1. Let’s start with the end of practice. The Eagles covered a lot of ground during their longest, most intense workout of camp, but the final period offered a microcosm of a day when the defensive line dominated. The scenario scripted for this two-minute drill had the offense needing a field goal with 58 seconds left in the game. The defense was at an advantage with the linemen able to pin their ears back and rush the quarterback. But the offense had to be dismayed at its performance.
Nine plays total were run between the first two units, and six ended with sacks. Defensive end Josh Sweat, who returned a day after missing practice with an illness, recorded the first when he undressed left tackle Andre Dillard with an outside-in move. Defensive tackle Malik Jackson, who brought energy all day, was next when he slipped inside guard Isaac Seumalo. And after a short Carson Wentz dump pass to Corey Clement, Jackson notched another sack on fourth down.
The second-team offense got off to a quick start when quarterback Nate Sudfeld found running back Elijah Holyfield uncovered for a 15-yard swing pass. But a delayed snap from center Nate Herbig led to a false-start penalty, and an errant pass from Sudfeld to Holyfield after a zone blitz led to second-and-long. Rookie defensive end Casey Toohill went in unblocked on successive plays and recorded easy sacks – there appeared to be protection assignment problems along the offensive line – and defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway ended the practice with a sack.
2. While the defensive outing was good news for coordinator Jim Schwartz’s group, it wasn’t an early ringing endorsement for Doug Pederson’s offense. To be fair, Wentz was without most of his top skill position players. Running backs Miles Sanders and Boston Scott were still out with lower-body injuries, as was tight end Dallas Goedert, and tight end Zach Ertz (upper body) and rookie receiver Jalen Reagor (illness) joined them on the injury list Friday.
Cornerback Rasul Douglas, defensive end Shareef Miller, and receiver Deontay Burnett were also out with illnesses. While the “illness” could eventually land them on the COVID-19 list, it doesn’t necessarily mean they have contracted the virus. It could simply mean they showed symptoms upon screening and were awaiting test results.
As for the other injured, defensive end Derek Barnett (lower body), defensive tackle Javon Hargrave (upper body), and cornerback Sidney Jones (lower body) remained sidelined. They each watched practice, though.
3. Pederson said Thursday that Friday would have tackling periods, and it did, but only for the second and third units. The first team went only with “thud” contact. With no preseason, live drills will be the closest the Eagles get to real football before the season opener. It’s one of the few ways Pederson and his coaches can assess a trait like physicality, especially for running backs and linebackers.
Holyfield ran hard, but he broke few tackles. His best moment on the ground may have come when he juked linebacker Shaun Bradley in the open field. But Holyfield and undrafted rookies Adrian Killins and Michael Warren were mostly tackling dummies for a hungry defense.
Safety K’Von Wallace delivered the first “pop” when he steamrolled Holyfield on a short outside run. Killins gave a first defender a shake, but he ran into linebacker Alex Singleton a yard later. The tailback caught a screen on the next play, but he got double-teamed by safety Rudy Ford and rookie Grayland Arnold – who earlier had another big hit – and was driven backward.
There were injuries, of course. Safety Will Parks sized up gunner Robert Davis during a punt drill and forced the receiver to take an extended breather. Safety Jalen Mills hit rookie tight end Noah Togial, who needed attention on the field for what appeared to be a lower-leg injury. Guard Jason Peters was slow to get up at one point and made way for backup Matt Pryor, but the 38-year vet returned.
4. There were some highlights from the offense, most of them coming on the first unit’s first few possessions. Receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside shone the most among the receivers. He stretched out for a Wentz laser on a 15-yard out route. And a play later, he pulled in a downfield jump ball in traffic. The latter catch is the type the Eagles are hoping they see regularly from the second-year receiver.
Arcega-Whiteside took his time getting to the sideline after he hit the ground, but he returned. He caught a few other passes from Wentz, the most notable in the end zone when the quarterback – with the benefit of no contact – squeezed a BB to the receiver. With Reagor out, rookies John Hightower and Quez Watkins had more opportunities, but neither took advantage. Hightower appeared to run a corner route into the end zone farther than Wentz had hoped on a pass that was behind the receiver. And Watkins dropped a short dump from Sudfeld.
5. DeSean Jackson practiced, but he wasn’t involved much. Credit should go to Darius Slay, who had a vise on nearly every receiver who lined up opposite the cornerback. It was probably the first glimpse of the lockdown skills he is expected to bring to the Eagles. He blanketed Arcega-Whiteside on an early pass on which Wentz was forced to short-arm his toss. And he ran alongside Jackson on a deep post Wentz purposely overthrew.
6. Some bubble roster players made strong arguments. Defensive end Joe Ostman was credited with two sacks. Defensive end Genard Avery garnered his own with an impressive inside rush. All three sacks came at the expense of left tackle Jordan Mailata. The experiment with the former rugby player could be nearing its end. He looks as lost as he did two years ago.
Tight end Josh Perkins, with Ertz and Goedert out, was often Wentz’s safety valve. Togial caught a touchdown pass when he carried cornerback Avonte Maddox over the goal line. Singleton just made plays. He sliced through a maze of players for a touch tackle on a kickoff. And he batted a Jalen Hurts pass incomplete when he blitzed off the edge. Linebacker T.J. Edwards followed that knockdown with one of his own.
7. Rodney McLeod made a great read on a Wentz pass to a split-wide Cory Clement when the offense was backed up. The safety did everything right but hold on to the ball. He let a pick-six slip through his hands and heard it from his teammates when he returned to the sideline. He wasn’t the only defensive back to miss out on an interception. Maddox and cornerback Craig James bobbled away would-be turnovers. They aren’t receivers for a reason.
8. I wrote yesterday about the competition at backup quarterback, and while I still see a path to the No. 2 spot for Hurts, Sudfeld had some nice moments Friday. He also had some bad ones. But first the good: He tossed a nice fade pass to Killans out of the slot, but cornerback Cre’Von LeBlanc forced the ball out of the running back’s hands. Sudfeld dropped a dime in tight end Caleb Wilson’s bucket on a 10-yard out. He threw a back-shoulder pass to Davis for 20-plus yards. And he hooked up with Marcus Green on a 40-plus-yard fade after the receiver scooted by LeBlanc.
Sudfeld took a series with the first unit but failed to generate a first down. The set ended with a Malik Jackson sack. Sudfeld was later nearly intercepted by James on a deep heave, but Watkins appeared to ease up on his route.
9. Hurts didn’t get as many reps as Sudfeld. His first drops were on naked bootlegs, and each time he took the option to run, which prompted a defender to yell from the sideline: “He’s gonna run!” But Hurts didn’t only run. He picked up a LeBlanc blitz from the slot and hit Hightower with a quickie. Schwartz blitzed on the next two plays, but Singleton and Edwards recorded their aforementioned batted passes.
Hurts later hit Green on a short out route. And on short yardage he connected with Warren after a naked boot. But he was sacked on fourth down by defensive tackle Matt Leo when he kept the ball on an RPO.