The Eagles held their final full practice before Thursday night's preseason opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
There was no live hitting, but plenty of physical "thud" action on the field. The running backs and tight ends worked on routes and pass protection against linebackers. Inside run plays were the focal point of the 9-on-7 drill, while on a separate field the receivers and the defensive backs went one-on-one. For the Special CAT portion of practice, the offense and defense worked on the two-minute offense.
Special teams coordinator Bobby April's crew went through field goal drills as well as kickoff returns. The offensive line had one last showdown with the defensive line in one-on-one pass rush drills before the preseason opener, while a 7-on-7 period took place on a separate field. Before the last special teams portion of practice, the Eagles held an 11-on-11 team period.
Safety Nate Allen (hamstring), tight end Brent Celek (MCL sprain) and defensive end Trent Cole (shoulder) all returned to practice Monday afternoon after missing several days of practice, but were pre-determined to only participate in the beginning of practice before joining the rest of their rehabbing teammates. So after the first 45 minutes or so of practice, all three made their way over to Mike Patterson, Jamar Chaney and Colt Anderson to join in the fitness drills.
Two wide receivers did not finish practice: Jeremy Maclin (cramps) and Jamel Hamler (hamstring).
LB Ryans Ready To Lead
Linebacker DeMeco Ryans took one rep in the tight end/running back vs. linebacker drills when he lined up across running back LeSean McCoy. McCoy might have thought he had a shadow following him as Ryans was air tight in pass coverage.
During the 11-on-11 team drill later in practice, Ryans made a diving pass breakup of an attempt intended for tight end Clay Harbor.
The two-time All-Pro linebacker will come out of the tunnel at Lincoln Financial Field for the first time as a member of the Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Houston Texans' all-time franchise leader in tackles was injured for the 2010 meeting in Philadelphia. Ryans said that wearing a new uniform won't be weird because he's adjusted to it all summer. After the 21st practice of Training Camp on Monday at Lehigh University, Ryans knows it is time to line up against another team.
"It's time. It's time to start hitting someone with a different colored jersey," Ryans said. "It's a fun thing we're looking forward to. We have great competition out here against our offense, but it's fun to strap it up and go out there against someone else."
The acquisition of Ryans earlier this offseason was designed to strengthen the middle of the defense. Known as a captain for the Texans, Ryans has also assumed a leadership role here in Philadelphia. With some key young players such as rookies Fletcher Cox, Mychal Kendricks and Vinny Curry among others set to take the field on Thursday, Ryans' advice has been to live in the moment.
"Once you get through the first preseason game and you know you can step in and hang with the big boys, it's one thing that will go away quickly, but one thing that you will always remember is your first preseason game," Ryans said. "You remember the plays that you make. I'm just going to tell them to relax and do what they've been taught and have fun. That's the biggest thing about it, make sure you have fun."
And yes, Ryans remembers his first NFL preseason contest. It was August 12, 2006 in Kansas City. Ryans made the first tackle of the game.
"That woke me up and told me that I was ready to go and play in the NFL," Ryans said.
Graham Ready For Transition
Defensive end Brandon Graham has looked every bit the part of a former first-round pick in this year's Training Camp. Fully healthy from a 2010 knee injury that derailed an All-Rookie campaign, Graham is ready to continue the success on the field in the preseason starting Thursday.
"I'm ready to go out there and just do my job," the always-smiling Graham said. "I want to do what I can for the team and make as many plays as I can. I feel like I've got myself in the best shape right now. Shoot, the sky is the limit for where we're going to go."
Graham got to work with the first-team defense on the left side of the line for most of Training Camp with Jason Babin sidelined. In fact, there was a point where the entire first-team defensive line was sidelined with injury. Graham believes the defensive line showed how deep it is during this Training Camp.
"We proved that we're going to go out there and not miss a beat," said Graham, who has looked lightning quick off the edge. "That's what's going to happen, hopefully not during the season, but if it does we have a strong D-line that's going to get us where we need to go."
It's fitting that Graham gets to go against the Steelers since he trained in the offseason with Pittsburgh's LaMarr Woodley and Larry Foote. There's been plenty of trash talking between the three of them, but Graham understands that the first game of the preseason is simply the next step in terms of progression towards the regular season.
Nonetheless, Graham is excited after a 2011 season that was bogged down by the recovering knee.
"This is going to mean a lot for me," Graham said. "It's big for me and it's going to let me know where I am and what I need to work on a little bit more."
RB Polk Delivers The Thunder
While it was technically a "thud" period, one of the biggest hits of this year's Training Camp was submitted during the Eagles' final team session during Monday afternoon's practice - and it didn't even come from a defensive player.
The third-team offense was facing off against the third-team defense, and the cornerback Brandon Hughes blitzed off the edge, intending to "sack" quarterback Nick Foles. But Chris Polk had other ideas. The undrafted rookie running back out of Washington proceeded to plant Hughes on his backside, eliciting day's biggest roar from the fans. Thing is, Polk didn't even execute perfectly on the play.
"I actually messed up on that play because I went to the wrong side," Polk said. "But I knew he was coming so I just had to get back there quick. I don't want the quarterback getting hit on my behalf so that's something I try to hang my hat on.
"If I can take a hit off a quarterback and have me get hit instead of that, that's fine with me. I'll take a bullet for the President."
The massive pass block didn't just provoke a crowd reaction, but one from Polk's defensive teammates as well, who challenged Polk for the rest of the drill.
"Yeah, I liked the crowd reaction," Polk said. "I liked the defense's reaction more. The last couple plays when they were really trying to get after me, that really fueled me and really energized me. It's just great to see that, how competitive we are and how much we get after it."
Polk is locked in a competition for the third running back job with fellow rookie Bryce Brown, but he also indicated that he would be willing to play some fullback if asked, noting that he was occasionally used as a lead blocker at Washington when there were designed runs for quarterback Jake Locker.
"Whatever they tell me to do, I'm going to do it, whether it's blocking, running, catching," said Polk. "I'm going to do it because I'm blessed to be incorporated in this offense and to be in the situation I'm in now. So I'm going to do whatever they ask me to do to my fullest capability."
On Thursday night, Polk will step on Lincoln Financial Field for his first game as a professional. It's something he's been waiting for his entire life.
"Oh man, I can't wait just to walk up there and see the lights and the fans," he said. "It's just surreal, reaching my childhood dreams since the age of 6 to play in the NFL. This will be my first game. I don't care if it's a preseason game or a scrimmage; it's still a major accomplishment. I'm just really blessed and really fortunate to still be here and be a part of a great organization."
McBriar Sits Atop Depth Chart
The Eagles released their first official depth chart on Monday and punter Mat McBriar, who was just signed on July 25, is already ahead of incumbent Chas Henry.
A two-time Pro Bowl selection, McBriar is not reading too much into it. He simply thinks the team knows what it has in Henry and wants to get a better look at him. McBriar very much believe that it's a competition for the punter job.
"We're raising each other's expectations and standards," McBriar said.
McBriar was still on the free agent market in large part due to a drop foot injury to his plant leg. He said he is about 90 percent recovered.
"I'm trying to get back to it. I don't know if I'm there yet. I've had a bit of a layoff," McBriar said. "It's coming. We're working on it every day."
Last season, McBriar averaged 43.8 yards per punt with a net average of 36.7 yards before being placed on Injured Reserve December 31, 2011. In 2010, McBriar had a 47.9-yard gross average and a net average of 41.7 yards.
Make sure to follow us on Twitter @EaglesInsider