Eagles Wake-Up Call: Mills Stands Out
Yes, Jim Schwartz has noticed the lime green hair.
“He told me yesterday, he said, ‘Uh, hey Mills, did you put some highlighter juice in your hair or something?’ I just laughed and kind of walked off,” said Jalen Mills, who dyed the top of his head green in celebration of his first Eagles training camp. “I didn’t even want to start that conversation with him.”
The guess here is Schwartz will be OK with just about any look so long as Mills continues to flash the way he has. The seventh-round pick out of LSU has been perhaps the biggest standout among the group of rookies and selected vets practicing here before the rest of the squad suits up Thursday.
He’s made multiple attention-grabbing plays every day. One came during team drills on Tuesday as he rose to knock down a deep Chase Daniel offering intended for Hunter Sharp. He deflected credit by saying he’s simply trying to follow Cory Undlin‘s teachings in the classroom and play within Schwartz’s scheme. He credited Malcolm Jenkins, who agreed to work with with Mills at 7 am before meetings this spring, and Leodis McKelvin for helping him to learn the ropes. And he knows that it’s going to be a different ball game once the big dogs arrive later this week.
“Good,” said Mills when asked how things are going so far. “Could be a lot better. I’m still learning the scheme. I mean of course when the veteran guys get here on Wednesday and we start actually practicing with those guys, the tempo is going to pick up — way, way faster because you have a lot of guys who are a lot smarter, so that plays a big part in it — but for sure it’s going good right now.”
It’s way early, but it seems like Howie Roseman and company landed a talent in seventh round, likely due in part to the fact that he fractured his left fibula last August and was arrested in 2014 for second-degree battery. (The charge was later dropped and Mills has denied any wrong-doing.)
Mills started at corner as a freshman at LSU after Tyrann Mathieu was dismissed from the team. He appeared in 45 games for the Tigers in all, posting 216 tackles and six interceptions as a corner and safety. He named Mathieu and Charles Woodson as two players he was influenced by growing up. It’s no coincidence that both players are known in part for their versatility.
“If you’re a defensive back, you should be able to play corner, nickel, safety, dime. Whatever is in that back area, if you are going to call yourself a DB you should be able to play it,” he said.
Right now the Eagles’ pressing need is at corner. Schwartz and Doug Pederson mentioned Mills as one of the players in the mix for the starting spot opposite McKelvin. If he doesn’t secure that job, perhaps he’ll take a run at the slot. For right now, Mills said he is just focusing on getting better.
“Football is a game of opportunity,” he said. “It’s what have you done for me lately no matter where a guy goes. If somebody is not making the plays, it’s the next guy up.”
WHAT YOU MISSED
Linebacker Nigel Bradham was arrested yesterday after an alleged assault occurred on Miami Beach last Thursday.
The Eagles showed interest in wide receiver Anquan Boldin, who signed with the Detroit Lions yesterday. Could they also be interested in Josh Gordon?
“I’m still in the process once we get into these preseason games of deciding how I want to go about the natural mechanics of calling the game.” Doug Pederson could change how game-day communication works after finding out he can have all three channels in his headset.
“We have some guys that can cover; we got some guys that have a great opportunity here.” Jim Schwartz is excited for the cornerbacks to battle, but leaves one notable name out.
“We’re going to get him plenty of work, plenty of reps not only during practice but after practice, and get him where he needs to be.” Carson Wentz is progressing well as he enters his first training camp.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
Cornerback JaCorey Shepherd is ready to prove himself in 2016, writes Reuben Frank of CSNPhilly.com.
There are two ways to go when you’re hurt. You can feel sorry for yourself, tune out and wait to get better. Or you can make use of every single moment available to you during your rehab.
Shepherd, always a workaholic, always a film hound, always the hardest worker on the roster in college, didn’t hesitate to make the right choice.
As disappointed as he was, he made sure his 2015 rookie year didn’t go to waste.
“JaCorey, you could tell it was really hard for him to not play,” said veteran corner Nolan Carroll, whose 2015 season was also cut short. “But he made the best use of his time last year.
“Chip (Kelly) let the injured guys stand on the sidelines for games and even brought them to road games, and when me and Walter (Thurmond) and Malcolm (Jenkins) would come off the field, he was always right there listening when we went over what just happened with (defensive backs coach Cory Undlin).
“You could see that he wanted to make the best of his situation and learn as much as possible, even though he couldn’t play. That’s not always easy for a young guy to do, but JaCorey, you could tell he just wanted to learn as much as possible.”
The Eagles will need rookie Wendell Smallwood to provide some help in the running game this season, writes Paul Domowitch of the Daily News.
The Eagles failed to have an 800-yard rusher last season for the first time since 2009. Chip Kelly signed DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews in free agency last year, but Murray went from an NFL rushing champ with the Cowboys to a 3.6-yard-per-carry disappointment with the Eagles and was traded to Tennessee in March, three months after Kelly was fired.
Mathews averaged 5 yards per carry, but has missed three or more games in four of his six NFL seasons and has had more than 225 carries in a season just once.
Darren Sproles turned 33 last month and figures to be used primarily as a receiver. Kenjon Barner had just 28 carries last year.
So, unless Mathews is going to suddenly become a workhorse back in his seventh pro season, the Eagles really, really need Smallwood to step up and make an immediate contribution.
Smallwood led the Big 12 in rushing last year with 1,519 yards and nine touchdowns. But 10 running backs were taken ahead of him in the draft, including five in the 19 picks before the Eagles took him at 153.
“I definitely don’t think it means a lot (where he was picked) because the city, the team, they treat me like I was Carson Wentz,” Smallwood said Tuesday after the Eagles finished their second training-camp practice with rookies and selected veterans.
“They give us all the same attention. No one gets more, no one gets less. Being here is going to drive me to be better than all of the backs that were picked before me.”
Rookies and selected vets practice at 8:30. Pederson is scheduled to speak afterwards. The rest of the team has to report by 2 pm.
Chris Jastrzembski contributed to this post.