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Eagles practice observations: Birds win the day vs. Pats; Jalen Hurts trending up; DeVonta Smith nears full return

Hurts had a strong practice but also some moments he'd like to have back while facing the Patriots.

Eagles wide receiver Quez Watkins (right) makes a catch during a joint practice with the Patriots on Monday.
Eagles wide receiver Quez Watkins (right) makes a catch during a joint practice with the Patriots on Monday.Read moreMONICA HERNDON / Staff Photographer

The Eagles held their 13th practice of training camp at the NovaCare Complex on Monday. Here are links to Days 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12. Let’s get to Day 13′s action, which was the first of two joint practices with the Patriots.

Eagles WRs with the edge. The first competitive period of practice pitted receivers vs. defensive backs in one-on-one drills. With drills being held on two fields, I focused on the Eagles’ offense. I thought the receivers, particularly Jalen Reagor and Quez Watkins, fared well. Reagor struggled to get out of his break and stumbled on his first repetition vs. Pats cornerback J.C. Jackson. But the second-year receiver snared a deep jump ball over cornerback Michael Jackson Sr. It was tightly contested, and Reagor’s hands were strong. He caught another on a crisp out route. Watkins’ speed can be tough to contain in man coverage. He lost a defender over the middle with a quick break, and later left J.C. Jackson in his wake after losing him at the line with a stutter step. Watkins bobbled Jalen Hurts’ pass, but he pulled the ball in before the pylon. The receiver drew a holding penalty on Jackson a few snaps later. Patriots coach Bill Belichick called his player over and grabbed his shirt presumably to demonstrate what he had done wrong. Jackson tried a physical approach and jammed Watkins at the line, but the receiver still got off and hooked up with Hurts. On the other side of the field, Travis Fulgham and JJ Arcega-Whiteside struggled to get separation. Former Eagle Jalen Mills, still sporting kelly-green hair, brought the juice. He’s back at corner after a season at safety. He broke up Hurts’ first toss — on a slant — to Fulgham, and his sticky coverage on their next matchup disrupted the receiver’s route. Arcega-Whiteside did well to muscle through contact, but pulling away from corners remained an issue. Greg Ward had his way with slot corner Dee Virgin on a deep corner. He later got behind corner Jonathan Jones. Ward had a tougher time against Mills when he jumped inside. One note: Stephon Gilmore, the Patriots’ best corner, and one of the NFL’s best over the last several seasons, was out with a quad injury.

Hurts so good. Hurts had a strong practice against a defense that is expected to be above average. Yeah, Gilmore was sidelined, but considering the fact that the Eagles offensive line didn’t have one of its better days, I thought the quarterback did well. Hurts was mostly on the money in one-on-ones. His first toss in team drills was a strike to tight end Dallas Goedert. After a few rushes, he zipped a toss to a crossing Watkins. Hurts was shaky in seven-on-sevens (more on that later), but he showed when it mattered most. He lofted a rainbow after Reagor beat J.C. Jackson on a go route. There was a slight bobble, but Reagor secured the ball before the pylon. The offense had some miscues, but they were hardly Hurts’ fault. A high Jason Kelce snap essentially killed a play. Miles Sanders dropped a pass out of the backfield. Nick Sirianni said last week that the running back was having trouble securing the ball on angle routes, but this was on a swing pass. There were also a couple of false starts, one by tackle Matt Pryor that drew a glare from the quarterback. Hurts, undeterred, hooked up with tight end Zach Ertz on consecutive plays a period later. He strong-armed a BB to Goedert, who beat his man down the seam. In two-minute, Hurts drove the offense down to the 12-yard line with four seconds left. He rolled right on a sprint out, hit Reagor on a comeback, but the pass was ruled incomplete. Reagor either stepped out of bounds before the catch or he failed to get both feet in bounds.

Hurts not as good. While there were more positives than negatives, Hurts had a few moments he’d like to have back. During the first team period, Watkins broke free on a deep post. Hurts clearly saw it, but for some reason he didn’t pull the trigger and eventually had to eat the play. He and Watkins spoke afterward, and Hurts later said it was simply about communication. There were a couple of unseemly interceptions in seven-on-sevens. Hurts threw high off Goedert’s hand and the ball was deflected to linebacker Matt Juden. A play or so later, he didn’t see linebacker JaWhaun Bentley underneath and tossed a would-be pick six. Hurts had a couple of downs when he could have done a better job of hanging in the pocket, but there was also consistent pressure from the Patriots’ front.

» READ MORE: Eagles’ Jalen Hurts excited to meet Cam Newton in joint practice with Patriots; strives to be more efficient

Collision course. There’s always bound to be testy moments when two teams meet on the practice field, but even though the Eagles and Patriots avoided fights or scrums, there was some hard contact. Derek Barnett was my pre-scrimmage candidate as the most likely Eagle to get into a brouhaha. On one team drill play, he dropped into coverage, and just as a pass sailed by tight end Matt LaCosse, the defensive end stood his ground. LaCosse collapsed like he ran into a brick wall, but Barnett’s shot didn’t look intentional. He hung around to make sure the Patriot was OK, but LaCosse eventually left practice. The Eagles had a scare late when cornerback Darius Slay was upended by teammate Avonte Maddox. Slay landed on his shoulder and was down for a bit. He got up and walked off on his own, but watched the rest of the session on the sideline. He seemed fine afterward, though.

Dropped INTs. Good news: The Eagles’ secondary got hands on a number of balls downfield. Bad news: The defensive backs couldn’t finish what should have been a few relatively easy interceptions. Safety Andrew Adams had two would-be picks hit the ground. On the first, Patriots rookie quarterback Mac Jones aired a pass deep that Adams tracked. But the ball slid through his hands. The second was more egregious. Jones again threw one up for grabs and Adams was there in the post. But he jumped and the ball clanged off his paws. Cornerback Josiah Scott dropped a would-be gift from Jones, as well. Linebacker Alex Singleton came close to interceptions in seven-on-sevens, but both would have been remarkable plays had they been made. Still, it might be time for the defensive backs to hit the JUGS machine.

First team defense high/lowlights. Cam Newton didn’t impress. Most will remember the pick he threw to linebacker Eric Wilson at the end of two-minute, but his throws were errant throughout the day. The Patriots’ offensive struggles weren’t all his fault, of course. Defensive tackle Javon Hargrave beat a New England guard for a sack. Linebacker T.J. Edwards avoided a block and stopped a screen. Newton had a couple of accurate tosses before the interception. He found Nelson Agholor in front of cornerback Steven Nelson, and went to the former Eagles receiver again over the middle in front of safety Marcus Epps. But defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon was playing soft with New England needing to score a touchdown. Newton, after a spike, threw behind his tight end in the middle and then directly to Wilson when he went back to the same target. In the run game, I thought there was a stalemate. The Eagles offense had a tougher time on the ground. Sanders darted through a giant hole on an early split-zone run, but it was tough sledding for most of the day. I’m not too worried about the Eagles O-line. With guards Brandon Brooks and Isaac Seumalo just getting back into the mix, there could be some chemistry issues.

Second team offense high/lowlights. Joe Flacco might have had the throw of the day when he floated a strike to receiver Andre Patton in the back corner of the end zone. The touchdown came during two-minute. The Eagles’ backup quarterback had a rough start. He threw wildly over tight end Jason Croom. And then favorite-receiver Tyree Jackson dropped a pass after Flacco was flushed. (Jackson had another drop on his next target.) One deep heave to running back Kenneth Gainwell was about 10 yards out of bounds. The rookie running back, to his credit, still ran it down. But Flacco finished strong in the two-minute. He went back to Jackson for about 20 yards on a crosser, and set up the score with a shortie to Patton.

Second team defense high/lowlights. Zech McPhearson has assimilated to the NFL, but the rookie cornerback hadn’t seen an opposing receiver as talented as Agholor. The former first-rounder had his ups and downs in Philly and never quite delivered upon his promise, but he’s always had the tools. He mostly had his way with McPhearson. I missed the matchup in one-on-ones — although I heard it was a rough go for the rookie — but Agholor ran him in circles in team drills. He either beat him in man — over the top or underneath — or in zone. He caught two passes in the Cover 2 “turkey hole” — the sideline space between the corner and safety. And later toasted McPhearson on a fade. Jones started well, looked indecisive in between, but finished with a touchdown-scoring rip when receiver N’Keal Harry got behind cornerback Michael Jacquet in two-minute.

Ahem … injuries. The most significant pre-practice update was that receiver DeVonta Smith was upgraded to a limited participant. He only participated in some individual drills and ran off to the side, but the rookie is nearing a return. The other limited players: receiver John Hightower (groin), linebacker Genard Avery (groin), safety K’Von Wallace (groin), safety Grayland Arnold (hamstring), tackle Le’Raven Clark (ramp up), Seumalo (hamstring) and Croom (knee). The following are still out on a day-to-day basis: linebacker Joe Ostman (concussion), defensive end Ryan Kerrigan (thumb), running back Jason Huntley (ribs) and cornerback Craig James (foot). The following are still week-to-week: tackle Andre Dillard (knee), running back Kerryon Johnson (knee), linebacker JaCoby Stevens (hamstring), linebacker Davion Taylor (calf) and tackle Casey Tucker (biceps). Dillard had a brace on his right knee.

And a few leftovers … Mills was feisty, per usual. He got into it with tackle Jordan Mailata and Reagor after one play. When Mills apparently jumped offside, Mailata tapped him on the side of the helmet to reinforce the penalty. He said afterward that he’d been coached to touch a defender who jumps, but he probably shouldn’t have tapped his helmet. Mills pushed him back and Reagor jumped in, but the dustup was brief. Mills and Agholor spent a lot of their post-practice time embracing and talking with their former teammates. … Tuesday’s practice is expected to be about the same as Monday’s, with players in pads for about a two-hour workout.