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Eagles combine notebook: How much will Eagles play young players going forward?

Eagles combine notebook: How much will Eagles play young players going forward? originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

INDIANAPOLIS — The Eagles entered the 2023 season coming off a Super Bowl appearance and in win-now mode.

So it makes sense that they weren’t in a rush to play a bunch of rookies.

But Eagles general manager Howie Roseman on Tuesday admitted that might need to change going forward.

“I think when we look back, and Coach [Nick Sirianni] and I talk about it a little bit, it’s OK to play some young players,” Roseman said. “It’s OK for them to get experience and kind of see what you have. Based on where some of our guys were, they had the ability to sit back and learn a little bit because of the situations that we were in.

“I think going forward it’s going to be harder to do that. Obviously just as you look at our team and who is making a lot of money, and we had a little bit of extra picks over the last couple years. So, I think that for us to play our young players, to develop them, I think that’s something that Coach and I have talked about to not be afraid of. That’s why you draft them. That’s why you sign them.

“So, you have that, and you’ll have a depth chart where they’ll be a little bit uncomfortable about this guy necessarily hasn’t shown it, but we believe in this player. I think that will be an area for us to kind of maybe grow on, and I don’t want to say improve because we have good players at those positions, but it’s exciting, I think, in a lot of ways.”

That would be a bit of a departure. And in hindsight, you could have made an argument for playing some of their rookies a little bit more and/or a little bit earlier than they did in 2023.

But a few minutes after Roseman said that about playing rookies more, Sirianni didn’t quite seem as on board with the idea.

“My philosophy has always been play the guys that are going to help you win the game every week,” Sirianni said. “Regardless of whether you talk about scheme, whether you talk about players, you’re trying to do whatever you can to win the game, because that’s the bottom line, is to win football games.”

You can understand this from both sides. But there’s a strong case to be made for playing the young guys more.

Here’s a look at usage on offense or defense for the draft class of 2023:

1-10: DT Jalen Carter: 563 snaps (48%)
1-30: OLB Nolan Smith: 188 snaps (16%)
3-65: OL Tyler Steen: 71 snaps (6%)
3-66: S Sydney Brown: 335 snaps (29%)
4-105: CB Kelee Ringo: 199 snaps (17%)
6-188: QB Tanner McKee: 0 snaps
7-249: DT Moro Ojomo: 68 snaps (6%)

While Carter played a ton and played a ton from early on in the season, you can make a case that a lot of those other draft picks should have played more. Smith was a first-round pick and was fourth or fifth in the rotation at edge rusher all season. Maybe his lingering shoulder injury played a role but even Roseman admitted he probably should have played more.

And there were opportunities to play Steen, Brown, Ringo and Ojomo more and the Eagles didn’t do it. Instead they stuck with veteran players like Sua Opeta, Justin Evans, Terrell Edmunds, James Bradberry and Kentavius Street. Maybe those stop-gaps were slightly better at the time but all of those rookies offer upside. And if you give them a chance, maybe they grow.

It’ll be fascinating to see if the Eagles change it up a bit in 2024.

Taking some swings before free agency

During Roseman’s first answer during his combine press conference, Roseman expressed his excitement about some of the moves the Eagles have already made this offseason before the start of free agency.

The Eagles have added several players from outside the organization and also extended tight end Albert Okwuegbunam for another season.

“I’m a little bit excited about kind of aggressively going after some future players that we did to start this off and bringing back at least one of our guys,” Roseman said. “So, it’s a good start, but we’ve got a lot of work to do, and I’m excited to do it with the people that we get the opportunity to do it (with).”

While Okwuegbunam barely played with the Eagles last season, they did trade for him and now bring him back for at least another training camp.

But it was notable that Roseman seemed excited about adding some other players. Since the end of the season, the Eagles have added four former draft picks from other organizations and seven of their 21 futures contracts went to players who didn’t finish the 2023 season on their practice squad.

Here’s a look at those four former draft picks:

OLB Julian Okwara: The Lions used a third-round pick on Okwara out of Notre Dame in the 2020 draft. In his four seasons with the Lions, Okwara played in 38 games with 4 starts and had 9 sacks. He was on the Lions’ roster until late in the 2023 season but then was cut and added to the practice squad.

RB Tyrion Davis-Price: The 49ers drafted Davis-Price (6-1, 219) in the third round out of LSU in 2022. In two season with the Niners, Davis-Price was buried on the depth chart, playing in just 7 games with 40 rushing attempts for 120 yards.

OT Darian Kinnard: The Chiefs drafted Kinnard out of Kentucky in the fifth round in 2022. He played just one game for Kansas City as a rookie and spent the 2023 season on their practice squad.

OLB Terrell Lewis: A third-round pick out of Alabama in 2020, Lewis played in 30 games (7 starts) for the Rams and had 6 sacks and 10 QB hits. He last played in a regular season game in 2022 and has since been on the Bears’ and Saints’ practice squads.

A mountain of a man

It’s probably unfair that the first thing everyone talks about with Eagles new defensive line coach Clint Hurtt is his size.

But it’s hard to avoid.

Hurtt is an absolute mountain of a man. And after seeing him in person in Indianapolis this week, he’s just as big as you would expect.

“You don’t want to mess with him, right?” Seahawks general manager John Schneider said. “I want that guy in a dark alley with me. His intensity, his football intelligence, he was always a really good teacher for us and a really good communicator. That really stood out to us right away. I was able to see him last night, gave him a big hug, and I still can’t get my hands around his back.”

All jokes aside, the Hurtt hire is a really important one for the Eagles. Hurtt has experience as a former defensive coordinator and Schneider brought up Hurtt’s ability to teach and communicate. That’s obviously going to be a really important part of Hurtt’s job in Philadelphia, where he’ll be coaching a group of young defensive tackles in Jalen Carter, Jordan Davis and Milton Williams.

Another key hire on defense

New defensive coordinator Vic Fangio built an almost entirely new staff and some of them have worked with him before. The two main ones are Hurtt and new defensive backs coach Christian Parker.

Parker is still just 32 years old but several league sources indicated this week that Parker is considered to be a quick riser and potential future defensive coordinator. So we’ll see just how long he ends up lasting in Philly. If things go well, he could be moving on after just a year or two. The Eagles might be renting him.

It was a nice addition for the Eagles because Parker left the defensive backs job in Denver to take the same title — plus the added responsibility of defensive passing game coordinator — in Philly. Broncos head coach Sean Payton liked Parker enough to keep him as a holdover coach from the previous staff.

In his time in Denver, Parker coached some All-Pros like Justin Simmons and Patrick Surtain II.

They’re getting a bright young coach,” Payton said. “Obviously, Vic knows him. Vic has worked with him before. Christian is really sharp. I’d say his degree, if you will, in defensive football, is in that scheme. He was a pleasure to work with. And I’m excited that he has that opportunity. Vic and I talked at length about Christian.”

Want Jalen Hurts to be Jalen Hurts

In the wake of the Eagles’ late-season collapse in 2023, there have been plenty of criticisms of Jalen Hurts’ leadership style. His stoic nature, which was considered to be a positive when things were going well, became an apparent concern amid a free-fall.

Here’s a passage from a Jan. 15 story from Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer:

“But there is also a belief from some key members of the organization that if Hurts — for all of his positive traits — could open himself up a little more, improve his body language, and take more ownership even when he’s not at fault, it could help the team in times of distress, Eagles sources said to The Inquirer.”

During the press conference on Tuesday, Sirianni was asked for his view on Hurts’ leadership style.

“There’s not a book that is written on ‘this is how you lead.’ People lead in different ways,” Sirianni said. “One thing I learned early about in leadership is that you have to be yourself, because if you lead and you’re trying to be somebody you’re not when you lead, that gets seen through. That’s the same scenario I was put in when I became the head coach or an offensive coordinator or whatever it was. Everybody has to lead their way, and Jalen has special qualities that people will follow, and people will want to follow. And he’s got to do what he needs to do to lead in that way. Some people’s leadership style is loud and aggressive. Some people’s leadership style is by example; and some it’s a mixture of both.

“So, Jalen needs to lead how he needs to lead, right? And A.J. (Brown) needs to lead how he needs to lead. Whoever it is. (Darius) Slay’s got to lead how he needs to lead. Because that’s leadership, right, is being who you are and leading by example. At the end of the day, if you’re leading by example, that’s a great style of leadership. So, Jalen needs to lead how he needs to lead, and I think he’s done a great job of doing so. And he’ll get, just like he has done in other things, he’ll get better at that part of his game, and he’ll get better, just because I know he’ll continue to work on getting better no matter what part of the game he needs to work at.”

You can see this whole conversation in two ways. And it’s not all or nothing. In general, Hurts shouldn’t try to be something he’s not. For years we’ve seen his calm demeanor on the sideline and it has worked for him. His teammates have been following his lead since his rookie season. Heck, Hurts was such a natural leader that it caused some problems in his rookie season before he was a starter. Some Eagles began to gravitate toward him over then-starter Carson Wentz.

On the other hand, players can work on leadership skills. They can improve. So it’s not crazy to think that Hurts can learn from moments of adversity. If a certain situation calls for a different type of leadership, it’s not outrageous to ask Hurts to tweak his style without abandoning it altogether.

The mini hoop lives

A couple years ago it was a fun story when we found out that the Eagles brought a mini basketball hoop with them to Indianapolis for their formal meetings with prospects.

It was such a fun story that I actually wrote about it. https://www.nbcsportsphiladelphia.com/nfl/philadelphia-eagles/eagles-came-to-nfl-combine-ready-with-mini-basketball-hoop/200045/

Important news: The mini hoop is still around.

“I heard a couple of guys that I train with, they met with them,” defensive back Cooper DeJean said. “They said they did pretty well on the jump shots.”

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