Eagles practice observations: Matt Pryor stands out; Carson Wentz scaled back; cornerbacks battle
Highlights from Day 4 of Eagles training camp.
The Eagles held their fourth practice of training camp Sunday. Here are my observations and notes:
[ Read Day 1 observations | Day 2 observations | Day 3 observations ]
1. Brandon Brooks missed practice with an unspecified illness, which meant another offensive lineman got the opportunity to play right guard with the first team. Chance Warmack had the first crack during team drills, but on the first repetition he had a false start. Coach Doug Pederson promptly yanked him from the lineup and Matt Pryor was inserted. Pederson's frustration with pre-snap penalties appears to be growing, but Warmack's error allowed Pryor time with the starting o-line for the second straight day. The sixth-round rookie has flashed thus far. During Sunday's one-on-one drills, for example, he contained defensive tackle Winston Craig on an inside rush and when he kicked out to tackle bottled up defensive end Joe Ostman. Pryor shined during combo blocking drills. He once bounced Michael Bennett, who was off balance, to the ground and pancaked defensive tackle Adam Reth to the turf. Brooks doesn't have to worry about his job, but if I were Isaac Seumalo or Warmack, I'd be worried about my roster spot, and, at the least, whether I'll be active on game days. Pryor offers versatility as a guard-tackle, something Warmack — who eventually returned to first team right guard Sunday — does not. Seumalo is working primarily as a center in camp, but he has experience as a guard and tackle. He hasn't yet shown that he's good at any one position.
2. I'm not about to declare Pryor the next John Hannah. He typically isn't facing the Eagles' top defensive linemen, and practice is a far cry from an actual game. But he clearly can compete at this level and has great size (6-foot-7, 332 pounds). He's built similarly to fellow rookie Jordan Mailata (6-8, 346), and because they have numbers that look alike from a distance – 69 and 68 – it can sometimes be difficult to decipher who is who. But once you see them at work it's easy to tell the difference. Mailata really struggled during joint drills. He started off fine vs. defensive end Josh Sweat, who tried to get by the tackle with an outside speed rush. But he toppled over when Ostman fooled him — Timber! — and was completely lost vs. two-man stunts. The Eagles must remain patient, and the same goes for the former rugby player. Mailata was visibly upset, once yanking his helmet off his head and punching it. Former Eagles tackle Tra Thomas was in attendance and tried to give Mailata some pointers.
>>READ MORE: Eagles' biggest rookie, Jordan Mailata, is facing the biggest challenges
3. Carson Wentz was held out of 11-on-11 drills a day after he participated in most team drills. Pederson said that dialing back the quarterback on Day 4 was all part of the Eagles' pre-camp plan. The coach agreed with reporters after practice that it would be difficult to ascertain that Wentz was less than eight months removed from knee surgery based on his performance thus far. Wentz wasn't especially sharp during receiver-defensive back joint drills, but he tossed a beauty of a 50-yard pass into the waiting arms of Mike Wallace.
>>READ MORE: Carson Wentz looks like a go for season opener
4. Rookie cornerback Avonte Maddox stood out during 4-on-4 drills. Working from the slot, he broke up passes to receiver Kamar Aiken and Nelson Agholor and got over in time to "stop" tight end Joshua Perkins after dropping into a soft zone. Wentz heaved a deep ball to Agholor, who had gotten behind corner Stephen Roberts, but the pass fluttered and fell incomplete. Agholor got behind another defender a few plays later and quarterback Nate Sudfeld hit him in stride. One-one-one drills, which typically benefit the receiver, brought out the best in some of the Eagles' defensive backs. Cornerback Ronald Darby was glued to receiver Markus Wheaton and knocked a pass away. Jalen Mills hounded receiver Mack Hollins and disrupted his route. Sidney Jones was flagged earlier for holding, but he shut down Agholor on a back-shoulder toss. Malcolm Jenkins had the unenviable task of covering diminutive receiver Tim Wilson out of the slot. There aren't many safeties that can handle a two-way go without help. Jenkins tried his best to keep up with the Wilson, but he was flagged for holding. He waved his hand at the official, picked up to flag and tossed it into the air. The referee jokingly tossed the flag again for an unsportsmanlike penalty. Cornerback Rasul Douglas was the cornerback victimized by Wallace on his deep connection with Wentz. While long speed isn't a strength, there aren't many corners that can keep up with Wallace step for step.
5. Shelton Gibson has received a fair amount of press since the spring. He's improved over the last year, but there are still far too many catches that aren't cleanly caught. He's sometimes bobbling those passes rather than dropping them, which is an improvement, but he needs to be more consistent. During one on ones, Wentz threw behind Gibson on a curl route, but the quarterback's hand motion afterward – he moved it a circular motion – seemed to indicate that he wanted his receiver to run the route differently. Gibson made a splendid grab, however, when quarterback Nick Foles threw to him deep in the post. The ball was slightly underthrown and it dropped through Darby's arms, but Shelton somehow caught it and bounced up to show everyone. If the Eagles keep only five receivers, the last spot could come down to Gibson or Wheaton. Gibson's increasing contributions on special teams could ultimately give him the edge.
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6. The Eagles don't have a natural blocking tight end after the departure of Brent Celek. Zach Ertz has improved vastly in that discipline and will likely be asked to run block more than any other tight end, but rookie Dallas Goedert and veteran Richard Rodgers will have to block, as well. Goedert wasn't asked to block much in college and Rodgers didn't excel in that department in Green Bay. Tight ends coach Justin Peele has several individual drills that cover blocking, but we've yet to see contract blocking in pads. Rodgers was responsible for blocking Bennett during one run play Sunday, but he stood no chance. Bennett's a tough assignment, but tight ends are often asked to block defensive ends, either straight on or crossing the formation on a split zone run.
7. And now, a few highlights from team drills, starting with the first unit: It was De'Vante Bausby's turn at slot corner. He and Jones have rotated one and off for the first four days. Defensive end Derek Barnett raced in unblocked and batted a Foles pass to the grass. A period later, Barnett tried to skirt around left tackle Jason Peters, but he found no room. Barnett has had more success against tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai, particularly in one-on-ones. But I've yet to see him get the better of Peters.
8. The second unit: Sudfeld had a tough stretch during his first set. He tossed a cherry to Roberts that the cornerback dropped. And he had consecutive passes tipped at the line – first by blitzing linebacker Nate Gerry and then by Sweat. But he tossed a dime to Goedert off play action a period later and hit Rodgers down the sideline toward the end of practice.
9. And the third unit: Fourth quarterback Joe Callahan proved that he belonged on the 90-man roster in the spring, but he's regressed since camp started. He threw behind Aiken on one pass, but the ball deflected off the receiver's hands and to Douglas for an interception. On his last set, Callahan tried to check down to running back Wendell Smallwood, but he sailed the ball well over his head. And a few plays later, he threw errantly to another receiver whose number I couldn't quite catch. Tight end Adam Zaruba left practice with an apparent leg injury. Defensive tackle Aziz Shittu went to the trainer's tent to get looked over, but he eventually returned.
10. And some leftovers … After practice, defensive line coach Chris Wilson had his entire unit run through additional pass rush drills. … Kicker Jake Elliott got some field goal work in early in practice. I couldn't track the distance of the kicks because of the angle, but he missed two of eight attempts. It was windy. … Eagles players have off on Monday. They will have their first "live" tackle-to-the-ground drills Tuesday.
[ Read Day 1 observations | Day 2 observations | Day 3 observations ]