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Practice Notes: Red Zone Comes Into Focus

  • Fran Duffy and Ben Fennell offer more than 20 takeaways from Wednesday's Training Camp practice which focused on the red zone.

1. Day 6 of practice is underway, and we’ve got what some would describe as a "soupy" morning on the practice field. It was mostly overcast and sticky after some overnight storms (and more on the horizon), but the breeze helped a bit. – Fran Duffy

2. Fran and I went over to watch the offensive line go through individual drills as they practiced combination blocks in their zone blocking schemes. This group was one of the very best in the NFL last year on those combination blocks up to the second level, and I expect they’ll pick up right where they left off when the action starts this fall. It’s impressive to watch the starting offensive line work on the details and communication versus different defensive looks and assignments. They also caught a few unsuspecting players off guard by the way they fire off the double teams – nearly knocking a few backups off of their feet. On one play, Lane Johnson and Brandon Brooks smacked rookie Matt Pryor (who is 6-7 and over 330 pounds) about 5 yards upfield. – Ben Fennell

3. The "install" period begins, and as the offensive line sprints to the far field, Ben and I stay put with the defensive backs, working in the near end zone. We get an idea of what’s to come in today’s practice, as defensive backs coach Cory Undlin puts his group through various red zone drills, working on reading route combinations down by the goal line. This would be a HEAVY red zone day for the Super Bowl Champions, who excelled in that part of the field in 2017. The main takeaway, from a personnel standpoint, was De’Vante Bausby getting the first-team reps defensively in the slot. Bausby and Sidney Jones have swapped that honor through each of the first six days of practice. – Fran

4. Watching the defensive backs in this period, starters like Jalen Mills and Malcolm Jenkins stole most of the reps as they wanted to perfect their timing and technique. Jenkins is clearly a leader and a coach on the field for the defense. You can see the veteran coaching up, not only the defensive backs, but also the players imitating the wide receivers so that they can all get a good look. Jenkins spent a few extra moments afterward with rookie safety Jeremy Reaves to go over details. – Ben

5. The first team period begins as the team meets up on the far side of the field for some red zone work. The action was moving away from us, so it was tough to see, but Zach Ertz got a lot of action as the X-Iso receiver on the back side of three-receiver sets. This is a role where Ertz thrived last year (he caught the game-winning touchdown in Super Bowl LII from that spot), and we saw plenty of him there on Wednesday. On the first play, he catches a ball near the left pylon. Two plays later, he lines up there again, but the ball doesn’t go his way. Instead, Nick Foles hits Nelson Agholor for a touchdown from the slot on the opposite side of the field. – Fran

6. The second-team units on both sides of the ball take the field, and as Dallas Goedert jogs out of the huddle, Ben says to me, ‘Man, I’d love to see them go to Goedert here.’ Just like that, Goedert catches two straight touchdowns down on the goal line. The first was made in one-handed fashion in the right flat, and the second came over the middle of the field on a slant route. In a later red zone drill, Goedert scored a touchdown in the back of the end zone over safety Rodney McLeod. – Fran

7. After the initial team session, we get a period of 2-on-2 in the middle of the field, featuring tight ends and receivers going up against defensive backs. Goedert rides the momentum of the last period into this one, using his big body to outmuscle Chandon Sullivan for a catch on the first rep. The second-round pick beat safety Jeremy Reaves on a pair of other plays in the session as well. – Fran

8. The other player who stood out to me in this drill was veteran receiver Markus Wheaton, who showed off his savvy as a route runner on more than one occasion. Wheaton beat safety Stephen Roberts on an in-breaking route for his first rep, then followed that up with a really slick curl route for a catch a few plays later. Wheaton ended his reps by forcing Reaves to throw him to the ground at the top of a route, drawing an obvious flag, at the end of the drill. – Fran

9. Nathan Gerry got the first-team reps at weakside linebacker with the base defense in this drill, and was in pursuit on a Jay Ajayi run to the opposite side on the second play of the period. – Fran

10. Rasul Douglas had a busy day in the secondary. Ronald Darby may have been a bit banged up after the last drill, so the second-year corner jumped in with the first-team unit. Foles tested him immediately with a quick slant to Mike Wallace. Later, Douglas had to jump back in with the third-team defense because of the rotation. The West Virginia product is embracing extra on-field reps and practice any chance he gets. Douglas was feisty throughout the period, even getting a bit carried away by laying a big hit on a running back late in the drill. – Ben

11. The session continued, and on two straight plays we got to see Donnel Pumphrey and Joe Walker in the spotlight. First, the second-year running back took a handoff and made Walker miss in the hole on a solid run inside. On the very next play, the offense attempted a screen pass to Pumphrey on the same side of the field, but Walker read the play and had him wrapped up just as the ball arrived. – Fran

12. With Bausby getting the majority of the first-team slot reps on Wednesday, Sidney Jones worked with the second-team spot at left cornerback. On one play matched up against receiver Greg Ward, he made an athletic pass breakup on a slant route. Later, Jones did the same thing against Agholor during the 7-on-7 period. We’ve seen a handful of plays like this from Jones, who appears to have a knack for getting his hands on the football without interfering with the receiver when he’s stuck on his hip. The play he made to end practice for the defensive starters on Tuesday looked exactly the same. – Fran

13. Another red zone period begins, and for the second straight day the defense had a pre-snap coverage bust. This time, the offense lined up in an empty set with running back Corey Clement lined up outside the numbers to the left. Nick Foles took the snap and threw an easy pitch and catch to a wide-open Clement for a gimme touchdown. – Ben

14. After a handful of plays on the opposite side of the field, the team comes down to the near end zone for about 20 plays right in front of us. As the Eagles are rolling out two-tight end formations with Ertz and Goedert, we’re getting our glimpse into how a defense could potentially match up against it. The Eagles practiced several 12 personnel (one running back, two tight end) sets in the second red zone session with both Ertz and Goedert on the field. The defense would respond with a "big nickel" package featuring three safeties. One rep saw Malcolm Jenkins cover Ertz extremely well, but Goedert was able to shake Jordan Hicks for a touchdown on the opposite side of the field. – Ben

15. Later in the session, Ronald Darby had a huge pass breakup on Goedert on a crossing route along the front of the end zone. Darby was met with celebrations from the defense on the sideline but ... the offense goes hurry-up as center Jason Kelce barks to get lined up while the defense subbed and celebrated. Goedert came back and caught a ball down the seam for an easy touchdown as the defense wasn’t ready. Unfair scenario for the defense? Perhaps. But this is what you see on Sundays and must be focused at all times. – Ben

16. The team split up as the offensive and defensive lines faced off 1-on-1 in one area as the rest of the team stayed put for 7-on-7 work. I stayed with the Red Zone 7-on-7 drill, while Ben took a walk to watch 1-on-1s. – Fran

  • Foles completed a pass to Richard Rodgers, then saw two incompletions thanks to pass breakups from Nigel Bradham and Sidney Jones. He came back with a touchdown throw to Agholor, where Nelson fully extended his arms for a great catch in the back of the end zone. Agholor had another really nice day on Wednesday. Later in the same period, the former first-round pick spun around and made a tough catch in traffic on a pass thrown behind him on the run.
  • We saw our first (and only) team reps with Carson Wentz in this session, as he got two sequences of five plays each. Wentz looked sharp on Wednesday, hitting Rashard Davis in the back corner of the end zone for a beautifully thrown touch pass to get things going. Two plays later, he hit Ertz on a quick in-breaker right at the goal line for another touchdown (something we saw a lot of in 2017). In his next series, Wentz hit Wheaton in the back of the end zone on a crossing route.
  • Nate Sudfeld was productive in this period as well, completing three touchdown throws on three attempts. First, Billy Brown completed a crazy diving catch down the seam in the end zone. On the next play, Sudfeld hit Davis along the end line for six. Finally, he hit rookie receiver Anthony Mahoungou on a quick crossing route.

17. My biggest takeaway from the defensive line and offensive line 1-on-1s was the play of Matt Pryor. The rookie shined in this period, getting quality reps at both right guard and right tackle, something he did in college at TCU. It should be noted that Pryor was the only player in the drill to get reps at multiple spots. Offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland gave Pryor a huge high-five after his final rep, clearly impressed with the rookie’s performance in the period. – Ben

18. The other takeaway came from Isaac Seumalo. His primary role this summer has been as the backup center behind Jason Kelce while also serving as a "swing tackle" and extra offensive lineman at times on Tuesday. Seumalo had a strong pass protection rep at center against Fletcher Cox in this period and then displayed his athleticism in a team session later on. The third-year lineman pulled to the perimeter on a sweep play, escorting linebacker Walker downfield for Wendell Smallwood to run into the end zone. Seumalo may not have a starting spot for 2018, but his versatility is crucial for the offense. – Ben

19. One final team period gets underway, and the defense gets things going quickly after an early Jay Ajayi run. Derek Barnett gets home for a sack on the second play (there seemed to be some kind of blitz on the play), and Chris Long got home on Nick Foles for the third snap. Foles got rid of the ball after it was blown dead, and Richard Rodgers roped in an impressive one-handed snag. Rodgers made a nice catch behind his body on the ensuing play. – Fran

20. The first-team units wrap things up with a Rasul Douglas interception of Foles in the end zone. It appeared there was some kind of miscommunication between the quarterback and Mack Hollins on the play. – Fran

21. The second-team groups came out, and Smallwood impressed during the next five plays, wrapping things up with an impressive inside run where he juked Kamu Grugier-Hill (who got some first-team reps at weakside linebacker on Wednesday). On the next play, Smallwood took a screen pass and ran through rookie safety Ryan Neal’s tackle attempt along the sideline for a long play that got the offensive sideline excited. Donnel Pumphrey saw a lot of reps with the first- and second-team groups on Tuesday, and it appeared that the coaches tried to give Smallwood the same opportunity today. – Fran

22. That doesn’t mean that Pumphrey went away quietly. The third-team units came on to end practice, and on the first play quarterback Joe Callahan hit Pumphrey on a screen play on the opposite side of the field. Pumphrey made one miss and ran down the sideline. Two plays later, Pumphrey made a nice cut back against the grain to find a hole to work through to end practice. In an earlier period, we saw a Smallwood touchdown run over left tackle, followed shortly afterward by a really nice catch by Pumphrey along the sideline. It came on a passing play that was blown dead as a "sack," but the ball was thrown late and Pumphrey made a beautiful toe-touch grab. It will be an interesting battle between Smallwood, Pumphrey, and Matt Jones (who missed Wednesday’s practice with a lower-leg injury after getting banged up on Tuesday) at the bottom of the running back depth chart. – Fran

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