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.


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.


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.

Josh Huff's acrobatic kick return touchdown sparks Eagles to win

Josh Huff's acrobatic kick return touchdown sparks Eagles to win

For the first 40 yards of Josh Huff’s kick return touchdown on Sunday, he went untouched.

When he got to the Eagles’ 42-yard line, Vikings kicker Blair Walsh was the only guy left in his way.

Huff ran through him.

“Yeah, I can’t let a kicker tackle me,” Huff said. “If he would have tackled me, I really would have been pissed at myself.”

The 170-pound Walsh couldn’t make the tackle and was sent spinning as Huff ran through. Fifty-six yards later, Huff took off from the 2-yard line, flipping into the end zone to give the Eagles their first lead in an eventual 21-10 win over the Vikings (see Instant Replay).

Huff said he knew he was scoring as soon as he saw that he had just the kicker to beat.

With the Eagles’ down 3-0 and with their offense sputtering through the first quarter and change, Huff’s play was a game-changer (see 10 Observations).

“Josh did a great job on the return,” head coach Doug Pederson said. “[Special teams coordinator] Dave Fipp really has those guys ready every single week. You need those things. You need special teams scores.”

After Wendell Smallwood’s kick return touchdown last week, this is the first time in franchise history the Eagles have had kick return touchdowns in back-to-back games. They also have the NFL’s only two kick return touchdowns of the season (see Standout Plays).

“It’s super cool,” Smallwood said. “Now teams have to pick their poison. They can’t go away from one. They can’t say they’re not going to kick to Smallwood, then they kick to Huff and he takes it. I think we’re going to get a lot of teams’ attention.”

Huff also had a role in the Eagles’ offense against the Vikings. He caught four passes for 39 yards, including two that picked up first downs. His 14-yarder in the third helped set up the touchdown that sealed the win for the Eagles.

This season hasn’t been great offensively for Huff. He is clearly the Eagles’ fourth wideout and came into Sunday with just eight catches for 24 yards.

“Obviously, I want to play good on offense, but we have three great guys in front of me,” Huff said. “I’m doing what I can to stay ready and I’m at my best when those guys do need me. At the end of the day, as long as I’m doing my job and as long as I stay ready, today was evident. Whenever they call my number, I’m going to make the most of my opportunities.”

Huff finished off his 98-yard kick return touchdown the same way he finished off his 41-yard receiving touchdown in New England last year: With a flip.

Huff took off from the 2-yard line and did a front flip, landing in the middle in the black end zone on his backside.

“It’s just something that happens,” Huff said. “Everybody says I should have stuck the landing, but I’m not a gymnast.”

Eagles' defense outplays Vikings' top-ranked unit

Eagles' defense outplays Vikings' top-ranked unit

The Eagles’ defense had two challenges on its mind Sunday. First, there was the challenge of outplaying Sam Bradford and the Vikings’ offense. Just as important was the challenge of outplaying the Vikings’ top-ranked defense.

“We wanted to be the better defense out there,” Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham said. “We wanted to match their intensity. That was the whole thing. That’s all we talked about — let’s be the best defense out there today. We wanted to make sure we were the most dominating defense in the game.

“We wanted to get more sacks, get more turnovers … that was our whole goal.”

In a clash of two of the NFL’s top defensive units, the Eagles beat the previously undefeated Vikings 21-10 Sunday at the Linc (see Instant Replay).

The Vikings defense was very good. It held the Eagles to 14 offensive points and forced four turnovers, but also had no sacks.

The Eagles’ defense was better. It held the Vikings to 10 offensive points, forced four turnovers and recorded six sacks.

If you watched this game and had to guess which defense is No. 1 in the NFL, you’d guess Eagles.

They were that dominating.

They outplayed the best defense in the game.

“We think we’re the best defense, but they’ve been playing great, and they were the best defense coming in,” Eagles safety Rodney McLeod said. “We knew it would come down to whichever defense played the best.

“You could see that the first quarter. We’d make a play, they’d make a play. But you’ve just got to keep on chopping. After the last two games, we wanted to get back to playing Eagles defense, and I feel like we did that.”

McLeod, linebacker Jordan Hicks, Connor Barwin and Graham led a ferocious defensive effort that saw the Eagles batter former teammate Sam Bradford, who absorbed his first loss as a Viking (see 10 Observations).

The Eagles sacked Bradford six times, intercepted him twice and mauled him snap after snap after snap. By the time the Vikings got in the end zone, with half a minute left, it was already a three-possession game.

Neither team had an offensive play longer than 29 yards.

“We think we’re the No. 1 defense in the league,” Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “We think we can be that and should be that if we go out and play the way we’re supposed to.

“We have to do that every week. But we think we can hang with any defenses out there. And we have a lot of respect for that defense across the field, and we knew we would have to show up for us to even have a chance to be in this game. Because that defense is ranked No. 1 coming into this thing.

“But we also feel we’re the best defense in the league, even though we haven’t played like it. But this is the opportunity you want. On the main stage, you’re coming into our home, and this was our opportunity to face the best defense in the league, and I think we showed our worth.”

The Eagles, who looked nothing like a top defense the last two weeks in losses in Detroit and Washington, improved to 4-2 and dropped the Vikings to 5-1.

Six games in, the Eagles’ defense is allowing just 13.5 points per game. That’s No. 2 in the league, behind only … who else … the Vikings at 12.8 per game.

“For us, it’s a battle of the defenses,” Hicks said. “And we always want to be the best defense on the field and put our team in a position to win.”

Bradford has been sacked more only once in his career, back in 2011 with the Rams, when the Redskins got him seven times.

And after opening the season with no interceptions in four games, the Eagles picked him off twice.

Whatever it takes to get motivated. If it works, it works. And this Eagles' defense was clearly motivated by that No. 1 ranking the Vikings brought to town.

“It motivated everybody,” Fletcher Cox said. “We knew in order to win this game we had to be good up front, and the last two weeks we weren’t very good up front. But we got back to basics and went out and played a physical football game.”

Hicks had 11 tackles, a sack, three tackles for loss and two pass knockdowns in his finest game of the year. McLeod became the first Eagle since Quintin Mikell in 2007 with a sack, forced fumble and interception in the same game and added seven tackles. And Graham picked up his fourth sack to go with five quarterback hurries and a forced fumble (see Standout Plays).

The Eagles got back to the way they played defense the first three games of the season. They’ve now held their opponents to 14 or fewer points in four of six games and won them all. In their two losses, they’ve allowed 24 and 27.

“Pride … call it what you want, we knew we had to play well today,” Hicks said. “This defense has a certain standard, and it doesn’t matter what anybody else does, it matters what we do, and ultimately if we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing, we’re going to be a top, top, top defense.

“For me, it’s not about them. It’s about us and what we do.”