Running Diary: Eagles Practice Observations

Photo by: Jeff Fusco.

Photo by: Jeff Fusco.

Here’s what we saw during today’s session:

11:51 – Before practice began, we got a nearly 20-minute press conference with Billy Davis. The defense has to show improvement, but as a reporter, I always appreciate the effort Davis gives in answering questions.

There’s no superiority complex. He listens, responds and generally provides great insight. I know you guys enjoy when players and coaches break down the “football nerd” stuff in this space, so just wanted to give Davis some credit in helping with those things.

Here’s how he responded to a question about setting the edge – a must for outside linebackers in the Eagles scheme.

“First of all, nothing inside of them ever gets outside of them. That’s a rule of thumb when you’re setting an edge, so everything that’s aligned inside of you has to stay inside of you and that’s where you can prevent ‑ most long runs happen when you lose force.

“When you break down an assignment inside, there’s a lot of elements in place that can fix that. When they get outside of the defense, there’s nobody there but a sideline. That’s where a lot of big runs come. So it’s very important that our outside backers with their width and physicality, really being physical on the edge, set the edge for us and make sure nothing gets outside.”

11:57 – As for practice, we start off with the defensive backs. The Eagles work on their tackling fundamentals. One player stands with a blocking pad in hand; another faces him about 10 yards away. The player with the pad runs diagonally as the tackler charges towards him and wraps up. There’s no tackling to the ground, but this portion of practice is about angles and technique.

During this period, players are split up into positional groups. It’s here that you see Chip Kelly’s philosophy of letting his assistants do their jobs on full display. Kelly stands with his hands on his hips and observes the different stations. Davis looks on as well. But the assistants do all the teaching and instructing.

11:59 – Two fans – presumably husband and wife – ask me to take a photo of them with the practice fields in the background. This is easily the most pressure-packed moment of my day. I center the iPhone, give them a countdown and hit the red button three times (always good to provide multiple options in this situation).

Hopefully I came through. If the couple is reading this and my finger happened to be covering part of the lens, I apologize. But then again, that is a Kapadia/Birds 247 staple.

12:01 – Some more defensive back drills – this one focusing on ball skills. One player stands stationary in a face-guarding position near the sideline. The defender has his right hand near the offensive player’s back hip. A ballboy lobs a pass over the defender’s head, but he can’t react until the ball has arrived.

The object is to simulate situations where a defender has to make a play on the ball as a pass is coming over the offensive player’s shoulder. Eagles defenders are taught in this spot to get their hand in between the offensive player’s hands.

12:10 – During the 3-on-2 period, Josh Huff makes a great diving effort, but can’t come down with the catch. This seems to happen to him multiple times per day.

Salsa music comes on, and a few players look like they know exactly how to move. The unlikely standouts? Bryan Braman and Emmanuel Acho.

12:26 – With Riley Cooper still not practicing, Ifeanyi Momah has been getting quite a few first-team reps.

Nick Foles looks for LeSean McCoy on a wheel route, but they’re not on the same page. Kelly has explained in the past that the landmark on that route is halfway between the numbers and the sideline. In this instance, I couldn’t tell who was at fault.

Jordan Matthews with a rare drop near the sideline. And Matt Barkley shows excellent touch on a corner route to Kadron Boone.

Later, Matthews gets matched up with Brandon Boykin and actually gets behind him, but G.J. Kinne doesn’t pull the trigger. I need to see more of the Matthews/Boykin matchup.

12:35 – During another team drill, the Eagles work on tempo. Part of moving quickly includes showing the defense unusual looks – like when they would split the tackles out wide as receivers last year. Here, they move Jason Peters over to the right side next to Allen Barbre –  a look we saw often in 2013.

Foles finds Brent Celek wide open in the middle of the field.

The second team shows a look with Darren Sproles and Matthews in the backfield at the same time. It’s a perimeter run to the left, and Matthews essentially turns into an extra blocker for Sproles.

12:48 – Momah flashes again during one-on-ones, out-muscling Bradley Fletcher for a ball in the middle of the field.

Matthews creates space against Malcolm Jenkins on an intermediate route, getting the safety on his back and coming back for the football.

Wide receivers who are unlikely to make the team have really made some nice plays. Boone has the catch of the day, beating fourth-round pick Jaylen Watkins downfield and extending for a diving grab.

Will Murphy zigs and zags about four times, which doesn’t seem fair during one-on-ones. The great Mike Tanier and I joke that the “Six Mississippi” rush from backyard football would have gotten home there. That was always the best – you basically had to make whomever could count the quickest the pass-rusher in those spots.

Mike mentioned a phrase I haven’t heard in at least 15 years: “One blitz per four downs!”

One thing Matthews has done a really nice job of is using his size and going up for the football. On one rep, he heads down the seam, turns back, reaches over Jenkins’ head and makes the grab. The crowd loves it, and Jenkins turns around to applaud. There wasn’t much he could do there.

1:03 –  Jeremy Maclin got nicked up at some point. He said he’ll back on the field tomorrow.

I’ve got a bird’s eye view of some offensive linemen vs. defensive linemen one-on-ones. The one rep that stands out: Beau Allen pushes Jason Kelce back, and his teammates go wild. Impressive.

1:16 – During the team period, Connor Barwin and Fletcher Cox pressure Foles, and Cox gets credit for the sack.

Mark Sanchez makes a nice throw against pressure, finding Matthews in between zone defenders. Kelly yells instructions next: no timeouts, fourth down. In the red zone, Sanchez takes the snap and looks for Zach Ertz on a fade. He makes a great one-handed grab, but can’t get his feet in bounds against Nate Allen.

Boykin closes quickly and violently on Quron Pratt to break up a pass.

1:28 – The Eagles do some work in the screen game, and Foles finds Celek on a deep crosser.

Kelly said recently that Matthew Tucker is ahead of the Eagles’ undrafted free agent running backs on the depth chart, but he’s no lock to make the squad. Here he has a ball bounce off his hands. Haven’t seen much from Tucker as a receiver.

Mychal Kendricks breaks up a Foles pass for Momah near the sideline, and that’s another day in the books.

We’ll be back at it tomorrow.