The Eagles held their first mandatory minicamp practice Tuesday. Here are some of the highlights:
1. The Eagles welcomed back safety Malcolm Jenkins, tackles Jason Peters and Lane Johnson and wide receiver Alshon Jeffery after they missed all or parts of organized team activities. Jenkins wasn’t technically “holding out” since OTAs were voluntary, but he confirmed that he was absent, in part, because he wants a new contract. Jenkins ran with the first team alongside Andrew Sendejo, and while he didn’t make any big plays, the Eagles had to be happy seeing No. 27 on the field. With Rodney McLeod (knee) still recovering, the depth at safety has been thin. Peters and Johnson simply took advantage of their veteran status and stayed away rather than risk injury. Other than a new hairdo, Peters appeared to move no different than before. Another year removed from an ACL injury should help the left tackle as he enters into season No. 16. Johnson told reporters that he wanted to avoid any unnecessary stress on his body after playing through much of last season with various injuries.
2. Jeffery stood out among the other receivers, if only for a moment because of his size. The Eagles have other wideouts with as much or more length, but Jeffery’s frame is significant, and he may have bulked up some this offseason. I didn’t get to ask him if that were the case after practice but will get around to it later this week. Carson Wentz effortlessly tossed passes to the 6-foot-3, 218-pound receiver during individual drills and I couldn’t help but think of how both players didn’t start practicing together until last season started. There was some truth to the narrative of how the quarterback wasn’t looking as much in Jeffery’s direction -- especially on deep balls – but a full training camp together should help their chemistry.
3. Jeffery didn’t participate much in team drills, but he made his presence felt on an early play when he was matched up against cornerback Sidney Jones. Wentz, flushed outside the pocket when linebacker Paul Worrilow blitzed up the A-gap, threw to Jeffery on a comeback route after he rag-dolled Jones to the ground. The receiver was flagged, but it wasn’t exactly a prideful moment for the lithe corner. Jones said that he spent much of this offseason working on his endurance to curtail soft-tissue injuries. I wonder if he needed to work as much on strength training.
4. A week after we had a Mack Hollins sighting – he was conditioning on a separate field during practice – the receiver was involved in positional drills in public for the first time since he was placed on season-ending injured reserve last Sept. Hollins’ groin injury (injuries?) have been a bit of a mystery. He had offseason sports hernia surgery a year ago and practiced throughout the summer, but he was shut down just hours before the season opener for a groin injury that may or may not be the same one as before. When Hollins last spoke, he said that he would be ready for the 2018 season. His involvement Tuesday was a good sign, however. He’s not all the way back, clearly, but it would be a bonus if the Eagles can have their 2017 fourth-round draft pick on the active roster this season.
5. Coach Doug Pederson, to no surprise, said that Peters will be used sparingly during minicamp and training camp. Peters didn’t take as many of those opportunities last year, partly because of his rehab, but I’d imagine he’ll be more willing to jump of out drills this year. He took only some of the repetitions Tuesday, which allowed rookie Andre Dillard to take his place. The more snaps that Dillard gets with the first unit this summer, the better. Not only for his development, but in case Peters were to miss time. The Eagles have Halapoulivaati Vaitai in case Dillard isn’t ready, but my guess is they throw their top draft pick into the deep end, if necessary.
6. Worrilow missed a few practices during OTAs, but he was back Tuesday and active with both the first- and second-unit defenses. I don’t know where he fits, but I got to think the Eagles brought him back for good reason. Worrilow, if you recall, tore his ACL on the first day of OTAs last year. The Eagles had envisioned him as a backup to Jordan Hicks at middle linebacker. Zach Brown, who was signed last month, would seem to have the edge to replace the departed Hicks this year, but Worrilow could be a dark horse.
7. Here are some of the more notable moments during first team drills: With receiver Nelson Agohlor sidelined with an unspecified injury, Greg Ward was in the slot. Wentz threw to him early on a crosser, but corner Avonte Maddox batted the pass, unfortunately for him, back to the receiver for a gain. Maddox later blitzed from Wentz’s blindside and the quarterback, seemingly feeling the heat, threw to tight end Zach Ertz on the other side of the field. The offense unleashed a little razzle dazzle with a flea flicker – although a flea flicker may not qualify as that exciting anymore -- during a later set. Wentz handed off to running back Jordan Howard, who pitched back to his quarterback, who uncorked a 30-yard pass to receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside. Center Jason Kelce airmailed a snap over Wentz’s head, but the defense had been penalized for encroachment. During 7-on-7 drills, Wentz dropped a dime into the lap of receiver Marken Michel vs. Maddox. Ertz, in a rare human moment, dropped a pass. Wentz tossed back-to-back red zone touchdowns to tight end Dallas Goedert and, on a low BB, to the diving Arcega-Whiteside.
8. The second unit: Quarterback Nate Sudfeld tried to toss a sidearm screen to a receiver I couldn’t see across the field, but the whole motion of his delivery looked awkward and the pass sailed incomplete. Suds, during 7 on 7s, tossed a wailing duck that linebacker L.J. Forte dropped. He rebounded later during team drills with an in-between-the-seams dart to Michel.
9. The third unit: Quarterback Clayton Thorson’s hard count got the defense to show blitz, and he checked to another play, but he rolled to his right and nothing was there. In the category “Something You’ll Never See in an NFL Game,” quarterback Cody Kessler kept on a zone read play and jetted up field. Pressured, Thorson threw a pass essentially up for grabs that safety Godwin Igebuike intercepted to end practice.