The NovaCare Complex was the place to be on Tuesday and Wednesday as the Patriots came to town for two spirited practices with the Eagles. The teams have a walkthrough on Thursday and then open the preseason at Lincoln Financial Field on Friday (7:30 p.m., 6abc, Eagles Radio Network).
How did the practices go? Up and down, and that was expected. On the down side, the Eagles lost wide receiver Arrelious Benn for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, further thinning that group. On the up side, the offense showed some good things, including more big plays from DeSean Jackson, and the defense had a chance to take stock of just how much work needs to be done to get where it needs to be.
Here are some observations from two outstanding, crisp and telling practices against New England ...
- The defense had its problems against New England quarterback Tom Brady, who was nearly flawless in his orchaestration of the Patriots offense. It's fair to say that the Eagles defensive backs learned a lesson going against Brady.
"He releases the ball so fast and he's accurate and if there is any separation at all, the ball is going to be there," said cornerback Bradley Fletcher. "Brady throws it to a spot and the receivers know that when they get there, the ball will be waiting. It was a good lesson. We have to be on top of our game to make plays. We are looking forward to the game. It's another chance to see him. He makes his reads and he makes great reads.
"This is great for us. It's going to help us as we go on."
- It is difficult to say who is where on the depth chart in the secondary, so believe head coach Chip Kelly when he says the depth chart isn't worth a whole lot right now. Cary Williams was taken off the field early on Tuesday after getting into a skirmish and then he suffered a hamstring injury on Wednesday. Fletcher, Brandon Boykin, Curtis Marsh and Brandon Hughes looked to get the most reps on Wednesday.
- Speaking of Marsh, he was the victim of Brady several times on Wednesday. Over and over, Brady went after Marsh with a lot of success. "I'm going to keep battling," said Marsh. "This is practice. I'm only going to improve playing against a quarterback and against a team like that."
- DeSean Jackson is having the best training camp of his career, and he credits the scheme for the way he is playing. Instead of lining up at one position, as he did in the West Coast offense, Jackson has to know all three wide receiver positions in this offense. As a result, he's running a variety of routes and making a variety of big plays. Jackson is not just a vertical threat here. He's running crossing routes, catching screens, hitches ... and the deep ball is very much in his wheelhouse. "I feel great," he said. "I love the offense and the energy in this building." A happy Jackson is a productive Jackson ...
- Keep an eye on rookie defensive lineman Bennie Logan, who seemed disruptive inside against New England. He's someone who could challenge for a lot of playing time early this season.
- Trent Cole is working hard on his coverage abilities, and he's improving in that phase of his game. When Cole stands up in this defense, he's going to either attack the line of scrimmage or drop out and get into coverage. When he has his hand in the dirt, Cole is likely to play downhill. He was in the Patriots' backfield throughout the practices. Cole has dropped 11 pounds and is playing at about 260 pounds, and he looks great.
- The most improved player from last year? It could be wide receiver Damaris Johnson, or it could be running back Chris Polk, who appears to pushing Bryce Brown for playing time. With LeSean McCoy sidelined for the work against New England, Polk reeled off some big runs and caught the ball well.
- Danny Watkins is in a totally different place than he was for much of 2012. He clashed with line coach Howard Mudd and ended up deep in the doghouse as 2012 wound down. Now Watkins is playing more consistently for Jeff Stoutland and feels a whole lot better about his game. "I'm playing well and I'm having a good time. Jeff is working a lot with me and is giving me positive feedback, teaching me to be more technical in my game, as opposed to worrying about the scheme," said Watkins. "I really like Stout and he is a genuine good guy. He can be hard at times, but he's fair and it makes sense. I feel rejuvenated."
- Patrick Chung has been the best of the group of safeties, and the rest of the players there are rotating through, taking their reps. The Eagles will obviously have a much better idea of their deep secondary when the games begin and the players can tackle. Chung has played good football, though.
- Connor Barwin knows it takes much longer than some spring practices and two weeks of training camp to build a defense. Signed as an unrestricted free agent after success in Houston, Barwin valued the practices against New England. "They're great when you are going against one of the best offenses in the league for, what, the past 10 years," said Barwin. "It was competitive and spirited.
"It was different out there for us going against a new scheme. There's a lot of work and we knew that. It's early in the process and that's the way we have to look at things."
- Do the Eagles have enough at wide receiver? Good question, and it is something to monitor through the preseason. Jackson, Johnson, Riley Cooper and Jason Avant have been outstanding. Greg Salas had a couple of strong days against New England, but that fifth wide receiver job is wide open. That is, if the Eagles keep five wide receivers.
- Lane Johnson played really, really, really well. He's been at both left tackle and right tackle and he has all the tools. Can't wait to see him in game action.
- If I'm calling the shots on defense, I find a way to give Mychal Kendricks some opportunities to blitz. He has good timing and he's powerful and explosive. Kendricks is a player around whom to build a defense.