The Eagles held their eleventh practice of training camp on Friday. Here's what I saw:
-- After a day off from tackling – Thursday was still in pads and had "thud" periods – the Eagles were back at it for two periods of "live" football. I'll have more on the injuries that occurred during the sessions, but the contact upped the intensity of practice. The first was a "backed up" period – the offense pinned inside it's own 5-yard line. The first team offense won it's first battle against the second team defense. Corner Leodis McKelvin stepped in front of a Chase Daniel toss to receiver Nelson Agholor for a pick six. The second team defense got the better of the starting offense. With linebacker Najee Goode and defensive end Vinny Curry bearing down on him, Sam Bradford unloaded short to tight end Trey Burton. But cornerback Eric Rowe was there and laid the wood. A play later, linebacker Nigel Bradham blitzed and "sacked" Bradford for a safety.
-- Carson Wentz was sharp during the third team set. He hit Cayleb Jones in the hands on a slant route, but the receiver dropped the pass. A play later, Wentz hooked up with tight end M.J. McFarland for a first down. Back to the first team defense, cornerback Ron Brooks stopped Burton with an open field tackle. He had several of those today. Brooks is still playing opposite McKelvin with the first team defense. It might be time to start considering the possibility that he may start the season there. Bradford connected with Jordan Matthews when the slot receiver took corner Aaron Grymes to school. They combined for a 20-yard-plus play another period later. Tight end Zach Ertz had the catch of the day when he extended for a Daniel BB.
-- Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz has his second team unit zone blitz Bradford, but he found Matthews, who darted around the dropped-into-coverage Curry. Rookie defensive end Alex McCalister ended the period when he was credited with "sacking" Wentz. McCalister was able to work inside past undrafted rookie tackle Dillon Gordon, who is still a work in progress. But Gordon's talent is evident. He typically faces off against third-string-type defensive linemen during one-on-ones, but the coaches matched him up against Curry to end the drill. Gordon straight-up stoned Curry, which drew a pat on the helmet from offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland.
-- Kenjon Barner, Byron Marshall and Cedric Marshall have to be the most exhausted players on the team. With the Eagles shorthanded at running back, they've had to take a boatload of snaps. Ryan Mathews (ankle) practiced for the first time, and even took a snap during "thud" team drills, but he left early. Pederson said Mathews was limited and seemed to indicate that his short practice was part of the plan. Rookie Wendell Smallwood (quadriceps) was still out. He's missing valuable time. Darren Sproles is healthy and hasn't missed a day, but Pederson has mostly kept him out of the "live" portions. Barner isn't especially adept at catching the ball out of the backfield – a big deal in this West coast offense – but he's run hard all camp.
-- That being said, the Eagles' run defense had a strong outing – particularly middle linebacker Jordan Hicks. He shot into the backfield during a "thud" period and wrapped up Sproles for a loss. Later, Hicks shed guard Stefen Wisniewski at the second level and stopped Barner. It's been said before, but if Hicks can stay healthy the Eagles defense will be that much better off. The first team unit was without safeties Malcolm Jenkins (hamstring) and Rodney McLeod (excused to attend a family funeral). A rotation that consisted of Ed Reynolds, Jaylen Watkins, Chris Maragos and Blake Countess took their spots.
-- The Eagles are set at tight end, in case you haven't heard. But I still think they carry only three rather than the four Pederson has been touting since the spring. Chris Pantale just doesn't seem consistent enough, both as a blocker and a receiver. The former is more important because that's the discipline he must excel at if he's to make the team as a quasi-fullback. Pantale had another rough day blocking. During one-on-ones, Goode and Hicks had no problem skating around him. Later, he was pulled from run drills after a number of missed lead blocks. Burton isn't an elite blocker, but he's decent, and he more than compensates with his ball catching and special teams skills. And, really, how many plays do the Eagles have that involve a fullback? Why can't Brent Celek slip into that role? He's one of the best blocking tight ends in the NFL.
-- As for some of the other blocking matchups, backup middle linebacker Joe Walker plowed over Marshall in a battle of Oregon products. Undrafted rookie Mike Tavares made quick work of Barner and did the same against McFarland. During one-on-one passing drills, Mychal Kendricks had success when he was able to turn Barner outside. But he whiffed when Barner gave him an inside move. Running backs coach Duce Staley gave Barner instruction afterward, starting, "You beat me so bad that …" Kendricks must not have liked it because after he tipped another pass away he looked toward Staley and cupped his ear as if to say, "What do you have to say now?" Kendricks struggled covering running backs last season.
-- There were two scary moments during the late "live" portion. Ertz took another low hit (McLeod got him earlier in the week), this time from Countess. He went inside and the Eagles checked him for concussion symptoms. He was cleared. A few moments later, Bradford went to Matthews short, but rookie corner Jalen Mills was there and he speared the receiver at thigh-knee level. Matthews dropped the ball and bent awkwardly. He was down for about a minute or so and you could hear a pin drop as some of his teammates knelt around him. Matthews eventually popped up and gingerly jogged off the field. Pederson said Matthews' knee was sore and that it wasn't serious. Still, those are the chances you take when you have live hitting. Ertz later criticized Countess for going low.