The Eagles donned the pads for the third straight practice and it looked to me as if the defense got the better of the offense for the second straight day. Let’s roll the tape:
-- It can be easy to lose sight of the big picture when you’re trying to focus on many of the details in a Chip Kelly practice. Unfortunately, that means I haven’t written much about the most important player on the Eagles – Nick Foles. His success this coming season should not be taken for granted. He has obvious talent, but as Kelly likes to say when asked which area he would like to see his quarterback improve in, Foles has room to grow in each department. He’s been good in camp. Not great. He had some strong throws today, a few bad ones. Foles’ best completion came in red zone when he waited for Brent Celek to lose Brandon Graham, anticipated the end of the route and tossed a strike for a touchdown. He did have his second interception in as many days when he threw behind B.J. Cunningham over the middle and DeMeco Ryans stepped in front for the pick. Foles also chucked a pass into one of the Michael Vick Memorial Flyswatters the Eagles use during 7-on-7 drills.
I think Foles is going to have another strong season, barring injury, of course. Will he match last season’s 27-2 touchdown-interception ratio? Probably not. But there’s no reason to think he can’t be as successful with a full offseason as the starter.
-- I threw a little cold water on the Jordan Matthews hype in my Tuesday column, pointing out that few receivers make first-year splashes in the NFL. Plus, Matthews isn’t likely to get the number of snaps that are generally needed to generate such numbers. But that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been excellent in camp and won’t someday be a Pro Bowl-caliber player. He had a come-back-to-earth practice today, though. During one-on-ones, he got the better of Malcolm Jenkins on an “out” route. But Jenkins had tight coverage on a deep route in which Matthews failed to get separation. His next time up, Matthews faced undrafted rookie defensive back Davon Morgan, but once again he couldn’t slip a defender on a deep run.
-- I keep getting the feeling we’ve seen little of how the Eagles intend on using Darren Sproles. These practices are open and there is little reason for Kelly to reveal his hand. Sproles has been moved around quite a bit, but no different than the Eagles employ LeSean McCoy. Only occasionally have we seen McCoy and Sproles on the field at the same time. Sproles has been the second team running back, and thus, has had his share of handoffs. He will be dangerous on the ground because of the space the Eagles’ zone blocking creates, but there are times when Sproles runs into a crowd and somehow emerges despite little room. Ah, to be 5-foot-6.
-- Just when it looked like Carey Spear would have the better showing in the kicker competition by making every field goal try on the day, he clanked his last attempt – a 44-yarder – off the right upright. Both Spear and Alex Henery were 5 of 5 from distances of 36, 39, 46, 50 and 52 yards during field goal drills. During team drills, though, Henery sliced a 32-yard attempt wide right. He came back and drilled a 40-yarder. Spear was good from 41 yards during the team portion, but ended practice with his clank.
-- The linemen went at it for one on ones for a second day in a row. Here were some of the highlights:
1. Jason Kelce did fine work against rookie nose tackle Beau Allen. He’s not the biggest center, but Kelce’s footwork is text book. I didn’t come up with that on my own. I’ve had many football people tell me how seamless a technician he can be.
2. A few readers have asked how defensive end Alejandro Villanueva has looked. He looks like he needs time to learn the position. Guard Matt Tobin wrecked him during one standoff.
3. Here’s a mismatch: Jason Peters vs. Joe Kruger. No offense to Kruger, who spent all of last season on IR, but the matchup was like a battle of the bands between the Rolling Stones and Creed.
4. Vinny Curry rushed from what looked like the seven-technique during his matchup with Lane Johnson. Curry is a good inside pass rusher, but the Eagles will sometimes line him up outside as an edge rusher, where he’s probably more comfortable. Speaking of moving linemen around, defensive end Fletcher Cox rushed from a two-point stance off the edge just inside outside linebacker Trent Cole during one team drill. I wouldn’t expect that look very often, but Bill Davis will try to find new ways to utilize Cox’ athleticism.
5. Cedric Thornton made quick work of Dennis Kelly with a hand slap. Taylor Hart ran over fellow rookie Karim Barton. Brandon Graham juked rookie tackle Kevin Graf with a crossover move. Graf could only hang his head afterward.
-- A day after working with the first team, Earl Wolff was inactive. He was in pads and partook in individual drills, but was absent during 7 on 7s and 11 on 11s. He offered no explanation to reporters after practice, but said he would be back on Friday. Other injuries: Riley Cooper (foot), Chris Polk (hamstring) and Julian Vandervelde (back) didn’t practice for the third straight day. Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur noted that center David Molk was benefitting from Vandervelde’s absence. Safety Keelan Johnson made his first appearance at camp. He was excused from the first week to tend to an assaulting a police officer charge that occurred in Arizona recently. He told reporters after that he knows he’s at the bottom of the list and has to earn his way back into the team’s good graces.
-- With Jeremy Maclin, Riley Cooper, Jordan Matthews and Josh Huff all locks to make the 53-man roster, the battle for the final one or two receiver spots will be an interesting one to monitor. Jeff Maehl has been getting most of Cooper’s reps with the first team. Brad Smith is still ahead of Matthews in the slot, but it’s only a matter of time before the rookie is at the top of the depth chart. Still, I think Smith has a leg up on his competitors because he is so versatile in special teams and on offense. Arrelious Benn has been solid. He did drop a short pass today. And Ifeanyi Momah has made strides in one year. The 6-foot-7 receiver made a leaping grab over 5-foot-9 Brandon Boykin during one on ones.
-- A few quickies … G.J. Kinne also hit the fly swatter. He also tossed an interception to Boykin. … I thought rookie cornerback Jaylen Watkins had a nice day. I teased him some yesterday for getting beat badly by Will Murphy in one on ones, but he brought it a day later. … Cary Williams brought a lot of energy. He was chippy. He gave receivers aggressive shoves and even jawed with them when he wasn’t playing. He may end up delivering upon his promise to get in a fight soon. ... Damaris Johnson had the catch of the day when he dove and caught a Matt Barkley rainbow in the corner of the end zone. ... Nolan Carroll had his daily collection of pass breakups. I counted three times he got his hands on the ball.