Observations and Impressions from Eagles' Practices with the Patriots

Observations and Impressions from Eagles' Practices with the Patriots

The Eagles were wrapping up their joint practice sessions with the New England Patriots with a light walkthrough on Thursday, bringing an end to the most revealing few days of training camp thus far. We got a chance to see just how much Chip Kelly’s squad is a work in progress compared to a perennial Super Bowl contender, but most of all, we got a glimpse of the players in simulated action, against a real opponent.

The atmosphere around these practices was fantastic. The players were physical. They were hitting, bodies were going to the ground. There was even a skirmish or two, one of which caused Cary Williams to get kicked out on Tuesday. It was very competitive as far as scrimmaging goes.

Of course, the Patriots looked sharper, crisper – whatever adjective you want to use there. A lot of that has to do with Tom Brady though, who looks like a machine in practice. His balls rarely hit the ground, and when they do, it’s usually because their intended target dropped it. So naturally Tom Terrific carved up the Eagles’ defense nice and thin, although they are a noted work in progress, going up against one of the greatest of all time.

Still, it was good experience for everybody, and I think we were able to get a better read on a lot of the players after seeing them in something closer to live action. Not as good as seeing them in an actual game, which we finally will on Friday night, but this was something at least. On to the notes.

QB

I thought Mike Vick and Nick Foles both had their moments against the Patriot secondary, but both have shown a tendency to hold on to the ball far too long throughout training camp. Chip has stressed on more than one occasion that he needs to see how these quarterbacks handle an actual pass rush. To take that a step further, the reality is it will be one of the main determining factors in the Eagles’ competition.

Both guys have demonstrated they are capable of making all the reads, all the throws in a practice environment, and in those respects the competition is neck-and-neck. But can they still make the right reads and place the ball in tight windows when Vince Wilfork is bearing down on them? How Vick and Foles perform under pressure will be what sets the two of them apart in all likelihood.

RB

How impressive has Chris Polk been in this camp? We mentioned before the second-year back is already ahead of Felix Jones on the depth chart, which at this point seems unlikely to change. Well Polk has looked so explosive carrying the football, he may even wind up taking touches away from Bryce Brown. Apparently I wasn’t the only person at the NovaCare Complex who had this thought.

Brown can be a nifty rusher as well, as evidenced by his gaining 347 yards over one two-game stretch last season. Fumbles were an issue though, and he tried bouncing too many runs outside during his rookie year. Polk plays within the offense, seeing the holes and hitting them hard, which has often resulted in long gains during practice. He may be the more reliable option to spell Shady on a consistent basis.

WR

Riley Cooper was one of the stars of the day at Tuesday’s practice, and not just because everybody wanted to grill him about his brief excused absence from the team. Cooper hauled down multiple long passes from Vick and Foles over New England defensive backs, seemingly sending the message that he is still the Eagles’ best option to replace Jeremy Maclin.

All controversy aside, that’s good news for the Eagles in the wake of Arrelious Benn’s injury. Benn was also lost for the season with an ACL this week, leaving the team extremely thin at wide receiver. After Cooper, DeSean Jackson, Damaris Johnson, and Jason Avant, they currently have Russell Shepard, Greg Salas, and Ifeanyi Momah as the front-runners battling for the final wide receiver spot. The front office could add a player once teams start chopping down their rosters, but don’t expect it to be a big name.

TE

James Casey had a big day down by the goal line on Tuesday, regardless of who was under center for the Birds. At one point Casey was targeted at least three times in a matter of four or five reps, finding open spaces in the end zone and using his big frame (6-3, 245) to shield the ball from the defender – making it look rather easy at that. It appears he could make for a nice security blanket for whoever the QB is inside the red zone, particularly early on this season.

OL

As good as Polk has looked, maybe the offensive line is not getting enough credit in this. The starting five has done a good job opening holes for whoever is coming out of the backfield, be it Polk, Brown, or LeSean McCoy, particularly on inside runs. It’s been said before, but we’ll say it again: the ground attack is going to be the greatest strength on this football club regardless of who is carrying the football. As Todd Herremans put it earlier in camp:

“I think that our running game will be second to none.”

That is as long as everybody stays healthy. It’s a little disconcerting to see Jason Peters and Jason Kelce in and out of the lineup all the time this early in the year, Peters battling a hamstring, Kelce for varying reasons. It doesn’t seem like those dings are anything too major, but any time either of those two guys exits a game or a practice early, you’re going to hold your breath a bit. So far, so good though.

DL

This area actually has a chance to be a strength as well. I saw Cedric Thornton come up with a “sack” on Brady. Vinny Curry had a “tackle” for a loss on a Patriots running play. Bennie Logan is batting balls out of the air. We know the coaches really like what they’ve seen out of Clifton Geathers as well, Fletcher Cox could be on the verge of becoming a star, and Isaac Sopoaga has been recognized for taking leadership of the unit.

We still need to see these guys in an actual game in order to prove they can actually finish some of these nice practice plays where nobody actually hits the turf at the end of the rep, but what we’ve seen so far is encouraging. There aren’t too many big names in there, but the effort is good, and they have enough bodies where there must be some decent combination to work with.

LB

I think we’ve reached the point in training camp where it’s fair to say dropping into coverage is not a strength of Brandon Graham’s (shocking!). Brady had no trouble finding that mismatch wherever it happened on the field, and no doubt there would be others. But again, it’s important to note that in a real game the Eagles likely wouldn’t depend as much on Graham to drop. They’ll use him primarily as a rusher, so I don’t believe it’s that huge an issue.

Between Graham and Trent Cole playing out of position, yet are two of the top three outside linebackers anyway despite that minor detail, the Eagles’ defense might not use conventional 3-4 in Chip's first season as the head coach would like. He’s a smart, personnel-driven gameplanner. I just can’t see him dropping those guys into coverage during many spots in the fourth quarter.

CB

It’s hard to imagine anybody having a more dreadful performance than Curtis Marsh did on Wednesday. With Cary Williams leaving practice early yet again (hamstring), Marsh got some reps with the first-team defense, and it did not go well to put it mildly. At one point Brady was picking on Marsh on nearly every play, frequently targeting second-round pick Antonio Dobson, and the third-year corner had no answers.

Obviously it wasn’t the 25-year-old’s best day, and you don’t want to judge anybody too harshly over one practice, least of all against Brady. Having said that, it’s not like Marsh is a lock to make the roster. Williams, Bradley Fletcher, and Brandon Boykin are all definites, and rookie Jordan Poyer probably has a spot locked down. That could leave just one opening for either Brandon Hughes, Eddie Whitley, or Marsh. Hm…

S

We don’t want to give Marsh all of the credit, if you want to call it that. Nate Allen didn’t exactly help his defensive backfield mate out on one or two of those, particularly a pair of deep balls that went over the top of the entire secondary. I wouldn’t say any of the safeties has stood out much one way or the other, and as a group the unit has been collectively underwhelming.

One interesting detail to note however is Patrick Chung, who is still one of the projected starters, got a look as a third safety in a nickel package on Wednesday. Here’s what Chip had to say about the experiment.

It's a case of trying to mix and match as best we can, and make sure we got the right lineup to lineup and play the opening game. So these opportunities to practice against the Patriots are a great time for us to look at some things.

There may be a guy or two that you'd say, hey, he'd be good at nickel, but we can't afford to move him right now because he's still learning where he is in his position. It's a credit to Patrick in terms of how smart a football player is his ability to cross train in different positions. So you're a chinstrap away from if we were to start the game and Brandon were starting nickel. If he goes down, then what are you going to do?  We're not going to nickel if you're going to get exposed a little bit when you're playing a good quarterback and good spread team. So we have to develop at that position.

Andrew Kulp is a freelance writer covering Philadelphia sports for The700Level.com. E-mail him at andrewkulp@comcast.net or follow him on Twitter.

Best of MLB: Indians rally off Papelbon, stun Nationals, 7-6

Best of MLB: Indians rally off Papelbon, stun Nationals, 7-6

CLEVELAND -- Francisco Lindor pushed an RBI single through Washington's drawn-in infield with one out in the ninth inning, and the Cleveland Indians rallied for three runs in their final at-bat to stun the Washington Nationals 7-6 on Tuesday night in a matchup of two first-place teams with sights on October.

Down two runs and three outs from their losing streak reaching a season-high four games, the Indians rallied against Nationals closer Jonathan Papelbon (2-4), who did not get an out before he was pulled by manager Dusty Baker.

With the bases loaded, Lindor fisted his base hit into right field and danced his way up the first-base line as the Indians celebrated an improbable victory.

Bryan Shaw (2-4) got two outs in the ninth and picked up the win as Cleveland won its first home game since July 10 (see full recap).

Cardinals take first game of doubleheader with Mets, 3-2
NEW YORK -- Jedd Gyorko homered again, hitting a two-run drive off Noah Syndergaard that sent the St. Louis Cardinals over the New York Mets 3-2 Tuesday in the first game of a doubleheader.

Gyorko connected for the sixth time in eight games, giving him 13 this season. The Cardinals lead the NL in home runs with 137, matching last year's total.

The Mets played at home for the first time since the All-Star break and lost in a matchup of NL wild-card contenders. Citi Field was nearly empty at the start, a day after a rainout forced the twinbill.

Carlos Martinez (10-6) gave up a two-run homer to Rene Rivera and left after the fifth inning with a 3-2 lead. Three relievers finished, with Seung Hwan Oh getting his fifth save in six chances.

Syndergaard (9-5) has won only one of his last five starts (see full recap).

Colon, Mets top Cards, 3-1, for doubleheader split
NEW YORK -- Bartolo Colon pitched three-hit ball for seven sharp innings and the New York Mets overcame another home run by Jedd Gyorko to beat the St. Louis Cardinals 3-1 Tuesday night for a doubleheader split.

Gyorko homered in both ends and has connected seven times in nine games. His two-run shot helped St. Louis win the opener 3-2.

Colon (9-5) struck out eight and walked none. After Gyorko homered in the second and Alberto Rosario doubled in the third, Colon set down 14 of his final 15 batters.

Addison Reed worked the eighth and Jeurys Familia closed for his 36th save this year and 52nd in a row during the regular season.

White Sox avoid Chapman, down Cubs 3-0 behind Shields
CHICAGO -- James Shields allowed four singles in 7 2/3 innings, Adam Eaton homered and the White Sox stayed unbeaten since Chris Sale's suspension by beating the Cubs 3-0 Tuesday night in Chicago's crosstown rivalry.

The Cubs lost their second straight and never got to use new closer Aroldis Chapman hours after he joined the team and struggled answering questions related to an altercation last year with his girlfriend.

Shields (5-12) struck out five and continued an impressive turnaround from a terrible first three starts after being acquired from San Diego last month. Nate Jones finished the eighth and David Robertson worked the ninth for his 24th save in the White Sox's fourth straight win since their ace was sent home for destroying throwback jerseys.

Jose Abreu had two hits, including an RBI single in the first off Kyle Hendricks (9-7) that ended his streak of 22 2/3 innings without allowing an earned run (see full story).

Jerad Eickhoff's 'outstanding' start wasted by Phillies in shutout loss to Marlins

Jerad Eickhoff's 'outstanding' start wasted by Phillies in shutout loss to Marlins

BOX SCORE

MIAMI — The Phillies enjoyed a three-week stretch before the All-Star break when they were the best hitting team in baseball.

In the final 19 games before the break, they hit .308 with a .871 OPS. Both marks were tops in the majors over that span. They averaged 5.63 runs per game in that stretch.

The run of sturdy offense created some excitement and anticipation heading into the second half of the season. But that excitement and anticipation has now dissipated. Since coming back from the break, the Phillies’ offense has retreated back to invisibility.

The Phils were blanked, 5-0, by the Miami Marlins on Tuesday night, wasting a terrific start from Jerad Eickhoff (see Instant Replay).

After the game, manager Pete Mackanin was peeved.

“The only thing positive I can say about this game is Eickhoff,” Mackanin said. “He was outstanding. He had a great curveball, hit his spots, pitched well. It was a pitchers' duel up until the end. I’m real happy about that. 

"But that’s about all I’m happy about.”

Marlins starter Tom Koehler and a trio of relievers held the Phillies to just four singles.

Phillies hitters struck out 10 times. They have averaged 9.5 strikeouts in 12 games since coming back from the break and hit just .208. They are averaging just 2.75 runs in the 12 games since the break and carrying a 4-8 record.

“Poor plate discipline,” Mackanin said. “Poor plate discipline. Swinging at too many bad pitches. We get ourselves out too often. That’s about all I can think of.

“Koehler pitched well. But we helped him out a lot. We didn’t give him a chance to walk us. We swung at too many bad pitches. That’s our problem. We just get ourselves out too often. That’s what it boils down to.

“If you’re a free swinger who’s going to hit 30-plus home runs and drive in 100 runs, that’s acceptable to me. But if you’re not a power hitter, it’s unacceptable. You’ve got to make adjustments. You’ve got improve on it. You’ve got to work on it.”

Peter Bourjos offered his thoughts on the Phillies’ offensive struggles since the All-Star break.

“It's almost like it was probably bad timing for that break,” he said. “Everything was rolling. We were swinging the bats really well. Everyone looked comfortable in the box and feeling good and it's tough right now. You can see what there was with the offense. I think it's going to come back. We just need to get back into the rhythm that we had and everything's going to be all right.”

Eickhoff scattered five hits and a run over seven innings. He walked one and struck out eight, a big improvement over his previous start when these same Marlins tagged him for nine hits and six runs in five innings.

“I was more aggressive,” Eickhoff said. “It’s amazing what being aggressive will do for your game and how hitters will react. I threw my fastball inside and that set up my curveball so much more.”

The poor run support was nothing new for Eickhoff. He entered the game receiving an average of just 3.53 runs per game, 10th worst in the majors.

It was a scoreless game until there were two outs in the sixth. That’s when Giancarlo Stanton swatted a two-out RBI single to right, scoring Martin Prado from second. Stanton’s hit rolled untouched through the second base area because the Phillies’ defense was shifted to the pull side.

“We’ve got to play a shift on him,” Mackanin said of baseball's most fearsome power bat.

The game got out of hand when the bullpen was tagged for four runs in the eighth. Ichiro Suzuki stroked career hit No. 2,997 to get the Marlins’ late rally started.

In the first inning, Suzuki launched a long drive to the gap in right-center. Rightfielder Bourjos ran the ball down and made a terrific catch while crashing into the wall. He left the game with a jammed right shoulder and could miss some time (see story).

Instant Replay: Marlins 5, Phillies 0

Instant Replay: Marlins 5, Phillies 0

BOX SCORE

MIAMI — Jerad Eickhoff pitched seven innings of one-run ball, but still came away with a loss as the Phillies were shut out, 5-0, by the Miami Marlins on Tuesday night.

Giancarlo Stanton drove in the Marlins’ first two runs with a single and a double.

Stanton gave the Marlins a 1-0 lead with a two-out base hit to right field against Eickhoff in the sixth inning. Stanton’s groundball hit rolled through the second base area, which had been vacated by the shift.

The Marlins blew the game open with four runs against the Phillies’ bullpen in the eighth.

The Phillies are 4-8 since the All-Star break and 46-56 overall.

Starting pithing report
Eickhoff scattered five hits and a run over seven innings. He walked one and struck out eight.

Miami manager Don Mattingly pulled Tom Koehler after the right-hander pitched six shutout innings and had allowed just three hits. Koehler walked one, struck out five and threw just 73 pitches. He exited with a 1-0 lead.

Koehler pitched eight innings of two-run ball in a win over the Phillies last week.

Bullpen report 
Andrew Bailey was charged with three runs in the eighth.

Mike Dunn, David Phelps and Nick Wittgren completed the shutout for the Marlins. 

At the plate
The Phillies had just four hits, all singles, and struck out 10 times. They were 0 for 4 with runners in scoring position and are 1 for 13 the last two nights.

Stanton had been just 3 for 35 against the Phils this season before his shift-beating RBI hit in the sixth. He hit the ball much harder in the eighth inning when he clouted an RBI double to right-center against Bailey.

Adeiny Hechavarria padded the Marlins’ lead with a two-run single in their four-run eighth inning.

Ichiro Suzuki’s eighth-inning single left him three hits shy of 3,000 in his big-league career.

Health check
Rightfielder Peter Bourjos injured his right shoulder making a catch against the wall in the first inning and left the game (see story).

Minor matters
Ranger Suarez, a 20-year-old left-hander from Venezuela, pitched a seven-inning no-hitter for the Phillies’ Single A Williamsport club on Tuesday night.

Up next
The series concludes on Wednesday afternoon. Zach Eflin (3-3, 3.40) pitches against Miami lefty Adam Conley (6-5, 3.58).