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Practice Notes: Zach Ertz Dominates The Defense

1. Not that it should come as any surprise, but over 75,000 fans attended the two public practices at Lincoln Financial Field. The weather forecast wasn’t promising on Friday, but the football gods kept the skies clear long enough for the team to play at the stadium. Even before the team confirmed that practice would be held, lines formed to get into the stadium gates. The amazing turnout also benefited the Eagles Autism Challenge as nearly $100,000 was raised for autism awareness. The Eagles are working to beat the opposition on the field. Eagles Autism Challenge has its sights set on one off the field. – Chris McPherson

2. In the team’s first action since Thursday’s preseason opener, there were a number of players who returned including wide receiver Mike Wallace, quarterback Nick Foles, and running back Matt Jones. On the flip side, wide receiver Nelson Agholor, running back Corey Clement, wide receiver Mack Hollins, running back Donnel Pumphrey, and wide receiver Markus Wheaton were inactive. Cornerback Sidney Jones only did individual drills. Tight end Dallas Goedert left practice early after sustaining an undisclosed injury in the first team period. Shortly after practice, the Eagles made a roster move, releasing tight end Adam Zaruba from Injured Reserve with a settlement. Once healthy, Zaruba is free to sign with another team. – C-Mac

3. The Eagles were in full pads ready to put on a show for the fans. Cornerback Jalen Mills got the crowd into it, encouraging fans to do the wave and they obliged circling the stadium in a counter-clockwise motion. – C-Mac

4. On the first play from 11-on-11 action, Nick Foles dropped back off play-action and threw a beautiful pass right down the chute between the hashes to wide receiver Mike Wallace for a big play. The free agent acquisition from Baltimore played the ball perfectly in the air, tracking it mid-flight, and looking it in over his shoulder, completing the pass to the ground for the explosive reception against Mills. To top it off, Wallace got up and motioned to the fans with his arms outstretched, revving up the crowd in the south end zone. It was a great way to start practice for the offense, but it should be noted that defensive end Chris Long was in the backfield quickly and would have likely sacked Foles in live action. The Eagles were also in their base defense, with Nathan Gerry getting the first-team reps at weakside linebacker next to Jordan Hicks and Nigel Bradham. – Fran Duffy

5. Two plays later, after a second Jay Ajayi run inside, I took note of the nickel personnel on the field with five defensive backs. First off, Michael Bennett lined up inside at defensive tackle next to Fletcher Cox, but more importantly, De’Vante Bausby lined up as the starting nickel corner in this period. Jones (ankle) didn’t participate in team drills on Saturday, giving Bausby his fifth practice of the summer with the first-team unit (six days for Jones, one day for Mills). More rotation happened in the slot on Saturday, but we’ll get to that shortly. – Fran

6. While Fran is looking at the personnel, I’m focused on the play, as safety Malcolm Jenkins came on a blitz, filling the gap where running back Jay Ajayi was headed after taking the handoff. – C-Mac

7. Foles took the next snap and, on what appeared to be a type of Run Pass Option play, handed the ball off to Darren Sproles. The veteran back sprinted to the right side of the field, evaded Jordan Hicks, and took off down the sideline, much to the delight of the crowd, which just finished off an impressive "Foles! Foles!" chant. – Fran

8. It’s a shame that the defensive players are unable to tackle. Running back Wendell Smallwood took a handoff to the left side and hit the truck stick on cornerback Rasul Douglas near the sideline. Douglas probably eased up knowing he couldn’t dish out any punishment. – C-Mac

9. Another practice, another Steven Means tackle for loss. The defensive end is relentless in practice and made a stop in the backfield. Although, I don’t think he celebrated with his trademark stomp celebration. – C-Mac

10. The team moved into the red zone, and Foles took over again on offense. First, he connected underneath with wide receiver Kamar Aiken to start things off then hit Wallace down the near sideline. – C-Mac

11. After the two Foles throws, Nate Sudfeld came onto the field for one of his better throws of the day. Haloti Ngata bull-rushed Chance Warmack back into the young quarterback’s lap, and with his arms outstretched Sudfeld appeared to have nowhere to go. Sudfeld responded by throwing around the former All-Pro defensive tackle, completing a pass to Zach Ertz on an in-breaking route inside the 10-yard line. It was a good catch from Ertz, who had to outstretch his arms but made the reception on the run, but I was impressed with Sudfeld on the play as well on this rep against the second-team defense. – Fran

12. After getting beat in the end zone for a touchdown on Thursday night, Douglas broke up a pass on a fade ball intended for wide receiver Shelton Gibson thrown by Sudfeld. – C-Mac

13. The starters returned to the field on both sides of the ball. The Eagles offense featured a three-receiver set with Wallace, Greg Ward, and Kamar Aiken so, naturally, the defense responded with their nickel defense and five defensive backs. The nickel corner, however, wasn’t Bausby, as rookie Avonte Maddox got his first crack with the first-team unit (at least that we’ve noticed so far in Training Camp). Maddox ran with Ward down the seam as Foles threw to the other side of the field. – Fran

14. Rookie running back Josh Adams got the ball on both of the first-team snaps with Foles at quarterback. First, Adams caught a pass in the flat then took a handoff right up the middle. – C-Mac

15. The second-team units returned shortly afterward, and linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill knifed into the backfield for a tackle for loss against Adams. – Fran

16. With the starters back on the field and the ball on the 5-yard line, Foles dropped back and delivered a picture-perfect touch pass in the back corner of the end zone to Ertz on a wheel route. The star tight end was matched up against Jenkins in man coverage, and Ertz roped in the throw with just his left hand as he fell to the ground and the rest of the stadium jumped to their feet. Ertz begged for a flag on the play, and Jenkins responded by picking up the back pylon and playfully tossing it in Ertz’s direction. It’s important to note, as well, that Derek Barnett was right in Foles’ grill as he delivered the ball, and he actually pulled up when he got there, after beating Jason Peters around the corner on the snap. – Fran

17. Foles and Ertz weren’t done yet, however. On the very next play, quick pressure from Fletcher Cox forced Foles to roll to his left. The Super Bowl MVP kept his eyes downfield, and threw a pass across his body to a streaking Ertz in the back of the end zone as he crossed the field running to his right. It was a beautifully thrown pass between both Jenkins and Rodney McLeod, as the offense continued its success down near the goal line. So far through practice, this is the best I’ve seen the offense look all summer. – Fran

18. The connection between Sudfeld and wide receiver Bryce Treggs still needs work. The timing on a corner route was off and it should have been a wide-open touchdown as Bausby fell down in coverage. – C-Mac

19. On the next play, Shelton Gibson, who jumped onto the scene with a long touchdown on Thursday night, reached the end zone against Douglas. Gibson faked as if he was going inside, then exploded to the corner and separated from his former college teammate, catching a wide-open throw from Sudfeld for what would have been six points. Sudfeld threw two more touchdowns later in the period, hitting Treggs on a slant route (those two finally hook up for a positive play) before ending his session with a touchdown pass to Ertz on another in-breaking route. – Fran

20. At the goal line, running back Darren Sproles was the featured back on Foles’ two snaps. First, they fumbled the exchange. On the second, the defense was focused on the trips formation to the right of the offense and Sproles zipped up the middle for a touchdown. – C-Mac

21. Foles struggles as 7-on-7 action begins, going 1-for-5 in his first set of reps in this drill. He settled for a checkdown on his initial throw, although I think he could have had Gibson who had inside leverage on Ronald Darby. After that first attempt, he went incomplete to Rashard Davis who was covered by McLeod. His third pass was incomplete down the right side intended for Wallace with Mills in coverage. He threw an incomplete pass over the middle for Aiken that was covered tightly by Jenkins and McLeod, and ended the period on a pass that was beautifully broken up by Darby. – C-Mac

22. Carson Wentz came onto the field for 7-on-7 work with the second-team unit, and he went 2-for-3 in the session. His lone incompletion came on his first throw, a deep pass down the right sideline intended for rookie receiver Anthony Mahoungou that was defended beautifully by young cornerback D.J. Killings, who was perfectly in-phase with the much bigger Mahoungou, and leapt up to meet the ball at the catch point and get it on the ground. Wentz followed that up with a pair of completions to Shelton Gibson and tight end Richard Rodgers. – Fran

23. Wide receiver DeAndre Carter made a nice grab on a comeback route, getting the throw from Sudfeld, who then hit Mahoungou on a crossing route. – C-Mac

24. The team got back together for a "move the ball" scrimmage-like period, where the offense started on the 25-yard line. The starters were out there for 10 plays, and the defense kept them out of the end zone after Foles attempted to matriculate the ball down the field. From a personnel standpoint, Grugier-Hill got the first-team reps as the weakside linebacker in this period. Maddox was the starter inside in the team’s nickel package. On offense, Jason Peters and Halapoulivaati Vaitai with the first team at left tackle. The plays that stood out most to me were Derek Barnett’s tackle for loss against Ajayi, Aiken’s athletic catch on a slant route from Foles, and Sproles’ short reception on a bubble screen that got the crowd excited when he sprinted down the left sideline. – Fran

25. I thought that Ajayi looked good catching the ball out of the backfield. It’s the one area where he needs to show progress from last season to ensure he can be counted upon for all three downs. With the advantage that running backs can have in space against linebackers in the passing game, you can’t just say a player like Sproles is a ‘’third-down back’’ anymore. You need to be proficient enough for every snap. Speaking of Sproles, my second example of a play where I would have loved to see the defense try and make a stop – Sproles gets the ball in the flat from Foles with room to run. McLeod comes up to him near the sideline in position to make a pop. Would have loved to see the ending to this. – C-Mac

26. With the second-team units out on the field, the play that stood out most to me was made by Means. The offense tried some trickeration with Ward getting the handoff on an end-around, but Means sniffed it out beautifully, wrapping the second-year receiver up in the backfield for a loss on a drive that ended with a field goal. – Fran

27. After struggling with some short passes and screens Thursday night, it seemed like the Eagles wanted to use this team session to try and clean those up. – C-Mac

28. The final period of the day begins with some 7-on-7 work in the red zone, and Wentz gets the nod with the first-team unit. I thought his best throw of the day happened on the very first rep where he ripped a touchdown throw to Davis through traffic in the back of the end zone for the score. Head coach Doug Pederson talked about an increase in Wentz's velocity before practice and it showed here. – C-Mac

29. The defense finally finds the kryptonite for Ertz in Mills. I counted two pass breakups by Mills on potential scoring throws to No. 86 in this drill. Linebacker Nigel Bradham also had a pass breakup on a ball intended for tight end Richard Rodgers. The other tight ends showcased the depth at the position as Billy Brown and Joshua Perkins came away with scores during this period. – C-Mac

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