Eagles practice observations: Sidney Jones shows off speed at slot; Carson Wentz looks sharp; depth chart updates
Highlights from the first day of Eagles' training camp.
The Eagles opened training camp for the 2018 season on Thursday. Here are some observations and notes:
1. Carson Wentz took another step forward – however minor – in his return from torn knee ligaments. The Eagles quarterback participated in 11-on-11 drills for the first time since his December injury. Practice was a light "10-10-10" – a series of 10-minute sessions designed for the offense, defense and special teams – so full team drills weren't especially competitive and there wasn't contact. The players were also in shorts and shells. But Wentz's participation was a positive sign on the first day of camp. He still must be cleared for contact – the next big step – but the Eagles don't appear to be in any hurry to put their franchise quarterback in that position. If it weren't for the brace he wore on his left knee, you might not have been able to tell that he wasn't yet 100 percent. Wentz did essentially the same amount of work as every other quarterback and didn't spend any separate time rehabbing on another field. After practice, he reiterated that his goal is still to be ready by the opener on Sept. 6 and until I see any reason to doubt him, I'm going to take him on his word.
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2. Wentz worked with the second-team offense. He did take a few snaps with the starters during the installation period, but Nick Foles otherwise ran with the ones. I'd say Wentz looked sharp, but it's difficult to put much stock in drills that are meant to benefit either the offense or defense depending upon the set. Friday's practice will be more strenuous and more typical, in terms of its structure, but the pads won't come out and hitting the won't start until Saturday.
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3. The Eagles announced before practice that defensive end Brandon Graham (ankle), wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (shoulder) and safety Chris Maragos (knee) were placed on the physically-unable-to-perform (PUP) list. (Read more here.) They can come off the list at any point, but if they haven't practiced and aren't active by the season opener, the Eagles would have the option to place them on in-season PUP for six weeks without burning roster spots. Defensive tackle Tim Jernigan (back) and receiver Bryce Treggs ("lower body," per coach Doug Pederson) were placed on the active/non-football injury list – a designation they received because their offseason injuries occurred when they weren't under the supervision of the team. The Eagles haven't made any significant additions at defensive tackle, so they could be thinking that Jernigan will be back before the season.
4. Tackle Jason Peters (knee), linebacker Jordan Hicks (achilles) and running back Darren Sproles (knee/arm) were mostly full participants after being limited in the spring. Peters took most of the 11-on-11 reps off, but the breaks could also have been age-related. He looked like the Peters of old. Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, linebacker Joe Walker, running back Josh Adams and linebacker LaRoy Reynolds – players who missed either part or all of spring – were back in action.
5. The most significant returnee was cornerback Sidney Jones, who missed the last three week of the spring with "lower body soreness." Jones said he was back to work the Monday following June minicamp. But having him ready for camp, considering the amount of time he's missed the last one-plus year, was noteworthy. Jones worked exclusively in the slot with the first-team defense. He showed off his considerable speed by running step-by-step with receiver Markus Wheaton and he once blitzed from the slot. Jones has never played a game inside. We're still a long way from the season. I think Jim Schwartz will look at a variety of candidates, including De'Vante Bausby. But I anticipate there being a by-committee approach to the position with cornerback Jalen Mills – jumping inside in the nickel and dime – and safety Malcolm Jenkinsas the primary slots. Jones would then take Mills' spot on the outside.
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6. The offensive-line depth chart didn't change much from the spring. The first unit, from left to right, went: Peters, guard Stefen Wisniewski, center Jason Kelce, guard Brandon Brooks, tackle Lane Johnson. Halapoulivaati Vaita itook Peters' place when he opted out. The second unit: Vaitai, guard Chance Warmack, center Isaac Seumalo, guard Matt Pryor, tackle Taylor Hart. And the third unit: tackle Jordan Mailata, Aaron Evans, Jon Toth, Darrell Greene, Toby Weathersby. There was a steady rotation, per usual, at the offensive skill positions, but Jay Ajayitook most of the first team reps at running back.
7. The first team defense, generally, was: left end Derek Barnett, right end Chris Long, left tackle Destiny Vaeao, right tackle Fletcher Cox, middle linebacker Hicks, strong-side linebacker Nigel Bradham, weak-side linebacker Corey Nelson, left cornerback Mills, right cornerback Ronald Darby, safeties Jenkins and Rodney McLeod. The second unit: left end Josh Sweat, right end Michael Bennett, left tackle Ngata, right tackle Elijah Smalls, middle linebacker Walker, strong-side Reynolds, weak-side Nate Gerry, left corner Rasul Douglas, right corner Bausby, safeties Jeremy Reaves and Tre Sullivan. I couldn't get a full glimpse of the third unit. My apologies.
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8. My running diary of the offense: Wentz threw a pass to Wheaton that maybe should have been caught, but Bausby was there and knocked it away. Pederson went up to Bausby — one of the breakout stars of the spring — and seemed to tell the corner to back off a bit since the drills are devised for the offense to be successful. Wentz then flicked a screen to Sproles like it was old hat, and the 34-year-old tailback motored upfield. Johnson was flagged for a false start, one of several pre-snap penalties for the team. Wentz later tried for Dallas Goedert, but the tight end dropped the pass. I couldn't recall the rookie dropping one ball during the open practices in the spring. A Wentz BB appeared to stun receiver Shelton Gibson, who bobbled the ball but still pulled it in. Seumalo overshot a snap way over the head of third string quarterback Nate Sudfeld.
9. And the defense: When it was time for the first unit, Jenkins raced to the ball first, a habit he and Graham started last season. With Graham watching practice, Long was close behind Jenkins. Mills jumped a pass to receiver Kamar Aiken, who was acquired on Wednesday. He got his hands on the ball but couldn't pull it in. Mills has said that securing more interceptions is a goal this season. Bennett jumped offside. A reminder that he was the most penalized player in the NFL the last five years. Mailata and defensive tackle Aziz Shittu got tangled up with the latter apparently getting the worse of the contact. When the first unit had Jenkins in the slot, Sullivan was the third safety. That job is up for grabs unless the Eagles decide to bring back Corey Graham, who remains unsigned.
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10. And some leftovers … Cameron Johnston's punts were once again shaky. During one stretch, he shanked three straight kicks. He bounced back and had three solid boots, but that kind of inconsistency isn't going to cut it. He has time to prove the job is his, but I have to think the Eagles will bring in some competition. Donnie Jones, who came out of a brief retirement, remains available. … Sproles is expected to handle punt returns, but a variety of players took reps, including Nelson Agholor, Donnell Pumphrey, Rashard Davis and Wheaton.