The Eagles held their first formal practice of the spring.
While it’s just the beginning of a long process until the start of the season, Tuesday’s session offered the first glimpse of the 2019 team.
Here were my observations:
1. Where else to start but with Carson Wentz? Coach Doug Pederson announced before practice that the quarterback would work without limitations following months-long rehab for a stress fracture in his back. That was the good news. The even better news was that Wentz looked sharp throughout the 100-minute workout. Pederson and Wentz didn’t address whether the bone was fully healed, but there are still 2 1/2 months until the Eagles’ first preseason game. If he’s not yet 100 percent, that should conceivably be enough time to get there. Wentz practiced without a knee brace, which he eventually admitted bothered him to some degree last season. I’ll get to some individual moments from Wentz’s performance at practice, but he moved seemingly without restriction and threw with his typical velocity and accuracy.
2. There were about a dozen players who didn’t practice, some because they opted not to attend and others because of injury. Safety Malcolm Jenkins, tackle Jason Peters, tackle Lane Johnson, wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, and linebacker Zach Brown were apparently absent for reasons unrelated to injury. Jenkins has missed all of offseason workouts and is believed to want a new contract. Peters, Johnson and Jeffery were likely taking veteran days. Brown’s whereabouts were unknown.
3. The following players were present at practice but didn’t partake in individual or team drills: cornerback Ronald Darby (knee), safety Rodney McLeod (knee), running back Corey Clement (knee), linebacker Nigel Bradham (hand) and rookie running back Miles Sanders (unknown). Defensive end Derek Barnett (shoulder) and running back Josh Adams (unknown) participated in some individual drills but were held out of team. Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox (foot), guard Brandon Brooks (Achilles), cornerback Jalen Mills (foot) and receiver Mack Hollins (groin) weren’t at practice, although they could have been rehabbing inside. The first three weren’t expected to be ready by this point, but Hollins’ continued absence is cause for concern. He missed all of last season after multiple groin surgeries.
4. The Eagles won’t release a depth chart for months, but team drills did allow for an early look at the three units, despite the various missing pieces. Here’s my rough draft of the depth chart. It came of little surprise that top draft pick Andre Dillard would be holding down Peters’ spot at starting left tackle. Halapoulivaati Vaitai would normally be slotted into Johnson’s spot, but the Eagles clearly want to see the fourth-year lineman at guard. He already has left-right tackle versatility. Being able to play guard would give him additional value (on the trade market?). Jordan Mailata played exclusively at left tackle last year. The Eagles are giving him an early look-see on the right.
5. DJacc is back. Have to admit it felt weird seeing DeSean Jackson in his old No. 10 on the NovaCare pitch. It was almost as if the last five years never happened, judging by the way he ran. Jackson, sporting a pair of flashy sapphire blue cleats, flashed his patented speed on several comeback routes. There weren’t any deep connections with Wentz. He nearly hooked up with backup quarterback Nate Sudfeld on a long fade, but the throw was just out of reach. Jackson and Wentz had several completions, but it will take time to develop chemistry. There was a miscommunication on one red-zone route with Jackson going one way and Wentz the other. They spoke briefly after, with Wentz pointing something out to the receiver. Jackson caught a short pass later in practice under Avonte Maddox, who clipped him. He had some words for the second-year cornerback but didn’t seem malicious.
6. It’s difficult to assess running backs during non-contact practices, especially on the ground, but the newly acquired Jordan Howard ran hard. It’s no secret that he isn’t a burner. I didn’t recall seeing him catch many passes out of the backfield. With Sanders, Clement, and Adams on the sideline, Donnel Pumphrey and Boston Scott logged a significant number of snaps. Pumphrey looked fine, but I recall thinking the same two springs ago after he was drafted. His reemergence had me trying to recall the last Eagles running back who had an impact after toiling for years here or elsewhere. Often with running backs, you know what you’re going to get during that first season.
7. Here’s my running diary of team drills with the first units: Wentz’s first pass may have been his worst. He was nearly intercepted by linebacker Nate Gerry, who undercut a short toss. A series later, Wentz hit tight end Zach Ertz with a play-action pop pass over the middle. He then found J.J. Arcega-Whiteside on a slant. The rookie receiver showed soft hands. Wentz’s best toss may have come during three-on-three drills. He dropped a dime over Ertz’s shoulder on a corner route. Wait. Check that. Wentz fired a dart to tight end Dallas Goedert, who had no trouble plucking the ball out of the air, that was just as impressive. The Eagles may have the best receiving tight end combo in the NFL. Paging “12” personnel. Cornerback Sidney Jones had tight man coverage on receiver Charles Johnson and Wentz threw the ball into the dirt. Wentz sailed a pass high and wide of receiver Nelson Agholor, who beat Maddox on a post to the back of the end zone. The quarterback went back to Ertz during seven-on-seven red-zone drills, but Jones broke the pass up, the ball bounced off another defender and into the arms of Goedert, who took a step over the goal line.
8. The second units: Sudfeld displayed a nice touch on his deep passes. He didn’t connect with either Arcega-Whiteside or Jackson, but he dropped rainbows. He was shaky on some other passes, however. Sudfeld threw behind an open Goedert on a throw over the middle. And he was nearly intercepted by safety Andrew Sendejo and cornerback Josh Hawkins on other throws. The Eagles signed Cody Kessler to compete for that No. 2 spot, and while Sudfeld wasn’t at his best Tuesday, the job is still clearly his to lose.
9. The third units: Kessler isn’t exactly short at 6-foot-1, but he paled in comparison to Wentz (6-5), Sudfeld (6-6), and rookie Clayton Thorson (6-4). His deep sideline passes appeared to take an extra click to arrive. A lot of his throws were checkdowns. Thorson found tight end Joshua Perkins in the end zone during seven-on-sevens. He zipped a pass to Ertz during three-on-threes. Maddox was in man coverage and Ertz jokingly taunted him after the completion. Maddox competes on every play.