Wake-Up Call: Three Players We’re Watching

NFL: NFC Wildcard Playoff-New Orleans Saints at Philadelphia Eagles
For the Eagles, this is Day Three of their Organized Team Activities at the NovaCare Complex. For reporters, it’s our first opportunity to see the 2014 Eagles on the field.

Here are three of the players we’ll be watching as we take in practice Thursday:

Marcus Smith

Obvious one, right? Eyes are naturally drawn to the first-round pick. Smith will probably get some extra attention given all the debate about whether he was a “reach” and the team’s need for immediate help in the pass-rush department. Smith was second in the nation in sacks (14.5) last season for Lousiville. Billy Davis certainly wouldn’t mind getting a decent slice of that production, but it’s to be seen just how much polish the rookie needs before he can contribute in a meaningful way at this level.

“I obviously have been around Marcus the most,” Connor Barwin told Comcast Sportsnet recently. “It’s been really good so far, he seems like a humble kid. … Me and Trent [Cole] have given him some advice, he seems to be picking up the defense…

 “I will try to teach [Smith] tricks of the trade that I’ve learned in my six years. It’ll make him a better player, but in my last five years it’ll make me a better player. He’s gonna inspire me or challenge me to be better.”

Darren Sproles

The Eagles sacrificed a fifth-round pick to land Sproles, who turns 31 in June.  “There are some down there in New Orleans who thought Darren’s best days were long behind him and the wall was approaching faster than outsiders think,” said ESPN analyst Louis Riddick: “They made a calculated bet, and we’ll see which team is right there. You just know the Saints know more about him than anybody else knows about him.”

The Eagles obviously feel he has a good amount left in the tank. Howie Roseman noted that Sproles hasn’t taken the same kind of pounding as other backs because he is more of a space player than a between-the-tackles runner, and could potentially benefit from the Eagles’ sports science program as well.

It will be interesting to see what kind of zip the former Saint has. And perhaps we’ll get some early hints on how Kelly plans to use him in this offense.

Jaylen Watkins

Roseman likened Watkins to Brandon Boykin in that  injuries limited both during the pre-draft process, which in turn affected their stock. They’re hoping Watkins proves to be another steal. The Florida product still ran a 4.41 on a bad ankle at the combine but believes he would have clocked in at 4.3 if 100 percent. That’s some pretty serious speed. How does it translate to the field? The plan is to start the Florida product off at corner, though he could transition to safety down the road. Chip Kelly suggested he could work with both groups this spring and summer.


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Geoff Mosher projects the Eagles’ depth chart, and has Earl Wolff ahead of Nate Allen. 

If there’s a job competition on the starting defense, it’s between safeties Earl Wolff and Nate Allen. Doesn’t that sound familiar? Last year, the coaches pretended to jockey Allen and the rookie Wolff all spring and summer but they never intended to start Wolff by the season opener. Now that Wolff has some playing time under his belt, he’s the lead man to start opposite Malcolm Jenkins, but Wolff needs to stay healthy and prove he deserves the nod.

Les Bowen caught up with Malcolm Jenkins, who is the very early stages of getting acclimated to a new defense.

It’s one of those defenses that’s very complex for the offense, but should work for us,” said Jenkins, the Eagles’ biggest offseason defensive addition. “It’s obviously led by DeMeco [Ryans, the middle linebacker] and everything he does. He’s the centerpiece. Then you’ve got a pass rush that can get after the quarterback. The thing they were looking for is a safety that can come in and get everybody lined up, bring a sense of calm to the back end and be versatile, play in the slot and on the tight ends, pressure and just solidify that back end.”


We’ll get our first look at the 2014 Eagles. Kelly speaks at 11:15.