Philadelphia Eagles

Wentz to host Eagles' skill players in beautiful summer destination of North Dakota

Wentz to host Eagles' skill players in beautiful summer destination of North Dakota

North Dakota is not tropical. Its beaches line lakes instead of the ocean. When vacation destinations are discussed, it does not come to mind for most — unless you're an Eagles skill position player who wants to get closer with the man responsible for giving you the football.

Eagles minicamp ended Thursday, meaning team activities are done until training camp begins July 24. But Carson Wentz said Wednesday he plans to host his offensive targets in his home state at some point in the next five weeks. Before beginning the long grind of a season that they'd like to see last through the end of the calendar year, the retooled Eagles offense will have time to be one with nature and one with each other.

"Beautiful summers up there, believe it or not," Wentz said. "It'll be fun to get together with those guys."

Fun is part of it. It's no secret that the Eagles' quarterback is an outdoorsman, and some fishing and hiking will undoubtedly take place. Jordan Matthews would like to try a bison burger. Rookie wideout Shelton Gibson used to fish a lot. Zach Ertz wasn't thrilled about the travel time from California, but said he will be in Fargo, a city Wentz "raves about," for the first time this summer.

"Wherever there's going to be a quarterback to throw, that's where I'll be," Ertz said.

Nelson Agholor, who seems to have reinvented himself from the drop-prone receiver he was last year (see observations), said he will be there too. Other skill players, like new wideouts Torrey Smith and Alshon Jeffery, were not available for questions in the locker room Thursday.

Agholor, Ertz and Matthews were part of an Eagles group that went to San Diego with all three of the team's quarterbacks last summer. But even though North Dakota is different from coastal California, the goal of the trip remains the same.

"I think [the help that comes out of these trips is] huge. Not only on the field but off the field, and kind of just growing as well. Building that chemistry," Ertz said. "During these offseason programs and during camp, you never get to really hang out with anyone because everything is so football-focused. But when you get that downtime to relax and just hang out with the guys, I think it's really refreshing."

Coach Doug Pederson has made similar bonding efforts. He took the team paintballing last week, and was happy to see the man at the helm of his offense take charge in forming what he called a "band of brothers." 

"I think it just shows the leadership that Carson has and the type of rapport he has with the receivers and the confidence he has in his guys," Pederson said. "It's something that's exciting as a coach, to know your guys are getting together these next couple weeks and working on their craft."

For someone new to town like Gibson, that last part is key. He hasn't worked with the first team all that much and would've understood if Wentz wanted to spend his time off with other veteran newcomers whom he'll be throwing to more often, such as Smith and Jeffery. But, no, everyone is included.

And Matthews, the longest-tenured receiver on the team, recognized that more time together and more reps together can only be positive.

"Are you gonna win the Super Bowl out there? Probably not. But at the same time, does it hurt? No. It's always good to build that team camaraderie," Matthews said. "... I'm just looking forward to going there and spending time with the guys and when it's time to work, get to work."

Pederson said he was proud of the work that the team has put in, but that the coming five-week gap shouldn't signal an end. Especially for the rookies, who have come in and learned new material, he sees this time off as an opportunity to refresh, but still retain everything that's come their way since signing on with the team.

"I mentioned to them that training camp's going to be tough and physical and I want them to be prepared mentally and physically," Pederson said. "... Again, if they're with teammates, take care of each other, be smart, make good choices and good decisions, and get their minds and body ready for July."

Eagles-Bills: Roob's 10 observations

Eagles-Bills: Roob's 10 observations

BOX SCORE

Some impressive stuff, mainly from the defense. Some disappointing stuff, mainly from the offense. And the impressive Eagles debut of Ronald Darby.
 
In a game marred by 29 flags (13 on the Bills, nine on the Eagles, two off-setting, five declined), the Eagles beat the Bills, 20-16, Thursday night at the Linc in their second preseason game (see Instant Replay).
 
Here are my 10 observations off an ugly game in which its greatest attribute is that it got us one day closer to opening day.
 
1. The most encouraging thing I saw Thursday night was Darby. He looked good the last few days in practice, but he was all over the place against his former team. First, he lunged to knock away a Tyrod Taylor pass intended for Anquan Boldin on a 2nd-and-10 deep in Bills territory on Buffalo's first drive. And then, late in the first quarter, he picked off Taylor, once again trying to connect with Boldin. The INT itself was impressive but his 48-yard return showed tremendous speed and even a few cutbacks. This is precisely what the Eagles need from their newest young cornerback, and it was great to see after just three practices in an Eagles uniform he was comfortable enough to make those sort of plays. I'm sure it doesn't hurt that he knows Taylor and Boldin — they were all teammates a week ago — but that's OK. These were big plays, and the Eagles desperately need big plays from the cornerback spot. This is why he's here.
 
2. I'm starting to get just a little bit concerned with LeGarrette Blount. Just looks a little slow to the hole to me. Now, Blount is a veteran and has played a ton of football and could be one of those guys who really knows how to turn it on once the regular season begins. But he's looked a step slow to the hole at practice, he was an unproductive 4 for 9 in Green Bay last week, and he ran five times for eight yards Thursday. I'm not crazy about the way he was used Thursday night — all those stretch runs don't seem to play to his strength, and he's never been real comfortable in the passing game, and we saw that when he fumbled after a short reception. Sum total for Blount after two preseason games is 9 for 17 rushing and 2 for 15 receiving with a fumble. Not panic time, but you'd sure like to see some positive stuff from Blount next week when the first offense will play into the third quarter against the Dolphins.
 
3. Blount's lack of production really puts the spotlight on just how unsettled this running back situation is. Wendell Smallwood has been hurt and has yet to play in the preseason, Donnel Pumphrey has yet to show any signs of the player he was in college (but is a roster lock), Darren Sproles is still explosive but is 34 now and is going to be on a pitch count, and that leaves Corey Clement, the undrafted rookie, who has looked pretty good so far. Clement, who grew up across the river in Glassboro, New Jersey, had a 24-yard run and then a tough six-yard TD run through traffic in the second quarter but still needs to be more consistent running, blocking and catching the ball. I wouldn't be surprised if the Eagles add a back at some point, although I'm not sure an upgrade would be available. Right now, Clement is ahead of Smallwood, but those undrafted rookies have to do more than draft picks to stick around. I know one thing. It's not easy to watch the Eagles' scuffling in the running game and then see No. 25 on the other sideline. LeSean McCoy ran four times for 21 yards Thursday night against his former team and had an 11-yard catch. Chip Kelly did a lot of destructive things during his brief term as general manager, but I don't think any of us will ever understand that one.
 
4. Granted, Jason Peters did not play Thursday night, and neither did Halapoulivaati Vaitai. So the Eagles were down to Matt Tobin as their starting right tackle. But this is two straight weeks in which the offensive line has gotten pushed around, and that's concerning. In Green Bay, the first offense scored on its only possession, but that was really thanks to great individual efforts by Carson Wentz and Mack Hollins. The nine other plays it ran generated 19 yards. This time, the offense opened the game with three straight three-and-outs netting five yards, then had a decent drive that ate up 65 yards but ended with a Blount fumble. Wentz finally got into a rhythm on that last drive, hitting four straight passes to Alshon Jeffery for seven yards, Nelson Agholor for nine yards, Jeffery for 14 and Blount for 17, and that was good to see. But overall, the first offense has been sluggish. Doug Pederson said during the week the ones would play only one or two series, but they were so bad he sent them out there for four. I don't worry about Wentz. I do worry about this offensive line. I need to see them push people around instead of getting pushed around.
 
5. How about Mychal Kendricks coming to life? Kendricks had an interception last week in Green Bay and contributed a sack, interception, pass deflection and two tackles Thursday night. Kendricks didn't play much last year, but once upon a time, this was the playmaking linebacker the Eagles had in mind when they made him a second-round pick. Kendricks averaged only 18 snaps last year and hasn't really been a force for a few years, but he looks good right now. Maybe the Eagles will finally find a team willing to trade for Kendricks based on the way he's been playing. Or who knows. Maybe he can actually contribute this year. If he does, it'll be a real bonus for a defense that looks stacked right now.
 
6. Let's talk defense. There's a lot to like about the product we're seeing from this first group right now (see Grading the Win). They're playing physical, they're making plays, they're creating turnovers and they're getting pressure. Now, the Bills don't really have a high-powered offense, and Aaron Rodgers didn't play last week, but I like what I've seen so far from this group. With corner upgraded, there's no apparent weakness in this unit. They're loaded up front, solid at linebacker with a stud in the middle, loaded at safety and improving at corner. I'll be shocked if this isn't a top-10 defense this year. Can't wait to see it play when it's actually game-planning for the other team.
 
7. With Bryce Treggs out with leg soreness, Thursday night was a tremendous opportunity for Marcus Johnson to state his case for the No. 5 wide receiver spot behind Jeffery, Torrey Smith, Agholor and Hollins. Johnson has been consistent catching the football at practice but didn't catch a ball in Green Bay. Thursday night, he showed up with two catches, including a 38-yarder from Matt McGloin in the second quarter. Treggs had a big game last week but I like Johnson. Treggs has tremendous speed and has improved over last year, but I just think Johnson has a superior all-around game. Interesting that if the Eagles keep Jeffery, Smith, Agholor, Hollins and Johnson, Agholor will be the only receiver on the team who was on last year's opening day roster.
 
8. Not sure what else I can say about McGloin. He's awful. He's just bringing nothing to the table. This is a guy who has started games in the NFL now out there facing second- and third-stringers and he still can't put anything together. I've seen enough. Pederson always talks about keeping a developmental quarterback around, and Dane Evans has shown enough to warrant at least a spot on the practice squad. Evans did throw an interception Thursday night, but it was a ball that David Watford should have caught. He also drove the Eagles down the field for the winning touchdown with three minutes left. He's got some juice about him. Nick Foles didn't play Thursday night but said earlier this week he's healthy and will play against the Dolphins. You don't need Foles and McGloin. So cut McGloin, save a roster spot and keep Evans on the practice squad. I don't want to see McGloin ever throw another pass.
 
9. Two games in and Smith doesn't have a catch. I'm not sure that's cause for alarm, but with Jordan Matthews gone, the Eagles are certainly relying heavily on Smith to be a big part of the offense. Smith has looked fine at practice, but you'd like to see him and Wentz build up some sort of chemistry. Smith's numbers have gone down every year since 2013 — 65 catches to 49 to 33 to 20 — and some of that has to be the situations he was in, especially in San Francisco. But honestly, I don't know what kind of player Smith is at this point in his career. He's looked good in practice, but that's practice. He's made zero impact in the first two preseason games, and I'd like to see him with the ball in his hands a little bit next week against the Dolphins.
 
10. Greg Ward is such an intriguing guy. He's the former Houston quarterback — he even beat Florida State in a bowl game — who is now converting to wide receiver. And for a guy who played QB last year, he sure looks smooth and comfortable out there. Tremendous athlete, and we got a glimpse of it on a 29-yard catch and run from Evans in the fourth quarter. Last year, Ward would have been one of the Eagles' better wide receivers. This year, with the upgrades they've made, he's probably earmarked for the practice squad. But he's a guy to keep an eye on. Give him another year to really learn the position, and I can see Ward playing on Sundays.

Instant Replay: Eagles 20, Bills 16

Instant Replay: Eagles 20, Bills 16

BOX SCORE

The Eagles' defense looked stout Thursday night.

The offense might have a little ways to go.

First, though, the good: Tyrod Taylor and the Bills just couldn’t get anything going against Jim Schwartz's first and second units.

Eventually, fourth-string quarterback Dane Evans led the Eagles to a late touchdown drive and the defense held up to pull off a 20-16 win at the Linc (see 10 observations).  

The Eagles are now 1-1 in the 2017 preseason. Not that it matters.

What does matter is the Eagles' defense held Taylor and the Bills to just three points in the first half; Taylor and his offensive line came out with about three minutes left in the second quarter. Taylor and the Bills' offense had just 86 yards on 29 plays against the Eagles' first and second units. It won't show up in the box score, but Fletcher Cox was dominant. Mychal Kendricks was everywhere. And the new guy picked off a pass.

While the Eagles' defense looked great, Carson Wentz and the offense struggled, going three-and-out on their first three drives.

Alshon Jeffery and Ronald Darby made their debuts with the Eagles against the Bills.

Tough start on offense
Doug Pederson planned to have his offense on the field for just a series or two, but it couldn't get anything going. On the first three drives, Wentz and the offense had just five yards on nine plays. Pederson clearly didn't want them to leave the game on that note.

So on the fourth drive, the offense came out using hurry-up tempo and it worked. The Eagles went 55 yards before LeGarrette Blount fumbled the ball away after a catch.

Wentz finished the game going 6 for 9 for 56 yards and a passer rating of 83.6.

Wentz and Jeffery
The Eagles' quarterback had his big offseason acquisition in a game with him for the first time this preseason. Things didn't get off to a great start. The first two times Wentz went Jeffery's way, Wentz soared the ball way over his head. Eventually, on that hurry-up drive, Wentz hit his new target on two passes for 23 yards.

Hello, Ronald Darby
Darby had a pretty good Eagles debut. He knocked down a ball that could have been a pick-six early in the game. He showed his recovery speed on that one but didn't have the hands to bring it in. A little later in the first quarter, Darby picked off a pass attempted for Anquan Boldin and then showed off his speed again, returning it 48 yards to put the Eagles in field goal range (see Grading the Win).

Trying to get traded?
Kendricks had himself a nice game. He picked off a pass for the second consecutive game and provided the pressure on the play in which Darby picked off the pass. Kendricks had two tackles, a sack, a QB hit, two tackles for loss, an interception and a pass defensed. His value hasn't been higher in a long time, but the team might be better off keeping him.

Out of action
Jason Peters missed Thursday night's game for personal reasons. In his absence, Lane Johnson slid from right to left tackle and Matt Tobin played right tackle. If nothing else, it was good practice if Johnson ever needs to play on the left side later this season. Although things didn't go to plan.

Lane to blame
Without Peters, Johnson really struggled. He gave up an easy sack to Jerry Hughes on a spin move. A little later, he was hit with a holding call. Johnson has said he has something to prove this season; he didn't look good Thursday.

Blundering Blount
Blount didn't have a very good game. He fumbled away the one drive the offense had something cooking on and before that, couldn’t get much going on the ground. For whatever reason, Pederson seemed determined to run with him outside the tackles and Blount couldn't. He had five carries for eight yards. His long was an eight-yard carry.

In the first two preseason games, Blount has nine carries for 17 yards. Yikes.

Barnett just produces
For the second straight game, Derek Barnett put a quarterback on the ground. He used a quick inside-outside counter move to sack Nathan Peterman in the third quarter. Barnett is working with the second-team defense, but he's going to play a lot as a rookie. The Eagles are going to have a hard time keeping him off the field.

Back and balling
After missing the first preseason game with a hamstring injury, Marcus Johnson was back Thursday night and played well. He had two catches for 45 yards and looked explosive. With Bryce Treggs out with leg soreness, Johnson made a good push for a roster spot. The back end of the roster at the receiver position is something to watch.

Clement making a push
Maybe Wendell Smallwood's roster spot is cemented. But Corey Clement is at least making a push. The undrafted running back out of Wisconsin (and Glassboro, New Jersey) has been running hard and getting a ton of playing time in the preseason. Smallwood, who has been out with a hamstring injury, might want to get back on the field soon.

Injuries
Halapoulivaati Vaitai (knee), Nick Foles (elbow), Treggs (sore legs), Paul Turner (shoulder), Smallwood (hamstring), Ron Brooks (hamstring), Josh Andrews (hand) and Anthony Denham (calf) sat out Thursday's game.

Up next
The Eagles will host the Dolphins for joint practices next week before Thursday's preseason game against them at the Linc. It will be the return of Byron Maxwell and Kiko Alonso.