Tim's Take on Eagles Camp, Aug. 8


BETHLEHEM, Pa. – The Eagles finally practiced the two-minute drill extensively in Monday’s practice. But, unfortunately, the Eagles didn’t look like they were flying down the field during plays from scrimmage. Whether that was by design remains to be seen, but the first and second team offenses focused on short, quick-hitting passes, before sprinting to the line of scrimmage and either spiking the ball or calling another play.

There was no pass rush, and it didn’t appear any receiver was running a designed deep-route, but both Michael Vick and Vince Young completed passes and scrambled for yards. But again, this was devoid a pass rush.

The Eagles practiced it midway through the morning session and then again near the end of the practice.

The highlight of the session came when LeSean McCoy shimmied his way up the middle for a big run. It’s tricky to evaluate a running back’s performance in camp though, because even though they aren’t wearing the red jerseys, rarely do players take hits on a running back. So McCoy sprinted downfield and safety Jarrad Page ran with him, step by step, and jokingly patted McCoy on the helmet when he reached the sidelines.

My favorite Johnnie 

Johnnie Lee Higgins may be a poor man’s Jason Avant.

Now that may be pushing it, as Higgins has been extremely consistent against the second and third-team defensive backs, while Avant has been battling Asante Samuel all camp.

It may be too early to speculate, but Higgins, who signed a 1-year deal with the Eagles, may have the most to gain if Jeremy Maclin is unable to start the season on time. Higgins doesn’t possess special physical traits, but another sure-handed guy couldn’t hurt.

He’ll also be battling with two shorter slot receivers, Chad Hall and Sinorice Moss, to make the team after DeSean Jackson, Maclin, Riley Cooper and Avant.

Higgins’ highlight on Monday happened during one-on-ones, while he was matched up with safety Jarrad Page. Higgins sprinted downfield and Page had him covered beautifully, staying between the receiver and the ball.

But the pass was thrown low and behind Higgins, which would be considered a bad pass until Higgins contorted his body, came back to the ball and fell to the ground to make the one-handed catch. Everywhere else near Higgins was covered by Page.

“Great position,” said defensive backs coach Johnnie Lynn.

“He didn’t even see it,” said Page.

He looks like Saturday too

 Rookie center Jason Kelce is giving incumbent Jamaal Jackson a run for his money to start at center for the Eagles for many reasons. He has looked good playing with the first team, absolutely. But Kelce also fits the mold of offensive line coach Howard Mudd’s longtime center in Indianapolis, Jeff Saturday.

Both are athletic, quick centers that can use their feet to position themselves correctly and at least get in front of pass rushers.

On Friday, fellow rookie Danny Watkins said Kelce compared Kelce to Sonic the Hedgehog, undoubtedly for his short but spiky hair.

But a better comparison may be Saturday himself. Kelce does look strikingly similar to Saturday in their facial structure and each sports a full beard.

We’ll see soon enough – as the preseason should tell a lot about who will win the competition at center – whether Kelce can truly play like Saturday too.

Where’s the beef?

With Mike Patterson out with his unique condition and Antonio Dixon relegated to the second team since suffering a minor injury last week, the beef has been missing at the defensive tackle position –  622 pounds of it, to be exact.

Instead, newly signed Anthony Hargrove and Cullen Jenkins – two speedier, pass-rush tackles – have been playing with the first team defense.

Even though they’re only giving up 32 pounds of weight, Jenkins and Hargrove are noticeably fitter than their run-stuffing counterparts.

But that’s something Hargrove has taken offense to at every stop in his NFL career since being moved from defensive end to defensive tackle. His arguments include that he can use his speed to split double teams from the 3-technique and also use his heavy hands to rip and club his way past bigger guys while still moving his feet.

And G.M. Howie Roseman went as far as to label Jenkins strictly a pass-rushing tackle when he announced the signing.

Hargrove and Jenkins have certainly done well at getting penetration, but there hasn’t been much to judge the run defense in camp. We’ll all get a better idea when the preseason starts on Thursday.

With the defensive ends lined up wider in Jim Washburn’s scheme and the Eagles potentially playing more nickel or dime this season, the need for run-stuffing tackles may be extraordinary for the ultimate success of the unit.

Other news and notes from practice:

  • Rookie Curtis Marsh had a few more impressive deflections on Monday, drawing praise from his teammates and defensive coaching staff. Marsh fully extended on two diving swats, both in full team play, while playing at left cornerback.
  • Former Eagles coach Dick Vermeil was on hand on the day of DeSean Jackson’s triumphant return. Vermeil also spoke with coach Andy Reid before practice began.
  • The Eagles have run quite a few screen plays this training camp, fueling more teasing from the team’s funny-man, Asante Samuel. After one particular play, a screen to Riley Cooper which he dropped, Samuel shouted: “Lockout hurt ‘em, huh? Working on Screens?”
  • In a secondary that has been hyped with the additions of Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, the key to its success may be with the safeties. Nate Allen has looked smoother after a slow start to camp taking his recovery from a 2010 injury slowly. And Kurt Coleman has been directing players and laying big hits on unsuspecting offensive players. One big hit on McCoy, on a screen pass, got everyone fired up on the defensive sideline. Both Allen and Coleman each have dropped into deep zones or have gotten close to the line for man-to-man coverage. But it appears, more often than not, it’s likely that Allen drops back deep and Coleman covers a zone or man closer to the line of scrimmage – playing to each players’ strength.

Staff writer Tim Rohan can be reached at Trohan@philly.com or @TimRohan on Twitter.