Eagles Notebook: Villanueva 'extremely grateful' for chance with Eagles

ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Alejandro Villanueva is learning to be a defensive end.
ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Alejandro Villanueva is learning to be a defensive end.
Posted: June 20, 2014

ALEJANDRO Villanueva said he didn't feel as out of place as he had feared, when Villanueva, a former Army Ranger captain, returned to football this spring with the Eagles. He said yesterday he thinks he's on track to compete for a roster spot at defensive end in training camp next month - though until he took the field with the Eagles, Villanueva hadn't worn pads since 2009, his senior year as a receiver for Army.

Villanueva, the kind of project Chip Kelly likes at 6-9 and nearly 300 pounds (after getting with the Eagles' nutrition program), said defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro has kept things simple for him, realizing how far Villanueva has to come.

"Coach Azzinaro has been outstanding. I'm extremely grateful to be his pupil right now," Villanueva said, as the Eagles ended minicamp. They will reconvene for training camp July 25 at NovaCare. "He's teaching me to be a d-end . . . He's breaking it down from the most basic, giving me reasonable expectations."

Villanueva hasn't played defense since his sophomore season at Army. He said yesterday his biggest challenge so far has been managing the process of his transition from the Army, which is not quite complete.

Some OTA and minicamp observations:

* The Eagles wanted to push Alex Henery a bit, but they almost certainly aren't replacing him with undrafted rookie Carey "Murderleg" Spear. Spear missed back-to-back field goals yesterday, wide right and then wide left. If the Birds had ever been all that serious about replacing Henery, there'd be somebody here who has kicked in the NFL.

* A contrarian view on the Matt Barkley-Mark Sanchez backup QB battle: Yes, Sanchez has a stronger arm - which he uses to throw high and wide past receivers much of the time. Barkley can't really drive the ball, but he can put it in the general vicinity of an eligible receiver. As I understand football, few points are awarded for throwing hard passes that don't connect. Maybe Sanchez will be more accurate as he gets more comfortable with the offense, but he whiffed four times in a row during a hurry-up drill yesterday. The bottom line might be that the Eagles are in trouble if either of these guys has to play much, unlike last season, when they had Nick Foles waiting behind Michael Vick. Pretty clear that Vick is head-and-shoulders better than Sanchez or Barkley, but he did not want to stay here as the No. 2.

* Chip Kelly was asked yesterday about LeSean McCoy's comments Wednesday, when McCoy said the lesson he took from DeSean Jackson's dismissal was that you need to be completely on board with Kelly, and take care of details. Kelly and other Eagles officials have insisted Jackson was not released because of his conduct or attitude.

Kelly said he doesn't "send messages" through roster moves. "LeSean has a beautiful mind, so sometimes trying to analyze that mind, I don't wrap myself around that too much, or bother myself too much with that," he said. "However LeSean interprets things is how LeSean interprets things."

But, what about this notion that Jackson didn't buy in?

"You heard it from the beautiful mind, so talk to him. He'll give you a lot about every subject," Kelly said, perhaps alluding to how McCoy has critiqued other running backs, such as Knowshon Moreno and more recently, Adrian Peterson. "He can tell you who's going to start on other teams, and he can tell you a lot of things. I enjoy talking to LeSean. He's the best."

* Second-round rookie wideout Jordan Matthews was the spring standout, among the new guys. Running back Darren Sproles looked spry, safety Malcolm Jenkins certainly took ownership of the secondary, though we've yet to see him cover or tackle anybody from another team. There were some pleasant surprises, such as undrafted running back Henry Josey. First-round rookie linebacker Marcus Smith looked like a bit of a project, as expected. Nobody got seriously hurt.

* Kelly yesterday confirmed what had been assumed - the Eagles will return the favor with the Patriots and spend 3 days practicing with New England before playing the second preseason game there, Aug. 15.

* Jason Kelce earned the proud honor of being the only Eagle to hit the onfield porta-potty each day of minicamp. Kelce said it was all part of keeping himself properly hydrated in this week's heat.

* The practice music mix could use some freshening up. A lot of the same stuff that rattled our eardrums a year ago is still blaring forth. It would be just fine if, when training camp convenes, party rock no longer is in the house.

On Twitter: @LesBowen

Blog: ph.ly/Eagletarian

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