Philadelphia Eagles

Eagles training camp Day 16 observations: Catch of the Summer

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Eagles training camp Day 16 observations: Catch of the Summer

After a cloudy day to start the weekend, the Eagles were under the hot sun Sunday.

The Eagles will have two more practices before Wednesday's walk-through and Thursday's game against the Bills at home.

Observation time:

1. *Clears throat* injuries: Add Fletcher Cox to the injury report. The Eagles' superstar defensive tackle missed practice Sunday with back spasms. He didn't even come out to the field.

Nick Foles (elbow), Bryce Treggs (sore legs), Paul Turner (shoulder), Wendell Smallwood (hamstring), Ron Brooks (hamstring), Josh Andrews (hand), Halapoulivaati Vaitai (knee), Brandon Brooks (ankle) and Anthony Denham (calf) all missed practice again.

Offensive tackle Dillon Gordon (hand) missed the beginning of the day but returned later and even participated in team drills.

2. New cornerback Ronald Darby took the field for the first time with the Eagles on Sunday. He was a spectator at practice Saturday because Jordan Matthews hadn't yet taken his physical in Buffalo so the trade wasn't complete.

The Eagles didn't waste time throwing Darby right into the mix (see story). He worked with the first unit during group install and again in 11-on-11s. He was on his normal left side as the team let him compete in man coverage. He looked good.

In 11-on-11s, Nelson Agholor made a great catch in front of him but Darby had good coverage. In 7-on-7s, he went up against Alshon Jeffery. The two got tangled and Jeffery came down with the ball. Still, Darby looked good. He even showed that closing speed earlier in the day when he was covering Mack Hollins on a dig route.

3. Trey Burton made the catch of training camp during an 11-on-11 period. Matt McGloin's pass was deflected by Mychal Kendricks, but somehow Burton made a spinning, left-handed catch as he was moving away from the ball. It drew some gasps from his teammates and the fans in attendance. It also drew a look of "are you kidding me?" from a grimacing Kendricks.

"It was luck, bro," Burton said. "Just threw my hand out there."

It was a little more than luck. Great concentration from Burton, who could have a big role in the offense this season.

4. Jim Schwartz used a bunch of combinations at corner on Sunday. Darby and Jalen Mills began the day as the starters with Aaron Grymes in the slot. Then Patrick Robinson had some time in the slot before moving outside. Then Malcolm Jenkins went into the slot and Corey Graham came in to replace him at safety. Without Ron Brooks, who is the top slot corner, Schwartz is moving guys around trying to find the best combination.

5. During a 1-on-1 drill, Kendricks was roasted by Darren Sproles. Really, it was unfair. Sproles pulled a super quick double move and put about five yards of separation between him and Kendricks as he ran down the sideline and caught the pass that was lofted in.

6. Overall, the defense won the day. That happens sometimes during training camp. One side of the ball just clearly outperforms the other. A part of that was that Carson Wentz wasn't very sharp for the second day in a row. Not anything to worry about, but that's just the truth. And after that, the team has McGloin and Dane Evans. By the way, Evans has been the better of the two.

7. Corey Clement blocked Joe Walker during a blocking drill and Duce Staley was pumped. He jumped into the air to chest bump Clement in celebration. Often pass protection is what keeps rookies off football teams and off the field. At least Clement is willing. In those same drills, LeGarrette Blount couldn't stop Kendricks, who blew past him.

8. In offensive line vs. defensive line drills, Chance Warmack struggled to block Justin Hamilton and Gabe Wright. That's not a good sign, especially after Warmack didn't have a very good game in the preseason opener. Warmack has been getting a lot of coaching from O-line coach Jeff Stoutland. Right now, Warmack is the starting right guard while Brooks deals with his ankle injury, but it's fair to wonder if the team wouldn't be better with Stefen Wisniewski in there.

9. In those same 1-on-1 drills, Tim Jernigan pulled off a lightning-quick inside spin move. For some guys, that same spin move seems to take forever and they expose their backs to the offensive lineman for too long. Then, that move can end in disaster. But with Jernigan, it happens so quickly, the lineman can't react fast enough.

10. Even after cutting Marcus Smith a while back, the Eagles have some decent depth at defensive end. Recently, last year's seventh-round pick Alex McCalister has been playing better and Steven Means has been consistent too. The team goes six deep at end: Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry, Chris Long, Derek Barnett, McCalister and Means. As McCalister comes on, the coaching staff might have a tough decision when it's time to cut down to 53 players.

Stupid Observation of the Day: Walker shaved his beard and is probably about five pounds lighter because of it. He no longer looks like football Jesus.

Ronald Darby has potential to change how frequent Eagles blitz

Ronald Darby has potential to change how frequent Eagles blitz

The Eagles blitzed early and often during their second exhibition game against the Bills last week, and unlike much of what we see in preseason, it actually could be a sign of what’s to come.

No NFL defense used a standard four-man pass rush with greater frequency than the Eagles in 2016 at 79.3 percent of the time, according to Football Outsiders Almanac. (Conversely, the team that rushed four the fewest was the Jets at 49.2 percent.) This has long been the philosophy of defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, who prefers to generate pressure from the front four without drawing on help from linebackers and defensive backs.

Schwartz also may have been more hesitant to blitz than usual last season out of fear a weak secondary would not be able to hold up in coverage. Now that the Eagles acquired cornerback Ronald Darby in a trade, the defense may have the freedom to send additional pressure.

“A lot of times, your blitz really depends on how well your corners are going,” Schwartz said Monday after practice (see 10 observations). “The more help you're getting in the corners, obviously, the less guys that you can use to blitz, so they certainly both go hand in hand.”

The Bills game almost certainly does not represent a fundamental shift in Schwartz’s strategy. The Eagles are not expected to go from blitzing the least in the league to sending extra rushers on every other play.

It’s only preseason — a time when coaches are evaluating everything.

“We didn't scheme up, we used more of our scheme,” Schwartz said. “Everything that we ran in that game, we had run 50 times in training camp. It was all sort of base stuff, but there were some different things we were looking at.”

So nothing to see here, right? Maybe, but if nothing else, this goes to show Schwartz is working from a larger playbook than it might have seemed in '16, when the Eagles rigidly sent four rushers down after down.

Having a potential shutdown cornerback in Darby, or at least a competent tandem along with Jalen Mills, could provide the Eagles' defense with the flexibility it sorely lacked last season. It may merely be a matter of getting Darby up to speed in the system, considering his arrival was less than two weeks ago.

“He's pretty close,” Schwartz said. “There are some situations that don't come up very often where he's still maybe a step slow when a safety makes a call, but everything is installed.

“He has it. It's just a matter of repping it enough times that he feels comfortable with it, and we're still a work in progress there.”

Darby impressed in his Eagles debut last Thursday, recording one interception and letting another go through his fingertips (see story). However, the third-year defensive back is coming off of a down season in Buffalo, so it’s not necessarily a given he’ll continue producing at a high level.

In order for Schwartz to feel comfortable with getting creative, Darby must continue to demonstrate not only his individual ability, but that he’s also able to work in concert with the rest of the secondary.

“There is something with a corner and safety communication,” Schwartz said. “The safety is making calls, there’s a lot of moving parts — motion can change a technique the corner makes, and anticipating that motion, and sort of being one step ahead — so it certainly would help a corner to have that.”

Since his arrival, Darby has already changed the complexion of the defense, putting another playmaker in the secondary. The Eagles are making some tweaks to his technique — he’s working with legendary safety Brian Dawkins, and catching balls from the JUGS machine in the hopes of converting more pass breakups into picks.

And if Darby turns out to be everything the Eagles hope, he may even allow the Eagles' defense to get after the quarterback a bit more.

Eagles trade Matt Tobin to Seahawks

Eagles trade Matt Tobin to Seahawks

The Eagles have traded another backup offensive lineman.

This time, Howie Roseman sent veteran guard/tackle Matt Tobin and a 2018 seventh-round pick to Seattle in exchange for the Seahawks' 2018 fifth-round pick.

The move saves the Eagles $850,000 in cap room. The Eagles had $12.2 million coming into Monday, according to NFLPA records.

Tobin, 27, joined the Eagles in 2013 and played in 42 games, with 21 starts, over the last four seasons. In 2015, he started 13 games at right guard.

The move to trade Tobin comes just a little less than a month after the Eagles dealt Allen Barbre to Denver for a conditional seventh-round pick in 2019. (They were planning on releasing Barbre before the Broncos called.) Both Tobin and Barbre were versatile backups who could play guard and tackle for the Eagles.

Last summer, the Eagles traded another backup offensive lineman, Dennis Kelly, to Tennessee for Dorial Green-Beckham, who didn't even make it to training camp with the Eagles this year.

Because Jason Peters missed the second preseason game last Thursday for personal reasons, Lane Johnson started at left tackle. And because Halapoulivaati Vaitai missed the game with a knee injury, Tobin actually started at right tackle. Perhaps Seattle saw enough in that game to think he can help them this season.

Meanwhile, the two trades in the last month probably speak to the Eagles' confidence in their depth along the offensive line. They still have Stefen Wisniewski, Chance Warmack and Dallas Thomas as their top backups inside and Vaitai and Dillon Gordon as their top backups at tackle.