Two practices down, one to go. Here are 10 observations that featured wins by both sides of the ball.
1. The party started for the offense in the first team period as wide receiver DeSean Jackson took the top off the defense by running a deep post and hauling in a touchdown throw of 50 yards from quarterback Carson Wentz. The sidelines erupted as Jackson showcased the spark that the offense is hoping to see throughout the 2019 season. But one thing to note is that Jackson is more than a vertical threat. Later in the team period, he won on a comeback route as Wentz was under pressure from a blitz.
"He's been awesome in the meeting room," said receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside of Jackson. "He's more than helpful. I ask him stuff all the time on the field, in the classroom and he just helps. He does everything he can to make sure that you understand what you're asking for and he goes out there and makes plays like catching those posts and then it's like what he's saying is the truth. It's been awesome."
2. Cornerback Avonte Maddox is no longer a rookie and he isn’t an unknown. He’s just a darn good football player who has, it appears, settled in on the island after splitting time at safety in his first Eagles season. Maddox has been around the football throughout the spring and had a big interception on Wednesday.
The Eagles don’t have a depth chart, as we all know, so they’re just rifling through personnel combinations now, but it’s going to be tough to keep Maddox off the field. In this camp, Maddox and Sidney Jones have been taking first-team reps at cornerback on the outside, with Cre’Von LeBlanc the nickel cornerback. Neither Ronald Darby (knee) nor Jalen Mills (foot) have practiced this spring.
3. Fletcher Cox is at the mandatory minicamp this week, but still isn’t ready to take part in the practices. Those reps are being eagerly gobbled up by the rest of a defensive tackle class that is as deep and talented as any the Eagles have had in a number of years.
“We have some young players who are really stepping forward,” defensive line coach Phillip Daniels said earlier this week. “We’ll know for sure when the pads go on, but you can see the competition. They all are getting after it.”
That was evident in the one-on-one drills on Wednesday as the D-line worked on its individual pass-rushing skills and in stunts and twists against the Eagles’ offensive line. It was an impressive showing by a defensive tackle group that added Malik Jackson as a free agent, traded for Hassan Ridgeway during the draft, and re-signed Tim Jernigan in the latter part of free agency.
Add it all up and the Eagles appear fairly stacked at the position.
“This fits my style,” Ridgeway said earlier in the spring. “Play downhill. Attack. Get off the ball fast. I love this. You win by beating your guy at the line of scrimmage and then getting into the backfield. That’s what we’re doing here. Coach Daniels wants us to be aggressive and physical. That’s my game.”
How will it all play out? We are going to see when Training Camp begins and the cream rises, as it always does. The Eagles want to have the best defensive line in the NFL and they’re off a promising start. But as Daniels said, we’re not going to know for sure until the pads go on. The spring, though, has been extremely promising.
4. Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert get all the attention at tight end, and deservedly so, but the Eagles feel very, very good about the depth they’ve accumulated at that position. Richard Rodgers, in his second season in the offense, looks so much more confident and comfortable in the scheme and has caught everything thrown his way this spring. There is more at the position, though. Joshua Perkins helped the Eagles early last season as a “move” player in the offense and has excellent receiving skills and works hard at blocking. Will Tye has 94 receptions in 32 career games. How many teams have five players at tight end with legitimate NFL experience? This is a huge position of strength, so it’s going to be interesting to see how the Eagles play it in the summer.
5. The Eagles bolstered the running back position with Jordan Howard and Miles Sanders this offseason, but don't forget about Wendell Smallwood, who was a valuable contributor down the stretch of the 2018 season. Not only does Smallwood have burst out of the backfield, but he's adept at catching the ball as well. In a red zone 7-on-7 drill, he beat the safety to the back, right corner of the end zone and Wentz threaded a laser past the safety's head for the touchdown. The Eagles have also lined Smallwood out wide of the formation to see how the defense responds with either a linebacker or a defensive back. Late in practice, during a team drill, Smallwood did a great job plucking the ball from over his head on a pass attempt in the flat.
6. On the following play after Smallwood's touchdown, Wentz did an outstanding job looking off the safety and darting the ball to the trusty Ertz in the back of the end zone. Credit to Ertz who made sure to get both feet in bounds. Great pass. Excellent execution all the way around.
7. Nelson Agholor is sidelined with what head coach Doug Pederson described as a lower-body injury, but was out on the field bringing some juice and helping the young receivers. He also spent some time with the referees going over releases to see what type of contact is allowed.
8. Another strong outing from young wide receiver Marken Michel. During a 7-on-7 drill, broken coverage allowed Michel to catch a wide-open pass out of the slot. But as the defensive back slowly came up to touch him to end the play, again no tackling here, Michel cut to the corner and raced away from the defense for a touchdown. Good hustle from Michel, who is taking advantage of the extended reps during this minicamp.
9. Even with the veterans all accounted for, there is still plenty of teaching that takes place during the minicamp. The individual drills were extended during Wednesday afternoon's practice to make sure that the coaches can hammer home the finer details before the more competitive settings.
10. The final team drill included an interception from safety Andrew Sendejo, who capitalized after the quarterback rolled to his right and fired the ball against the grain back toward the middle of the field. But the day ended with an interception from linebacker L.J. Fort in the end zone.
"It was awesome," Fort said. "The guys were getting on me for dropping one yesterday, so it felt good to finally get my hands on a ball. It's always good to do that as we're working on the details and putting everything together."