The Eagles held their fourth open practice of organized team activities on Wednesday. Here are some of the highlights:
1. There wasn’t much change in terms of players who were absent from the previous open practice on Monday. Receiver DeSean Jackson, who had been a steady playmaker in the first three sessions, apparently decided to take a day off. Receiver Nelson Agholor wasn’t out on the field for the second straight open practice, but I saw him indoors later on. The Eagles seem to be almost encouraging certain veterans to avoid OTAs and the possibility of injury. There weren’t any additions to the injury report, although safety Blake Countess wasn’t in attendance for an unknown reason. The Eagles signed safety Trae Elston Wednesday likely because of their low numbers at the position. Receiver Carlton Agudosi, who worked out on a separate field Monday, was back with the rest of the team.
2. With Jackson, Agholor and Alshon Jeffery missing, the first team offense was without its top three receivers. We should get to see the unit at its full potential next week during minicamp. That certainly wasn’t the case Wednesday with J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, Charles Johnson and Greg Ward as their replacements. They’re all fine receivers – and I’ll have more on the rookie in a moment – but there were several instances when Carson Wentz’s lack of chemistry with the three seemed to affect the offense. Arcega-Whiteside has had a solid first camp, however. His best moments have come in the red zone and he delivered another gem Wednesday when he caught a corner fade from quarterback Nate Sudfeld. The catch was nice, but the route was more impressive. Arcega-Whiteside gave Jeremiah McKinnon a little stutter-step and the cornerback took the bait and quite frankly looked bad doing so. Sudfeld’s floater into the end zone was on the money. I think we’ll be seeing more of the Eagles’ second-round draft pick in the red zone this season.
3. Sidney Jones has had a positive spring and he ended Wednesday’s workout with an exclamation point when rookie quarterback Clayton Thorson tried to throw his own corner fade into the end zone. Receiver Braxton Miller didn’t get the kind of separation that Arcega-Whiteside had gotten earlier, but the decision to throw a jump ball there wasn’t necessarily a bad one. But Thorson had hardly any air under his toss and Miller never stood a chance. Jones, to his credit, turned his head and was able to secure the ball for a practice-ending interception. He made up for an earlier drop on another ill-advised Thorson throw. The Eagles defense was a playing a deep zone – something like a Cover 3 or 4 – but Thorson threw into a Bermuda Triangle of defensive backs. The pass wobbled short and into Jones’ arms, but he couldn’t hang on. Thorson hit on a couple sideline routes, but he seemed to struggle Wednesday. It’s early in his development. Every quarterback has his welcome to the NFL moment.
4. Injuries and veteran absences have given several players opportunities they might not have otherwise had and have further muddied the waters in terms of who will open the season in the back seven, specifically at linebacker and cornerback. On Wednesday, Nate Gerry was the first team middle linebacker, Kamu Grugier-Hill was the weakside and Zach Brown was the strong-side. Gerry and Grugier-Hill were the nickel linebackers. Jones and Rasul Douglas have mostly been the “starting” outside cornerbacks with Ronald Darby (knee) and Jalen Mills (foot) sidelined. (Darby told reporters after practice that he was hoping to be ready to practice by training camp and play by Week 1, although that sounds overly optimistic. Mills declined to address his foot injury and would only say that he was “on a good timetable.”) Avonte Maddox has mostly been in the slot. When the Eagles were in base, Maddox and Douglas were the lone corners. Tre Sullivan and Andrew Sendejo have been the safeties with Malcolm Jenkins incognito and Rodney McLeod recovering from a torn ACL. Deiondre’ Hall, who had a nice practice Monday, has been the third safety in dime.
5. McKinnon, despite the Arcega-Whiteside catch, has actually made his share of plays. The journeyman has an uphill climb to the roster, but you can see why five other teams had previously given him looks. Of course, you can also see why he hasn’t latched onto a team for longer than a few months. He bounced back admirably after giving up the touchdown. During team red zone drills, Sudfeld tried to float a pass to tight end Josh Perkins in the back of the end zone, but McKinnon was on him like glue, even though his technique might not have been perfect. “I don’t know how you did that,” defensive backs coach Cory Undlin said, “but you did.” Two plays later, Sudfeld went to Shelton Gibson, who had the inside on a slant, but McKinnon ran with him step for step and simply reached around the receiver and swatted the ball to the turf.
6. I haven’t made previous mention of Malik Jackson in my practice notes, but he seemed extra motivated Wednesday. The new Eagles defensive tackle killed a play when he shot into the backfield and tagged Wentz down. During the “backed up” period, Jackson motored past guard Matt Pryor to Sudfeld for a would-be safety. The veteran had lost his starting job with the Jaguars last season because they had soured on his run defense. Even if he isn’t dominant against the run in Philly, I can’t imagine that Jackson doesn’t have a significant impact as a pass rusher.
7. Here’s a running diary of some of the remaining plays from the first unit: The Eagles spent most of the first half of practice working on their two-minute drill. Wentz wasn’t as sharp as he had been in the first three open workouts, but personnel may have factored into some of his errant throws. On his first pass, Johnson turned in and Wentz’s pass went out. A dump to running back Wendell Smallwood went off his hands. Wentz tried to hit tight end Dallas Goedert over the middle, but Gerry read his eyes and batted the ball. Defensive end Brandon Graham jumped offsides when the offense was backed up on their own 1. A few plays later, Wentz threw out of the end zone on third down, but Ward wasn’t open over the middle and he threw the ball at his feet. Hall had trouble covering Donnell Pumphrey out of the backfield and the running back had the corner. After a few failed hook ups with receivers during 7 on 7s, Wentz threw to his trusty tight end down the seam, but the pass sailed high off Zach Ertz’s outstretched hand.
8. The second unit: Sudfeld opened the two-minute drill with an accurate heave to Goedert on a 10-yard out. He tried to hit Gibson a deep post and the ball was there, but McKinnon kept the receiver from making a play on the ball. Josh Sweat notched back-to-back would-be sacks. His aggressiveness on the second resulted in Sudfeld falling to the turf. The second-year defensive end has made a mark this spring. Sudfeld hit Gibson on a crosser out of the end zone. His best pass may have been a zipper to tight end Richard Rodgers on a short slant over the goal line.
9. The third unit didn’t get much action until the end of practice and Thorson only hit on a couple of short throws outside the numbers. He was nearly picked off again when he threw short of DeAndre Thompkins. I don’t know if his receiver ran the wrong route, but the whole play was ugly with linebacker L.J. Fort dropping an easy interception.