The Eagles held their first practice of minicamp on Tuesday. Here are some observations:
-- Chip Kelly confirmed that he had 100 percent attendance during three weeks of organized team activities and, of course, for the start of a mandatory three-day minicamp this week. Asked why he thought that was, Kelly said, "We got a bunch of guys that love playing football." When Cary Williams missed some practices last spring for various reasons, Kelly pointed out that OTAs were voluntary, but his response today suggested he wasn't very pleased a year ago. The only player to miss an extended period of OTAs was rookie safety Ed Reynolds, who had yet to graduate from Stanford. But he was back for last Thursday's final OTA, a month after attending rookie camp, and practiced today. Kelly said that Reynolds wouldn't be given extra repetitions to compensate for lost time. "Our whole premise is we are going to throw him in at the deep end and see if he can swim," Kelly said.
-- Kelly was asked about Travis Long before practice and had some encouraging words for the second-year outside linebacker. Kelly said Long "has really made some great strides and is a guy that's really pushing hard to make this football team." Long, an undrafted rookie in 2013, spent last season on the practice squad. He has good size (6-foot-4, 250 pounds) and has been running with the third team along with rookie Marcus Smith at the other outside linebacker spot. If Long makes the 53-man roster, there could be one or two odd men out. I don't think there's any conceivable way Casey Matthews makes the team. The fact that he could probably also play inside linebacker might help his chances, but I haven't seen him get many repetitions during practice. If Connor Barwin and Trent Cole are the starters, and Smith is assured a spot, Long's improvement could spell trouble for either Brandon Graham or Bryan Braman – probably Graham, more so. Braman was signed in the offseason to help out on special teams, which could have the Eagles justifying a fifth roster spot to an OLB. I can't see the Eagles keeping six. Maybe the Eagles are touting Long to motivate Graham, who made it fairly clear this offseason that he preferred to play elsewhere. Colleague Zach Berman will have more on Long in tomorrow's Inquirer.
-- The Eagles did a lot of rotating on their first team defensive line, perhaps more than I saw during OTAs. It could have just been the schemes Bill Davis and Jerry Azzinaro were working on. During one series, Cedric Thornton was the nose tackle and Cole and Brandon Bair were the first team defensive ends. Thornton and Fletcher Cox have generally been the starting base down ends with Bennie Logan at nose. Kelly was asked for his evaluation of Cox before practice and the first thing he mentioned was his transition from a 4-3 to a 3-4 last year. There might not have been a holdover who was as affected by the scheme change up front than Cox. Kelly said that he expects to see improvement in Year No. 2, but it was still odd to hear him mention the transition. Cox should be athletic and smart enough to make the switch from playing one gap to two gap, but you also have to wonder if he has the mentality to hold up blockers rather than shoot the gap off the snap. "He's big, physical and can run for a big guy," Kelly said. "Very difficult to block in one-on-one situations, try to create some one-on-one situations for him but I think he's really starting to get acclimated to what we are doing on the defensive line and obviously like everybody, I think year two will be better than year one for him."
-- Here's your regularly-scheduled kicker competition update: Alex Henery once again had a better day than Carey Spear, in my humble opinion, but the rookie had some positive moments. Henery connected on 5 of 5 field goal tries during one session, hitting from various distances beyond 40 yards. One of his 50-yard connections hit the crossbar and dropped through. Spear started off slow, hooking an attempt wide left, but he made his next four and was strong from long distance. On kickoffs, Henery was consistently deeper, although Spear murdered one boot through the end zone later during practice, showing that he has enough leg. After the field goal drills, Henery walked by me and jokingly asked (I think) if I had kept tally of his kicks. You know he's reading Birds' Eye View for updates!
-- During one kick return drill, it looked like Kelly had some loud instruction for Jordan Matthews after he appeared to do something wrong. Kelly called the rookie over for a brief chat afterward. The abbreviated return drill pitted four cover men versus an up blocker and a return man. The four started from cones with two lined up seven yards ahead of the other two at around the 25-yard line. They then ran toward the returner, past a blocker holding a pad, to make the play. Darren Sproles, Josh Huff, Jeremy Maclin, Damaris Johnson, Riley Cooper and Matthews have taken most of the kick returner reps this spring. Kelly was asked about the competition and mentioned Sproles' experience first and then Huff.
-- Can't have a practice report without focusing on the quarterbacks some. Nick Foles got off to a slow start when he was nearly intercepted by Cary Williams on the first play of 7-on-7 drills. Williams dropped a gimme. But he rebounded and was mostly sharp the rest of the day. His best throw may have been when he rolled to his right and threw a dart across his body to Maclin. Foles was asked about Maclin and his progress since returning from a torn ACL. "Gut feeling, I think he's [a] better [receiver]," Foles said.
-- Mark Sanchez had, I thought, a good day, probably the best I've seen out of five open practices. He airmailed an early short pass over Brad Smith's head by about five yards, but was much more consistent the rest of the way, even if he didn't have bromance buddy Matthews to throw to as often. Matthews took a number of reps with the ones. Matthews, who has already received a fair amount of hype, finally dropped a pass, or at least the first one I saw. He couldn't hang on to a tight throw from Foles over the middle.
-- Matt Barkley's third-team struggles continued. Actually, before team drills even began, he was errant on three straight downfield passes during Kelly's drill in which he has the four quarterbacks all throw passes to undefended receivers at the same time. Barkley had some crisper tosses during team drills later on, but threw behind a crossing receiver from about 5-10 yards. Not good.