The Eagles held their first practice of the 2021 training camp at the NoveCare Complex Wednesday. There was a lot going on during new head coach Nick Sirianni’s first workout of the summer. So let’s get to the action:
Ahem … injuries. Isaac Seumalo was the most notable injured player sidelined. The Eagles’ starting left guard was listed as week-to-week with a hamstring strain, per the team. Wide receiver Jalen Reagor was limited by “lower body tightness.” He did some individual drills but mostly watched practice. Receiver Quez Watkins is still completing his physical and is day-to-day. Receiver Greg Ward is day-to-day with a non-COVID-19 illness. Cornerback Shakial Taylor (lower body) is day-to-day, and cornerback Nate Meadors (hamstring) is week-to-week.
PUPies. Safety Rodney McLeod (knee) and tackle Le’Raven Clark (Achilles tendon) were placed on the active/physically unable to perform (PUP) list. They can’t practice but can work out with trainers. A quick refresher: a PUP player takes up one of 90 roster spots during camp, but if he remains on the list by the start of the season he won’t take up one of 53 spots. Said PUP player would then have to sit out at least the first six games of the season. Rookie offensive lineman Landon Dickerson (knee) was placed on the active/non-football injury (NFI) list because he tore his ACL in college. While there are some minor differences between PUP and NFI, they’re essentially the same in regards to roster spots and timetable for return once the season starts. The Eagles, all things considered, are relatively healthy to start camp.
COVID-19 update. Linebacker Alex Singleton, safety Andrew Adams, and defensive end Matt Leo were placed on reserve/COVID-19 list. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re positive. They simply could have come in contact with someone who was, for example, but they’re out for the time being. General manager Howie Roseman said that the Eagles were around 90 percent in terms of players on the way to being vaccinated against the virus. The NFL recently announced possible repercussions for teams that affect the schedule because of COVID-19 spread from unvaccinated persons, so it behooves the Eagles to get as many shots into employees as possible. But there are also other protocols put in place for unvaccinated players — such as wearing masks during warm-ups or interviews, or working out separate from vaccinated players — that may change minds. I didn’t see a player with a mask on while stretching, although cornerback Darius Slay did take the field with one in hand. Quarterback Jalen Hurts said he got the vaccine as did defensive end Brandon Graham.
Depth chart notes. The absences of Seumalo, Reagor, McLeod, and Singleton opened some starting spots, so it’s not as if their replacements should be written in ink. But a few of the names were surprises. Davion Taylor was paired with Eric Wilson as one of the top two linebackers. And K’Von Wallace was at safety along with Anthony Harris. Nate Herbig filled in for Seumalo at left guard. And Travis Fulgham took many of the outside receiver repetitions with Reagor out. Ward’s illness paved the way for JJ Arcega-Whiteside in the slot. I noted this change during spring workouts, but a slide inside for the third-year receiver makes some sense, at least on paper. He’s running out of time, however. Andre Dillard was first up with the ones at left tackle, but Jordan Mailata took his share of snaps with the first team. Their competition is clearly one of the most-watched position battles in camp. Newest Eagle, cornerback Steven Nelson, was opposite Slay at cornerback. Cornerback Avonte Maddox was back in the slot (where he probably belongs). Josh Sweat and Derek Barnett split reps at right defensive end. Rookie defensive lineman Milton Williams is starting camp off at left defensive end behind veteran Brandon Graham. Some assumed the third-round pick would open his career behind defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, but the Eagles like Williams’ versatility. He’ll likely get some looks inside as well.
2019-20 drafts on display. It’s hard to argue with Dillard getting first crack at left tackle. The Eagles have invested a lot in the 2019 first-rounder. But there should be skepticism about Arcega-Whiteside, Taylor, and Wallace and whether they have earned their spots thus far. It’s early in camp, of course, and it’s not as if the latter two had a normal first year. But each player struggled last season and showed little flash when on defense. There’s typically a natural push and pull between personnel and coaching when it comes to the depth chart and final roster selections, but it will be interesting to see how much sway Roseman will continue to have with those decisions. Former coach Doug Pederson didn’t offer a lot of resistance, and it’s unlikely that a first-time coach like Sirianni will, either, at least in his first season.
Speaking of Sirianni. The rookie coach doesn’t exactly strike an imposing figure among all the players, coaches, and support staff running around at camp. Andy Reid had a natural presence, both literally and figuratively. Chip Kelly stood out because he ran from drill to drill as frantically as his practices were conducted. And Pederson, with his long frame and blondish-gray hair poking out from his visor, was hard to miss. But Sirianni is as engaged, especially with receivers. As they ran corners into the back corner of the end zone, he repeated over and over to those who didn’t finish their routes correctly, “drag, don’t tap” your feet before the sideline. It’s kind of remarkable that some still need to be reminded. Sirianni eased in with a relatively short practice of 75 minutes. Players were in shorts and shells, but team drills were spirited. There was some contact. Tight end Tyree Jackson — an offseason addition — ran over linebacker Rashad Smith late in the session. Players should be in full pads before the end of the week.
QB1. Hurts took all the first-team reps at quarterback. But Sirianni declined to name the second-year player his Game 1 starter. “We’re hoping he takes the reins and rolls with it,” the coach said. Hurts didn’t exactly roll on Day 1 of camp. I thought he looked a little shaky. He did better on the podium for his first in-person interview with Philadelphia-area reporters. Hurts seemed at ease in the setting. He didn’t blink when asked about the rumors linking the Eagles to DeShaun Watson. “I’m above it all,” he said. Joe Flacco took second-team snaps at quarterback. Sirianni declined to say if the veteran would get some opportunities with the ones in the near future. Quarterback Nick Mullens, who was signed after spring workouts, worked with the third unit.
New defensive scheme. Jonathan Gannon didn’t go into much detail when asked about his plans on defense in May, but it’s safe to assume that the new coordinator’s system will be different from his predecessor, Jim Schwartz. Gannon comes from the Mike Zimmer school of defense, so most of his fronts will be even-based, but he did show some 3-4 looks on the first day. Most defenses today have to be multiple, but the Eagles were adamant about returning to four down linemen five years ago after three years of Kelly. Gannon may have just been experimenting on Day 1, but he does have a few “tweener” players who may be better suited as 3-4 outside linebackers. Genard Avery and Joe Ostman spring to mind and both, alas, were in those spots during those few looks. There had been some questions about rookie Patrick Johnson’s positional projection in the pros. He played defensive end in college, but the Eagles are lining him up at 4-3 strong-side linebacker for now.
Practice highlights. The Eagles worked mostly in the red zone. The marquee receiver-cornerback matchup of DeVonta Smith vs. Slay provided a few memorable moments with Slay often the victor. Hurts rolled out and tried to squeeze one to his receiver in the back corner of the end zone, but Slay fronted Smith and batted the pass to the turf. The quarterback went to Smith a little later on a post in the back of the end zone. The pass was a touch behind, but it clanged off Smith’s pads and Slay tipped the ball away. The rookie rebounded with a score a few plays later, but he beat Nelson this time. Wallace nearly picked off Hurts, but he couldn’t pull in the interception. The quarterback attempted to fit another tight toss to rookie Kenneth Gainwell near the goal line, but cornerback Josiah Scott stole it from the running back’s grasp and ran the other way. Maddox forced Arcega-Whiteside out of the back of the end zone before the receiver came back for a catch that was nullified by penalty.
And a few leftovers. Zach Ertz was alive and well and sporting a bleach blonde hairdo. The veteran tight end has been the subject of trade reports for some time now, but he has yet to be moved. Roseman said he expects Ertz to be on the team when the season opens, but six weeks is a long time in football. I’ll have more on Ertz in a separate column. … Herbig looked significantly leaner than he had previously. The same could be said of guard Brandon Brooks, who is trying to return from another Achilles tendon rupture.