The new normal: Practice tempo used as game reps

Understand this about the way Eagles head coach Doug Pederson approaches practices, takes pride in the tempo, and the intensity each day at the NovaCare Complex, that there is a whole lot more going into the evaluation of players than the reps they get in the preseason games.

The NFL is evolving, folks, and that includes the way the coaching staff wants to look at players. No longer is it a guarantee that the “starters play at least a half” in the third preseason game, as has kind of been an unwritten rule for many seasons. The trend across the league is that starters are playing fewer and fewer snaps in games and playing more snaps in the practices.

“This is the thing, a game rep, yeah OK, but if you watched practice today, this is a game,” Pederson said on Saturday when asked a question about running back Miles Sanders. "We're not tackling to the ground, but from a contact standpoint, from reading the hole, from burst, acceleration, these are game-like practices.”

So, the practices are one part of the evaluation. And then there are the games. And based on Thursday night’s preseason opener and moving ahead to this week’s game in Jacksonville, there are plenty of news and notes to provide, especially regarding player development …

FIRST, AN INJURY UPDATE

The Eagles have one eye on the here and now, and one eye on the regular-season opener against Washington. The goal is to be ready to start the regular season fast. To that end, don’t expect to see the likes of offensive right tackle Lane Johnson (knee) in the preseason. Same with second-year tight end Dallas Goedert (strained calf). Starting right defensive end Derek Barnett is back at practice and said his shoulder feels good and that he’s on track to go for September (more on him in a moment).

The rest of the injury report: Safety Blake Countess suffered a hamstring injury on Thursday night and will miss several weeks. Wide receiver Shelton Gibson is week to week with an ankle injury. Defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway has a concussion. Quarterback Nate Sudfeld will miss multiple weeks with a wrist injury. Cornerback Jalen Mills remains on PUP but ramped up his running. There is no telling how long before he’s able to practice again.

Linebacker Paul Worrilow is back in uniform and is practicing, a promising sign. He needs reps to have a chance to make this team.

MATT PRYOR SHOWS SOME VERSATILITY

Until just a couple of days before opening the preseason, second-year offensive lineman Matt Pryor had been working at right guard trying to make this roster. Then the coaching staff moved him to the left side in practice and against the Titans he played 50-plus snaps (he estimates, it turned out to be 48) at left guard and left tackle.

The verdict?

Anything to make the team.

“It went pretty well for the first time being on the left side. Overall, it was good. Penalties killed me (he was whistled for one illegal use of hands and one holding penalty), so I have to be better there,” Pryor said. “It was a good experience. I like to move around a lot and show my versatility. I’ve had some reps the last two days on the left side, so I think I’ll be more comfortable and prepared for this next game.”

The Eagles are looking for great depth to back up what should be an outstanding offensive line and Pryor is definitely in the mix.

“It doesn’t matter where they want me to play," he said. "I’ll line up wherever they want. I just want to be here to help the team in any way I can.”

DEREK BARNETT: AN EXERCISE IN PATIENCE

An in-season shoulder injury and resulting surgery dampened Derek Barnett’s 2018 campaign, his second in the NFL, and put him on a strict rehabilitation program to get the shoulder right before he was cleared to go all-out in practice. He’s cleared, he feels good, and he learned something about himself along the way.

“I had to be more patient through all of this, and I’ve made that a priority. Patience with my rehab,” Barnett said. “It was boring. Really boring. But I had to push through and I’m glad I did. It feels good. I’m glad to be on the field.”

The Eagles need Barnett, their first-round draft pick in 2017. He and Brandon Graham are expected to be the starters on the edges in a defense that relies on the front to dominate. The pieces are all there, especially now with Barnett healthy and ready to go.

THE ROOKIE BATTLE: CB HARRIS DOES IT RIGHT

You may not know much about cornerback Ajene Harris. He played collegiately at Southern California, didn’t get drafted and then came to Philadelphia for a look-see in the spring Rookie Camp but was not signed to a contract. When the Eagles had an emergency need to get some healthy bodies at cornerback for Thursday’s preseason opener, they signed Harris two days before the game.

Harris flew to Philadelphia and referred to the notes he had taken during his weekend with the Eagles, took about eight reps in practice, and then suited up and impressed against the Titans.

Score one for mental preparation.

“This game is 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical,” Harris said on Sunday. “I’ve been keeping notes since my high school days, when I was a quarterback. It helps me so much to write down the plays. That kind of repetition is a big thing for me.

“Going into the game, I had an idea of what they wanted me to do, and the rest of it was just going out and playing ball. I’m here to give it everything I’ve got. You never know how long you’re going to last in this league. I have to make the most of every opportunity I get.”

JORDAN MAILATA MAKING STRIDES

Tackle Jordan Mailata started Thursday night at right tackle and played more snaps on offense than any other Eagle.

“I think I played good,” Mailata said on Sunday, talking about his preseason play against Tennessee. “I think there were a few technique-based errors that I knew, but in the course of the game I thought I knew better and it turned out that I needed to trust my coaching there and I would have been fine. Other than that, I think I did well.”

Mailata is now taking first-team reps at right tackle and playing against first-team defensive linemen, and that’s a very critical step forward for the second-year football player. The Jordan Mailata Experiment ramps up for the rest of the preseason with Johnson out and Mailata in.

“I think I took a big step,” Mailata said. “Stout (offensive line coach/run game coordinator Jeff Stoutland) said I did really good. But, like I said, the technical errors are things that I can fix. I will fix them. Last year, I didn’t know anything about making technical errors, so I’m making a lot of progress there, too.”

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