By Dave Zangaro
After spending his first two years in the NFL with two different teams, veteran defensive tackle Gabe Wright is hoping he’s found a home with the Eagles.
If nothing else, he’s more ready for his opportunity now.
“My mentality is a little different,” Wright said this week. “I didn’t really know how to be a pro then. I’ll admit to that.”
The Lions took Wright in the fourth round of the 2015 draft out of Auburn. As a rookie, he played in seven games and started one, but the Lions cut him before the 2016 season. Wright spent last season with the Browns, playing in five games as he split time between the active roster and the practice squad. The Browns cut him in May, and the Eagles signed him a few weeks later.
The number of roster spots on the defensive line is tight, but Wright has been steadily more impressive as camp moves on. He’s happy to be back in an attacking 4-3 defense.
“I tell my wife this all the time: Some people just have it when they get in, the Aaron Donalds of the world,” Wright said. “Some people always have it. Then there are those who take a little time, maybe even bounce around a little. Sooner or later, stuff just clicks. A new environment can help that, new surroundings.”
Wright said it helps to have other examples of players who didn’t thrive upon their arrival to the NFL. He specifically mentioned former No. 1 pick Jadeveon Clowney, who had his career slowed down by injuries until last season when he became a Pro Bowler.
While Wright admits he’s “nowhere near arrived,” he at least thinks he’s on the right track. He credits some veterans he’s played with over the last two years for helping him learn to be a pro.
As far as those lessons go, one came from former Eagles defensive end Darryl Tapp. When the two played together in Detroit, Tapp taught the rookie to use the cold tub after every practice. Wright still does it. Another lesson was that one bad day of practice can wipe out three good days — consistency is key.
Wright is just hoping to finally stick with a team.
“I hope so,” he said. “That’s how I’m looking at it. They say don’t put all your eggs in one basket, but this is everything for me. I’m just happy for the opportunity.”
Splitting time in the slot?
Since Jordan Matthews joined the Eagles as a rookie in 2014, he’s been the Eagles’ slot receiver. Things don’t seem quite that clear and easy anymore.
After Monday’s practice, offensive coordinator Frank Reich certainly made it seem like Matthews is in a competition with Nelson Agholor to earn playing time from the slot receiver position in 2017.
“Every spot is up for competition,” Reich said. “The way we kind of roll things is we’re always looking for guys who make plays. So Nelson has had a real strong spring and camp. So the way we do it is it’s kind of by play. Sometimes we’ll switch guys up. We’ll see what a defense does from a coverage standpoint, and then we want to attack that coverage.”
The questions about the slot position have come up recently since NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah said he expected Agholor to be the Eagles’ slot receiver and didn’t know what that meant for Matthews.
The Eagles’ receiving corps is much different now than it has been for the last few years after adding Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith in the offseason. Reich brought up the extra competition on Monday when asked if things are different with the slot receiver position this season.
“So, yeah, I think it is a little bit different than last year,” Reich said.
But if Agholor does play in the slot, what does that mean for Matthews?
“Jordan can play outside,” Reich said. “We can be in four receivers and have two slots. We don’t want to take our tight ends off the field too much. We have a bunch of different personnel packages, and we’ll just continue to mix them up week by week.”
Getting a chance
During Monday’s practice, right guard Brandon Brooks left early with an ankle issue and was replaced by offseason acquisition Chance Warmack.
It’s notable that Warmack was the next guy up and not Stefen Wisniewski, who signed a three-year deal to stay in Philly this offseason.
“You know, I think Chance has gotten better every week,” Reich said. “[He has] really embraced what we do and how we do it. Obviously, being reunited with [offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland] has been a good thing. A great room — it’s a great culture in that room. So he’s very tough. Physical. Strong hands, very good run blocker. So those are the things you see in his game.”
Warmack was the 10th overall pick in the 2013 draft but has never quite lived up to that status. His hope in joining the Eagles was that his college position coach would be able to help him rediscover that magic.