Running Diary: Eagles Practice Observations

Here’s what we saw during today’s session at the Linc.

12:29 – Let the record show that this is the time of Chip Kelly’s first public appearance at the Linc as the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles. Kelly is joined by the quarterbacks and gets a nice ovation. Michael Vick draws a lot of cheers too when he’s shown on the Jumbotron.

LeSean McCoy does the whole “wave to the crowd to make some noise” thing as he comes out of the tunnel. Not quite the same as a Sunday night matchup against the Giants, but a nice gesture nonetheless.

If you’re wondering about the crowd, official word from the Eagles is that 30,000 fans showed up. Some of my colleagues estimated that it was more like 20,000. I do not have the know-how to venture an educated guess. But somewhere between 20,000 and 30,000 seems fair to me.

12:36 – Jeremy Maclin gets an ovation too. The day after tearing his ACL, he’s on one crutch watching practice from the sideline. Arrelious Benn (left knee) is not participating. Neither is Cary Williams (hamstring).

12:41 – Our first rendition of the Eagles fight song right before alumni come out onto the field. Brian Dawkins gets a huge ovation. Surprised? Didn’t think so. He and Kelly engage in a nice little bro-hug.

Donovan McNabb also gets a loud ovation. A boo here and there, but overwhelmingly positive from what I can tell. McNabb’s not messing around with the bro-hug. He goes for the full two-hander, Roger Goodell style. McNabb stops for several people, including Kelly, Vick, McCoy, DeSean Jackson and Todd Herremans.

12:45 – Before practice starts up, I get up to go grab soft pretzels for T-Mac and myself. McManus calls me un-American for being anti-mustard.

12:46 – Damnit! No more soft pretzels left! To make matters worse, fans in front of the press box are teasing me with buckets of crab fries. Things are not looking up.

1:15 – Wide receivers work with the quarterbacks. Deep curls and then drag routes across the field. Riley Cooper said after practice that the routes in this system are completely different than the previous one.

1:24 – The offense and defense work together. It looks like the focus is pre-snap motion. Billy Davis uses hand signals to make calls to the safeties.

“The tempo that we practice at really helps communication,” Davis said last week. “It forces everybody to communicate without really using words. Trying to use words, but a lot of times, it’s hand signals and kind of a look at each other of , ‘Hey, this is how we’re going to play this.’ It really challenges you communication-wise.

1:33 – The Eagles flash a stat on the Jumbotron that Vick is the franchise’s all-time leader with an 87.8 QB rating. That can’t be right, can it?

1:34 – Just looked it up. It is indeed accurate. He just edges out Donovan McNabb (86.5).

1:37 – With Maclin out, rookie Jordan Poyer is back fielding punts, alongside Jackson and Damaris Johnson. Poyer returned 10 punts for 67 yards as a senior in college. As a junior, though, he was better (10 returns for 141 yards and a touchdown).

1:40 – I should note that the pads are on today, but this practice bears no resemblance to an Andy Reid practice. Minimal contact, not very physical. These are what many camps around the league now look like, but fans who watched the team at Lehigh in previous years have to be at least a little disappointed.

Vick starts off with the first team, but once again, he and Nick Foles split reps. Cooper sees the bulk of the first-team reps in place of Maclin, but Johnson mixes in a bit too.

Curtis Marsh is filling in for Williams at cornerback with the first team.

On one play, Vick pump-fakes several times before eventually dumping it off toBrent Celek. In a real game, this would have been a sack. From my perspective, both quarterbacks still have quite a few plays like this each practice. It’s a reminder that Kelly is installing an entirely new offense, and there is almost certainly going to be an adjustment period.

1:42 – James Casey lines up out wide with Foles at quarterback. I mentioned this earlier, but just saying the Eagles will replace Maclin with tight ends is over-simplifying it a bit. Kelly likes tight ends because they can create mismatches. But more often than not, when a tight end is lined up out wide against a corner, the advantage goes to the defense.

The Eagles are doing a lot mixing and matching at inside linebacker. Today, Jamar Chaney and Emmanuel Acho are running with the second team.

Matt Barkley lofts a nice ball to Greg Salas on a 7-route, right over Trevard Lindley’s outstretched arms. The crowd loves it.

Barkley later throws towards the sideline, but doesn’t get a lot of zip on the ball, and outside linebacker Chris McCoy, dropping in coverage, gets a hand on it, forcing the incompletion.

1:46 – A drop for Celek. The crowd is not pleased. According to Pro Football Focus, Celek dropped 12.3 percent of the catchable balls thrown his way last year, sixth-worst among tight ends. The change-ups continue at linebacker. This time, Casey Matthews goes with Mychal Kendricks on the first team.

1:50 – An interesting look from the offense during 11-on-11 drills. Jackson in the slot and Zach Ertz is out wide on the same side. Lots of run plays here, including Vick keeping the ball on the zone read and taking it to the left sideline.

1:53 – Foles takes over and lines up under center, not shotgun. Don’t see that very often during Eagles practices.

The second-team defensive line is Clifton Geathers, Damion Square and Vinny Curry.

1:54 – The Eagles run what initially seems like a read-option play, but instead of taking off, Vick unleashes a pass to McCoy, who is out wide.

In nickel, the Eagles go with Fletcher Cox, Bennie Logan, Trent Cole and Connor Barwin up front. Later, Cedric Thornton rotates in for Logan.

Foles looks for Ifeanyi Momah deep down the right sideline, but Lindley is all over him. The Eagles raved about Momah’s speed, but I haven’t seen him separate much from corners on deep balls.

2:00 – Wide receiver/defensive back one-on-ones. Russell Shepard streaks down the left sideline on a go-route and makes a leaping grab over Brandon Hughes. The crowd loves it. Still not sure if he’ll make the team, but Shepard continues to make plays.

Safety Kenny Phillips with good coverage on WR Will Murphy. He nearly intercepts Foles.

Jason Avant shakes David Sims with a beautiful move, but Barkley is off-target with his throw as the crowd Oooohs and Aaaahs. Every summer, Avant schools defensive backs during one-on-ones. He puts on a clinic with his route-running.

Dennis Dixon lofts a beautiful deep ball down the right sideline for a 40-yard completion to Jackson, who beats Bradley Fletcher deep for the second day in a row.

2:06 – During special teams, there’s not a lot for McCoy to do. He walks over to the sideline and puts his arm around Jeffrey Lurie.

“Did I ever tell you how much I appreciate that $46 million you’re throwing my way, big guy?”

McCoy then chats with Miami Heat coach Erik Spolestra, who is presumably here as a guest of Kelly’s. Spolestra picked Kelly’s brain about spacing last offseason, according to SI.com’s Chris Ballard.

2:17 – Offensive/defensive linemen one-on-ones in the far corner of the stadium. One of my favorite drills of training camp, but I can’t see much from the press box.

2:25 – The offense does not look sharp today. Foles targets Jackson, but the pass is broken up by Fletcher. Trent Cole comes up with what wold have been a sack on Foles had he been allowed to hit the quarterback.

Vick hands off to Bryce Brown, who goes east-west out of bounds for a loss.

The defense shows a look with what appears to be one down lineman. Brandon Graham stands up in the A-Gap. Curry is standing up too. Vick is pressured before taking off and fleeing the pocket.

Jackson makes a nice catch on a low throw from Foles on a screen. Foles then targets Jackson on a go-route down the right sideline, but the ball hits Lindley in the helmet.

Vick runs play-action, rolls to his left, can’t get away from Phillip Hunt and throws across his body into the ground in Momah’s direction.

I already mentioned the offense doesn’t look good today, right? OK, just checking.

Foles runs the read-option and keeps it. Remember when Kelly said he should be fired if he runs the read-option 20 times a game with Foles? I think by 20, he might have meant 1.

Avant motions and catches a screen, but Brandon Boykin would have Sheldon Brown’d him if hitting were allowed.

If you feel like these practice notes haven’t been very flattering, this should cheer you up:

2:38 – Tomorrow we’re back at NovaCare. Until then…

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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