Running Diary: Eagles Practice Observations

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Eagles practice was once again open to the media today. Here’s what we saw.

11:31 – We start out with the tight ends who are working with assistants Ted Williams and Justin Peelle on blocking. Williams is one of my favorite interviews in the organization. He’s entering his 20th season with the Eagles and has seen a lot. Last year I was talking to him about the culture of coaches sleeping in their offices during the season. I asked the 70-year-old Williams if he did that, and he shot me a look as if to say: “No way. Are you bleepin’ nuts?”

I’m always in favor of a good work-family balance.

11:34 – The offensive linemen set up in their stances. Offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland yells out instructions, and they fire off the ball to the second level where other players hold orange blocking mats.

Jason Peters probably doesn’t get enough credit for helping out the younger players. He’s constantly directing them in between drills. Right now he’s having a conversation with undrafted free agent Josh Andrews.

During the next offensive line drill, two players face each other. One holds an orange blocking pad, while the other drives him back. Stoutland yells over and over again: “Feet! Drive! Feet! Drive!”

Sometimes he motions to the guy with the pad and tells him to move in a specific direction. The point is that the linemen are supposed to move their feet. Undrafted free agent Donald Hawkins doesn’t do a rep to Stoutland’s liking.

“We’ve got a leaner!” he yells before correcting the rookie.

11:41 – Now three offensive linemen set up next to each other. It’s time to work on the Eagles’ bread and butter play: the inside zone. I asked Lane Johnson afterwards about how much practice time is spent on this one play. He estimated about 40 percent of each session for the offensive linemen.

11:46 – Mychal Kendricks was not a full participant in practice last week when we watched, but he is today, lining up alongside DeMeco Ryans with the first team. During this portion of practice, the offense lines up against the defense, but they don’t run plays. The offense just shifts and motions while the defense is forced to adjust. When the whistle blows, the ball is snapped, and they do it again.

11:50 – Picture time! Last week I mentioned a couple different contraptions the running backs use at practice. One is a blue belt:

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Two running backs are connected, as you can see. The ball-carrier lunges forward, while the other player holds his weight back.

The other was a red mini doorway-type thing that forces the running backs to get small.

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Thanks to Jeff Fusco for the photos.

11:55 – Moving on, during the special teams portion of practice, Ryans stands in the end zone next to defensive coordinator Billy Davis. It’s clear to see why Ryans is a favorite of the coaches. We’ve speculated quite a bit in this space about the possibility of Davis spelling Ryans more in sub packages. But so far, that hasn’t been the case. I asked Ryans after practice if there’s any sub package where he comes off. His response? “No. You trying to get me off the field?”

The veteran sees no need to play fewer snaps in 2014.

By the way, Ryans and Davis may be the two most well-liked people in the building by their peers.

11:59 – Jimmy Kempski of Philly.com is measuring the hang time of Donnie Jones’ punts. Those two are going to give Cary Williams and Earl Wolff a run for their money for the biggest bromance of 2014.

12:04 – Some depth chart notes to share. Zach Ertz should chew into Brent Celek’s snaps this year, but Celek is still getting all the first-team snaps at tight end.

Najee Goode and Jason Phillips are the inside linebackers with the twos.

I don’t know what to make of Chris Polk’s role. He’s been running with the third team. Darren Sproles has been the man with the twos.

12:09 – During the teach period, Davis yells out calls. Normally these would be in Ryans’ helmet. Ryans, meanwhile, communicates the calls to the rest of the defense – both verbally and with his hand signals. During this portion of practice, the starting defensive line is Fletcher Cox, Cedric Thornton and Bennie Logan. The twos are Brandon Bair, Damion Square and Vinny Curry. And the threes are Joe Kruger, Taylor Hart and Beau Allen. It’s worth noting that Kruger has been mixing in with the ones and twos.

12:14 – During the 11-on-11 period, Nick Foles looks sharp. On one play, though, he can’t find a receiver and takes off running, giving Connor Barwin a pass fake like he’s a point guard on a fast break. Foles averaged 17 rushing yards per game last season. Spread out over a 16-game season, that equates to 272 yards. Would you believe that only nine QBs had more rushing yards than that in 2013?

By the way, Mark Sanchez continues to take all the reps ahead of Matt Barkley with the second team.

12:24 – More special teams practice on the main field. On a side field, the quarterbacks gather around the 40-yard-line. Their targets are in the end zone. Assistants set up two trash cans stacked on top of each other. They then tilt a third trash can towards the quarterbacks, almost like a cannon.

Two of these apparatuses are set up, and the quarterbacks try to launch the ball into the opening on each can.

As I watch, I convince myself that I could make more than these guys from 20 yards in.

I did not get to check if the winner of the contest receives a giant stuffed animal.

12:34 – Jaylen Watkins sighting. The rookie nearly picks off Sanchez.

Foles, meanwhile, lofts a pretty throw to Celek on a corner route past Nate Allen. The Eagles have to run more corner routes with their tight ends than any team in the league.

12:43 – The first-team nickel has Trent Cole, Fletcher Cox, Cedric Thornton and Connor Barwin up front. The twos are Brandon Graham, Bennie Logan, Vinny Curry and Travis Long. Phillips and Goode are the linebackers.

Each year, we give out a Twins award. One year it was King Dunlap and Dion Lewis. This year, the favorites are 6-9 Frances Mays and 5-6 Darren Sproles. Unfortunately, I have yet to see them stand next to each other.

12:47 – Sanchez delivers a nice ball to Ifeanyi Momah in front of Brandon Boykin. He then connects with Momah again off a bootleg.

Foles sets up a screen to Jeremy Maclin, and there’s Jason Kelce downfield blocking Malcolm Jenkins. It’s easy to forget that Kelce was coming off an ACL injury last year. I’ll go ahead and be the first to predict that he makes the Pro Bowl in 2014.

1:01 – The Eagles switch from a teach period to 11-on-11s. Free-agent addition Bryan Braman brings the energy, yelling at no one in particular as he runs from one side of the field to the next.

If you’re wondering about the Eagles’ fifth and possibly sixth receivers, keep an eye on Brad Smith. He’s getting a lot of reps in the slot with the ones. The sense here is that he’s got a good chance to make the 53-man roster.

The Eagles work on their two-minute offense. The first team has to settle for a field-goal try. Alex Henery hits it from 47 yards out. The second team also settles for a field goal. Murderleg misses on a 30-yard attempt.

Now it’s red-zone time. Foles looks for Maclin on a back-shoulder throw, but they can’t connect. Maclin wants a penalty on Bradley Fletcher. They try again two plays later, but Maclin can’t hang on. In the scariest moment of practice so far, he lays on the ground and grabs his left knee.

But Maclin gets up after about 30 seconds and joins the team huddle as practice ends.

No more open practices this week, but we’ll be back for two more next week.

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