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 NFL: Seahawks hurt Tony Romo, pull away from Cowboys

Best of NFL: Seahawks hurt Tony Romo, pull away from Cowboys

SEATTLE -- Three plays were all it took for Dallas to get yet another injury scare surrounding Tony Romo.

The quarterback lasted just 90 seconds into the Cowboys' 27-17 preseason loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Thursday night before leaving with what appeared at first to be a potentially significant injury, but ended up being minor.

Romo was tackled from behind by Seattle's Cliff Avril on the third play from scrimmage as Romo scrambled from the pocket.

He immediately grabbed at his back, crumpled on the field while trainers sprinted from the Dallas sideline and images of Romo's injury problems from last year immediately flashed to mind.

Turned out it was all just a scare. Romo walked off the field without assistance, threw passes on the sideline and lobbied for a return to the game. Dallas coach Jason Garrett opted to play it safe and Romo donned a baseball hat as a spectator the rest of the night.

"I was just in shock and had my mind on just, `C'mon, Tony. Get up,'" Cowboys owner Jerry Jones told the team's TV broadcast.

"Said a few prayers right there in the middle on the spot. Really just couldn't imagine getting that hand dealt to us. We're pleased that it's in good shape. We obviously don't need to see what Tony can do out there."

What Romo saw was an impressive initial flash from rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott and a solid performance by backup QB Dak Prescott against one of the top defenses in the NFL.

Elliott rushed for 48 yards on seven carries, including a 13-yard run where he knocked Seattle safety Kam Chancellor backward. Prescott was solid playing against most of Seattle's starting defense, finishing 17 of 23 for 116 yards, including a 17-yard TD pass that Jason Witten snatched away from K.J. Wright.

Russell Wilson and Seattle's No. 1 offense played into the second half, scoring on four of its final five possessions including a pair of TD tosses by Wilson (see full recap).

Foster leads Dolphins to win over Falcons
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Running back Arian Foster had a 2-yard touchdown run in the Miami Dolphins' 17-6 win over the Atlanta Falcons on Thursday night.

Foster, who joined the Dolphins during the offseason and is coming off an Achilles injury, had his most extensive playing time with his new team in the third preseason game that was played at Orlando's Camping World Stadium.

The four-time Pro Bowl running back played in just one series in the first half, but he made the most of the limited opportunities by sparking the Dolphins to their lone touchdown drive of the half with five carries for 10 yards, capped by his 2-yard scoring run early in the second quarter.

The Dolphins are taking a cautious approach with Foster, who hasn't played a full season since 2012 with Houston. The former Texans star didn't play in the Dolphins' preseason opener and had just two carries for minus-5 yards last week against Dallas.

With Foster expected to challenge second-year running back Jay Ajayi in the Dolphins backfield this season, coach Adam Case came into Thursday night's game wanting a little more to evaluate Foster on.

Foster didn't get a lot more work, but he did enough in the seven touches he received to make the Dolphins' running back competition interesting. Ajayi carried seven times for 11 yards and caught two passes for 12 yards.

Foster had two receptions for 20 yards, which included a 16-yard catch that moved the Dolphins into scoring position at the Falcons 22.

Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill, coming off an impressive outing against the Cowboys, didn't put his team in many scoring positions, but he did move the ball effectively.

He completed 20 of 29 passes for 155 yards while leading the Dolphins to a score in one of two red zone opportunities (see full recap).

Roy Halladay provides epic quote in tribute to Carlos Ruiz, the 'little engine that could'

Roy Halladay provides epic quote in tribute to Carlos Ruiz, the 'little engine that could'

Roy Halladay and Carlos Ruiz shared a special relationship.

We all know the story.

The two formed an incredible battery combination that produced a perfect game and postseason no-hitter in the same year.

Halladay, a Cy Young winner with plenty of accolades, loved the unassuming Ruiz just as much, if not more, than anyone.

This is case in point: Doc, via CSNPhilly.com's Phillies Insider Jim Salisbury, provided an absolutely epic quote summing up Chooch, who the Phillies traded on Thursday night.

Without further ado ...

Chooch was the little engine that could for a team loaded with big names, but no player was more valuable to the team as a whole than Carlos! He was so humble and grateful, you couldn't help but just want to do anything for him including win! He flawlessly handled one of the greatest pitching staffs ever assembled and was just as important offensively, as well. It was nothing short of miraculous that he could handle so many different personalities and approaches on a day-to-day basis the way that he did. He was the best catcher I've ever thrown to and, in my opinion, the best catcher in baseball in the years I was with him. It's going to be sad to see him without a Phillies uniform on and not seeing him sitting in his chair in the clubhouse with a smile. And just the way the fans treated Chase last week, Chooch is also deserving of that hero's welcome. They are my two favorite players of all-time as well as favorite teammates. I was fortunate to have both of them in the clubhouse. I want to wish good luck to Carlos. Maybe one day when we're old and gray we can come back to Philly!!

With that, we'll leave you with these awesome moments.

Report: Phillies calling up prospect Jorge Alfaro

Report: Phillies calling up prospect Jorge Alfaro

It appears prized catching prospect Jorge Alfaro is coming to the Phillies.

But not for long.

According to a report late Thursday night by Yahoo! Sports' Jeff Passan, Alfaro will be promoted from Double A Reading to the Phillies and join the team Friday in New York.

Alfaro, already on the Phillies' 40-man roster, is not expected to stay for long. He gets the call now with the Phillies' trade of Carlos Ruiz on Thursday night and veteran catcher A.J. Ellis, a part of the Ruiz deal, not yet with the team but expecting to join it this weekend against the Mets.

Alfaro is a strong candidate to be a September call-up of the Phillies once Reading is finished with the Eastern League playoffs.

The 23-year-old was acquired in the Cole Hamels trade at last season's non-waiver deadline. With the Fightin Phils this season, Alfaro is hitting .279 with 13 home runs, 61 RBIs and 60 runs scored. He's ranked as baseball's second-best catching prospect by MLB.com Pipeline and is known for his big throwing arm and power potential.