson talked about in regard to young players that we’ll touch more on when we get to the rookies’ homework.
According to Pederson, Agholor has been “going out there and attacking the day,” and he doesn’t show any signs of stopping now that camp has broken. A busy schedule over the next few weeks sees workouts scheduled on both coasts in addition to the Wentz Dakota trip. He isn’t letting this momentum slip.
Jordan Matthews: Catch up
Agholor’s opportunity with the team has come at Matthews’ expense, as the receiver’s bothersome knee has caused him to miss virtually all this offseason’s on-field training so far, just as it did in 2016. While he enters the final season of his rookie contract without a new deal in place, trade rumors have refused to go silent. While the other receivers have been the story of camp, Matthews has been frustratingly unable to take to the field to silence them himself.
Unlike last season, Matthews expects to be ready to go for training camp when it comes, and he will be joining Wentz and the others in Dakota. The rookie quarterback’s top target in 2016, he obviously has a bit of a head start when it comes to building chemistry.
Nigel Bradham: Close out the off-field business
Bradham is a key contributor to the Eagles defense. In his first season in Philadelphia, he started 16 games for the first time and recorded two sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception. He has also been a key contributor to headlines about the Eagles’ off-field missteps.
Last season he brought a loaded handgun through airport security — a mistake to which he pled guilty and paid a fine. Earlier in the year, last summer, he was charged with battery after an altercation on the beach. That situation has not yet been resolved. Bradham is pleading not guilty and has a court date in Miami on July 3.
Bradham has not yet been disciplined by the league, and if he’s cleared of charges it would be easy to see their rationale for waiting to impose any.
Rookies: Study that playbook
The transition to the NFL can be overwhelming for even the best-prepared players. If that’s the case for any of the Eagles’ new talents, this is their chance to take a step back and wrap their heads around the game.
“You define a specific role for players like that,” Pederson said of his approach to helping the rookies. “Here’s your role; here’s your position; let’s focus on that. You give him specific plays that he understands. You can start building their confidence back that way. You give them plays … that they’re comfortable executing.”
It’s a strategy that stands in stark contrast to how Marcus Smith was handled by the Eagles during his rookie season. Drafted after playing defensive end and halfway through learning to play outside linebacker, he was asked to take over at inside linebacker by the team. We’ve seen the results. Pederson’s comments leave little doubt about this at least: The more plays a player studies until they become instinctual, the more plays they’ll be involved in.