Eagles practice observations: Doug Pederson lightens the mood; camp winners and losers

The Eagles continued training camp Friday. Here’s what I saw from Day 11 (links to Days 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10):

1. Practice was relatively light after Thursday’s grueling session. It was a “10-10-10” workout, which evenly splits time among the offense, defense, and special teams. And just a reminder, 10-10-10 practices are not tame only regarding contact, but they are designed to benefit whichever unit is getting its turn. It’s essentially useless to breathlessly detail each moment, especially when the intentions of each play might be unclear. But there were a few things to glean from practice. For instance, during a red-zone drill, coach Doug Pederson whistled a play dead after guard Brandon Brooks had a false start. “No penalties in the red zone!” Pederson yelled in his gruffest voice. Pause. “I blame the coaches for that. Get your heads out of your [butt].”

2. On the injury front, wide receiver Alshon Jeffery missed his fourth straight practice. At this point, it appears as if the shoulder injury that the Eagles had said was sidelining him is healed. Pederson said after practice that the shoulder injury was indeed beyond Jeffery, but that he held him out to be cautious. I don’t think it’s a huge deal, but when players such as tight end Zach Ertz have talked extensively about the chemistry a receiver and quarterback must have – and how it often takes time to build that chemistry – I wonder if it’s best to sit a new receiver for a week just to be careful. Defensive end Chris Long didn’t practice for the first time this camp. Pederson said he was giving him an over-30 health day. Linebacker Mychal Kendricks sat out his second consecutive practice with a quadriceps strain. Running back Donnel Pumphrey (hamstring), receiver Paul Turner (shoulder), and guard Josh Andrews (hand) also remained sidelined. Tight end Adam Zaruba suffered a concussion Thursday. Defensive tackle Elijah Qualls (groin) returned after missing about a week. And finally, running back LeGarrette Blount was back in the fold after missing the previous three days for a personal reason.

3. Carson Wentz continued to take snaps not only with the first-team offense, but also occasionally with the second team. That isn’t common around the league, but the quarterback is entering only his second season and he didn’t get a full plate of reps last August because of the broken rib injury he suffered in the preseason opener. The Eagles have said that Wentz is on a pitch count, but he threw a lot of passes this week. Tomorrow’s rest day will help keep him fresh.

4. Kicker Caleb Sturgis had his first extension work, at least during special-teams drills. He connected on 7 of 9 field goals. He was good from 33, 35, 37, 40, 43, 45 and 49 yards. He was wide right from 41 and hit the left upright from 47. Sturgis later connected on an extra point during team drills. Pederson huddled the team and had players stand close to the kicker and yell as he attempted two field goals from 53 yards. The first try hit the right upright, and the second was wide right. My assumption is that Pederson offered the team a reward if Sturgis delivered. The coach has made competition an integral part of practice since the team first reported in the spring. There might be periods of team drills when something is on the line and there might also be lighthearted competitions that will bring the level of intensity down.

5. One such contest was held later in practice when Pederson held a punt-catching competition between Jason Peters and Fletcher Cox. They weren’t exactly pitted against each other, but if Peters was able to field a Cameron Johnston boot, the offense would gain an extra hour before curfew, and the same applied to Cox and the defense. Peters was up first. The ball traveled about 50 yards, but he caught it easily, although he had to drop to a knee just after securing the ball. Peters said he briefly lost the ball in the sun. He said he hadn’t fielded a punt in more than 10 years. Cox’s punt was a high-arching kick, but he had no problem, much to the delight of his celebrating teammates on defense. He said he still fools around with catching punts every now and then.

6. With more than a week of camp with the full squad in the books, it’s time to take account of the players who have helped themselves and the ones who have not. First up, the top five who have increased their stock:

– Marcus Johnson. The second-year wide receiver, who spent parts of last season on the Eagles’ practice squad, has flashed speed, hands and precise route running. The team clearly likes him. He’s been running mostly with the second team, but has also gotten his fair number of first-team reps with Jeffery out.

– Wendell Smallwood. He wasn’t likely at risk to make the 53-man roster, but stranger things have happened and undrafted rookie Corey Clement has run well. But Smallwood has capitalized on Blount’s absence and has shown a willingness to finish runs out by initiating contact.

– Nelson Agholor. I don’t believe he has dropped a pass all camp, at least on the plays I’ve watched. Last year, it seemed as if mistakes were a daily occurrence.

– Dillon Gordon. He’s been the primary backup to Peters. That doesn’t mean Gordon will be called on to replace the Pro Bowler if he were to go down. Lane Johnson has that job, and Halapoulivaati Vaitai might dress ahead of Gordon on game days. But the second-year tackle could be active on Sundays with his increased role as a fullback.

– C.J. Smith. The cornerback has had his ups and downs. But he’s entered the conversation to win a starting spot, which might say as much about the competition as anything.

7. And now, the top five on the other end:

– Patrick Robinson. The veteran corner has settled down some since a rough start. But it was an inauspicious first week.

– Shelton Gibson. Fifth-round rookies have failed to make 53-man rosters many times, but the receiver could be in jeopardy of not even making the practice squad. It’s early, but the dropped passes in uncontested situations need to stop.

Mychal Kendricks. He’s not a happy camper despite the brave face he put up at the start of camp. He has practiced fine, but another soft-tissue camp injury would make even the truest believer a skeptic.

– Vinny Curry. He has had a moment here or there, but he hasn’t taken the starting right defensive end spot by the horns.

– Derek Barnett and Rasul Douglas. The rookies are only months into the start of their NFL careers, so their inconsistent performances of late should be taken with a hefty grain of salt. Every first-year player is going to encounter struggles. But neither player has exploded out of the gates. It’s no reason for alarm, although there are times when a future starter’s ability is instantly on display.