Observations and Practice Notes from Week One at Eagles Training Camp

Observations and Practice Notes from Week One at Eagles Training Camp

When Chip Kelly says the depth chart is written in sand, that every player on the Eagles’ roster must compete for their spot on a daily basis, he’s not kidding. There are few positions where it’s obvious who will be the starter come September 9 in Washington based on practice reps.

LeSean McCoy is the primary running back. The projected offensive line from left to right consists of Jason Peters, Evan Mathis, Jason Kelce, Todd Herremans, and Lane Johnson. The interior linebackers are DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks. Almost everything else is up for grabs, and Chip continues to stress that it’s still early in the evaluation process.

Every single day we're out here looking at them in terms of what they can do, what they can't do, how are they picking up what we are doing. It's an ongoing process. I believe the component of them being in a live situation is a huge part of it.

I feel we're better in practice five than we were in practice one. I think sometimes when you add new things, part of the install, those are the things that guys are making a little bit of mistakes on. It's just a matter of getting reps on those. The things that we added and we continue to repeat, they've done a nice job with. I'm pleased with where we are at this point. Again, we're not even in the month of August yet. We're still in July.

In other words, just because a player hasn’t looked particularly great these first few days, or somebody isn’t taking tons of reps with the first stringers, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re overly far behind. There will be plenty more opportunities to go around for another month here.

Quarterback

There is little if any distance between Mike Vick and Nick Foles for the Eagles’ starting quarterback job so far, but Chip Kelly reiterated it will be difficult to determine who is winning without some preseason work. There’s only so much one can glean from practice.

Again, if you don't put people in live situations, it's tough to see where they really are. I know I made the statement, everybody gets a big kick out of it, but a quarterback is like a tea bag. You don't know what you're going to get until the rush is live. Guys are jogging up, they have a red jersey on them, people can’t tag them. It's a little bit of a different game, especially from the quarterback standpoint. We'll see. We'd like to [name a starting QB] sooner. Again, we can't force it in terms of that.

On the other hand, it’s probably fair to categorize Matt Barkley as being a step behind both of them. That’s not meant as a knock on Barkley. The fourth-round pick is coming along and has been competent in his own right, but naturally he doesn’t look as polished as Vick or Foles. I’m not sure the distance between Barkley and the guys at the top of the food chain is that great – actually it could be erased rather quickly – but he remains the clear No. 3 for now.

Wide Receiver

Ifeanyi Momah (6-7) is almost a full foot taller than Damaris Johnson (5-8), yet Johnson is the one who has stood out at camp. He’s seemingly open all the time, and frequently in a position to pick up yards after the catch. The fact that he can line up in the slot, outside, or even in the backfield makes him very difficult to gameplan against. Damaris is definitely a player who stands to see his role expanded in the wake of Jeremy Maclin’s injury.

Despite his height and legendary 4.4 speed, Momah hasn’t done anything out of the ordinary by comparison. In terms of big plays, fellow longshot receivers Greg Salas and Russell Shepard have made more. It’s early, but let’s just say Momah isn’t exactly taking over.

Tight End

Get ready for those three tight-end sets we’ve heard so much about. The Eagles unveiled the look on Monday, with Brent Celek lined up as a traditional tight end, James Casey in the slot, and Zach Ertz split out wide. Not hard to envision how that might create matchup problems for a defense, although Chip did provide a bit of insight after practice.

If we were playing a game today, I would say Brent would be our tight end, our H back type guy would be Casey, and our outside guy would be Zach. That doesn't mean we can’t line up with three tight ends right next to each other and have three on the line of scrimmage. We ran one or two formations with those guys today. It was just an introduction.

Ertz has been the most impressive of the three. He plays faster than his 4.7 40 time suggests, and is as smooth a route-runner as advertised. The coaching staff certainly doesn’t appear to be bringing the second-round pick along slowly at all. He’ll have every opportunity to make an immediate impact.

Defensive Line/Linebacker

The Eagles are trying out a bunch of personnel combinations along the defensive line. It looked like Trent Cole took some reps as an end. Fletcher Cox flip-flops sides. 6’8” Clifton Geathers has lined up at nose tackle. It’s clear the coaching staff has no idea what their best configuration is yet. Chip isn’t even sure the defense will ultimately settle on a 3-4 alignment this season for that matter, a decision that will be dependent upon how Cole, Brandon Graham, and Philip Hunt adapt to playing outside linebacker.

It really goes from a wide-9 to a two-gap 3-4, and where we end, I don't really know. We're moving in that direction, but where we go really depends on us making a real thorough evaluation of how those guys at the outside linebacker are playing.

For what it’s worth, Connor Barwin has been excellent. Of course, he already has a grasp of what’s going on coming from a 3-4 defense in Houston, and is a definite starter at one of the outside linebacker spots. Reports on Cole and Graham have been far less favorable though, especially in coverage.

Couple of things to note about that. One drill the converted defensive ends were getting killed over had them covering tight ends one-on-one down the field – a situation that’s unlikely to occur in an actual game. For that matter, they likely would not be asked to drop into coverage nearly as often as they have during this camp. This is a case it seems where Chip is challenging his players so the coaching staff can figure out if they can handle it or not.

I think if you're a good teacher, you don't get frustrated early. If people could pick it up like that, then everybody would do it. It's not. It's a hard transition. We believe it's the best thing for us.

Like Kelly, we really need to see more before coming to any definitive conclusion one way or the other as to whether or not this experiment will work.

Secondary

Brandon Boykin is having one of the strongest camps out of anybody so far. With Cary Williams nursing a hamstring injury (maybe those OTAs were kind of important after all), Boykin is getting plenty of looks at outside corner, and he’s handled the responsibilities perfectly fine, whether that’s being asked to shadow DeSean Jackson deep down the field or blanket a towering presence like Momah. Boykin has dropped some potential interceptions, but otherwise is playing fantastic football. His head coach is taking notice, too.

Brandon is explosive. I thought he played really, really well yesterday. I haven't seen today's film, but yesterday he did a really nice job in the stadium. He showed up, made a play again, whether it was in special teams or in the team in seven-on-seven situation. I'm pleased with where he is so far.

It will be interesting to see what the Eagles do if in fact Boykin winds up being the best option on the outside – and he honestly could be. Chip did mention Boykin could play inside or out, so maybe he would slide into the slot in nickel formations. Eddie Whitley and Jordan Poyer were also mentioned as slot candidates.

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

Tonight's lineup: Ryan Howard starts; Bryce Harper (knee) sits for Nats

053116-lunch-break-slide.jpg

Tonight's lineup: Ryan Howard starts; Bryce Harper (knee) sits for Nats

Bryce Harper is out of the Nationals' lineup Tuesday night after being hit in the knee by a Jeremy Hellickson pitch on Memorial Day.

Big break for the Phils considering Harper has hit .346 against them with three doubles, 11 home runs, 23 RBIs and 21 walks in his last 104 plate appearances against them.

It's an equally big break for Aaron Nola, against whom Harper is 6 for 10 with two homers (see game notes).

For the Phillies, Ryan Howard gets the start at first base against another right-hander, Washington's Joe Ross. Phillies fans are clamoring for more playing time for Tommy Joseph, but starting Howard against Ross does make some sense given how much better lefties have been against him (.295 BA) than righties (.209). Ross throws a ton of sinkers and sliders which make it tough on same-handed hitters.

1. Odubel Herrera, CF
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Maikel Franco, 3B
4. Cameron Rupp, C
5. Ryan Howard, 1B
6. Tyler Goeddel, LF
7. David Lough, RF
8. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
9. Aaron Nola, P

And for the Nationals:

1. Ben Revere, CF
2. Jayson Werth, RF
3. Daniel Murphy, 2B
4. Ryan Zimmerman, 1B
5. Clint Robinson, LF
6. Anthony Rendon, 3B
7. Wilson Ramos, C
8. Danny Espinosa, SS
9. Joe Ross, P

The Ryan Howard saga is hard to watch

ap_841901862648.jpg

The Ryan Howard saga is hard to watch

It's difficult to feel sorry for a professional athlete who will have earned nearly $200 million in salary before his playing career ends at 37 years old. It's hard, but Ryan Howard is doing an outstanding job of making me feel bad anyway.

The statistics speak for themselves. As the calendar rolls over to June, Howard is batting .157 with more than twice as many strikeouts (52) as base hits (22). Debate rages as to whether the Phillies should hang on to the three-time All-Star for locker-room morale -- perhaps also in the desperate hopes they can still trade him -- or if they should just put The Big Piece out of his misery with an outright release.

There's no satisfying answer here. All I can say is I wish for it to be over.

Howard's decline has been one of the saddest to watch in recent Philly sports memory. From 2005 through 2011, he was the heart of the Phillies' order, belting 284 home runs and driving in 859 runs in six-and-a-half seasons, during the most successful run in franchise history. In 2016, Howard's bat can barely catch up to the ball, let alone knock it out of the infield.

Largely through no fault of his own. Howard has never been the same since rupturing his Achilles on the final at bat of the 2011 season. Sure, there were signs he was slowing down or that the rest of the league was catching up to him even then, averaging 32 homers between the '10-'11 seasons compared to 49.5 over '06-'09 -- but he was still hitting the ball at that point.

Since the injury, Howard's power hasn't necessarily dipped dramatically. It's his ability to hit the ball, period. From '04 to '11, he was a .275 hitter. After the injury, he's batting .226. This season has been especially trying, with the month of May bordering on the historic.

Of course, it's not news Howard's career was derailed by injuries. It's no secret he's been particularly awful this season. It's just harder than ever to watch.

Just how ineffective has Howard been in 2016? In retrospect, maybe the numbers don't quite do the struggle justice. Obviously, he isn't hitting, and he's striking out as frequently as ever. What's new this year is the percentage of fly balls that don't even make it out of the infield -- 12 percent, which is twice as high as any season in 13 Major League seasons.

What does it mean exactly? Howard's swing is so jacked right now that even when he does make contact, even when he doesn't hit a ball into the defensive shift, one in 10 times is essentially a harmless pop-up.

To his credit, Howard also has eight home runs this season, some of which have been big at bats or game-winners. He's also been hailed as a positive influence and leader in the clubhouse, an example this young group of Phillies can certainly benefit from.

Nor do I believe Howard really needs anybody to feel bad for him. He's worked hard and accomplished more than most ever will at his profession, and as a result is able to provide for his family and generations beyond. He's built a great legacy both on the baseball diamond, but one that no doubt extends beyond athletic prowess.

Yet none of that changes the fact that Howard's play has deteriorated to the point where he's become a black hole in the Phillies' lineup. It pains me to say that, to use this platform to write it -- just not as much as it pains me to watch it happening.

I'd love nothing more than for Howard to go on a tear and end his final season with the Phillies with head held high. It's the ending a legend like him deserves. Or better yet, improve his production to a level where a contender in the American League would sign Howard and give him one last crack at postseason baseball.

But short of that, I'd love nothing more for it to all be over, to not have to watch one of the great Phillies sluggers flail away every other or third day, or less as it soon may come to. It's not a matter of debate as to when or how that should happen. The sooner, the better.

10 observations from Tuesday's Eagles OTAs

053016-eagles-qb-webbestvideo3_1920x1080_695695427734.jpg

10 observations from Tuesday's Eagles OTAs

The Eagles wrapped up their Tuesday practice just before 12:30 p.m. under a hot summer-like sun.

Tuesday was the first day of four in the team’s final week of OTAs, which are voluntary. The mandatory minicamp starts next Tuesday and runs through next Thursday.

That’s when we might see Fletcher Cox and Darren Sproles, both of whom have been staying away from the team during the voluntary period. And that’s where we’ll start with today’s 10 observations:

1. With Cox still out, Mike Martin was again working with the first team at defensive tackle next to Bennie Logan, as he was last week. Two weeks ago, Taylor Hart was next to Logan at tackle. Martin was a depth piece in Tennessee and that’s how he’ll fit with the Eagles once Cox comes back.

Martin was also involved in the first little scuffle we’ve seen during these spring practices. Nothing too exciting … just a little shoving with left guard Allen Barbre.

2. Sproles is still out, but Ryan Mathews returned. Mathews missed the last practice opened to the media with an illness but participated Tuesday. The interesting thing was that Mathews didn’t get all the first-team reps. In fact, Kenjon Barner actually opened the 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 portions of practice with the first team.

It’s early, but Barner has looked pretty good this spring. It’ll be interesting to see if he fits with the team. He’s ahead of rookie Wendell Smallwood now, but would the team really elect to keep him over a fifth-round pick? Or will the team be OK keeping four running backs again?

Another note: Rueben Randle (gallbladder surgery) is still out.

3. We saw a little trickery from Doug Pederson’s offense on Tuesday against no defense. First, Chase Daniel threw a lateral screen to Josh Huff, who threw down the right to Smallwood. Then, Carson Wentz threw a lateral pass to Nelson Agholor and then Wentz ran a route down the left sideline, but Agholor overthrew him.

Maybe the trick plays are just way to keep practice lighter, but it might also mean the offense is moving along nicely and installing more and more of the playbook. It’s a good sign.

4. Wentz was up and down on Tuesday, but his best completion came on a deep pass down the right sideline to wideout Xavier Rush (who is a candidate for best name on the team). Rush wrestled the ball away from corner C.J. Smith, who should know Wentz pretty well. The two played together at North Dakota State.

Meanwhile, Sam Bradford had a shaky day, throwing several balls that could have been picked off.

5. Again, Leodis McKelvin and Ron Brooks — the two Jim Schwartz guys in the secondary — were working with the first team. On Tuesday, Eric Rowe was the extra corner on the field in the nickel. When Rowe came in, Brooks shifted into the slot. It still looks like Nolan Carroll isn’t yet allowed to practice during team portions.

On the first play of 11 on 11s, Brooks broke up a pass from Bradford that was then picked off by Rodney McLeod and taken the other way. Not a good throw from Bradford, but Brooks was aggressive and jumped it.

6. Down by the goal line during the team period, Malcolm Jenkins made a nice play to get in front of a pass, but couldn’t pick it off. He’s in midseason form. Jenkins had a great year in 2015, but really struggled to intercept balls that he had in his hands.

7. Jordan Hicks didn’t participate in 7 on 7s or 11 on 11s Tuesday. Two weeks ago, he sat out with tightness in his legs, but returned last week. On Tuesday, with Hicks watching, Najee Goode filled in at first-team MIKE, flanked by Nigel Bradham and Mychal Kendricks.

8. Chase Daniel overthrew two balls badly within a few plays during the 11-on-11 drills, but then capped off a drive by dropping a ball into the hands of wideout Paul Turner in the back of the end zone. Decent day for Daniel.

9. The Eagles ran some scout team looks for the first time (that we’ve seen) on Tuesday. Daniel ran the scout team, which makes sense. Normally, it would be the third-string quarterback, but Wentz probably has plenty on his plate. Not sure whom the offense was mimicking, but the two pinnies were Nos. 88 and 82. Perhaps the Cowboys?

10. At one point on Tuesday, the offense started to use a tempo offense, giving everyone in attendance flashbacks to Chip. Well, not exactly. The up-tempo didn’t last long and it did produce the ugliest Wentz pass since he’s been with the team.

We are seeing plenty of interesting looks from the Eagles. At times they’ve been using formations with three tight ends. And they even showed some designed quarterback runs on Tuesday. The progression and complexity of this offense is starting to be revealed by these practices, and it’s something to keep an eye on.

Stupid Observation of the Day: Punter Donnie Jones has begun to wear a pretty sweet white and blue bucket hat at practice when he’s not wearing his helmet. Only a punter could get away with this. Here, you can see him in the background from last week.