Camp Observations: Ertz Present, Offense Lags Behind
The Eagles on Wednesday conducted their first training camp practice of the new season, and it wasn’t just a new season or new beginning for first-time head coach Nick Sirianni and much of his coaching staff.
The presence of observing fans arounds the NovaCare Complex practice fields and of media roaming the sidelines painted a different picture of life in general compared to this time last season, when Covid-19’s influence rendered camp spectator-less.
The team only practiced for about 90 minutes, in shorts and shells, which is typical for the first day. The pads will come out later.
The team surprised the media by making Howie Roseman available along with Nick Sirianni at the podium. And although there were no scrum interviews on Day 1, reporters had a chance to ask questions to Fletcher Cox, Jason Kelce, Brandon Graham, DeVonta Smith and Jalen Hurts in a press conference setting.
Perhaps the most back-to-normal feeling came when Hurts, semi-surprised by reporters shouting questions over other reporters, said, “That’s how y’all ask questions?”
Wednesday also was good for Inside The Birds, which was credentialed for the first time by the Eagles as a media outlet. Earlier this year, Inside The Birds was given accreditation by the APSE (Associated Press Sports Editors).
We’ll try to be at as many practices as possible throughout camp and provide observations here.
So let’s go ahead with the Day 1 notes:
Zach Ertz, of course, reported to camp and was with the team on the practice field, sporting a blonde mop on top. First time Ertz has gone blonde.
The Eagles did some 7-on-7s and 11-on-11s, mostly working in the red zone. Ertz mixed in and out, although he didn’t take a ton of snaps.
After practice, Roseman and Sirianni both sung Ertz’s praises to the media. Roseman and Ertz were spotted talking cordially – we assume – for about 10 minutes on the field after practice.
Roseman said he expects Ertz to be on the roster by the start of the season, which of course leaves wiggle room. He can “expect” anything without having to commit 100 percent to anything.
The tell will be how Ertz is used at camp. When the pads come out, will Ertz see snaps? Will he practice every day the Eagles are out there?
I didn’t see every single rep, but I’m fairly certain there were no 12-personnel snaps Wednesday. I didn’t see Ertz and Dallas Goedert on the field in the same formation. If the Eagles were truly planning on Ertz and Goedert being on the team this year, wouldn’t the offense feature more two-tight end formations?
Those questions will eventually be answered as camps goes on. In my mind, nothing has really changed regarding Ertz’s desire to be moved and the team’s desire to move him for fair value.
Howie Roseman said the Eagles are close to a 90-percent rate of starting the vaccination process. Jalen Hurts confirmed he’s received the vaccine.
In Indianapolis at Colts camp, Carson Wentz wore a mask at his press conference and declined to answer if he has received the inoculation. The Eagles can get a first-round pick if Wentz reaches specific playing-time marks.
If you listened to the most recent Q&A on Inside The Birds, Jason Avant and Quintin Mikell recalled the difficult conditioning test every player must take each year before they can be cleared for practice.
I have no idea if players who were out Wednesday failed their conditioning tests, but a handful of Eagles were sidelined for Day 1 for various injuries.
* Offensive line: Left guard Isaac Seumalo mostly watched practice as he sat out with a hamstring injury. The team called him “week to week.” He’s fortunate that rookie Landon Dickerson started camp on the NFI (non-football injury, or in this case, college injury) list and also isn’t ready to practice. Nate Herbig ran at first-team left guard.
* Wide receiver: Jalen Reagor, last year’s first-round pick, was limited. He warmed up with the team, but that’s it. It’s my understanding he has a minor lower-leg injury and won’t be out long. Second-year pro Quez Watkins was listed as day-to-day because he hasn’t completed his physical, which calls his conditioning into question. Not a good look for a guy trying to make the team. Greg Ward has an illness that the team said isn’t related to Covid-19.
* Defensive backs: Versatile DB Nate Meadors is week-to-week because of a hamstring injury and cornerback Shakial Taylor is day to day because a lower-body injury. Both defensive backs are new to the team.
* Others: LB Alex Singleton, S Andrew Adams and DE Matt Leo were all placed on the Covid-19 list. S Rodney McLeod and OL LeRaven Clark opened camp on Physically Unable To Perform (PUP) list.
Every year, the defense is ahead of the offense for the first few days of camp. Less timing and rhythm to work out than the offensive players.
That certainly was the case on Day 1, as rookie DeVonta Smith and quarterback Jalen Hurts each left some meat on the bone. Smith didn’t catch everything and didn’t show great separation in limited opportunities. After practice at the podium, Smith admitted that he wasn’t satisfied with his effort.
* Jalen Hurts, no surprise, was QB1, followed by Joe Flacco and then Nick Mullens. Hurts was picked off by cornerback Josiah Scott in a red-zone drill, trying to thread a pass to rookie running back Kenneth Gainwell through a tight window. Later, he scrambled to his left and pretended to tuck the ball under his armpit before firing to the corner for Smith, but Darius Slay easily batted the pass away. On the next snap, Hurts rolled right and found Smith in the corner past Anthony Harris for a touchdown. Again, it’s just one day.
* After practice, Sirianni said he isn’t as much focused on Hurts’ mechanics as he is with Hurts’ footwork. Wants his QB to have his feet firmly planted while making his throws. Keep an eye on that throughout camp and the preseason.
* The catch of the day came from Michael Walker, the former Jags received who signed in early June. Walker caught a pass along the back line of the end zone, kept his feet inbounds, absorbed contact and had his momentum carry him smack dab into the goalpost, sending him to the ground. But he held onto the ball.
* J.J. Arcega-Whiteside appeared to log most of his reps in the slot. He almost caught a touchdown along the back line but was ruled out of bounds.
* Milton Williams, the rookie third-rounder who played defensive tackle at Louisiana Tech, logged snaps at defensive end. He might see more time there than anticipated. We’ll keep our eyes on that all camp. When starting DTs Fletcher Cox and Javon Hargrave came out, they were mainly replaced by Hassan Ridgeway and T.Y. McGill.
* The team ran multiple linebacker looks, but Eric Wilson – the free-agent acquisition from Minnesota – almost always ran with the first time, by my eyes. Others who rotated in with the first team were T.J. Edwards and Davion Taylor. Shaun Bradley also may have taken some first-team reps in certain packages. Hard to tell first team from second or sub packages with so much rotation.
* For the first day, defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon employed a ton of zone and lots of two-deep looks. That could be a staple of his scheme this year but also could just be a helpful way to work on eye disciple for the first few days of camp.
* Josh Sweat and Derek Barnett took turns on the first team. Brandon Graham said “Sweaty is coming,” expecting a bigger season from the fourth-year defensive end, who had six sacks last year, third on the team.
– Geoff Mosher (@geoffmoshernfl) is co-host of the “Inside the Birds” podcast and staff writer for InsideTheBirds.com.
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