Joint Practice Observations: Birds Counterpunch Vs. Browns In Round 2
With evening thunderstorms in the forecast, the Eagles on Tuesday moved Round 2 of their joint practices against the Cleveland Browns to the early afternoon.
The roughly 70-minute session offered palpable intensity from the get-go, even including a couple of skirmishes.
The two teams will break Wednesday before meeting again Thursday, when the Eagles host the Browns at Lincoln Financial Field for a preseason game.
Several Eagles were withheld from Tuesday’s practice: Left guard Landon Dickerson (foot), edge rushers Haason Reddick (thumb) and Patrick Johnson (ankle), and wide receivers Britain Covey (hamstring) and Quez Watkins (hamstring).
Regarding Reddick, the thumb injury isn’t believed to be serious. I get the sense the Eagles aren’t rushing him back out there this summer.
Let’s get on with the observations:
* The intensity was noticeably ratcheted up from the start. The energy even led to a couple skirmishes, the first started after rookie safety Sydney Brown threw an uber-aggressive block on running back Demetric Felton during a Reed Blankenship interception return. The Browns took exception, as pushing and shoving ensued. The other involved – yep, you guessed it – Derek Barnett, who appeared to get into it with tight end Thomas Greaney.
*With his two end zone interceptions, Blankenship finished the two-day joint practices with a grand total of three – all against Deshaun Watson. In a later 11-on-11 red zone period, Blankenship appeared to read Watson’s eyes and jump the route of tight end Jordan Akins to secure the pick, thwarting the series on first down and riling up the Eagles’ defense. Barnett’s pass rush had hastened the throw. What Blankenship lacks in natural athleticism, he more than compensates with football intellect and instincts.
* Eagles defensive backs are a physical bunch, particularly Blankenship, K’Von Wallace, Mekhi Garner and Mario Goodrich, each of whom delivered audible thuds to Browns pass-catchers throughout practice.
*I noticed a few erratic passes from Jalen Hurts early during red zone 7-on-7s. I can recall an overshoot of DeVonta Smith, who had multiple steps on linebacker Sione Takitaki, in the left corner on the end zone. In another instance, he missed tight end Dan Arnold. He also delivered perfectly-placed heaters for TDs to tight end Dallas Goedert and wide receiver A.J. Brown.
*I thought Marcus Mariota got off some quality passes. During the 7-on-7 red zone period, Mariota delivered a strike to tight end Jack Stoll between safety Rodney McLeod and cornerback Caleb Biggers. But his best throw came much later in the session (more on that later).
*There weren’t many reps to spare for reserve quarterbacks Tanner McKee and Ian Book, but the two are sure to get their fair share of snaps in Thursday’s exhibition.
*During 11-on-11s, running back Boston Scott was first met in the backfield by defensive end Ogbonnia Okoronkwo before shimmying outside and breaking free down the left sideline and into the end zone. Wide receiver Olamide Zaccheaus sealed off the perimeter, allowing Scott to finish the run. Was really impressed with the perimeter blocking of Zaccheaus, which stuck out on multiple occasions. Scrappy player. Zaccheaus has assumed the No. 3 role with Watkins on the mend.
* Sua Opeta opened at first-team left guard in Dickerson’s absence, with Josh Sills also working in.
* Nic Morrow opened 11-on-11s as the first-team linebacker alongside Nakobe Dean while Christian Elliss and Zach Cunningham comprised the second-team.
*At one point during team drills, Morrow was isolated on Browns Pro Bowl RB Nick Chubb, who was split out wide to the right. The ball never went in Chubb’s direction, however.
* You can’t help but marvel at the symbiotic relationship between Hurts and Brown. On a fourth-down snap during team drills, Hurts scrambled while keeping his eyes downfield. He spotted Brown, pointed upfield, and hoisted a perfectly placed end zone strike to Brown, who had a step on CB Martin Emerson. RB Kenny Gainwell converted the two-point try.
The Brown vs. Emerson matchup entertained. At one point, Hurts launched a right sideline fade to Brown, who drifted out of bounds before Emerson tipped it away, but refs flagged Emerson for illegal use of hands penalty. When the ball is in the air, you just feel like Brown is certain to win every contested-catch opportunity.
*Deshaun Watson didn’t look sharp, missing Amari Cooper in the left corner of the end zone despite Cooper’s separation from James Bradberry and Blankenship. He did, however, connect with WR Donovan Peoples-Jones on the ensuing snap for first down.
*In the final period, Browns second-team QB Josh Dobbs tossed an end zone interception to ascending second-year CB Josh Jobe, who had blanketed rookie WR Cedric Tillman on the fade. After practice CB Darius Slay conveyed his proud feelings for Jobe, citing how hard the second-year pro has worked. He also playfully dubbed Jobe the “worst catcher of all the DBs.”
* DE Josh Sweat terrorized Browns OT Jedrick Wills Jr. coming off the edge. He practically lived in the Browns backfield. I’m calling it now – Sweat will lead this team in sacks this year.
* Fourth-year WR Tyree Cleveland continues to impress, and it’s very fair to say he shined the brightest out of all the reserve pass-catchers. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound wideout showed strong hands and good body control, but it was his long speed that took center stage late in practice. During the 11-on-11 red zone session, Cleveland gained a step on DB Lorenzo Burns and Mariota found him down the left sideline for a touchdown. Mariota, who seems to be developing a chemistry with Cleveland, threw with touch and anticipation. The ensuing two-point try was successful, with Cleveland reeling in Mariota’s short toss.
As Cleveland fielded questions in a post-practice media scrum, Sweat walked by and said, “Oh, yeah, 85!”
*Hardly newsworthy given the expected rotation but Gainwell was featured on the first play of 11-on-11 drills. The Eagles also at one point showed a two-running back formation with Gainwell and D’Andre Swift.
*Speaking of Swift, the Philadelphia native continues to showcase his natural receiving prowess out of the backfield. What a mismatch he can be for opposing defenses.
*Blankenship has been the constant at one spot, but Edmunds, Wallace, Justin Evans, and rookie Sydney Brown all took first-team reps at some point. As for Wallace, I’ve been very impressed with his laser focus and physicality whenever I’ve watched him this summer. After practice, I asked him about a particular aspect of his game that he felt improved most in Year 4: “I feel like my mental game has improved the most,” he said. “I feel like I physically was able to do the things that I’m able to do now, but mentally, it just wasn’t there. And now, everything is just starting to click. Everything is starting to slow down. Everything is starting to be my game, instead of the offense’s game.”
* If there was any concern after Monday’s practice, which HC Nick Sirianni said wasn’t his team’s best, the Eagles demonstrated domination in their rematch practice against the Browns. It was very much a one-sided affair.
The Eagles will hold a walkthrough on Wednesday ahead of Thursday’s game against the Browns.
– Andrew DiCecco (@AndrewDiCecco) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com.
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