1. Andre Dillard returned to practice Tuesday, but for only a walkthrough. He was a full participant Wednesday, however, and was back with the first team at left tackle. While Doug Pederson said before practice that he had been impressed with Dillard, his performance at camp hasn’t exactly matched the coach’s assessment. Dillard is noticeably larger. He added about 20 pounds. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s stronger.
There was a brief scare during team drills midway through practice. Defensive end Joe Ostman bull rushed Dillard and drove him back into quarterback Carson Wentz, who bent backward. Ostman eased up a touch at the end, and Wentz bounced up, averting disaster, but it wasn’t a good look for the second-year tackle. I don’t want to make too much of one play, and when practices aren’t full go you have to consider the level of competitiveness. But your would-be starting left guard shouldn’t be that easy to tip over.
Dillard didn’t have a poor workout overall. He took only one rep during one-on-ones, but he did well to fend off a Josh Sweat power/speed rush. And he rebounded against Ostman the next time they met. But you also have to wonder where Dillard is physically after missing several days with an upper body injury. A little later in practice, he took a knee next to a trainer, and as they were engaged in conversation, the first unit offense took the field sans Dillard. Alerted, he stood up, strapped on his helmet and rejoined his teammates.
2. The Eagles’ early struggles on offense against the defense have been well documented, but Wednesday marked the first time I thought the former outplayed the latter. The first unit got off to a strong start when Wentz hit a streaking/leaping Jalen Reagor. The rookie has some “bunnies,” as cornerback Darius Slay called the wide receiver’s hops. Two plays later, Wentz went deep, tossing a jump ball to rookie John Hightower, who had Avonte Maddox on him like glue. Hightower won the 50-50 ball – he does have a five-inch advantage over the 5-foot-9 corner – for about a 50-yard catch.
Wentz aired it out several times – more than he has in any other practice thus far – but Hightower got tangled up with Slay on a deep post, and Reagor couldn’t catch up to a steamer down the sideline. Later in the red zone, Wentz was excellent. I’ll have more detail later. His lone costly mistake came when he overshot tight end Zach Ertz on a seam route, and cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman vaulted for an interception.
3. The Eagles have a few bottom-roster decisions at defensive end and the most significant development was Genard Avery’s injury. He went down early in practice with an apparent right knee injury. He was clearly in distress as trainers evaluated his leg. He was carted off, and before he left, Pederson and players offered their support. Avery was on the bubble, but his expected departure could pave the way for either Ostman or Casey Toohill – or both – to make the team. I got Shareef Miller as the odd man out if the Eagles keep six ends.
Toohill did well in one-on-ones, particularly when matched against rookie Prince Tega Wanogho. The rookie end used his hands to get around the tackle on his first rush and knocked him back on his heels with a bull rush on his second turn. Toohill is considered more of an athletic end than a power one , but he’s shown some strength. Of course, Tega Wanogho may not yet be the best competition. Toohill took some reps with the first unit defense during team drills, which could show that he’s making hay with coaches. Miller struggled to disengage from rookie tackle Jack Driscoll in one-on-ones. He was credited with sacking Wentz from the backside but was unblocked.
4. Sidney Jones (lower body) returned to practice, but he partook in only individual drills. Receiver DeSean Jackson was given a veteran maintenance day off. Running back Miles Sanders (lower body), tackle Lane Johnson (upper body), defensive end Derek Barnett (lower body), defensive tackle Javon Hargrave (pec strain), tackle Jordan Mailata (upper body), and safety Marcus Epps (lower body) remained out.
The Eagles placed tight end Josh Perkins (upper body) on injured reserve.
5. I’m liking the new J.J. Arcega-Whiteside. The second-year receiver had another strong session and was asked to detail a spectacular catch he made in the end zone. “You’ll have to be more specific,” Arcega-Whiteside said. “I had two or three of those today.” Flex.
But it’s true. Arcega-Whiteside showed off some of the skills that made the Eagles draft him in the second round a year ago. I don’t want to get carried away, just as I’m unwilling to give up on Dillard. Arcega-Whiteside showed last preseason that he has the ability to play in the NFL. The biggest problem for him was digesting all the information being thrown at him in a short time. But Arcega-Whiteside clearly worked hard in the offseason to get stronger, both physically and mentally.
The aforementioned catch was a highlight. Wentz rolled right as his receivers went into scramble mode. He appeared to be going to receiver Greg Ward, who was tiptoeing along the back line. But Arcega-Whiteside was ahead moving in the opposite direction, and, as the ball arrived, he stuck a hand out, tipped it to himself and somehow got both feet inbounds. Earlier in the red zone, Wentz rifled a pass to Arcega-Whiteside, who stretched out for the touchdown.
6. Ward came up big late last season, but I wonder if his spot on the roster is as secure as some believe. He’s had a solid camp but hasn’t stood out like Deontay Burnett, who logged some first-team reps in the slot Wednesday. Burnett wears No. 16, which looks a lot like No. 18 in the Eagles’ uniform numbering, so I confused him for Reagor from a distance. Up close, Burnett gives away about 15 pounds, but he moves well and catches pretty much every ball thrown his way. He stumbled a touch on a dig route, but he recovered and made a splendid one-handed catch on a Wentz attempt.
Speaking of Reagor, he must have caught about a half dozen passes near the line – screens, flares, etc. – that were designed to gain yards after the catch. The Eagles will find ways to get the ball in his hands.
7. Cornerback Rasul Douglas recorded another interception when quarterback Nate Sudfeld overcooked a pass to his intended receiver. The period was live, and Douglas returned the pick through a maze of players before lateraling to Craig James, who dove inside the pylon for a score.
Maddox dropped what could have been an interception from Wentz
8. Will the Eagles carry a fourth running back, and, if so, is he even on the current roster? Sanders, Boston Scott and a rejuvenated Corey Clement are locks. Theoretically, there doesn’t need to be a fourth guy, but do the Eagles want a little more insurance in case Sanders gets hurt? They were looking at veterans during the offseason, but with Sanders expected to shoulder most of the workload, it’s likely been hard to lure names to the nest.
Elijah Holyfield has gotten the most reps among the three tailbacks fighting for the last spot. He runs hard but isn’t especially flashy. He did leave linebacker Shaun Bradley in his dust with a nasty spin move. Holyfield has some fight, too, pun intended. He got animated after several impressive runs, which drew scorn from the defensive sideline.
Adrian Killins is pint sized (5-8, 177 pounds), but he’s quick and versatile. The Eagles have looked at him at both running back and slot receiver. His speed is evident. He said that he thinks he’s the fastest player on the Eagles, which is saying something considering the receiver speed added to the roster. But no preseason could hurt his chances. The Eagles wisely didn’t expend a draft pick on Killins, having learned their lesson with the Donnel Pumphrey debacle three years ago.
9. Every team should have a Brandon Graham. The defensive end rarely takes days/plays off and doesn’t often take advantage of the breaks veterans are typically afforded. He jumped in on one-on-ones against Driscoll. Graham complimented the rookie last week – even if he forgot his last name and called him “Jake” – and apparently deemed him worthy of extra work. Driscoll couldn’t handle Graham’s combination of speed and power on the first rep. But he fared better the second time around and was able to steer the end outside.