Running Diary: Eagles Practice Observations

Here is a running diary with observations from the Eagles’ first full-squad training camp practice.

1:02 – Let’s start today off with a low-quality video I shot with my iPhone, shall we? Here is Jason Peters crushing a blocking sled.

Offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland’s message during this drill was for the players to “economize” their motion and not wind up before attacking.

If you missed it from the earlier post, Chip Kelly said Peters is the only player of his kind in the world.

Meanwhile, the quarterbacks and receivers are going two at a time on the other field. Lots of intermediate throws outside the numbers. Oftentimes when we think of arm strength, we think of deep balls. But these are the throws where it really shows. If I were rating arm strength of the Eagles’ top three QBs, I’d go Michael Vick, Nick Foles second and Matt Barkley third.

1:17 – The field is split in half for a 3-on-2 drill. Two receivers against three defenders. After one side goes, the whistle blows, and the other side is up.

Tried to give you a sense here of what I mean, although I’m not very close to the action. Warning: Don’t watch if you are prone to motion sickness.

Connor Barwin is the Eagles’ best outside linebacker in coverage. But he’s not keeping up with Jason Avant. The veteran wide receiver gets the best of him twice.

1:23 – Special teams time. DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and Damaris Johnson are back to field punts. As I try to observe, a little kid who’s here as a fan just bumped me. What’s the appropriate response? Stand my ground or move over? I mean, I know he’s probably only 8-years-old, but I have a job to do here!

1:24 – Eh, I’m not a confrontational person. I reluctantly slide over.

Jackson drops a punt, and Kelly offers some feedback. He seems to be telling Jackson to get behind the ball and keep his body square, rather than catch the ball on the side of his body.

Jackson drops the next one too and drops to the ground for 10 push-ups.

The Eagles then add a twist. The returners have to catch the punts while holding tennis balls in each hand.

“Just trying to teach them to catch the ball with their body, not their hands all the time because sometimes you don’t get your feet in proper position if you’re always just reaching and grabbing with your hands,” Kelly said. “It’s just like using a weighted bat in baseball. Kind of get a feel for how you’re doing it the right way and then you take the weight off. So they’ll catch a couple without ’em so they know they’re in the proper position from a fundamental standpoint. And then you take the ball away.”

One more item to note on special teams. Assistant Dave Fipp told T-Mac that Kelly sits in on every special-teams meeting. He appears to be very hands-on in this area.

Speaking of Fipp, he apparently wants to be the best-conditioned special-teams coach in the NFL. He runs down the field with the rest of the coverage team on one punt.

1:33 – During the first 7-on-7 period, Vick runs with the first team. The reps were split once again. Vick led the first team on three team drills, and Foles took over on two of them.

Some depth chart notes on defense. Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher are your starting corners. Patrick Chung and Nate Allen are your starting safeties. And one thing we didn’t see all spring: free-agent Jason Phillips rotates in with DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks as a first-team inside linebacker. Connor Barwin (LOLB) and Trent Cole (ROLB) are the first-team outside linebackers.

Brandon Graham and Phillip Hunt are second-team OLBs. Casey Matthews and Jamar Chaney are second-team ILBs. Curtis Marsh and Brandon Boykin are second-team CBs. And during this drill, at least, David Sims and Kenny Phillips are the second-team safeties.

1:39 – Our first teach period. Defensive coordinator Billy Davis explains that the offseason is over and some contact will now be allowed. He emphasizes to the outside linebackers that tight ends can’t be allowed free releases.

1:43 – Another team period with the offense going up against the defense. This time, it’s 11-on-11. The defensive line features Cedric Thornton (LDE), Isaac Sopoaga (NT) and Fletcher Cox (RDE).

A lot of work on the run game. The pads aren’t on, and there’s no tackling, but some bumping here and there. One play is over, but cornerback Bradley Fletcher still hustles downfield to catch up with Bryce Brown and knocks the ball out of his hands from behind. Before you overreact, the whistle had already blown. But yes, it would be nice to see Brown keep it tucked regardless of the situation.

As for Fletcher, doesn’t look like the Eagles will have to worry about him giving full effort.

The second-team defensive line is Clifton Geathers, Antonio Dixon and Vinny Curry. Third-round pick Bennie Logan also rotates in at nose tackle. The second-team offensive line (I’ll assume you know the starters) is Dennis Kelly (RT), Danny Watkins (RG), Dallas Reynolds (Center), Allen Barbre (LG) and Ed Wang (LT).

Off play-action, Vick throws into traffic, but finds Jeremy Maclin, who makes a nice catch. There is a fine line between nice ball into a tight window and bad decision. Later, Vick rolls out and hits rookie Zach Ertz.

1:57 – You can see Ifeanyi Momah use his size on a slant. He gets Fletcher on his back, makes himself big and comes down with the catch from Vick.

2:00 – It looks like we have a couple injuries. Arrelious Benn has a left knee issue and will be evaluated. Cary Williams tweaked his hamstring, but says he’ll be fine.

2:10 – As I walk from one field to another, the great Merrill Reese asks to see my pen for a moment so he can sign a football for a fan. I remember at my first camp several years ago thinking how crazy it was that fans were stopping Ray Didinger for an autograph.

So… does anyone want my signature? Hello?? Anyone out there???

2:12 – Blurred Lines comes on, which gives me all the reason I need to post this amazing video:

You’re welcome.

2:15 – Barkley has been off-target with a few throws. Here, he misses Emil Igwenagu down the seam.

The play of the day right in front of me. Foles unloads a bomb to Jackson, who leaps in the air to disrupt the interception, but ends up coming down with the ball for a spectacular catch over Fletcher. Fletcher’s coverage was excellent, but Jackson made a great play on the ball, which traveled probably 50 yards in the air.

As he’s walking back to the line of scrimmage, Jackson immediately changes his mind and announces that he believes Foles will actually end up winning the starting job.

OK, I made that last part up.

2:20 – If you’re wondering about the tight ends, I’ve seen pretty much every combo from Brent CelekErtz and James Casey. Can’t draw any conclusions there as of yet, and probably won’t be able to for awhile. Snap counts could very well depend on gameplan and opponent.

By the way, Curtis Marsh is in for Williams on the first team.

2:24 – Brandon Boykin sticks with Clay Harbor down the sideline with ease on a Vick incompletion. Boykin is going to have a good year as this team’s slot corner.

It seems like about 75 percent of the balls Barkley has completed at practice over the past few months have been to Russell Shepard.

2:35 – Dennis Dixon throws a nice ball down the sideline on a wheel route to Felix Jones. Don’t forget about that battle for the third running back spot!

2:40 – Another team period. The Eagles show an interesting look in nickel. On one play, they go with four down linemen. From left to right: Barwin, Cox, Thornton and Cole.

On another snap, it’s Cox, Thornton and Cole with their hands down, while Barwin freelances.

I’ve also noticed that it seems like defensive linemen don’t actually get down into their three-point stances until they absolutely have to. Davis has talked about disguising the fronts and keeping the offense guessing. This is likely another part of what he means.

2:45 – The first full-squad day is in the books. Tomorrow is another practice at NovaCare. And then the pads come on Sunday at the Linc.

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