Nick’s message. The offense was sloppy. The quarterbacks struggled to complete downfield passes. The receivers weren’t looking back when the ball did come. The offensive line wasn’t consistently holding up against the pass rush. Nick Sirianni blew his whistle, the music stopped, and the coach called his team in for a word. His voice rose as he spoke. He was clearly chastising his players for their lackluster performance through the first 60 minutes of practice. Veterans Ryan Kerrigan and Darius Slay later confirmed that Sirianni wasn’t happy with his team’s effort. After about 90 seconds, the huddle broke and the Eagles resumed their practice. Kerrigan and Slay had the day off -- as did about a dozen or so other veterans -- but they said Sirianni’s message was heard and the team finished strong. It isn’t often you see an NFL coach stop practice. Every minute is precious. I don’t recall it ever happening during an Andy Reid, Chip Kelly, or Doug Pederson workout. Maybe once or twice. But there’s a new show in town and what is clear is that Sirianni is going to do things his own way.
Practice particulars. While the workouts have been relatively intense for shorts and shells, Sirianni hasn’t pushed his players especially hard in the early going, at least compared with his predecessors. Some of that has to do with restrictions that have been placed on the intensity of camp. Times are changing. But the length of the first three practices has just been 75 minutes and the players aren’t expected to don full pads until Monday, after Sunday’s day off. Eight over-30 vets -- Fletcher Cox, Zach Ertz, Brandon Graham, Lane Johnson, Jason Kelce, Rodney McLeod, Kerrigan and Slay -- were given the day off after just two practices. Tougher workouts are coming. And maybe the light sessions will pay off down the road. But I’ve always felt that when the coaches held their toughest camps -- within limits -- that’s when the Eagles had their best seasons.
Hurts’ inconsistency. The red zone is where offenses earn their money. There’s less time to throw. The windows are tighter. The Eagles again spent a large portion of team drills working inside the 20-yard line. Jalen Hurts had his ups and downs. His throwing through three practices has been average, at best. Overall, he’s been fine, although the red jersey does limit his ability to showcase his athleticism. But accuracy, or lack thereof, remains a problem with the quarterback. He had some nice throws. He threaded one to tight end Dallas Goedert over the outstretched hands of linebacker Davion Taylor. He snuck one to receiver DeVonta Smith just inside the pylon. And he connected with tight end Jason Croom in the end zone. But he also wobbled a pass too high to Goedert. And he wildly overthrew open receiver Greg Ward on an out route. Hurts rushed his throw and didn’t set his feet, hence the sail. When he has mechanical problems, as Sirianni noted Wednesday, they tend to come from his base, like many quarterbacks.
The other QBs. Joe Flacco has been pretty meh. He hasn’t pushed Hurts. He had just as much trouble in the red zone. I don’t know how he did it, but he overthrew 6-foot-7 tight end Tyree Jackson, who had separation. He did find receiver Michael Walker downfield after he sprung free on a corner route out of the slot. And there was a scramble that showed Flacco isn’t entirely a statue. But the 14-year veteran hasn’t exactly flashed that cannon of an arm yet. There’s time. Nick Mullens has taken advantage of his few repetitions with the third-team offense. He had probably the throw of the day when he hooked up with tight end Jack Stoll for a touchdown.
Defensive turnovers. A great emphasis has been placed on forcing giveaways. Yeah, I think we hear that from defensive coordinators every year. The Eagles finished tied for 22d in turnovers last season. They need to do better if they want to compete for a playoff spot this season. Jonathan Gannon can be heard constantly harping on getting the ball. His defenders will often scrap for it long after a play has been whistled dead. There’s a risk in being too aggressive. You can focus too much on getting the ball at the expense of tackling. But I do like the aggressiveness, also because it helps the offense work on ball security. I haven’t noticed a fumble yet. When the pads are on it may be a different story.
Dillard’s struggles. I hate to pick on Andre Dillard. I really liked what I heard out of the offensive lineman in the spring. He knows he’s got a lot to prove and that the starting left tackle job isn’t going to be handed to him just because he’s a former first-round draft pick. But I haven’t seen much improvement. He was back with the first team after Jordan Mailata took starter’s snaps Thursday. Defensive end Derek Barnett burned him on an early outside speed rush. A series or so later, the two went at it and Dillard seemed to be holding his own. But Barnett’s hand got under his helmet and the tackle gave up and waved himself out of the action. Barnett and Dillard have a history, of course. Two years ago, the end’s aggressiveness caused Dillard to have an on-field meltdown that included some tears. Barnett is a chippy player. Some may call him dirty. But Dillard has to be prepared to play all types. When he returned, Mailata had taken his spot with the ones. Later, Dillard got clipped on the leg at one point, pulled up lame, and shook his head as if to say, “Can’t I catch a break?” He did. He wasn’t seriously injured and stayed in.
Ahem … injuries. Jalen Reagor (lower-body tightness) remained a limited participant. Guard Brandon Brooks, a day after straining his hamstring, was listed as day-to-day. Cornerback Shakial Taylor (lower body) and receiver Quez Watkins (non-COVID-19 illness) were also day-to-day. Guard Isaac Seumalo and defensive back Nate Meadors (hamstring) were listed as week-to-week.
Zech’s heck of a play. Zech McPhearson, the Eagles’ fourth-round pick, nearly had an interception when he jumped a Flacco pass to receiver John Hightower. He should have had the pick as the ball hit him squarely in the hands. But the rookie cornerback showed great anticipation. The Eagles have done poorly drafting corners for years. McPhearson can play inside or out. He’ll have a tough time cracking the starting lineup of Darius Slay, Steven Nelson (outside), and Avonte Maddox (inside), but should be a lock for special teams and maybe first man off the bench.
Other highlights. There’s nothing like a successful Statue of Liberty play. Hurts did a wonderful job of hiding the ball with misdirection that fooled a couple of defenders. Miles Sanders wound up with the ball and jetted around the corner. Defensive end Joe Ostman held his ground against a zone-read play and tagged Kenneth Gainwell down. The rookie running back later made a cut on a short pass that uncleated linebacker Rashad Davis, who slipped and fell. Nelson broke up a pass to Smith, but he got handsy and was flagged for holding. A few defensive coaches objected, but I thought it was an accurate call. Defensive end Josh Sweat continued his strong play. He broke up an option play when he exploded untouched into the backfield. Hurts had no choice but to just stand there and get “tackled.”
And a few leftovers … The Eagles don’t practice until 5:30 p.m. Saturday because NFL Network is airing a training camp special from all 32 team sites. Woohoo! … Pennsylvania attorney general Josh Shapiro was spotted at practice.