Fran Duffy, Ben Fennell, and Chris McPherson witnessed what is scheduled to be the longest Training Camp practice on Tuesday at two hours and 20 minutes. It was also the first practice that featured live hitting. Here are 17 observations as well as some anecdotes from the day at the NovaCare Complex.
1. It was hot, humid, sticky, and oppressive on Tuesday. Days like this can not only fatigue the players physically but mentally as well. The offense came out sluggish and lacked mental focus early on. A false start penalty and a flag for a delay of game ramped up the urgency from the offensive coaching staff and it was clearly a priority to get players in and out of the huddle, lined up, and hustling back after plays. – Ben Fennell
2. The all-important jersey update! Two jerseys stood out from the fans who attended Tuesday's practice. First, there was a 5-year-old boy, named MJ, sporting a custom jersey of his favorite player, Jake Elliott, which the kicker gladly signed after practice. I guess his father, Mike, have to buy another one. That's a good problem to have. The other standout jersey from the sidelines was a camo Fletcher Cox. – Chris McPherson
3. Special teams drills take place after the opening stretch, and my favorite drill has one of the "gunners" for the punt team along the far sideline with the JUGS machine. One by one, the group takes off down the field, as the machine fires out a ball high into the air, simulating a punt and allowing the players to try and down the ball inside the 5-yard line. The players had to track the ball in the air and then make a quick judgment whether to catch it on the fly or let it bounce, creating some entertaining reps along the goal line. – Fran Duffy
4. The defensive backs worked on tackling form and technique early during individual drills. Tuesday was the first "to the ground" tackling practice of the summer, so fine-tuning the tackling details is a critical part of the process. Defensive backs coach Cory Undlin was also placing a strong emphasis on pursuit paths and attacking ball carriers from the proper angle. – Ben
5. Alshon Jeffery made a couple of grabs in the opening team period, first on a slant and then later on a quick screen pass where he had to leave his feet and come away with the acrobatic grab. Another highlight came courtesy of Greg Ward, who took a screen pass for a big gain from the slot after following a lead block from first-round pick Andre Dillard, who appears to have strung together a couple of strong practices in a row. – Fran
6. One-on-one sessions begin, and I watch the receivers take on the defensive backs, which always puts the defenders in a tough spot. There are often unconventional routes from receivers during this period, meaning awkward break points and double moves that you, as a defender, may not normally see in the main playbook. "Leveraging to your help" is a major aspect of playing in coverage, so not having anyone to force the receiver toward is challenging in its own right. The offense should win about 75-80 percent of these snaps, which is what makes Rasul Douglas' play during this period so impressive. Douglas has made plays every day this summer, and he had the highlight pass breakup in this period on Tuesday. Douglas poked away a back-shoulder fade to Jeffery along the left sideline. Jeffery and Wentz were in perfect harmony on the pass, but Douglas used his long arms to attack the catch point. – Ben
7. DeSean Jackson didn't have as many highlight-reel grabs as he did in Monday's practice, but he still showed off some speed. In the one-on-ones, Jackson beat Sidney Jones on a fade down the field. Jackson slow-played the release off the line of scrimmage, only to get to top speed in an instant before Jones could get his hands on him. There are subtle aspects of Jackson's game that go under-appreciated. One aspect is his ability to show his hands late and keep the DB guessing as to when the throw is arriving, something he did well on this rep. – Ben
8. While Ben was down studying the receivers and defensive backs, I watched the running backs and tight ends take on linebackers and safeties in coverage. A couple of seasoned vets owned the day on offense. Zach Ertz beat Andrew Sendejo on a pivot route before pulling in a corner route against Godwin Igwebuike. Darren Sproles beat Kamu Grugier-Hill on an option route before beating Malcolm Jenkins on a tightly contested out route later in the drill. Jordan Howard also ran a strong route against rookie linebacker Joey Alfieri with a catch along the left sideline. Afterward, the group turned their attention toward pass protection, where the defense got a bit of revenge. Grugier-Hill won a couple of reps against Ertz and Josh Adams. Jenkins beat Howard with a slick spin move following a win against Donnel Pumphrey in protection. Miles Sanders had a competitive rep against Zach Brown as well. – Fran
9. Team action begins again, and we all know that the Eagles' offense is never shy about sprinkling in some razzle-dazzle with some trick or gadget plays. Doug Pederson dialed up a trick play during this session, with Nelson Agholor being on the receiving end down the field for a big gain. While unconventional, it's important to keep the defense guessing and disciplined with their keys and reads. – Ben
10. We're on the sideline, and the offense is moving from right to left, so the left tackle is right in front of us. The matchup? Andre Dillard against Josh Sweat. Dillard got the best of this single rep, stoning Sweat in protection as Nate Sudfeld stepped up to hit Richard Rodgers. It should be noted that Sweat stood out to me numerous times on Tuesday, swarming piles in the run game and making plays in pursuit, whether it was in the screen game or just plays away from him, which is great to see. – Fran
11. We got to see the maturation of a young quarterback at the end of this drill, as rookie Clayton Thorson struggled to get the offense lined up, leading to a delay of game penalty. On the ensuing play, Thorson missed Boston Scott in the flat while rolling to his right. These kinds of moments are to be expected from rookie quarterbacks in their first Training Camp. They're swimming in information, struggling to stay afloat at times. If you're not right mentally, it's tough to be right physically. I wouldn't go overboard in criticism of the rookie passer, as this is just part of the process, especially at that position. – Fran
12. The first fully live period of the summer takes place, and the defense gets some early juice. After sniffing out a screen pass on the first play, Andrew Sendejo and Rasul Douglas combine to bring down Jordan Howard at the line of scrimmage on the second snap. The offense bounced back, however, hitting Miles Sanders on a wheel route down the left sideline on a beautiful throw, hitting the rookie right in the chest in stride over a pursuing defender. – Fran
13. Wentz completed 4 of 5 passes to start an extended 7-on-7 period. His lone incompletion? An interception by cornerback Avonte Maddox, who jumped a dig route by rookie J.J. Arcega-Whiteside and dove to complete the turnover for an awesome play. Wentz and the first-team unit came out for a second series later in the drill, and he threaded the needle to Jeffery in the middle of the field through what appeared to be at least two or three defenders in what was one of his best tosses of the day. – Fran
14. The final "live" session of the day was a "Move the Field" session, where the ball was placed on the 20-yard line, and it was a live-game simulation. If the defense can stop the offense in three downs, they force a punt. Otherwise, the offense keeps going until they can score. On the very first play, the offense did just that. Wide receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside kicked off the period with a "right place, right time" catch as linebacker Nathan Gerry tipped a pass on the right side. The ball popped up in the air and landed right into the hands of Arcega-Whiteside, who did the rest, scampering another 60-plus yards, outrunning the pursuing defenders. – Ben
15. The entire offense sprinted 80 yards after the rookie receiver on that play and celebrated as a team in the end zone. One celebration stood out to me, in particular, though, as Arcega-Whiteside executed a well-run dance after the play. Afterward, I kicked myself. I was THIS close to putting this in yesterday's practice notes, but Agholor and Arcega-Whiteside practiced this exact celebration after the individual period yesterday, and I thought to myself that we might get a chance to see that soon. It didn't take long for the duo to bust it out. – Fran
16. The second-team defense forced a punt on three plays (four if you include the delay of game penalty on fourth-and-inches), and the starters took the field again. This drive was much longer. After Wentz hit Charles Johnson on a double move on the right side, he faced a third-and-very-long. Wentz dropped back and smoked a throw to Agholor down the seam, over underneath defenders and underneath the safety over the top. It was a dime of a throw in traffic, and Agholor reeled it in. A few plays later, Miles Sanders capped the drive with a touchdown run. – Fran
17. I was in the end zone for the Sanders run, and the offensive line was clearly fired up after the score. You could hear guys like Jason Kelce and Lane Johnson with audible excitement, almost as if it were them that run the ball into the end zone. It was pretty cool to see a pair of rookies come up with the two touchdowns in the final period of practice. – Ben
J.J. Arcega-Whiteside holding himself to a different standard
The rookie wide receiver was in the right place at the right time.
As Ben and Fran noted, Arcega-Whiteside caught a deflected pass and raced down the right side for an 80-yard touchdown. He was stunned after crossing the goal line to turn around and see a wave of midnight green and white chasing after him to celebrate. The rookie acted like he's never scored a touchdown before. He only posted 14 touchdowns in his final season at Stanford.
Arcega-Whiteside called Tuesday's practice the "most competitive" so far, but not because of the live hitting. It was the heat – with the sweaty gloves, sweat dripping down your face, arms soaked – that brought a "little more edge, a little more aggression" to practice.
Asked to assess his performance to date, Arcega-Whiteside was harsh, saying that it's "not good enough."
"I don't want to hold myself to a rookie standard," he said. "I want to hold myself to the standards of everybody else on this team of all the vets. And I got three of the best receivers in the league in the room. I want to play at their level, not at a rookie level. At the same time, I have to be realistic. This is my eighth time practicing with these guys. But I hold myself to a higher standard."
And his veteran teammates are helping him reach that level.
After practice, Arcega-Whiteside and cornerback Rasul Douglas talked through some of the plays on the field. Cornerback Jalen Mills has pulled the rookie aside to offer tips. Quarterback Carson Wentz, wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, everyone has been willing to accelerate the rookie's learning curve.
"It's great that we have a team with the mindset that we want to win. We're not selfish here. ... This is a great culture and I'm excited to see where we go," Arcega-Whiteside said. – C-Mac
Sanders: 'We're the new kids on the block'
Arcega-Whiteside's draft classmate Miles Sanders, the rookie running back out of Penn State, was the other player to score a touchdown during the final team period. Sanders bulldozed his way behind the offensive line for a 7-yard score.
"We're the new kids on the block. It's our duty to show the rest of the team what we can do," Sanders said. "Anything that's good to help the team I'm willing to do."
Sanders missed the spring practices with a hamstring injury, but has had no problem developing chemistry with the blockers up front.
"He's humble. He's got good vision. He's got good balance. Nice guy," tackle Lane Johnson said. "I think he's going to be a good one, a really good one." – C-Mac
Rodney McLeod takes next step in comeback
Safety Rodney McLeod participated in WR vs. DB one-on-one drills Tuesday, as he inches closer to a full return from last season's knee injury.
"I'm feeling good. It feels good to get back out there and get some reps in with the guys," McLeod said. "I have been putting in a lot of work for an extended period of time, so I'm just happy for every rep that I get. Just really looking forward to the rest of this camp."
With McLeod not lining up for team drills, Andrew Sendejo has paired up with Malcolm Jenkins as the first-team safeties. – C-Mac
Lane Johnson, future GM?
When exiting the locker room last Friday, tackle Lane Johnson yelled to the media within earshot that Josh Sweat was poised for a big season. Of course, the reporters were in the process of interviewing Sweat. The second-year defensive end packed on 22 pounds of muscle and is fully healthy after an ankle injury prematurely ended his rookie campaign. Johnson reiterated his confidence in Sweat on Tuesday.
"I think I'm a pretty good evaluator of talent. ... I think he's a pretty damn good player. I told him I expect big things from him. I think he'll do big things this year. That's just the way I see it," Johnson said.
Sweat played just 68 snaps on defense as a rookie, contributing four tackles and two quarterback pressures and hits. As promising as Sweat looks, he still has a long ways to go to catch up to the production that Brandon Graham has generated in his career. For the second day in a row, the O-line vs. D-line one-on-one drills kicked off with Johnson squaring off against Graham.
"He's always seen as underrated. I see a guy that's one of the best players in the league, but he gets crapped on year in and year out," Johnson said. "He's bringing it to me and I'm bringing it to him. It's been like that for the past five, six years. ... He's a great teammate, great player." – C-Mac