Here is a roundup of notes from the Eagles practice on Tuesday.
• Jordan Matthews has looked really good so far. I wouldn’t be surprised if he had double the number of catches of any other WR here in camp, at least in the practices that have been open to the media. That caused me to tweet the following during practice.
In limited media access to OTAs so far, Jordan Matthews has looked like the best WR on the team, in my opinion, and it hasn't been close.
— Jimmy Kempski (@JimmyKempski) June 10, 2014
I then tried to give it proper perspective.
In regard to last Jordan Matthews tweet, however, important to give context. Cooper/Maclin probably taking it a little easier in June.
— Jimmy Kempski (@JimmyKempski) June 10, 2014
Look at the difference in the number of retweets in those two tweets above. Crap…. I’m contributing to the hype train. To add even more perspective, practices in shorts means no press coverage, no real pass rush, and no fear of being popped after a catch. Frankly, wide receivers should do really well in OTAs.
Still… Matthews is passing the eye test early, and then some.
Everyone has raved about Matthews so far. But Jimmy’s overall point does need the context he tried to provide. A rookie like Matthews will be playing his butt off in the OTAs as he tried to impress the coaches and earn playing time. Veterans like Cooper and Maclin aren’t going to give minimal effort or anything to that extent, but they will have more of a calm, confident look.
Jimmy did have some good stuff on Mark Sanchez.
• The overwhelming feeling here among the media is that Mark Sanchez has looked bad so far, and I don’t disagree. However, he has also occasionally looked pretty good. For example, on Monday, he completed a really sharp out route in traffic. He also hit a nice seam route into a tight window down the seam. Those are the plays where you can see why the Eagles brought him in.
And then there are moments where his passes are nowhere near anyone. Sometimes he’s clearly throwing the ball away toward the sidelines, which is fine, and then there are other times he’s throwing to empty spaces in the middle of the field, where it’s difficult to figure out what he’s trying to do. When you see passes that don’t make any sense, more than likely they’re miscommunications. Sanchez is still learning the offense. If he continues to make a high number of weird throws in August, it’ll be more concerning. But in June, on a new team, his erratic play so far is probably to be expected no matter what anyone’s preconceived notion of the player may be.
This isn’t the time to make definitive judgments on Sanchez. We’ll do that after seeing him in Training Camp and preseason action. That’s when we’ll have a better idea of whether he can be a solid veteran backup or simply isn’t a good fit for this system.
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12:13 - Foles looks sharp during 7-on-7s, completing a deep out to Arrelious Benn in front ofCary Williams and then connecting with Zach Ertz in front of Earl Wolff. Mark Sanchez, meanwhile, loves him some Jordan Matthews. He goes to the rookie wide receiver on four consecutive passes with the second team.
I’m not sure we’ll know much about Jeremy Maclin until he gets into game action, but he’s certainly been sure-handed. I can only remember one drop in the practices we’ve watched.
Foles delivers the ball of the day. He fakes a handoff and rolls to his right. On the run, he delivers a beauty to Maclin down the right sideline. Williams has good coverage, but the throw is perfect.
12:43 - More 7-on-7 drills. Foles finds Brent Celek for a touchdown, and the veteran tight end spikes the ball. Celek played really well last year, but the poor guy couldn’t do his signature first-down signal because the Eagles always wanted to hurry up and spot the ball.
Foles later hits Darren Sproles for a score, and Barkley connects with Matthews.
12:54 - Sanchez finds James Casey for a score. His celebration of choice? Casey flexes, but holds the ball straight-up in his hand so it looks like a really, really big biceps.
1:10 - One more team drill to close out practice. Foles keeps the ball on a zone read and is “tackled” by Connor Barwin. He then hits Brad Smith for a big gain on a crosser, but the defense “stops” Chris Polk on third down and gets off the field.
Maclin is going to need to show he can be a good deep threat this year. He’s not nearly as explosive or dangerous as DeSean Jackson, but that’s okay. You don’t need 4.35 speed to stretch the defense. You need a WR that is fast enough to beat single coverage or draw double coverage and make the occasional play.
Maclin has 13 career catches of 40 or more yards. He’s got the speed to make plays downfield. In the past that was less important and he was more of a possession type receiver. This year the Eagles need him to make plays.
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– The Eagles once again worked a lot on special teams and the kickers, in particular, were busy. Alex Henery and Carey Spear took turns kicking field goals from distances in between about 40-50 yards. Henery was 6 of 6 as far as I could tell and Spear made 5 of 6, pushing one wide right. On kickoffs, Henery was stronger and more consistent, although the Eagles could have been working on directional kicks in Spear’s case. The undrafted rookie did shank one of his kicks out of bounds. Henery booted one of his kickoffs through the end zone and two were deep into the end zone.
– Henery recently told me that he spent more time this offseason trying to improve his strength. His kickoffs weren’t as deep as the Eagles would have probably liked late last season. I asked Kelly if Henery’s leg has looked stronger this spring. “Yeah, I think he’s gotten a little bit stronger in terms of the distance he’s kicking the ball and in terms of where we are placing the ball during kickoff drill,” Kelly said. “Excited to see where it is, especially when we get into some real live situations. The tough thing with the kickers is we can’t rush them, we can’t do anything. A lot of times right now it’s like they are going out on the driving range and hitting balls. It’s not real live action for them.”
I wrote this last week and will again: I have a hard time seeing Henery not winning the job this season, unless they bring in more competition.
Casey Spear, aka Murderleg, has been disappointing. You wonder if the Eagles will cut him and add a veteran PK to challenge Alex Henery in Training Camp. The coaches might still feel that Spear can be coached up quite a bit, but it sure doesn’t sound like he’s ready to push Henery in any kind of meaningful way.
If Henery can make progress on his own, that’s fine. The goal is for better production from the PK position, whether that is Henery or someone else.
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While all eyes in the spring remain on the quarterbacks or outside players like Matthews, the offensive and defensive linemen have been hard at work too. But as Kelly explained, the relative gains to be had for linemen in the spring are unlikely to come to the forefront so quickly.
“I think it’s difficult (to evaluate both the offense and defense during spring), especially for the lines,” Kelly said. “You look at some of the young guys, ‘Is he a good drive-blocker?’ Well we can’t drive-block each other. The biggest cooperation has to go on between the offensive and defensive lines and our guys understand that. I think more importantly we tell that as a coaching staff, we understand that. There are a lot of times out there where I’ll tell them, ‘I know you would have made the play.’”
To hear it from the players, though, these practices are still essential building blocks for the season to come.
“Just work on the fundamentals, the technique, basically,” defensive lineman Cedric Thornton said on his unit’s main focus. “For us, it’s all about strike and seeing the second key and then just going … We’re working with our hands and with our feet, make sure our strike is on point.
“It’s just like in baseball. They do batting practice so we do strike drills. Any time you can get better in your technique or in your fundamentals, you’re definitely getting better.”
Offensive lineman Julian Vandervelde also staunchly defended the importance of OTAs and minicamp for his position group.
“I think this is actually more crucial than any other time in terms of your technique and your fundamentals,” he said. “Everything starts from somewhere. We’ve all got a basis and especially for the offensive line, your base work is your hand placement and your footwork. When that’s your basis, this is the perfect time to work on all of that. We can place our hands exactly where they need to be. We can take exactly the right steps all without really – when the intensity starts to ramp up sometimes you have a tendency to get a little sloppy in those details. So sometimes this is the perfect time to really get better at those fundamentals.”
Obviously linemen can’t practice the rugged, physical side of things, but working on fundamentals now helps them to hone good technique so that they can use that when the hitting does go live.
Thornton’s comparison to batting practice in baseball is dead on the money. Hitters work on their swing when facing 50-60 mph pitches. They figure things out and that helps them when they swing for real against 90 mph pitches.