Eagles Wake-Up Call: Stefen’s Shot
After nearly three hours of practice on Wednesday, Stefen Wisniewski wanted more. While 80 or so of his teammates walked off of the fields at the NovaCare Complex drained of energy, the 27-year-old offensive lineman had enough left in the tank to get in extra work with undrafted free agent Darrell Greene.
Wisniewski has started 77 games in his five-year NFL career, mostly at center, so as he competes for the starting left guard job, he wants to shorten his learning curve — particularly when it comes to pass protection.
“I wanted to get a look at some different pass rush moves, start feeling more and more comfortable stopping every move that defensive linemen can throw at you,” Wisniewski said. “They got a lot of moves and you got to get a feel for things. It’s only our sixth practice so we haven’t seen that much yet, but I’m trying to get as many reps as I can.
“At guard, you got a lot more space to work with; center you got a lot more help. Generally, you’re blocking slower nose guards with less pass rush moves, but at guard, there are some really good pass rushers nowadays in the league that play 3-technique. So you got to have good technique — good punch, good footwork, good balance, good body position — and I’ve been trying to drill all that stuff.”
With Brandon Brooks yet to participate in training camp because of a pulled hamstring, Wisniewski has filled in at right guard with the first-team offense. Wisniewski, whom the Eagles signed to a one-year deal reportedly worth $1.51 million in April, appears to be Allen Barbre’s biggest competition to win the starting left guard job. Versatile rookie Isaac Seumalo is also in the mix, but Wisniewski seems to be making the most of his opportunity filling in for Brooks.
“Wisniewski’s looked great. I mean, he’s really looked good,” Frank Reich said. “He’s incredibly smart. He’s very stout. Yeah, he’s been — I don’t want to say a surprise. That’s why we signed him. But he’s met and exceeded expectations.”
Wisniewski was clear when he signed that he planned on working his way into the starting unit, and he told Birds 24/7 on Wednesday he thinks the best opportunity to do so is at guard, although he has much more NFL experience at center. Originally a second-round pick out of Penn State in 2011, Wisniewski spent three years at guard and one at center in college.
During his rookie year with the Raiders, Wisniewski also played guard, but in the four seasons since — three in Oakland, one in Jacksonville — he has started at center. In five years, he has missed just three starts.
“The transition has been going well. It’d definitely an adjustment for me playing a different position,” Wisniewski said. “I feel like I’m getting better at it every day, starting to feel more and more comfortable. Getting better with my technique. I still got a lot of work to do, but I’m starting to get closer to where I want to be.
“There are a lot of things I’m still working on — a lot of footwork, my punch, some run blocks that are different at guard than they are at center, a lot of hand placement stuff. It’s definitely nice to get a chance to work with the first team, and work against the first-team defense a lot to show what I can do.”
WHAT YOU MISSED
“[Paul] Turner — PT — he’s a kid that’s really kinda understood our offense, understood his role.” Practice observations from yesterday, which had the team in pads.
“He’s an explosive guy with the ball in his hands.” With Wendell Smallwood out with a quad strain, Kenjon Barner’s workload has significantly increased.
“It’s made me aware of certain things I should be putting into my body and certain things that I shouldn’t be.” Jordan Hicks talks about trying to stay healthy this season.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
Should the Eagles give up on former first-round pick Marcus Smith? Jeff McLane of the Inquirer explores that question.
Jim Schwartz‘s new 4-3 defense is supposed to better utilize Smith’s skill set, though. The attacking- scheme is supposed to simplify his responsibilities. It’s supposed to put him in better position to hit those lofty goals.
“It’s a lot better than it was in past years, because I’m not thinking as much,” Smith said Wednesday after practice. “I’m not doing anything as far as dropping into coverage. Really, I’m just going, and that’s what Coach Schwartz wants.”But going doesn’t mean you’re going to get there.
There are two problems with the scheme-will-help-Smith narrative. The first has more to do with logistics than anything related to his capabilities. While the defense has changed, the personnel at defensive end has not.
Vinny Curry, Brandon Graham, and Connor Barwin are also making the switch from outside linebacker to defensive end. Curry and Graham were drafted to play in similar schemes, and Barwin, while probably better equipped to play in a 3-4, has experience in a 4-3.
David Murphy of the Daily News wonders whether the Eagles’ linebacking corps is good enough.
Lost in all the hullabaloo about the arrival of Jim Schwartz and the switch from a passive 3-4 to an attacking 4-3 is the fact that the personnel at linebacker really isn’t all that different from what it was a year ago. Goodbye, Kiko Alonso and DeMeco Ryans; hello, Nigel Bradham and a bunch of rookies. The hope is that Jordan Hicks, who displayed solid coverage skills to go with his heady play at middle linebacker as a rookie, remains healthy for the entire season. Yet that was the hope last year, too.
One of the more interesting things former defensive coordinator Billy Davis said in his interview with the Daily News’ Paul Domowitch last week pertained to the Eagles linebackers’ struggles in coverage.
“The pass defense wasn’t near where it needed to be,” said Davis, who is unemployed. “But it wasn’t all secondary breakdowns. A lot of it was linebackers on running backs, and a couple linebackers on tight ends, that were driving me nuts.”
Often, one of those linebackers was Kendricks, whose susceptibility to the big play has long limited the net benefit of his athleticism.
#Eagles UDFA DE Connor Wujciak had shoulder surgery today. Out for the season.
— Adam Caplan (@caplannfl) August 4, 2016
Practice begins at 8:05, with Jim Schwartz set to address the media afterward.
Chris Jastrzembski contributed to this post.