Saturday afternoon was the practice everyone had been waiting for. Finally, the Eagles donned the pads and prepared to "go live." The 6,486 fans cheered on their Eagles throughout, and they were rewarded with a practice filled with big plays and standout players.
Let's take you through practice in chronological order ...
--- During the portion of practice when two receivers ran routes against three defenders on one half of the field, Jason Avant made one of his trademark amazing grabs, reaching fully behind him with one arm and snatching a Michael Vick pass out of thin air, eliciting a big reaction from throngs of Eagles fans.
--- The featured matchup during that drill was the dynamic duo of DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin running against Nnamdi Asomugha, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Kurt Coleman. That combination went head-on three times, with the defensive side of the ball getting the edge two of those times.
--- Brandon Boykin, the rookie fourth-rounder who's competing for the nickel cornerback job, made a nice play during the drill diving to break up a Mike Kafka pass intended for Chad Hall. It was a strong day for Boykin overall, as he made several pass breakups, though his final one of the day, also on Hall, was whistled for pass interference.
--- The first play of the wide receiver-defensive back one-on-ones was the best, as Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie ran stride-for-stride with DeSean Jackson and intercepted a deep ball directly over his head. Rodgers-Cromartie was the standout player of Saturday's practice, as he broke up around six passes throughout practice. One of Rodgers-Cromartie's strengths is his elite recovery speed. Several times, it appeared that a wide receiver had a step deep on Rodgers-Cromartie, only to have the cornerback make up the ground by the time the ball got there. It's a skill that reflects both Rodgers-Cromartie's athleticism and his understanding of the game.
"It depends on how the ball is thrown," he said. "Nine times out of 10, when a quarterback sees a receiver in front of you like that, he tends to float it and let him run under it. That's giving me the opportunity to make up on him."
We also asked Rodgers-Cromartie about one of the more intriguing aspects of his practice demeanor. Despite being one of the fastest players in the NFL, in between plays Rodgers-Cromartie appears to limp around like he's an old man. That's exactly the case, in fact, Rodgers-Cromartie said.
"That's that old man gimp," he said. "I've had that for a long time. That's going to stick with me."
--- After Rodgers-Cromartie, the next standout player of the day was sixth-round rookie wide receiver Marvin McNutt, who had made little impact through the first few days of training camp. His impact began in the one-on-ones, when he skied above Joselio Hanson down the left sideline to haul in a nice catch. The book on McNutt, 6-3, 216, has been that he uses his size well along the sideline and in the red zone.
But when the Eagles finally went live, McNutt, taking advantage of Riley Cooper's absence, made a great play in the open field. With the number two offense working against the number one defense, Mike Kafka took a quick drop and fired to his right for a screen. Kurt Coleman came through unblocked and tipped the pass, but McNutt was able to adjust and catch the ball, before making a defender miss, turning upfield and gaining over 20 yards.
"It was just a screen to the right, (Kafka) came out, one step, it got tipped a little bit, but it still had the velocity to get to me and my linemen and the rest of my teammates did a great job blocking for me downfield and basically got a big gain."
Later in the live session, which focused on third-and-medium situations, McNutt beat DeMeco Ryans on a crossing route for a first down. It was a great showing for McNutt, especially on the heels of the fractured collarbone suffered by Riley Cooper.
"Any time you're playing around great talent, you obviously have to get better, you have to learn from it. As long as you have your eyes open, you see new things you can do and improve on your game that you see from older vets."
--- Ah yes, the live session. Again, the "special category" was third and medium (between four and six yards), a yardage the Eagles offense converted only 40 percent of the time in 2011 (both run attempts last season were successful). It began with the first offense against the second defense, as Jeremy Maclin drew a pass interference call on Jaiquawn Jarrett. Vick then found Jackson for a first down on a designed rollout before the defense made a few plays of their own. First, Brandon Graham, lined up at left end, beat Todd Herremans off the edge for a sack. It was another solid day overall for Graham, who has been impressive thus far. Then, Oshiomogho Atogwe made a nice read and stopped McCoy just short of the first down on a designed draw.
Later, when the first-team offense and second-team defense faced off again, McCoy did well to gain a few first downs on the ground. The other standout play came from Mychal Kendricks, working with the second-team nickel package, when he made a quick read on a tight-end screen, shed a Demetress Bell block and tackled Clay Harbor short of the first down - impressive stuff for the rookie.
--- As for the first-team defense against the second-team offense, the edge did go to the defense. On an early play, with the defense showing an odd front with the defensive ends standing up, Cullen Jenkins came through unblocked by the offensive line with only Dion Lewis between he and Kafka. That matchup went about as you would expect, as Jenkins plowed through Lewis for a powerful sack. Later, Derek Landri single-handedly blew up a run in the backfield.
Lewis actually had a good session though, with two big runs. The first came after shaking Phillip Hunt at the line of scrimmage quickly before reaching the left edge and gaining a first down. On the next play, he took a screen over 20 yards down field before finally being taken down after Marsh caught him from behind.
--- After the live session, the offensive and defensive linemen went one on one for the first time this summer in full pads. The feature matchup was probably the two recent Eagles first-round draft picks going up against each other. Danny Watkins got the better of Fletcher Cox two out of three times, but Cox then received some teaching points from Jenkins. Phillip Hunt was also impressive blowing past D.J. Jones, while three of the contenders for the backup center position (Steve Vallos, Dallas Reynolds and Julian Vandervelde) did well to hold the point of attack.
--- In the final 11-on-11 (non-live) period, Jenkins saw a lot of time at left defensive end. That was in part because Jason Babin had left practice with a calf strain, but also, as Jenkins would say after practice, because the versatile veteran wants to be ready if he's called upon to play outside.
--- During the third-team session, defensive tackle Frank Trotter made a nice play, batting down a Nick Foles pass after some inside penetration.
--- The standout play of that final team period came on an end around to rookie Damaris Johnson, who juked a defender in the backfield and raced around the rest of the defenders all the way down the field for about a 30-yard gain. It would have gone even further, and perhaps even for a touchdown, if Johnson's moves hadn't tripped himself up.
"It was a good opportunity for me to run the ball," Johnson said. "I kind of got a little excited, kind of lost my feet when I saw a lot of green grass, just tried to make a big play.
--- Finally, the team ended with a kickoff return drill. The first-team kickoff return unit actually utilized Lewis as the returnman, despite Andy Reid's suggestion that Boykin is the man to beat for that role, with Johnson in the mix as well. The rest of the first-team kickoff return unit was Ronald Johnson, Phillip Hunt, Julian Vandervelde, Darryl Tapp, Curtis Marsh, Jamar Chaney, Brian Rolle, Akeem Jordan, Casey Matthews and Jaiquawn Jarrett.
Make sure to follow us on Twitter @EaglesInsider.