Eagles players defend Vic Fangio as new systems take form at OTAs (2024)

PHILADELPHIA — Parting shots are still being lobbed at first-year Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Vic Fangio from Miami, as Dolphins players keep sending subtle digs in sound bites directed at their former coach. Safety Jevon Holland fired the latest shot, telling reporters Tuesday how newly hired coordinator Anthony Weaver was a “complete 180” from Fangio.

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“It’s the fact that he’s a good person that makes a difference,” said Holland, according to NFL Network.

From where does that animosity stem? It’s uncertain. Fangio pushed back at the notion that he didn’t get along with Dolphins players during his first Eagles news conference in early May.

“I didn’t see that at all, really,” Fangio said. “Anything we do, whether there, here or anywhere else I’ve been, is what we think is the best for the team and best for the defense, specifically, to stop somebody. Wherever that falls, that’s where it falls.”

GO DEEPEREagles' Kellen Moore, Vic Fangio discuss their schemes and reviving their units

The Eagles defense completed its second day of OTAs under Fangio on Wednesday, the first offseason session open to the media. Afterward, players defended their new coordinator. Second-year defensive tackle Jalen Carter said he likes Fangio’s “old-school” demeanor. Carter worked out in Miami during the offseason and said he talked to Dolphins players about their thoughts on the coach.

“I’m ready to be coached any way,” Carter said. “Old school. New school. Whatever you want to call it.”

“I don’t know what happened over there,” said cornerback Darius Slay, a 12-year veteran entering his fifth season in Philadelphia. “But from my point of view over here, he’s a great dude.”

The first two defensive coordinators under Eagles coach Nick Sirianni, Jonathan Gannon and Sean Desai, used varying principles derived from Fangio’s system. Now Sirianni has secured the system’s source.

Here are observations on the first view of the Eagles defense and more from the second OTA practice.

Competition at CB — a new defense taking shape

The Eagles have 13 cornerbacks on their roster. It’s going to be the toughest position group to trim when they must reduce to 53 players at the end of training camp. James Bradberry was not present at the voluntary practice (Slay later said Bradberry was in good spirits), and Isaiah Rodgers, who was just reinstated after serving a one-year suspension for violating the league’s gambling policy, filled in with the first rotation opposite Slay.

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Rodgers, a 2020 sixth-round pick, started in 10 games for the Indianapolis Colts in three seasons. He’s considered a dark horse to see a good chunk of playing time in 2024. On Wednesday, he jumped a pass to the flat from Jalen Hurts and deflected the ball away from tight end Dallas Goedert.

No. 22 pick Quinyon Mitchell rotated in second with second-round pick Cooper DeJean. Mitchell found himself in a handsy one-on-one battle with Shaquan Davis deep downfield. The pass fell incomplete.

A revamped Eagles linebacker corps first featured free-agent signees Devin White and Zack Baun. Nakobe Dean, who twice hit injured reserve in 2023 and underwent Lisfranc surgery, did warm up with the defense in full pads. White, the 2019 No. 5 pick, is seeking a rebound year after regressing in his fifth and final season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He deflected a Hurts pass near the pylon during seven-on-seven drills.

GO DEEPEREagles rookie Quinyon Mitchell has quietly fought for what he wants: 'He's one of one'

A formidable offense (almost) fully together

Running back Saquon Barkley, a two-time Pro Bowler in six years with the New York Giants, is still fresh enough to relish new feelings. The 2018 Offensive Rookie of the Year said what most struck him so far was joining that huddle in seven-on-seven drills and seeing Hurts, A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith and Goedert staring back at him.

“That’s not a bad group to be a part of,” Barkley said.

Hurts, who threw a career-high 15 interceptions in 2023, appeared comfortable and crisp in a series of seven-on-seven and seven-on-nine drills. The fifth-year quarterback was 13-of-16 by my count, although tallying such a statistic in practice is mostly asinine unless it indicates an extreme in either direction.

Hurts is kick-starting field work under new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore and quarterbacks coach Doug Nussmeier, and Moore emphasized in his first news conference how his focus with Hurts is “just having a clean toolbox.” There wasn’t yet much complexity to create any clutter. There were several checkdowns, quick crossers and a few challenges deep.

Smith did not participate in Wednesday’s voluntary OTA, although the organization’s social media team posted a photograph from Monday’s workout that featured the 2021 first-round pick.

Who's hyped to see these two back on the field? pic.twitter.com/io8oBAURpH

— Philadelphia Eagles (@Eagles) May 21, 2024

How about those rookies?

DeJean notably played plenty of cornerback opposite Mitchell on Wednesday. Fangio said his approach with versatile defenders is to “start them out at a primary position, and then you start giving them the secondary position, and you go from there.” Since DeJean appears to be starting out at cornerback, it can be intimated the Eagles consider this his primary position.

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DeJean lacked “initial suddenness” as a cover corner, according toThe Athletic’s Dane Brugler, which he needed to “continue to mask to limit separation at the top of routes.” One day, much less one play, is hardly an adequate sample size, but slippery veteran Britain Covey snapped to the sideline for a quick catch against DeJean in one-on-one coverage.

DeJean, an All-American cornerback at Iowa who logged three pick sixes within two seasons and returned a punt for a touchdown, also practiced fielding punts with Covey on Wednesday. Special teams coordinator Michael Clay avoided committing to any one returner during his May news conference and said, “As we move forward, competition usually breeds greatness.”

I asked an Eagles PR staffer who most surprised them size-wise from the incoming players. They said Johnny Wilson. I agreed. The sixth-round wide receiver is 6-foot-6, 228 pounds and somehow looks taller in person. There were questions about his route precision and hands during the draft process, but Wilson dispelled both thoughts in one play. He snagged a low slant with both hands and his body contorted at a strange angle while in tight coverage with linebacker Brandon Smith.

Sirianni had previously said the Eagles were “really excited about” fourth-round running back Will Shipley, particularly for his proficiency as a pass catcher and “ability to make guys miss in space.” Shipley, a 5-11, 206-pound Clemson product, showcased his speed while taking a sideways pass up the sideline, where defenders, admittedly, could not shove him. But Shipley also bobbled one pass and let another slip through his grip.

Eagles players defend Vic Fangio as new systems take form at OTAs (3)

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Roll call, and a Sydney Brown sighting

Beyond DeVonta Smith and Bradberry, among those not spotted at Wednesday’s voluntary OTA practice were right tackle Lane Johnson, edge rusher Josh Sweat, kicker Jake Elliott and cornerback Kelee Ringo.

Safety Sydney Brown, who underwent surgery after a Week 18 ACL tear last season, did attend. He didn’t dress out but frequently jogged at a good speed across the field. He also spent the majority of the team’s seven-on-seven drills crouched in position, deep on the other side of the field, following the action as if he were playing. Energetic about his recovery timeline, Sydney Brown said in January, “I’m going to kill this process.”

Other quick notes

• Eagles edge rusher Nolan Smith stuck out in pass coverage. Fangio confirmed edge rushers “will occasionally drop” in his system, and the 2023 first-round pick’s speed and frame (6-2, 238 pounds) have the potential to make him a plus here. He blanketed RB2 Kenneth Gainwell along the sideline, provoking the quarterback to scramble.

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• Backup quarterback Kenny Pickett threw the only touchdown in seven-on-seven drills. The former Pittsburgh Steeler zipped a pass to the left side of the end zone that struck Gainwell near the hip. Defenders disputed the score. Gainwell had stepped out of bounds, and it was uncertain whether he’d been forced out or not.

• Potential starting right guard Tyler Steen said he’s in a better place, mentally and physically, than he was last season as a third-round rookie. He struggled in his only start, a Week 9 win against the Dallas Cowboys, in which he surrendered six total pressures, according to Pro Football Focus. “I wanna prove I’m a better player than that,” Steen said.

(Photo: Matt Rourke / Associated Press)

Eagles players defend Vic Fangio as new systems take form at OTAs (5)Eagles players defend Vic Fangio as new systems take form at OTAs (6)

Brooks Kubena is a Staff Writer for The Athletic covering the Eagles. Brooks has covered the NFL since 2021, most recently as a reporter for the Houston Chronicle covering the Texans, and he previously reported on LSU football for The Advocate | Times-Picayune from 2018-2020. Brooks, a graduate of the University of Texas, has received APSE National Top 10 honors eight times for his reporting, which includes his beat writing coverage during the 2022 season. Follow Brooks on Twitter @BKubena

Eagles players defend Vic Fangio as new systems take form at OTAs (2024)
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