Eagles Practice Observations: The Wentz accuracy train; C.J. Smith moving up; Elijah Qualls down

The Eagles continued training camp on Saturday. Here’s what I saw from Day 6 (Links to Days 1, 2, 3, 4, 5):

With the change in location – the Eagles pushed the open practice that was to be at Lincoln Financial Field back a day due to the threat of rain – Saturday’s session at the NovaCare Complex was the first in which the players wore full pads and hit. There wasn’t yet tackling to the ground – the first “live” period is scheduled for Tuesday – but there was “thud” contact. Because there was a fair amount of action I’m going to recount the workout as a running diary:

  1. After about 45 minutes of warmups and individual drills, the offense and defense gathered for the first real team-run drills of camp. On the very first play, quarterback Carson Wentz got defensive tackle Tim Jernigan to jump offside with his hard count. A few plays later, an anxious Fletcher Cox also drew a flag, which prompted defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz to mumble (loudly), “Waste of [bleeping] time.” LeGarrette Blount and Darren Sproles found a few holes during the first team drills, but defensive end Brandon Graham motored across to the backfield to stop Sproles on one carry. Tackle Lane Johnson was gimpy after a scrum, but he walked off the injury and returned.
  2. The second team matchup featured a fair share of split zone runs in which a tight end will whammy block the opposite defensive end. Chris Long jacked up Anthony Denham despite the tight end’s head start on one such run. But Denham would later get the better of rookie end Derek Barnett, who was blocked to his knee. Denham, a second-year player who spent most of last season on the practice squad, had earned a low five from Brent Celek when he returned to the tight end circle. Wendell Smallwood and Donnel Pumphrey took most of the handoffs with the second unit. There appeared to be a lot of space for the tailbacks to run, which later drew a rebuke from Schwartz. I can’t print most of what the quotable coordinator said, but it could have passed for dialogue from a Quentin Tarantino film.
  3. Alshon Jeffery must have tweaked something at some point because he didn’t participate in the first set of team drills. Marcus Johnson, who has been solid the first week, took his reps. The drills were to focus on run plays, but the first team caught the defense off guard when Wentz threw to Blount off play action. Blount has only 43 catches in seven seasons, but the Eagles will need to throw to him on occasion to keep defenses honest on obvious run downs. A play later, defensive end Vinny Curry met Blount at the line. Lane Johnson was called for a false start on the next play.
  4. Najee Goode continued to take most of Jordan Hicks’ reps at middle linebacker, but Hicks (hand injury) was inserted during this period. Wentz then started to air it out. He hit a wide-open Johnson, who had slipped cornerback J. Smith, for a 20-plus-yard gain. Jalen Mills and Patrick Robinson have played most of the first team snaps at outside cornerback, but Smith has been the first “reserve” to get plays with that unit. He seems to be ahead of rookie Rasul Douglas at this point. On second down and 4, Wentz had the offense quick snap out of the huddle. The pace caught the defense, and Smallwood ran through Jernigan for a “first down.”
  5. Halapoulivaati Vaitai spelled Jason Peters at first-team left tackle. He had his struggles. Curry slipped him with an inside move and stoned Smallwood in the backfield with some help from safety Malcolm Jenkins. A little later, Graham pushed Vaitai back into Wentz with a bull rush. The quarterback had to bounce outside. He may have been sacked under normal circumstances.
  6. Jeffery returned for 7-on-7 drills. Wentz wasted no time finding the receiver and hit him on a short out route. Tight end Zach Ertz was next up on the Wentz accuracy train. He caught a tight spiral over the middle for about 15 yards. One-on-one drills between the defensive and offensive lines were being held during the same time as 7 on 7s, so I switched fields and watched about a dozen and a half rushes.
  7. The highlights/lowlights: Cox ragdolled guard Josh Andrews. Long drove tackle Taylor Hart back on his heels about five yards. Center Jason Kelce stood up defensive tackle Elijah Qualls, who pulled up lame almost immediately. As the rookie limped off and fell to all fours, defensive line coach Chris Wilson said, “You’re always [bleeping] hurt. … Always on the ground.” Smalls, at least from my vantage point, looked legitimately hurt. He tried to get up at one point but returned to his knees. It looked like maybe a hamstring injury. As he was being tended to by the training staff, the linemen carried on about 10 or so yards away.
  8. Barnett tried his new inside spin move on tackle Victor Salako and was driven to the ground. The rookie end tried to turn the corner on tackle Matt Tobin, but Tobin gobbled him up and shoved him to his knees. Tackle Dillon Gordon needed only a hand slap to drop Barnett to the ground. The rookie has obvious talent. He also needs obvious work. He has time. Defensive tackle Destiny Vaeao knocked Andrews’ helmet off. Andrews was nonplussed. Wilson: “That’s a 15-yard penalty on us.” Guard Chance Warmack was a rock against a Justin Hamilton. Vaitai used his hands to steer defensive end Steven Means outside.
  9. During the last set of team drills, I said to no one in particular: “I don’t think I’ve seen Wentz miss a throw yet.” He then tossed his next three passes on ropes, the last to Johnson on a crosser. Wentz has looked good all camp. There’s no other way to say it. He struggled early in the spring as he continued to work on his tinkered throwing motion, but he finished strong in June and appears to be hitting his groove. It’s early, of course. And in-team workouts are one thing. But it’s better than Wentz not practicing well.
  10. And some leftovers … Nick Foles didn’t practice because of elbow inflammation. The backup quarterback was on the field, but he did nothing more than mental reps. He could be out for a week. Foles was all over the barn on Friday, which could explain the injury and the bad throws. … Alex McCalister sat out with a hamstring injury. The timetable for his return is unknown. Schwartz cited the second-year defensive end, who was on Injured Reserve last season, as one reason the Eagles felt the need to release Marcus Smith earlier this week. … Cornerback Randall Goforth missed practice after injuring his knee a day earlier. The Eagles didn’t have any further detail on the undrafted rookie.