Eagles practice observations: Training camp awards

The Eagles continued training camp on Tuesday. (Links to Days 1234567891011121314151617):

Poll

Should Alshon Jeffery’s lack of activity be a concern?

Doug Pederson formally ended camp with a light 10-10-10 session, as usual. The Eagles will open their two joint workouts with the Dolphins to the media next Monday and Tuesday, but here’s my look back at the highlights and lowlights from the last three weeks of intrasquad practices:

  1. The “We’re Talking ‘Bout Practice” Star Performer. Derek Barnett entered his first NFL camp looking to added a complementary move to his outside speed rush. I wrote about it after the second day. As a result, the rookie defensive end often had difficult moments. While I maintained a perspective throughout his struggles, and made certain to mention whenever he was working on new moves, it was difficult to foresee the Eagles’ top draft pick having the dominating debut he had in the preseason opener last week. Just as one shouldn’t get caught up in practice, the same thinking should apply to the preseason. But Barnett’s explosive start reminds me of the qualifier I used to always give before my old practice reports: It’s only practice and therefore should be taken with a grain of salt.
  2. The “This Year’s Wide Receivers” Award: A year ago, it was blatantly obvious the Eagles didn’t have enough at receiver, particularly on the outside. It was clear long before camp, but the first two weeks hammered the point home. The same was said of the cornerbacks this year. Some of their misfortune could be attributed to upgrades at receiver, but the group was inconsistent from Day 1. There was no exaggeration. The Eagles could no longer ignore the fact, even if starters Jalen MillsPatrick Robinson and Ron Brooks survived the preseason opener without any embarrassments. Ronald Darby was acquired from the Bills for Jordan Matthews and a third-round pick, and he instantly vaulted to the top of the depth chart.
  3. The “Best Catch in a Camp Surprisingly Light on Great Catches” Award. That isn’t to say that the receivers as a whole weren’t good. There were far fewer drops this camp. And if Alshon Jeffery had practiced more, there likely would have been more candidates. The guy has elite catching skills. But it took about three weeks before a grab drew a visceral reaction from fans and it came from a tight end, not a receiver. Quarterback Matt McGloin threw downfield, but Mychal Kendricks was underneath and managed to get a hand on the ball. The trajectory of the pass was altered, but Trey Burton reached back behind his body and against his momentum and pulled in the toss with one hand.
  4. The “Biggest Hit in a Camp Surprisingly Light on Big Hits” Award. Linebacker Jordan Hicks popped a couple of offensive players this past week, albeit in light contact drills, and running back Wendell Smallwood laid some wood on safety Terrence Brooks by finishing off rushes during “live” tackling periods. But the biggest hit came when linebacker Nigel Bradham squared up running back Darren Sproles during run drills. It was a “thud” period so Bradham couldn’t finish the tackle, and Sproles somehow stayed on his feet, but the collision echoed off the NovaCare Complex.
  5. The “Best Scuffle in a Camp Surprisingly Light on Scuffles” Award. I wrote extensively about the Malcolm JenkinsNelson Agholor back-and-forth on Monday, but I hadn’t yet spoken to the former about what went down. Agholor didn’t have much to say. He said something about competitiveness, and that was certainly the case. The receiver had beaten the safety twice  – although in drills that often favor the offense – and Jenkins took exception. “He had actually gotten the best of me two plays in a row and started talking some trash,” Jenkins said. “And I’m like, ‘OK.’ So I think that competitiveness makes me step my game up.” But Jenkins, who had said a few days earlier that he was looking for the “new Jordan Matthews” to challenge him in practice, admitted that there was also a message behind his chippiness. “I do think that for us to be good he’s got to be a big player for us,” Jenkins said of Agholor. “And, I think, honestly, he’s probably the most talented receiver we have on our roster. We need him to be that guy.”
  6. The “Can’t Make the Club from the Tub” Award. Receiver Paul Turner (shoulder), offensive lineman Josh Andrews (hand) and tight end Anthony Denham (calf) have spent most, if not all, of the last two weeks injured. The first two spent part of last season on the 53-man roster, and Denham was on the practice squad. All three were in jeopardy of not making the team before their injuries. They’re running out of time to make an impression. Smallwood (hamstring) may have been on this list had he not performed so well during the first week of camp. But he also returned to practice this week and could play in the second preseason game. If he suffers another setback, could he lose his job to undrafted rookie Corey Clement?
  7. The “Can Make the Club from the Tub” Award. This could be called the “Alshon Jeffery” Award, but the receiver’s shoulder injury didn’t last very long. The Eagles have been careful with their top free agent signing – or are they following Jeffery’s cues? He has said that he doesn’t like playing in the preseason, but, hey, he isn’t the only one. Pederson did say that he was leaning toward playing the receiver on Thursday. It’s hard to fault the thinking that practicing and playing isn’t worth the gamble, but couldn’t the same be said for a dozen other Eagles? Carson Wentz has made it no secret that he would prefer more time with Jeffery.
  8. The “No. 1 Reason to Feel Confident about the Eagles After Camp” Award. It starts with the quarterback. Wentz has clearly looked better than he did a year ago. Has he been perfect? Of course, not. But he has had significantly more good than bad practices and has improved in nearly every facet. Wentz has been more accurate on short, intermediate and deep throws, he’s been more sound mechanically, and he has looked the part of a franchise-caliber signal caller. He’s going to still have his struggles. And as instrumental as quarterbacks are, he still can’t do it all on his own. But baring something unforeseen, he should be better in Year 2.
  9. The “No. 1 Reason to Feel Nervous about the Eagles After Camp” Award. Even with Darby on the roster, I’d still place the cornerbacks atop the team’s list of concerns. He has better skills than anyone at the position, but he also comes with legitimate question marks. But for variety’s sake, I’ll go with the run game here. LeGarrette Blount has never been characterized as a good practice player. His skill set just doesn’t shine as it would against another opponent. He missed practice when the Eagles had live short yardage and goal line drills, so we didn’t get to see him in those situations. But he hasn’t exactly stood out in any other way since returning. Sproles has been Sproles and will probably play like Sproles when the season starts. But the Eagles can’t rely on him on the ground if Blount can’t get the job done. Smallwood can’t seem to stay healthy. And rookie Donnel Pumphrey still has a lot to prove. Ryan Mathewswho was released on Tuesday, missed too much time to injury, and he had fumbling issues, but when he played he was usually productive. The Eagles had opportunities to address tailback early in the draft, but for whatever the reason, they bypassed prospects who have already generated buzz this summer.
  10. The “Best Coaching Quotes” Awards.  Pederson to his assistants after the offense false started in the red zone: “I blame the coaches. Get your heads out of your [butts].” Defensive line coach Chris Wilson to rookie defensive tackle Elijah Qualls: “You’re always [bleeping] hurt.” Qualls would miss a week after a groin injury, but he’s healthy and has looked sharp since.