For nearly two hours it was the Eagles against the Patriots at the NovaCare Complex in a well-orchestrated circuit of football practice – 7-on-7s with the Eagles' defense against New England's offense on one field, the Eagles' offense playing against the Patriots' defense along with two sets of offensive line vs. defensive line drills. Great stuff. The energy level was sky-high, the execution strong, and the tempo fast.
That the tempers flared just a bit – former Eagles cornerback Jalen Mills and Eagles offensive tackle Jordan Mailata had a moment on the field – made it all the more enjoyable. In the world of a monotonous Training Camp, seeing another team on the field was just great.
"I was just doing what coach said. If someone jumps offsides, just go touch him. I probably shouldn't have touched him on his helmet like that, but I thought he jumped offsides, to be honest," Mailata said. "A cheeky little two-finger touch on the helmet. I didn't expect him to blow up. When he did, I was like, 'You're acting up. You're acting up.' It's cool. It is what it is. It's on field. I'm not really going to take it off field."
The end plus for these joint practices is the on-field time the players have against unfamiliar opponents, giving teams a more thorough dive into the evaluation process. There was no tackling to the ground, but the coaches certainly had plenty to see.
The more you know about a player, the more you can coach to his strengths.
"It helps a lot," Defensive Coordinator Jonathan Gannon said, "especially like a team like New England that is going to test your rules, your adjustments on every snap. It's real good learning for our guys, because we really didn't game plan, per se. Just go out and, hey, this is our system, these are our rules, you have to apply them and see if we can function. It will be good to get on a tape and watch with our guys and make some corrections with them."
What did we see? Good competition. The offense moved the ball and wide receivers like Jalen Reagor – who had multiple big plays down the field – and Quez Watkins and Greg Ward had success separating and catching the football. Quarterback Jalen Hurts looked confident and delivered the football accurately and on time to his receivers. The offensive line, intact with Brandon Brooks at right guard and Isaac Seumalo at left guard after battling early-camp injuries, benefited greatly from working against New England's varied front and its pressure packages.
These are the kinds of days when it's a win-win-win for everybody.
"It's a competitive game and we take things like that as a challenge," quarterback Jalen Hurts said. "We try to challenge ourselves every day to do it right, play at a high level, and we're obviously getting new looks, a different opponent. We just wanted to execute and I think it was good.
"You have to be optimistic about it all. It's about how you see it. It's a glass half-empty, or is it full? Every opportunity we have to get out there, whether it's the same looks we're getting or different looks, are we executing? Are we doing the things we need to do? I talk about a positive and a negative on every play. Regardless of the look they give us, we have to respond the right way offensively and make a positive play out of it. It's simply doing your job."
Training Camp is a day-by-day process and those who can focus for the windows of time necessary – on the field, in the classroom, conditioning, studying the playbook on their own time – generally emerge ahead of the game. The Eagles have one more day with New England ahead of Thursday's preseason game, and then turn around next week and do the same thing with the Jets at their Training Camp home.
All in the name of making the right choices for the 53-man roster and developing and integrating players into these new systems ...
"I liked it a lot, but for me every time I step on the field I'm having a good time," rookie running back Kenny Gainwell said. "I didn't play last year (at Memphis, as he opted out of the season after losing family members to COVID-19), and I'm just excited to be back out there. Today was definitely fun. It was good to see some new guys on the other side of the ball."
Maybe it sounds like we've got a long ways to go, but that's not the case. Even with another practice day and a preseason game with the Patriots and then a week with the Jets, the reality is that the roster is in the process of whittling down. The intensity level is high, and so is the competition.
"Anytime it's a joint practice, it's really like a game," Brooks said. "They're getting paid, just like us. We're trying to block them, just like they're trying to get sacks. Each day that we come out here, it's a game-like mentality."
Said right tackle Lane Johnson: "It was good. Somebody has a different defensive scheme, they run a lot of games up front, so set lines change, angles change, and it really gets your football team ready for something different. I feel like we did well today."