How Eagles could shut down Vikings' receiving duo

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How Eagles could shut down Vikings' receiving duo

When you think about the best wide receivers in the NFL today, names like Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, and DeAndre Hopkins come to mind and rightfully so, but the Minnesota Vikings have a pair of wideouts who have given opposing secondaries fits.

This season, Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs have been the perfect complement to each other. Thielen finished the regular season with 91 receptions (eighth-best in the league), 1276 yards (fifth-best) and his 20 catches for 20 or more yards tied for fifth-best overall. As for Diggs, he finished with 64 receptions for 849 yards.

Together, Thielen and Diggs accounted for 54 percent of the Vikings' receiving yards this season. They also combined for 12 touchdowns. In the Vikes' miraculous playoff win over the New Orleans Saints, they accounted for 66 percent of the passing game. They have been the safety valves for Case Keenum all season long.

Minnesota offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur has the rare luxury of lining up either one of them on the inside or outside on any given play. Both are excellent route runners — whether it's doing deep or intermediate routes or crossing routes, and both are excellent blockers.

So how should Jim Schwartz defend against these two? Some believe help over the top on Thielen and playing single coverage on Diggs is the way to go. We may see that concept occasionally in the NFC Championship Game but I have a feeling Schwartz will come up with some variation we have not seen before. The Eagles are not going to completely shut these two down, but their damage can be minimized. Ronald Darby, Jalen Mills, Patrick Robinson and the other DBs will put in a full day’s work shadowing these two.

Eagles OTAs Day 1 observations: Linebacker suffers serious injury

Eagles OTAs Day 1 observations: Linebacker suffers serious injury

The Eagles began their OTAs on Tuesday morning, but were forced to do so under the roof of the practice bubble because of rain.

Things were a little cramped in there, but the Eagles were able to finish their 1½-hour practice by 1 p.m. The only two guys who didn’t report for OTAs were Michael Bennett and Darren Sproles (see story).

There was plenty of sloppiness in the first session, which is to be expected. 

Here are 10 observations from Tuesday: 

1. The Eagles already lost a player to a significant injury on Day 1. During 7-on-7 red zone drills, linebacker Paul Worrilow went down in serious pain. He instantly grabbed at his knee and then slammed his fist on the ground repeatedly. The music lowered and the entire bubble became silent as his teammates took a knee and watched. His knee was steadied in an aircast and he was taken off the field on a cart. 

Worrilow, 28, signed with the Eagles on a one-year deal this offseason after one year in Detroit. He played the first four years of his career in Atlanta. He’s from Wilmington, Delaware. 

2. Carson Wentz looked good (see story). Sure, he’s still recovering from that torn left ACL, but the Eagles’ franchise quarterback was able to do at least some individual work on Tuesday. Once offensive drills, 7-on-7s and 11-on-11s started, Foles took over, getting all the first-team reps. 

But just seeing Wentz on the field, even with that knee brace, was a pretty good sign. His footwork looked solid. 

After his work for the day was done, Wentz was still engaged and took off that knee brace. He was jogging around without it. 

3. A few other injured guys were back too. Jordan Hicks (Achilles) and Jason Peters (ACL) practiced on Tuesday in a limited fashion, but neither participated in team drills. Brandon Graham (ankle), Mychal Kendricks (ankle) and Tim Jernigan (back) were not at practice, but Derek Barnett, who reportedly had sports hernia surgery this offseason, was on the field. 

With Peters not participating in team drills, Halapoulivaati Vaitai was the Eagles’ first-team left tackle. Without Hicks and Kendricks, the Eagles at linebacker went with Nigel Bradham, Nate Gerry and Kamu Grugier-Hill. 

Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata didn’t practice, but was out there. Fletcher Cox and Destiny Vaeao were the first-team defensive tackles. 

4. Alshon Jeffery (rotator cuff surgery) was on the field, but not participating. Without him, Mike Wallace and Mack Hollins were the Eagles’ top two outside receivers and Nelson Agholor lined up in the slot. Markus Wheaton and Shelton Gibson got run with the second team. 

5. Speaking of Gibson … good start for the second-year player. He made some tough catches on Tuesday, which is important. He got off to such a terrible start last spring and summer that it took him a long time to catch up. He’s the front-runner for one of those last receiver spots this summer. 

6. The Eagles’ top cornerbacks today were Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills outside, with second-year player Sidney Jones in the slot. The Eagles could eventually decide to make Mills move outside to inside, but for now Jones gets a chance to play inside. It’s really a different position, but so far, so good. He was able to stick with Agholor during drills. 

7. The first play of today’s practice was a good mood-setter. Foles threw a short pass to Wallace and Darby put a little shot on him as he tried to get to the ball. By the way, not a great day for Foles. He had a couple underthrows; one was picked by Mills and one by Jones. 

8. Rookie Avonte Maddox played outside corner in college, but his size (5-9, 184) had people thinking he’d play slot corner in the pros. The Eagles seem to think that’s possible too. He got run in the slot after the starters were off the field. 

9. During 7-on-7s, cornerback De’Vante Bausby made a pretty great play to intercept a Nate Sudfeld pass intended for rookie Dallas Goedert. But on the next snap, Sudfeld recovered and found Goedert in the back of the end zone for a touchdown. 

Goedert looked pretty good in his first practice but is still behind Richard Rodgers on the depth chart, it seems. Zach Ertz and Rodgers were on the field for two-tight end sets with the first team.

10. Rookie rugby player … sorry … offensive tackle Jordan Mailata is obviously a work in progress. He lined up at third-team left tackle and grabbed fellow rookie Josh Sweat around the neck as he flew past him. That’s a hold, Jordan. Can’t do that. 

Stupid Observation of the Day: Assistant OL coach and former NFL offensive lineman Eugene Chung has always acted as the Eagles’ MIKE linebacker for the scout team during practices. On Tuesday he showed off his range, playing the SAM. 

Carson Wentz participates in Eagles practice during OTAs

Carson Wentz participates in Eagles practice during OTAs

Just 5½ months after he tore up his knee in Los Angeles, Carson Wentz participated in Eagles practice Tuesday morning, firing passes to ballboys and assistant coaches in the first set of drills at the start of spring OTAs.

It looked like he hadn’t missed a day.

Wentz, wearing a brace on his injured left knee, participated only in individual drills and sat out the rest of practice.

But he looked comfortable and confident taking his drops, he delivered the football with his familiar zip and if it weren't for the brace you wouldn't have known he was coming back from a devastating injury.

It was a huge step for the 25-year-old quarterback, who was having an All-Pro 2017 season before he got hurt.

Does this mean he’ll be ready for opening day in 3½ months?

Still too early to tell. But just seeing him out on the practice field wearing a red No. 11 jersey and throwing the football around sure was encouraging.

“Mental aspect is probably just as important as the physical, I think, when you’re coming back from these injuries,” Wentz said before practice.

“I’m just learning how to trust it. Trust your knee, trust your movement, all of those things. And that comes over time, and every day it just gets a little better. A little more trust, a little more faith in it.

“At the same time, you’ve got to be smart. You’ve got to be smart with what the doctors are saying. But I feel like I’ve made really good strides mentally and physcally and I like where I’m at.”

The Eagles will open training camp in late July, so that’s about two months away. The first preseason game is Aug. 9, which is about 2½ months away. The regular-season opener is Sept. 6 against the Falcons at the Linc.

Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles will take all the first-team reps this summer and then step aside whenever Wentz is ready (see observations).

Wentz said he’s tempted to play the calendar game — will he be ready in time for the Falcons? But he said for the most part he resists.

“You do sometimes, but at the end of the day you can’t get caught up in that,” he said.

“Even when you’re healthy — ‘OK, Week 1, you’ve got that circled,’ or whatever. It’s always just a one-day-at-a-time mentality and approach and especially now I’ve got to avoid getting ahead of myself.”

Wentz threw 33 touchdowns and just seven interceptions in 13 games last year, going 11-2 before giving way to Foles, who led the Eagles to the Super Bowl title.

Wentz admits he’s antsy to get back to football but said he has to avoid the temptation to do too much too soon. 

“Any time you’re rehabbing from any sort of injury, you’ve got to be careful,” he said.

“There’s days you feel great and want to push it more and there’s days it’s a little sore, it’s a little tired, whatever, but it’s just part of the process of coming back from an injury. 

“You’ve just gotta trust what the trainers are saying, what the doctors are saying, and keep being smart with it.” 

Wentz is the leader of a large group of Eagles that finished last year on injured reserve and were forced to watch Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis from the sidelines. 

Jason Peters. Darren Sproles. Jordan Hicks. Chris Maragos. 

Wentz said that group’s hunger is going to help drive the entire team in 2018. 

“With injured guys, guys that didn’t get a chance to play in that game, there’s an extra sense of motivation, an extra sense of not letting everybody be complacent,” Wentz said. 

“On the flip side of that, I know the leaders that we have. I know the guys in that locker room, the character of that locker room, and I don’t expect it to be an issue regardless. I think any time we have the veteran leadership that we have, that’s not really a concern of mine or really the rest of the guys because nobody’s going to ever settle for anything around here.

“But I don’t think it hurts that we have the other guys like myself with a little chip on their shoulder, a little extra motivation to get back out there.”