June 11, 2024   7 MIN READ

Surprise, Surprise

Birds Revealed Personnel Wrinkles At Camp

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Before they broke for a period of inactivity ahead of July’s start of training camp, the Eagles capped their spring with a three-day mandatory minicamp.

Acting as an amplified installation period with extra emphasis on detail, the minicamp revealed a first look at depth chart configurations, which often included mixing and matching personnel in an effort to best identify groupings and skill sets.

With no shortage of storylines, I’ve noted a few topics in the aftermath of camp that are particularly interesting:

Zack Baun

ITB PHOTO: Newcomer Zack Baun took surprising first team reps at inside linebacker during OTAs and minicamp.

First-Team LB Zack Baun?

Before Eagles defensive coordinator Vic Fangio reached into his left pocket to retrieve a copy of the roster during his press conference, Fangio had grasped for the names of his off-ball linebackers.

Zack Baun was the first name mentioned.

Baun, a free-agent signing, was seemingly brought in as an edge rusher, so the name-drop – at the top of the heap – was surprising.

But when the Eagles’ first-team defense took the field three weeks ago for the first defensive snaps of 7-on-7s, Baun – not third-year linebacker Nakobe Dean – trotted out with Devin White.

And what better way to gauge Baun’s coverage prowess from the onset than a glorified passing camp?

Baun, a 2020 third-round pick of the New Orleans Saints, last season logged a career-high 301 defensive snaps. In the midst of his extended look, the athletic defender did not appear stiff or out of place patrolling the second level, which was peppered with mid-range throws.

Rather, the eye test showed Baun and White complementing one another, flowing to the football with urgency and plastering the short-to-intermediate levels.

“Vic’s scheme is eerily similar to the same scheme we ran at Wisconsin,” Baun said. “I’m just doing it from the inside linebacker position now. But the position I’m playing, I’m very comfortable playing situationally.

“Then, we’re practicing against one of the top offenses in the league. I’m going up against dogs at every position. I’m gonna get better and better and better each week, each day, practicing against these guys.”

The similarities Baun alluded to were a nod to his former defensive coordinator at Wisconsin, Jim Leonhard.

Leonhard, a longtime NFL safety, overlapped with Fangio during the 2008 season with the Baltimore Ravens, the latter serving as a special assistant to the head coach as well as a defensive assistant.

According to Baun, there was little discussion about his role with the Eagles – he was promptly  paired with inside linebackers coach Bobby King – though the ability to carve out a substantial defensive role is finally within reach.

Baun also noted that Fangio’s scheme will still present an opportunity to rush the passer, albeit from the inside.

Even with his new opportunity and projected inside track to a more prominent role, Baun has no expectations. Right now, the 27-year-old is singularly focused on honing his skill set and preparing for whatever is thrown his way.

“I’m not expecting anything,” he said. “Like coach Bobby King said, we got pajamas on. If there’s opportunities to practice my coverage right now, that’s what I’m gonna do. I’m trying to get back at everything. Even after practice, I’m working on my pass rush, just in case. I don’t know where this is going, but I’m just here to compete and get better in every way.”

avonte maddox

GETTY IMAGES: CB Avonte Maddox has made some prep changes to help keep his body more ready for NFL rigors.

Maddox’s Versatility

When the Eagles and long-time defensive back Avonte Maddox parted ways in March, the prospects of a reunion always remained a possibility, provided Maddox came up empty on the free-agent market.

Within a month, Maddox, the Eagles’ fourth-round pick in 2018, returned on a one-year deal.

Despite a longstanding reputation as one the game’s premier nickelbacks when healthy, Maddox, like virtually every Eagles defender, begins at square one under Fangio.

While Maddox’s availability issues – the Pitt product appeared in only 13 games over the last two seasons – must change to keep on the 53-man roster amid a crowded house at his position, he so far has juggled multiple hats during spring practices.

In addition to reprising his role as first-team nickel, Maddox has also repped at safety, showcasing a multifaceted skill set and perhaps giving Fangio something to mull over in the weeks leading up to training camp.

“It’s more of a cross-training,” Maddox said. “I’m doing both. I know the nickel spot really well, and you know, I feel like something that will help me in my career is to learn the safety spot.

“You know, as you get older you get a little bit slower. But other than that, I’m learning the safety spot and the nickel spot as well.”

During the offseason, Maddox prioritized better body preparation for the rigors of another NFL season, insisting that he’s fully healthy and ready to compete.

Among the notable alterations to his preparation included eating cleaner and increasing his sleep; he said he’s in bed by 9 p.m. It also skewed toward the physical benefits, such as lifting heavier and running more.

The 28-year-old appeared noticeably quicker and more reactive, swarming to the football and hounding receivers.

Pulling double duty is old hat to Maddox, who has repped at both spots during games at various points in his career. And while the added responsibility doesn’t hamper his progression at either spot, the shifting of roles requires some subtleties and modifications to function at peak efficiency.

“Right now, I’m mostly just working on my footwork,” he explained. “Because it’s a little different than nickel and safety. And vision-wise – you got a lot more vision in the back end than you are inside with the nickel spot. You just got different techniques and footwork you have to use back there at safety than I would have to use at nickel.

“So, that’s kind of been my biggest thing – me and [safeties coach Joe Kasper], been our biggest thing focused on dealing with the safety spot on the backend.

“Other than that, I’m definitely comfortable, I’m definitely confifdent. I know all the calls, I know what to do, I know what to say, I know where everybody is at on the field. So, that’s the only thing I really need to work on right now.”

Undrafted RB Flashes

At first glance, especially from afar, it’s difficult to differentiate running backs Kendall Milton and Lew Nichols, a pair of roster hopefuls looking to elbow their way into roster consideration.

There’s the number conundrum – Milton wears 36, Nichols 38 – often blending together and bunching up.

The ball carriers also sport a similar sturdy and compact build, further complicating matters. On Day 2 of mandatory minicamp, when Milton seamlessly reeled in multiple passes and displayed juice in his reps as a kickoff returner, it took a moment or two to make sure of proper notation.

Sparsely utilized as a receiver at Georgia, registering only 12 receptions over four seasons, Milton (6-1, 232) has established himself as a dogged power runner with limited long speed and finesse to his game.

But while his collegiate utilization suggests a one-dimensional back, Milton has interestingly had two areas of his game tapped into by the Eagles that were previously unexplored.

A longshot, to be sure, but Milton could generate some momentum when the pads come on.

– Andrew DiCecco (@AndrewDiCecco) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com.

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