PHILADELPHIA – Nick Mullens touched on something the other day when he was asked what he likes about the offense.
The third-string quarterback says he likes how the coaches want the QBs to take the easy completions. Many times, that means finding a running back as an outlet or firing out of the backfield into a quick pattern up the field.
That means the ability to catch the ball is at a premium and catching the ball hasn’t always been the strength of Jordan Howard, one of literally a handful of running backs fighting for a roster spot.
Howard has never had more than 20 catches in a career that dates back to 2016 and the 29 he had that season is still his career-high.
“It’s coming along pretty well,” said Howard following Wednesday’s practice. “Individually we work all this so when we get to team drills, we’ve seen it already, we know what to do. But we definitely have to be in tune with the routes and pass protection.”
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Howard has, so far, looked like a reborn running back, and maybe that’s because he is.
Last year’s failed season in Miami was an eye-opener for him. He signed a two-year, $9,75 million contract with the Dolphins following his only season with the Eagles in 2019. Yet, Miami only played him in five games before eventually releasing him late in the season and picked up again by the Eagles on Nov. 23 and put on their practice squad.
“Last year I went to Miami then the offensive coordinator told me I don’t really fit the offense,” said Howard. “That was a surprise to me…so just tried to come in in the best shape I could just to give myself a chance.”
Howard, 26, is making it a difficult choice as to who the Eagles will keep at running back, with Miles Sanders, Boston Scott, Kenny Gainwell, Kerryon Johnson, Elijah Holyfield, and Huntley in the mix.
“I definitely developed a new love,” said Howard, who ran for 1,313 yards and 1,122 yards in his first two seasons in the league with the Bears. “Last year was definitely trying, made me push myself a little bit. But last year is in the past, so I had to just put that in the past and go to work.
“I feel like I took things for granted early in my career, I’m just trying to get back, get a foothold in this game again. It’s motivated and pushed me.”
BACK TO SCHOOL
JaCoby Stevens made the defensive play of the day with an interception as he continues to transition not only to the NFL but to playing linebacker full-time.
His answer was easy as to how he is making the transition.
“(I) just study,” he said. “Studying takes care of everything. Even if I played the same position, you have to study because you’re coming into a new defense. It’s not college. So, the best thing I did for myself was study.
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Stevens isn’t so much worried about increasing his weight. He and strength and conditioning coach Ted Rath mapped out a plan, one that takes into account how comfortable he feels and at what weight he feels the most comfortable.
“We talked about it, gaining the weight and staying within my 15-pound weight range and keeping my body percent fat down, doing all that, and making sure at the end of the day I can play best JaCoby on Sunday or Monday or whatever day we play…
That’s what we’re worried about. We’re not worried about hey you have to be 235 and that’s it. It’s how do you feel here? Do you feel powerful? Do you feel fast? Do you feel explosive here? OK, that’s your weight range. I think we did a good job figuring that out."
Stevens said his range right now is 215 to 225 pounds.
The Eagles defensive coordinator opened a window a smidge for a look at his coaching style when he was asked about his impressions of Brandon Graham in the relatively short time they have been together.
First, his answer on Graham: “He's been a joy to be around. He's one of those guys, as a vet, that's played at a high level that you want on your defense. His energy is infectious, and it bleeds into the whole room. That whole room does a really good job with their energy, as you guys see that.”
And now, the glimpse: “I'm not a big sign guy, a big saying guy. I don't give motivational speeches, but the one thing we put up was, ‘Sustain positive enthusiasm.’ Anybody can go do it for a day, but can you do over four days, eight days, six weeks, eight weeks?”
Graham, for one, can.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“Coming from LSU in the SEC West, there’s still a transition because you’re going pro. But it isn’t such a great transition because you’re playing with those types of athletes, but you’re not seeing Fletcher Cox, BG, DB, all on one defensive line, either.
"You’re not seeing Lane Johnson, Kelce, Sanders, Boston Scott, you’re not seeing all those guys on one offense in the SEC. That’s more the adjustment. As far as the speed of the game goes, that transition I kind of got it a little quicker than most.” – Linebacker JaCoby Stevens when asked how his transition to the NFL was going.
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Ed Kracz is the publisher of SI.com’s Eagle Maven and co-host of the Eagles Unfiltered Podcast. Check out the latest Eagles news at www.SI.com/NFL/Eagles and please follow him on Twitter: @kracze.