McLane's Eagles-Patriots practice observations
The Eagles and Patriots gathered for the first of three first inter-squad practices on Tuesday and there was a lot to digest after the teams squared off for nearly two hours of scrimmaging. Here are some observations and highlights from the practice:
-- Nick Foles was first up with the first team offense in both 7 on 7 and team drills, but he and Michael Vick once again split repetitions at quarterback. Foles got off to a rocky start. On the very first play of 11 on 11s, he tossed a quick bubble screen to DeSean Jackson, but he didn't see Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib, who stepped in front of the throw. Talib should have had an interception and a pick six if it was a game, but he dropped the ball.
-- Foles bounced back admirably and had, in my estimation, his best practice since the Eagles started wearing pads a little over a week ago. He tossed a beauty to a wide open Jackson for a 50-yard TD at one point and feathered a few deep balls to Riley Cooper later on. He's still holding onto the ball a little too long, as was Vick, but I imagine he'll get the ball out quicker the more comfortable he is with the offense.
-- Jackson, meanwhile, continues to have the strongest camp of any Eagles player. He catches pretty much everything thrown in his direction and there hasn't been a defensive back – Eagle or Patriot -- that's been able to run with him. If he stays healthy – a sizeable if – he should be the Eagles leader in receiving yards this year.
-- Vick was sharp, as well. But there were a few times when I thought he could have gotten rid of the ball quicker and avoided what would have normally been sacks or hits. His best throw came when he hit tight end Zach Ertz over the middle for about 30 yards. Ertz hit the hole in the zone and Vick read his break perfectly, hitting his tight end in stride. Vick has struggled with projection throws before. He has plenty of room to improve.
-- To some surprise, the third teams got very little action. Chip Kelly explained afterward that he and Bill Belichick planned it this way because Tom Brady and the Patriots first team probably won't be playing much on Friday night in the preseason opener. So while Matt Barkley didn't get many snaps on Tuesday, and probably won't on Wednesday, it's fair to presume that he'll see a lot of action in the game. Barkley has, in politically correct terms, expressed frustration with not getting any first team snaps yet in camp. I asked Kelly about this after practice and he noted that it was still early. Barkley hasn't been impressive by any stretch of the imagination – he threw an interception right into the arms of Patriots cornerback Logan Ryan – but he isn't exactly working with grade A talent.
-- Bryce Brown dropped, I think, three passes. Not good. Daniel Jeremiah of NFL Network made the observation after watching practice that Chris Polk could be ahead of Brown and be the No. 2 running back behind LeSean McCoy. It's not as crazy as it sounds. Polk has had a great camp and is much better at running in between the tackles than Brown, who seems to always want to bounce it outside.
-- The Eagles offense didn't look any different than it has for most of camp, although there was one notable difference: They huddled much more than normal. There was a decent amount of running, a fair share of short screens and quick button hooks, and enough deep throws to satisfy fans. There was some read option, although the quarterbacks never had to run. Kelly said that he didn't feel the need to hold back because the Eagles won't see the Patriots this season.
-- Cooper, as coincidence would have it, had probably his best practice of camp. Every time the ball was thrown in his direction, he caught it. He played with both the first and second teams. His best catch came when Vick rolled out and tossed a ball up for grabs in the back of the end zone that Cooper caught over cornerback Alfonzo Dennard for a TD.
-- Russell Shepard took a number of first team snaps at wide receiver, as well. The rookie has had a nice camp, but he had a rough day. He was called for offsides at one point and Kelly could be heard barking at him: "Get your feet set!" It was the first time I had heard Kelly get that loud. Probably had something to do with there being no music today at practice. Kelly said he scrapped the music because of the communication the two teams would need.
-- With Jason Peters out again with a hamstring injury, Allen Barbre started at left tackle. Barbre has mostly played at guard this camp, but with Peters and Dennis Kelly (back) sidelined, he got his opportunity with the ones. The Eagles had been sliding Lane Johnson from right tackle to left because he would likely be Peters' in-season backup, but Kelly obviously believed the rookie needed to get some work at his designated right tackle spot. Barbre's flexibility could help him earn a roster spot.
-- Switching to defense, Cary Williams, to no great surprise, was the only Eagles to get into a fight. The feisty cornerback mixed it up with Patriots rookie receiver Aaron Dobson early one. There was a fair amount of grabbing, but no other players got involved and it ended quickly. Neither played the rest of the day. Brandon Hughes took Williams' spot with the first team opposite Bradley Fletcher.
-- As expected, Fletcher Cox and Cedric Thornton were the starting defensive ends and Isaac Sopoaga was at nose tackle. They didn't appear to get much push up front, but it was hard to gauge with the limited contact and because Brady gets the ball out so fast. Clifton Geathers and Bennie Logan played some second team defensive end with Damion Square at nose tackle. Logan moved to nose when Vinny Curry came in at end.
-- The Eagles blitzed nickel corner Brandon Boykin out of the slot on at least two occasions. He blitzed with linebacker DeMeco Ryans on one play, but the Pats o-line picked it up, and Brady bought enough time before he found wide receiver and former Eagle Danny Amendola singled up against safety Kenny Phillips. Brady lofted a pass into the corner of the end zone and Amendola stretched out and pulled it in. Amendola would later drop a would-be score that hit him in between the "8" and the "0" on his jersey.
-- I could be wrong, but it looked like Phillips got more snaps with the starters than he has at any point this camp. Nate Allen was in there along with Patrick Chung, too, but Phillips was a little more active. He still doesn't look 100 percent, but he did get into the backfield on one run play.
-- With Connor Barwin absent because of an illness, Brandon Graham started at outside linebacker along with Trent Cole. He continued to struggle in coverage. He was asked to pick up running back Leon Washington on a wheel route, but trailed the entire play and was beat bad. Later on, he looked lost when he was singled up against a tight end whose number I didn't catch. While Cole has transition more fluidly into an OLB role, Graham has had a harder time. There's still a ways to go, but he's running out of time.
-- A few quickies: The Eagles faked a kick when punter Donnie Jones took the snap and ran for a first down. The Patriots gave little effort to stop Jones, though. … Tim Tebow got about as many snaps as Barkley, but his throwing motion is still painful to watch. … Damaris Johnson had a great hip fake on a kick return that juked several Patriots and allowed him to pick up an extra number of yards. He left with a hamstring injury. … Poor G.J. Kinne. The fifth-string quarterback has been asked to fill a variety of roles in camp and was a blocker during kick returns Tuesday. On one return, he got clobbered, despite the red off-limits jersey he wears as a quarterback.
-- Injuries: Receiver Arrelious Benn left with another knee injury. Cue the skipping record. Running back Felix Jones had a hamstring injury. He hasn't shined at camp. McCoy (knee) did not participate in the contact portion of practice.