Eagles rookie Elijah Qualls returns for minicamp, tries to catch up

Eagles rookie Elijah Qualls returns for minicamp, tries to catch up

As Elijah Qualls stepped on the field Tuesday in the blistering mid-morning heat, the young rookie defensive tackle admittedly didn't know what the heck was going on. 

Forced to miss the Eagles' OTAs this spring because of an antiquated and silly rule that prohibits players from schools on quarters systems from being with their NFL teams until after graduation, the sixth-rounder from Washington estimated he didn't know 70 percent of what was going on Tuesday. 

So he was learning on the fly.

"I honestly didn't know much of what I was doing," Qualls said after practice on Tuesday. "If you don't even know your job, but you go out 100 percent, you can control effort and everything like that. That's just what I planned on doing. 

"If I can think of the play and understand what my job was before the play, I went and did it. If I couldn't, I did the best I could on trying to do my job and then just got upfield, going 100 percent, trying to make a play, [being] a football player." 

The first time Qualls, 22, heard about the rule for schools on the quarters system, he didn't realize how much time he would miss. Qualls, who left school after his junior year, was at the rookie minicamp after the draft, but wasn't allowed back until this week's mandatory minicamp. That's a month away. 

Along with Qualls, fellow Washington product and second-round pick Sidney Jones was also forced to stay away during OTAs while he rehabs from a torn Achilles that will keep him out for at least the start of the 2017 season. 

While Jones used FaceTime to keep in contact with Cory Undlin during his time away, Qualls got phone calls from defensive line coach Chris Wilson to help keep him updated. But Wilson had OTAs to help run and players in the building to coach, so the phone calls weren't a daily occurrence. 

And while Qualls had an iPad to watch practice from OTAs, he was just able to watch and wasn't able to have the coach explain the concept of the play and the adjustments. He just had to take it without guidance. 

But Qualls said learning playbooks and catching up won't be a problem for him. He'll just need to put in the extra work. 

Tuesday, though, wasn't easy. 

"It was a little bit of a struggle," Qualls said. "I felt like I was a little bit behind some of the people. But it was exciting, man. Happy to get out here, get in practice with the vets and everything like that."

During his first practice with the entire team, Qualls said veteran Pro Bowler Fletcher Cox offered him tips and guidance on the plays, and rules when he could. 

"A little crash course," Qualls called it. 

"He's a very, very explosive kid from what I saw when he first got out there," Cox said. "When we first got out there, I know it's his first day and he got thrown a curveball, so he didn't have a chance to go to meetings and my message to him was to watch the guy in front of him. 

"I told him if I get a play, nine times out of 10, when his rep goes, he'll get the same play. Watch the guys in front of him and he'll just learn it."

Qualls was the 214th pick in the draft this spring, but he thinks he should have gone much higher. The Eagles are hoping he's right. 

At 6-1, 321, Qualls is still learning to play on the defensive line. Before college, he was his high school's primary running back at 265 pounds. There weren't many volunteers to tackle him from opposing teams.  

During his time away from the building, Qualls spent about a month working out 1-on-1 with pass-rush guru Chuck Smith, who also works with Derek Barnett and Marcus Smith on the Eagles, as well as players like Von Miller and Aaron Donald. 

During the pre-draft period, Qualls' pass-rush ability was questioned, but the young pro said the time with Smith was huge as he continues to learn how to play defensive line. It was the first time he ever had 1-on-1 instruction like that. 

"I don't have as much time on the defensive line as some people do," Qualls said. 

He's been trying to catch up for a while. So maybe a month away won't be a big problem after all.

Eagles mailbag: Moving Rasul Douglas, keeping Donnel Pumphrey

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Eagles mailbag: Moving Rasul Douglas, keeping Donnel Pumphrey

We split up your questions, so Part I of the mailbag ran yesterday (see story).

Just a reminder: training camp starts July 25 and the first practice will be July 26. 

Let’s not waste any more time. 

I’ve heard this a ton from people and it makes sense. Douglas seems to have what you’d look for in a safety and the Eagles value coverage skills in that position, something Douglas clearly has. So I see that as a possibility, but the Eagles have seemed hesitant to move him or even to really cross-train him. For me, the time to do it would have been during the OTAs and minicamp. Why not slide him back there for a few days to see how he handles it? That’s how I would have handled it. Without any extended time at safety in the spring, it’s hard for me to envision real cross-training in the summer. Eventually, though, you’re right; this makes sense. 

I don’t think so. Pumphrey looked a little better this spring, but he better have a great training camp. Right now, I have the Eagles keeping four running backs: Jay Ajayi, Darren Sproles, Corey Clement, Matt Jones. If they keep five, Pump has a real chance; he’d just need to beat out Wendell Smallwood for that final spot. I think he has a decent chance, but I haven’t seen enough to give him a roster spot. He’s a player I’ll be watching extremely close at training camp. 

I’ll preface this by saying I’m no punter expert, but Cameron Johnston looks pretty solid to me. He was a really good punter at Ohio State and seemed to boot the ball pretty well this spring. The Eagles were comfortable enough with him to move on from Donnie Jones. 

To answer the second part, he will be the holder for Jake Elliott. The two have been working together this spring. While Johnston held last summer, Elliott was still in Cincinnati. They have to gel. 

In my latest 53-man roster projection, I actually don’t have Tre Sullivan in there. Instead, I went with Corey Graham, who is still on the street. I agree with you that in most situations going with the younger guy is the move, but not with this team. Not this year. Graham was such an important part of last year’s team. And because the Eagles have a legitimate shot to repeat, I’d try to bring him back. The Eagles have about $6 million in cap space. Get it done. 

Hi, John. Mango. Always mango.

More on the Eagles

• Foles is a legend, but Eagles still need Wentz

• Will Derek Barnett really compete to start in 2018?

• A meeting with Chip Kelly brought Press Taylor to Eagles

• On his 35th birthday, a look at upcoming milestones for Sproles

• A progress report for Eagles' draft picks after spring practices 

Eagles Mailbag: Biggest concern on 2018 roster

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Eagles Mailbag: Biggest concern on 2018 roster

We’ve officially reached the only sort of dead period on the NFL calendar. The Eagles are through their spring practices and won’t be back at the NovaCare Complex until July 25 for the start of training camp. 

That sounds far away, but it’ll be here before you know it. 

You guys were great and gave me a ton of questions, so I’ll answer half today and half Sunday. Let’s go: 

I’m tempted to say defensive tackle just for health concerns surrounding Tim Jernigan, but I have to answer linebacker. Jordan Hicks appears to be healthy after tearing his Achilles last year, but as good as he is when healthy, it’s just tough to count on him. Two years ago, he was able to play a full season and things were looking good, but then he suffered another serious injury. If Hicks and Bradham stay healthy, linebackers aren’t a concern. The Eagles will have either Kamu Grugier-Hill, Nate Gerry or Corey Nelson take the weakside spot on base downs and they’ll be OK. 

But without Mychal Kendricks, it’s fair to be concerned about their depth at the position, especially after veteran pickup Paul Worrilow was already lost for the year. Kendricks came up huge last year as a fill-in; not sure the Eagles have that kind of depth this year. 

Not sure yet. What I can tell you about De’Vante Bausby is that he was impressive this spring and the coaching staff seems to love him. I remain very, very skeptical that he’s good enough to keep Sidney Jones off the field. With that said, I do think he’s talented enough to make the 53-man roster. We’ll get a better sense at camp when the pads go on, but I have him penciled in to make the team. 

Yes on both. The Nate Sudfeld hype is real. In our first extended looks at the young quarterback, he’s been incredibly impressive. It’s starting to make sense why the Eagles snatched him from Washington and then blocked the Colts from signing him last season. They kept him on the 53 in the second half of last year, so they’re completely prepared to keep three QBs on this year’s roster if Foles is still on the team. 

This is going to be the summer of Nate Sudfeld. We’re going to see him play a ton in those preseason games and that will let us know if he’s ready to be QB2 behind Carson Wentz. But the fact that the Eagles didn’t bring in a more experienced veteran after Wentz went down last year pretty much tells you all you need to know about what the Eagles think of him. 

We tried that. Didn’t work out well. We’re up for suggestions. 

You have no idea how out of water this fish is. This is like taking a fish from the ocean and dropping it in Kansas. 

How about Portugal? I’ll go with them because of Ronaldo.