At his May 28 news conference, Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz changed, at least a little bit, his answer to the first question of the session. He shifted his answer to a statement about the reason for the offseason training practices, both voluntary and mandatory.
“You’re going to see it probably more now and then early in camp, and then when we get later in camp, probably zero guys in to compete for some certain spots,” Schwartz said. “This time of year, we’re really not competing. The players are really competing against themselves. They’re not competing against their teammates, they’re not competing against somebody else at the position or the offense. They’re competing to get themselves better as a player. We try to keep that in mind at this time of year.”
Schwartz was saying that all the coaches are watching to see which players are absorbing what they are trying to teach them about becoming an NFL player.
It appears, at least at this stage, former Archbishop Wood High School and Penn State standout offensive lineman Ryan Bates has grasped that aspect of the first stage of trying to land a spot on the Eagles roster or practice squad as a rookie free agent.
After the last minicamp session on June 13, Bates was asked if he had learned a lot in what is a relatively short period of time.
“Absolutely. Being around some of the guys here, offensive line coach (Jeff) Stoutland, around this whole offense, it’s been a tremendous experience,” Bates said at his locker. “I get to play on a hometown team. I get to watch some of the people I grew up watching like (Jason) Peters, (Jason) Kelce, Lane (Johnson)…it’s a tremendous experience. I’m trying to take advantage of every opportunity I get.”
The Eagles’ offensive line room, over the last few years, has had a reputation of welcoming all players, from high draft picks to rookie free agents. Bates was asked if the reputation was true.
“I felt nothing but welcome since I set foot on the NovaCare campus,” Bates said. “I felt an immediate connection with the guys. It’s been going great so far.”
Bates asked about how players come to the Eagles and are thrilled to just be coached by Stoutland, even if it is for just one season or training camp. Is he the offensive line guru he has been touted as?
“Absolutely,” Bates said without hesitation. “He’s a tremendous coach. I’ve learned more from him in, what is it, the past 10 weeks I’ve been here, than (all the time) I have been playing football.”
Bates immediately walked back the enormity of that statement with a bit of a laugh.
“That might have been a bit of an exaggeration,” he said. “It’s because he’s a defensive coach and he puts his perspective, a different perspective for you as an offensive lineman. He teaches you defenses, different coverages, where the pressure is coming from. It’s awesome to learn from him. I’ve never been taught defense before (at this level). I’m just trying to be like a sponge and absorb all this information he’s throwing at you.”
The period Schwartz talked about is now over. The period where these new players are not competing for jobs right now and are just competing against themselves to try to understand what goes on at the next level is done.
Bates is trying to land a spot on the Eagles O-line that has Pro Bowlers and All-Pros at four of the five starting positions. Two current backups, Stefen Wisniewski and Halapoulivaati Vaitai, started on the offensive line for the Eagles’ 2017 Super Bowl championship team. If that’s not daunting enough, the Birds’ first-round pick in 2018 was offensive tackle Andre Dillard.
Bates was asked if he feels as confident after these first 10 weeks as he did when he walked out onto the Eagles practice field for the first time in May.
“That’s a tough question,” Bates said. “Because anything can happen. People can get hurt, anybody can get cut at any second. I’m just taking advantage of every opportunity I get.”
Bates, like the rest of the rookies, will be competing for a job when training camp opens later in the summer. If the Bucks County native continues to balance confidence and a willingness to learn like he has so far, his chances are good. ••
Follow Al Thompson on Twitter @thompsoniii