Eagles minicamp observations, Day 1: Darren Sproles, baby

Eagles minicamp observations, Day 1: Darren Sproles, baby

The Eagles were back at practice on Tuesday and the whole gang was there. 

Every Eagles player who was healthy enough to be on the practice field today was there, including Michael Bennett and Darren Sproles. 

The Eagles cut their practice a little short but not before getting plenty of competitive work in. Let’s start with a couple of anticipated new arrivals:

1. Mighty Mouse was back after skipping the OTAs. The 34-year-old Sproles says he’s 100 percent but coaches are being cautious with him. That explains why he didn’t get a whole lot of reps in his first practice back. 

But what we did see from Sproles wasn’t surprising. He’s still a physical freak. He didn’t do much, but he still obviously has his quickness. 

The most telling thing about Sproles is how he’s already being a leader for his teammates. First day back and even though he wasn’t fielding punts, he was running with the returners and then giving them tips as they waited in line to get their turn. On Monday, Duce Staley said there’s no question: Sproles is the leader of the running back room. 

And while we’re at it, we have seen the same thing from Jason Peters. For some reason, he helped break down the huddle for the third-team offense once and walked across two fields talking with rookie Jordan Mailata (the rugby project). 

Sproles and Peters are still expected to play at a really high level this year, but they bring more than that. 

2. Bennett made his Eagles practice debut. Before the session, head coach Doug Pederson said Bennett would be worked in with the first team over this minicamp, but he wasn’t with the ones today. 

Instead, Bennett was the left defensive end with the second team, while Chris Long and Derek Barnett worked with the starters. That doesn’t mean much yet, but it’s at least a starting point (see story)

Couldn’t see much from Bennett in one practice, but watching him during individual drills, the thing that did stand out were his hands. They looked violent. 

3. As always, I took attendance at practice. Alshon Jeffery was there, but is still not ready to practice. Brandon Graham (ankle) and Tim Jernigan (back) weren’t out there either. 

Sidney Jones missed practice after already missing some time last week. In the locker room, Jones said he’s doing OK, but is being held out with soreness. Haloti Ngata, Chris Maragos, LaRoy Reynolds and Josh Adams were out there, but not participating.  

4. The good news for Donnel Pumphrey was that he was back at practice after missing the last couple of days in OTAs. He needs every possible opportunity to try to prove his worth and he can’t do it on the sideline. He did show a little flash today. He caught a screen pass in the flat and made a quick and impressive move. A long way to go, but I’m interested to see what this kid does in the summer. 

5. Carson Wentz update time: He looks good. 

Still not involved in 11-on-11s, but he’s getting reps in 7-on-7s and individual drills. He had an up-and-down day as a passer, but at least he looks healthy. That’s the most important thing. 

6. The best offensive play of the day came from Wentz. Down in the red zone, the quarterback rocketed a ball into a tight window to a diving Nelson Agholor in the end zone. He beat an outstretched Ronald Darby. It was a great play all around. 

7. The second-best offensive play of the day came in 7-on-7s, when Nate Sudfeld dropped a beautiful deep ball into Dallas Goedert’s arms for a touchdown. It was a perfect pass over linebacker Asantay Brown, but give credit to Goedert too. He just seems to be able to get open. He made a handful of impressive plays today. 

8. Rough day for rookie corner Avonte Maddox. He was beaten twice in three plays for big gains. First by Markus Wheaton and then by Bryce Treggs. He’s going to take his lumps this offseason, but the Eagles don’t need to rely on him this season. 

9. Poor Darby got crushed on a screen pass when Jason Kelce got downfield to block. Darby is listed at 193 pounds, so Kelce has 102 pounds on him. It showed. The center completely obliterated the speedy corner. These aren’t contact drills, but it’s hard to slow down 295 pounds getting out front to block. 

Despite those last two plays, the defense won the day, although the offense rebounded from a really rough start. 

10. Still need to see more, but I’ve been impressed by Wheaton so far. He has looked good this spring and made a few more catches today. Now, it’s important to remember that he’s a veteran oftentimes going against more inexperienced players, but he’s already shown glimpses of being the player he was before injuries derailed his career. The good thing for Wheaton and the Eagles is that he isn’t needed to be a big part of the offense, but as a fifth receiver, he can give the Eagles some incredible depth. 

Remember, it was just a couple years ago that receiver was a sore spot for the Eagles. Now, they’re really deep with Jeffery, Mike Wallace, Agholor, Mack Hollins, Wheaton, Shelton Gibson, etc. 

Stupid Observation of the Day: This one came from our own Andrew Kulp as we watched impressively-fit punter Cameron Johnston boot a few: “I never realized this, but the punter is jacked.” 

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Eagles might get Mike Wallace back this season after all

USA Today Images

Eagles might get Mike Wallace back this season after all

Eagles offensive coordinator Mike Groh held his weekly press conference on Monday afternoon and hit a number of topics pertaining to the Eagles' offense. 

Here are three takeaways: 

Hoping for Wallace

Eagles veteran wide receiver Mike Wallace is on injured reserve after fracturing his fibula in Week 2, but the Eagles are still holding out hope Wallace will be able to return this season. 

"Hopefully, Mike's progressing and we get a chance to get him back here this season," Groh said. 

Wallace wouldn't be allowed to return until Week 11 against the Saints, which could force the Eagles to make a decision sooner. Both Mack Hollins and Richard Rodgers, placed on IR before the start of the season, would be eligible to return before Wallace. And the team is allowed to bring back just two players from IR each season. So if they get to a point when Hollins and Rodgers could return, the Eagles might have to try to determine if Wallace will be able to come back in Week 11. If he is, it would obviously be worth holding a spot for him. 

Without Wallace, the Eagles have lacked a consistent deep threat, which is what Groh was asked about when he volunteered the hope that Wallace would return. Groh even admitted the deep threat is "an element that we're searching for a little bit." 

Despite Shelton Gibson's obvious speed and tracking ability he showed making that 48-yard catch against Minnesota, it's clear the Eagles aren't trying to expand his role greatly. 

Back on the field

Corey Clement returned on Thursday night after missing two games with a quad injury, but Groh said Clement wasn't on a "pitch count" in that game. He said Clement was "full-go." 

That seems hard to believe based on the fact that Wendell Smallwood got 44 snaps to Clement's 26. Maybe Clement wasn't on a snap count but I'd still expect his workload to increase as he gets further away from the injury. 

"He adds a lot to our offense both as a runner and a receiver and he's always done a really nice job of being conscientious in protection," Groh said. "Having him back and available certainly is a boost for us offensively."

No, no, yes!

I can't stop watching Carson Wentz's first touchdown pass from the Giants game. He rolled to his right and then threw across his body about 30 yards into Alshon Jeffery's arms at the back of the end zone. It's a ridiculous play that about three guys in the world can make.

But it's also the exact type of play quarterbacks are coached not to make. It's a recipe for disaster. It's a play that will make coaches lose their minds. But Wentz can make those throws. 

So does the staff have to change its coaching points because of how special Wentz is?  

"No, we still want to play disciplined football," Groh said. "It's kind of one of those plays where you're like, 'No!' and then, 'Yes!' One of those kinds of deals. But we have absolute trust and confidence in Carson, and his ability to see the field and make the right decision."

So … good play. Don't do it again. But if you do, it better work. 

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What convinced the Eagles that Avonte Maddox could play safety

What convinced the Eagles that Avonte Maddox could play safety

When the Eagles lost starting safety Rodney McLeod for the season, rookie fourth-round cornerback Avonte Maddox was the unanimous choice among the coaching staff to replace him.
Even though he’s not a safety. And had never been a safety. And stands 5-foot-9. And is a rookie fourth-round draft pick who hadn't played a snap on defense in a regular-season game.

Didn't matter.

Still a no-brainer.
On Monday, in a rare chat with writers covering the team, Eagles secondary coach Cory Undlin shed some insight into how and why that seemingly out-of-the-blue decision was made.

“We took Rodney out of the picture and talked about it as a staff and Avonte gave us the best replacement for Rodney. Kind of the same body type, speed, change of direction. Avonte’s tough, now. I think that position of free safety kind of gets overlooked sometimes, like, ‘Oh, the guy’s just standing back there in the back part of the field.’ But the ball comes ripping through there. (You have to be able to) get the guy on the ground, and we all felt more than comfortable with Avonte in that role, being able to get people on the ground. He’s got great range, he’s fast, really, really smart back there, he’s got great awareness. Some of the things he’s done the last two weeks it’s been like, ‘Wow.’ He’s stepped in there without hesitation.”

It was a surprising decision, but Maddox played well enough in his NFL safety debut against the Titans that he started against both the Vikings and Giants with impressive results.

The Eagles only allowed two touchdowns in those two games, only one of them through the air. Maddox has been sound in coverage and tackling so far. 

For a guy playing in the NFL for the first time, it's been quite an auspicious debut.
Maddox wound up moving into the slot when Sidney Jones got hurt early in the Giants game, and Rasul Douglas took over at safety, but the Eagles really believe they’ve discovered a safety in this 5-foot-9 22-year-old.
“I spent some time with him at his pro day and talked to him and all the research we did, there was no question marks on (whether) the guy can learn,” Undlin said.
“Sharp kid. He gets ball. He loves ball. If you get it and love it you’ve got a chance. You can be the smartest guy but if you don’t love it, it’s not going to matter.
“Being around Avonte in spring (workouts) and training camp and watching him grow I wouldn’t have expected any less.”
Maddox was just starting to get settled at safety Thursday night when Jones got hurt on a punt return.
It was time for Maddox to move into a second new position in three weeks.
“Avonte knew he was next, the players knew he was next,” Undlin said. “It happened on a punt return and we’re going on defense and it’s like, ‘Hey, OK, you’re the nickel when we go to nickel.’
“‘Hey Rasul, go tell Avonte to play nickel.’ And (Avonte just said), ‘OK, no problem.’
“You’re looking for a good tackler, a guy that watches a lot of tape, that’s smart and understands what’s happening before it happens. And Avonte is who that was.”
What next?
Look for Maddox to stay in the slot as long as Jones is out. When he comes back, Maddox goes back to safety.
If Graham and Jones both remain out, that second safety spot could be Douglas again or it could be either Tre Sullivan or Deiondre’ Hall.
The common denominator is Maddox. He’s not leaving the field anytime soon.

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