Is it too early to declare a winner in the left tackle competition? Yeah. But I’m going to do it anyway.
A look at Andre Dillard vs. Jordan Mailata, early surprises of training camp, an evaluation of Jalen Hurts through four practices and much more in today’s 10 Eagles training camp observations!
1. OK, I know it’s only four days without pads, but I’ve seen enough. No way Andre Dillard is winning the left tackle job. OK, it’s possible Dillard will bounce back from his slow start, and maybe once the pads go on starting Tuesday morning he’ll acquit himself better. Some guys get the competitive juice going when padded practices begin. But I’m just not seeing it. It’s only a few days, but Mailata has really taken ownership of this competition. He’s just better than Dillard. And it’s not even that close.
2. My biggest takeaway of the first four days of practice is just how loaded this defensive line is. There’ve been times where it’s tough for the offense to put together any sort of consistency in team drills just because the d-line has been blowing stuff up so routinely and dominating an o-line missing Brandon Brooks and Isaac Seumalo. The Eagles had a top-5 d-line last year, and now you add Ryan Kerrigan and Milton Williams? Along with hoped-for big jumps from Josh Sweat and Javon Hargrave? This is a group that’s deep, talented, experienced and versatile, and there’s going to be a ripple effect out to the linebackers and defensive backs. If the Eagles are going to be a competitive team, they’re going to need this d-line to be dominating, and they have the guys to do it.
3. The early returns on Jalen Hurts? He’s been making some big throws and his command of the huddle and leadership are off the charts. The one thing we haven’t seen yet is the type of consistency you want from the starting quarterback. Now, that’s hardly a red flag. You’re talking about a 22-year-old quarterback running 1st-team reps for the first time and doing it with a young, inexperienced group of wide receivers in a new offense against a couple veteran cornerbacks. So this isn’t going to be easy. But the next step for Hurts in this second block of practices – Monday through Thursday – is to string together a number of positive plays without the misfires that we’ve seen here and there. We’ve seen a lot of good things. Now we just need to see them more consistently.
4. Running back Jason Huntley was about the last guy on my radar when camp began. Huntley was on the Eagles’ roster all last year as a rookie but barely got on the field - five carries, one reception, just 15 special teams reps. But Huntley is off to a hot start this summer and elbowing his way into a crowded RB competition. Huntley seems to make at least one explosive play every day, and that’s saying something because the defense has dominated the first few days of camp. Huntley has tremendous speed - he didn’t get invited to the Combine but ran a 4.37 at New Mexico State’s pro day - and he’s shown it these first few practices. He’s run the ball with authority and shown an ability to use that speed to turn the corner. Very impressive stuff so far.
5. Steve Nelson has looked comfortable and productive early on, especially considering he didn’t have OTAs or an offseason program and signed with the Eagles two days before training camp began. He and Darius Slay are giving the Eagles’ WRs really good looks on every snap. Nelson is such an upgrade over what the Eagles had at the position before they signed him.
6. Zach Ertz has actually looked great so far. He seems miserable, but he’s practicing at a high level. Assuming Howie Roseman is still trying to trade him, it’s quite a risk having him out there every day carrying an $8.5 million salary. But the flip side of that is that Ertz could improve his draft stock with a good camp. What does that mean? If a team gets a TE hurt maybe they’re willing to part with a 5th-round pick for Ertz? Unless the Eagles intend to keep Ertz – which I still don’t believe – Roseman is playing with fire. Is it really worth risking an injury to Ertz for the chance at a Day 3 pick? The best solution for everybody is for the Eagles to keep Ertz. But it doesn’t seem like we’re headed for that. The sooner this gets resolved, the better it is for everybody. But credit to Ertz for handling this professionally and not simply going through the motions at practice.
7. Nick Sirianni’s practices so far have been impressive from a standpoint of efficiency and pace. They’re fun to watch because there’s constant motion, non-stop activity. And he mixes drills up in a way that seems to keep guys engaged. This isn’t Chip Kelly tempo – that was insane. But you don’t see a lot of standing around, unless there’s an 11-on-11 period with the entire team watching, and those drills can become very spirited and competitive. You do see a ton of hands-on coaching and even when the coaches are hard on players, it’s done in an encouraging, supportive way. Sirianni and his staff put a lot of time into planning training camp, and you can tell. There’s a purpose for everything that’s happening, and the coaches and players are certainly maximizing their time on the field.
8. I like how Sirianni has been completely supportive of Jalen Reagor as he tries to get himself into shape while coping with the murder of a childhood friend. There’s a time to be a hard-ass and a time not to be, and Nick understands that. This is a 22-year-old kid dealing with something very difficult. That said, I’m not sure a healthy Reagor beats out Travis Fulgham. I like how Fulgham, coming off that brutal second half last year, has bounced back in the early days of camp. He’s been confident, aggressive and physical going up for the football, like he did during that five-week stretch where he was the best WR in the league. I’m not convinced a healthy, fit Reagor is better than Fulgham.
9. Tyree Jackson has been one of the biggest early surprises of camp. Jackson is the 6-foot-7, 250-pound college (and XFL) quarterback trying to convert to NFL tight end. Considering the position switch, Jackson has been solid catching the ball and surprisingly physical both after the catch and blocking the line of scrimmage. “He’s come a long way,” Dallas Goedert said. “Even from OTAs to now, he’s improved tremendously. He’s been impressive blocking, his routes have been good, he’s a huge target, he’s got long arms, he’s had great hands all camp. That transition is tough going from quarterback to tight end, there’s a lot to learn, but he’s learning it very fast and he’s doing a great job.” Jackson should still be considered a long-term project, but he’s an intriguing one.
10. New defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon is a lot of fun to watch. He’s got a coaching point for somebody after every rep, and his message is always quick, clear and brief so the message gets through but nobody’s mind is getting overloaded in the middle of a drill. You thought Sirianni had a ton of energy? Gannon runs around like a maniac between reps, coaching players, barking out encouragement and huddling with his position coaches. After one impressive rep by Derek Barnett on Saturday, Gannon ran 30 yards down the field, got in Barnett’s face, praised him for the rep, and then sprinted back to his spot behind the offense in time for the next play. It’s too soon to draw any conclusions about anyone, but Gannon knows what he’s doing.
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