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Practice Notes: Defense Dominates And The First Scuffle Takes Place

  • It was a physical, grueling practice Thursday at the NovaCare Complex. Fran Duffy and Ben Fennell have 16 takeaways from a day that even offensive coordinator Mike Groh conceded that was won by the defense.

1. It was arguably the hottest day yet here in Training Camp as the Eagles had full pads on and held a couple of live sessions on Thursday morning. Ben and I watched the wide receivers go through individual drills, and the sweat was already piling up for the media contingent on the sideline. On the field, coach Gunter Brewer had his players running through a chute mid-route, working on keeping their pads low as they get in and out of their break on curl routes. Nelson Agholor’s quickness, change of direction, and confident hands showed up time and time again. – Fran Duffy

2. During individual sessions, the tight end group was working on the popular "Copper" route, a double move where the tight end fakes the corner route then breaks to the post. Zach Ertz made several big plays last season on this route, particularly in the red zone, and it was clear he was the sharpest of the group running it in practice. Ertz has fluid body movements and change of direction skills but also demonstrates the patience required to set up the double move. Rookie Dallas Goedert was a bit rushed in executing his routes and wasn’t fully selling the corner at the top of the route. Rookies can often over-emphasize the need to play fast once in the NFL, but it’s important to know when to be a patient, methodical route runner as well. – Ben Fennell

3. The offense gathered in the red zone and we get a look at what they will be working on this morning in team sessions, as Doug Pederson’s unit goes through various red zone and goal-line plays. The offense used a variety of personnel groups and formations that featured two- and three-tight end sets, extra offensive linemen, and even two running backs on the field at the same time. The Eagles are one of the leaders in creative play calling, but also the ability to keep defenses off balanced with unique personnel groupings. – Ben

4. After the install period, 1-on-1 drills began. Ben and I decided to stay put and watch the running backs and tight ends battle with linebackers and safeties in pass protection work. This is the first time this summer the team has run this drill, and we were looking forward to seeing who would come out on top. A couple of players stood out to me in particular. Second-year tight end Billy Brown, a converted college wide receiver, was really strong in this drill. Brown stoned safety Stephen Roberts on his first rep, pushed Tre Sullivan to the ground on his second, and then beat linebacker Joe Walker on his third snap.

For a guy who has made athletic grabs time and time again all summer long (he caught a touchdown during the live session down on the goal line later), Brown can help himself by proving that he has developed as a blocker. It should be noted as well that I thought Brown stood out in 1-on-1 special teams work in the latter stages of practice. Outside of that, I thought running back Wendell Smallwood competed well in this drill, and while rookie Dallas Goedert did get beat once or twice, there were a couple of reps where he really flashed, particularly his last snap against Malcolm Jenkins. – Fran

5. During that drill, Jenkins won reps using several savvy pass rush moves, including a "long arm" and a "spin" move. Jenkins continues to be a coach and a tutor on the field for his younger teammates, giving rookie Jeremy Reaves tips and instruction on the sidelines. Reaves was able to immediately use some of those techniques, beating Goedert on the exact move Jenkins taught him just minutes before. As the players transitioned to a team period, you can see the veterans constantly talking and working on techniques with each other. Jenkins continued chatting with Rodney McLeod about pass rush moves from the previous period, while Jalen Mills and Nelson Agholor demonstrated different releases and jams along with Sidney Jones on the far sideline. – Ben

6. The first team period is set to begin, and we have some big changes in the secondary on the first-team defense. After Sidney Jones and De’Vante Bausby split the reps as the starting slot cornerback through the first six practices, it was Mills’ turn on the inside, and he got all of the first-team reps there on Thursday. Ronald Darby, who got most of the reps as the starting right cornerback on the outside, shifted over to Mills’ typical spot on the left. This allowed Jones to slide in at right cornerback with the first-team defense.

On the second play of the period, the defense subbed into their "base" defense with three linebackers, and second-year man Nathan Gerry once again got the nod as the "starting" weakside linebacker next to Jordan Hicks and Nigel Bradham. Gerry has gotten most of the starting reps there over the last few days. Nigel Bradham set the tone early on in this drill, wrapping up Jay Ajayi on the first play on a run to the left side before firing into the backfield to cut off Darren Sproles on the second snap. Bradham had an impressive goal-line stop in the team’s first live session later in practice as well. – Fran

7. Second-year safety Tre Sullivan continued to be the third safety in the Eagles "big nickel" personnel package. Sullivan could be in line for a big role in 2018 with fellow safety Chris Maragos coming off injury and former Eagle Corey Graham still remaining on the free agent market. – Ben

8. We’ve got our first scuffle of Training Camp! Michael Bennett and Richard Rodgers get a little extra action in after the whistle on a play-action pass play. Nick Foles dropped back, and I had my eyes on wide receiver Mike Wallace, who executed a corner-post route and was streaking down the middle of the field. When I turned my attention to the backfield, Foles still had the ball in what looked like may have been Bennett’s doing, and he and Rodgers started some pushing and shoving before things were broken up. – Fran

9. The best throw of the period came from the hand of Nate Sudfeld, as he hooked up with Goedert down the seam. Kamu Grugier-Hill was in tight man coverage downfield, but Sudfeld and Goedert were in-sync as a back shoulder throw was perfectly placed where only Goedert could get it. Goedert’s athleticism and catch radius were on full display as he looked incredibly smooth opening up and pivoting around on the pass. Not to be overlooked is the confidence from Sudfeld to throw his guy open despite the tight coverage. – Ben

10. The team transitioned next into their first live period of the morning, a short-yardage drill in the high red zone that moved incrementally down toward the goal line. The first team was out there for four total plays, and on two of them my eyes were fixed on center Jason Kelce, who pulled out in space up and to his left. On the first snap, Kelce absolutely crushed Gerry on the move on a toss play to Corey Clement. – Fran

11. Fran mentioned Kelce getting out into space, and when the second-team unit came out we saw more of that from Isaac Seumalo. The former third-round pick continues to be a fascinating player to study this summer in camp. Seumalo’s rookie season featured snaps at left tackle, left guard, right guard, and right tackle – yet many viewed him as the future center. With Kelce’s dominant play over the last two seasons, Seumalo was pegged to be the starting left guard in 2017 until he struggled early on and was eventually replaced by Stefen Wisniewski. Seumalo is active with both the first and second units on offense this summer, as he is used as both a swing tackle and as the sixth offensive lineman, often lining up at the end of the line of scrimmage or even as a wing in the backfield. Once the second-team offense takes the field, Seumalo is then the center replacing Kelce. It doesn’t appear that he’s getting any reps at tackle or guard, but he does have the versatility to fill in across the line when needed. – Ben

12. The second team came out onto the field, and after a great tackle by Corey Nelson on an inside run, Sudfeld dropped back and unleashed a beautiful touchdown toss to tight end Joshua Perkins down the seam. There was no one in the vicinity of Perkins, so it was a bit of a "gimme" for the young veteran tight end, but Sudfeld dropped that throw over his shoulder from his back foot and under pressure after a play-fake in the backfield. I would argue that throw was maybe even better than the one he made to Goedert earlier in the day. – Fran

13. Grugier-Hill announced his presence with a bang in this period. On the fourth play of the second-team unit, the athletic linebacker exploded into the backfield for a tackle for loss. Later, down on the goal line, he flew downhill again and roped Wendell Smallwood to the ground behind the line. Two plays after that, Grugier-Hill came off of his defender, leapt into the air, and broke up a pass intended for Rodgers in the back of the end zone. The special teams maven had a tackle for loss in the previous period of practice as well, but this period, in particular, was perhaps his best showing yet in Training Camp. – Fran

14. The short-yardage period saw two main themes from the offense - motions and misdirection plays. Almost every play had some sort of pre-snap motion, which gives the quarterback coverage indications and also forces the defense to get properly aligned, and also the use of a decoy or "eye candy" built into the play design to confuse defenders. Kelce and Seumalo got out on the perimeter on multiple snaps, taking advantage of their quickness and agility. – Ben

15. The day’s 7-on-7 session arrived, and we saw our first action from Carson Wentz outside of individual periods. The first two throws did not go the quarterback’s way, however. On the first snap, Rashard Davis slipped at the top of his route, allowing De’Vante Bausby to come away with the interception. On the next snap, Kamar Aiken let the ball through his hands and into the waiting arms of Rasul Douglas for the second straight pick. Wentz bounced back with two straight completions. – Fran

16. Doug Pederson ended practice with another live session in a game-simulated period. The starters were done for the day, so the second- and third-team units would be given two series each to prove their wares. Here are my notes from the session: – Fran

• Douglas came away with another interception on the very first play, picking off Sudfeld as Aiken fell to the ground on an in-breaking route. The defense celebrated as they ran off the field, a huge win for Jim Schwartz’s unit.

• The third-stringers took the field next, and after a completion to Smallwood in the flat, the offense took a sack on second down. Linebacker LaRoy Reynolds fired through the offensive line to get home to quarterback Joe Callahan.

• A controversial end of the drive occurred on the far sideline. Callahan broke to his right and unleashed a throw low and away to rookie DeAndre Carter, who dove to the ground and snatched the ball off the turf. It was a phenomenal catch, but did he have both feet in? The defense thought he was out of bounds (except for Fletcher Cox, who motioned "catch" almost immediately in support of Carter), while the offense all screamed for a first down. Director of football operations Jon Ferrari, the acting official on that side of the field, signaled that Carter was unable to get both feet in. The defense got a three-and-out.

• The second string returns, and Donnel Pumphrey gets things going for the offense with a nice run. The second-year ballcarrier jukes in the backfield and then finishes the run hard by lowering his shoulder into Bausby along the far sideline. A bad snap over Sudfeld’s head results in a big loss, bringing up third-and-15. Bausby comes away with a pass breakup right at the first-down marker, and the sideline is LIT. Bennett is the first on the scene, screaming in Bausby’s face. The defense wins for the third-straight series. – Fran

• The final chance for the offense comes with the third-string unit, but it doesn’t get off to a good start. Callahan attempts a screen pass to rookie Josh Adams, but linebacker Kyle Wilson sniffs it out almost immediately and meets the former Notre Dame star in the backfield for a loss. It was a great play by the young linebacker. Callahan keeps the ball on a zone read on the next play to bring up third down. Practice ends with a sack from defensive end Steven Means as the defense erupts on the sideline. Means is such a savvy veteran, and has been active in each and every practice with plays behind the line of scrimmage. He reacts with his patented celebration, and Doug Pederson breaks the team down to end the day.

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