The Eagles held their second practice of training camp (Day 1 is here). Here are some observations and notes:
Carson Wentz was once again the lead story. The Eagles quarterback didn't participate in team drills, but he did split first team snaps with Nick Foles during 7 on 7s. Wentz worked almost exclusively with the second unit in the spring and the Eagles are slowly re-familiarizing him with some of the regulars and, just as important, having him face a top defense. He continued to impress with his throws, particularly during his set with the "starters." Two passes stood out: A smoke to tight end Zach Ertz in between two safeties – Ertz made a diving grab — and a turkey hole toss near the sidelined to receiver Markus Wheaton. Carson kills Cover 2 zones. Wentz didn't do any additional rehab work for his knee during a hot and steamy, 2-1/2-hour session.
Michael Bennett worked with the second unit defense during June's minicamp and that is where he currently remains. Who starts doesn't matter as much on the defensive line because of Jim Schwartz's rotation, but I assume the Eagles want to give second-year end Derek Barnett as many reps as possible against left tackle Jason Peters this summer. Bennett is backing up Chris Long on the left, but he can play either side (and inside). Brandon Graham rounds out the top four, but he's still sidelined following ankle surgery and has obstacles to clear before he returns. Bennett rushed several times from the edge standing up. Schwartz was working on some of his blitz packages during team drills and Bennett dropped a few times, once covering running back Donnel Pumphrey downfield. A few plays later, an unblocked Bennett didn't bite on a fake and "sacked" Foles. "Superfreak" by Rick James was playing over the sound system and Bennett unleashed a freaky dance.
Malcolm Jenkins stood out during the first set of 7-on-7 drills. Foles was errant on a seam pass to receiver Mack Hollins and the safety raced over from his post spot and knocked the ball away. Later, Foles ballooned a pass to Ertz and Jenkins was there for the interception. The veteran safety is one of the Eagles' best practice players. He never takes a play off and brings as much intensity to some of the more mundane parts of the practice than he does to scrimmaging. If I had to rank the Eagles' top practice players, both in effort and execution, I'd go 1. Darren Sproles (a pro's pro), 2. Jenkins, 3. Wentz, 4. Ertz and 5. Graham.
There aren't many starting position battles this camp, but there are a few key secondary roles up for grabs. A day after Sidney Jones took all the first team reps in the slot, De'Vante Bausby was inside opposite outside cornerbacks Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby. There will be a cast of candidates vying for that spot over the next few weeks. Mychal Kendricks' release left a vacancy at weak-side linebacker and Corey Nelson, who was signed to a one-year contract in March, has been getting the longest look with the first team thus far. Kamu Grugier-Hill has been next on the depth chart. He is a converted safety and can have trouble getting off his blocks, but he should be given plenty of opportunities to supplant Nelson. Tre Sullivan seems to have the first shot at claiming the third safety spot, but there has been no clear leader thus far. Undrafted rookies Jeremy Reaves, Ryan Neal and Stephen Roberts are also in the mix, but no one from the group has played in a NFL regular season game.
Assistant coach Cory Undlin introduced a new drill to practice – or at least it was new to me – in which multiple balls were being thrown at defensive backs. The lower component seemed the most integral as two players ran crossing routes – a mesh concept – as the slot and the box safety played their keys. Rub routes, pick routes, whatever you want to call them, have gained in prominence and are nearly impossible to defend when executed. The Eagles are young at cornerback, but they have more depth than they've had in years. Cornerback Rasul Douglas has been firmly entrenched with the second unit, but I thought he had a solid spring and has carried that over into camp. Jones played opposite Douglas on the outside on Thursday. He was flagged when he contacted crossing receiver Mike Wallace before the ball arrived.
Receiver Shelton Gibson left practice early. He appeared to be experiencing cramps. It was a humid day in South Philly and several other players had to take a breather here and there. Wallace had his leg worked on by a trainer for several minutes before he returned to practice. It's early, but players will start to drop as camp grinds on. Soft tissue injuries usually pile up during this period. Saturday's practice will be the first one in full pads and there will be "thud" periods – hitting, but no tackling to the grown – throughout the morning. Graham, receiver Alshon Jeffrey (shoulder), defensive tackle Tim Jernigan (back), safety Chris Maragos (knee), and receiver Bryce Treggs ("lower body") didn't practice for a second straight day. All five should be out for an extended period. I haven't even seen Jernigan yet.
Here's a running diary, of sorts, of team drills, starting with the first units: Peters took a fair number of snaps before bowing out to Halapoulivaati Vaitai. Schwartz's defense came out strong and denied Foles on his first attempt. The quarterback threw a late pass that Darby nearly picked off. A play later, Foles dumped to running back Jay Ajayi, but linebacker Jordan Hicks was Johnny on the spot. The offense did rebound when Foles felt pressure and unloaded to an open Nelson Agholor down the sideline. The receiver took off untouched – to the delight of the assembled fans – but Darby slipped as he pursued.
The second unit: Nate Sudfeld handled quarterbacking duties. He had the pass of the day when he dropped a 40-yard dime to the sideline-streaking Rashard Davis. Cornerback D.J. Killings had tight coverage, but the second-year receiver made a splendid catch. A day after several pre-snap penalties, an offensive lineman jumped early and was penalized.
And the third unit: Quarterback Joe Callahan has impressed with his arm strength and composure, but he wasn't at his best during this set, once throwing wide of receiver Tim Wilson and then over the outstretched hands of tight end Josh Perkins. The Eagles haven't worked much on their run game – the pads will make that discipline easier to gauge – but undrafted rookie Josh Adams got the ball on a Statue of Liberty handoff. Gotta love the Statue of Liberty. There was another false start. Doug Pederson looked like he was about to pop a blood vessel in his neck.
And some leftovers … Our first glimpse of Jake Elliott's kicking prowess came early in practice. He connected on all seven of his attempts, from 22, 33, 36, 38, 40, 44 and 44 yards. … Receiver Greg Ward had a nice outing, especially during 7 on 7s. He secured a Foles pass on a deep crossing route and nearly tap danced a leaping grab inbounds on a Wentz toss.
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