OTA Observations: Eagles kick into higher gear

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OTA Observations: Eagles kick into higher gear

Offensively, the Eagles were the NFL’s fastest team to snap the ball last year in Chip Kelly’s first season as head coach.

It appears that Kelly has a new race car to unveil for Year 2.

To the naked eye, Monday’s OTA seemed to run at its fastest pace of all the open practices, especially in 7-on-7s and 11-on-11s. From the first string down to the reserves, the Eagles moved at a pace well ahead of last year’s spring camps.

Kelly has said his offense could go faster this year. Nick Foles agreed.

“We always want to go faster,” he said. “We always want to be more efficient and and get plays going. Sometimes, situationally in a game you don’t want to do that. Sometimes there’s a different blitz look or thing we have to recognize … I think the big thing is not necessarily the speed, but we want to be efficient. The speed is part of it, but let’s be under control.”

Last year, Kelly had to tone down the pace of his practices when he realized that his roster, going through his system for the first year, needed some catch-up time. Rookies and veterans were in the same boat, learning a new playbook in the fly.

With so many starters returning from last year’s 10-win NFC East championship team, including the entire offensive line, the offense is much more familiar with Kelly’s system and more able to run the offense without interruption.

“I know we’re going fast right now because there was a lot more learning going on on the field (last year), whereas our offense right now we were able to carry on from last season,” Foles said. “We definitely installed a lot of new stuff, so there’s definitely a learning curve and we do have younger guys, but I feel like guys understood how we need to practice and just the culture change. The young guys are doing a really good job following the guys that are here, and the guys that were here last year are doing a really good job stepping it up.”

Other observations:

• Kelly is really making his rookies climb the ladder, as opposed to last year, when first-round pick Lane Johnson was promoted to first-team right tackle early in OTAs and when fifth-round safety Earl Wolff logged some first-defense reps in place of Nate Allen.

First-round outside linebacker Marcus Smith is still running with the third team, as is third-round wideout Josh Huff. Free-agent outside linebacker Bryan Braman is still running with the second team with Brandon Graham and veterans Brad Smith and Arrelious Benn are still higher on the totem pole right now than Huff.

• In the same vein, Kelly did a lot more personnel mix-ups last season as he opened competition at every spot. It wasn’t uncommon to see the first-team front seven come out with the third-team secondary. He’s still subbing here and there but there haven’t been any odd personnel packages or crazy tinkerings that really stand out when the teams come onto the field.

• The defensive line looks different depending on the playcall and package. Joe Kruger, a 2012 seventh-round pick who spent his first season on IR, is logging snaps all over the place, including some first-team reps at defensive end. Rookie fifth-round pick Taylor Hart and last year’s practice squadder, Brandon Bair, are also swapping in and out on the second team.

• Wide receiver Jeff Maehl practiced for the first time after missing the other open sessions with an undisclosed injury. He ran mainly on the second string. Dennis Kelly, who missed an OTA last week, also practiced.

• Mark Sanchez, who continues to be the second string quarterback, threw a bad pick in 11-on-11s. Nolan Carroll came up with the interception. ... The practice’s best pass came from fourth-string quarterback G.J. Kinne, who tossed a touchdown bomb to James Casey down the left sideline past linebacker Jake Knott. The pass hit Casey in stride to his outside shoulder. … Foles looked extremely sharp, although one of his red-zone passes was intercepted by DeMeco Ryans at the goal line. But Foles also threw red-zone TDs to Brent Celek and Damaris Johnson.

NFL Notes: Rams' All-Pro Aaron Donald skips OTAs amid contract talks

NFL Notes: Rams' All-Pro Aaron Donald skips OTAs amid contract talks

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- All-Pro defensive lineman Aaron Donald has skipped the Los Angeles Rams' first day of organized team activities while he negotiates a long-term contract extension with the club.

Rams general manager Les Snead says the team knew Donald wouldn't be at their training complex Monday.

Snead acknowledged Donald's absence is because of their contract negotiations, which are reaching "the serious part." The GM is confident Donald will be a long-term fixture on the Rams' line.

The Rams exercised their fifth-year option for 2018 on Donald last month. He will make nearly $7 million next year. Snead has repeatedly said the Rams plan to sign Donald to a long-term deal.

Donald is a three-time Pro Bowler and a two-time All-Pro in his three-year career.

Vikings: Zimmer takes time off after latest eye surgery
MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer finally relented, taking some time away from the team to allow his right eye a proper recovery from his latest surgery.

Better in the spring than during the fall, he realized.

As Zimmer departed Monday for some rest and relaxation at his vacation ranch in rural Kentucky, general manager Rick Spielman said the organization anticipates a return by Zimmer "in a few weeks." Players will take the field Tuesday for the first of 13 scheduled offseason practices, including the three-day mandatory minicamp that runs June 13-15.

"We all agree Mike's health is the priority, and we believe rest and recovery are in his best interest for the long term," Spielman said.

Zimmer directed a free youth football camp Saturday at team headquarters. He revealed to reporters that he underwent an eighth procedure on the eye last week, a trying seven-month stretch that has included several unplanned operations (see full story).

Jets: Former 2nd-round pick Smith waived
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Wide receiver Devin Smith has been waived from the injury list by the New York Jets.

A second-round draft pick from Ohio State in 2015, Smith rarely saw the field for the Jets. He tore his ACL during the offseason workout program after he appeared in four games last season. He started that season on the physically unable to perform list while rehabbing from another ACL tear suffered in December 2015.

If Smith clears waivers, he would revert to the Jets' injured reserve list.

"It's bad luck and bad timing because the kid worked so hard to get back," coach Todd Bowles said last month during the NFL draft. "He has to persevere and adversity will help him get stronger. But unfortunately in this game, over my course of time playing and coaching, you see these types of things. Some of the best athletes get hurt and don't get a chance to get on the field, and it's just bad timing, bad luck."

The Jets also re-signed wide receiver WR Deshon Foxx on Monday. Foxx originally signed with the Jets in January and was waived May 9. The Connecticut product first signed with Seattle 2015 after going undrafted and was waived/injured with a hamstring injury that August.

Buccaneers: TE Howard signs rookie deal
TAMPA, Fla. -- Tight end O.J. Howard has signed his rookie contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Howard, who was the 19th overall pick in last month's NFL draft, signed a four-year deal on Monday that includes a team option for a fifth season. He is the first of Tampa Bay's six draft picks to sign.

Howard, who is 6-foot-6 and 251 pounds, was a third-team Associated Press All-America selection last season. He started 12 of Alabama's 14 games last season and had 45 receptions for 595 yards and three touchdowns.

The drafting of Howard and signing DeSean Jackson in free agency should give Jameis Winston more options in Tampa Bay's passing game.

The Buccaneers also announced that defensive end Jacquies Smith has signed his restricted free agent tender.

Doug Pederson: Dak Prescott knew he didn't have to win by himself

Doug Pederson: Dak Prescott knew he didn't have to win by himself

For the most part, Carson Wentz had a pretty successful rookie season. 

Sure, the Eagles finished with a 7-9 record, but Wentz did enough to continue the franchise's belief that he is indeed the quarterback of the future. 

Another guy in Dallas did the same thing with the Cowboys. Actually, Dak Prescott had an even more impressive rookie season, leading the Cowboys to 13 wins, while winning the Offensive Rookie of the Year award. 

Prescott, a fourth-round pick, had a great year but didn't try to do too much. And that's what impressed Eagles head coach Doug Pederson the most. 

"[Prescott] understood this right away, that he didn't have to win the game for them," Pederson said on The Doomsday Podcast, hosted by Matt Mosley and Ed Werder. (Pederson also talked about running the Rocky steps). "He knew that he had a good defense, a tremendous offensive line, a great runner, he had some veteran players that he could rely on and he learned that early. As soon as he had the opportunity to play and that was early, from Day 1. 

"That's something that a young quarterback, sometimes it takes them a while to figure out the game that way. That's the impressive thing, that he learned how to handle that business that well, utilize the people around him and understand that he didn't have to go win the game."

While Prescott had plenty of help during his rookie season, it was pretty evident Wentz was lacking in that area. 

Prescott had a great offensive line, Dez Bryant, Ezekiel Elliott and others. Wentz had an offensive line that was missing Lane Johnson, an often-injured Ryan Mathews and receivers like Nelson Agholor and Dorial Green-Beckham playing serious snaps. 

So it made sense when the team went out this offseason and signed Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith, and recently LeGarrette Blount, as free agents, finally getting Wentz some real help. 

"We had opportunities to get those two guys and it was obvious last year, we were young at the wide receiver position," Pederson said. "We needed some leadership, some veteran presence there and we went out and got that with Torrey and Alshon. We still want to build through the draft, we still want to acquire young talent. 

"LeGarrette Blount now is a guy that gives us that big back, running back, that can come in and compete and hopefully he does everything he did at New England the last couple of seasons. He had 18 rushing touchdowns for over 1,000 yards and we just expect that same level of performance here."

Maybe having weapons will allow Wentz to do what made Prescott so impressive to Pederson in 2016: not too much.