The Eagles held their first practice of training camp Thursday.
Here are some of the highlights and my observations from Day 1:
1. The Eagles are healthier than they were at this time a year ago. The shortened offseason following the Super Bowl had something to do with a significant number of players who were sidelined throughout camp or into last season, but there just aren’t as many coming off major injury a year later. That doesn’t mean the Eagles don’t have question marks with the season opener just over six weeks away. Cornerback Jalen Mills (foot) was the only player to be placed on the active/physically unable to perform list, though. He can return to practice any time during camp, but if he isn’t ready by the start of the season, he’ll have to miss at least the first six weeks of the season. Mills was virtually absent from the field during the spring, but he ran conditioning sprints Thursday.
The following players participated in some part of individual drills, but worked on a separate field with trainers during team drills: Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox (foot), guard Brandon Brooks (Achilles), defensive end Derek Barnett (shoulder), linebacker Nigel Bradham (toe), cornerback Ronald Darby (knee), safety Rodney McLeod (knee), and running back Corey Clement (knee).
The following players who missed all or a large part of spring workouts were full participants: running back Miles Sanders (hamstring), running back Josh Adams (shoulder), wide receiver Mack Hollins (groin) and linebacker Paul Worrilow (knee).
2. The most important player coming off injury, of course, is Carson Wentz, and he wasn’t held back at all – same as in the spring. A year ago, Wentz was limited at the start of camp, had a little more time sprinkled in during the first few days, and was then suddenly pulled back for the remainder of camp and the preseason. It goes without saying that having him 100 percent will buttress the Eagles’ chances this season. Doug Pederson said that Wentz, who had last season ended by a stress fracture in his back, would be cleared for contact if the Eagles were to play a preseason game this week. Asked if he will play in the preseason, Wentz said, “I’m ready to go,” but he also deferred to Pederson. Wentz confirmed that he had lost a few pounds after altering his diet his offseason, but he said that he’s mostly just leaner. He came into the NFL rather lean for his size, but I can’t imagine what his body fat percentage is now.
3. One of the main benefits of having Wentz full-go is that he will be able to work on developing chemistry with new offensive skill position players. He had some productive days with DeSean Jackson in the spring – and confirmed that he and many of his receivers gathered in Houston a few weeks back for workouts – but they’ll need to get as many more repetitions together to get their timing down. During special teams drills, Jackson caught passes from Wentz off to the side as receiver Nelson Agholor shagged balls from backup quarterback Nate Sudfeld. Later in practice, Wentz and Jackson hooked up for three straight passes.
4. Many eyeballs were on Sanders, not only because he’s the Eagles’ second round draft pick, but also because he didn’t partake in a single spring practice (aside from during rookie camp). He looked good, although now would be as good a time as any to remind readers that practices are essentially glorified touch football until the pads come out. There will be a lot of time to assess Sanders and how he runs in tight space and when there is contact. But he appears to be the real deal in terms of his athleticism. There was a run play designed to go right, but the hole wasn’t there, and Sanders changed directions with a nasty-looking jump cut to his left. Dare I say, it was – I’m going to make a comparison that will probably roll some eyes, but so what, here it is -- LeSean McCoy-esque. I write that with a heavy shoveling of salt. It’s very early.
5. With injuries, especially on defense, the starting units were incomplete. Halapoulivaati Vaitai was at right guard in place of Brooks, but the rest of the offensive line was as you’d expect with Jason Peters and Lane Johnson at left and right tackle, Isaac Seumalo at left guard and Jason Kelce at center. On defense, Tim Jernigan was at defensive tackle in place of Cox, Vinny Curry was at right defensive end (Barnett), and Andrew Sendejo was at safety (McLeod). The three linebackers were Nate Gerry in the middle and Zach Brown and Kamu Grugier-Hill (Bradham) on the outside. Avonte Maddox and Rasul Douglas were the outside corners and Sidney Jones was in the slot. With Mills and Darby uncertain for Week 1, cornerback is up for grabs. Tre Sullivan was the third safety in nickel and dime.
6. Thursday’s session was a light 10-10-10 practice in which each unit gets its work in for 10-minute intervals. The offensive and defensive team drills weren’t supposed to be competitive, so it was difficult to make any accurate evaluations. Sendejo made a nice read on a Sudfeld pass and had himself an interception, but that set of drills were designed for the defense. Wentz once again flashed his arm strength with a 25-yard seed to Agholor, who had to alter his body a smidge to make the catch. Sudfeld rolled naked to his right and hit receiver Marken Michel on the run downfield. Jones had a nice pass breakup on a crosser. Practice was otherwise unremarkable. There will be competitive drills Friday, the pads come out Saturday, and Pederson said he has two practices planned with live tackling sessions. We’re just getting started.