Depth chart notes. Nick Sirianni declined to name Jordan Mailata his starting left tackle even though he has clearly earned the job and Andre Dillard is likely out for the remainder of the preseason with a knee injury. I don’t see any harm there, although it’s almost akin to Rocky not throwing in the towel for Apollo v. Drago.
The Eagles likely don’t want to hurt Dillard’s market value in case they want to trade him. Of course, teams only need to read my practice notes to know the 25-year old could be had for a few tackling dummies. All it takes is one team, though, and I’m sure there were plenty that saw Dillard’s raw talent in college and similarly had him graded as a first-rounder.
Sirianni is also still holding off on declaring Jalen Hurts his starting quarterback, but as Joe Flacco noted when I asked him if he thought there was a true competition, only one player has taken all the first-team repetitions under center. There really aren’t many other starting competitions. One of the safety spots is still up for grabs. There isn’t yet an obvious strong-side linebacker or other defined roles in certain sub packages. Positions like defensive end, tight end, wide receiver, and running back may favor one or two guys over others, but there will be a rotation. With two preseason games remaining, the first units are pretty much set, barring injury.
Epps etched in nothing. Marcus Epps was again opposite Anthony Harris at safety Saturday. K’Von Wallace had been splitting time there with Epps, but the second-year safety suffered a groin injury and is still listed as day-to-day. Whoever wins the job, it’ll likely be temporary until Rodney McLeod returns. McLeod (knee) is still on the physically-unable-to-perform list and has done nothing at practice. It’s unclear when he’ll be back, but I can’t imagine it’ll be in time for the opener on Sept. 12.
That could give Epps the position by default. He’s no slouch, but consistency has been an issue dating back to 2019. He had his ups and downs in the preseason opener. On Saturday, he got roasted by receiver Marken Michel on a seven route in the back of the end zone. Elijah Riley or Andrew Adams could be a dark horse at safety, but that they’re even listed as possibilities speaks to the lack of depth at the position.
SAM Johnson. Patrick Johnson had one of the better showings among the Eagles’ rookies Thursday night. He’s learning a new position, so the early grades on his development should be weighted appropriately. He ran with the first unit at strong-side linebacker Saturday. I’m not sure if he was being rewarded or it was simply his turn to get snaps at an unfilled position. But it seemed noteworthy.
Joe Ostman has done most of the heavy lifting as the 4-3 SAM so far in camp. He’s a natural edge rusher, but with defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon also utilizing 3-4 fronts, Ostman has spent most of his time at outside linebacker. Running back Boston Scott got Ostman off his feet with a shake during team drills Saturday, but I think Ostman has made a rather smooth transition thus far. A roster spot isn’t secure yet, however.
Roster moves. The Eagles waived running back Adrian Killins and tight end Caleb Wilson. Neither had done much at camp. I don’t recall writing Wilson’s name down once in my notebook. Remember when Killins was activated for the 49ers game last year and the Eagles scripted a few plays for him that were complete disasters? Those were the days. The Eagles also activated tackle Le’Raven Clark from active/PUP. They will have to trim the roster from 90 to 85 players by 4 p.m. Tuesday, to 80 by 4 p.m. Aug. 24, and to 53 by 4 p.m. Aug. 31. The Eagles’ roster is currently at 89.
Ahem … injuries. Left guard Isaac Seumalo (hamstring) was limited again, but he participated in some team drills for the first time in camp. The following were also limited: linebacker Genard Avery (groin), safety Grayland Arnold (hamstring), tight end Jason Croom (knee), defensive end Matt Leo (ramping up off COVID-19 list), and Clark.
Wide receiver DeVonta Smith was the most notable upgrade on the pre-practice injury list. The rookie is now day-to-day and participated with the team during warm-ups. The other day-to-dayers: defensive end Ryan Kerrigan (thumb), running back Jason Huntley (ribs), cornerback Craig James (foot), and Wallace. There weren’t any new additions to the week-to-weekers: receiver John Hightower (groin), linebacker Davion Taylor (calf), linebacker JaCoby Stevens (hamstring) and tackle Casey Tucker (biceps). Running back Kerryon Johnson suffered a knee injury and was still being evaluated. Sounds ominous.
Hurts update. QB1 hasn’t yet strung together a complete practice, and there were again some shaky moments Saturday, but there were also highlights as well. His first pass was to Thursday night’s hero, receiver Quez Watkins, on a slant. He threw to a covered Dallas Goedert and had the pass broken up by cornerback Darius Slay. But he found receiver Travis Fulgam in the soft spot of a zone, and ended the set by hooking up with receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside on a crosser. Hurts’ best toss might have come in seven-on-sevens when he zipped one to tight end Zach Ertz in the end zone after he beat Slay.
The first-team offense struggled in the final two periods. After a short pass to receiver Jalen Reagor, Hurts was sacked and had three straight throws hit the grass. He threw wide and overthrew Fulgham on consecutive passes, and heaved a bomb to Reagor that was five yards too far. In red zone drills, Hurts was sacked twice, and aside from a successful Scott carry, the offense never hit pay dirt.
Hargrave hard to contain. Javon Hargrave was a huge reason why the defense, in my estimation, won the day again. The defensive tackle had three sacks by my count. He beat center Jason Kelce for his first, and destroyed Seumalo on back-to-back inside moves in the red zone. Hargrave came into camp in great shape. He was set back by a camp pectoral injury and a new scheme last year, but he seems to be adapting to Gannon’s defense quite well.
Schematics. Gannon’s multiple fronts could be one reason why Hargrave has apparently made a successful transition. He played in a 3-4 in Pittsburgh, and while he does have a one-gap skill set, he can play read defense. Defensive end Brandon Graham was asked about Gannon’s scheme and he equated its duality to playing in Jim Schwartz’s 4-3 system and before that Chip Kelly’s 3-4. Asked if the latter meant that he had two-gap responsibilities — in simpler terms, basically holding up an offensive lineman — he said not really. Graham said that Gannon has a unique way of playing both ways. From what I’ve gathered, he does require some two-gap techniques when employing an odd-man front, but he also gives his linemen the freedom to penetrate when applicable. Schwartz had his linemen essentially pin back their ears and go. Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox and Graham have said they preferred playing that way. It’ll be interesting to see how they adapt.
Other high/lowlights. Josh Sweat has been one of the more impressive performers in camp, but Derek Barnett got the nod ahead of him in the preseason opener. They split time with the first team Saturday. Sweat brought the thunder early with the second-teamers and notched a run stop in the backfield and then a sack after he got around tackle Brett Toth. Linebacker Alex Singleton stripped a pass from tight end Jack Stoll just after he caught it in seven-on-sevens. The second unit offense struggled all day. Flacco didn’t complete a pass in seven-on-sevens, and aside from a check-down to Arcega-Whiteside, didn’t do so in the final two team periods. Cornerback Zech McPhearson recorded a pass breakup in Cover 2 when he skied for a Flacco lob to the turkey hole. Third-string quarterback Nick Mullens had the rip to Michel, but his Thursday problems carried into practice. He had trouble hitting Elijah Holyfield out of the backfield on multiple occasions. Nate Herbig continued to take reps at center with the second team. Luke Juriga could be in jeopardy of making the 53-man roster. Third unit center Harry Crider rolled a couple of snaps.
And a few leftovers … Practice was only 75 minutes long. The players wore shorts and shells. There was originally supposed to be practice Sunday, but the Eagles downgraded it to a walk-through. The Patriots come to town Monday for two days of joint practices. … Former Chargers head coach Mike McCoy, who worked with Sirianni in San Diego, observed practice.