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Eagles practice observations: Nick Sirianni erupts on receivers; Quez Watkins responds; the RB competition

The first practice in full pads was not overly physical, although Anthony Harris did send a jolt to receiver Travis Fulgham.

Eagles wide receiver DeVonta Smith (6) watches from the sideline while his teammates run drills during training camp at the NovaCare Complex on Tuesday.
Eagles wide receiver DeVonta Smith (6) watches from the sideline while his teammates run drills during training camp at the NovaCare Complex on Tuesday.Read moreHEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer

The Eagles held their sixth practice of the 2021 training camp at the NovaCare Complex on Tuesday. Here are links to Days 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. Let’s get to Day 6′s action:

Padded practice. The Eagles were in full gear for the first time this summer. “Thud” contact was permitted, but for the most part practice wasn’t significantly more physical than it had been when players wore only shorts and shells. There’s a twofold reason for this: Nick Sirianni’s shorts-and-shells workouts have been more intense than the norm, but his padded practice — at least the first one — was rather tame. There were a few pops, but nothing that was delivered with enough force to highlight or start a fight. Safety Anthony Harris did send a jolt to receiver Travis Fulgham during team drills, but that was because his awkward attempt at tackling resulted in a helmet-to-helmet collision. Sometimes it’s just best to tackle in certain drills, but Sirianni said that he has yet to make a decision on whether he’ll have “live” periods in camp. There are only five more regular practices until the first preseason game on Aug. 12.

Sirianni erupts on receivers. The Eagles head coach’s background is mostly as a receivers coach, so he spends a considerable amount of time at practice with the position. Beyond his experience, it’s clear the group needs all the help it can get. When Sirianni has gotten heated, it’s often because a receiver has done something wrong. Maybe he’s focused too much on a position he knows well, but it’s not like there are any established receivers on the team. Sirianni got his most animated when J.J. Arcega-Whiteside apparently ran the wrong pre-snap motion. The coach whistled the play dead, barked something to the third-year receiver — yes, third-year — and then glared at receivers coach Aaron Moorehead. It hasn’t been all bad from the unit, but it’s important to factor in the struggles of the receivers when assessing Jalen Hurts’ performance in the passing game.

Reagor’s travails. Jalen Reagor was a full practice participant for the second day in a row. With DeVonta Smith out with an MCL sprain — the rookie briefly caught passes from the JUGs machine before practice — the second-year receiver has a chance to make his claim as Hurts’ favorite target. But that has yet to be the case. The quarterback and receiver have hooked up mostly on short, late-read routes, but not on many downfield. Reagor’s best moment in team drills might have come when he caught a pass on a slant vs. Darius Slay’s off coverage and jetted upfield. He couldn’t get separation against cornerback Steven Nelson, though, in their two one-on-one matchups.

» READ MORE: Nick Sirianni held Jalen Reagor accountable during a tough time — and the Eagles receiver welcomed it

Quez answering questions. Reagor wasn’t the only second-year receiver who missed most of the first four days of camp. Quez Watkins was slowed by a non-COVID-19 illness. But he has taken steps in his two days back and made a number of clean catches Tuesday. Watkins turned cornerback Craig James around with a precise stick-and-release break during one-on-ones. He extended for a Hurts pass over the middle during seven-on-sevens. And he found enough space at the second level that second-team quarterback Joe Flacco had an easy completion. John Hightower has had his ups and downs, but he beat cornerback Michael Jacquet deep during one-on-ones, and made a diving grab on an out route during seven-on-sevens. Fulgham impressed vs. Slay in one-on-ones. On 2 of 3 passes, he drew holding penalties.

Ahem … injuries. Linebacker Davion Taylor (quadriceps) was initially listed as a limited participant, but he left practice early and didn’t return. Cornerback Shakial Taylor (lower body) was also limited. Defensive end Ryan Kerrigan, who left early Monday, was deemed day-to-day with a thumb injury. Guard Brandon Brooks (hamstring), tight end Jason Croom (knee), and receiver Michael Walker (foot) were also day-to-day. And along with Smith, guard Isaac Seumalo (hamstring) and defensive back Nate Meadors (hamstring) were listed as week-to-week.

Fearless MePhearson. I’ve mentioned Zech McPhearson in my last few practice observations, but the rookie cornerback continues to warrant ink. He didn’t record an interception like he did Monday, but he did have a couple of pass breakups and just seems to have a nose for the ball. In one-on-ones, he allowed receiver Andre Patton little space and earned the win. And in team drills, he batted a few throws away from would-be ball catchers. He may have gotten a little handsy with receiver Jhamon Ausbon on one, but no flag was thrown. McPhearson has practiced exclusively on the outside, but he has inside experience. Avonte Maddox has a pretty strong hold on the slot — he dominated receiver Greg Ward in one-on-ones — but the Eagles are likely to cross-train the rookie so he can jump into any role if need be.

RB competition. The Eagles have more running backs at camp than I can remember. There are eight total with probably six capable of winning a roster spot. I don’t know how many Sirianni will keep, but an argument could be made for retaining as many as five. Miles Sanders is a guarantee. I think Boston Scott sticks, too. Rookie Kenneth Gainwell gets a spot, although the jury is still on whether it’s justified. And then there are Kerryon Johnson, Jordan Howard, and Jason Huntley. Johnson would appear to get the nod ahead of Howard, but the latter is the best short yardage option if Sirianni is looking for that specific need. Huntley’s quickness has stood out, but I want to see what he can do in the preseason against a defense in another uniform. He would be a candidate to return kicks, as well. Elijah Holyfield and Adrian Killins have history with the Eagles, but their futures are at best on the taxi squad.

More on Hurts. The Eagles quarterback had another solid session, and while certain tight-window throws have been lacking from his repertoire, Siranni and company were likely pleased to see him string together positive practices. His first pass of team drills went to Ward for about 20 yards. He later lofted a long strike to wide open tight end Zach Ertz. He had some questionable throws. Cornerback Josiah Scott notched an interception on a toss to Arcega-Whiteside in one-on-ones. He checked down in seven-on-sevens when he had Ertz free at the next level. And he threw a ball up for grabs rather than take a coverage sack. Sometimes the right decision is to take the “L” and throw the ball away, but Hurts needed to do a better job of killing the play.

Dillard vs. Mailata update. I want to focus on why Mailata is winning more than why Dillard is losing because I think the former has been the case more than the latter. The Australian just looks so much better in camp than he did a year ago, and he would still go on to have a decent first foray at left tackle. It was Mailata’s turn with the first unit and in the opening team set, he won every matchup. He pancaked defensive end Brandon Graham on a Sanders inside zone run, sealed the edge on a Scott scoot through a gaping hole and kept Hurts’ blindside clean on two drops. Dillard, it should be noted, didn’t respond well on his first repetitions with the second unit. Defensive end Josh Sweat bull-rushed the tackle all the way back into Flacco, who heaved a wounded duck that floated out of bounds.

And a few leftovers … Jake Elliott connected on all six of his field-goal attempts. He was good from 33, 36, 39, 41, 44 and 47 yards. Overall, the Eagles kicker is 10 of 12 on camp kicks. … Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie made his first appearance at camp. He yucked it up with Smith and some other injured players on the sidelines.