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.

Jay Gruden 'very upset' Eagles were able to land Carson Wentz

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Jay Gruden 'very upset' Eagles were able to land Carson Wentz

Washington head coach Jay Gruden has faced Carson Wentz just three times so far.

That's all he needed to think Wentz is special.  

"I think he's progressed at a rate as fast as anybody I've seen really," Gruden said on a conference call with Philly reporters on Thursday. "His ability to make plays in the pocket, his ability to stay in the pocket in the face of a rush and still deliver balls accurately, his command of the offense. 

"I think he's already proven this short in his career that he's one of the top quarterbacks in the league, quite frankly, and he's going to be for a long time. And I don't know how he got to Philadelphia. And I'm very upset about that." 

Wentz is 1-2 against Washington in his first three games, but that first win came in this season's opener on the road. In that game, Wentz completed 66 percent of his passes for 307 yards, two touchdowns and one pick, for a passer rating of 96.8. 

And Wentz has gotten even better since then. He's now the favorite in Vegas to win the NFL MVP. 

When asked how daunting it might become to face Wentz twice per season for the foreseeable future, Gruden pointed out that it's similar to the Cowboys and Dak Prescott. Then he pointed out they still have to face Eli Manning twice per season. 

"Every week it seems like we're playing against an excellent quarterback and knowing that Wentz is going to be there for a long period of time just puts a few more gray hairs on my head," Gruden said. "But love the competition and it's our job to get after him and make him uncomfortable." 

While Wentz is clearly the Eagles' quarterback of the future, things are a little cloudier in Washington, where Kirk Cousins is in his second year of playing on a franchise tag. 

Gruden said the "intent" is to have Cousins for the long-term, but it's already been a long saga and there's still no deal in place. 

Cousins has had a crazy career path. He began as Robert Griffin III's backup after being taken three rounds later in the same draft in 2012. But he won the starting job and he's started every game for Washington the last three seasons. 

Thursday, on a conference call with Philly reporters, Cousins said he thought there was a good chance the Eagles were going to draft him in 2012. He felt that way after meeting with Howie Roseman and Andy Reid before the draft. But instead, the Eagles took Nick Foles 14 spots ahead of him. 

After watching the Eagles rotate quarterback since then, Cousins doesn't have any hard feelings. 

"I think the Eagles have ended up with the guy that they want," Cousins said. "I think they're really excited about Carson Wentz and for good reason. They're one of the best teams in the league on third down, and some of the plays he's making off-schedule are very special. I think they're very content and I'd like to think the Redskins are as well. Hopefully, it can make for a great rivalry that a lot of fans can get behind and get excited about, hopefully, for many years ahead."

Doug Pederson responds to Chris Thompson's comments about Eagles fans

Doug Pederson responds to Chris Thompson's comments about Eagles fans

Redskins running back Chris Thompson doesn't want to bring his family to the Linc Monday night because he's afraid of what Eagles fans will do.

Doug Pederson hopes Thompson changes his mind.

"Philly fans are some of the meanest fans I've ever experienced," Thompson told ESPN radio's Washington affiliate, ESPN 980, on Wednesday, according to a story in the Washington Post.

"I heard that's the one stadium you keep your family from going to. My family will be (up from Florida) this week, and they were like, 'I want to come to the Philly game.' I said, 'Absolutely not, you're going to have to wait until Dallas comes around. … I was told that right away my rookie year: Keep your family away."

Pederson said he loves Eagles fans and the energy and passion they bring but also said he hopes Thompson or any opposing player feels comfortable bringing his family to the Linc.  

"I just know that playing at home is a great advantage for us," Pederson said before practice Thursday. "Our fans are great, they're energetic, I love playing at the Linc. 

"You know, I hope every family can watch their sons play. I think it's important that they're there and have a chance to watch their siblings play, brothers, sisters, parents, grandparents.

"Right now in the league, every stadium is great for the home team and ours is no different. We're just excited now to finally be getting a stretch of games where we can play for the home fans."

Thompson, a fifth-year running back out of Florida State, has played at the Linc twice, in 2015 and 2016, both Redskins wins.

The Eagles, 5-1, host the 3-2 Redskins in a national TV game Monday night at the Linc. The Eagles are 8-2 at home under Pederson, including a 2-0 mark this year, although they're only 4-6 at home against the Redskins over the last 10 years.