On Monday, the Philadelphia Eagles kicked off their first set of OTA workouts. The team hasn’t done any 7-on-7 or full team drills yet, but members of the coaching staff as well as several players had the chance to speak with the media for the first time all offseason.
Here are three major takeaways from the first day of OTAs in Philly.
Avonte Maddox’s position is still up in the air
Throughout this offseason, I’ve speculated that Avonte Maddox will likely shift into the nickel this season in Jonathan Gannon’s new defensive scheme. Standing at 5’9”, and lacking elite speed and physicality, this position change would make sense.
But as of right now, Maddox’s position in this defensive backfield is unclear.
When asked directly where he will line up this season, Maddox plainly stated, “I don’t know.”
“Wherever I’m needed, I’m always willing to play outside, inside, back end, that’s why I say (Gannon’s) schemes are very great in the way I want to learn everything.”
Maddox struggled mightily on the outside last season. He finished the season with a terrible 37.1 coverage grade per Pro Football Focus, quarterback’s had a passer rating of 108.3 when targeting Maddox, and he allowed a completion percentage of 67.3. All were career lows for the former Pitt Panther.
His career as a whole has been up-and-down. During his rookie campaign, Maddox lined up all over the field. He played 109 snaps in the slot, 226 snaps at free safety, and 295 snaps on the boundary. And surprisingly, he did very well on the outside. He allowed a passer rating of 59.9 when targeted in 2018, the fourth-best mark out of 132 qualifying corners.
So perhaps the injuries Maddox dealt with last season were the key reason he struggled so immensely in coverage. He missed three games in October due to ankle issues, then finished the season on IR after suffering a knee injury. Any injury that hampers a corner’s ability to move smoothly and make quick, decisive steps toward the ball will hurt them in coverage.
I have faith that Gannon — who has a long history of developing corners — will get Maddox back to his 2018 form. Maddox just has to avoid injuries.
Jalen Reagor will see some time from the slot this year
When speaking with media members, second year wideout Jalen Reagor hinted that he may line up all over the formation in Nick Sirianni’s offense.
“Every offense has similarities. We have some, but the only thing that’s pretty much different this year is just me being in the slot,” Reagor said following the first day of practice. “Honestly, I think this is going to make the whole team better. It’s not necessarily me being in the slot, but every receiver being interchangeable.”
Personally, I like the idea of having wideouts that can be effective from multiple positions on the field. Reagor did play in the slot on 23 percent of his snaps last year, but Doug Pederson’s offense was a bit more strict with where wideouts primarily lined up.
Reagor brings some explosiveness to the slot, something they haven’t had in a few seasons. Nelson Agholor thrived when he shifted into the slot in 2017, and I could see the same thing happening for Reagor. One of his defining traits coming out college was his ability to create yards after the catch. Lining him up in the slot should allow Sirianni to get the ball into his hands more easily.
Most fans will point to the Eagles wide receiving corps as one of the biggest weaknesses on the team. I, on the other hand, am pretty optimistic about what this group can do under a new coaching staff.
Some notes on the rookies
Some of the Eagles newcomers had nice outings during Monday’s session. Most notably, first round pick DeVonta Smith and fourth round pick Kenneth Gainwell.
According to media members in attendance, Smith didn’t drop a pass. Which isn’t really surprising considering he was running routes on air, but also because he rarely ever dropped a pass during his collegiate career either.
Gainwell also impressed in wide receiver drills. Some scouts speculated that he could start in the NFL as a pure slot receiver, so this also shouldn’t surprise anyone. But the Eagles are electing to keep him in the backfield and utilize his skill set in a number of different ways.
In this video, his footwork is clean, there aren’t any wasted steps, and he plucks the ball out of the air. He may be the best receiving back on the Eagles roster already.
We’ll get a better idea of exactly what these guys can do once training camp rolls around. But it’s clear to me that they’ll both contribute in big ways this season.
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