10 observations as Eagles begin Round 3 of OTAs

10 observations as Eagles begin Round 3 of OTAs

The Eagles continued their OTA practices in a slight rain Monday morning.

This week, the team practices Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, but media are allowed at just the Monday and Friday practices. 

Next week, the three-day mandatory minicamp begins.

Here are 10 observations from Monday's practice. 

1. Marcus Smith, Jason Peters and Donnie Jones are still not with the team. The trio has missed all of the OTA practices. 

On Monday, Darren Sproles was back after missing some time last week, but LeGarrette Blount (sick) was not on the field. Jordan Matthews (knee) continues to be held out of practice and Mychal Kendricks, who was limited last week with a hamstring injury, wasn't on the field. 

Tim Jernigan sprained his ankle during a team portion of practice and went into the NovaCare Complex building early.

2. The thing everyone always mentions about Alshon Jeffery is his catch radius. He has the ability to make really tough catches and he made one during individual drills Monday: 

3. The play of the day during the team portion of practice came on a long pass from Carson Wentz to Jeffery. Wentz was forced to his left in the pocket and threw across his body for a 35-, 40-yard strike to Jeffery in stride. Those two seem to be building a rapport. 

"It was kind of a broken play," Wentz said. "It was a play-action pass and I just didn't feel comfortable with the routes, they had it covered pretty well. So I just scrambled and made a play. Alshon had really good recognition to take it deep, while Torrey was already kind of in the intermediate area. I just felt confident in giving Alshon a chance and felt confident I could make the throw, so obviously it worked out. We have to see that hopefully on some Sundays." 

And in general, this practice was a much cleaner one for the offense than the last one open to the media. 

4. The best defensive play of the day came on a short pass to Brent Celek. The veteran tight end bobbled the ball just briefly enough that a charging Nigel Bradham was able to snatch it out of his hands and head the other way. (This was the same play where Jernigan got hurt.) 

5. Nelson Agholor was great Monday. He really was. Now, you're probably tired of hearing how good Agholor can be in shorts in early June. For the former first-round pick, it's all about showing it when the games start. With Matthews out of practice Monday, Agholor got a chance to work in the slot again. For whatever reason, the Eagles have been hesitant to use him in this role during the season, but it seems to fit him. 

6. Rough day for rookie wideout Shelton Gibson. He dropped a few balls in the rain and doesn't look as ready as fellow rookie Mack Hollins. I have also seen him try a few moves at the line where he shuffles his feet and almost has them both off the ground at the same time. That will get him knocked on his butt during the season. 

7. At first, when I saw Stefen Wisniewski on the field with the first team, I thought he was getting some reps over Isaac Seumalo at left guard. Nope. The veteran interior lineman was actually lining up in the backfield as a fullback. This is a role that Seumalo had last year, so with Seumalo's starting and with Dillon Gordon out with an undisclosed injury on Monday, it makes sense that Wisniewski needs to prepare at fullback. 

"It's just something we're trying to do, change it up a little bit," Wisniewski said. "Dillon's probably the first guy to do that but he's hurt so I'm getting a couple looks at it. It's definitely different. Anyway I can help the team, I'll do it and it's kind of a fun way to do it." 

8. Terrence Brooks leveled Bryce Treggs during a portion of team practice. It was less of a hit and more of a collision, but it was jarring to watch that type of contact during completely non-contact drills. Sometimes, it just happens. By the way, Brooks had a pretty good day Monday. If you remember, the Eagles added Brooks just before the start of the season off waivers from Baltimore. Last year, he played a mostly special teams role, but it's interesting to wonder if he can supplant Jaylen Watkins as the team's third safety. 

9. I thought it was interesting that defensive tackle Justin Hamilton got some run with the first team when Jernigan went out (Beau Allen is still recovering from injury too). Hamilton went undrafted in 2015 and bounced around from the Bills, Packers to Seahawks before signing a futures deal with the Eagles in January. 

10. The Eagles have been using flags that get driven into the ground instead of cones for drills this offseason. Maybe they were brought here by new receivers coach Mike Groh. The flags are cool because it doesn't allow players to take shortcuts around the cones. They have to get their whole bodies around them. 

Stupid Observation of the Day: While every other player was wearing shorts Monday, tight end Anthony Denham was wearing his game pants. Is it a trend? Does he always do it? Stay tuned later in the week. 

LeGarrette Blount advises Eagles to 'stay humble' after 5-1 start

LeGarrette Blount advises Eagles to 'stay humble' after 5-1 start

With a 5-1 record, the Eagles sit all alone atop the division and conference standings, and are tied for the best mark in the NFL. Their quarterback was recently given the best odds of winning the league’s Most Valuable Player award. So, yes, right now, a trip to the Super Bowl seems to be very much on the table for this squad.

But take it from LeGarrette Blount, somebody who’s won a couple of world championships — the Eagles can’t afford to get caught up in the hysteria right now.

“We could lose 10 in a row,” Blount said Tuesday. “We could go 6-10, so we don't want to jump the gun, jump to conclusions. We want to make sure we take it week by week, day by day, keep a level head and make sure we're going to be ready for whoever the next opponent is.”

Blount is one of only five Eagles players with a Super Bowl ring, and the only member of the roster who owns multiple. The veteran running back won two of the last three years with the New England Patriots organization, which has been a perennial championship contender for the better part of the last two decades.

In other words, Blount knows better than anybody inside the Eagles’ locker room exactly what it takes to not only reach the big game and come away victorious, but also how to sustain that success.

“You have to stay grounded,” Blount. “You have to stay humble and make sure that all the guys that are in the building are on the same page. The coaches, the staff, everybody is on the same page, ignoring the noise, not worrying about what other teams are doing, what other teams' records are – just worrying about ourselves and locked into us.”

Easier said than done given the week the Eagles just had.

After going to Carolina and upending a tough Panthers squad on Thursday night, the Eagles watched as massive blows were being dealt to some of their stiffest competition over the weekend. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers suffered a broken collarbone on Sunday, potentially crippling one of the NFC’s elites for the remainder of the season. And Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott is awaiting word on the status of a six-game suspension that could seriously hamper the division rival.

But the noise can also be Eagles fans and their exponentially rising expectations, or a media that’s quick to point out any tiny flaw and raise controversy.

Blount has experienced the latter firsthand. Two weeks into the 2017 campaign, he finished a game without a carry — an Eagles’ loss — and was averaging 3.0 yards per carry going back to the preseason. The constant questions coming from reporters about his role easily could have become a distraction.

In the four weeks since, Blount has 344 yards on 56 carries for a 6.1 average. He never allowed the noise to get to him, instead becoming a big reason behind the ongoing four-game winning streak.

“We know what we've been doing to get to this point,” Blount said. “We know what it takes, so we just have to buy in to continue to do that, and continue to do every that it takes to continue winning games.

“A big part of it is just making sure you ignore the noise, don't listen to the outsiders, everything that is in house stays in house, and that you make sure and know that everybody that you see on TV isn't in your corner. Sometimes that can discourage the younger guys. Every now and then you'll hear them say, 'Oh, did you hear them say this,' or, 'Did you hear them say that? Or, 'Did you see this,' or 'Did you see that?'

“The big part is making sure that everybody ignores that stuff.”

Blount has been through extraordinary highs and lows in his football career and learned to maintain an even keel. But Eagles leadership has also done a tremendous job insulating players from the kinds of rumblings that have a tendency to create discord and cause entire seasons to come off the rails.

For evidence, look no further than rumors that defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz was trying to undermine head coach Doug Pederson — and how quickly such talk dissipated.

“The veteran groups have a lot to do with it,” Blount said. “I also think the coaches have a lot to do with it — keeping the guys grounded, keeping the guys to where we have to continue to come here and work if we want to continue the success.

“Most of the young guys, all of them have bought into the program, and everybody's locked in and knows their role and what they want to do.”

While Blount wouldn’t go so far as to draw parallels between the ways the Eagles and the Patriots handle distractions, it’s clear he’s been able to quickly establish a bond with his new teammates and coaches since signing in May.

“Every team is different,” Blount said. “I can't compare this team to the New England teams, or any other team. We have a really close-knit team. We believe in each other. Everybody loves each other and we have each other’s backs.”

As far as Blount’s performance on the field is concerned, the best may be still to come. He’s finished with at least 12 carries in each of the last four games, and looked explosive and elusive while doing it. And with extra rest between a Thursday night game in Carolina and this Monday’s contest at home against Washington, the bruising runner said he’s feeling refreshed.

Most of all, it sounds as though Blount is in a great frame of mind and feeling comfortable with all of his surroundings. And if you’re looking for a great read on the Eagles’ situation through six games, just listen to the guy who’s come to expect confetti and parades in February.

Judge grants Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott reprieve, cleared for 49ers in Week 7

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Judge grants Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott reprieve, cleared for 49ers in Week 7

NEW YORK -- Dallas Cowboys star Ezekiel Elliott was granted another legal reprieve Tuesday night in the running back's fight to avoid a six-game suspension over domestic violence allegations.

A New York federal judge issued a temporary restraining order blocking the league's suspension, clearing Elliott to play Sunday at San Francisco.

U.S. District Judge Paul Crotty's ruling came five days after a federal appeals court overturned a Texas court's injunction that had kept Elliott on the field.

Crotty granted the request for the restraining order pending a hearing before the presiding judge, Katherine Polk Failla, who is on vacation.

The NFL was ordered to appear before Failla on or before Oct. 30 to argue why the suspension should not be blocked by a preliminary injunction -- the next step in the legal process -- until the court can rule on challenges the players' union brought against the suspension.

"We are confident our arguments will prevail in court when they are taken up again later this month," NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said.

Elliott, last year's NFL rushing leader as a rookie, was barred from the team's facility Tuesday as players returned from their off week. The NFL placed him on the suspended list Friday, a day after the league's favorable ruling from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.

The 22-year-old Elliott was suspended in August by Commissioner Roger Goodell after the league concluded following a yearlong investigation that he had several physical confrontations in the summer of 2016 with Tiffany Thompson, his girlfriend at the time.

Prosecutors in Columbus, Ohio, decided not to pursue the case in the city where Elliott starred for Ohio State, citing conflicting evidence, but the NFL did its own investigation. Elliott denied the allegations under oath during his NFL appeal.

The suspension's announcement in August led to weeks of court filings, with NFLPA lawyers contending that league investigators withheld key evidence from Goodell and that the appeal hearing was unfair because arbitrator Harold Henderson refused to call Goodell and Thompson as witnesses.

In an opinion accompanying the ruling, Crotty agreed with the Texas judge who had backed the claims of Elliott's attorneys. Crotty wrote that Henderson's denial of testimony from Goodell and Thompson was significant because of credibility issues related to Thompson.

"In effect, (Elliott) was deprived of opportunities to explore pertinent and material evidence, which raises sufficiently serious questions," Crotty wrote.

Attorney Daniel Nash, arguing for the NFL, accused Elliott's legal team of seeking relief from courts in Texas to evade courts in New York and the effect of the April 2016 ruling that reinstated a four-game suspension of New England quarterback Tom Brady in the "Deflategate" scandal.

Nash warned Crotty that allowing the union to continue to delay the suspension would invite "every player who's suspended" to go to court for relief.

"They know under the Brady decision they have no chance of success. None," Nash said.

Attorney Jeffrey Kessler, representing the players' union, said the harm to a player's short career was serious when a suspension is served.

"He can never get that back," Kessler said, arguing that the irreparable harm -- among issues of law considered before a temporary restraining order is granted -- faced by a player is much greater than harm claimed by the league when a suspension is delayed. In his opinion, Crotty agreed.

Nash suggested during the hearing that the union was overstating its claims of irreparable harm.

"In their view, an NFL player missing six games is the end of the world," he said.

Brady managed to delay his suspension for a year through the union's court challenges. He served it to start last season, when the Patriots went 3-1 without him and later won the Super Bowl.

Elliott's case shifted to New York after the appeals court ordered the Texas court to dismiss Elliott's lawsuit, which Judge Amos Mazzant did earlier Tuesday.

A three-judge panel of the New Orleans court ruled 2-1 last week that Elliott's attorneys filed the Texas lawsuit prematurely because Henderson had yet to decide on the running back's NFL appeal.

Elliott's legal team indicated it intended to pursue rehearing before a larger panel of the appeals court while also filing for the restraining order in the Southern District of New York.

The NFL filed in the New York court after Elliott's NFL appeal was denied because the league considers it the proper venue as the home of its headquarters and the site of the hearings before Henderson. It's also where the NFL won the Brady case in the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Eagles visit Dallas in Week 11 on Sunday night, Nov. 19. They host the Cowboys in Week 17 on New Year’s Eve.