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July 26 Practice Report: Camp Underway

Posted Jul 26, 2014

For a practice that began under the South Philly sun and ended in the rain, the first on-field action of Eagles Training Camp 2014 was nonetheless promising as the defending NFC East champs began their title defense. Yes, there was a new right tackle, but the likes of Nick Foles, LeSean McCoy and Riley Cooper were still impressing on offense while additions like Darren Sproles, Malcolm Jenkins and Nolan Carroll II worked their way into the mix.

Wheel routes were popular plays for the offense on Saturday, as Sproles, McCoy and even Emil Igwenagu made plays in the passing game on linebackers down the field.

Foles' best throw of the day may have come on his second read during 7-on-7s, when he pumped left before finding Arrelious Benn down the right seam for a would-be touchdown past rookie safety Ed Reynolds.

Brad Smith was very involved as the first-team slot receiver and looked to be an early favorite target of Foles' across the middle.

Tight end James Casey made the catch of the day with a one-handed grab on a Matt Barkley pass that was thrown slightly behind him.

Practice concluded following a collision downfield between Reynolds and third-round pick Josh Huff that made onlookers pause with worry for a moment. Luckily, both players were fine afterward.

"I was just trying to go make a play," Reynolds said. "I tried to pull up and then Josh kind of slipped and  think I kneed him and he hit me on the outside of my leg, but we're both fine. Everything's fine."

"I feel good. It was just a football play," said Huff, who held onto the ball regardless of the contact. "I've just got to get better. That was bad on my part. I kind of got off on alignment, the quarterback threw it in the right direction, it was bad on my part. I've just got to go back at the film and look at it."

Eagles' Approach To Tackling Worked Wonders

In his first Training Camp as head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, Chip Kelly held a pair of rookie practices before the full team reported. This year, the entire team reported together and the first training session was a full-team workout.

Why the difference?

"After evaluating it from one year, we don't have a rookie quarterback. We also want to make sure there's a certain tempo and pace if you've seen us practice and go," Kelly said. "To try to run our rookies into the ground when you don't have a quarterback, you know, we did that a little bit in our rookie camp. (Offensive quality control coach) Press Taylor, one of our wide receiver coaches was throwing, and it wasn't as productive as we thought it was going to be. We just wanted to hit the ground running with our guys today."

One aspect that is similar to last year is that the Eagles will not tackle to the ground in the training sessions.

"We had live tackling drills where the offensive backs went against linebackers, wide receivers went against DBs, so we're going to stick with that," Kelly said. "We have four preseason games where we're allowed to tackle to the ground that I checked on."

The Eagles' approach worked last season. They had a broken tackle on 5.0 percent of plays last season which was down from a league-worst 8.5 percent in 2012, according to Football Outsiders. In 2012, the Eagles had 97 total broken tackles in 977 plays. Last year, they had just 66 total broken tackles, but in 1,148 plays.

Square Fits In At Nose Tackle

Last year, Damion Square was one of only two rookie free agents to earn playing time for the Eagles on offense or defense along with linebacker Jake Knott. Square registered 156 total defensive snaps - including playoffs - and accounted for 10 tackles on the season.

On the first day of Training Camp, Square took the first-team reps at nose tackle as Bennie Logan watched from the sidelines for an undisclosed reason.

"It's always good to get in there with the guys who get the majority of the snaps," Square said following the training session. "You're always going to go against the guy that's considered the one on the other side. You can get good tape. Bennie had a little issue today. It's always good that you got guys who can step up and continue on the same beat."

The Eagles added some pieces to the defensive line in the draft this offseason with defensive end Taylor Hart and tackle Beau Allen. The 6-foot-3, 286-pound Square looks to take advantage of his experiences as a rookie.

"It's just like a progression at any other level," said Square, who won three national titles with Alabama. "You've been around something for a year, feel it out for a year, figure out all of the specifics, how crazy can it get and now that you know the distance between how crazy it can get and how good it can get then you know how to handle it every day."

Playing For Chip Kelly Has Its Benefits

Linebacker DeMeco Ryans has two reasons why he enjoys being able to call Chip Kelly his head coach.

The first is the challenge that Kelly's offense presents on a day in, day out basis. Facing an offense that set franchise records for points, yards, touchdowns and explosive plays in 2013 "prepares us really well for the opposing offenses," in Ryans' estimation.

The second aspect is the tempo at which Kelly conducts his training sessions.

"The tempo definitely helps with our conditioning," Ryans added. "We're a really well-conditioned team, probably one of the most well-conditioned teams in the league just because of the way we practice, the amount of reps that we get on the day. It really helps us because we're getting so many in so fast, we can't help but to be in good condition."

Ryans can certainly attest as he played more snaps than any other defensive player in the league last season, according to Pro Football Focus.

Goode & Special

Linebacker Najee Goode proved to be a useful special teams contributor last season, even scoring his first NFL touchdown on special teams. On Saturday, he was in the right place at the right time again, scooping up a ball that Damaris Johnson fumbled on a kickoff return.

With the coaching staff looking for a way to relieve Ryans of once again playing the most defensive snaps in the NFL, Goode will be a player to watch on defense as well.

"You saw Najee when he stepped in last year, we didn't miss a beat," said DeMeco Ryans. "Najee played really well for us. He's a very capable backup."

The Real McCoy

Darren Sproles has played alongside an impressive array of running backs during his time in the NFL. From LaDainian Tomlinson to Michael Turner, Ryan Mathews and Pierre Thomas, Sproles has practiced and played alongside position-mates with unique skillsets. He was asked, from an early perspective, what sets LeSean McCoy apart from that pack.

"Man, Shady's great," Sproles said with a smile. "His vision is amazing. The stuff I've seen from him, like when you get in the hole, he can see the hole way back (on the other side). His vision is crazy."

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