The Eagles held their second practice of minicamp on Wednesday. Here are some observations:
-- I’ll start by reminding everyone that practices in the spring are like the NFL’s version of flag football without the stakes. The players aren’t wearing any pads, not even shells, and it’s difficult to judge the play of everyone, especially linemen. So that’s why most of my practice observations have focused on the quarterbacks, receivers and passing game. With one session to go before the Eagles break for a month before training camp, the best news thus far has been the lack of significant injury.
-- It may seem like I’m picking on Matt Barkley, but I really haven’t seen much progress in offseason No. 2. Whether the coaches see something different, or they’re grading with a curve because he’s been working mostly with the third team, what can’t be denied is that his arm strength is relatively the same as it was a year ago and that his accuracy remains suspect. I wrote about quarterback arm strength in today’s newspaper and opened with the importance of completing the 20-yard “out.” Barkley attempted one to Quron Pratt and was intercepted by cornerback Curtis Marsh, who stepped in front of the receiver. I can’t say for certain that Barkley was solely responsible for the pick. Maybe Pratt needed to come back to the ball. But the ball seemed to take unusually long to get there. Marsh broke up another Barkley pass later in practice.
On one pass, Barkley went to receiver Damaris Johnson but he just threw it to an empty space. There was an obvious mix-up on the route, but Chip Kelly took Barkley aside after the play and seemed to be explaining how he wanted him to slide out of the pocket and throw. Kelly mimicked a sidestep move-throw on the run. During target practice (three trash cans are stacked with the third angled toward the quarterbacks) Barkley had the hardest time coming close to the throwing in the bucket. Mark Sanchez swished one toss from about 25 yards out. Nick Foles, who had a relatively steady day again, became the first to hit one of the Michael Vick honorary fly swatter thingamagingys during open practices this spring.
Barkley did have some fine moments. He threaded a downfield pass to receiver B.J. Cunningham into a tight window, hit receiver Josh Huff inside the front end zone pylon during red zone drills and lofted (perhaps with too much arc) a sideline pass to running back Chris Polk, who beat linebacker Jake Knott on a wheel route.
-- I wrote about cornerback Nolan Carroll and how he stood out during OTAs a week ago, but he’s continued his solid play this week. Carroll, signed as a free agent this offseason, has been running with the second team, but there’s no reason to think he might not give starters Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher a run for their spots. “I’ve been really impressed with Nolan the short time we’ve had him here,” Kelly said today, “and I know you guys have noticed he’s stuck out.” Kelly was asked to name some of the other cornerbacks that have caught his eye this spring, and he mentioned Brandon Boykin and Roc Carmichael. Boykin has played mostly on the outside this spring, but the Eagles have done some more nickel work this week and he’s been back at his regular spot in the slot. Boykin broke up a deep Foles pass intended for receiver Brad Smith today. There is still upside for Boykin as he heads into his third year.
-- Jordan Matthews continued to work in repetitions with the first team offense. He made a leaping 30-yard grab when Foles lofted a pass over the middle. Not all of Matthews’ work with the starters was in the slot. On one play, he was flanked left, Jeremy Maclin was flanked right and Riley Cooper and Smith were inside in the slots.
-- The Sanchez-Matthews bromance was back in full force. They hooked up for three straight passes including a touchdown in the back of the end zone during one series. A quick shout out to inside linebacker Jason Phillips, who broke up a Sanchez pass intended for tight end Zach Ertz. Phillips is coming back from a torn ACL and has been with the second team defense along with Najee Goode.
-- Kelly, in mentioning some under-the-radar players, also singled out receivers Will Murphy and Ifeanyi Momah. He didn’t look anywhere near ready last training camp, but Momah has improved in a year. I still don’t think he has any shot of making the team, but maybe he can put enough on film to catch on elsewhere. The sloppy moments are still there. He dropped a high throw from Sanchez today. I’m not sure if the coaches would have counted that as a drop, but Momah has yet to make any grabs that made you take immediate notice.
-- Some has asked me about Arrelious Benn, who is also coming back from a torn ACL. It’s tough to say for certain, but he looks healthy to me. He’s made pretty much every catch thrown his way and seemed to specialize in short passes and yards after the catch (which don’t really count here since there is no tackling, but, hey, I’m trying to be positive). The Eagles won’t know if he can stay healthy until the preseason and beyond, but he remains in contention for the fifth or sixth receiver spot on the roster. Jeff Maehl will also be vying for a roster spot, but he once again didn’t practice. His injury is unknown, but he was wearing a sleeve on his right leg as he watched practice.
-- A few quickies: It’s hard to simulate with little contact, but the Eagles worked on their running game a decent amount. LeSean McCoy, as one would expect, gets his breaks. Matthew Tucker has been taking many of McCoy’s reps with the ones when he takes a breather. Tucker ended last season on the 53-man roster, but there is some question about whether he’ll be around in September. McCoy, Darren Sproles and Polk are assured roster spots. It may be hard for the Eagles to not keep four running backs. … Defensive linemen, as I mentioned earlier, don’t normally stand out in the spring, but defensive end Cedric Thornton batted a screen pass to the ground. … McCoy wore sweatpants in sweltering heat. He was the only player to do so. I’m amazed that so few Eagles (if any at all) had cramping issues during the last two hot days. Practice starts about two hours earlier tomorrow and the temperatures aren’t expected to be as high. … Kelly, in between drills, looked as if he was trying to race Bennie Logan and Fletcher Cox to the next station. Let’s call it a tie.