Talent takes you only so far with the Eagles

Posted: May 19, 2014

IF THE EAGLES follow a pattern for adding players, it fits the Connor Barwin template.

First, of course, the players must be talented. Barwin, the free-agent outside linebacker around whom Billy Davis built his defense last season, showed the physical ability to limit damage in his part of the field.

Certainly, each of the Eagles' draftees has talent.

There can be no question, though, that head coach Chip Kelly and general manager Howie Roseman believe that talent is useful only if found in a person who can maximize it. As such, they place a premium on players who are smart, versatile, accountable, capable of leadership, and hyper-competitive.

They have little use for less well-rounded sorts, regardless of their talent level.

Not coincidentally, they cut productive, expensive receiver DeSean Jackson. It might prove to be folly, but Jackson did not fit this mold.

Barwin initially played tight end at the University of Cincinnati, where he also played on the basketball team. He moved to defense end as a senior, played there for his first two professional seasons in Houston, then moved to outside linebacker.

Often, those players are fueled by a slight or a circumstance over which they had little control.

Barwin, for instance, was born deaf, and his hearing remains slightly impaired. Second-round receiver Jordan Matthews initially was offered no college scholarships. Third-round receiver Josh Huff's mother has battled drug and violence issues that haunt Huff himself . . . but they have not clouded Huff's perception of his football capacities.

"I never really considered myself a receiver. I can contribute all over the field. I just got stuck at receiver. I'm a more versatile athlete," Huff said.

He played quarterback, receiver and running back in high school . . . and competed in a high school all-star game at cornerback.

At Oregon under Kelly, Huff learned one receiver spot as soon as he could, then was allowed to master the rest of the scheme.

"That enhances your football IQ a lot," he said, "knowing what calls the linemen were making, what's the read for the quarterback - his first read - that helps me better understand why I'm running my route, and know how long I'm going to take running that route."

When the Eagles yesterday presented their crop of rookies on the first day of workouts, they sounded more like law firm interns than football players.

No offense, football players.

Then again, these are not average football players.

First-round pick Marcus Smith, an outside linebacker who played quarterback in high school and defensive end in college, scored an impressive 31 out of 50 on the Wonderlic, according to nj.com. The rest of the draftees ranged from 24 to 29; notably, Matthews' 29 led all of the highly drafted receivers.

The generally accepted average score is 20, and only one Eagles draftee scored lower; Huff, at 18.

Maybe Huff just doesn't test well. He sure sounds as if he knows what he's talking about, especially when it comes to Kelly's offensive vision.

"I can help some veterans who just don't get it yet," Huff said.

That's right: The third-round rookie receiver is eager to help Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin iron out the rough spots.

Huff wasn't joking in that moment, but he and the rest of the class are smart and confident enough to show their sense of humor.

Taylor Hart, the fifth-round defensive end out of Oregon who grew up in Tualatin, Ore., was asked his impression of the East Coast as a storm settled into the Philadelphia region:

"It feels like home today. It's raining."

Hart, who also played offensive line in high school, will learn all three defensive line positions.

Fifth-round safey Ed Reynolds, on working for three seasons at training camp for the rival Giants:

"Don't say that too loud."

There is a depth of intelligence among this group, and in last year's class, that transcends test-taking.

For example, Reynolds injured his knee in 2011 and was placed on a diet that would decrease inflammation. He felt better eating better, so he has simply remained on that diet.

Reynolds came from Stanford, so his comportment and elocution were, predictably, impeccable. The rest of the class lacked his pedigree but were equal to his presentation.

Of course, no matter how smart they are, some of these kids will not play to the level of expectation.

Mike Mamula scored 49 on his Wonderlic. The Eagles traded up five spots to take Mamula, who played only five NFL seasons and averaged just over six sacks per season. He was a one-dimensional player without a hint of leadership ability.

With all apologies to veteran inside linebacker DeMeco Ryans, Barwin has become the face and voice of the defense.

Just as center Jason Kelce - an accomplished high school hockey player - become the face and voice of the offense.

Significantly, the Eagles extended Kelce's contract in February, as well as that of Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters and, like him or not, polarizing receiver Cooper (a former major league baseball prospect). Last year's first-round pick, right tackle Lane Johnson, also played quarterback, tight end and defensive end in college, and was a safety in high school, where he lettered in four sports.

All are ferocious workers, steady professionals and viciously competitive football nerds.

Again: The Eagles cut Jackson.

They replaced him with Matthews and, to some degree, with Huff, who, unlike Jackson, can't wait to throw a block on a running play.

"If you have a mindset to go out and dominate the dude lined up across from you," Huff said, "that's going to translate to your teammates."

The translation is simple when everyone speaks the same language.


Email: hayesm@phillynews.com

On Twitter: @inkstainedretch

Blog: ph.ly/DNL

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