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In Roob's Eagles Observations: Seeing John Ross in a new light

In Roob's Eagles Observations: Seeing John Ross in a new light originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

Why getting a chance to meet John Ross was so meaningful, encouraging signs from Cooper DeJean and the curious connection between the University of the Arts and the Eagles.

We’re all over the place with this week’s Roob’s 10 Random Eagles Offseason Observations.

1. I had always just dismissed John Ross as just “that first-round bust the Bengals drafted” and never thought much about him beyond that. Never considered that there was a human being behind that disappointing career, just chalked him up to another failed top-10 pick.

Ross was the ninth pick in the 2017 draft but had just 957 yards in parts of five seasons before retiring. Then the Eagles brought him in as a tryout player and ultimately signed him. And on Thursday we had the chance to talk to Ross about why he retired and why he came back this summer, and all of a sudden a guy I had always just thought of as a first-round bust became a real person who faced real challenges and came out the other side a better person. It was awesome getting a chance to meet him and hear his story.

If you haven’t seen the video, my colleague Dave Zangaro wrote about Ross’s emotional press conference, his first chance to discuss the ups and downs of his career. Ross spoke about how he had to step away from football for his mental health after an endless series of injuries and how spending the last two years with his young son Kyrie, now 7, helped him turn his life around: “He pulled me out of a bad place.” Ross said just getting the chance to try out for the Eagles made him the "happiest person on Earth" and said being away from the game for so long taught him to appreciate football more than ever. Ross showed so much joy and gratitude just being in OTAs and for a guy who was a top-10 pick seven years ago and is now trying to revive his career against extreme odds, that was incredible to see. I still think Ross is a huge longshot, but now he’s a longshot that it’s impossible not to root for.

2. Over the last six years, the Eagles have allowed six rushing touchdowns of at least 50 yards, and half of them were by Saquon Barkley – 50 yards at MetLife in 2018, 51 yards at the Linc in 2018 and 68 yards at MetLife in 2019. The Eagles won all three games by an average of 14 points. Nobody else since 1970 has even two 50-yard TD runs against the Eagles. John “Frenchy” Fuqua of the Steelers had a 72-yarder and 85-yarder in a 30-20 Eagles win at Franklin Field in 1970. Only Jim Brown also has two career 50-yard TD runs vs. the Eagles. Since 2020, Barkley’s longest TD run vs. the Eagles was a 7-yarder last year on Christmas Day at the Linc. The other 50-yard TD runs vs. the Eagles since 2018 were by Adrian Peterson, Aaron Jones and none other than Rashaad Penny. The Eagles are the only NFL team that hasn’t allowed a rushing touchdown of 25 yards over the last three years.

3. Since the NFL began tracking targets in 1992, the wide receivers with at least 500 targets and the highest yards per target averages are Justin Jefferson (10.2 yards per target), A.J. Brown (9.9) and DeSean Jackson (9.8).

4. One of the big mysteries of the 2023 season – and there were a lot of them – is why Brian Johnson got away from D’Andre Swift late in the season. Swift had the fourth-most touches in the NFL through the first Dallas game. He was averaging 18.3 touches and 87 yards per game, and the Eagles were rolling on offense. After that? He was healthy but inexplicably dropped to 11.9 touches per game and although he still found a way to turn those into 69 yards per game, he had the 31st-most scrimmage yards in the league from Week 10 through the end of the season (he didn’t play in the season finale). As he was playing less and less, the offense began sputtering. There were a lot of reasons for that, but getting away from Swift as a major part of the offense was certainly part of that equation. What really made no sense is that as the offense struggled more and more against the blitz, Johnson never figured out ways for Jalen Hurts to get the ball to Swift in the passing game against pressure. Swift, who had the fifth-most catches of all NFL running backs in his three years with the Lions, had only six catches for 17 yards in his last six games last year. None of it made any sense. A lot of last year made no sense. Swift is still only 25 and doesn’t have a lot of wear and tear – 788 touches in four seasons – and I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t have a very good 2024 with the Bears.

5. When Brandon Graham plays in his fifth game of the season, presumably against the Browns at the Linc on Oct. 13, he’ll become the seventh defensive end in NFL history to play in 200 games, all for one team. The six who’ve already done it are Ed “Too Tall” Jones of the Cowboys (224 games), the Giants’ Michael Strahan (216), the Oilers’ Elvin Bethea from Trenton (210), current Saint Cameron Jordan (209), the Rams’ Jack Youngblood (202) and the Giants’ George Martin (201). Strahan, Bethea and Youngblood are Hall of Famers.

6. Chuck Bednarik is the oldest Eagle ever to record an interception. He was 36 years, 216 days old when he recorded his 20th and final NFL interception in December 1961 in a game against the Steelers at Forbes Field. Bednarik picked off Steelers QB Rudy Bukichat the Steelers’ 31-yard-line and ran 30 yards before getting knocked out of bounds at the 1-yard-line by Steelers offensive lineman Charlie Bradshaw. Clarence Peaks scored on the next play and the Eagles won 35-24.

7. The NFLPA’s recent proposal to eliminate spring practices in exchange for a ramp-up period immediately prior to training camp is curious and a little surprising. I’ve always felt spring practices are invaluable for rookies and all young players and really anybody who’s new to the team. It gives players in a new system a head start and the opportunity to spend the six-week gap between OTAs and training camp learning and studying on their own so when they get to camp they’re ready to practice at a high level. With the ramp-up period, you lose that and you also deprive players of a good chunk of summer to be off and with their kids and families. Back in the day, the Eagles had a very similar system - what Buddy Ryan called “voluntary camp.” It was a two-week period where the Eagles practiced in shorts and shirts at JFK Stadium immediately before heading to West Chester for camp. Those practices were open to the public (and generally drew maybe a dozen or two fans). But things were so different back then. A lot of players still had offseason jobs and they needed those practices to get in shape for training camp. That’s obviously no longer the case. To me, offseason practices in the spring just make a lot more sense than late in the summer.

8. Was only a few weeks ago that Vic Fangio was saying it’s unusual for him to throw more than one position at rookies from the start because most of them can’t handle it mentally. “There's a lot of players that physically are capable of being versatile. Where a lot of them get eliminated from being versatile is they struggle to learn the assignments and the techniques and the execution at a couple different positions. There's a lot of guys that are versatile physically, but can't do it mentally.” So what did we see at practice on Thursday? Cooper DeJean playing both outside corner and slot corner … on consecutive snaps. Tells you how smart this kid is. Five days into DeJean's first minicamp, Fangio had already developed such a high level of trust in him that he was treating him like a veteran. DeJean got one rep with the first defense Thursday in the slot, but with Avonte Maddox now getting some work at safety, I wouldn’t be surprised to see DeJean get more work inside with the first group at this week’s mandatory sessions.

9. On opening day last year, the only Eagles’ cornerback 27 or younger who played on defense was Josh Jobe. This year, they’ll likely have 21-year-old DeJean, 22-year-old Kelee Ringo, 22-year-old Eli Ricks, 23-year-old Quinyon Mitchell and 26-year-old Isaiah Rodgers all in uniform.

10. With the sad news that University of the Arts is abruptly closing, I was reminded of the remarkable connection between the school’s campus and the Eagles. The first NFL draft was quietly held Feb. 8, 1936, at the old Philadelphia Ritz-Carlton Hotel. The original Ritz-Carlton was built in 1914 at the southeast corner of Broad and Walnut, and that’s where the Eagles made the first draft pick in history, selecting University of Chicago running back Jay Berwanger, the 1935 Heisman Trophy winner. Berwanger famously decided not to play professional football so he could train for the Olympic decathlon and eventually went to work for a rubber company. The Ritz-Carlton was built by Philly streetcar magnate George Widener (who died in the Titanic sinking) but eventually faded and closed in 1954, and the old hotel was turned into an office building. For much of the 1980s and 1990s, the building was mostly vacant, but in 1997, the University of the Arts acquired the old hotel and began painstakingly renovating it, spending $30 million and transforming it into the Daniel J. Terra Building, which houses a theater, recital hall, music studios, classrooms and much more. Terra, a world-renowned art collector and philanthropist, had donated $22 million to the school in 1995, a year before he died. Now what? It's a spectacular building with a rich history, and hopefully the home of the NFL’s first draft 88 years ago finds new life very soon.