The Eagles opened practice to the media Tuesday. Here are some notes and observations from a sunny and warm session at the NovaCare Complex:
-- First, a qualifier: It's May, the players are running around in shorts, and the depth chart is written in erasable ink. So everything from henceforth should be taken with a fine grain of salt. Tuesday, at least, was a tough day for Jim Schwartz's defense. He acknowledged as much during his post-practice news conference – the only time he's slated to talk this spring. I'll have more on Schwartz in my column for the newspaper. There were multiple false-start penalties, personnel grouping mistakes, and missed assignments. Schwartz's patience was tested. He wasn't shy about letting players know his feelings. "I think everybody was kind of sloppy today," safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "We missed a bunch of calls. I think we jumped offsides eight times."
-- Sam Bradford had another strong practice. No one can dispute that he's a very good thrower. He might have missed two weeks during a "holdout," but he's still far ahead of where he was last year – coming off the knee injury -- in terms of repetitions. His problems historically have come when his protection hasn't been consistent. The importance of the Eagles offensive line, and its health, can't be overstated. Bradford overthrew an open Zach Ertz early during 7-on-7s, but he was sharp during team drills. He hooked up with Nelson Agholor, Jordan Matthews, Trey Burton and Ertz on four straight downfield passes.
-- Carson Wentz has a lot to learn, but it's easy to see why the Eagles fell in love with the rookie. The ball explodes out of his hand. Wentz is the fourth rookie quarterback the Eagles have drafted since I've been on the beat. The competition isn't great, but his arm is considerably stronger than those of Mike Kafka, Nick Foles and Matt Barkley during their first camps -- from what I can recall. Wentz tossed a beauty deep to Josh Huff during some early passing drills, but the receiver dropped the ball. Some of Wentz's passes wobble, but he just might be adjusting to the new NFL ball. Wentz did better as practice progressed. He lined up occasionally in a quasi-pistol, one time hitting Matthews deep on a crosser. He connected again with Matthews for a score on a slant. Wentz tripped at one point as he stepped up in the pocket, but just before he fell, he flicked a sidearm screen pass. I'm not sure if it was painfully ugly or amazingly athletic.
-- Doug Pederson's practices aren't carbon copies of Andy Reid's – at least when he was with the Eagles – but there are a lot of similarities. As most coaches do, Pederson likes to make corrections on the field. Chip Kelly was the anomaly. He emphasized speed and maximizing the number of reps in practice, so he waited until film review to point out mistakes. There was one play in which Wentz checked down to Burton that Pederson didn't like. He called everyone back and had them run the same play, this time with Wentz throwing farther downfield.
-- Fletcher Cox was once again MIA. Schwartz didn't seem too worried about the defensive tackle missing all of the spring so far, but he eventually declined to talk about Cox's absence after a few questions. With Cox not here, the Eagles are thin in the interior. They would probably look a little light even with him. Bennie Logan and recently acquired Mike Martin were the first-team defensive tackles. Taylor Hart and Beau Allen were the second-teamers. Darren Sproles was still a no-show. The running-back group was especially light with Ryan Mathews (illness) out. Undrafted rookie Byron Marshall is also absent because Oregon still has classes. So just three running backs -- Kenjon Barner, Wendell Smallwood and Cedric O'Neal – shared the snaps.
-- The cornerback position – both outside spots and in the slot – is up for grabs. Leodis McKelvin and Ron Brooks have been the starters, partly, it would seem, because they both know Schwartz's system from Buffalo. Jalen Mills got some first-team reps. The rookie broke up a jump ball down the sideline vs. Matthews. He has good length. Schwartz is just mixing and matching, and moving players around at this point. My guess is that the outside spots will eventually be McKelvin's and Eric Rowe's to lose. Rowe had a solid day. He had coverage on one Chase Daniel toss to Agholor and broke up another long Daniel pass. Rowe spends a lot of time between reps chatting with Cory Undlin. You can tell that Rowe is one of the defensive backs coach's pet projects. Being a second-round pick helps, but Rowe looks very coachable. Cornerbacks Nolan Carroll (ankle) and JaCorey Shepherd (knee) participated in warmups and some individual drills, but are being held out of team drills for now.
-- Wide receiver Rueben Randle had his gall bladder removed Monday. The surgery was deemed minor, but he will be out for a little while. I thought that Chris Givens, another receiver added in free agency this off-season, had a nice day. He toasted cornerback Denzel Rice at one point. When receiver Jonathan Krause beat Rice a short time later, Undlin and Schwartz pulled the corner in disgust. Agholor was active. He likes to talk on the field. A number of defensive backs (Jenkins, Brooks) gave him a hard time because it was his birthday (he turned 23).
-- Jordan Hicks was in on team drills after sitting out last Tuesday with a shoulder injury. He had some struggles lining up on the defensive front on a few plays and had to be reminded by Schwartz. Rookie Joe Walker was the backup middle linebacker. Schwartz said that he wasn't good today, but that he liked his overall cover skills. Walker played more side-to-side in college at Oregon and will have to get used to playing more downhill in Schwartz's scheme.