Eagles rookie Elijah Qualls returns for minicamp, tries to catch up

Eagles rookie Elijah Qualls returns for minicamp, tries to catch up

As Elijah Qualls stepped on the field Tuesday in the blistering mid-morning heat, the young rookie defensive tackle admittedly didn't know what the heck was going on. 

Forced to miss the Eagles' OTAs this spring because of an antiquated and silly rule that prohibits players from schools on quarters systems from being with their NFL teams until after graduation, the sixth-rounder from Washington estimated he didn't know 70 percent of what was going on Tuesday. 

So he was learning on the fly.

"I honestly didn't know much of what I was doing," Qualls said after practice on Tuesday. "If you don't even know your job, but you go out 100 percent, you can control effort and everything like that. That's just what I planned on doing. 

"If I can think of the play and understand what my job was before the play, I went and did it. If I couldn't, I did the best I could on trying to do my job and then just got upfield, going 100 percent, trying to make a play, [being] a football player." 

The first time Qualls, 22, heard about the rule for schools on the quarters system, he didn't realize how much time he would miss. Qualls, who left school after his junior year, was at the rookie minicamp after the draft, but wasn't allowed back until this week's mandatory minicamp. That's a month away. 

Along with Qualls, fellow Washington product and second-round pick Sidney Jones was also forced to stay away during OTAs while he rehabs from a torn Achilles that will keep him out for at least the start of the 2017 season. 

While Jones used FaceTime to keep in contact with Cory Undlin during his time away, Qualls got phone calls from defensive line coach Chris Wilson to help keep him updated. But Wilson had OTAs to help run and players in the building to coach, so the phone calls weren't a daily occurrence. 

And while Qualls had an iPad to watch practice from OTAs, he was just able to watch and wasn't able to have the coach explain the concept of the play and the adjustments. He just had to take it without guidance. 

But Qualls said learning playbooks and catching up won't be a problem for him. He'll just need to put in the extra work. 

Tuesday, though, wasn't easy. 

"It was a little bit of a struggle," Qualls said. "I felt like I was a little bit behind some of the people. But it was exciting, man. Happy to get out here, get in practice with the vets and everything like that."

During his first practice with the entire team, Qualls said veteran Pro Bowler Fletcher Cox offered him tips and guidance on the plays, and rules when he could. 

"A little crash course," Qualls called it. 

"He's a very, very explosive kid from what I saw when he first got out there," Cox said. "When we first got out there, I know it's his first day and he got thrown a curveball, so he didn't have a chance to go to meetings and my message to him was to watch the guy in front of him. 

"I told him if I get a play, nine times out of 10, when his rep goes, he'll get the same play. Watch the guys in front of him and he'll just learn it."

Qualls was the 214th pick in the draft this spring, but he thinks he should have gone much higher. The Eagles are hoping he's right. 

At 6-1, 321, Qualls is still learning to play on the defensive line. Before college, he was his high school's primary running back at 265 pounds. There weren't many volunteers to tackle him from opposing teams.  

During his time away from the building, Qualls spent about a month working out 1-on-1 with pass-rush guru Chuck Smith, who also works with Derek Barnett and Marcus Smith on the Eagles, as well as players like Von Miller and Aaron Donald. 

During the pre-draft period, Qualls' pass-rush ability was questioned, but the young pro said the time with Smith was huge as he continues to learn how to play defensive line. It was the first time he ever had 1-on-1 instruction like that. 

"I don't have as much time on the defensive line as some people do," Qualls said. 

He's been trying to catch up for a while. So maybe a month away won't be a big problem after all.

Eagles rookie CB Sidney Jones cleared to practice

Eagles rookie CB Sidney Jones cleared to practice

On a day that will be remembered most for a player the Eagles lost to an injury (see story), they did learn that they are getting another player back after a long injury rehab.

The Eagles are finally going to get a look this week at rookie second-round pick Sidney Jones at practice. Whether he actually gets into a football game this year is still in doubt.

Eagles head coach Doug Pederson said that nine months after he blew out his Achilles and eight months after the Eagles drafted him, Jones has finally been medically cleared to practice and will participate to some extent Wednesday when the Eagles get back to work following their win over the Rams Sunday in Los Angeles.

“We're just to the point of just want to see him out there running around, doing football activities outside of the normal workouts that he's been doing,” Pederson said Monday. “Just really changing direction and doing more football work this week.”

Jones tore his left Achilles during his pro day workout on March 11 and has spent the entire season so far on the reserve-non football injury list, which is for players with preexisting conditions dating before the first day of practice.

The Eagles had a window running from Week 7 until this week to activate Jones for practice, and once he practices on Wednesday, they’ll have 21 days to either activate him to the 53-man roster or shut him down for the year.

The Eagles have the luxury of taking their time with Jones, thanks to the play of starting corners Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby, slot corner Patrick Robinson and fourth corner Rasul Douglas.

Before his injury, Jones was projected as a first-round draft pick. The Eagles got him with the 43rd pick, but even if he doesn’t play until opening day next year, he will still be only 22 years old and under contract through 2020.

Jones had nine interceptions, six forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, 8½ tackles for loss and 145 tackles in 40 career games for the University of Washington.

It remains to be seen where Jones will fit in next year, but Robinson, although he has played well, is due to become a free agent this offseason and turns 31 in September.

Douglas and Jones are signed through 2020, Mills through 2019 and Darby through 2018.

Doug Pederson adamant Eagles can overcome the ultimate loss

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Doug Pederson adamant Eagles can overcome the ultimate loss

Remember when the Eagles lost Jason Peters and Jordan Hicks and Darren Sproles and plenty of folks thought the season was over? 

Doug Pederson does. 

Sure, this isn't exactly an apples-to-oranges comparison. Losing a left tackle or a middle linebacker or a running back isn't the same thing as losing an MVP-level quarterback entering his prime. It would be unfair to suggest they're the same. 

But Pederson has seen his team hurdle over every obstacle this year. With the biggest one yet now in front of it, it's his job to convince his team it can do it again. 

On Monday, Pederson tried to convince fans who have prematurely canceled Christmas. 

"To the fans out there, you can't lose faith," Pederson said. "This has been a resilient football team all season long. If there's ever an opportunity for me as a head football coach to rally the troops, now might be the time. 

"We just came off a tremendous victory to win the NFC East. Guys are riding extremely high. It's a little bittersweet. But you know what? We've got the Giants this week and we've got an opportunity to ... if you win Sunday, you get a first-round bye. There's still a lot to play for. That's what's exciting about this season. We're still playing for the opportunity to hopefully be in that game."

Pederson, just after delivering news of a torn ACL, was adamant that his team can overcome the loss of Carson Wentz

"It sure can," he said. "Heck yeah." 

It won't be easy. Before leaving Sunday's game, Wentz threw his 33rd touchdown pass of the 2017 season, breaking the Eagles' franchise record that had stood since 1961. But more than touchdown passes, Wentz made special plays seemingly every week, plays that only a handful of quarterbacks in the world can make. 

Nick Foles is a pretty adequate backup, and he did a nice job when called upon against the Rams. But he ain't Carson Wentz. Everyone, including his teammates, knows that. 

It's just that they don't have time to wallow in the loss of their superstar leader. Next weekend might be huge. 

A win against the Giants would earn the Eagles a first-round bye. A win against the Giants, paired with a Vikings loss, would earn them home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. After another obstacle was dropped in front of them on Monday morning, the Eagles can still help themselves. 

Pederson's role in all this is vital. He has to be the guy to hold it all together.  

"It's huge," he said. "I think even the guys felt it after the game yesterday. We just rally and we support the next guy. From my standpoint, you don't waver, man. You don't let people see you sweat, you just put your head down and you go to work. You get everybody ready to play. It was evident yesterday when Carson was out of the game, you saw Nick come in and come back and lead us to victory in that game. That right there is a great step in the right direction."