The Eagles held their seventh practice of training camp Thursday. Here are my observations and notes:
1. Wide receiver Bryce Treggs was taken off the non-football injury list and participated in his first practice of camp. Running back Matt Jones returned after sitting out a day. Cornerback D.J. Killings was back in the lineup. Receiver Shelton Gibson was in the concussion protocol for another day. Tight end Adam Zaruba was still missing with an unspecified injury. Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata took a “veterans day,” per the team. Receiver Greg Ward left practice early after he appeared to injure his ankle during individual drills. The Eagles were back in full pads and there were live short yardage drills. Defensive end Josh Sweat hobbled off the field favoring his left knee – yeah, that one – and didn’t return. I bumped into him in the locker room afterward and he said he was fine, but he was still limping. Tight end Richard Rodgers left with an apparent arm injury. Quarterback Nate Sudfeld lofted a pass to Rodgers in the end zone, but he collided with linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill, who knocked the ball away. Carson Wentz didn’t participate in team drills for the fourth straight practice. I think it’s clear that the Eagles don’t see the value of placing him in harm’s way until he’s 100 percent ready to go.
>> GALLERY: See images from Thursday’s practice
2. Typically, when there are live team drills, it’s the first team vs. the second, but Doug Pederson had all three units matched up against each other in short yardage. The action was spirited. Here’s a running diary of the first unit: Cornerback Sidney Jones was back in the slot on defense. Later, we saw our first glimpse of Jalen Mills inside with Jones and Ronald Darby on the outside. For my money, that’ll be the small nickel package configuration during the season. Nate Gerry was at weak-side linebacker. He’s had the most reps with the starters. The defensive line had a bead on run plays nearly all practice. It almost seemed as if they had the call sheet. During the first (non-tackling) set, defensive end Derek Barnett tagged running back Jay Ajayi in the backfield and defensive tackle Destiny Vaeao and linebacker Nigel Bradham teamed up to stop running back Darren Sproles for a loss.
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3. The offense picked up bulk yards, however, when running back Corey Clement took a pitch left and ran behind pulling center Jason Kelce. Jason Peters took all the reps at left tackle during this period. Quarterback Nick Foles dropped off play action, but he couldn’t find an open receiver and defensive tackle Fletcher Cox was credited with a sack. Receiver Rashard Davis motioned into the backfield, but Foles handed off to Clement, who appeared to eke past the marker for a first down. Wendell Smallwood moved the sticks on the next play. Kelce pulled again and had a vicious block on linebacker Jordan Hicks. Ajayi and Sproles were held out of full contact drills. On the offense’s first attempt near the goal line, Clement powered into the end zone standing up. Tackle Lane Johnson did a little dance. Foles had zilch the next time he dropped. He threw high toward tight end Dallas Goedert – safety Malcolm Jenkins had him blanketed – but Foles was essentially tossing the ball away. Bradham snaked through the line and dropped Clement in the backfield. A play later, Foles threw a screen to tight end Zach Ertz just after he motioned across the formation. The pass sailed, but Ertz plucked it out of the air with one hand. He turned, muscled toward the goal line and stretched the ball over the plane. Nice effort.
4. The second unit: Fight! Well, sort of. Defensive end Michael Bennett and Rodgers locked horns on a pass play and the former drove the latter back 10 yards until he planted him into the turf. Rodgers got up and shoved Bennett, but the fracas was quickly broken up. Sudfeld drew the defensive line offsides twice with his hard count. Coach Chris Wilson cussed his players out for not watching the ball. Sudfeld hit tight end Joshua Perkins for a long touchdown. Safety Jeremy Reaves appeared to bite on play-action. Grugier-Hill, who’s had a nice camp and is competing with Gerry and Corey Nelson for the weak-side spot, knifed into the backfield and toppled running back Josh Adams. He did essentially the same during goal line, this time dropping Smallwood. “Kammmuuuuuuu,” called his defensive teammates from the sideline. Bennett can be a beast when he wants. On the next play, he blew up Goedert’s block, grabbed a piece of Smallwood’s jersey and dragged him down. Goedert, to his credit, rebounded on the next play and contained Bennett. Defensive end Steven Means snubbed a shovel pass to Davis. He laid on top of Davis for an uncomfortably long time.
>> READ MORE: Real, live hitting means real, live injuries
5. Sudfeld opened the last team period by throwing directly to cornerback Rasul Douglas. He appeared to have a miscommunication with receiver Kamar Aiken. Running back Donnel Pumphrey hopped laterally to avoid a would-be tackler, and most impressively, finished off the run by taking on corner De’Vante Bausby. Sudfeld tried for Treggs, but Bausby dove to tip the pass incomplete. Bennett gave him a series of low fives.
6. And the third unit: Defensive tackle Bruce Hector penetrated to stop Pumphrey. Killings shook a blocker and made the hit on a bubble screen. Receiver Markus Wheaton had a nice grab on a slant. Quarterback Joe Callahan found tight end Billy Brown for a touchdown. Nelson was late to cover. Linebacker Kyle Wilson read a misdirection screen and dragged Adams down. Means ended practice with a coverage sack.
7. Isaac Seumalo began last season as the starting left guard but was demoted after two games. He’s back at center, which is more natural fit. He’s had some issues snapping the ball and torpedoed another over Sudfeld’s head on Thursday. But he’s been steady in the middle. Is he going to push Kelce? No. But I don’t see him getting cut or traded. For one, the Eagles are still high on his potential. Two, he has a role on offense when Pederson goes heavy with six o-linemen. And three, he has versatility. Seumalo had a strong, second-level block on linebacker Joe Walker on a long Smallwood run during team drills. And during one-on-ones, he anchored well after denying Hector’s first move. Halapoulivaati Vaitai had two strong reps against Barnett in one on ones. Matt Pryor — you’ve read me praise the rookie enough — aced his tests again. Means clobbered Jordan Mailata to the ground. Joe Ostman fooled the tackle with a spin move on the next rep. Mailata had his best practice Wednesday, but his struggles returned. Defensive tackle Aziz Shittu walloped guard Darrell Greene to his butt. But that was probably not as embarrassing as Cox running over into his face to punctuate his failure. Greene jumped back in there and fared better on Shittu’s next rush.
8. We got to watch our first blitz pickup one-on-ones. I thought the tight ends, overall, did well, while the running backs struggled. Rodgers won against safety Rodney McLeod. Goedert bottled up safety Tre Sullivan. Brown has improved as a blocker, once owning Walker. Jenkins got around Ertz, but Goedert overpowered the safety and held his ground. Reynolds bullied Pumphrey. Smallwood couldn’t handle Walker and had zero shot against McLeod. Running backs coach Duce Staley was nonplussed. Pumphrey whiffed on Wilson. Ugly. Ajayi seemed disinterested in the drill, but he finished strong against Nelson. Adams squared up Gerry and Wilson. The rookie can block.
>> READ MORE: ‘Emmitt brought it out of me and Jim unleashed it’
9. Adams didn’t practice in the spring because of a foot injury and has been limited in camp, but he was full go Thursday and had some nice moments. I hate to compare him to another big-bodied Notre Dame running back, but he reminds me a little of Ricky Watters in the way he moves. Adams runs a touch too upright, but he runs hard. He picked up a few extra yards when he lowered his shoulder on Nelson. He scored when he burst behind the lead block of Mailata.
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10. And a leftover … Cameron Johnston worked on punting again. He looked better than he did the last time out, but consistency remains an issue. Special teams coach Dave Fipp is having Johnston work on landing some of his kicks between the numbers and the sidelines, so some of his punts haven’t looked as pretty if he were simply booming away. But too many have been shanked out of bounds or clanked short. It’s still early and he can’t be effectively judged until the preseason. But he needs to improve.
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