Below is a column written by Eagles Beat Writer for the Philadelphia Eagles
PHILADELPHIA — Usually they need time to marinate, slowly simmering in the weight room and meeting room.
That’s what rookies, for the most part, have done in the first two drafts with Eagles coach Chip Kelly in charge. There are some exceptions. Right tackle Lane Johnson comes to mind, but he was the fourth overall pick in 2013. Jordan Matthews was on the receiving end of nearly 900 yards last year after entering the league in the second round.
This year could be completely different.
There were rookies making plays all over the field during the Eagles’ 36-10 win over the Indianapolis Colts at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday.
The team’s first three picks — receiver Nelson Agholor, cornerback Eric Rowe,and linebacker Jordan Hicks — flashed, their sixth-round pick, cornerback Randall Evans, recovered a fumble, and their seventh-round selection, 6-foot-9 defensive end Brian Mihalik, recorded the Eagles’ first sack. And don’t forget another sixth-round selection, JaCorey Shepherd, who was on track to be the starting slot cornerback until an ACL tear ended his season last week.
“The one thing you don’t know about a lot of those guys is what are they going to be like when you get them into a game,” said Kelly. “That’s the encouraging thing … Without seeing film, I felt a lot of guys stepped up and made plays. Eric Rowe with a fumble caused, did a great job stripping him. Nelson made big catch on our bench and on their bench turned it into a touchdown, then another catch, so we’re excited about those guys. It’s just one step for us, but we feel like we have a lot of good film to teach off of.”
Agholor turned a high, short throw from Mark Sanchez into a 34-yard touchdown that put the Eagles ahead to stay 7-3 with 3:27 left in the opening quarter. The first-round pick finished with three catches for 57 yards. Asked about the touchdown, all Agholor wanted to talk about was the two catches he didn’t make, including one that zipped right through his hands.
“First time I touched the ball was a dropped incompletion,” he said. “I had two hands on the ball, guy comes in and rakes it out, so at end of day, that’s on my mind more than the (touchdown).”
The team’s second-round pick, Rowe forced a fumble from Phillip Dorsett, the Colts’ first-round draft pick this year. Of course, there was some bad there, too. Rowe was beaten on deep over route by Dorsett.
“All I could do was run and catch up,” said Rowe. “When I saw him catch it — at practice we preach strip and get the ball out. I saw he was carrying the ball loose, I punched at it, but wrapped up and tried to get the tackle, too. Once I saw it come out, I was pretty pumped.”
As for Hicks, he made mistakes, too.
That’s what being a rookie is about.
Hicks missed a tackle on the Colts’ only TD of the day, a 9-yard run from Josh Robinson that made the score 26-10 with 7:08 to play in the third quarter. But there was the key block he made on what became a 92-yard punt return by Kenjon Barner with just four seconds left in the first half that sent the Birds into the locker room with a 23-3 lead.
With a crowded field of inside linebackers, it will be special teams where Hicks will learn to grow his game.
“We take a lot of pride coming in here,” said Hicks of the rookies. “This organization, coach Kelly’s done a great job getting guys here who care, who want to get better, who want to compete, who take practice seriously, who take getting better seriously. It’s the culture of this team. You come in here, you’re around his team for five minutes, you understand you’re around a group of guys who want to get better, who want to compete, who want to play for each other.”
Then there were the guys who weren’t even drafted this May but scooped up shortly afterward as free agents. Guys like tight end Eric Tomlinson and receiver Rasheed Bailey.
Tomlinson led the team in receiving, catching five passes for 61 yards and Bailey caught both passes thrown his way, one of which was a one-handed spear from Tim Tebow that went for 18 yards and bailed the team out of bad field position. Bailey’s two receptions covered 23 yards.
“The ultimate goal here is to win and win every week,” said veteran tight end Brent Celek, who added that he has been energized by this influx of youth. “When you have young guys that can contribute like that, it’s big. We still have a long way to go, but I love the attitude of not only these young kids but the whole team. It’s just a different attitude around here. I really hope it translates. At end of day we have to win games and I think we have the guys to do that. I’m excited. I know I’m getting older now, I’ve never been happier to be on a team than I am now.”
The thing that makes contributing as a rookie so difficult, at least in the opinion of nose tackle Beau Allen, who was one himself last year, is that there is very little break form the time the college season ends until the NFL season ramps up. Allen was one of only two drafted rookies from last year who made an impact on the field, with Matthews being the other.
“It’s a whirlwind for those guys because a lot of them have bowl games then all star games, the (scouting) combine, the pre-draft process, then OTAs and they get a couple weeks off before they’re in camp,” said Allen. “It’s just wild. They don’t get a lot of time off and that’s hard on the body.”
This year’s rookie crop seems to get it, and, right now, looks like several can come out sizzling from the start rather than slowly marinating.
Ed Kracz: 215-345-3069; email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @kracze