Ahem … injuries. Another player was added to the pre-practice injury list after Sunday’s session at the Linc. Cornerback Craig James was listed with a left foot injury. He wore a boot, which would seem to indicate a heightened degree of significance, but he received a day-to-day designation. Receiver Jhamon Ausbon was also out, but the Eagles apparently forgot to include him in their report.
The following were limited: guard Brandon Brooks (hamstring), guard Isaac Seumalo (hamstring), receiver Michael Walker (foot), and defensive end Matt Leo (ramp-up after being on COVID-19 list). Aside from James, the following were day-to-day: linebacker Genard Avery (groin), safety Grayland Arnold (hamstring), and tight end Jason Croom (knee).
There wasn’t any change to the week-to-weekers: receiver DeVonta Smith (knee), receiver John Hightower (groin), linebacker Davion Taylor (calf), linebacker JaCoby Stevens (hamstring), and tackle Casey Tucker (biceps). Smith did a little more at practice than he had since suffering his injury — he did some light running — but the rookie is still a ways off.
Tub getting full. For all the talk about player availability as it relates to Nick Sirianni’s relatively light practices, the Eagles are about as injured as usual. Of the players listed above, the majority likely have soft-tissue strains, and those are the types of injuries the sports science department is supposed to help prevent. There’s no perfect solution, of course. You want to strike a balance. But I’d sacrifice a few cracked eggs for player readiness.
Several more players left practice early, and while specifics weren’t immediately known, the depth chart is getting thin at certain spots. Tackle Andre Dillard was the first to depart. He’s been dealing with some sort of hand issue for about a week, but he left with a knee sprain and is out on a week-to-week basis. Walker appeared to have further aggravated his foot injury and needed a cart to vacate the field. And safety K’Von Wallace left toward the end of practice with a groin injury. He’s week-to-week, as well.
Tempo tactic. The Eagles offense opened team drills with tempo and had some success with balanced execution. Quarterback Jalen Hurts hit receiver Travis Fulgham and tight end Zach Ertz on short routes, and in between running back Miles Sanders found creases on the ground. Sirianni isn’t going to want to have a one-note, hurry-up offense all the time — see: Chip Kelly — but I do think playing tempo with Hurts could be a recipe for success. He’d have less on his plate in terms of pre-snap decision-making, and could make most of his reads post-snap and play instinctively.
The read-pass option offense can be effective with the right pieces, and Sirianni said he brought in specific coaches — passing game coordinator Kevin Patullo being the most prominent — partly because of their experience with RPOs.
Slaying receivers. Darius Slay has been one of the most consistent performers in camp. He hasn’t gotten as much mention here as warranted, but established veterans can sometimes get snubbed because their effectiveness is expected. But Slay has shown no signs of slipping as he enters his 30s.
His man coverage stood out again in one-on-ones. Fulgham was able to pull in the first attempt even though Slay was on him like glue. But the corner’s defense was so sound in their next matchup that quarterback Nick Mullens didn’t even let a pass fly. Slay seems to get his hand on at least one ball daily in team drills. Hurts tried to go to Jalen Reagor over the middle during third down — the quarterback could have been guilty of staring down his receiver — but Slay was right there and batted the ball away.
Full Nelson. The questionable talent at receiver could explain the good camp the top corners have had thus far, but Steven Nelson has shown that he’s an obvious upgrade over whomever else the Eagles were considering to start opposite Slay. He has looked strong in man defense. Reagor got behind him on a fade in one-on-ones, but Nelson closed and Hurts’ deft touch was wasted when the ball dropped through the receiver’s outstretched arms.
In team play, his tight coverage had something to do with Fulgham failing to pull in a pass over the middle. But Nelson’s defense hasn’t been solely in the secondary. He fought off a Reagor block to stop Sanders in the backfield on a swing pass. The receiver blocking has been shaky throughout camp. Earlier, a bubble screen to Reagor was blown up when receiver Greg Ward couldn’t fend off corner Avonte Maddox.
Go-to Goedert. Dallas Goedert has had a somewhat quiet camp. He failed his conditioning test at the start because he ran the wrong way during one drill, but he hasn’t flashed the explosion we’ve become accustomed to very much. He had a couple of second-level grabs from Hurts on Tuesday, though, that offered a few glimpses of that potential. If I’m Hurts, Goedert and Ertz are my 1 and 1a options if the reads are based on coverage.
Smith will be a go-to target eventually, but the two tight ends have been there, done that, and know how to get separation over the middle. Even if Ertz is traded, Richard Rogers is a capable backup, and Tyree Jackson has made a strong case for the 53-man roster. A tight end can often be a young quarterback’s best friend.
Position battles. The Eagles released their first depth chart, and while it isn’t official, it did mostly reflect how each position stands. Jordan Mailata and Dillard were both listed at first-team tackle, and while the former has taken a clear lead in that competition, I think Sirianni wants to get through the preseason before making a final decision. That is, assuming, Dillard can play by Aug. 27. Mailata has just held up better, particularly against power.
Josh Sweat and Derek Barnett aren’t as much locked up in a competition for the right defensive end spot, because both will see the field plenty. But I have Sweat with the edge. Barnett, however, had a strong practice. He toasted tackle Brett Toth in second-unit team drills and brought fire all day. Maybe it was uncalled for, but Barnett drilled running back Kerryon Johnson after he ran dummy jet motion. Johnson was slow to get up and I’m not sure if he ever returned.
Watkins’ ceiling? I touched upon the receivers’ ineffectiveness earlier, but aside from Quez Watkins’ improvement and a few highlights from Reagor and Fulgham, the group has underperformed. Smith’s absence hasn’t helped matters. I’m not sure what the ceiling is for Watkins. His route running is much improved, as are his hands. He made a nice grab on a Joe Flacco pass thrown slightly behind him in team drills. And he found a soft spot underneath for an easy Hurts completion. But he’s not big and I wonder how he’ll fare once hitting restrictions are lifted. Thursday’s preseason opener could offer a glimpse.
Other high/lowlights. Reagor ran a nice comeback route vs. corner Kevon Seymour in one-on-ones. Defensive tackle Javon Hargrave beat guard Sua Opeta for a would-be sack in team play. Flacco hit a slanting Ward for a big gain. I liked the route concept vs. whatever zone defense coordinator Jonathan Gannon had called. The linebacker had to make a choice vs. the slant or the out, and when he bit on the out, Flacco fired to Ward. Flacco hooked up with receiver Andre Patton for a nice gain. Mullens had his daily throw-into-triple coverage pass. Linebacker Shaun Bradley got the pass breakup.
And a few leftovers … The Eagles have another walk-through Wednesday before Thursday’s game against the Steelers. That’s two walk-throughs in three days. … Eagles greats Darren Sproles and Brent Celek were at practice. Sproles has been assisting on the field the last two workouts.