On a pristine Sunday night in Philadelphia, the Eagles welcomed 25,896 fans back to Lincoln Financial Field for the first of two public practices (Sunday, August 22 as part of Eagles Autism Foundation weekend) ahead of Thursday's preseason opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
It was a sight that was sorely missed last year when there were no public practices at the stadium and only a handful of fans for a couple of games. More fans watched Eagles football at Lincoln Financial Field in person on Sunday night than all of last year.
That is incredible considering what the fans mean to this team.
"I always love going over to the Linc, but it's going to be especially special having some fans out there. We just did a whole season without anybody in that place. The Linc is such a home-field advantage for us. Playing in front of our own fans is second to none," center Jason Kelce said. "To be able to be out there in front of people, out there competing with each other. It always intensifies things a little bit."
Linebacker Alex Singleton noted that the second-year players were almost more excited than the rookies about the fan experience because they were deprived of that in 2020.
"Everybody knows how people talk about the Linc and Philadelphia fans, so they're all just super, super excited to be around them for the first time in their careers," he said.
• Head Coach Nick Sirianni donned another special T-shirt on Sunday evening for his debut performance in front of the denizens of Lincoln Financial Field, but he wasn't alone. The entire coaching staff, front office personnel, and veteran players had shirts to celebrate Harold Carmichael's enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Carmichael was inducted on Saturday evening as part of the Centennial Class of 2020, which was delayed a year due to the pandemic.
• The proceeds from Sunday night's practice benefited the Eagles Autism Foundation. To highlight the organization's commitment to unlocking the autism puzzle, the players wore energy green numbers and letters on their jerseys.
• Before practice, the Eagles announced several official position changes. Some of the notable ones: Genard Avery is now a linebacker, Hakeem Butler is now a wide receiver, Jack Driscoll is a tackle/guard, and Adrian Killins is a wide receiver.
• Sirianni was asked about the challenge of evaluating second-year quarterback Jalen Hurts in these practice sessions. Defenses don't get the full Jalen Hurts experience because of the damage that he can do with his legs. Sirianni knows in the back of his mind what Hurts, who had 272 rushing yards in the final four weeks of the 2020 season which was second to only Baltimore's Lamar Jackson among all NFL quarterbacks in that span, can do as a dual-threat. But overall, Sirianni listed four key elements that he's looking at when evaluating the position – decision-making, accuracy, the ability to create plays, and leadership/intangibles.
"I also understand that some part of his game is to be able to move around and make plays. But, again, a wise man avoids all extremes," Sirianni said. "It can't be all rhythm, and it can't be all scramble. So, it's like, 'Hey, what's the happy medium there?'"
• With Carmichael going in the Hall of Fame, defensive tackle Fletcher Cox has the best credentials of all current Eagles to be the next in line to go to Canton – six straight Pro Bowls, All-Decade Team honors, Super Bowl crown, franchise record for most sacks by a defensive tackle. Entering his 10th season, he wants to be a better player, a better teammate, and a better leader.
"Those are the things that I thought about, to be a better person," he said. "All those things right there come down to knowing who you are, knowing that you got guys in the locker room that are going to lean on you. Look forward to that leadership from me. When things go bad, they'll look to the older guys in the locker room."
On the field, he expects to get some help from ends Derek Barnett and Josh Sweat who are both having strong Training Camps.
"We worked out for a little bit in the offseason and you could just tell that he's motivated more than he's ever been right now and it shows on the practice field," Cox said of Barnett. "He comes every day with a plan in practice. Derek always practiced hard, played hard. The way he's approaching it now, you can tell that he's starting to really just grow up."
"I just think he's been really consistent in camp. I think that's the biggest thing for him," Cox said of Sweat. "This year, he's been consistent and staying on top of his game. I think he knows that this year is very important to him. He's been doing a good job of taking the coaching and just showing his skills."
• Center Jason Kelce wants to be out on the field for every snap of every practice, but he trusts the coaches and the player performance staff to put together a plan that's in the best interest of the team. He'll relish the occasional veteran days, especially going into his 11th season, with an eye for optimal health during the 17-game regular season.
"You have faith in the people that you work with and you trust the people that are experts in their fields and you go with it," Kelce said. "As a football player, you always want to be out there. As a leader, you always want to be out there. I don't enjoy watching practice, but if that's the best thing for the team and the best thing for me, I guess that's what it is."
• Linebacker Alex Singleton had to wait over a week to get on the field during Training Camp after landing on the Reserve/COVID-19 list. He's quickly making up for lost time with a near interception on Saturday, followed by a tackle for loss during Sunday's public practice. He kept in shape while away from the team by doing kettlebell workouts and sprinting down an 11-yard hallway in his home. What also helped is he's more confident in his standing with the team than even a year ago. The former Canadian Football League Defensive Player of the Year had a breakthrough 2020 season, leading the team in tackles and special teams snaps.
"You're more confident that you're going to be in Philadelphia for the season. You hear all the time when you're not a 100-percent roster spot guy or on the edge, that all 32 teams are watching and you're just trying to perform for anybody that'll sign you or keep you for the season," Singleton said. "The offseason was more confidence in myself in that other people believe in me besides myself." – Chris McPherson
What happened on the field? Here are the practice notes for the Sunday night public practice at Lincoln Financial Field:
• I had my eyes on a special teams drill early in practice, as assistant Tyler Brown got creative with the use of volleyballs down on the goal line in a punt coverage scenario. In this situation, the players replicated a "tip back" drill where the goal was to protect a ball from landing in the end zone. – Ben Fennell
• Great seeing Brandon Brooks back out there in pads on the practice field in the individual period. The veteran has been missing from action since the early stages of camp with a hamstring injury, but he made his return today in individual periods only. – Ben
• The first play of the first team period was a long run downhill from Miles Sanders. Reflecting on the practice overall, I loved how the offense mixed up the pacing and the styles of the run game today. – Ben
• On one of those downhill runs that Ben mentioned there came from Jordan Howard, and safety Anthony Harris came down and got a nice stick on him short of the goal line, knocking the veteran ball carrier to the ground. Harris had a few of those plays in camp. – Fran Duffy
• The 7-on-7 drills begin and, in what would become a theme of practice, wide receiver Quez Watkins came away with a big catch. This one came in the middle of the field. Joe Flacco was able to find the second-year wideout on a deep in-breaking route in quite a bit of traffic. Watkins arguably had his best day of practice, where he really flashed the ability to make plays on the ball and finish at the catch point. This catch was a sign of things to come later in the evening. – Ben
• Over with the linemen one-on-one drills, there were a few reps that really stood out to me. The usual suspects (Lane Johnson, Fletcher Cox, Jason Kelce, and Jordan Mailata) stood out, but there were some really impressive reps from young players as well. Milton Williams had a really clean win. On the offensive side, Luke Juriga had two strong reps. Juriga has had a couple of nice practices in a row this weekend. – Fran
• I think Ben could be onto something about this run game. Early on in the next full-team drill, Sanders was able to fly up to the second level on an inside run after an outstanding push from the left side of the offensive line, with Jordan Mailata and Sua Opeta leading the way. The talent and depth of that group up front really stands out this summer. – Fran
• A young player who stood out to me in this drill is the rookie Williams, who made a great read on a quick screen to wide receiver Greg Ward. The third-round pick was unblocked at the snap, but put his foot in the ground and immediately pursued the play to the perimeter. It was an impressive display of his speed and explosiveness. Williams showed up later in the drill as well, splitting a double team inside and violently tossing a blocker away before wrapping up the ball carrier. – Ben
• The play of the day came in the next team session, where Jalen Hurts rolled to his left on a scramble drill and heaved the ball 55 yards downfield to a streaking Watkins. Watkins leaped up and attacked the football at the highest point, coming down with it in a contested grab for a touchdown. The fans at Lincoln Financial Field went nuts! It was an outstanding catch by the second-year receiver who is really impressing every day. Great to see him make this play under the lights. – Fran
• Fran is obsessed with the sizzle and the shiny object downfield, but how about the block from Jason Kelce on this play to Watkins! Kelce sprinted to his left, matching Hurts step-for-step before the throw, keeping a defensive lineman off the quarterback in the process. Kelce saves that play in a game situation. – Ben
• In wide receiver vs. cornerback one-on-one drills, Jalen Reagor got things started with a bang, winning with a double move, stacking the corner early, and winning downfield for a big play. Watkins ran a great route on an in-breaker. He has really improved as a route runner, and on that rep he showed off some subtleties early and midway through the route. Darius Slay had an impressive pass breakup on a back-shoulder throw to Travis Fulgham. Watkins made the final big play in the period, making an awesome grab. This catch was just as impressive as the grab he made earlier. – Ben
• The team closes practice with a two-minute drill, and the first-team offense put together a nice drive to end their night. Jalen Hurts dropped a nice touch pass downfield to Travis Fulgham, who made an acrobatic diving catch along the sideline to move the chains on third down. Hurts would hit throws underneath to Boston Scott and Fulgham again before the offense settled for a field goal. It should be noted that Hurts made a great decision down in the red zone, where the Eagles' secondary swallowed up the receivers. Rather than force the issue and perhaps turn the ball over, the second-year quarterback threw the ball through the back of the end zone. That was a good decision in that scenario. – Fran
• Safety Marcus Epps quickly thwarted the second-team offense's chance in the two-minute scenario with an interception over the middle of the field on the second play. What did the defense do to celebrate? The players toward the entrance tunnel in the South end zone where Rodney McLeod pretended to be the photographer getting the pics of the defenders for their social media accounts. The offense got to reset and take another crack at it, but a good job by the third-year safety to close the door in front of the home crowd. – C-Mac