The first day of OTAs started off with great intensity as the Eagles were eager to begin new drills on the field.
The Eagles held their first Organized Team Activity session on Tuesday at the NovaCare Complex. The weather was cool and cloudy, but it provided the perfect setting for the first offense vs. defense drills of the offseason. Dave Spadaro provides a notes package followed by observations from Fran Duffy and Chris McPherson.
Jordan Matthews Still A Big Part Of Offense
At first glance, the wide receiver group is far more athletic and deeper in talent than the Eagles employed in 2016, an idea not lost on returning starter Jordan Matthews.
"I love having Alshon (Jeffery) and Torrey (Smith) here, plus the rookies," Matthews said. "We're all working well together. It's going to be fun seeing all the different combinations we can put out there on the field."
Matthews, primarily a slot receiver in his three seasons as an Eagle, figures to see a lot of time there this year as well. How many targets will he get now, with both Jeffery and Smith here? Matthews' 225 receptions rank first among all-time Eagles in his first three seasons, and his 2,673 yards is third most in franchise history in his first three seasons.
"I'm not worried about that at all," Matthews said. "I want to play my best football and win games, win a championship. That's what I'm here to do."
Matthews, in his final year of his contract and the subject of trade rumors in the offseason, said the business side of things isn't a concern.
"The contract, I'm not even thinking about that. I've loved being an Eagle and I would love to continue to play here," he said. "The rumors, geez, that happens to every player in this league. It's not something that I worry about one bit."
A New Look Along The Offensive Line
With Jason Peters not present, the Eagles shifted right tackle Lane Johnson to left tackle and inserted Halapoulivaati Vaitai at right tackle on Day 1 of OTAs. Someday, when Peters is not here …
"You know, maybe that's the plan but right now I just want to be the best player I can be when I step on the field," Johnson said. "Playing left tackle is no big deal to me. I have been taking reps there for years, just in case. I'm used to being on that side."
At left guard, Isaac Seumalo took reps with the starters as Allen Barbre nursed a calf injury. Even when Barbre is healthy, Seumalo is going to be difficult to displace. The second-year man who played both guard spots and right tackle last year has a bright future.
"It's only Day 1, so I don't think it means a whole lot," Seumalo said. "I'm just working on my technique, my game, every day. If I get better every day, I have achieved my goal."
A Bigger Jason Kelce?
After answering a series of questions about his future with the Eagles from reporters very patiently, center Jason Kelce shifted over to answering a series of questions about his weight. Kelce admitted during his uneven 2016 season that he wasn't pleased with his performance, and many attributed that to his lack of bulk inside when he works against larger defensive linemen. But Kelce, who said that he weighed in the "290s last year, more than I weighed in quite a while," said that technique was more to blame for the inconsistencies in his game.
"I was pretty heavy last year at the start of the season and I did a pretty good job of holding the weight," said Kelce, who said he is now at 295 pounds and would like to get to 300 pounds at the start of Training Camp. "But it doesn't matter how much weight you've got if you aren't using the right technique. I think, early on, there were a lot of things I could have done from a technique standpoint that I could have done a better job on."
Speed Off The Defensive Edge A Plus
It was obvious how improved the Eagles are at defensive end with Derek Barnett joining Brandon Graham as a first-team defensive end. Barnett showed a very fast first step and Graham, of course, has a great get off.
Having those two on the edge, along with Tim Jernigan – who was relentless on Tuesday – and Fletcher Cox inside gives the Eagles a strong first foursome.
"The idea is to get after it and keep going," Graham said. "If we can all stay out there and stay healthy, we're going to have some fun. They want us to be aggressive. That's what we all do.
"There's going to be a bunch of problems on this line. I'm just excited to keep working every day."
- Dave Spadaro
Thirteen More Observations From OTAs**
1. If I had to list the biggest observation from the first day of Organized Team Activities, it would be that LeGarrette Blount's size and physical running style could potentially be a "tempo-setter" for the offense if he can be as productive as he was in 2016 with New England. Listed at 6-0, 250 pounds, Blount has a linebacker's build as he charges toward the line of scrimmage. He is going fit in nicely, especially once the weather turns frosty in Philadelphia. Fran Duffy noted that Blount busted off a couple of big runs in the 11-on-11 action today, and after one big run head coach Doug Pederson made it a point to give a fist bump to the newest option in the Eagles backfield. - Chris McPherson
2. A player I wanted to focus on was Carson Wentz, and the second-year quarterback was a sight for my sore eyes after what's been a long offseason with no Eagles football. Wentz made a number of outstanding throws in practice, including one deep post route to his big weapon on the outside, Alshon Jeffery about mid-way through the session. The Eagles ran a "blitz" period in 11-on-11 action, and it was impressive to see Wentz read the blitz with hard counts before the snap, change protections, and make sure everything was blocked up in front of him consistently in that period. Late in the practice, when he did feel a bit of pressure, he stepped up in the pocket and made an off-balance throw with bodies around him to a streaking Trey Burton downfield on the opposite hash; it was an outstanding throw and a stark reminder of the kind of talent the Eagles have at the position with him in tow. - Fran Duffy
3. An interesting addition to the drills this season are ski poles with a flag on top (see photo above). Wide receiver coach Mike Groh uses them as markers for the players to practice getting in and out of their breaks. The receivers had to weave through them running in the shape of a figure 8 before breaking toward the outside.
"Those ski things, yeah. They're pretty cool," wide receiver Torrey Smith said. "It's a way to focus on bending around versus having a cone where you can cut it short or lean over. It's a stick. You know you have to go past that stick and be as tight as you can to it. I've never seen it before, so it's pretty cool." - CM
4. Coming out of the stretch period to start practice, it was wide receiver Jordan Matthews who broke down the offensive huddle to begin drills. Matthews had a strong day on Tuesday and did most of his work from the slot. - FD
5. The offense spent the early part of the day working on the near side of the practice field, while the defense worked on the far field, so it was tough to always take note of that side of the ball. However, anytime I looked over at rookie cornerback Rasul Douglas he was reeling in passes over his shoulder, showing off the ball skills that led him to being an All-America selection last season at West Virginia in his first year as a starter. - FD
6. If I had to pick a young player who has improved his physique the most from Year 1 to Year 2, at least based off my own eyes, I'd go with offensive lineman Isaac Seumalo. Last year's third-round pick looks a bit sturdier this year in his upper body and really looks the part out here in shorts in May. - FD
7. Rookie receiver Mack Hollins was a player who I wanted to really focus in on today and he did not disappoint. Not only did he look the part with a chiseled 6-4, 220-pound frame, but he moved really well for his size. When comparing the way he got in and out of breaks with other bigger receivers on the roster, it was noticeable how fluid the rookie from North Carolina was in drills. I didn't see him drop a pass all afternoon. On special teams, he practiced with the first-team kickoff coverage unit and was nearly unblockable. I could hear two Eagles defenders commenting about how they didn't want to have to block him in the special teams period at one point. Philadelphia is going to like this kid (and he gets bonus points for not wearing gloves although he said he will wear them once Training Camp begins). - FD
8. A large chunk of the practice was spent in individual or special teams drills, but there were some interesting moments from the 11-on-11 and 7-on-7 periods as well. Wentz hit Jeffery on a curl route on the very first play of full-team action, and as Jeffery ran for a first down it was great to see defensive end Vinny Curry running to the sideline to tag Jeffery out of bounds. Curry played with a lot of energy on Tuesday, seeing reps at both defensive end spots as well as inside at defensive tackle in certain packages. - FD
9. Curry was impressive, but so were Brandon Graham and Derek Barnett. The entire defensive line seemed to explode off the football on Tuesday afternoon, and the three were all very disruptive. Graham flew by right tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai on one play, which would have surely been a sack in live action. Later, he delivered a powerful bull rush against Lane Johnson and put the tackle right in Wentz's lap. The rookie, Barnett, had a number of impressive rushes, and most importantly he flashed the ability to counter with an inside spin move on more than one occasion when he was initially blocked outside. If Barnett can continue to develop that counter move (which was one of the knocks on him by some analysts in the media), it will go a long way toward success early in his career. - FD
10. Rookie running back Donnel Pumphrey was used early and often all around the formation, and it was easy to see how he could be a moveable chess piece for this offense this fall. - FD
11. Getting a chance to see Corey Clement up close in an Eagles uniform for the first time, you get a sense of how big he is as well. The rookie from Wisconsin has a thick frame, and if he can carry over that short-area burst he displayed in college at his size he'll be tough to bring down once contact begins this summer. - FD
12. I didn't know what I expected to see from first-year receiver Greg Ward, but he far exceeded my expectations. A former quarterback who was a dynamic playmaker for the Houston Cougars in the backfield, Ward is making the transition to the slot and he looked really impressive today in my first exposure to him. The rookie not only looked quick and explosive, but he seemed very confident at the catch point, reeling in any pass in his direction with secure, soft hands. The ball barely made a sound when they hit his gloves, which is what you want to see (hear) when you're watching a receiver in person. - FD
13. Ward wasn't the only former undrafted free agent catching passes on Tuesday, as former LSU tight end and today's second-string left tackle Dillon Gordon took a couple of reps as a route runner late in the day, even catching a curl route from Wentz in a drill against the defense. - FD