Eagles Training Camp

Roob's 10 Eagles Observations: Backup CB situation becoming clearer

Josh Jobe, Trey Sermon and Nolan Smith are among key topics in Roob's latest observations

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The early leader for the third outside corner spot, a fascinating revelation by Trey Sermon and what practice time with the starting defense at off-ball linebacker means for Nolan Smith.

It’s all here in another edition of Roob’s 10 Random Eagles Training Camp Observations.

1. Josh Jobe has quietly asserted himself as the Eagles’ top backup outside cornerback, separating from a crowded field that includes veteran free agent Greedy Williams, third-year pro Zech McPhearson, Georgia rookie Kelee Ringo, 2022 holdover Mario Goodrich and promising LSU rookie Mekhi Garner. McPhearson has been the top backup the last two years – he’s played 278 snaps on defense, exactly one in the slot. But he’s been exclusively a slot this summer and is in the mix to back up Avonte Maddox inside. Williams is a fourth-year veteran who’s started 21 games for the Browns, and he probably started out training camp as the favorite to back up Darius Slay and James Bradberry. But Jobe has outplayed him. Garner is a big, physical guy who you could see eventually landing at safety, Goodrich – who was here all last year as well – has worked both inside and outside, and Ringo has had some really good moments but also some rookie moments. Jobe has been the best of the bunch. His coverage has been consistently very good, his technique is outstanding and he’s a physical kid who doesn’t back down whether he’s covering A.J. Brown or the last guy on the roster. With Bradberry out Friday, Jobe worked with the 1’s and he looks comfortable with that group. Jobe, undrafted out of Alabama, only played 12 snaps on defense last year but he's been one of the Eagles’ most improved players this summer. And considering that Slay is 32 and Bradberry turned 30 on Friday, if the 25-year-old Jobe continues to improve, he could have an even bigger role in the future. 

2. Interesting revelation from Trey Sermon, who told us after practice Friday that the coaches have put such a big emphasis on involving the running backs in the passing game this summer that all the running backs are now sitting in on some wide receiver meetings: “A lot of times, they make the running backs stand there when they’re talking to the receivers just because it’s a part of this offense and we have to be able to go out there and execute it as well. We learn a lot from the receivers just from being in the room and picking up little notes and things.”

3. On the topic of receiving backs, how about this: Keith Byars had as many 700-yard receiving seasons as every other running back in Eagles history combined. Byars had 705 yards receiving in 1988, 721 in 1989 and 819 in 1990. The only other 700-yard seasons by Eagles backs were Timmy Brown’s 849 in 1962 and Brian Westbrook’s 703 in 2004 and 771 in 2007. Byars and Marshall Faulk are the only running backs in NFL history with three straight 700-yard seasons. And Alvin Kamara and Christian McCaffrey are the only other ones with three total 700-yard seasons. 

4. It’s amazing to me that with all the money, research, resources and time NFL teams devote to the draft, Reed Blankenship wasn’t one of the 262 players taken last year. Wasn’t even invited to the Combine. The knocks on him coming out of Middle Tennessee State were that he was a poor tackler, struggled in deep coverage and took bad angles to ball carriers. He put those criticisms to rest last year, and watching him this camp, you see an even more polished version of what we saw for 4 ½ games last year when Chauncey Gardner-Johnson was hurt. Blankenship has looked outstanding. He’s smart, instinctive, physical and almost always in the right place. He has the supreme confidence of a guy who intercepted Aaron Rodgers on his ninth career defensive snap and natural leadership qualities of a five-year college starter. It might have seemed like a stretch to hand Blankenship a starting safety job this summer, but he's handling it really well.

5. Kenny Gainwell has nine rushing touchdowns on 121 carries in his first two seasons. The only other running backs in NFL history with nine rushing TDs on 125 or fewer carries in their first two seasons are Tony Paige of the Jets in the mid-1980s (15 TDs on 90 attempts), Hugh Gallarneau of the Bears in the early 1940s (12 on 117 carries) and James Mungro of the Colts in 2002 and 2003 (10 on 121 carries). Two of Mungro’s TDs came against the Eagles in his second NFL game, a 35-13 Colts win at the Vet in 2002.

6. Jalen Hurts last year became the first Eagle with 750 rushing yards, a 4.5 average and at least 10 rushing TDs in back-to-back years since Steve Van Buren in 1947 and 1948. Only seven players have had three straight seasons with 750, 4.5 and 10: Adrian Pederson (2010-13), Barry Sanders (1989-91, 1995-97), Jim Taylor (1960-62), Derrick Henry (2018-2020), Terrell Davis (1996-98), Earl Campbell (1978-80) and Gratz High School’s Leroy Kelly (1996-68). All are in the Hall of Fame except A.P., who isn’t eligible yet, and Henry, who is still playing.

7. Seeing Nolan Smith get a handful of reps at off-ball linebacker on Thursday was interesting. But with Nakobe Dean out of practice on Friday, Smith didn’t just work in for a few snaps , he was with the first defense at off-ball backer alongside Christian Ellis while Nicholas Morrow worked with the second team. So the Eagles’ starting linebackers on Friday were a rookie edge rusher trying a new position and an undrafted third-year pro who’s played 29 career snaps. A lot of coaches wouldn’t throw so much at a 22-year-old rookie, but Smith is a bright kid who seems to be able to handle everything he’s been given. Sean Desai is going to be very creative with how he uses Smith, and the fact that they're already working him in at a new position tells you what they think of his ability to learn, process and execute at a high level.

8. Marcus Mariota seems to take off and run on at least half his reps. He throws to Greg Ward on the other half. 

9. Nine offensive linemen have started at least 30 games for the Eagles since Jeff Stoutland became offensive line coach in 2013. Six of the nine have made at least one Pro Bowl team (Jason Kelce, Lane Johnson, Brandon Brooks, Evan Mathis, Landon Dickerson). The only exceptions (so far) are Isaac Seumalo, Jordan Mailata and Todd Herremans.

10. I’m still not sold on Quez Watkins after last year’s nightmare, but I’ll give him this: He came to camp with his head on straight and he’s got a positive attitude and has been making plays all over the place. I’ve never questioned Watkins’ ability. His 2021 season - 647 yards, 15 yards per catch as a 23-year-old 6th-round pick - gave us a taste of his potential. He’s got blazing speed and terrific ability to track a deep ball. If he can be the Quez Watkins of 2021 this offense will be unstoppable. Or even more unstoppable, if that’s a thing. What team is going to have the defenders to cover A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith, Dallas Goedert, D’Andre Swift and Watkins? Quez still has to prove to me that his issues with drops and fumbles are in the past and that he’s back to being the confident player he was a couple years ago. And the only way he can do that is by making plays in the regular season. But so far? In camp? Wow, he’s been really really good.

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