The Eagles arrived at practice on Monday with the Miami Dolphins on fields seldom seen by other teams, signaling that it was not a typical morning at the NovaCare Complex.
For four weeks, any success or failure in an Eagles practice needed to be qualified with the understanding that it’s the same team on the field. So if Alshon Jeffery dominated a cornerback, the problem for the Eagles is the cornerback employed by Jeffery Lurie. If Vinny Curry didn’t register a sack, maybe it’s because future Hall-of-Famer Jason Peters stood in his way.
Those qualifiers were absolved with the Dolphins joining the Eagles for two practices this week. It was the first time the Eagles had joint practices since 2015, when the Baltimore Ravens practiced in Philadelphia. The Eagles practiced with the New England Patriots the previous two seasons.
Monday’s session was not the blood-boiling, high-intensity joint practices that would make a Hard Knocks teaser, but the benefit was clear for both teams. It also had some notable people watching from the sideline, including Charles Barkley, Marvin Harrison, and Freddie Mitchell.
“We saw some different schemes from Miami, which is good for us,” defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. “A little different competition. So, obviously, that’s really helpful this time of year. But you have to put it in its spot. Our job is to win games. Our job is to win regular-season games. It’s not necessarily to win a practice.”
Tight end Brent Celek told reporters that after nearly a month of training camp practices, the Eagles begin to learn the tendencies of the teammates they see on the other side. So they were helped Monday going against players with different techniques, which could better prepare them for a game.
Jeffery went against former Eagles cornerback Byron Maxwell – he’s better than his brief stint in Philadelphia would suggest – giving Jeffery competition that he hadn’t seen much this summer. Jeffery still excelled, which is a positive sign for the Eagles this season. Quarterback Carson Wentz put together a good session, although Dolphins observers likely left with the same takeaway about quarterback Jay Cutler. And the red, non-contact jerseys usually help the quarterbacks in practice settings.
It was a full-padded practice, although there was no tackling. Players stopped after a “thud.” That calmed some of the chippiness that is sometimes seen in intersquad practices. Safety Malcolm Jenkins made his presence known with the Dolphins’ starting receivers with some words after plays during one series. Dolphins coach Adam Gase said the coaches put rules in before practice to avoid “cheap shots.”
“We’re all out here trying to get better,” defensive end Derek Barnett said. “We’re not out here trying to fight or get anybody hurt. But it’s football, sometimes it happens. A little chippy.”
The teams scrimmaged on two fields, with the first-team offenses and defenses getting most of the work. The Dolphins’ defense is similar to what the Eagles play, so it was not much of an adjustment for the Eagles’ offense. But wide receiver Torrey Smith told reporters that the Dolphins showed different looks that the Eagles succeeded against, which should give confidence to Wentz.
The Dolphins’ offense is different than what the Eagles run, so the Eagles’ defense could benefit from a different look. But so much of defense depends on tackling, which is why observations came with a caveat. Still, two hours with two teams can offer plenty for the coaches to watch.
“It’s not live, so you temper it a little bit, but it’s still active and thuds,” offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. “So there’s a lot of good stuff going on out there. You get out here and you run 50, 60, 70 plays you’re going to win your share, [and] you’re going to lose a couple, especially when you go up against a player like that [defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh]. But I think, overall, when we get done looking at this film, I’m going to say this would be a positive day for our offensive line.”
One player who especially benefited from the joint practice is running back Darren Sproles. Coach Doug Pederson is keeping him out of preseason games, so the veteran running back took his only work against players from another team during these practices.
“I get that thud, too, get a couple hits,” Sproles said. “So it’s good. …We have some stuff we need to clean up, but [it was] good.”
For new cornerback Ronald Darby, the opponents were familiar. He played the Dolphins twice a year while with the Buffalo Bills to begin his career, and he said the only difference was seeing them in a practice setting. It was a helpful practice for Darby because of the sheer amount of work the first-team defense took on Monday, considering Darby is still familiarizing himself with the Eagles.
Darby said it helps to see another team practice and then play them in the game. The last time he had joint practices came as a rookie in Buffalo in 2015 against the Browns. Darby then went out and had two interceptions in the game.
The two teams are back on the field together on Tuesday, but they won’t be in full pads. Then comes the game on Thursday, after which the Dolphins go home and the Eagles will be on the only team on their practice field for the rest of year.