The Eagles held their second of three live-hitting practices on Thursday. Here's our notes and observations from a long, hot morning in South Philadelphia.
Celebration Of The Day
On the final play of the entire practice, quarterback Carson Wentz hit wide receiver Nelson Agholor for a 30-yard touchdown down the left sideline beating rookie cornerback Rasul Douglas. Wide receiver Jordan Matthews and Wentz raced to the end zone and got the offense together.
Agholor stood off to the sideline and held the football, while the rest of the offensive players lined up as bowling pins. Agholor did the Fred Flinstone approach before rolling the ball and knocking over the "pins" for a strike.
"Do you think I'm the one who choreographed it?" Matthews asked before admitting he did. "Coach (Doug Pederson) has been telling us, 'Hey, we need to show more excitement when we score. We can have more fun.'"
Matthews told the linemen when the offense scored they were going bowling. Agholor came through with the big play.
"Great composure on the touchdown catch. Even better composure on the strike," Matthews said. "It was a good celebration. We'll have to save it for Week 1." - Chris McPherson
Number Of The Day: 11 (And It's Not Wentz)
Jordan Hicks is the first NFL linebacker to record at least 11 takeaways (7 interceptions, 4 fumble recoveries) in his first 24 career games since Hall of Famer Jack Ham (1971-72). - John Gonoude
1. The offense brought the energy during the group install portion of practice. Quarterback Carson Wentz threw a pass to tight end Trey Burton for a touchdown, and the unit acted as if it was the game-winning score of the season opener in Washington. It set the tone for the afternoon. - CM
2. The group install also showcased some players who could be on the receiving end of trick plays this season - offensive linemen Dillon Gordon and Halapoulivaati Vaitai. - CM
3. The wide receivers and defensive backs went head-to-head again on Thursday. After spending a large majority of the time down in the red zone on Wednesday, today’s one-on-one sessions were at the 30-yard line going out, offering plenty of room to run. Here were the standout players:
A. Marcus Johnson made a tough catch on a deep curl route against Patrick Robinson. The veteran corner reacted quickly at the top of the route and was right on the receiver’s hip when the ball arrived. Johnson secured the catch through contact to get the receivers off on the right track. Johnson further showed off his route running on his next rep with a post-corner route that faked out the corner at the top of his stem, allowing for a completion right along the sideline.
B. Nelson Agholor was stellar once again. On his second rep, he ran a route that was sweeter than the Swedish Fish water ice from the Rita’s stand about 50 yards away, separating from Aaron Grymes in the slot with a stutter step and exploding out of his break for a completion that he reeled in over his shoulder downfield. Agholor, who had one drop on the drill, finished the period up with a deep ball against Mitchell White where he broke outside and exploded up the right sideline for a big gain.
C. Jordan Matthews started off on a good note, getting a catch on a quick hitch route against Malcolm Jenkins in the slot. The quick throw may have helped the next time the two faced off, as Matthews beat Jenkins with a double move on an "out-and-up" route, catching a pass down the left side.
D. Mack Hollins flew by fellow rookie Rasul Douglas on a deep ball with his first play of the drill, securing the catch about 40 yards down the left sideline. The 6-4 rookie wideout, who impressed me with his route running on Wednesday, ran a deep dig against Jomal Wiltz for his second completion of the day. He followed that up with a great one-handed grab down the left side, outstretching his left hand to make the catch over his shoulder for a big gain. He went back to not wearing gloves, even though it was a live-hitting practice.
E. Safety Rodney McLeod blanketed rookie receiver Greg Ward in the slot, forcing an incomplete pass.
F. Jalen Mills helped force a pass breakup downfield on a go route from Torrey Smith. After allowing Smith an inside release, Mills didn’t panic when he was initially beaten down the sideline, getting back into position to find the ball late downfield on a pass that was a bit under thrown, forcing an incompletion.
G. Fellow second-year corner C.J. Smith posted a great pass breakup on David Watford on a curl route down the right side. Smith read the route perfectly, broke it off at the same pace as Watford, and was able to get his hand to the ball before it arrived in the receiver’s mitts.
H. Rookie receiver Shelton Gibson ran maybe the best route I’ve seen him run this summer on an in-breaking route from the slot. He stuttered at the top of the route, leaned outside and broke off inside for a catch. - Fran Duffy
4. With C-Mac watching the 7-on-7 action, I wandered over to the offensive and defensive line going one-on-one in pass protection, and it was the defense that started off hot to begin the drill. Brandon Graham and Fletcher Cox beat Lane Johnson and Brandon Brooks, respectively, on consecutive plays. Jason Kelce responded with the first win for the green jerseys, battling hard against Destiny Vaeao and keeping him away from the quarterback. Tim Jernigan bull-rushed Isaac Seumalo back into the pocket, while Dillon Gordon boasted a strong rep from Vinny Curry, who tried to win with a quick inside rip move off the snap of the ball.
Halapoulivaati Vaitai continues to impress me, and he did so with his first rep against Steven Means, exploding out of his stance and protecting the edge, then showing the quick feet and strong hands to prevent any kind of counter move from the savvy pass rusher. On the other side, Derek Barnett tried to win with his go-to chop move on the outside, violently knocking down Matt Tobin’s hands, but he stumbles turning the corner and is unable to get to the quarterback. On his next rep, Barnett used a speed-to-power move to attack fellow rookie Victor Salako before using a spin move to counter inside. - FD
5. The practice ended with a team period that first pitted the second-team offense against the first-team defense. Linebacker Jordan Hicks got things going with a tackle on rookie Corey Clement right at the line of scrimmage. After a big completion to tight end Trey Burton on a crossing route, Cox made two big stops in the run game for the defense and, two plays later, he came away with a "sack" that killed another intended crossing route to Burton and ended the drive. - FD
6. Next up, the first-team offense faced the backups on defense. The offensive line opened up a big hole for Wendell Smallwood down the left sideline, and it was Jason Peters’ block on rookie Derek Barnett that helped get it started. Two plays later, Smallwood took a carry up the middle and was met with a fury by safety Terrence Brooks, one of the strongest defensive backs on the team. It was a huge collision, but Smallwood lowered his shoulder through contact and kept powering through, a good sign for the young ball carrier. A strong bull rush by Vaeao against Brooks forces Wentz to dump the ball off to Torrey Smith on a shallow crossing route. - FD
7. After a series from the third team on both sides, the starting defense came back onto the field. Hicks made another tackle on Clement after defeating a cut block. After a catch and run down the right sideline for Burton, who broke through a tackle attempt by Mills, Cox defeated a block and brought down Clement for a minimal gain. A couple of plays later, Cox broke up a pass at the line of scrimmage. Nigel Bradham made a great pass breakup in the end zone against Burton to end the series, bringing up the first-team offense for one final drive. - FD
8. Professor Peters held an open session on the first play of the period, washing Barnett upfield to create a perfect running lane for Smallwood, who followed a pulling blocker in Jason Kelce down the left side for a big gain to start the drive. Wentz completed a slant route to Agholor that was tightly contested, and followed it up with another catch on the opposite side of the field from my vantage point, a hitch route against C.J. Smith. After an all-out blitz forces a quick throw and an incompletion from Wentz, the quarterback comes back on the very next play and drops the ball in a bucket downfield, hitting Agholor streaking past Douglas for a touchdown.* - FD*
9. I love the pairing of Hicks, who was a full participant on Thursday, and Nigel Bradham in the nickel defense at linebacker. John's note above showcased the playmaker Hicks has been in his first two seasons. In a 7-on-7 drill, Hicks made a diving pass breakup to keep Agholor from getting the ball. Bradham, meanwhile, brings a different element to the Eagles' defense.
"We really have a good feel for the way each other plays. I love being out there with him. He brings an edge. He brings a tenacity and an attitude with him every time he's out there on the field. I think with him out there we're a lot better," Hicks said. - CM
10. Nathan Gerry got first-team reps at weakside linebacker with Mychal Kendricks sidelined with a quad injury. - CM
11. Fran had the note about Marcus Johnson earlier, but on one 7-on-7 rep he made a great leaping catch along the left sideline to snare a ball with Robinson in coverage. On a rep later, Johnson ran a hitch route and I just loved how he didn't wait for the ball to come to him. He went after it, which will make a difference with shifty defensive backs bearing down on you. - CM
12. Smallwood had a number of big runs on the day as the first-team running back with LeGarrette Blount absent for personal reasons. Dave Spadaro's On the Inside column looks at how different Smallwood is now compared to a year ago. - CM
13. Alex Smith had a line after running back Byron Marshall was stonewalled by Vaeao on a play. "I guess you could say he had a ... meeting with Destiny." Fran thought including it in the piece was beneath him. Not me. - CM