10 observations from Eagles OTAs: 2 key defensive players return

10 observations from Eagles OTAs: 2 key defensive players return

It was a picture-perfect day in South Philadelphia. It was 71 degrees when the Eagles began practice at 11:30 a.m. My job (it’s a tough one, but someone has to do it) was to stand outside and watch them practice. 

Even Joe Douglas, a day after his interview with the Jets, was out on the fields taking it all in. 

Here are 10 observations from the Eagles’ seventh OTA practice (third open to reporters) this spring: 

1. Two key defensive players were back on the field Monday. Rodney McLeod, who ended last year on IR after a Week 3 knee injury, practiced for the first time, at least for the first time in a practice open to reporters. McLeod participated in individual drills and group install. He had a big brace on his rehabbed knee. McLeod did not participate in any competitive periods but was with the first team, along with Andrew Sendejo, during group install. This is a positive sign that McLeod will be ready to go for training camp. 

For the first time in an open practice, Zach Brown was a participant. The offseason acquisition isn’t being eased into action either. The veteran linebacker did everything on Monday and even took some first-team reps. He took them at first in just the base package with Kamu Grugier-Hill and Nate Gerry and later in nickel next to KGH. Brown even took some extra second-team reps. 

2. Absent from today’s practice: Nelson Agholor, Alshon Jeffery, Miles Sanders, Malcolm Jenkins, Jalen Mills, Nigel Bradham, Lane Johnson, Jason Peters, Brandon Brooks, Fletcher Cox. 

This is the first day (we know of) that Agholor has skipped. Doug Pederson praised No. 13 earlier in the day (see story). Reminder: These practices are voluntary. 

3. The group of players working on the side field today: Ronald Darby, Corey Clement, Josh Adams, Carlton Agudosi and … drum roll … Mack Hollins! Earlier in the day, Pederson said he’s optimistic Hollins will be ready for training camp. Click here to read more on Hollins. 

As far as the other guys go, Clement was working with a sled and Darby looked good sprinting. The Eagles are hoping they’ll be back for training camp. 

Didn’t see rookie running back Sanders, whom Pederson is holding back. Sanders has a hamstring injury.  

4. Good day for 30-year-old Charles Johnson. The former AAF receiver made a few really impressive catches and has been getting first-team reps thanks to the absences of Jeffery, Hollins and now Agholor. During 2-on-2s, Johnson first ran a great corner route to beat Avonte Maddox. He got him leaning inside. And a little later he made the catch of the day when he rose high to catch a pass from Carson Wentz. He did drop a rifled touchdown pass later in the practice as he was falling backward. It would have been a tough catch, but he should have had it. 

5. DeSean Jackson showed off his speed today but not just as a deep threat outside. As he’s done a few times during these practices, Jackson really worked the seams today as well as the middle of the field. He will, at times, play inside to find specific matchups. Pederson likes to move his receivers around some. On one shallow cross, DeSean pulled the okeydoke on rookie Joey Alfieri. Jackson caught the ball, slowed down just enough and then hit the accelerator. No chance. A little later, Jackson pulled away from Maddox down the seam. Good coverage from Maddox, but what are you gonna do against DeSean? 

6. The throw of the day came during 7-on-7s, on a deep ball from Wentz to Marken Michel. Decent coverage on the pass but Wentz threw it perfectly about 35-40 yards down field right into the hands of his receiver. Beautiful ball, beautiful touch. 

7. Safety Deiondre’ Hall made a couple plays today. First, he tipped a ball in 11-on-11s and later during drills he leaped up and intercepted a ball from Nate Sudfeld at its highest point. Hall is a good special teams player, but wasn’t given a chance to play on defense last year after he was acquired in a trade with the Bears on Sept. 1. 

8. Don’t want to make too big of a deal about it, but Wentz did have a compression sleeve on his left leg. That leg had previously been bare in the first two open practices. Just something to watch because Wentz seemed mighty happy to ditch the knee brace earlier this spring. 

9. Clayton Thorson continues to impress me. The rookie today threw a perfect ball to Braxton Miller where only he could get it. Miller dropped it after Maddox made a nice play to bump him in the air. But the throw was what stood out to me. This kid has an arm. It’s easy to see why the Eagles liked him. 

10. The first team offense struggled a little bit to get the ball into the end zone during red zone drills late in the practice. They got in once on a short pass to Boston Scott, but Wentz missed Zach Ertz in the end zone. Ertz thought he beat Sidney Jones in coverage. Wentz just overthrew it. 

Stupid Observation of the Day: We got a glimpse of Jalen Mills on Monday afternoon. The Green Goblin walked out on the field for a few minutes. He now has a green rat tail to go along with the rest of his green hairstyle. 

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LeSean McCoy; Derek Barnett vs. Mike Mamula in Roob's Random Points

LeSean McCoy; Derek Barnett vs. Mike Mamula in Roob's Random Points

Going deep into the Eagles' slow starts, my all-time top-5 Eagles defensive ends, the latest on Shady and lots more in this weekend's edition of Roob's 10 Random Eagles Points! 

1. The Cowboys are more banged up than the Eagles, the Cowboys have lost three in a row, the Cowboys just lost to the Jets, and it's time for the Eagles to start fast, finish strong, play smart and not just lay claim to first place in the NFC East but reassert themselves as one of the better teams in the NFC. A win over the Cowboys wouldn't lock anything up with nine games to go, but the Eagles have lost three straight to the Cowboys, they're 8-13 in the last 21 meetings (although they didn't play the starters in the 2017 season-ender), they haven't swept their biggest rival since 2011. They've never beaten a Cowboys team with Ezekiel Elliott. It's time to show up. It's time to stop making excuses. It's time to stop complaining about the officials and injuries and go into JerryWorld and win a football game.

2. I don't know if there's a non-QB in the NFL who's more important to his team's success than Ezekiel Elliott. When he rushes for at least 70 yards, the Cowboys are 31-8. When he rushes for less than 70 yards, they're 1-9. The Eagles? They have the No. 2 run defense in the NFL, and nobody has rushed for 70 yards against them this year. This is the first time they've gone six straight games without allowing a back to gain 70 yards since the last two games of 2002 and the first five of 2003. The Eagles will need every bit of that run defense Sunday, but if they can limit Elliott — who's averaged 116 yards and 5.4 yards per carry in four games against the Eagles — they have a terrific chance to bring a win back from North Texas.

3. Nelson Agholor is 12th among wide receivers in 2019 salary ($9.4 million) and 56th in yards (230).

4. I'm convinced one of the reasons for the Eagles' first-quarter struggles is that Pederson isn't being aggressive enough early in games. Take a look:

• The Eagles are running the ball on 57 percent of their first-quarter plays, 34 percent in the second quarter, 43 percent in the third and 41 percent in the fourth. And they have 17 offensive points in the first quarter, 51 in the second, 46 in the third and 33 in the fourth. 

• On first down in the first quarter, they've run on 18 of 31 plays. The only regular QB in the league who's thrown less often in the first quarter is Jameis Winston. 

• The Eagles run the ball the second-most of any team in the NFL in the first quarter, and they're one of the lowest-scoring first-quarter teams in the league. No way this is a coincidence.

5. My all-time Eagles top-5 defensive ends: 1. Reggie, 2. Clyde, 3. Trent Cole, 4. Hugh Douglas, 5. Brandon Graham.

6. After Mack Hollins had a productive 9-for-112 against the Falcons and Lions, I thought, "OK, I was wrong about Mack. He's not bad!" Since then, he's played 108 snaps over three games and has one 13-yard catch. In his career, Hollins has gotten 10 or more offensive snaps 16 times. He's had fewer than 15 yards in 11 of those 16 games. And still, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside can't get on the field? 

7. Derek Barnett hasn't been awful, but the Eagles need more than he's giving them. Barnett has two sacks this year — one in the Jets embarrassment — and has made headlines more for his penalties and fines than his play on the field. This is Year 3 for the first-round pick, and he was hurt much of last season, but for the sake of comparison, Mike Mamula had 11½ sacks in his first 27 games. Barnett has 9½. The Eagles are relying heavily on Barnett to create pressure, and it's not happening enough.

8. I need to see Josh Sweat and Daeshon Hall get at least 20 snaps each. 

9. Brian Westbrook had five 30-yard catches in his first 50 career games. Miles Sanders has five in his first six games.

10. LeSean McCoy apparently has plenty left in the tank. All he had to do was get out of Buffalo. The Eagles' all-time leading rusher is 2nd in the NFL at 5.4 yards per carry (behind only Ravens QB Lamar Jackson) playing for Andy Reid in Kansas City. His 4.5 career average is 7th-highest in NFL history among backs with 10,000 yards. And he now has an incredible 48 career games with 10 or more carries and 5.0 yards per rush. Only Barry Sanders (64), Frank Gore (57), Walter Payton (56), Jim Brown (55) and Adrian Peterson (50) have had more.

NFL Week 7 schedule: Derrick Gunn's 5 games to watch

USA Today Images/Joe Nicholson

NFL Week 7 schedule: Derrick Gunn's 5 games to watch

Here are Derrick Gunn's five matchups to watch for Week 7 of the NFL season.

Vikings at Lions (Sunday, 1 p.m., FOX)

The Vikings' offense bread and butter is supposed to be their ground game, but against the Eagles it was bombs away. Meanwhile, the Lions' defense plays hit or miss. At some points of the game, it's really good, but at others it's really bad, which is the primary reason why the Lions have given up 414 yards per game. Detroit is also playing with a huge chip on its shoulders after getting jobbed by the refs in Green Bay. The Vikings have too much firepower for Detroit to counter — Minnesota will silence the Lions' roar.

Texans at Colts (Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS) 

In their last two games (wins over the Falcons and Chiefs), the Texans have been a scoring machine, racking up a total of 84 points. Houston's offense can explode at any given moment, with 397 yards per game. Their run defense (88 yards allowed) will be a huge test for the Colts' rushing attack (fourth in yards per game with 142). The Colts are coming off a bye will have the heart of their defense back in linebacker Darius Leonard, who missed the last three weeks because he was in concussion protocol returns. For me, the difference is the QB play — Deshaun Watson vs. Jacoby Brissett. The Texans will prove to be to road tough in Indy.

Raiders at Packers (Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS) 

Jon Gruden's well-rested squad hits the road to confront Aaron Rodgers and the mystique of Lambeau Field. Oakland riding a two-game winning streak and is only a half-game out of first place in the AFC West. After a referee-aided win over Detroit, Green Bay is in control of the NFC North. Rodgers is still waiting for his favorite target Davante Adams to return and is slinging it to a bunch of receivers you’ve never heard of, but so far it’s been working. Grudens' attempt to raid Lambeau for a win will fall short.

Saints at Bears (Sunday, 4:25 p.m., FOX) 

What a story the Saints have been in Drew Brees' absence. They win low-scoring affairs and they win shootouts, and Teddy Bridgewater has been a big reason why. In the five games he’s played, he’s completed 69.4 percent of his passes, with seven touchdowns and two interceptions. The Saints' defense is fast and relentless. Speaking of defenses Chicago has one of the best in the business, but they will now be without DT Akiem Hicks, who has been placed on IR with an elbow injury. QB Mitchell Trubisky is finally back at practice this week after healing up from a shoulder injury, but it's not certain if he’s playing on Sunday. Trubisky gives the Bears a better chance against New Orleans, but I’m marching with the Saints' hot streak.

Ravens at Seahawks (Sunday, 4:25 p.m., FOX) 

Ravens QB Lamar Jackson has been a fantasy football dream: 1,507 yards  passing, 11 touchdown passes, 460 yards rushing and two rushing TDs. This past Sunday vs the Benglas, Jackson became the first QB in the Super Bowl era to pass for at least 200 yards and run for 150 in a single game. Then there’s this guy named Russell Wilson who’s playing at an MVP level, with 14 TD passes and no picks. The run game will be vital for both teams in this one. The Ravens are first in the league in rushing at 205.0 per game, and Seattle averages 131. This is the first meeting between these two on the West Coast since 2011. This could be the game of the day, and the day should belong to the Seahawks.

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