Eagles practice observations: Sidney Jones held back with ‘soreness;’ Carson Wentz dials it up; Darren Sproles takes mental reps
Highlights from the Eagles' first practice of minicamp.
The Eagles held the first of three minicamp practices this week. Tuesday's session was open to the media. Here are some observations and notes:
Minicamp is "mandatory" and every player on the roster was in attendance. We caught our first glimpse of defensive end Michael Bennett and running back Darren Sproles, who opted to miss voluntary organized team activities (Phase 3) during the previous three weeks. Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox and linebacker Nigel Bradham, who skipped last week, and center Jason Kelce and tackle Lane Johnson, who were absent on Thursday, were also back in the mix. The Eagles still have many players working their way back from injury. Defensive end Brandon Graham(ankle) and defensive tackle Tim Jernigan (back) weren't out at practice again. They did their rehab work indoors. Graham said last week that he won't need crutches to walk next week – he's wearing a boot – and should be able to participate in practice sometime during training camp. Cornerback Sidney Jones, receiver Alshon Jeffery (shoulder), defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, safety Chris Maragos (knee), running back Josh Adams (foot), linebacker LaRoy Reynolds and safety Ryan Neal watched practice.
Jones had practiced during the first week of OTAs, but was sidelined the last two. After Tuesday's session, he said that he had "soreness" and that the team was "backing him off." He declined to specify where he was feeling sore. Obviously, if Jones is having problems with his left leg – the one in which he ruptured his Achilles tendon – it would be a cause for concern. Whether he meant to downplay the injury or not, "soreness" sounds more ominous than, say, a sprain. Nevertheless, he didn't seem concerned and we're still a way off from the start of the season. The Eagles would prefer Jones, who missed last spring and most of the season, spend this time learning the defense and getting as many repetitions as possible. But he still has time to catch up, especially if he's as bright as the coaches say he is.
When the individual portion of practice opened, the quarterbacks ran to the corner area of the complex, far from the media. They soon gathered near the opposite end of the field, however, and we got a close view of quarterback coach Press Taylor's drills. He ran his charges through a basic pocket drill that had them dropping and moving side to side. Last week, Taylor rolled exercise balls at them to simulate the rush. This week, it was tennis balls. Carson Wentz continued to effortlessly run through these drills – at least it looked effortless – despite his recovery from knee surgery.
The quarterback did about the same amount of work as he did last week. He didn't partake in team drills, but he did take a series of snaps in 7 on 7s. On his first play, Wentz tried for receiver Shelton Gibson, but his pass was off target and nearly intercepted by safety Tre Sullivan. A set later, in the red zone, Wentz threw to receiver Nelson Asholor, but safety Rodney McLeod read his eyes from underneath and snatched the ball for a pick. The quarterback added a little mustard to his next pass — a slant to Agholor – and the receiver made a splendid grab. There were a few oohs and ahhs from reporters and defensive backs coach Cory Undlin said, "Sack," as in Wentz would have been sacked had there been a rush. He did go through several reads and stood in the pocket for an inordinate amount of time. The velocity on the throw was impressive, nevertheless.
Darren Sproles — like Wentz, tackle Jason Peters (knee) and linebacker Jordan Hicks (Achilles) — was a limited participant. He ran around with his helmet on, but only took mental reps. During punt drills, for instance, Sproles shadowed other returners from about ten yards back and simulated receiving kicks and running. He later said that he could have done everything, but that the Eagles didn't want to rush him back. Sproles, who turns 35 next week, tore his ACL in September.
Isaac Seumalo was also, once again, limited. His injury isn't believed to be serious. The offensive lineman has an upper body strain, according to an NFL source. Offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland confirmed that Seumalo was injured on Monday, but he wouldn't go into detail. The third-year lineman participated in individual drills and hit the sled with the rest of his peers, but he was held out of team drills and only snapped the football during 7 on 7s in the latter half of practice.
Here's a running diary, of sorts, on the first units during team and 7 on 7 drills: Personnel was essentially the same as it was during OTAs, with the lone exception of slot cornerback. De'Vante Bausby returned to the first team with Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby on the outside. Nate Gerry and Kamu Grugier-Hill continued to get the bulk of reps at outside linebacker. Bradham was in the middle with Hicks limited. Quarterback Nick Foles hit Agholor early on with a seam pass against a zone defense. Safety Malcolm Jenkins looked around as if someone missed his assignment. Bradham blitzed up the "A" gap and "sacked" Foles. Running back Corey Clement took a handoff and cut outside, but Grugier-Hill was there and tagged him down. Receiver Mack Hollins dropped a pass during 7 on 7s. Foles tried to squeeze a deep toss to receiver Mike Wallace, but Darby and McLeod converged to break up the pass. Tight end Zach Ertz pulled in a contested pass. Agholor took advantage of a mismatch and got behind Bradham. Foles' pass was underthrown, but his receiver was so open that it didn't matter. Wendell Smallwood got up field on a screen. Center Jason Kelce led the way and knocked Darby (unintentionally, I presume) to the ground.
The second unit: On the first team drill, Bennett jumped offsides. Over the previous five seasons, he was the NFL's most penalized player. Quarterback Nate Sudfeld later threw behind tight end Dallas Goedert and safety Tre Sullivan was there to knock the ball away. Receiver Markus Wheaton toasted rookie corner Avonte Maddox and strolled in for an easy "touchdown." Wheaton was active all practice. Bennett dropped into coverage several times with defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz obviously working on zone blitzes. Sudfeld was late to Goedert again, but he had some other strong tosses, once hooking up with receiver Greg Ward. Ward left Thursday's practice after a scare, but as he predicted, he was back for minicamp.
And the third unit: Running back Donnel Pumphreywas back in action after sitting with an unspecified injury last week. Sudfeld, working with the third offense during 7 on 7s, threw a rope to Goedert for a "touchdown."Joe Callahanthreaded the needle to a slanting Bryce Treggsfor a "touchdown."
And a few quickies … Cameron Johnstonhasn't locked down the punter job down by any means. There may not be any competition right now, but the Eagles could add another punter or simply replace him during training camp if he starts to struggle. I can't say for certain whether he's performing well or not. There was a drill in which many of his punts seemed to drift short, but special teams coordinator Dave Fippmay have been working on having his returners field short kicks. … Reynolds changed his number from 48 to ex-Eagle Mychal Kendricks' old number of 95.