Thursday, July 24, 2014
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McLane's Eagles-Patriots Day 2 practice observations

The Eagles and Patriots met for a second straight day of inter-squad practice and while there weren’t as many highlights on the Birds side, there was still plenty of action to sink your teeth into. Here are some observations from practice:

McLane's Eagles-Patriots Day 2 practice observations

Kyle Arrington, left, of the New England Patriots breaks up a pass intended for Riley Cooper. (Charles Fox/Staff Photographer)
Kyle Arrington, left, of the New England Patriots breaks up a pass intended for Riley Cooper. (Charles Fox/Staff Photographer)

The Eagles and Patriots met for a second straight day of inter-squad practice and while there weren’t as many highlights on the Birds side, there was still plenty of action to sink your teeth into. Here are some observations from practice:

-- Let’s get the Eagles quarterbacks out of the way. A day after Nick Foles was first to go with the first team offense, Michael Vick opened up 7 on 7 drills as the “starter.” When practice shifted to full 11 on 11s, both Vick and Foles did a lot of work under center and not in the shotgun. There were also a lot of run plays, some involving the read option. I’ve yet to see either quarterback read and run themselves against the Patriots. Vick was a little shaky today, but he had one throw that I’m fairly sure only he could have completed. DeSean Jackson was running a crossing pattern and there was a very small window for Vick to throw through with a lineman in his face. But he just flicked a sidearm toss to Jackson 15 or 20 yards downfield that drew a reaction from many watching. Later on, he had forgettable series were he forced two straight throws into double coverage in the end zone.

-- Foles was slightly more effective, in my opinion. He wasn’t great by any stretch, but he had more success moving the troops when the Eagles went no huddle, which they did for the bulk of practice. He’s done a fairly solid job selling the read option, even though defenders shouldn’t possibly believe he’d keep the ball and take off. But somehow various Patriots defenders weren’t selling out and respected the chance he could run. That can’t be possible in games, right?

-- There were a lot of questions afterward for Chip Kelly and the quarterbacks on who will start on Friday night. Kelly said not much should be read of it, and I agree. The competition is going to be won in the games not before. I imagine Vick will get the nod purely based on his experience.

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-- I got to think Kelly wants to start seeing some separation sooner rather than later. When you watch the Patriots first team offense you’re looking at a cohesive unit with its defined leader at quarterback. Tom Brady ran double the plays with the New England first team than either Vick or Foles got with their starters. That chemistry that can be developed with repetition has to factor into a decision at some point … you would think.

-- While Kelly doesn’t cast as imposing a figure as Andy Reid, there is no denying who’s running the show when the Eagles practice. Kelly, like Bill Belichick, just has that presence about him. But after watching dozens of Kelly’s practices up to this point, it is clear that he has very little to do with the defensive side of the ball. He is certainly involved when meetings are held and film is watched, but Kelly spends most of his time with the offense and special teams. During team drills Wednesday, both Kelly and Belichick lined up behind their offenses as plays unfolded. But when their respective defenses were on the field, Belichick was only one of the two to intently watch his unit. During one set of plays, Kelly was all the way down at the other end of the field talking with Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork. Kelly said from the get-go that he allows his defensive coordinators to be autonomous. His practice involvement – or non-involvement – just further illustrates that Bill Davis is the de facto leader on defense.

-- I spent most of Wednesday focusing on the quarterbacks on offense, but I did spend one period just watching center Jason Kelce against Wilfork. It wasn’t much of a competition on the plays I watched. To be fair, Kelce is still working himself back into shape and Wilfork is a stud. On one play, Foles handed off to running back Chris Polk, but he ran right into Big 75 after he tossed Kelce aside.

-- Polk continues to make the case for more carries. Remember when some questioned whether he would make the team? Now you got to wonder if he’ll beat out Bryce Brown for the backup spot. He’s a better complement to McCoy because he does most of his running in between the tackles, as he did again on Wednesday. He did have one regretful moment when he fumbled after linebacker Brandon Spikes gave him a pop.

-- Brown hasn’t yet fumbled at camp. A good sign considering last season, but he has to prove it in the season. He did have another drop a day after having three. Riley Cooper, a day after having arguably his best practice, had a drop, as well. Cooper wasn’t heard much from during team drills, but he displayed some nice footwork during one-on-one drills when he was required to drag his feet inbounds on a corner fade.

-- It was a good day for the Eagles tight ends. That’s good news in light of the Eagles’ injury issues at wide receiver. Zach Ertz seemed to get open all day. He caught several passes on a number of different routes. James Casey got a lot of work underneath on quick outs. Brent Celek has been surprisingly quiet this camp, but he’s caught almost everything thrown his way, a good sign considering some of his issues with drops in the past.

-- The Eagles were down to seven receivers by the end of practice – Jackson, Cooper, Jason Avant, Greg Salas, Ifeanyi Momah, Will Murphy and Nick Miller. Scary. Damaris Johnson and Russell Shepard both left with hamstring injuries. The Eagles aren’t likely to add any big-name receivers still on the free agent market. Salas had the catch of the day for the Eagles when he pulled in an errant throw from Matt Barkley with one hand. Momah was a little better today and used his size against smaller defensive backs during one-on-ones in the red zone. If he’s going to make this team – a long shot – he’s got to show that he can be a threat in the red zone. He also had a solid block for Salas on a bubble screen.

-- You’re probably sick of hearing all the Brady love from Eagles beat reporters, but we just don’t get to watch one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of the game up close very often. He once again carved up the Eagles secondary. It’s no secret that will be a weak point for the Birds defense. Cornerback Cary Williams left early again with a hamstring injury, so the first team secondary was down a man. Still, it was sometimes brutal to watch. Curtis Marsh was with the second unit and was abused by Brady and rookie receivers Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins. Brady took turns beating Marsh deep and then underneath after he had the cornerback playing soft. Marsh was called for holding on Dobson at one point and he gave up the play of the day when he and safety Nate Allen were out-jumped by Dobson as he twisted and caught a Brady jump ball pass. Marsh did have one breakup.

-- Davis rotated units all day, mixing up his front sevens with his back fours. Rookie Earl Wolff worked with the ones at safety along with Kenny Phillips. Brandon Hughes filed in for Williams and Bradley Fletcher took the left side. He has been on the right most of camp. Kurt Coleman and Allen were the second team safeties and Brandon Boykin and Eddie Whitley were the corners. Others worked in at various moments, as well.

-- It wasn’t all bad. Fletcher and safety David Sims teamed up to break up one deep Brady throw. Whitley and Colt Anderson blanketed a Patriots wideout on a Ryan Mallett toss.

-- Boykin has had a strong camp, but I wonder if his stats were padded somewhat by going against Eagles quarterbacks and receivers. He hasn’t looked as strong the last two days, especially on the outside. Brady took advantage of the height differential between the 5-foot-9 Boykin and the 6-3 Dobson when the receiver caught a 20-yard pass over the corner.

-- You may have asked where Patrick Chung was. He was used a lot in the nickel when the Eagles went with a three-safety look and he played in the slot. From what I can tell, that package seems to be working and is designed to combat multiple-tight end formations.

-- Other defensive highlights: Trent Cole had a sack of Brady. He just blew by tackle Sebastian Vollmer. Linebacker Mychal Kendricks elevated and tipped a Brady pass.

-- Some quickies: Former Eagles coach Dick Vermeil was at practice. He looked great. And, I’m happy to report, didn’t appear to cry once. … Eagles corner Trevard Lindley and Patriots corner Aqib Talib mixed it up during one punt drill. It ended fairly quickly and neither needed further discipline. … Defensive lineman Damion Square jumped offsides near the goal line.

Jeff McLane Inquirer Staff Writer
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Birds' Eye View is the Inquirer's blog covering all things Philadelphia Eagles and the NFL.

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