The first day of minicamp was a hot one! Check out the best of the best...
Tuesday's minicamp practice was moved up nearly four hours to 9 a.m. due to a power outage at the NovaCare Complex. Post-practice film and meetings were held at Lincoln Financial Field. Here are notes and observations from a spirited, but steamy day in South Philadelphia from Dave Spadaro, Chris McPherson, and Fran Duffy.
DT Elijah Qualls: Making Up For Lost Time
Excuse rookie defensive tackle Elijah Qualls if he had trouble sleeping last night. A sixth-round draft pick in April's NFL Draft, Qualls participated in the post-draft Rookie Camp and then was not permitted to attend the team's Organized Team Activities until his University of Washington class graduated on June 10.
He was on the field on Tuesday as the Eagles began their mandatory minicamp, and he was, well ...
"I was stoked, man. Being away from the team because of the rule, sucked," Qualls said. "I actually got some good work out of it, though. I went down to Atlanta and got with a pass-rush coach (former NFL defensive end Chuck Smith). I've been playing D-line only since college. I was a running back in high school, so I've never had the one-on-one coaching like that, so going down there ended up being something really beneficial."
Qualls has these three days to dig more deeply into the X's and O's and to get some of his timing down and to work on his conditioning. Even with missing so much time, Qualls doesn't think he's irretrievably behind in the scheme.
"I feel like I was a little behind. There's a difference between just looking at X's and O's, being able to run the plays physically, and being able to run the plays with your teammates," Qualls said. "The three different levels are entirely different. Until you get to the live reps, you can't replicate that. Being up here and actually going through the plays, I felt like I was a little behind, but that's never been a problem for me to catch up with and be good at. I learn playbooks really well. So, that's not something I'm truly worried about."
- Dave Spadaro
P Donnie Jones: A Different Kind Of Offseason
Another player absent from the OTAs, a decision he made, was veteran punter Donnie Jones. Missing the spring program didn't seem to hurt Jones, who boomed his kicks on Tuesday and looked like he is exactly where he wants to be as he prepares for 2017.
"I actually felt great out there today," said Jones, the franchise's all-time leader in gross and net punting average, as well as most punts dropped inside the 20-yard line. "I feel a lot better than I did last year at this time. I feel rejuvenated and I'm ready to go. It's good to be out here with the guys and to be back with Coach (Dave) Fipp. I'm just excited, man. I'm ready to go."
Jones spent a lot of time in the offseason working on his conditioning and his core body strength, and he incorporated some Yogalates, a fitness routine that combines Pilates exercises with the postures and breathing techniques of yoga. Jones focused as well on the mental part of the game and he returned ready to go.
"I'm ready to roll," Jones said. "I'm exactly where I want to be. I feel great."
- Dave Spadaro
DE Marcus Smith: I Want To Be A Philadelphia Eagle
One of the curious happenings of the spring was the absence of defensive end Marcus Smith from the OTAs. Smith returned for the mandatory minicamp and talked about his decision to stay away from the workouts previously.
"The workouts were voluntary and I stayed home and trained," Smith said. "I don't feel like I missed anything. I know the playbook well. I went home and worked on my pass rush and the things that I would have worked on had I been here.
"The benefit is that I was by myself and working with a coach (Chuck Smith) one on one. I did want to be here as far as being with my teammates. It was just a decision that I made."
Smith said he has not asked the Eagles to release him. In fact, he reiterated his desire to be an Eagle.
"I still want to make this team," Smith said. "I want to be a part of the Philadelphia Eagles."
Smith said he thinks he has a good chance to make the 53-man roster. The 2014 first-round draft pick has recorded four quarterback sacks in his Eagles career, and he faces a tough task making the roster after the team signed veteran Chris Long in free agency and then used a first-round draft pick on Derek Barnett in April.
"I welcome the competition," Smith said. "All I can do is go out there and play my best football. That's what I plan to do."
- Dave Spadaro
Jalen Mills' Pick-Six
Cornerback Jalen Mills had a pretty good day overall. In individual drills, he looked smooth when asked to plant and drive on the ball. After working on those drills through most of the individual period, Mills took that training to a 7-on-7 drill.
Before tryout quarterback Dane Evans took the field, Mills was lined up at left cornerback telling himself that he had to take the ball the other way. On the very next snap, Mills stuck his foot in the ground and drove on an out route by Mack Hollins, picking off the pass, and taking it back for a touchdown.
"A lot of stuff is going on out there - the heat, we had Duce (Staley) out there talking trash to the defense. As a defense, (Jim) Schwartz always says that regardless of the situation, we have to respond to anything," Mills said. "The offense was clicking a little bit. It was time for someone to step up and make a play. At that time, the quarterback threw it to my side. I felt the route and I jumped it."
That's what this time of year is all about; working on small things during individual portions of practice and getting to the point where your technique becomes second nature when you play in live action. It was great to see that play from Mills.
- Fran Duffy and Chris McPherson
MORE OBSERVATIONS: JASON PETERS' RETURN, SIDNEY JONES UPDATE, BOLD THROWS FROM CARSON WENTZ, AND MORE D-LINE DOMINATION
1. Tackle Jason Peters was on the field with his teammates for individual drills and the group installation portions of practice. Peters reported to the team on Tuesday. He missed the voluntary portion of the offseason workouts to rest and get himself ready both physically and mentally for his 14th NFL season. Lane Johnson continued to take the first-team reps at left tackle, while Halapoulivaati Vaitai was on the right side. Isaac Seumalo took the majority of the first-team reps at left guard, but Allen Barbre worked in there as well.
2. Second-round pick Sidney Jones returned to the NovaCare Complex for the first time since the post-draft Rookie Camp. He watched practice from the sidelines.
"It's hard as athletes, as football players. They want to be involved. They want to be here," head coach Doug Pederson said. "But just being back now and being in the meeting room, being around the guys, watching practice, this is where he gets a lot of his mental reps going forward. It was good to see him here, number one, but now it's just getting him caught up learning the defense as fast as possible."
Jones declined to talk with reporters following practice. He said that he wants to focus on his rehab and will do interviews once he's on the field.
3. The Eagles typically welcome in an officiating crew during Training Camp to help players get a feel for how the game will be called during the regular season. For the first day of minicamp, a trio of officials worked with the team. Cornerback Jalen Mills walked by as they were talking with head coach Doug Pederson and director of football compliance Jon Ferrari. Mills asked, "Are they offensive refs or defensive refs?"
4. Veteran cornerback Ron Brooks, coming off a torn quad muscle he suffered against Minnesota last season, looked smoother than I would've guessed. Brooks didn't participate in team drills, but seeing him change direction as well as he was at this point was a good thing to see.
5. Offensive coordinator Frank Reich to the wide receivers while observing a bag drill. "There are no great players who aren't explosive off the ball."
6. The first 11-on-11 play of the morning featured the offense in the "Pony" set, a two-back formation with Darren Sproles and Donnel Pumphrey. The rookie, Pumphrey, lined up wide to the right side of the formation as a receiver. He went in motion. Sproles started alongside quarterback Carson Wentz in the shotgun. Wentz took the snap and faked the throw to Pumphrey before delivering the ball to Sproles in the flat along the right side.
"Well, with the amount of running backs that we have and trying to get everybody reps, it's a great way to get two running backs on the field at the same time and get guys reps," Pederson said. "It also allows us to see what Donnel can do away from the formation or in a receiver position.
"And then, again, just how does that fit into the system? And those are all things that we can get on tape here in practice and make those decisions once we get into camp and then on into the regular season when it comes to game planning."
7. Defensive line coach Chris Wilson said that the Eagles are experimenting with using Fletcher Cox more on the edge in 2017. Cox lined up at left defensive end during an 11-on-11 session.
"I did it last year on a few plays. They thought it was some good stuff, some stuff that we could work on. It gives me a chance to get a one on one," Cox said.
8. Has wide receiver Alshon Jeffery dropped a pass this spring? He has been an ideal security blanket for quarterback Carson Wentz. Earlier today, he hauled in a dart from Wentz that threaded linebacker Nigel Bradham, cornerback C.J. Smith, and safety Rodney McLeod during a 7-on-7 drill.
9. That wasn't the only example of Wentz trusting his arm and what he sees. Wide receiver David Watford was tightly covered by rookie corner Rasul Douglas along the right sideline. Wentz saw a small window to attempt a back-shoulder throw. The throw was incomplete, but it's good to see Wentz use this time of year to take those types of chances.
10. Wentz also had a couple of beautiful long completions with one of them a 50 -yard toss to wide receiver Bryce Treggs, who beat Jaylen Watkins in the 7-on-7 drill for the ball.
11. Second-year cornerback Aaron Grymes looked very quick in and out of breaks during individual drills as well, and he made a really nice pass breakup during a team period later in practice against tight end Trey Burton. Grymes was constantly around the ball last summer during Training Camp and may have made the team had he not suffered an injury during the third preseason game. He rejoined the team late in the season and has been around the football all spring once again.
12. Rookie Rasul Douglas was fun to watch today. He's hard to miss at 6-2, 209 pounds, but his movement isn't common for a bigger corner and he looks like a natural playing the ball in the air. Defensive backs coach Cory Undlin ran a drill where the corners started in a press position and then sprinted down the sideline before a ball was shot from the JUGS machine 40-50 yards downfield for the players to reel in for interceptions. Douglas made a great adjustment on one "throw" to his back shoulder at the goal line, securing it for what would've been a great interception. Later in the same drill, second-year corner C.J. Smith made a diving interception in the end zone.
13. Safety Terrance Brooks was all over the place on Tuesday. A Baltimore Raven at this time last year, this is Brooks' first offseason with the team and he is making the most of it. He made an outstanding pass breakup on a corner route to Bryce Treggs early in one of the first team sessions, one of three such pass breakups that I witnessed from the physical defensive back during the day. A former third-round pick, Brooks has the tools to be a versatile piece on both defense and special teams for the Eagles this fall.
14. Defensive end Derek Barnett was very active today with the second unit behind Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry. He had some great battles with Lane Johnson during different periods of practice and earned himself a number of pressures against various linemen throughout the morning session.
A day before minicamp begins, the Eagles assistant coaches met with reporters at the NovaCare Complex to discuss the current roster.
15. Another addition to the defensive line, Tim Jernigan, impressed today as well. On one play late in practice he completely blew up a play in the backfield for what would've been a sack, showing off an explosive first step along with snap anticipation.
16. The first-team defensive line absolutely wrecked the two-minute drill portion at the end of practice, with both Curry and Graham coming away with sacks on first and second down to send the first-team offense off the field with a three-and-out. The Eagles' offensive line is strong up front, so seeing the defensive side have success is a good sign of things to come for that group.
17. Offensively, running back Wendell Smallwood snagged a nifty one-handed catch on a screen pass halfway through the day. The Eagles ran a lot of screen passes on Tuesday to all of their backs, and that grab by Smallwood was one of the more impressive receptions.
18. On special teams, Darren Sproles, Donnel Pumphrey, and Torrey Smith appear to be the front-runners as far as the punt returners on the roster. When the punt coverage team took the field, Smith and Nelson Agholor appear to be the first-team gunners.