Jim Schwartz's defense ranked 15th in the NFL in red zone defense last season, allowing opponents a touchdown percentage of 55.56. Not bad, but a bit less effective than the performance in 2018 when the Eagles allowed a touchdown percentage of 44.26, best in the NFL. Improvement, then, is a priority for the Eagles, and the goal-line defense on Tuesday was strong working against the offense. Improved team speed will help the cause, and it looked that way on Day 2 of padded practices as the back seven flew to the coverage and the football and won the battle against the offense.
Here are more news and notes from Tuesday's practice:
Quez Watkins gets noticed
Tuesday's practice ended with a sweet completion to rookie wide receiver John Hightower, but it was another rookie draft pick, who was more involved in the action in the passing game. Watkins, the team's sixth-round draft pick, No. 201 overall, had a strong day running his routes and securing the football. Watkins looked powerful and decisive running a slant route and catching a Nate Sudfeld pass and showing some chemistry with Carson Wentz. Watkins looks smooth. He did have a near catch broken up by cornerback Darius Slay on the right sideline, a perfect throw from Wentz that landed right in Watkins' hands. But Slay kept working and knocked the ball loose, a lesson for the rookie: Defensive backs in this league are going to keep their hands moving until they see the ball come loose. – Dave Spadaro
Linebackers state their cases
We're all watching a linebacker corps that is unheralded and that, frankly, is on the young and inexperienced side. That hasn't stopped the group from flashing its collective speed in Training Camp. T.J. Edwards, who has an opportunity to win a starting job – he lined up with the first-team defense in the middle, flanked by Nathan Gerry and Duke Riley – and Edwards made a nice play breaking up a screen that was set up as Wentz rolled right and threw back to the left. Edwards sniffed it up and was in the right place at the right time. Rookie Shaun Bradley was around the football quite a bit on Tuesday. Riley is playing with so much more speed now than he has been in the system long enough to have a great understanding of it. Gerry was among the defense's most improved players in 2019. There is still a lot of work to do here, but it's a start. – Spadaro
WRs vs. CBs
Some plays stood out for the cornerbacks in the one-on-one battles against the wide receivers, minus DeSean Jackson and Alshon Jeffery (more on them later). Slay is a beast, but we already knew that. Receivers just haven't separated when he's in coverage. Rasul Douglas had a good day on Tuesday in coverage. Cre'Von LeBlanc was extremely sticky and aggressive in coverage. Sidney Jones had a near interception on a diving attempt on the left sideline. We've got a ways to go here before the rotation is set, but it appears that Avonte Maddox is in the lead position to start opposite Slay at cornerback, with Nickell Robey-Coleman the leading contender to play the nickel position. – Spadaro
Fran Duffy's quick hits
1. The highlight from the first team period for the offense came on the second pass attempt, a deep crossing route by Zach Ertz. Carson Wentz hit him in stride over the shoulder with Avonte Maddox in the area downfield in zone coverage. Great touch throw by Wentz, nice concentration by Ertz with Maddox flashing by. That catch by Ertz kind of foreshadowed the day for the offense, which featured a lot of big plays from the tight ends. Dallas Goedert was extremely involved in the short and intermediate areas.
2. That first team session was also highlighted by a diving interception by rookie safety K'Von Wallace, who was paying deep down the field. The pass was thrown by Jalen Hurts, intended for fellow rookie John Hightower, who appeared to stumble coming out of the route, going to the ground, and allowing the throw to go unimpeded into Wallace's grasp. The defensive sideline was expectedly hyped up for the rookie. As for Hurts and Hightower, they hooked up on the next play for a nice gain on an out route.
3. I was excited to watch my first 1-on-1 session of the summer, and my attention was on the offensive line against the defensive line. Here were my takeaways:
• The first rep pitted Lane Johnson against Brandon Graham, who tried to win with a bull rush inside, but Lane ended it quickly, dropping his anchor and keeping the "quarterback," Connor Barwin, clean. Graham came back later with a slick inside move against Jordan Mailata to get home for a "sack."
• Fletcher Cox got the energy back to the defensive side on the next rep, beating Nate Herbig with a nice combination of a rip move into a long arm move, pushing the second-year lineman backwards into the quarterback's lap. Cox would later overwhelm rookie Jack Driscoll with a bull rush as well.
• Isaac Seumalo put the clamps on Anthony Rush's bull rush attempt on the next rep, stopping the second-year defender cold.
• Hassan Ridgeway had a nice session overall, beating Matt Pryor on the left side on his first rep with a quick inside move. Ridgeway would later beat Sua Opeta with an outside rush before beating Herbig later in the drill from the opposite side. Ridgeway was one of the standouts for the defensive line with multiple wins in the session.
• The offensive line was at its loudest in this period when Andre Dillard stood up Josh Sweat's bull rush attempt. Dillard let some bull rushes get the best of him last summer, and Sweat wanted to test the former first-round pick's strength on their first battle. Dillard came up with the W, standing firm on contact. On Sweat's next rep, he won with an impressive long arm move, getting the best of rookie Prince Tega Wanogho.
• Second-year defensive end Shareef Miller had a couple of wins in this drill, beating Mailata with an inside move early, and bull rushing Casey Tucker late. Miller also earned praise from teammates during a team drill with a stop in the run game. One of the notes left on the cutting room floor Monday was an assistant coach praising Miller from the sideline in a team period for his effort on a run stuff against the first-team offense. Miller is trying to stack days together as he competes for one of the backup defensive end spots.
4. The team got together for some red zone work. Here are some quick notes from that period:
• On the first play, we saw the Wentz-Reagor connection again that was so prominent on Monday. Wentz avoided pressure off the edge by stepping up into the pocket and rifling a pass between defenders to Reagor in the back of the end zone for a touchdown. Reagor dove with both feet in to secure the score. It was a really nice play by both guys, especially given the early pressure off the edge.
• The pressure got home against Wentz a few plays later, as Hassan Ridgeway got home on third down for what likely would have been a sack, forcing a throwaway in the red zone. Ridgeway built off his quality reps from the 1-on-1 portion of practice and brought that to the team sessions.
• Jalen Hurts wrapped up the red zone session with some nice plays with his legs, running in for a couple of scores and making a nice throw for a touchdown to young veteran tight end Josh Perkins. Perkins wasn't the only tight end to reach the end zone in this period, as Caleb Wilson won on a jump ball from Nate Sudfeld in the left corner of the end zone for a touchdown to put a ribbon on the session.
5. The focus shifted to the passing game in a 7-on-7 drill coming out of the end zone. Carson Wentz threw darts in this drill, connecting with Dallas Goedert several times as well as Greg Ward and Boston Scott. He threw one incompletion in the direction of receiver Quez Watkins on a deep post, as he slighly overthrew the speedy rookie.
6. Practice ended on a quick team period in the middle of the field. Some quick highlights:
• Cre'Von LeBlanc got a diving pass breakup on a Carson Wentz pass in the middle of the field, stepping in front of a pass intended for Greg Ward. LeBlanc is competing for a job in the secondary, and the versatile playmaker has lined up both inside and outside throughout his career here in Philadelphia.
• The secondary got excited again after a pick-six from Jalen Mills, who was lurking in the middle of the field and intercepted a pass intended for Zach Ertz. Mills raced down the left sideline, sprinting into the end zone where he playfully told the media contingent, "That's what I do!" before flicking the ball over his shoulder. It was a great play by Mills, who looks comfortable at the safety position through two days of practice.
• Wentz would have the last laugh though, as he hurled a beautiful fade route to rookie John Hightower just shy of the goal line for a 40-plus yard completion to end practice. The ball was placed perfectly, and Hightower reeled it in for a big completion to end the day.
Defensive tackle Javon Hargrave (upper body) remains out for "weeks" and end Derek Barnett (lower body) remains classified as "week to week." Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery is on the Physically Unable to Perform list as he recovers from foot surgery. The Eagles on Tuesday had scheduled days off for wide receiver DeSean Jackson, defensive tackle Malik Jackson, and center Jason Kelce. Back on the field after watching from the sidelines on Monday were right guard Jason Peters and wide receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, and linebacker Duke Riley returned after an illness sidelined him on Monday. The Eagles have no players on the Reserve/COVID-19 list. – Spadaro