Here’s what we saw during the Eagles’ first training camp practice of 2015.
11:56 – First off, congratulations to everyone for making it here. We got past the nonsense of June and July, and football season has finally arrived.
The Eagles celebrate the occasion with Justin Bieber’s Where Are You Now. Judge me all you want for this, but I don’t hate it.
On to football. All eyes are on Sam Bradford at the start of practice. Replacing the bigger, bulkier brace on his left knee is a black sleeve. It looks like the kind you buy at CVS when you turn 30 and realize an hour of pickup hoops now causes various aches and pains.
But Bradford participated fully today, and by my count, he took every snap in every drill with the first team. So that seems like a sign of progress. Read more »
Last year, Vinny Curry said he ate everything under the sun.
He was moving from an edge pass rusher to a two-gap end in a 3-4, and was trying to bulk up in order to handle double teams in the trenches. He felt slower and sluggish and joked with reporters that his gut reached “from here to your microphone.”
His weight is down just a notch this season (he currently weighs in at 277 pounds) but looks leaner and more well proportioned. As we saw on Friday in Chicago — like when he recorded the team’s lone sack on the night — Curry is explosive off the ball and can get in the backfield quicker than any of his line mates. He has been steadily building a case for why he should be featured more prominently in Billy Davis‘ attack.
While there is a chance that happens, the reality is that Curry may never be granted anything more than a specialty role in this system. Read more »
Safe to say Alejandro Villanueva has had his plate full since signing with the Eagles as a rookie free agent back in early May.
For starters, he hadn’t played the sport since 2009. The U.S. Army Ranger was on active duty for the past four years, which included three tours in Afghanistan. When he did play last it was at wide receiver and before that, offensive tackle. He has been not only reacquainting himself with football but is learning a new position — defensive end — and doing so on the game’s highest level. If that’s not enough, Villanueva still has Army requirements that need to be fulfilled.
“I’ve been kind of partially amazed that he could do what he’s done,” said Chip Kelly. Read more »
Back in February, Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News wrote about how former Cowboys coach Jimmie Johnson had a draft advantage when he made the switch from college to the NFL:
So Johnson had a mental file of the top college players in the country. He either coached, recruited or played against them on Saturdays. His knowledge of the college game and its players gave him an edge at the draft table over his NFL rivals.
For his first five years in Dallas, Johnson would be studying and drafting many of the same players he had already studied and recruited at Miami. Those five years would cover his five-year recruiting cycle at Miami. He knew the achievers, overachievers and underachievers.
It’s no secret that Kelly’s role over the weekend was significant. During the season, he watches college film on Saturday afternoons. He attends the Senior Bowl, combine and as many Pro Days as possible. Read more »
Veteran nose guard Isaac Sopoaga had been shipped to New England at the trade deadline, thrusting the third-round pick out of LSU into a starting role.
“It caught me by surprise,” said Logan. “I looked up to Isaac. He was a great influence on me, a great leader. But the next day, once I came here [to the NovaCare facility], I was like, ‘It’s time for me to step up and go forward. Can’t look back. He’s not here anymore. It’s just all on me now.’ ” Read more »
For the Eagles, the practice week starts on Tuesday. But that session is primarily spent correcting mistakes from the previous game. Wednesday is when the team puts the pads on and looks ahead to the upcoming opponent.
On most weeks, for the defense, that means an emphasis on stopping the run. While much of the league is focused on figuring out ways to get to the quarterback, Billy Davis has employed a two-gap 3-4 scheme that focuses on controlling the ground game. So when defensive linemen arrive at NovaCare on Wednesdays, the game-planning usually starts with the same idea.
“It’s the beginning of the workload week for us,” said rookie Bennie Logan. “So that’s the main thing going into any game is stop the run, try to get teams as one-dimensional as possible. You figure we stop the run against most teams, that pretty much changes their whole offensive plan. And that’s our main thing Wednesday, we call it our no-run day. So we make sure we focus on our technique, getting our hands on the opponent and make sure they don’t get no big runs on us during practice. Because if they get it in practice, pretty sure they’ll get it in games.
“You get your hands on people, anybody, you can pretty much stop the running game. That’s our main thing when we go into games is make sure we get our hands on our opponent and just control the line of scrimmage so the linebackers can flow.” Read more »
LeSean McCoy took heavy breaths in between sentences, his forehead glistening with sweat from extra conditioning work after practice.
On the surface, everything is good for the 25-year-old running back. At the halfway point of the season, he’s the NFL’s leading rusher (733 yards). He’s carrying the ball more than ever (19.5 times per game). And he’s averaging a healthy 4.7 yards per carry.
Yet McCoy is in the midst of a mental tug of war in his fifth NFL season. In the past four games, he’s averaging 3.4 yards per carry. The Eagles’ offense has scored just three points the last two weeks, failing to hit on explosive plays and finding difficulty in sustaining drives.
“Just more attention to really try and contain the backs, keep everything in front of them,” McCoy said when asked this week about opposing defenses. “The backers are way more into the line than usual. And everything just seems so cluttered, seems so packed. That’s probably the biggest difference I’ve noticed. Even on some of the fakes, if it’s a half-fake or an average fake, they’re all on it. So that’s probably the biggest difference I’ve noticed from just early in the season to the last couple weeks.”
Defenses game-plan for the Eagles and make No. 25 their first priority. With a shaky QB situation and one true dangerous threat in the passing game in DeSean Jackson, it’s really a no-brainer. But that has led to tough times for McCoy, who has been critical of himself after each of the last two games. Read more »
He comes from Alabama, a program run by some guy named Nick Saban, whose roots are deeply planted on the defensive side of the ball. That is his domain. With Chip Kelly, it’s the complete opposite.
“The intensity is different because you’ve got the head guy on your field at all times,” said the rookie. “It doesn’t mean I practice in any different way but it’s a whole other pressure when you have your head coach standing over your shoulder every play. Coach Kelly, he makes a trip over there every once in a while to see if guys are buying in.”
That matches up with what we have seen at practice. If you’re looking for Kelly, it’s a safe bet that you’ll find him with the offense. (Unless it’s a special teams period, in which case he stands with the returners.) He may travel over to the defensive side from time-to-time but it’s obvious where most of his attention goes during practice sessions.
The pattern appears to hold true for meetings as well. Where Kelly is in attendance for every special teams meeting, according to Dave Fipp, the impression that we got from defensive players is that he will pop into their positional meetings on occasion.
“It’s pretty much like, ‘I hired these guys to do stuff that I’m not strong at.’ So that’s what he’s doing: letting them coach and do what they do because he has trust in them,” said Brandon Graham. “That’s what any coach should do: hire somebody to do their job.”
Kelly has made it known that he will not micromanage Billy Davis and his defense, particularly on game day. And we have seen signs of that laissez faire approach through his interaction with reporters. He indicated prior to the preseason opener against the Patriots, for instance, that Brandon Boykin would start outside. Instead, Curtis Marsh got the call.
“I was wrong,” was Kelly’s reply afterwards.
Asked on Tuesday who would start at safety this Thursday against the Jets, Kelly responded: “That’s a good question. I haven’t ‑‑ we haven’t sat down and finalized that.”
For answers about the day-to-day workings on defense, it’s best to ask Davis directly.
But it would be a mistake to suggest that Kelly isn’t plugged into that side of the operation.
“I meet with Billy. I watch all the practice tape,” he said. “I’m more involved in the offensive side of the ball from a practice standpoint with those guys, but I watch all the tape from a film standpoint and meet with the staff and talk to those guys constantly on a day‑to‑day basis.”
Are you involved with the game-planning?
“Yeah, we meet and go over what their game plan is and how they are going to approach things, pick each other’s brains.”
Big picture, the defense is being built largely in Kelly’s vision. It is no coincidence that Davis has a background in traditional and hybrid 3-4 defenses. Kelly believes his defensive coordinator can both transition this team to a two-gap 3-4 and find a scheme solution for the here-and-now while the unit is under construction.
Casey Matthews sees a lot of similarities between the defense he is in now and the one he played in at Oregon.
“It’s pretty much the same. A lot of the same terminology,” he said. “In OTAs when we first started to do the meetings it started to come back pretty quick. It’s a little different. You can tell with Chip and Coach Azz [assistant head coach/defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro] at Oregon, they definitely tuned it up the couple years that I was gone.”
In other words, this defense has Kelly’s fingerprints all over it. He just doesn’t hold it in a permanent grip.
“Chip and I meet at least once a day. He’s got a great understanding of what we’re doing defensively,” said Davis. “We spent a lot of time in the offseason talking about building and what structure he likes and what structure I like. At the end of the day, what Chip wants, I will give him. We talk often. He’s very easy to work with and understand. A very clear communicator. You know exactly where he stands and what he wants and you give it to him. So far, the real tests haven’t come yet. The real games, when they start coming, we’ll collectively solve problems.”
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Because the Eagles practiced with a limited roster the first two days, they had to resort to some unconventional teaching methods.
For example, with only five offensive linemen, assistant coach Jeff Stoutland set up trash cans to simulate the defense.
Here’s (iPhone-quality) video of what I mean:
When setting the protection, Jason Kelce’s job is to identify the MIKE linebacker. During one drill, Stoutland was ready to move on to the next rep, but tight ends coach Ted Williams stopped him. Kelce had yelled out ’45’ as the MIKE, but it was supposed to be ’51.’ Stoutland hadn’t caught the mistake, but Williams did.
It’s an example of how players at all levels can gain something each time they practice – something Chip Kelly emphasizes. Kelce was one of the few veterans in attendance, and by far the most experienced, but he was able to pick something up on that rep.
Stoutland, meanwhile, spent a few minutes on a key point: Guys who don’t know what the hell they’re doing try to block everybody.
His message to the linemen? Once you engage the defender, stay on him. Don’t just start freelancing because you see someone else going unblocked. That means you don’t know your assignment and don’t trust your teammates.
THE JUGS MACHINE
I want a shot at trying this before camp is over:
That’s Ifeanyi Momah making the catches. During another drill, the assistants set up the Jugs machine so that receivers would have to reach back. It looked like they were trying to simulate a crossing pattern where the ball is thrown behind the receiver.
Wide receivers coach Bob Bicknell emphasized minimized movement. In other words, receivers were supposed to reach back to catch the ball, but immediately tuck it in front of them so they could pick up yards after the catch.
AZZINARO ASKS FOR PERMISSION
Given that there are so few players in attendance, there is plenty of open space on the practice fields.
Defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro was moving his group over from one drill to the next, near where Bicknell and the wide receivers were going over blocking.
“Got enough room, Bick?” Azzinaro joked. “Want to make sure you can hit your [bleepin’] 9-iron over here.”
Below is a shot of Azzinaro and the defensive line: