Eagles practice observations: Some good news for defensive starters

Eagles practice observations: Some good news for defensive starters

It was a scorcher in South Philly as the Eagles got back to practice for the first time since Thursday’s game. 

Sunday’s practice was a lighter 10-10-10 day so there wasn’t a ton to observe, but that will change on Monday and Tuesday with the Ravens in town for joint practices.

Both of those joint practices will be “thud” practices in pads in the heat of the afternoon sun. Should be fun. 

For now, here are today’s notes/observations: 

1. Josh Sweat missed today’s practice with a knee injury and is day-to-day. Early word is that it’s nothing serious, but with his history of knee injuries, this is something to keep an eye on. Speaking of knee injuries, a couple reporters also noticed that Paul Worrilow missed practice; he was released after practice.

Cody Kessler (concussion) was a spectator. 

2. Good news for the Eagles on Sunday as their best player was back on the field. After working out inside recently, Fletcher Cox was a limited participant. He went through warmups and individual drills. Not quite ready for team drills, but this is very positive. 

3. There was plenty of other good news as well: 

• CB Ronald Darby (knee) participated in 11-on-11 drills for the first time this summer. 

• LB Nigel Bradham (toe) participated in 7-on-7s for the first time. 

• TE Richard Rodgers (foot) returned to practice for the first time since early August. 

• DT Hassan Ridgeway (concussion) was back at practice. 

• RG Brandon Brooks has been cleared for 1-on-1s.

• S Rodney McLeod continues to do 11-on-11s and ditched the knee brace today. 

4. With Darby back for 11-on-11s, he manned the first team LCB spot, while Sidney Jones and then Rasul Douglas rotated at RCB. Avonte Maddox was the nickel. It seems like Darby will be one of the Eagles’ starters, but Jones and Douglas (and possibly Maddox) are still competing to take the other starting job. 

5. Josh McCown was at practice but didn’t take any team reps. That meant Carson Wentz was the 1 and Clayton Thorson was the 2. Thorson had some good throws on Sunday, but also had some wild overthrows. 

6. Wentz, who had a sharp day, threw a beautiful deep ball to Mack Hollins, who did everything but catch it. Hollins tracked the ball with Josh Hawkins in coverage and got it in his hands but dropped it as he hit the field inside the 10 yard line. It was one he should have had. 

7. Thorson threw a touchdown pass to tall receiver Carlton Agudosi in the red zone. It was kind of unfair to Orlando Scandrick in coverage. Agudosi is 6-6 and Scandrick is 5-10. Agudosi barely left his feet.

8. Like we said, sharp day for Wentz, who looks spry. 

9. New offensive lineman Brett Toth (the Army guy) practiced today. The 6-6 lineman is listed at 290 and wants to get to 315. He looks like he needs that extra weight. 

10. The Eagles still use Andrew Sendejo as the third safety in their dime package. While Johnathan Cyprien should still make the roster and can find a role in some unique packages, it seems like Sendejo is still ahead of him. 

Stupid Observation of the Day: I was proud of this one: 

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Why Mike Groh thinks it’s ‘probably not fair’ to say Nelson Agholor has regressed

Why Mike Groh thinks it’s ‘probably not fair’ to say Nelson Agholor has regressed

Despite some pretty clear statistical evidence and the benefit of the eye test, Eagles offensive coordinator Mike Groh on Tuesday pushed back against the idea that Nelson Agholor has regressed this year. 

“I would say that that’s probably not fair,” Groh said. 

But through 10 games in 2019, Agholor has just 36 catches for 322 yards and three touchdowns. He has four drops and has caught the ball on just 57.1 percent of his targets. That ranks 62nd in catch percentage out of 72 receivers with at least 50 targets this season. 

So why doesn’t Groh think it’s fair to say Agholor has regressed? 

I would say that over the last two years, he’s had to wear a lot of different hats in our offense due to the attrition at the position. One of his strengths is his mental flexibility and his ability to learn. He knows the entire system as well as everybody, so he’s able to handle a lot from that standpoint. The flip side of that coin is he gets moved around. 

“In 2017, he was able to really stay in one spot each and every week. We were healthy the entire year. We had the same three, four guys rotating and performing the same job. His job description has changed the last couple of years due to necessity and I understand the question, but to me, he’s still the same player.

Some of that is certainly fair. Agholor has been asked to do a lot more this season than he was in 2017, when he was strictly a slot receiver with a healthy Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith manning the outside receiver positions. 

But thanks to injuries this year to DeSean Jackson and Jeffery, the Eagles have been relying on Agholor. He’s left too many plays on the field. 

Even just from a statistical standpoint, he’s regressed. Look at his yards per game in his career: 

2015: 21.8 
2016: 24.3
2017: 48.0
2018: 46.0 
2019: 32.2 

The guy we’re seeing every Sunday in 2019 looks a lot more like the 2016 version of Agholor than the 2017 version. And the guy we’re seeing in 2019 is getting paid $9.4 million to do it. 

With that contract and with his role in the offense, it’s not unrealistic to expect Agholor to make some difficult catches, but he’s even struggled with routine ones at times this season. 

On Sunday, there were two plays that really stood out. Sure, he made a great leaping grab in the middle of the field, but failed to haul in two potential touchdown passes. 

The one that everyone keeps talking about was on fourth down late in the fourth quarter. It would have been a really good catch, but receivers are sometimes allowed to make really good catches. 

“On the last play, when they went zero (blitz) and we laid the ball out there, Carson was trying to give him an opportunity to make a play,” Groh said. “That’s a tough adjustment based on the direction and the target line we have him on and where the ball kind of fell back over his inside shoulder. He’s the kind of guy that would say he would love to make that play. But that wasn’t a routine play, that would have been a really, really good play. And two guys making a good play in the circumstances that called for, but we didn’t get it done.”

The other play came earlier in the game. It was an off-script chance at the back of the end zone and it looked like Agholor just lost where he was on the field.  

“That play was really designed for a different coverage structure,” Groh said. “And he had a completely — really a completely different assignment had they played the intended or expected coverage, and so he was really just reacting to the situation as the play got extended. And then the ball took him to the corner of the end zone on that one.”

Agholor is 26 now and in his fifth NFL season. He’s had a really strange career and it seems like he has now returned to the bottom of the bell curve. 

He’ll be a free agent after this season and it’s hard to imagine he’ll be back in Philadelphia next year. It’s even harder to figure out what his worth will be on the open market. 

But there are still six games left in this season and the Eagles would get a huge boost if Agholor can help out a little more. 

“Got a lot of confidence in Nelson Agholor,” Groh said. “He’s one of the reasons we’ve had success here and I know he’ll continue to be one.”

Groh might truly believe that, but it’s likely to be a hard sell for everyone else. 

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Eagle Eye podcast: Let’s talk about Carson Wentz

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Eagle Eye podcast: Let’s talk about Carson Wentz

On the latest Eagle Eye podcast presented by Nissan, Reuben Frank and Dave Zangaro to figure out how much of this is Carson Wentz’s fault. 

The sky isn’t falling. Andre Dillard is preparing to play right tackle. We still need more J.J. Arcega-Whiteside. 

Ray gives his take on the loss to the Patriots and looks ahead at the Seahawks. 

• The sky isn’t falling
• The Carson Wentz debate
• Playing Dillard at RT 
• Ray revisits the Patriots game
• Kamu Grugier-Hill/linebackers 
• Still want more Arcega-Whiteside 
• Mills and Darby have solidified secondary
• The overall defense is playing better 
• And early look at Seahawks

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