Eagles training camp observations, Day 15: Zach Ertz comes up big in red zone

Eagles training camp observations, Day 15: Zach Ertz comes up big in red zone

Training camp is over … even though it doesn’t really feel like it. 

Technically, today was the final day of training camp, but it all sort of runs together ever since the team moved back from Lehigh. And next week the Ravens are in town, so we’ll be able to watch those practices in full too. 

But the official end of training camp came on a gloomy and cool day in South Philly. It even rained a bit. 

Let’s get to it: 

1. The best play of the day came in 7-on-7s when Carson Wentz fired the ball into the arms of Zach Ertz, who somehow got two feet in bounds in the back of the end zone. When it was ruled a touchdown, the defense and defensive backs coach Cory Undlin took exception as Duce Staley, the instigator, began yelling “touchdown!” Undlin lovingly gave him the ol’ one-finger salute. 

Ertz, who has 16 touchdown catches over the last two seasons, is a tough matchup in the red zone. Earlier in 11-on-11s Tuesday, he caught a ball in front of Malcolm Jenkins, who couldn’t navigate around the big body of the Eagles’ Pro Bowl tight end. 

2. I thought Wentz was a little sharper today than the past few days. He began practice with a deep ball to DeSean Jackson and then had a great throw on the run to Alshon Jeffery. As I’ve noted before, Wentz hasn’t done a lot of rolling out of the pocket this training camp. I asked him about it after practice today and he said that will still be a part of their game this season. 

3. I want to see more of Miles Sanders in the second preseason game because he’s just so shifty. He made a few guys miss on one play today. He might not be the Eagles’ best running back right now, but I think he might be their most talented. 

4. During a red zone drill, Cody Kessler identified a mismatch at the snap as JJ Arcega-Whiteside was iso’d against Josh Hawkins. He threw up a fade and JJAW went up to get it and brought in a touchdown pass. The Eagles’ rookie receiver had a somewhat slow start to his camp, but those signature plays have become pretty frequent over the last week and a half. 

5. In one of the red zone periods today, rookie linebacker T.J. Edwards got reps as the only linebacker with the starting dime package. That’s good for him as he tries to make the team. 

6. The Eagles have done a ton of red zone work this summer, but for just the second time during training camp, they did a backed up period. The highlight of this period of practice was a ball that Malik Jackson tipped at the line of scrimmage. He didn’t get enough to bat it down, but he really changed the trajectory. In a game, that could lead to an interception. 

7. Nelson Agholor made a great touchdown catch in the end zone during 7-on-7s, leaping up to snag a ball high out of the air. It was the play after Ertz’s touchdown, so Duce ribbed Undlin again, asking if that one was a touchdown. 

8. Veteran cornerback Orlando Scandrick made an impressive diving interception on a quick out from Kessler to Marken Michel. Scandrick has looked a lot better than I expected him to. 

9. After missing a few practices with a shoulder injury, Daeshon Hall was back for today’s session. So were Jason Kelce and Rodney McLeod after getting veteran days on Monday. 

The Eagles also re-signed DT Aziz Shittu, who has been with them in previous camps. He first got here as an undrafted player in 2016. He is wearing No. 67. The Eagles waived Blake Countess with an injury settlement to make room. 

10. I was watching 7-on-7s when it happened, but apparently Andre Dillard was involved in his third scrap in two days. This one happened in OL vs. DL drills. 

After yesterday’s scuffles, Dillard had a long chat with Doug Pederson and Howie Roseman following practice. Today, he had a long chat with OL coach Jeff Stoutland.  

Stupid Observation of the Day: Because I’m a crazy person, I tracked which visor Pederson wore all 15 days of training camp. He wore a black visor over 50 percent of the time (8 of out 15 days). He wore the army green one on Military Night at the stadium. But here’s a full breakdown:  

Day 1: Black
Day 2: Black 
Day 3: White 
Day 4. Black 
Day 5. Green
Day 6. Green 
Day 7. Black
Day 8. Gray (pink trim) 
Day 9. Army green 
Day 10. Black 
Day 11. Black 
Day 12. Black 
Day 13. Gray (pink trim) 
Day 14. White 
Day 15. Black 

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The area where JJ Arcega-Whiteside is showing some potential

The area where JJ Arcega-Whiteside is showing some potential

For a second-round pick, it’s fair to say that JJ Arcega-Whiteside’s rookie season hasn’t been a resounding success to this point. 

So it’s definitely notable that his two biggest catches of the season have come on off-schedule plays. 

“That’s kind of like backyard football,” Arcega-Whiteside said this week. “Ain’t no real way to coach it or train for it. It’s just like, broken play, get open. There’s no technique or nothing. It’s just get open. I’ve just been lucky that Carson has found me and I was in the right place at the right time. Hopefully, we can get some more going forward.” 

For whatever reason, it seems like the rookie is better in those situations right now. Maybe it’s because of the NFL learning curve or because these are the situations where thinking is completely removed from the equation. Just go out there and make a play. 

It’s encouraging to see his playmaking ability, even when it hasn’t come as much on the initial play calls. At least we can see that he has it in him. 

Arcega-Whiteside caught a 29-yard pass on an off-schedule play in the fourth quarter of the Patriots game. And then on Sunday in Miami, his first NFL touchdown came on a 15-yarder on a broken play. 

The touchdown came with 13 seconds left in the first half against the Dolphins. It was 3rd-and-goal from the 15, which is a difficult situation to convert. In fact, NFL offenses have gotten touchdowns on just 2 of 13 such opportunities this year. 

“He's been at the right place at the right time,” offensive coordinator Mike Groh said. “The play there at the end of the half for the touchdown where he's inside releasing there and then he is working with Carson as Carson scrambles out there to the right, and then he's able to get out of the grass above the DB and come back and fight for the ball was a really good play by JJ and Carson.”

As Wentz escapes the pocket, you can see the rookie lock eyes with him. He’s about to take one more step toward the sideline and cut back inside, avoiding the defender that had tight coverage on him. Wentz puts it on him. 

Arcega-Whiteside and Wentz haven’t played a ton together, so it’s impressive that they’re able to connect on these types of plays. The receiver has to understand where the quarterback is going to throw it and the quarterback has to trust that the receiver is thinking the same thing. 

“We talk about it,” Arcega-Whiteside said. “It’s like, ‘ideally, we want this guy to do this or this guy to do this.’ But at the end of the day, just get open. Come back to the quarterback, be friendly and play ball.”

That’s usually the main coaching point for receivers in these off-schedule situations: Be quarterback friendly, which means give him a target, give him an opportunity to get the ball to you. 

That’s exactly what Arcega-Whiteside also did in the fourth quarter against the Patriots a couple weeks ago. He found an open spot in the field where Wentz threw it and came back to get the ball. 


What makes Arcega-Whiteside good in these situations?  

It’s pretty simple. 

“Just his ability to keep working,” Wentz said. “JJ does a great job of it.” 

The Eagles have struggled to find consistent plays from their receivers this year, so the fact that their second-round pick had trouble getting on the field at first and still has just six catches for 101 yards isn’t great. But Arcega-Whiteside and Wentz will be together for a least a couple more years after 2019. 

And these plays are certainly a silver lining. 

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Eagles Injury Update: Derek Barnett, Nelson Agholor, Kamu Grugier-Hill miss practice again

Eagles Injury Update: Derek Barnett, Nelson Agholor, Kamu Grugier-Hill miss practice again

For the second straight day, the Eagles were without three key players at practice. 

Derek Barnett (ankle), Kamu Grugier-Hill (concussion) and Nelson Agholor (knee) all missed Friday’s session after also missing Thursday. 

It’s rare for players to miss the first two practice days of the week and play that weekend. 

Barnett, it seemed, hurt his ankle during the loss to the Dolphins but was able to finish the game, playing 50 snaps. This season, Barnett is second on the team in sacks with 4 1/2 and has played more snaps (78 percent) than any other defensive lineman. 

The only other defensive players to play more than him this season are Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod. 

If Barnett can’t play on Monday, it’s likely Vinny Curry and Josh Sweat will see more playing time and perhaps Genard Avery will see a few more snaps. Maybe even Daeshon Hall or Shareef Miller might get to play a bit. 

Agholor has been dealing with his knee injury since the Patriots game. He missed the game against Seattle, but returned last week to play 63 snaps against the Dolphins. Last week, Agholor was limited in practice the first two days of the week and was not given a game status. 

If Agholor can’t play, Greg Ward could perhaps have a bigger role on Monday night. 

Meanwhile, Grugier-Hill didn’t report concussion symptoms until Thursday and was then placed into the NFL’s concussion protocol. Based on the timing of all that, it seems like a long shot that he’ll be able to play on Monday night. 

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