You and I both know by now not to take too much meaning from this first dress rehearsal game in Green Bay…but gosh, it is still exciting to feel the pulse of a live contest again, isn’t it?
Mostly it’s about prepping our special teams when you get right down to it…plus providing reps for long-shot player candidates to show a little sumlin about what they’ve got to offer…
I bring up special teams for a reason…most of the 2nd, 3rd and 4th team roster guys have got to prove they can play special teams assignments effectively in order to land on the final 53-man roster. It’s not a glamorous way to make a living—but it’s a living. This is Part One of the fringe players’ quests to prove they belong.
One basic approach will be about introducing rookies to the environment of an NFL game— it’s a lot different from running out onto a college stadium field. Even the hash marks are differently located in the NFL. Stuff like that matters.
Here I defer to Matt Bowen, a former NFL safety and a wonderful guy whom I have referenced an awful lot in my 10 years here whilst serving the Brizer/JB99 charter “to educate and entertain”… Thanks to Matt for allowing me to quote him in the never-ending challenge to bring something authentic to our Eagles fan base…
Here’s what Matt says about PS1 action coming up between the Eagles and the Packers:
“Coaches don’t game-plan during the first week, there is no advanced scouting (film work), and players are lucky if they even get an opposing team roster once they board the plane.
“As I’ve said before, this is a “line up and play” game with minimal adjustments, limited reps for the starters (two to three series) and second-/third-team players getting the majority of the snaps out on the field.
“Plus, with the elimination of two-a-day sessions (and a reduction in the amount of hitting in today’s NFL camps), this is the first, true “live” competition for players.
“Tackling, interior-line play and full-speed special teams coverage allows coaches to evaluate position battles while players are tested from a conditioning perspective.
“For rookies, this is their first audition on the field—and they will bust (a lot) versus NFL speed.
“However, the tape from the first weekend of the preseason is a vital tool for rookies, as they can make corrections, study their own technique and begin to develop given the number of reps they get under the lights.
“Yes, jobs aren’t won or lost after one preseason game in August, but this is a great opportunity to earn more reps in Week 2 by making some plays versus NFL competition when the film is rolling.”
Yeah ya know it, as ATV (Henderson, Nevada) would say…
That’s about as much real meaning you and I are going to get out of this PS1 game against the Packers. And that’s okay—doesn’t even matter much if our guys win or lose the game based upon the final score.
It’s all about alignment, assignment, communication and technique… sorry to rain on our parade, but even if we win the darn game, it won’t matter— we want to see guys fitting into assigned roles, and looking like they belong in the league, and not necessarily guys busting out and creating highlight film for the major sports networks.
To that concept, Fran Duffy gave us these highlights from Tuesday’s practice:
1. The first-team offense took the field and got off to a quick start with wide receiver Nelson Agholor racing down the right sideline on the first play and tight end Zach Ertz catching a quick pop pass from quarterbackCarson Wentz over the middle of the field. Wentz looked sharp on Tuesday, the team’s final practice before Thursday’s first preseason game. He hit wide receiver Torrey Smith right on the numbers on the team’s third play, beating a blitz from slot corner Aaron Grymes right in his face. Wentz finished the period with three straight completions – one to Darren Sproles in the flat, one to Smith on a deep crossing route, and another to Agholor off play-action on a slant route.
2. Defensively, the standout from the second unit was rookie corner Rasul Douglas, who forced Wentz to check the ball down to Sproles thanks to his coverage on a vertical route downfield. Douglas helped create an incompletion on the next play, stepping in front of a pass intended for tight end Brent Celek.
3. The other big takeaway, perhaps from the entire practice, was Agholor’s usage on the outside with Jordan Matthews in the slot. Plenty has been made this week of who would line up inside or outside in this receiving corps, but the Eagles have proved that they are very multiple on offense with a bevy of different formations and personnel groupings. With his physical skill set, Agholor is absolutely capable of lining up both inside and outside, and we saw plenty of the latter on Tuesday.
4. The first-team defense took the field, and it was Jalen Mills who made the play of the period. The offense lined up in a heavy set with three tight ends, but the play resulted in a deep vertical shot to rookie receiverShelton Gibson down the post. Mills got hip-to-hip with Gibson and high-pointed the football downfield for a big-time interception. It was eerily similar to the play Mills made at the pylon against Smith in Sunday’s Open Practice. Mills also was in tight coverage on a throw to the flat earlier in the period.
5. In another three-tight end set, rookie Derek Barnett flew into the backfield to help disrupt one running play. Fellow rookie Nathan Gerry helped eat up a screen pass in the backfield. The offensive highlight came from Ertz, who made a diving catch with one-hand that drew a huge reaction from the Eagles’ sideline.
6. After a special teams period, the first-team offense jumped back onto the field. After getting targeted in the screen game on the first play, LeGarrette Blount busted a long run inside on the second rep. Gerry was there quickly on what looked like a blitz from the second level, but the physically imposing Blount looks pretty impressive when he hits full speed in between the tackles. On the next play, Matthews caught a screen in the slot and raced down the right side. Lane Johnson also showed off his athleticism on the play, releasing downfield to block in the screen game. Wentz followed that play up with consecutive completions to Smith and Agholor before hitting Bryce Treggs deep downfield on a post route. The second-year speedster dove to the ground to secure the catch. Rookie Mack Hollins caught a deep in-breaking route, securing the pass away from his frame, flashing his strong hands. Wentz completed passes to Burton and again to Agholor to end the practice.
7. The defense worked down in the red zone on their second practice period with the first unit. Jordan Hicksbroke up a pass intended for a tight end over the middle of the field. Mills picked up a pass breakup on a slant route where he broke on the throw early and got the ball on the ground. Jaylen Watkins notched a breakup as well, dropping into a throwing lane and finding his way to the football.
8. The offense came back onto the field for their final session of the morning, and Wentz started on fire. First, he hit Agholor (who lined up outside), on a dig route in the middle of the field before completing a pass to Ertz on the right side. Two Blount runs later, and Wentz hit Agholor again right on the numbers before connecting with rookie Mack Hollins on a shallow crossing route from the back side. Wentz completed two of his final three passes, to Treggs and Greg Ward, respectively, to put a ribbon on a strong day of work at the NovaCare Complex.
9. The starting defensive unit came back to the field to close practice and worked on a variety of zone coverages.Malcolm Jenkins, Jordan Hicks, Nigel Bradham, Rasul Douglas and C.J. Smith all flashed in coverage, meeting their receivers at the catch point for “tackles.” Up front, the defensive line created constant pressure for quarterbacks Matt McGloin and Dane Evans during the 10-play session.Brandon Graham came free on the first play, and Vinny Curry collapsed the pocket with a strong bull rush on the second snap. Chris Long came free for a sack as well. Needless to say, it will be exciting to see that group cut things loose on Thursday night.
As for the current state of injuries and questionables?
According to Chris McPherson of the Eagles PR staff, head coach Doug Pederson said that he has not made any decisions regarding the playing rotation for Thursday night’s preseason opener against the Green Bay Packers. He did say Carson Wentz will start at quarterback, but it remains to be seen how long he’ll be on the field.
Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery is “healthy enough to play in the game,” according to Pederson. Jeffery suffered a shoulder injury earlier in Training Camp and has been limited in practice. The head coach’s main goal is getting Jeffery ready for the regular-season opener on September 10 in Washington, so the Pro Bowl wideout may not be in action versus Green Bay. Pederson is not concerned about the chemistry between Jeffery and Wentz, saying that the two started working on it back in March after the wide receiver signed and have built a strong rapport since then.
“He’s doing a great job,” Pederson said of Warmack. “It would be a great opportunity.”
Running back Donnel Pumphrey returned to practice Sunday after missing time with a hamstring injury, but it is not certain whether or not he will play Thursday.
Quarterback Nick Foles remains day to day with an elbow injury. Pederson said that he simply wants Foles ready for the regular season and is not rushing him back.
Pederson noted that the Ron Brooks‘ season-ending quad injury last season was similar to the loss of tackle Lane Johnson because of how it impacted the depth and forced players to move around. Brooks has resumed working with the first-team nickel defense as the slot cornerback in Training Camp.
“Ron is looking really good in practices,” Pederson said. “I’m excited to watch him play in the next couple of games.”
One position that Pederson is excited to watch is wide receiver.
“I love watching that position,” Pederson said. “Our young guys are competing.”
The evaluation process kicks up a notch with the start of the preseason games.