Running Diary: Eagles Practice Observations

Here’s what we saw at today’s practice:

12:38 – The Eagles are in pads for the second consecutive day. As Chip Kelly explained, he’s trying to walk the fine line between making camp physical and not injuring his players. For that reason, there will be no tackling to the ground until the preseason games.

12:42 – An early team period today. Nick Foles starts out with the first team, but once again, he and Michael Vick are rotating.

12:44 – Here is your daily Jason Peters crushing a blocking sled video. If you’re wondering why I don’t add some variety, it’s because this is the one drill where I can get really close to the action.

Running backs, meanwhile, are practicing ball security with special contraptions we’ve seen before. The football is attached to a string. On the other end of the string is something that looks like a baton. One player holds the ball, while the other player, about 5 yards away, tries to yank it loose.

Here’s a photo from a distance:

12:53 – There are giant insects flying all around the fields here. Bo Wulf of PhiladelphiaEagles.com tells me they are dragonflies. I’m standing next to a kid from the Boys & Girls Club. As one of the giant creatures nears his face, the kid flips out and dives to the ground, nearly taking out my knee in the process.

But don’t worry, I’m OK.

And I don’t really blame him. I probably would have reacted the same way when I was 8-years-old. Actually, I would probably react the same way even now that I’m 30.

1:00 – The field is divided in half for a little 3-on-2. Two quarterbacks stand next to each other, facing the same direction. When the whistle blows, one of them takes the snap, and two receivers go against a linebacker, corner and safety. Once the play is over, the whistle blows, and the other quarterback does the same thing on the other side of the field.

A new twist though today. The voice over the loudspeaker is handing out scores after each rep. “Offense 3, Defense 2.” This continues throughout the entire practice whenever a drill pits the offense vs. the defense.

I asked Kelly about the scoring system after practice.

“It’s set up depending on the drill to be honest with you,” he said. “So obviously in 3-on-2, it’s a lot easier for the offense. Depending on how you do it, the offense can gain one, the defense can gain two. If it’s third-and-short, the offense gets only a point, but the defense gets more for a stop…

“We’ve had the system for awhile. It’s just a way to make practice a little more competitive and try to even out the balance. Sometimes it’s a 1 to 2 ratio. Sometimes it’s a 1 to 3 ratio.”

Kelly said it’s the first time he’s implemented the scoring system with the Eagles because they only do it when they’re in pads.

1:18 – Time for 7-on-7 drills. Jason Avant is an amazing practice player. He does something to stand out pretty much every day. This time around, he leaps and makes a great grab in the middle of the field between Patrick Chung and Colt Anderson. At first, it looked like it might be a pick, but Avant came down with it.

By the way, when Avant was walking off the field later, he noticed the kids from the Boys & Girls Club setting up for a photo. “Can I get in there?” Avant asked, as if they were going to say no. The kids went nuts as they shouted “Go Birds!” on three.

1:24 – Teach period. We haven’t talked a lot about coverages behind the 3-4, but this was an interesting note from former Eagles director of player personnel Louis Riddick to Tommy Lawlor on Twitter:

Will be interesting to see if that holds true.

1:25Todd Herremans is not practicing today. In his place is Danny Watkins at right guard.

Another day, another rep of Foles running the read option. Please don’t ask me why.

Lots of screens during this 11-on-11 session. On one, James Casey is in the slot with Riley Cooper out wide blocking Kurt Coleman. On the next play, Cooper moves to the slot on the opposite side with Brent Celek outside.

“Thud” means defenders can hit the ball-carrier, but they don’t bring him down to the ground. Cedric Thornton and Vinny Curry, however, deliver two pretty nice blows on rookie Matthew Tucker on consecutive plays.

By the way, Chris Polk has had several good runs the last two days.

1:38 – One-on-one time. In previous years, the coaches would place a ball behind the line of scrimmage, and the tight end would have to stone the blitzing linebacker. But this year, they’ve switched things up. The drill is not meant to simulate only pass protection. The tight end is in charge of blocking the outside linebacker, while another offensive player simulates a running back. In other words, the tight end is trying to block the defender to a certain side, and the defender is trying to shed the block and get to the ball.

From what I can tell, the defense gets the better of the offense. Trent Cole houses Emil Igwenagu, and Connor Barwin chucks Zach Ertz to the side.

But this is another sign that the expectation is Kelly will emphasize the run game.

1:44 – During the special-teams period, a couple reporters and I discuss Brian Westbrook. One, how would he look in Kelly’s offense? The conclusion: fantastic.

Two: What’s happened to the Eagles’ screen game? We decide that there really is an art to the quarterback timing that perfectly. Size helps too with the ability to throw over or past the unblocked defender. And of course the running back has to know where to go once he gets the football. Michael Vick to LeSean McCoy is nowhere near Donovan McNabb to Westbrook in the screen game.

Backup inside linebacker Jason Phillips goes down while on kickoff coverage. A cart takes him off the field.

Meanwhile, for what I believe is the first time all camp, Russell Shepard is fielding kickoffs.

1:54 – One thing all young reporters who want to cover football should know: get ready for the constant smell of B.O. in the summer. It’s just a part of training camp. You can’t get away from it even if you choose very wisely about who you stand next to.

Vick makes a nice throw on an out to DeSean Jackson, but then overthrows Cooper on a deep post during 7-on-7s. Foles, meanwhile, has a pass batted by Casey Matthews, but Damaris Johnson makes the catch anyway.

Brandon Boykin sees some time on the outside. Vick looks for Jackson deep on a go-route, but Boykin sticks with him, step for step. Boykin has been the best defensive back on the field so far during camp. Maybe the best defensive player overall. I thought previously that he’d play exclusively inside, but I’m starting to re-think that stance.

2:21 – More Boykin. This time, he nearly intercepts Foles, who is looking for Jackson. Boykin told Jimmy Kempski that defensive backs have to do 50 push-ups for every pass break-up that doesn’t result in an interception.

Clifton Geathers is seeing some time with the first-team defensive line in place of Cedric Thornton. He’s lined up next to Isaac Sopopaga and Fletcher Cox.

Vick hits Ertz on a slant. The rookie shows strong hands and does a good job of making himself big with Bradley Fletcher on his back.

Whoa! For one of the rare times, we see the Eagles actually huddling.

Cooper makes a nice one-handed grab on a ball thrown behind him by Foles on a crossing pattern.

2:30 – Another day in the books. No practice tomorrow, but we’re back at it on Wednesday.

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