Running Diary: Eagles Practice Observations

For the first time this spring, Eagles practice was open to the media. Here’s a running diary of what we saw:

11:25 – We are greeted outside by AC/DC’s T.N.T. The players are in shorts and helmets, and while Week 1 kickoff against the Jaguars is still more than three months away, it’s nice to be watching football again.

Chip Kelly had a busy offseason – free agency, the DeSean Jackson release, the draft, etc. But it appears he also discovered teleportation. Thirty seconds ago, he was inside the NovaCare Complex cracking a joke about wanting a 6-11, 400-pound outside linebacker. Now he’s at the 50-yard-line of the far field running practice. That guy does not believe in taking his time.

11:30 – Time to get used to some of the new numbers. Most notably, Henry Josey, not Bryce Brown, now wears No. 34.

Quarterbacks and running backs practice handoffs. I remember last year, QBs coach Bill Lazor (now with the Dolphins) said that when he graded film, he marked how Nick Foles carried out his fake on every run play. Foles and the other QBs are making sure they do that during this drill.

11:34 – We have our first new practice contraption (at least I think it’s new) of the 2014 season. Two running backs stand about 5 yards apart, facing the same direction. The guy in back has a blue belt around his waist. A cord extends from the blue belt to the football that the running back in front is carrying. The player with the ball lunges forward as far as possible, maintaining possession of the ball while fighting the weight of the player behind him.

If that is a horribly confusing description, I’ll try to get video next week.

11:38 – Another new device. We’ll call this one the doorway. That’s what it looks like – a red doorway for really little people. Or if you’ve ever played ladder ball, it looks like that contraption, only with the one bar up top. Running backs take the handoffs from Duce Staley, make themselves small and run through it. Jimmy Kempski of promised a drawing of this apparatus.

By the way, Darren Sproles is having no trouble fitting through this thing.

11:42 – Now over to the tight ends. Assistant tight ends coach Justin Peelle stands about 7 yards away from the players. They have their backs turned to him. He yells “ball!” and fires a pass at them. By the time they turn around, the ball is there, and they have to make the grab. McManus and I could simulate this one, but one of us would likely end up with a broken finger, which is the equivalent of microfracture surgery for a blogger.

Next, four quarterbacks line up next to each other, and pass-catchers set up in one of five different lines to run routes. This is a drill we saw last year, but if you do the math, you can tell we’re one QB short. That’s where Kelly comes in, taking a spot next to Foles, Mark Sanchez, Matt Barkley and G.J. Kinne. He mostly attempts passes to the running back or tight end in the flat. If you’re wondering about arm strength, as Kelly once said, it’s not like they’re trying to knock over milk cartons at the county fair.

11:47 – Damaris Johnson just took something out of his mouth and tossed it into the end zone. If that was gum, he should be released from the team immediately. Stepping in gum is the freakin’ worst.

11:51 – Linebackers and defensive backs line up opposite the offense. The point of the drill is to work on hand signals and shifts when the offense motions out of its original formation. Speaking of which, one thing that’s different about college and the NFL is that players switch teams fairly often. Guys like Jackson, Kurt Coleman, etc. know all of the Eagles’ signals. I wonder how much Kelly and his staff will change those his offseason. Something we’ll ask about in the coming weeks.

By the way, did you know Marcus Smith was a second? The Eagles’ first-round pick wears the No. 90 with Smith II on the back.

11:56 – Special teams time. On one area in the corner of the field, an assistant sets up an orange tackling dummy on a mat. Players lunge towards it, tackle it and jump on the mat. This seems like an activity that would be a big hit at my daughter’s 2-year birthday party in October.

Trent Cole is entering his 10th season, but he wins the Brett Favre award for “Guy who just likes to have fun out there.” After taking down the tackling dummy, he proceeds to punch it in the face multiple times.

12:00 – If you’re wondering about the music, many of the songs are the same from last year. One of the new ones (and an early favorite for most annoying) is “Red Lights” by Tiesto. And yes, I just had to Google red light song to come up with that information.

Back on the field, Carey Spear takes out an orange tackling dummy. In perhaps the most disappointing moment of practice, he turns around and reveals that the back of his jersey says Spear instead of Murderleg.

12:06 – The Eagles start some team drills, and we get some depth chart clues. As always, take these with a grain of salt. It’s only May, and given the tempo, guys jump around. But there are some items worth noting.

One is that Nate Allen seems to be getting all the first-team reps at safety alongside Malcolm Jenkins. Earl Wolff will compete for that job, but he’s running with the second team with Chris Maragos.

Mychal Kendricks is not practicing fully. Per T-Mac, he has some kind of knee issue. Taking his place alongside DeMeco Ryans is Najee Goode. We’ve mentioned this before, but the Eagles are thin at inside linebacker. Having said that, Goode turned in some quality snaps last year. Jason Phillips and Emmanuel Acho run with the second team. It’s Jake Knott and Acho with the third team.

Connor Barwin and Trent Cole are the starting outside linebackers. Bryan Braman and Brandon Graham run with the twos. Smith and Travis Long are the third team.

Offensively, the most noteworthy item is that Mark Sanchez is taking all the second-team reps ahead of Matt Barkley.

12:11 – We have our first “teach” period. The music turns off, and players split up into their positional groups. For the first time, I notice a No. 10 on the field. Farewell DeSean, hello Quron Pratt, an undrafted free agent out of Rutgers.

12:15 – The second-team offensive line from left to right is: Matt Tobin, Allen Barbre, Julian Vandervelde, Michael Bamiro and Dennis Kelly. Perhaps most notable there is that the 6-foot-8 Bamiro is getting reps at right guard.

Meanwhile, Sproles is seeing the bulk of action at running back with the second team. He wins the award for “New guy who already seems to know exactly what he’s doing.”

Chris Polk practices mostly with the threes.

12:25 – Another special teams period. Wide receivers coach Bob Bicknell slams a soccer ball into the ground. Guys on the coverage team have to catch it before it lands and toss it back into the field of play, simulating what happens in the game when they try to down the ball inside the 5 and avoid a touchback. The Eagles use a soccer ball instead of a football because they can simulate a truer bounce – or at least that’s what players told me last year.

12:31 – Evan Mathis runs off the field. Either he has to go to the bathroom or he’s suddenly decided to hold out.

12:35 – On the side field, Spear lifts the field goal post and moves it 10 yards. Yes, it’s on wheels, but still. The legend continues. #murderleg.

Sproles beats Phillips and catches a pass from Sanchez during a team period. Matthew Tucker mixes in at running back with the first team. Kelly last month raved about Tucker’s progress.

And that “Red Lights” song is on again. I would rather hear Raffi sing “Down By the Bay” for the 500th time this week.

12:49 – During the team period, Barwin lines up opposite Brent Celek in the slot. He then inches towards the line of scrimmage to rush the passer. But it’s a screen to his side of the field so he hustles back and “tackles” Brad Smith.

If anyone wants to know why the Eagles targeted a player like Marcus Smith in the first round, that Barwin play is a great example. Billy Davis needs his outside linebackers to be able to perform a variety of tasks for the defense to work properly.

12:53 – Lane Johnson hustles 10 yards downfield on a screen to Brad Smith. It’s going to be fascinating to see how the offensive line performs in 2014. It’s unfair to expect Jason Peters, Mathis or Todd Herremans to improve at this stage of their careers. But if Lane Johnson takes the leap (and given how he improved as a rookie, there’s reason to believe he will), this unit could again be a strength.

1:03 – On the defensive line, the first team is Fletcher Cox, Cedric Thornton and Bennie Logan. Second-year player Joe Kruger mixes in as well. Damion Square gets the snaps at backup nose.

Jordan Matthews is in Los Angeles for an NFLPA event. It’s mostly Brad Smith and Josh Huff getting first-team reps in the slot.

1:20 – And thus concludes our first running diary of the 2014 offseason. We’ll be back with another installment on Monday…