Fight To The Finish
Birds Camp Concludes With Brouhaha Vs. Colts
PHILADELPHIA – Tuesday’s joint practice between the Eagles and Colts represented the final open practice of 2023 Eagles training camp at the NovaCare Complex.
You could say the finale ended with a bang, as Eagles center Jason Kelce ignited a full-on brawl between both squads that emptied both sidelines and forced a premature end to the practice after a little more than 90 minutes of competition.
The teams will meet Thursday night at the Linc for the final preseason game, and starting Saturday practices will be closed to the media after the first 10 minutes of warmups.
Practice had already been chippy with a few minor dustups between both teams before Kelce took umbrage with Colts linebacker Zaire Franklin roughing up Eagles linebacker Kenneth Gainwell a few times during 11-on-11 drills that pitted Eagles starters against Colts starters.
The veteran All Pro center made a beeline for Franklin, a Philly native who attended La Salle College High School, causing a collision that set off a wild skirmish and brought nearly all of both teams to midfield, with fists flying all around.
Order was restored fairly quickly, but practice never continued as both teams settled down and trickled off the field.
After practice, Gainwell – entering his fourth year – told reporters that the Eagles “whooped they ass” and showed his appreciation for Kelce’s backing.
“We’re a team. We aren’t gonna let anybody come into our house and take over. We’ll continue to work hard each and everyday…We whooped their a** tho”
— Kenny Gainwell on practice/fight with Colts pic.twitter.com/L2NToWNoh1
— Eliot Shorr-Parks (@EliotShorrParks) August 22, 2023
Let’s get on with the observations:
As for injuries, here’s the full report:
Eagles injury report:
WILL NOT PRACTICE
Britain Covey – hamstring
Kyron Johnson – appendectomy
Moro Ojomo – concussion
Haason Reddick – thumb
Nolan Smith – shoulder
Greg Ward – ankle
Quez Watkins – hamstring
— Dave Zangaro (@DZangaroNBCS) August 22, 2023
Also, cornerback Zech McPhearson and linebacker Shaun Bradley, each of whom suffered a torn Achilles recently, were both spotted on the sidelines, observing practice on Roll-A-Bouts.
* I couldn’t help but think of the juxtaposition of both head coaches. Nick Sirianni was the former Colts’ offensive coordinator before becoming Eagles head coach. Colts first-year head coach Shane Steichen just finished a two-year run as Eagles offensive coordinator before his latest promotion. There’s a lot of respect between the two and might have helped Sirianni overcome his hard feelings for the Colts after last year’s firing of Frank Reich.
* Colts cornerbacks joined the growing fraternity of defenders haunted by A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith, each of whom shined in both 1-on-1s and 11-on-11s. Brown opened 1-on-1s showcasing his trademark late hands to reel in a fly route deep down the right sideline from Jalen Hurts. The defending corner, Kenny Moore, couldn’t believe the ball wasn’t overthrown. Smith routinely got steps on Moore and other Colts corners.
Nice job by Wilmington News Journal reporter Martin Frank capturing the reception:
— Martin Frank (@Mfranknfl) August 22, 2023
* WR Devon Allen shook a Colts corner with a nice inside-out break to the left sideline in 1-on-1s and later beat Moore on a fly route down the left sideline. He’s getting some good reps with Quez Watkins and Britain Covey still not practicing.
* As noted, the chippy jawing and roughhousing started early. Eagles CB Mekhi Garner, who has flashed this preseason, picked off a pass down the sideline intended for James Washington. Garner, who had an earlier pick negated by pass interference, tossed the ball at Washington after the play. Gutsy move by the undrafted rookie from LSU.
* Soon after, as the teams divided for 7-on-7s – with Eagles starters vs. Colts backups on one field and Colts starters vs. Eagles backups on the other – Sydney Brown laid a thunderous hit on Colts TE Mo Alie-Cox to break up a late throw from Anthony Richardson. Brown stole Alie-Cox’s soul as he crushed the tight end just as Alie-Cox tried to catch the ball between Brown and Reed Blankenship. In a real game, it’s very likely Brown would’ve been flagged for hitting a defenseless receiver – or perhaps assault and battery? – but regardless, that’s what you get with the third-round rookie safety, a tenacious player with plus instincts who can react and pounce.
* I can’t recall a time when a position picture remained up in the air so deep into camp, but new DC Sean Desai is playing every safety he has on the first and second teams. Brown, Blankenship, Terrell Edmunds and Justin Evans all rotated in with starters and backups, in multiple combinations.
Desai even showcased a “big nickel” featuring three safeties. You have to think Blankenship, Brown and Edmunds are locked into spots – with Evans and Wallace duking it out for the fourth spot – but it’s still unclear which safeties will start or see the most playing time when the season opens. Evans appears to be rising as camp progresses.
* Desai also showed some of the five-man fronts the Eagles routinely deployed last year with three interior linemen flanked by an overhang defenders on each side, but he also continued to show looks from two years ago, with four down lineman and one overhang defender. Desai has so much talent up front, he can essentially mix and match as he pleases.
* LB Zach Cunningham continues to see first-team action next to Nakobe Dean when the Eagles are in formations with two stacked linebackers. He’s an impressive run defenders – as he’s always been – but the Colts also completed some passes over the middle against that look, with tiny rookie slot receiver Kody Case catching a ball between Cunningham and Dean before turning upfield to tack on more yards. This could be an area of concern for the Eagles if opponents come out in 12 personnel and throw on first downs against the Dean-Cunningham combo.
* Jalen Hurts averted a potential disaster on a fumbled snap by scooping the ball and firing downfield for Smith, who roasted cornerback Darrell Baker Jr. on a skinny post for a touchdown. Hurts had his right arm warmed up for Smith and Brown throughout the practice.
* Eagles defense showed some repetitive communication issues during red-zone 11-on-11s, as the Colts twice beat them with corner-route touchdowns to wide open tight ends. Garner was about four steps behind Will Mallory on the first. On the second, there wasn’t a defender within 50 feet of TE Drew Ogletree. Josiah Scott did have a nice pass breakup, though, from the slot.
* Eventually, Colts and Eagles starters convened on the same field for 11-on-11s. That’s when the jawing really elevated another notch, starting with Brown catching a pass over the middle and mixing it up with, well, nearly everyone around him in a Colts jersey.
Soon after, Smith showed amazing body control to out-leap Baker Jr. deep down the right sideline and use his long arms to reel in the Hurts heave despite tight coverage from the Colts corner, a gain of at least 40 yards. Hurts then connected again with Smith against Baker Jr., on a sweet back-shoulder toss in the right corner of the end zone for a touchdown.
* I was pumped to see Anthony Richardson, but there weren’t many splashy plays from the rookie who went fourth overall. The Colts, not surprisingly, ran a lot of zone reads and RPOs, and Richardson scrambled quite a bit. His arm is super strong, but he also tended to deliver late while trying to thread tight windows, leaving his receivers in dangerous positions.
* K’von Wallace had an interception negated when the refs flagged him for contact on a Colts tight end. Looked to me like the contact was caused more by the tight end. The Eagles were irate on the sideline with the call. Wallace has improved this camp, but he’s still fighting to be the fourth safety, which is mainly a special teams job.
* Eli Ricks was victimized on a deep pass down the right sideline by Gardner Minshew to WR D.J. Montgomery, but the ball was perfectly thrown to Montgomery’s outside shoulder, where only Montgomery could’ve made the catch or the ball goes out of bounds. Ricks, the undrafted rookie from Alabama working opposite CB Josh Jobe on the second team, actually supplied tight coverage on the play.
– Geoff Mosher (@geoffmoshernfl) is co-host of the “Inside the Birds” podcast and staff writer for InsideTheBirds.com.
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