The Eagles began their third week of OTAs today. Here are some practice notes:
-- Nick Foles continued to look sharp. He wasn't nearly as consistent as he was during the first two open practices – he tossed two interceptions during 11 on 11 drills – but he just seems much more confident running the offense than he did a year ago this time. Again a disclaimer: It's only the spring and the players are running around in shorts without making much contact. But it's a better scenario than, say, Foles looking as unremarkable as Mark Sanchez and Matt Barkley have. Most of his passes have been on target. And when he's had to go through his reads you can visually see him checking from one receiver to another before finding the open guy and (usually) hitting him downfield.
-- And yet, Foles was not perfect. He was picked off by cornerback Curtis Marsh (a play I missed, but other reporters confirmed) and then by linebacker DeMeco Ryans during red zone drills. Ryans read Foles' eyes and jumped in front of receiver Jeremy Maclin for the interception. Foles rebounded, though, and connected with tight end Brent Celek on a corner route a play or so later.
-- Sanchez was once again inconsistent. One moment he looks like he could legitimately push Foles, and then the next he looks like he should be starting a career selling headbands. To be fair, he's still learning Chip Kelly's offense. But he often overshot open receivers or mistakenly threw into tight spots. Cornerback Nolan Carroll (more on him later) picked off Sanchez first. There was another interception, but I couldn't exactly pinpoint the defensive player (the practice field was quite a distance from where most of the reporters could watch from). Sanchez, who has run with the second team in every practice I've attended, had perhaps his best throw when he connected with receiver Will Murphy on a 25-yard-or-so corner route in the end zone.
-- Barkley has had his struggles, along with some fine moments, but he hasn't had nearly the same number of opportunities as Foles and Sanchez. Not only is he with the third team, but he's splitting many of the repetitions with G.J. Kinne. It's difficult to make any bold statements about competition at this point, but Kinne has looked more efficient, in my humble opinion. The Eagles aren't likely to give up on a fourth rounder like Barkley, but he isn't going to be handed a roster spot. Barkley made it fairly clear two weeks ago that he didn't like starting OTAs behind Sanchez. He isn't likely excited about having to split snaps with the undrafted Kinne. Let's see how he responds.
-- Barkley hooked up with undrafted rookie Quron Pratt on an intermediate throw near the sideline, but the receiver gets credit for turning him body back toward the ball and getting both feet inbounds. Later in practice, Kinne strung together back-to-back compeletions when he rolled out and hit receiver Jordan Matthews and then heaved a deep over-the-shoulder pass to tight end James Casey.
-- Carroll has stood out. Signed this offseason to help on special teams, but also to push Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher, Carroll could surprise and win a starting role. It's not like he's some babe in the woods. Carroll had 26 career starts in 58 games played over four seasons in Miami. He had three interceptions and two sacks in 12 starts last year. He's been with the second team.
-- I don't think I've seen Matthews drop a pass yet, and he's gotten plenty of action as a slot receiver with both the second and third teams. As I wrote last week, Matthews likes to run out many of his catches into the end zone, but it may not be what Kelly is looking for when the Eagles offense is in up-tempo mode. On one catch-and-run, he had to be replaced because he couldn't get back to the line in time for the next play. Matthews has easily been Sanchez' favorite receiver. The quarterback will often run to his receiver after a big catch and give up a chest thump. I sense a bromance in the works.
-- If Sanchez isn't looking for Matthews downfield, he's had Darren Sproles underneath. Many of Sproles' touches during these drills have been on running plays. He's the second team running back, and practice requires that he employs the role of LeSean McCoy's backup, but Sproles' chief job this season will be as a pass catcher out of the backfield.
-- The following five fielded punts and have done so for the last two weeks – Sproles, Damaris Johnson, Maclin, Riley Cooper and Matthews. The same group also fielded kickoffs. Sproles will likely handle both duties this coming season. Kelly has been as omnipresent as ever during special teams drills. He spent a good part of punt drills near the returners as he typically did last year. For all the time he spent on special teams last season – more than most teams, according to various accounts – it had to be disappointing when the Eagles had a number of breakdowns at various points. It happens, but Kelly obviously felt there was room for improvement and went out and tried to upgrade (e.g. Chris Maragos, Bryan Braman, et al.).