Camp Notes: Earl Wolff Running With the Ones

0V3J6867Defensive coordinator Billy Davis has a philosophy when it comes to rookies.

“I believe that when they start they should start at the bottom, and they should earn their way up,” said Davis. “It doesn’t take long for the better players to push their way up. Really, it comes from basically saying, hey the vets have been here and worked at it, someone has to take it from them before you just anoint somebody. But a lot of times when you see the talented young guys come up, they take it pretty quick. And when it’s time and you’ve seen enough and they’ve earned it, then you move them up.”

For the record, Davis hasn’t technically moved Earl Wolff up just yet. But he did have him working with the first team opposite Patrick Chung for the entirety of Monday’s practice.

Nate Allen, who had his share of struggles Friday, was down with the second team.

Davis said it’s all part of an ongoing rotation and suggested that Wolff won’t be with the first unit on Tuesday. While it’s true that Davis has mixed and matched the safety pairings quite a bit through training camp, never before had Wolff seen this many first-team snaps.

“Every day we walk in [to the meeting room] as DBs we have a little depth chart on the board. And when I saw I was with the ones I didn’t think too much of it, but I was like, ‘Let me go out here and have a great day and show the coaches that I can play with the ones,’” said Wolff. ”I feel like the coaches are starting to trust me more and more as the days go on. I stay after [practice] and do extra, I feel like I had a pretty decent game in my first NFL game, and I’m just trying to go up from there.”

The fifth-round pick out of N.C. State prides himself on being a sure-tackler who will lay the big hit when the opportunity presents itself. He believes he can be a fit at strong or free safety.

Davis said he hasn’t named a starter for Thursday yet, let alone for the season opener against the Redskins. But Wolff is at least getting a look.

“Right now it’s a close battle,” said Davis,” and the games will separate it along with the practices.”

Concussion For Watkins

Danny Watkins was not out on the practice field Monday. Turns out, he came in this morning complaining of headaches, and was eventually diagnosed with a concussion. A team spokesman did not know when the injury happened. There was no contact at Sunday’s practice; it’s certainly possible that it was sustained during the game Friday. Matt Tennant played right guard in his absence.

Jason Peters (hamstring) took part in individual drills but sat out the team portion of practice. There’s a decent chance he is back Tuesday. Bryce  Brown (quad), Jon Dorenbos (concussion), Phillip Hunt (knee), Dennis Kelly (back), Casey Matthews (knee), Kenny Phillips (quad) and Ed Wang (knee) did not practice.

Lane Johnson, who became a father over the weekend, was absent as well.

Williams talks with Chip

Cary Williams said that he “wasn’t trying to be a jerk” with his comments Sunday, but was just trying to highlight that the Eagles are working to build a culture on defense where fierceness is part of their DNA.

He cleared the air with Chip Kelly. 

“I had a conversation with coach about the situation. I came in because it made me uncomfortable because I think the words I used were taken out of context,” said Williams. “I just wanted Chip and Howie Roseman to understand that is not my intention — I’m here to be a team player, I’m here to promote the Eagles, I’m here to play my best football.”

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Kelly Knew What He Was Getting In Cary Williams

Chip KellyLet the record show that one of Chip Kelly‘s first decisions as head coach of the Eagles was to sign Cary Williams to a three-year, $17 million contract.

The deal has upwards of $10.5 million in guaranteed cash (The $4.75 million base in 2014 reportedly becomes guaranteed on the fifth day of that league year.)

Kelly knew he wasn’t buying the services of a “yes” man  or a choir boy with that money. He was getting an edgy, hot-tempered corner that would essentially serve as the anti-Nnamdi (even if Williams said he modeled himself after the Raiders version of Asomugha at his introductory press conference). The team needed players in this secondary that wanted to hit people; they needed to extract the soft and fill in the holes with concrete.

The scene that Williams has been dropped into is foreign to him. He was part of a Ravens defense that was bubbling over with swagger and ferocity. A bully-your-opponent-into-submission mentality. Anyone who has watched the Pittsburgh-Baltimore slugfests over the past few seasons knows exactly what type of environment Williams is coming from. Now he is in Philadelphia, and here comes one of his old rivals — the  Patriots — riding into town and (allegedly) talking trash and taking cheap shots. And his coach disciplines him for trying to defend the team’s turf?

“I’m just used to a certain way of life, a certain way on the field,” said Williams. “It’s just different. It’s not necessarily a good different or a bad different, it’s just a different situation. Those guys I play with, whether it be on offense, defense or special teams, those are my brothers. Every time I strap up, that’s my family. When I see guys getting blocked in the back in practice, when we get told not to retaliate, be the bigger person, it’s hard because I come from a different background. Me just relaxing and being cool and letting those people do what they do to me and me being a doormat, that’s something I’m not used to.”

Williams wants the freedom to punch the Patriots (or whomever) in the mouth if there is a whiff of disrespect in the air. Kelly wants his players to show restrain. This seemingly puts coach and player at odds.

But only in respect to playing within the rules. Williams has had some self-control issues in the past, from shoving a referee during the Super Bowl to getting into it with DeSean Jackson last September. Kelly is dead-set against that kind of behavior. Didn’t tolerate it at Oregon. Doesn’t want it here. Beyond that, chances are Kelly likes how Williams is wired and agrees with his take on the state of the ‘D.’

It is true that no team has reason to fear this defense. If any team “needs the nasty” it’s this one. The head coach knows it. That’s why he brought in players with a more physical element to their game (Williams, Patrick Chung, Bradley Fletcher, Kenny Phillips), and it’s part of the reason why he has called on Brian Dawkins early on in his tenure.

“The spirit Brian Dawkins played with is what the Philadelphia Eagles are all about,” said Kelly at an event back in January. “I’m excited to have him as part of the program, and I’m going to lean on him a lot to tell our young guys exactly how the game is supposed to be played.”

We know that Dawkins has been communicating with Nate Allen. And he’s been delivering a consistent message in his talks with Williams.

“I feel like we need to establish a tenacity, a hard-nosed defense, something that is to be feared when it comes out there each and every week,”
said Williams. “I think Brian Dawkins alluded to it a couple times when I spoke to him, he’s talking about, ‘Bring that fear back here.’ ”

If memory serves, Dawkins rarely got in dust-ups after the whistle. He didn’t necessarily “throw the first punch,” as Williams and his Ravens teammates did, but he commanded enough respect around the league that the opponent knew not to raise his hands to begin with. And it was wise to show the proper courtesies when visiting South Philadelphia, or risk leaving here a changed man. That was the Eagles’ identity when Dawkins and Jeremiah Trotter roamed the middle. The same healthy fear existed when Buddy and Reggie and Jerome and Seth were in town.

Kelly is trying to chase down that legacy, not run from it.

“We definitely need somebody to instill that toughness, that feared Eagles way that B-Dawk and I have alluded to in several conversations,” said Williams. “We’ve got to bring that fear back.”

If Williams happens to be the man to lead that charge, Kelly will tolerate his corner’s dissenting opinions and less-than-polished behavior. After all, who has ever heard of a gentleman enforcer?

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Cary Williams: Nobody Fears Us

JJF_8162.jpgCary Williams says that the Patriots came into the joint practices with the Eagles talking trash. He claims that they were doing some “dirty things” on the field. And he didn’t want them to get away with it. Not in the Eagles’ back yard. So he got in a dust-up with rookie receiver Aaron Dobson when the teams went head-up during Tuesday’s practice, and was promptly removed from the session by head coach Chip Kelly.

“They came in there talking. They had a lot of jokes and he-hes and laughs. A lot of dirty plays going on,” said Williams, who returned from a hamstring injury Sunday. “There was a reason behind what I did. There was a reason behind the madness. At the end of the day I still have to do things the way coach wants me to do it, and I understand thatbut it definitely would have been a different situation if it was Baltimore. It wouldn’t have been a fun practice for the Patriots, I’ll tell you that.”

The veteran defensive back was asked if he was attempting to establish a certain tone with this defense.

“I feel like we need the nasty, no question. I feel like we need to establish a tenacity, a hard-nosed defense, something that is to be feared when it comes out there each and every week. I think Brian Dawkins alluded to it a couple times when I spoke to him, he’s talking about, ‘Bring that fear back here.’ Right now, I don’t know if there’s anybody out there in this league  that fears this defense, especially after last week. So I think we have to come together, find a way to get back to those old days when Brian Dawkins was here and strike the fear in individuals, and teams.

“I’m just used to a certain way of life, a certain way on the field,” Williams continued. “It’s just different. It’s not necessarily a good different or a bad different, it’s just a different situation. Those guys I play with, whether it be on offense, defense or special teams, those are my brothers. Every time I strap up, that’s my family. When I see guys getting blocked in the back in practice, when we get told not to retaliate, be the bigger person, it’s hard because I come from a different background. Me just relaxing and being cool and letting those people do what they do to me and me being a doormat, that’s something I’m not used to.”

Kelly is not big on extra-curriculars during practice to begin with. And he and Bill Belichick agreed that any players that were involved in a skirmish during the three days of joint practice would be tossed so the scene didn’t turn into a wrestling match.

The head coach responded to Williams’ comments on Sunday.

“If you do that in a game, you’re kicked out, so we practice like we play,” he said.”We could go get in a street-fight, but that’s not gonna help us. There’s a certain way you’re supposed to play this game and it’s between the whistles. The stuff after the whistles is not what we’re looking for. Our players knew in that game, and Bill is the same way, one of the reasons we wanted to participate against the Patriots is we knew this isn’t gonna turn into a WWE brawl cause that’s not what it is. It’s the game of football.”

For Williams, the sport requires a specific mentality.

“Throw the first punch — that’s what we always were taught,” said Williams. “With the Patriots, I felt the same way.”

Williams has allowed his emotions to get the better of him in the past. The former Raven shoved a referee during the Super Bowl this past February. He was fined $10,000 back in September for getting in a scuffle with none other than DeSean Jackson during a Ravens-Eagles matchup.

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State Of the Eagles’ Roster: Defense

Kenny PhillipsWe did the offense on Thursday. Now here’s the D.

Below is a position-by-position primer on what to look for tonight as the Eagles get ready to host the Patriots in their first preseason game.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN

Fletcher Cox is the best player on this defense. Tonight, we get a chance to see how he’ll be used in Billy Davis’ scheme. How much two-gapping will the linemen be asked to do? Will Cox get one-on-one opportunities as the 3-technique in the 4-3 under? It’s finally time for some answers.

Isaac Sopoaga will play nose tackle, and Cedric Thornton will likely start opposite Cox.

Plenty of intrigue with the second and third teams. We’ll find out what Davis’ plans are for rookie Bennie Logan, and Vinny Curry will try to prove he’s a fit in the new scheme. Don’t be surprised if Clifton Geathers mixes in with the first team. And keep an eye on undrafted free agent Damion Square.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS

All eyes will be on Trent Cole and Brandon Graham as they make the position switch from defensive end. During practices, they dropped back into coverage a lot because that’s where the coaches wanted to evaluate them. Tonight, we’ll get a better idea of their full range of abilities in the new scheme.

Will Cole and Graham ever be on the field together? Or will Graham just spell Connor Barwin with the second team?

Speaking of Barwin, keep an eye on him when the Eagles go to nickel. He’ll line up all over the place and be used in a “joker” role.

As for the backups, Chris McCoy, Travis Long, Phillip Hunt and Everette Brown are fighting to make the roster.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS

Mychal Kendricks was tight-lipped earlier this week when asked about his role. The second-year player apparently didn’t want to spill the beans. But he did say in the spring that he expects to be freed up more in the new scheme, and Kendricks has had a good camp. He seems to be on track to make the second-year leap and will be playing alongside DeMeco Ryans.

The backup spots are up for grabs. None of the candidates for roster spots – Jamar Chaney, Casey Matthews, Jake Knott, Emmanuel Acho – have stood out at camp. With Jason Phillips out for the season (torn ACL), the Eagles will need one or two of these players to emerge.

Look for the inside linebackers to spend time up near the line of scrimmage threatening the A-gaps. Even if they end up dropping into coverage, this can create confusion for the offensive line.

CORNERBACKS

Getting torched by Tom Brady during a couple practice sessions is no reason to panic, but the fact remains that the Eagles have question marks throughout their secondary.

Cary Williams skipped much of the spring, got benched for a scuffle Tuesday and has missed more practice because of a hamstring issue. He won’t play vs. the Patriots.

Bradley Fletcher hasn’t done much to impress at camp, but he’ll start on the outside tonight. Brandon Boykin has had an excellent camp and is getting a serious look to be more than just the team’s nickel corner.

Keep an eye on what the Eagles do in their sub package. One option is to move Boykin inside and bring in Curtis Marsh to play outside. Another is to keep Boykin on the outside and bring in a third corner like Brandon Hughes, Eddie Whitley or Jordan Poyer.

And the third option is to bring in a third safety, moving Patrick Chung up to cover the slot. That’s a look we saw some of in practice this week.

SAFETIES

Probably the most wide-open position on the team. Chung and Nate Allen will start, but others like Kurt Coleman, Kenny Phillips and Earl Wolff will get opportunities.

Miscommunication was a constant last year with this group. And tonight, they’ll likely see New England’s up-tempo offense. The defense has had practice with that all offseason. We’ll see how much that’s helped tonight.

Another thing to key in on is how these guys react when the ball’s in the air. During practices against New England, it wasn’t that they were always out of position or getting beat vertically. But when Brady let his receivers try to make plays, they did. And the Eagles’ safeties struggled to react.

As for specific players, Phillips hasn’t done much to eliminate doubts about his health. He’s a player to keep an eye on.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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State Of the Eagles’ Roster: Offense

Zach ErtzThe Eagles begin preseason play Friday night against the Patriots, so now is as good a time as any to get a handle on the state of the roster.

This post can serve as a primer on what to watch for on offense. We’ll roll out the defense on Friday.

QUARTERBACKS

Michael Vick will get the start, but Nick Foles will rotate in with the first team. Both guys are expected to play only in the first quarter, but that could change, depending on how the possessions play out.

If you want one man’s opinion, Vick is the favorite, but it’s not like he’s been head-and-shoulders above Foles. Neither has been making quick decisions on a consistent basis, and there have been too many plays in practice that end with the whistle blowing and the ball still in the quarterback’s hands (or the QB scrambling).

Whichever QB wins the job will need time to adjust to a brand new offense, and growing pains are to be expected. All summer long, Chip Kelly has emphasized the importance of preseason games, pointing out that it’s tougher to play the position when you face the possibility of being hit. But that has probably been overstated, considering each guy is only going to play a couple series’.

The final decision will be based on a combination of factors: last year’s film, practice performance and preseason performance. Remember, if Kelly loved Foles, he wouldn’t have brought Vick back. If he loved Vick, he would have fielded trade offers for Foles. Add in the fact that the Eagles drafted Matt Barkley, and it’s clear the team was hedging its bets, hoping someone would emerge.

Speaking of Barkley, he is expected to play the second and third quarters Friday night. The rookie has not received any first-team reps and seems like a longshot to get into the starting QB competition. But things can change if he impresses during game action.

RUNNING BACKS

LeSean McCoy has missed practice time with a knee issue, and it’s unclear whether he’ll play Friday night, although the guess is he won’t.

The competition for the No. 2 job, though, has picked up. Bryce Brown flashed his unique blend of size and speed in 2012. While Brown’s looked good for the most part at camp (minus several drops as a receiver), it’s been Chris Polk who has really stood out. An undrafted free agent in 2012, Polk shed 15 pounds this offseason and looks quick and decisive. The coaches have taken notice and bumped Polk up to the first team with McCoy out.

Look for both Polk and Brown to mix in with the starters Friday night. They will be competing for playing time in their second years.

Felix Jones and Matthew Tucker, meanwhile, are fighting for roster spots.

WIDE RECEIVERS

This has become an area of concern in recent weeks. As things currently stand, Riley Cooper is the favorite to start opposite DeSean Jackson.

Jackson has looked tremendous this summer, and Kelly praised the speedy wide receiver for coming into camp in great shape. By all accounts, he is expected to have a prominent role in this offense.

Cooper got a shot at extended playing time in the final seven games of last season, but was unimpressive, averaging just 29.4 yards. But he is one of the better blocking wide receivers on the roster and can make plays in the red zone.

A lot of uncertainty deeper down the roster. Jason Avant is expected to stick as the slot guy. Damaris Johnson has had a good camp and showed good YAC ability last year, but he’s dealing with a hamstring injury. Same goes for undrafted free agent Russell Shepard, who has also had a good camp. It’s unclear whether either will play Friday night. Johnson seems like a good bet to make the team. And Sheppard is in position to earn a spot if he continues to play well.

Fans love Ifeanyi Momah’s size, but he seems raw and hasn’t made a lot of plays at camp. Momah seems more likely to land on the practice squad than to contribute. But he’ll have opportunities Friday night. Greg Salas will have a tough time sticking, but he’s had some impressive moments at camp and could potentially steal a spot with a strong preseason.

TIGHT ENDS

Zach Ertz has been as good as advertised. The guess here is that he’ll end the season with more catches and receiving yards than Brent Celek or James Casey. Ertz has had some drops, but he’s also made some great catches. He’s lined up out wide a lot in the last two weeks.

Celek has been steady, but Ertz figures to take away a chunk of his targets. Casey has had some bad drops too, but that doesn’t seem like much of a concern, considering he only dropped two passes in the last two seasons with the Texans, per Pro Football Focus.

The top three tight end spots are obviously accounted for, and the offense is expected to utilize several two-TE sets.. If the Eagles keep a fourth, the battle will come down to Clay Harbor, Derek Carrier and Emil Igwenagu.

TACKLE

Allen Barbre and Lane Johnson will start at left and right tackle, respectively, on Friday night. Jason Peters is dealing with a hamstring issue, but looked great when healthy.

Barbre spent most of camp at guard, but began playing tackle this week. With Dennis Kelly sidelined for at least the rest of the preseason (back surgery), the Eagles need depth at this spot. And Barbre has put himself in excellent shape to make the roster.

Ed Wang is dealing with a knee issue. Michael Bamiro seems more likely to contribute in future years than in 2013. Matt Kopa and Matt Tobin will need to surprise for a chance to stick around.

Friday will be our first chance to see Johnson, the No. 4 overall pick, in game action.

GUARD/CENTER

There aren’t any questions with the starters: Evan Mathis (LG), Jason Kelce (C) and Todd Herremans (RG). But backup spots are up for grabs.

We mentioned Barbre above. He’s in the mix as a backup guard too. Danny Watkins looks more comfortable this summer, but the former first-rounder will have to prove himself in game situations. With a solid preseason, he should earn a roster spot.

The backup center job is up for grabs between Dallas Reynolds, Julian Vandervelde and Matt Tennant. Reynolds has experience from last year, but the others could steal a spot.

Friday will be the first time we see Kelce in game action since he tore his ACL during Week 2 of the 2012 season.

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Michael Vick To Start Against Patriots

JJF_9022The answer is in: Michael Vick will start Friday night in the preseason opener against the Patriots.

It’s probably best not to read too much into Chip Kelly‘s decision. Vick and Nick Foles will split the first-team reps, and Foles will start next week against the Panthers.

Vick and Foles will rotate by series in the first quarter. Matt Barkley will play in the second and third quarter, and Dennis Dixon and G.J. Kinne are likely to see action in the fourth.

“It was Mike’s day in the rotation, that was the easiest way to do it,” said Kelly. “We’ll make sure the rotation works out that Nick will get the start next week. We met with those guys this morning, they were great with it, so that’s kind of our plan going in.”

Kelly is hoping that each QB will get somewhere between 12 and 20 snaps. There’s a possibility either Vick or Foles could see action in the second quarter if they don’t get to the desired number of snaps in the first.

“I can’t read anything into it,” said Vick. “Coach, all he told us is I’m gonna start but it won’t be the same next week. So you’ve gotta take it for what it’s worth and keep moving.

“I’ve never been in this situation before in my life. I’ve been in positions where I’ve had to compete for a job coming out of college, but it’s never been this severe. But I’m just taking it in stride, man. I can’t control the future, I can’t predict the future. I can just control what I can control. I can’t do it all. I can’t to everything. But the one thing I’m gonna do is have fun.”

With Vick and Foles rotating in and out, how cant they develop a rhythm?

“You’re going to get your shots, you’re going to make plays,” said Kelly. “If at the end of the day you say, ‘Well I didn’t really get a chance to get in a rhythm and the other guy did, then…You’re in there, you go. If you’re worried about what else is going on around you and that’s going to be what you blame, we have a big sign in our locker room: ‘We’re mentally and physically tough, we work hard and we don’t make excuses.’ And I don’t anticipate that from those guys. They have been fantastic since I’ve been here, so that is not an issue.”

Some other position notes:

Allen Barbre will get the nod at left tackle with Jason Peters nursing a sore hamstring. Dennis Kelly is out for at least the rest of the preseason following back surgery and Kelly is trying to build depth at the tackle spots.

Brandon Boykin and Bradley Fletcher will start at cornerback, and Nate Allen and Patrick Chung are your safeties. It’s a safe bet that Cary Williams (hamstring) will not suit up.

– Besides Peters and Williams, Antonio Dixon (hamstring), Ed Wang (knee), Damaris Johnson (hamstring), Felix Jones (hamstring) and Russell Shepard (hamstring) were sidelined for Thursday’s practice.

As for receivers, it sounds like Jason Avant would start opposite DeSean Jackson in a two tight-end set, and Cooper will start if it’s a three-receiver set.

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Eagles Wake-Up Call: Three Things We’ve Learned At Camp

Chris PolkThe Eagles will have a walk-through today with the Patriots, but for all intents and purposes, the first wave of training camp is over.

Eleven full-squad practices, each running a little more than two hours. That means plenty of film for the coaches to evaluate as they prepare for Friday night’s preseason game.

Keeping that in mind, here are three things we’ve learned so far on the practice fields:

1. Chris Polk is in the mix for the No. 2 RB job.

Going into camp, I thought the first two spots were accounted for with LeSean McCoy and Bryce Brown. I also thought Polk would be on the roster bubble, fighting for a job.

But the second-year running back has been impressive. Back in June, Polk said he shed 15 pounds and was down to 215. And it’s shown. He’s reeled off big runs on a daily basis, can catch the ball out of the backfield and is the Eagles’ best blocking back.

Granted, there has been no tackling to the ground, and Polk will need to prove himself in games, but clearly, Chip Kelly and the coaches have taken notice. Kelly called Polk the most improved back on the roster earlier this week, and on Wednesday, with McCoy sidelined, Polk took the bulk of the first-team reps.

With the expectation being that the Eagles are going to rely on a heavy dose of the run game, Polk has a chance to steal carries away from Brown if he outplays him in the coming weeks.

2. The secondary is a giant question mark.

This might not really be something we “learned” since we knew it in the spring. But there was some thought that we’d get a clearer picture of what the defensive backfield might look like by this point in camp. That hasn’t happened.

Cary Williams didn’t show up for much of the spring. He was pulled on Tuesday after getting into a scuffle. And he has also been dealing with a hamstring injury that has kept him off the field. Bradley Fletcher, meanwhile, has not shown any consistency whatsoever. And Curtis Marsh got abused by the Patriots during Wednesday’s practice.

Brandon Boykin has been easily the Eagles’ best corner at camp. It looks like he’ll get a legitimate shot to start on the outside.

Safety might be the biggest mystery on the team. Patrick Chung will likely start at one spot, but even that’s no lock. Nate Allen, Kurt Coleman, Kenny Phillips, Earl Wolff, Colt Anderson and David Sims are all competing for playing time. But there’s been no clear separation from the pack during camp.

The faces are different, and so is the scheme. But there’s no guarantee that the results will be different for the Eagles’ defensive backs.

3. There’s no defined plan for Brandon Graham.

He was the Eagles’ best pass-rusher a year ago, but Graham’s role is very much a mystery. Most of his reps have come at left outside linebacker with the second team behind Connor Barwin. If there’s a way to get Barwin, Graham and Trent Cole on the field together, defensive coordinator Billy Davis has yet to unveil it.

Davis has maintained that he needs pads and live tackling to properly evaluate his players. But Graham has not looked comfortable dropping back into coverage.

Will Graham get a chance to consistently rush the passer? Will he play a prominent role in 2013? Those are questions that still need answers in the coming weeks.

WHAT YOU MISSED

Here is your running diary of practice observations from Wednesday’s session.

The secondary, minus Cary Williams, got lit up by Tom Brady.

A roundup of what the national media are saying about the Eagles.

T-Mac takes a look at the Eagles’ wide receiver options in free agency.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

Dick Vermeil weighs in on the QB situation, via Les Bowen of the Daily News:

Of course, Vermeil is 76 now and he isn’t coaching the Eagles, hasn’t in three decades. But he was watching Chip Kelly’s training camp practice with the Patriots Wednesday, and it was an obvious question to ask him. “It doesn’t make any difference what I think. I don’t see ‘em every day,” Vermeil said by way of disclaimer. “I’ve seen Michael Vick play a lot over the years, and I just kind of believe when it all boils down … if I were going to bet on it, I would bet on him.”

Tommy Lawlor of IgglesBlitz.com offers thoughts on Mychal Kendricks:

He can be a playmaking ILB. If you want to run a good 3-4, you need that. Brian Cushing, Houston. Lawrence Timmons, Pittsburgh. Both guys in SF. And so on. I think we all remember what a wrecking crew Daryl Washington was all by himself last September.

COMING UP

A light joint practice at 10:25. We’ll be there.

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Running Diary: Eagles-Patriots Practice Observations

Nick FolesYou know the drill.

10:42 – Practice moved up two hours today. Bill Belichick said it was because of weather concerns. But rumor has it he just didn’t want Birds 24/7 readers to have to wait so long for observations. I hope many of you are reading this instead of being productive at work.

We’ve got the Eagles’ quarterbacks and wide receivers working on specific routes in the red zone. The first is a “one-step slant.” The idea? Take a step outside, get the defender off-balance and then run the slant towards the middle of the field.

Next up are fades to the corner of the end zone. “The ball’s going to the pylon,” shouts QBs coach Billy Lazor. The slot receivers run flag (or corner) routes against fake man coverage. Then it’s a post from the 15. And finally, post-corner routes.

10:49 - Jason Peters (hamstring) is not practicing. But he’s an active participant. After Todd Herremans runs a rep, Peters spends time working with him off to the side. When Jason Kelce comes off, same thing.

10:53 – One-on-one time. I saw enough of Tom Brady yesterday. Let’s hang out with the big guys up front this time around. Rob Ninkovich gets around Lane Johnson. Then veteran Tommy Kelly gets the better of Herremans. And finally, Vince Wilfork proves to be too much for Kelce.

But the Eagles turn things around, getting good efforts from Allen Barbre and Danny Watkins.

I caught some video of Johnson, Watkins and Kelce, all of whom turned in good reps:

The voice you hear in the background is Tra Thomas.

After I turned the camera off, Barbre did a great job on Justin Francis, drawing the biggest cheers of the drill from Thomas and Jeff Stoutland. Keep an eye on Barbre in the preseason. He’s got an excellent chance of making the team.

11:02 – During special-teams instruction, Russell Shepard fails to adequately wave his hands to let his teammates know to get out of the way on a short punt. Duce Staley goes over to him and makes sure he knows to never make that mistake again.

On a sidenote, I always wonder why teams don’t occasionally go with a shallow punt on purpose. It seems those always hit a player on the return team who’s not looking, and then it’s a free-for-all. You’ve got to be giving yourself, what, a 30 percent chance at a turnover? Give it a shot, Chippah!

11:10 – Our first team drill, 7-on-7s on two fields. I’ll stick with the Eagles’ offense going up against New England’s D. Michael Vick starts out with the ones. Also worth noting: With LeSean McCoy (knee) not participating, it’s Chris Polk, not Bryce Brown, going with the first team. The No. 2 RB job appears to be open.

Vick takes a shot deep to Jason Avant, but can’t squeeze it in between the corner and the safety. James Casey, meanwhile, has a bad drop over the middle from Nick Foles. That’s two in two days for him.

The offense moves down to the red zone. Vick scrambles before eventually finding Riley Cooper in the end zone. He then connects with Zach Ertz on back-to-back completions. Who’s the favorite to lead this team in red-zone catches? Ertz might not be a bad guess.

On his turn in the red zone, Foles finds Clay Harbor for a touchdown.

11:21 - During special teams, Trevard Lindley and Aqib Talib exchange shoves. Not exactly Ali/Frazier, but a couple seconds of added excitement at least.

11:26 – During 11-on-11s, Vick holds on to the ball too long, and a whistle sounds. Both Vick and Foles held the ball too long on several occasions today.

Polk with another big run (broken record alert). Then Vick hits DeSean Jackson on a deep crosser. I asked Vick after practice about how Jackson’s role has changed in this offense. He said the speedy wide receiver needs the ball in his hands 30 or 40 percent of the time. Those numbers are obviously off, but clearly, Jackson can expect to see plenty of action.

Foles makes a couple nice throws on the run, the second one to Harbor while rolling to his right.

On defense, Brandon Boykin puts a nice hit on the running back. Earlier, he got a hit in on the Patriots’ punt returner. Again, there’s no tackling, but there is contact. I don’t know if the Eagles’ secondary is going to be better, but it won’t be as soft as last year.

A couple of depth chart notes. The Eagles have shown a three-safety look (Patrick Chung, Kurt Coleman, Nate Allen) with Chung covering the slot receiver. I asked Chip Kelly about that after practice, and he said basically that they wanted some of the other corners to get work on the outside, so Chung jumped in.

“It’s a credit to Patrick in terms of how smart a football player he is and his ability to cross-train in different positions,” Kelly said.

“You’re a chinstrap away from if we were to start the game and Brandon [Boykin] were starting nickel, if he goes down, then what are you going to do?”

It’s worth noting though that Boykin was playing outside during the drill. He’s going to get a look out there in the preseason.

Meanwhile, the Eagles show a second-team DL look of Clifton Geathers, Bennie Logan and Damion Square. Obviously lots of mixing and matching still going on.

11:39 – Foles steps up with the ones. Lots of runs, but on one pass play, Foles fires on the money to Avant on a slant with the defender on his back.

Vick then shows good anticipation on an out to Ifeanyi Momah.

On defense, Bradley Fletcher and David Sims do a good job in coverage on Julian Edelman deep. Chung then breaks up a slant for Edelman in the red zone, although Ryan Mallett wants a flag.

During the next period, the Eagles’ offense picks up the pace and starts moving fast.

“I thought today was better than yesterday, obviously,” Kelly said, speaking about the hurry-up.

“We probably made a few mistakes in there, but I was happy with the communication, and I was happy in our ability to get lined up and get moving.”

A different officiating crew is at camp, and Kelly said he spoke with Belichick, and they decided they both wanted to get a feel for the tempo and how fast they could go.

Vick throws a side-arm laser to Jackson on a crosser for a big gain as the offense moves down the field.

Lots of talking, hand signals, etc. from the sidelines. Foles moves the team too in the hurry-up, connecting with Ertz for a big gain. He looks for Momah on a fade in the end zone, but ends up throwing the ball away.

On defense, Mychal Kendricks‘ athleticism is on full display as he bats a Brady pass down near the line of scrimmage.

But then things get ugly. Brady finds Kenbrell Thompkins deep downfield for a gain of 40+. Thompkins gets past Curtis Marsh and Nate Allen on the play.

On the very next snap, wide receiver Aaron Dobson makes a phenomenal adjustment on a deep ball from Brady. Again, it’s Marsh and Allen in coverage.

Brady then hits Dobson on a back-shoulder throw as Brandon Boykin fails to turn around to make a play on the ball.

More trouble for Marsh. Thompkins beats him on a deep out. Then again on a back shoulder throw where Marsh doesn’t turn around. The Patriots’ sideline goes nuts. Bad sequence there for Marsh and the entire Eagles’ secondary.

After practice, Kelly was asked about the learning experience for his defense going up against Brady.

“The learning experience is pretty good,” he said with a laugh.

The Eagles’ third team gets a shot too. Greg Salas makes perhaps the best catch of camp, leaping for a ball from Matt Barkley down the right sideline and making a one-handed grab. Impressive.

12:16 – During 11-on-11s, Jackson does a great job of getting his feet down on a corner route from Foles. With the Eagles’ receivers, it’s Jackson and then everybody else.

The only blemish on Polk’s otherwise stellar resume this summer: Linebacker Brandon Spikes knocks the ball out of his hands from behind, forcing a fumble.

After getting whistled for defensive holding, Marsh has a nice moment, breaking up a fade attempt to Dobson.

Up front, Connor Barwin continues to play a “joker” role in the Eagles’ nickel package. On one play, he starts at the line of scrimmage before sprinting back and acting like a third deep safety.

12:25 – Not a good sequence for Vick. He holds the ball too long before dumping it off to Brown. He scrambles on the next play. And then he fires incomplete to Momah on a fade in the end zone. In fairness to Vick, that last one might have been on Momah. Not sure the wide receiver got wide enough with his route.

Against the Eagles’ D, Shane Vereen finds a huge hole in the zone between Brandon Graham and Fletcher. Brady connects with him for a touchdown.

12:31 – Another practice in the books. The teams will have a walk-through type session Thursday, and then finally we get a real game Friday night.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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Camp Notes: Secondary, Minus Williams Again, Gets Lit Up

Another day, another practice without Cary Williams.

The veteran corner took the field with his teammates at the start of the session, and even provided a mini-highlight early on when he broke up a Tom Brady pass in the corner of the end zone during one-on-one drills. But moments later his pads were off and he was working off to the side once again, as the hamstring that he tweaked on the first day of camp flared up on him.

On Tuesday, it was not the injury but rather his behavior that forced him to the sidelines. Chip Kelly and Bill Belichick agreed that any extra-curriculars during these joint practices would result in ejection. Williams promptly got into it with rookie receiver Aaron Dobson and was tossed.

Between that, the injury, and his decision to skip a good chunk of the OTAs, you’re talking about a lot of missed time.

Is he doing everything in his power to get onto the field?

“He is,” Kelly replied. “Since camp started he’s had a nagging hamstring, and the toughest part with that if you have ever had one is you come back and feel good and all of a sudden it goes again. I think it’s frustrating for him and I think it’s frustrating for everybody because he’s got to get his reps. He’s been great in the meeting rooms. There’s nothing you can do. I think that’s the hardest thing in this game is when someone is injured, heck we need him on the field, we’ve got to practice, but there’s not a miracle cure. But he’s been great from a treatment standpoint.”

Minus Williams, the Eagles went with a first-team secondary of Brandon Boykin, Curtis Marsh, Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman (with Patrick Chung working in as the nickel). For the second straight day, Brady had his way.

“The learning experience is pretty good,” said Kelly with a smile. “He’s obviously one of the great quarterbacks to ever play this game, not just in the league right now. You better be where you’re supposed to be when you’re supposed to be there or he’s going to get you. And that was a great challenge for us. One of the things we were excited about was to come down here and kind of gauge where our guys are.”

Safe to say they need some work, and could use one of their projected starters on the field with them.

Wide Receiver Update

The Eagles are running short on receivers and are seeking some short-term help. They lost Jeremy Maclin and Arrelious Benn to ACL injuries and released Dave Ball, leaving them with nine receivers. On Wednesday, Damaris Johnson and Russell Shepard exited practice early with hamstring injuries.

There were no scheduled workouts as of early afternoon, per a source, but the team is on the lookout for receivers. They will be targeting younger players/camp bodies for the time being.

“We’re looking to see if there are one or two [receivers] out there because we need some legs,” said Kelly, “but on game day we’re only going to have five [active] probably, so we have a luxury of two more that we will have on Sunday.”

No Word On Starting QB Yet

Two days away from the preseason opener, and Kelly has yet to announce who which quarterback will start.

“We’ll have a meeting today and tonight and talk it through and see where we’re going,” he said.

“Whoever takes the first rep let’s not anoint them as anything. Someone’s got to be the first guy.  So we’ll have a plan as a staff how many reps those guys will get, and we’ll go from there.  We have to have someone start the game.  But I wouldn’t say the guy that starts the game is going to be the starter overall in general as we get going on September 9.  But how do we divvy up Mike [Vick] and Nick’s [Foles] snaps and we’ll try to make that as even as possible.  That’s kind of our thought process.”

Sal Paolantonio is reporting that Vick is expected to start.

Injuries

LeSean McCoy (knee) spent most of the day working off to the side. Williams (hammy), Shepard (hammy),  Johnson (hammy) and Felix Jones (hammy) all left practice early. Connor Barwin returned from an illness. Jason Peters (hamstring) and Dennis Kelly (back) remain sidelined. Nate Menkin (illness) did not practice.

Arrelious Benn Tears His ACL

Wide receiver Arrelious Benn suffered a torn ACL in his left knee during Tuesday’s practice, the Eagles announced.

Benn returned to practice on Sunday after missing much of training camp with knee issues. Chip Kelly praised him following his first practice back, commending him on his knowledge of the playbook and saying that he “flashed” at times.

Talent is not an issue for Benn but injuries have kept him from taking off in the NFL.

He is the third member of the Eagles to suffer a torn ACL this summer, joining Jeremy Maclin and linebacker Jason Phillips.

The 24-year-old played three seasons for the Bucs, compiling 59 catches for 862 yards and five touchdowns in 37 games.

The Eagles have taken a hit at wide receiver this offseason. When Maclin went down, general manager Howie Roseman suggested that the team would look to the skill position players currently on the roster to help fill the void in the short term. Now that they have lost another member of the receiving corps, you wonder if they start looking more outside of the NovaCare walls for help.

The Eagles also announced that they have released receiver Dave Ball. 

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