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Practice Notes: In search of explosive plays

The Eagles returned to the NovaCare Complex after a day off for the players. Chris McPherson and Fran Duffy provide the anecdotes and analysis of what happened on Sunday.

Jason Kelce honors Kobe Bryant

On Friday, Jason Kelce sported a Philadelphia Flyers jersey under his Eagles jersey for the team's scrimmage. On Sunday, he walked out to practice rocking a Kobe Bryant Lower Merion jersey.

Sunday would have been the basketball legend's 42nd birthday.

Kelce said that right guard Jason Peters reminded him that it was Kobe's birthday. Kelce just so happened to have the No. 33 high school replica hanging in his locker. The All-Pro center said that Philadelphia is his "home now for sure, has been a while now." Kelce's wife, Kylie, went to Lower Merion and is the school's field hockey coach.

But Kelce recalled Kobe's speech to the team in Los Angeles in December 2017 when the team spent the week on the West Coast between games in Seattle and Los Angeles. Bryant, a Philly native and huge Eagles fan, inspired the team with his words.

"I've heard a lot of motivational speakers throughout the years and a lot of motivational speakers or players or coaches or whatever, they kind of speak in these age-old mantras or clichés or whatnot and Kobe was very much not like that. It was a real conversation. It felt very authentic. That's why I think it resonated so much with a lot of the guys on the team," said Kelce, who added that he got to thank Bryant following the Super Bowl win at an ESPN event.

"It was very evident that he was a very intelligent human being from the way he talked about becoming a better player or what it takes to learn more about the game, to learn more about your opponent. And then the drive he had to be great was second-to-none." – McPherson

The regular-season opener is 21 days away

The countdown is on! Head Coach Doug Pederson said on Sunday that even though Training Camp only ramped up a week ago, the focus will soon turn to preparation for the opener in Washington.

"It's something that I talk a lot with the team about, and it's just the sense of urgency. It's understanding where we are. And I just keep bringing up the fact that, hey, we're X amount of days away. Like today, we're 21 days (away). We're kicking it off for real, 21 days from now," Pederson said. "That sense of urgency I think with the entire team – that's with coaches, too. That's not just with the players. And I've got to continue to put that out in front of the team. We've got to be able to see that. That's something that we've got to be able to touch. It's real. It's where we are. It's where every team is at, quite frankly."

Quarterback Carson Wentz said it's on the leaders of the team to help instill that sense of urgency in the young players on the team.

"We're only a handful of practice in so it still feels like early in Training Camp, but things are obviously different this year. But we also recognize that everyone's going through this same kind of situation right now, so again, it's a fine line of handling that but it's just continuing to emphasize to everybody and especially a lot of the young guys that we don't have a lot of time here that we've got to really focus and hone in on our craft so that we're ready come a couple weeks from now," he said. – McPherson

Wentz explains his Jalen Reagor/Julio Jones comparison

Last week, rookie wide receiver Jalen Reagor said that Wentz compared aspects of his game to that of Falcons All-Pro wideout Julio Jones. Wentz offered an explanation on Sunday.

"He's the best. I think he's one of the best at the very least, so by no means am I saying that this rookie is Julio Jones," Wentz said. "I see some similarities in how they run routes and I think there's a lot to learn from watching a guy like Julio that I've really challenge Jalen to kind of dissect his game and try to model it to some extent."

"It's really a feather in the cap to Julio because of his greatness and what I can see the potential for Jalen to be and how he really moves and run routes and his explosiveness that he brings to the table," the quarterback added. – McPherson

In search of explosive plays

According to Sharp Football Stats, the Eagles ranked 22nd in the league in 2019 in explosive play percentage. The Eagles had to work for every point, especially after losing wide receiver DeSean Jackson after the season opener. Jackson had two 50-plus-yard touchdowns in that Week 1 win over Washington. When asked his personal goals for 2020 on Sunday, Wentz offered the standard fare – success on third down and in the red zone – but sprinkled in the desire for more big plays.

"My personal goal – and I think everybody's – is just to create more explosive plays. Last year, we had a ton of really long, sustained drives and that's incredible. I look for those things to still happen, but to be able to have some of those explosive plays down the field or those catch-and-run plays," Wentz said. "That will really just help open up our offense for everything else." – McPherson

Who will be the next Big V?

OK, I brought up Halapoulivaati Vaitai's name on Sunday's Eagle Eye in the Sky podcast with Fran and Ben Fennell and my pronunciation of Big V's name was admittedly rusty. While the offensive line jells with two new starters – Andre Dillard at left tackle and Jason Peters at right guard – Kelce cites the need to find the next Big V just as important.

"For the last three years, probably the most valuable person on our offensive line has gone unnoticed, is probably Big V, and obviously he's not here anymore," said Kelce of the new Detroit Lion.

"We really, really got to figure out who is going to claim those positions and who can we count on to go in there and win games with him. That's a huge part of being an offensive lineman in this league and being a part of a unit that has success is to be able to go with the blows of injuries or whatever happens throughout the course of the season."

And the injury report below will highlight the significance of discovering that player. – McPherson

Injury Update

Several players were added to the injury report on Sunday:

• RB Corey Clement (illness) - Boston Scott returned to practice, but Elijah Holyfield took the first-team reps in team drills.

• DE Vinny Curry (illness) - Josh Sweat took the first-team reps opposite Brandon Graham.

• T Andre Dillard (undisclosed) left practice early. He was replaced at left tackle by Jordan Mailata.

• WR Robert Davis (lower body, week to week)

• WR John Hightower (illness)

• T Lane Johnson (lower body, day to day) - Matt Pryor took the first-team reps at right guard.

• TE Joshua Perkins (upper body, out indefinitely)

• DT Hassan Ridgeway (illness)

• DT Anthony Rush (illness)

Quick hits from Sunday's practice

1. The first team period was under way on the far side of the field, here are a few of my takeaways:

• Dallas Goedert had a great catch on a jump ball, going up and over cornerback Darius Slay for a touchdown. Goedert returned to the field today after missing a couple of days with an upper body injury.

• Wentz followed that up with a touchdown throw to Greg Ward on a slant route from the slot.

• Genard Avery got a quick pressure outside on a Nate Sudfeld dropback, forcing an incompletion.

• On the last play of the period, Jalen Hurts pulled the string on a touchdown to tight end Caleb Wilson over the middle of the field. – Duffy

2. Here are the takeaways from the O-line vs. D-line one-on-ones:

• Fletcher Cox had a VERY clean win against guard Nate Herbig, beating the second-year lineman clean with an outside rush and exploding into the backfield. On his next rep though, Cox got stopped by rookie offensive lineman Jack Driscoll. Several of the defensive linemen commented on the strength of Driscoll's hands with his punch after the rep, and Cox himself gave the rookie a pat on the back after a competitive battle. That was the first time I saw Cox blocked one-on-one all week. Great rep for Driscoll.

• Jordan Mailata also had maybe his best one-on-one rep of the week as well, as he shut the door on an inside move from Joe Ostman and then showed off the foot quickness to block the counter as well. Mailata has been a bit up and down over the last few days, but that was a great rep that earned praise from teammates and coaches alike afterwards.

• Malik Jackson took several snaps in this drill, and I could tell that he's working on several different moves from several spots along the line, working against guards, centers, and tackles. If I had to guess, I'd say Jackson has taken the most one-on-one reps of any veteran lineman so far in camp (on offense or defense). He's constantly working to perfect his craft.

• Rookie undrafted free agent Julian Good-Jones had a good drill as well, I thought. The Iowa State product showed off light feet and a strong punch a couple of times in the session. – Duffy

3. Here are the takeaways from the WR vs. DB red zone one-on-ones:

• Wide receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside used his size and route-running ability to win three times against cornerback Avonte Maddox – once on a slant route, once on an out route, and lastly on a double move.

• Wide receiver Jalen Reagor beat safety Will Parks off the line with such a nasty release that the veteran was simply unable to react. Easy win for the rookie.

• The defensive back who stood out the most to me was Nickell Robey-Coleman. First, NRC was all over a fade route along the sideline intended for Greg Ward. Then later in the session, he came up with a pass breakup against DeSean Jackson on a post route in the back of the end zone. – McPherson

4. The team got together for a run-heavy period with a lot of run plays and play-action off of them. The standout player for me early on was linebacker T.J. Edwards. He ran into the backfield clean for a "tackle for loss" on the opening play, tracked down a running back in the flat on the third play, and had a stop on an inside run later in the drill as well, as he tagged up running back Elijah Holyfield when he got through the first level of the defense.

Secondly, Avery also had a couple of nice stops late, as he got into the backfield for a tackle for loss and then had another nice stop on a draw play. The only big gains for the offense included a run by Holyfield to the left side and a deep play-action throw to DeSean Jackson on the opposite side of the field from Wentz. – Duffy

5. The team got together for some kind of two-minute drill, and Wentz started off hot, hitting Greg Ward on three straight passes on three different routes, but an overthrow attempt for Zach Ertz was picked off by Darius Slay and taken back the other way for what likely would have been a touchdown. – Duffy

6. During the special teams drill, Jalen Reagor was the primary kickoff returner. Jake Elliott tried to fool the receiving team with an onside kick and it didn't get rookie linebacker Shaun Bradley, who made the recovery. – McPherson

7. Avonte Maddox did a lot of extra work on Sunday, remaining on the outside with the second-team defense. He also spent time prior to a 7-on-7 red zone drill talking with quarterback Carson Wentz. During this drill, Maddox nearly came up with a pick as Wentz tried to force the ball into a window for Arcega-Whiteside. The offense tried to confuse the defense with crossing routes to the left of the formation, but it didn't succeed.

• Quarterback Nate Sudfeld made his nicest throw of the day on a crossing route to wide receiver Marcus Green for a touchdown. Sudfeld displayed perfect touch, putting the ball out for Green to keep cornerback Cre'Von LeBlanc from getting to it. Sudfeld saw extensive action as the Eagles must figure out who from the backup units will earn a spot on the active roster. We all know what the entrenched veterans are going to bring to the table, but these practices are the only time that those "bubble" players will get to prove themselves. – McPherson

8. Malik Jackson continued his dominance in the final team period. He knocked down one pass at the line of scrimmage and forced Wentz to chuck the ball up on another. Wentz had another rep where he had no chance as Jackson and Cox were both pressuring up the middle. Wentz did get to make a nice touch pass deep down the left sideline for Holyfield out of an empty set. However, practice ended with a coverage sack as Wentz had nowhere to go with the ball. – McPherson

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