If Carson Wentz and the bulk of the Eagles’ first-team offense don’t take the field for any preseason games, as seems to be the plan, the joint practices with the Baltimore Ravens Monday and Tuesday will be the only chance to evaluate that much-ballyhooed group before the season starts.
As Eagles coach Doug Pederson noted on Sunday, the Ravens had the NFL’s top-rated defense last season. So this should be a pretty good test.
“I feel like we got better today,” tight end Zach Ertz said after an hour and 45 minutes of work in suffocating heat, under a merciless South Philly sun. When the joint practice began, at 1:30 p.m., the AccuWeather “RealFeel” was 105 degrees. “They’re a great defense, a lot of talent on that side of the ball, so it’s a good test for us. I thought we had some good plays, bad plays. Watch some film and go back tomorrow.
“We’re getting a lot of reps, these two days. A lot of reps. Trying to build some mental toughness, I think, along with it. This is a good test for our offense, to be able to adjust on the fly, on the spot. I’m able to go against two really good safeties, in Earl [Thomas} and Tony [Jefferson}, so it’s a good test for me.”
Thomas told reporters there were similar benefits for the Baltimore defense, noting that “Carson Wentz is not a pushover.”
These sessions -- the Eagles and Ravens are working in pads but with limited contact, no tackling to the ground -- might eventually supplant preseason games as the best, safest way to prepare for the regular season, especially if the owners are successful in their quest to expand the season to 18 games.
The Eagles’ first-team offense seemed run-heavy at first – with Corey Clement looking sharp in his most extensive activity of training camp -- but eventually, Wentz completed long throws to Nelson Agholor and Alshon Jeffery. Wentz overthrew DeSean Jackson on a long ball he could have put more air under.
“I liked the way that we ran the ball,” Eagles offensive coordinator Mike Groh said. “We left some plays out here. We’ll get a chance to watch the tape and evaluate the reasons why.”
Asked about Wentz, who is scheduled to speak with reporters before the Tuesday practice, Groh said: “I thought Carson did a really good job. Like we’ve talked about all training camp, he is operating really quickly. He’s seeing everything. He’s communicating well. He knows where he wants to go with the ball. He’s picking his matchups. I love how he is working through his progressions. He’s had a tremendous camp.”
Asked about the overthrow to Jackson, Groh said: “Yeah, we want to complete those. That’s one of the reasons why we called [long bombs] today, and wanted to practice against the Ravens. Get more of those live reps with pushing the ball down the field. We know that those are plays we have to make, and that’s one of the things we’ll work on tomorrow.”
Ertz said that in a way, this work was easier than practicing against the Eagles’ defense.
“They don’t know every play we run. It’s good to go against a defense that you’re able to kind of keep ‘em on their toes,” Ertz said. “A little more room in the middle of the field with guys like DeSean and Alshon on the outside. Overall, I thought I had a decent day, but I definitely can improve.”
Clement has been limited much of camp as he recovers from the knee injury that ended his disappointing 2018 season last Dec. 11. He was very happy with the way Monday went.
“The [offensive line] did a great job of being on their side of the line of scrimmage, and giving great pushback for the run game to open up for some plays,” Clement said. “Getting a chance to burst through the hole, hit some defenders, delivering contact on my own end – it felt good.”
With Lane Johnson sitting out because of a knee injury, Jordan Mailata was the first-team right tackle, matched against starters for the first time in his brief football career. Mailata, a former rugby player in Australia, just took up the sport last year.
Asked how he thought the day went, Mailata said: “It was very hot. … I’m dead right now.”
Yes, Jordan, but the football part?
“I just went out there with my assignment every time. Pretty happy with that performance. I just took it play by play, focused on what I need to do,” Mailata said. “I would love to go against another team’s defense, especially their ‘ones,’ every week … Get that experience I’m lacking.”
The heat was the thing you noticed the most, more than any player on either team. Eagles rookie wideout J.J. Arcega-Whiteside was asked about the lack of chippiness or even trash-talking.
“It was too hot for all that,” he said.
As a native of the Low Country, around Charleston, S.C., Jeffery is an authority on football and heat.