The Eagles opened their organized team activities – otherwise known as "practice" — on Tuesday, and it was our first glimpse of the full squad. Here are my running observations from the session:
1. A year ago this time, Sam Bradford was the first-team quarterback, Chase Daniel was the backup, and Carson Wentz was the third-team rookie. Wentz was new to this pro world, but he never looked overwhelmed and immediately flashed the skill that eventually made the Eagles comfortable enough to start him from Day 1. A year later, the team is clearly Wentz's. When field access opens to the media, Wentz is already warming up with fellow quarterbacks Nick Foles and Matt McGloin. The uniforms stay the same – to the dismay of the kelly green fans – but the faces change in the NFL at an alarming rate. The Eagles have elected to go with just three quarterbacks – for the time being – after releasing undrafted rookie Jerrod Evans.
2. After warmups, the Eagles open with kick-return drills. Rookie Donnel Pumphrey, who did almost everything aside from return in college, handles the high kicks well and flashes speed as he runs (against air). Jalen Mills bobbles and drops two in a row, but he's low on the return depth chart.
3. When individual drills open, new running back LeGarrette Blount takes handoffs without his helmet. He's the only running back without one, and I don't believe I've ever seen this done before. I imagine he got away with it by telling running backs coach Duce Staley that the Patriots allowed him to work sans helmet. Hey, whatever works for Bill Belichick.
4. New wide receivers coach Mike Groh is a vocal presence, or maybe it's just easier to hear him because he's closest to the sideline near where reporters are permitted to stand. But Groh, who comes from the Rams and coached new receiver Alshon Jeffery with the Bears, certainly has a different way of conducting his business. He's a fan of flags. He has drills that have his charges run through flags staked into the ground – like slalom skiers. The objective is to have the receivers run precise routes.
5. Jeffery, by the way, is all of 6-foot-3, 218 pounds. He's barrel-chested, and a lot of Eagles, including Wentz, point out his impressive catch radius. I don't think I saw a single receiver drop a pass during individual drills. It's only one practice, but it's a good sign for a group that was (deservedly) much maligned the previous two years.
6. Team drills start and Wentz's first pass, fittingly, goes to Jeffery on a quick button hook. The second throw goes to Torrey Smith on the other side of the field. Nelson Agholor even gets involved when Wentz lofts him a pass downfield. The first-team units get the only repetitions during this early period, but here's a rough draft of the depth chart based on team drills from the full practice. Some quick observations:
- Lane Johnson starts at left tackle with Jason Peters absent. He'll play at right tackle this season, but it's only a matter of time before he replaces Peters. Johnson looks in great shape. Of course, I said the same last year at this point, and we know what happened not long after …
- Isaac Seumalo is getting first crack at left guard. It's an easy decision for Doug Pederson because Allen Barbre is nursing a calf injury.
- Dillon Gordon is the second-team left tackle, but he also took a number of snaps at tight end. Gordon was strictly a blocking tight end in college, but he made the Eagles roster last season as an undrafted rookie offensive lineman.
- Top pick Derek Barnett backs up Vinny Curry at right defensive end. It's early, but he doesn't look out of place.
- With Fletcher Cox absent, Beau Allen injured and rookie Elijah Qualls still taking classes at Washington, the defensive-tackle position is light.
- Patrick Robinson and Jalen Mills, as expected, are the starting cornerbacks. When the defense goes nickel, Mills moves inside and rookie Rasul Douglas takes his place on the outside. The thing that stands out immediately with the third-round pick is his length. Douglas said his wing span is 77 inches.
7. Pederson works on a number of plays during 4-on-5 drills that involve two running backs. With complementary pieces, the Eagles should be able to utilize the versatility that Darren Sproles and Pumphrey bring to the backfield. Pumphrey makes a nice catch on a swing pass but lets the next one sail through his hands. McGloin and Pumphrey later botch a handoff.
8. Defensive line coach Chris Wilson gets after defensive tackle Tim Jernigan. "Tim, get your [butt] to the ball." The recently acquired former Raven later swam past Seumalo and "sacked" Wentz. The offensive line seemed to have its struggles. Brandon Graham turns the corner on Gordon and pressures Wentz as he goes deep to Dorial Green-Beckham. Robinson swats the pass to the ground. During 7-on-7s, Wentz rolls out and tries for Jordan Matthews, but safety Rodney McLeod breaks up the pass. Linebacker Najee Goode follows up with his own pass breakup when he extends full-body through the air.
9. Wentz and the offense had its issues on this day, but the quarterback always finds ways to impress. He can throw from almost any angle, using various arm slots. He is technically "sacked" by Graham on another play, but he flings a sidearm heave to tight end Zach Ertz 25 yards downfield. Wentz takes most snaps at quarterback during team drills and does extensive work with the second team. I don't think I've ever seen that. Wentz worked on his footwork this offseason, among the other technical aspects of throwing, and I don't think I saw one pass sail on him. He did underthrow a bomb into double coverage and was intercepted by McLeod. All in a day's work.
10. Curry took a fair number of snaps at defensive tackle on passing downs. He did this on occasion last season – and in seasons prior – but I think we might see more of Curry inside in 2017. With Chris Long and Barnett on the roster, Jim Schwartz should have the luxury to move Curry up against interior linemen, where he has had most of his success over his career.
OTAs will resume on Wednesday, but the next practice open to the media isn't until next Tuesday.