Jim Schwartz, the longtime defensive genius, said it best on Tuesday when he resisted invitations, many of them, to leap to conclusions about some of his young players. The pads aren't on, he explained. Once that happens, we'll talk.
This is the period of time for players to learn the schemes and to hammer down the mental part of the game so that when the pads go on for Training Camp, the players are confident in their responsibilities and that there are no MAs (Missed Assignments).
That said, there are some observations to make after the media has been permitted to watch two practices. Here is what I've seen and, also, what has been culled from conversations from players and coaches ...
- There is strength in numbers, apparently, for the Eagles at the cornerback positions. Nothing is set in stone, not close to it, as Leodis McKelvin and Ron Brooks have taken most of the first-team reps in the spring. The Eagles are going to have plenty of players in the mix, including second-year man Eric Rowe, who came on strong in his rookie season. The Eagles also like what they've seen from rookie Jalen Mills, who had a pretty breakup on the sideline Tuesday against Jordan Matthews. Mills is a live athlete and if he can get the mental part down and play with consistency, he will get plenty of reps in the summer. Nolan Carroll and JaCorey Shepherd will suit up when the pads go on. McKelvin has been really athletic and quick in the spring, and Brooks is a bulldog on the field. Tenacious player.
- As you would hope, the quarterbacks are throwing the ball really, really well. They've got the red jerseys on, so let's understand the picture here, but it's been exciting to see Sam Bradford so accurate all over the field, and to see Chase Daniel with a command of the short passing game and his quick release. Carson Wentz had a particularly strong day on Tuesday, especially in a seven-on-seven drill when he completed 9-of-10 passes (by my count) with the one incompletion a dropped pass. Bradford is throwing the football far better than he did at any time last year and to measure his mechanics now versus a year ago is not even close. Daniel had a near-interception, but he also threw some darts down the middle of the field.
- Marcus Smith is in his third season and he's lining up in the 9-technique in Jim Schwartz's defense. His job is to get to the football. Can the 2014 first-round draft pick make an impact this season? "I feel like it's the right scheme for me. I know my role and that's to get up the field and make something happen. We don't drop back into coverage much, so if I can win the edge, I win the play. It's a good role for me. It's what I do best." We'll see how it works out. The Eagles have Connor Barwin, Vinny Curry and Brandon Graham, and they think that seventh-round draft pick Alex McCalister has some physical gifts that could benefit the defense if he develops.
- The picture changes when the pads go on, and again this is reminder to not go overboard, but the reps taken now by running backs Kenjon Barner and Wendell Smallwood will help them greatly for the summer. Ryan Mathews was not on the field Tuesday due to an illness and Darren Sproles has not been with the team during the voluntary portion of offseason work. Both Barner and Smallwood look outstanding on the field. They're quick to and through the hole and they're catching the football well. It also appears, and this is very important, that they know where to be for pass protection.
- We might not see Rueben Randle (gallbladder surgery) until Training Camp, but the word is that he was making good progress in the scheme so the Eagles will look forward to seeing him in pads. Jordan Matthews and Nelson Agholor, along with Josh Huff, are the front-line receivers, and Chris Givens had a few really nice catches on Tuesday both on the sidelines (one on a perfect throw from Wentz) and over the middle.
- You will notice a lot of different formations and personnel groupings from this offense. Sometimes the Eagles will employ three tight ends on a play. They also use three wide receivers together. There are bunch formations and more standard sets. The looks are refreshing and designed to keep defenses guessing on personnel packages. One thing for sure: the Eagles are going to use these tight ends a lot.
- While Schwartz resisted talking too much about young players and the progress they've made, he did say that he expected the safety tandem of Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod to be "one of the best in the NFL" this season. Said McLeod about the high expectations: "That's good to hear. I like that. I feel like we're getting to know each other and that we're communicating well and learning the defense together. Malcolm is always in the right position and he's great to work with. I'm looking forward to seeing what kinds of things we can do out there. I'm definitely on board with those kinds of expectations."
- Punter Donnie Jones kicked the living tar out of the football on Tuesday. He looked great. As for the placekickers, nothing has been determined. Both Cody Parkey and Caleb Sturgis are NFL-quality kickers. This competition is going to be decided in the preseason games.
- What's the biggest difference with this defensive scheme and the ones under Bill Davis? Schwartz has his players attacking the line of scrimmage. It is extremely obvious when you watch the defense play. Davis was more read and react. These defensive linemen are shooting gaps on every play. You will be excited watching this group play. If the Eagles can generate heat up front, everything on the back end falls into place. A critical element is the coverage skills of linebackers Nigel Bradham and Mychal Kendricks. They're going to be asked to cover a lot of space.
- Yes, the offense huddles and yes the script of these practices are similar -- maybe exact -- to the practices from the Andy Reid days here. Sure is fun to watch. What it means, exactly, right now? It's the prelude to Training Camp, the warmup act. The players are being challenged mentally and physically until June 10 when they are finished with the Organized Team Activities and they have more than a month to prepare for when the pads go on and Training Camp begins.