The Eagles offense got the better of the defense for the first few days of practice. That changed on Wednesday.
The first interception of Eagles 2014 training camp! It’s Malcolm Jenkins who picks offMark Sanchez in a 3 on 2 drill. It wasn’t a terrible throw from Sanchez but Jenkins jumped the route and made the play. Easily would have been in a pick six in a real game. I think Sanchez was targeting either Brent Celek or Zach Ertz, but I’m not 100% sure.
Not too long after Jenkins picked off Sanchez, fellow Eagles backup quarterback Matt Barkley threw his first interception of training camp. Barkley lofted one to Josh Huffdown the sideline. Again, far from a terrible pass, but Williams out battled Huff for position on the ball. Williams was fired up after the play.
The third interception came in a redzone drill where Sanchez was picked off by Brandon Boykin. Sanchez was targeting Benn. This is only the first of many interceptions to come for Boykin.
Interception number four — that’s right, four interceptions in one day after three training camp practices with NONE — came on a Nick Foles pass intended for Darren Sproles. Jenkins was playing Sproles tight and made the play for another would-be pick six.
• Now’s a good time to mention that Malcolm Jenkins has had a really good training camp, and I’m not just saying that because he had two interceptions today. He’s been a nuisance in coverage having recorded a number of pass deflections. As I pointed out above, he’s being used to cover multiple positions: running backs, tight ends, wide receivers. Jenkins has definitely been impressive.
Training Camp is always good news/bad news. The dynamic goes something like this…for the first few days, the QBs were looking really good. No INTs. But the defense was struggling. Now the defense looks good as they come up with INTs, but the QBs are struggling. Obviously that’s an oversimplification of things, but you get the general idea. On any given play, something good and bad is happening to the team.
The key here is that you don’t want one side winning all the time. That’s when you’ve got a problem. When things go back and forth, you’re good to go.
Brandon is kind of a fan of what he’s seen from Jordan Matthews. See if you agree with my assessment.
I’m already several bullet points into this post and I haven’t mentioned The Best Wide Receiver in NFL History: rookie pass catcher Jordan Matthews. Apologies. Joking aside, Matthews was awesome. It felt like Mark Sanchez wasn’t even throwing to any other second team receivers… and that’s mostly because it was true. Matthews did a great job of working the middle of the field and getting open. Matthews is a monster with yards after the catch because of how hard he runs once he gets the ball.
In a one-on-one WR/CB drill, Matthews dominated his competition. Safety Earl Wolff had no chance on a play where Matthews ran a crisp route to create space for a Foles throw. Matthews caught the ball over his shoulder with ease. Soon after his touchdown catch, Matthews outmuscled backup safety Chris Maragos for a tough catch over the middle.
The most impressive Matthews play came on a diving catch from a Sanchez pass. The Eagles defensive backs standing on the sideline behind Nolan Carroll, who was covering Matthews, thought Carroll had made the diving interception. Matthews got to it first though and then got up to run down the field. That quickly quieted the Eagles DBs.
Matthews finished a dominant day by making two toughly contested catches in the red zone. I wasn’t sure who was in coverage because the Eagles were practicing all the way at the opposite side of the field… but Matthews was clearly impressive. The first pass was thrown nice and high just to where he could get it and he snagged it with ease.
Just so you don’t think BLG is nuts, there were plenty of other writers praising Matthews.
Jeff McLane - I thought the defensive backs also got the better of the Eagles’ receivers and quarterbacks during one-on-one drills – at least at the end of the field I was watching. Jordan Matthews, though, shined for the offense. Say what you want about the competition, but he has made all the catches so far. Now can we get him on the first team against Boykin in the slot? That’s when I’ll start making proper judgments about Matthews.
Les Bowen - Wish I’d been counting how many times Mark Sanchez connected with Jordan Matthews. He rarely throws to anyone else, among the the second WR unit. But it’s hard to blame him. One time yesterday, corner Nolan Carroll jumped a short route and seemed set for a pick-six. Somehow, Matthews ended up with the ball.
While Matthews is having a terrific spring/summer, let’s make sure to keep things in context. Matthews is doing what he’s supposed to do…getting the best of the competition. It does sound like things have gotten to the point where he could use a step up in competition. Chip obviously feels that Brad Smith is the better option for now, but hopefully we’ll get to see Matthews go against Boykin some time soon. That would help give us a better idea of just how much of a factor he could be this year. My goal is for Matthews to do a solid job of replacing Avant. That means 35 to 45 catches and a few TDs. And blocking well.
In a previous post I talked about Matthews compared to a traditional slot receiver like Wes Welker. I talked about Welker’s size as an issue in Kelly’s offense. Some people took this as me insulting Welker. Are we really at that point where you can’t say anything critical about a player without it being an insult? I think just about every person on planet Earth knows that Welker is a great slot receiver. He’s had an amazing career. But he isn’t what Kelly’s ideally looking for. A valid criticism is not the same thing as an insult or flat out ripping a guy. No player is perfect. Barry Sanders danced too much. Mickey Mantle struck out too much. And so on.
* * * * *
1. Taylor Hart seemed to hold his own against some pretty tough competition, taking on Allen Barbre and then Lane Johnson. The rookie defensive end didn’t get the better of either, but he stood his ground against two athletic linemen. Hart looks like a choir boy. He looks like he needs to add more muscle to his frame. But the Eagles love him as a 4-technique and a scheme fit. It’s way too early to say for certain, but he may end up being more than an after-thought fifth rounder.
2. Tackle/guard Matt Tobin was hot and cold. He couldn’t handle defensive end Fletcher Cox (join the club!) but dominated rookie end Frances Mays. The Eagles like Tobin. He was the second tackle/guard off the bench after Barbre last season. It will be interesting to see how he’s grown once the preseason starts. Mays moves fairly well for 6-foot-9.
. With Julian Vandervelde out (back), rookie Josh Andrews moved from center to guard. He had his struggles, but did a pretty good job when matched up against rookie NT Beau Allen. Center David Molk isn’t very big (6-1, 290), even for a center, but he did a solid job holding Allen up. Molk could supplant Vandervelde for the backup center job.
4. A few of the rookies went to school when matched up against veterans. Tackle Jason Peters drove end Alejandro Villaneuva back ten yards. It was like the former Army Ranger was a blocking sled. End Cedric Thornton toyed with guard Donald Hawkins, bullrushing him off his blocks and then gave him a little extra shove at the end for good measure. Funny stuff.
5. Vinny Curry was upended by Todd Herremans during a one-on-one. He literally flipped over his head. Curry came back later, though, and jetted around guard Evan Mathis. Mathis ran inside afterward … for a new jock. Rim shot!
6. The outside linebackers joined the fray during the second session. Connor Barwin went outside in past rookie tackle Kevin Graf. Travis Long couldn’t get past Andrews. Top draft pick Marcus Smith tried to fight off a double team to no avail.
Love reading that stuff.
The Eagles had Hart rated higher than a 5th rounder. Kelly wanted to take him earlier, but Howie Roseman had a feeling that he would be on the board in that area. The team waited and got the guy they wanted. Hart is a talented prospect, but his value is enhanced by the fact that he’s a perfect fit for what the Eagles want to do. He’s big enough to 2-gap, but also athletic enough to make some plays.
Tobin is a player to watch. He could be the #6 OL for the first month. He impressed the heck out of me last summer as a run blocker. His pass protection needs some work when going against athletic edge rushers. I’m curious to see what kind of progress he’s made this year.
David Molk is a player I liked a lot coming out of Michigan. He’s short, but very strong. Molk should be a good fit for the Eagles offense. I’m curious to see if he can make a strong push for a roster spot. He didn’t play last year and you never know if that was bad luck or if he’s just not that good.
Here’s a good STs note.
– Kelly was like a kid in a candy store during a drill that simulated blocking during punts. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him so animated as he cheered on his players or offered tips. Millions of people in this country love football, but I’d imagine he’s somewhere in the top 5. Marcus Smith did a nice job riding Zach Ertz up the line on one block. Ed Reynolds had trouble against Brad Smith both as a blocker and as a pursuer. Chris Maragos, a special teams ace, deked Murphy.
* * * * *
1:04 - Foles has been hand-cuffed a bit the past couple days while Riley Cooper rests because of a foot injury. It’s been Maehl on the other side of Maclin. I’d like to see one of the rookies or Arrelious Benn get a shot. Foles goes deep to Maehl, but he gets no separation against Fletcher and the pass is incomplete.
I hadn’t put 2 and 2 together, but Sheil is right. If you’ve got Maehl out there going against 1′s, you aren’t setting yourself up for success. Before you go all nuts on Kelly for Oregon worship, there is logic to this. Maehl was here last year. Benn is coming off an ACL tear. Matthews and Huff are rookies. You can argue that Maehl has earned a spot at the top of the depth chart…for now. If Maehl is there in 2 weeks, I’ve got a problem. Him being there now I can live with. Coaches like to reward continuity and seniority.
1:16 - Fletcher breaks up a Foles pass for Ertz during a red zone drill. The defensive backs got their hands on a lot of passes today. Williams with yet another breakup on a back-shoulder throw intended for Maclin.
Boykin intercepts Sanchez in the red zone. But Sanchez finds (guess who?) Matthews for a TD later in the drill.
1:29 - The length of the Eagles’ pass-catchers is showing today. Ertz stretches his arms to make a grab from Sanchez in the flat.
Benn makes a nice back shoulder grab from Sanchez (against Boykin).
And we have a Marcus Smith II sighting. The rookie rushes off the right edge and deflects a Foles pass.
Jenkins finishes up practice by jumping Sproles and intercepting Foles on what would have been a pick-six. He gets a jump in the air/butt bump from Boykin and a low-five from Kelly.
Sheil made reference to Benn making another catch in a different section. I’ve also read that he’s had a few drops. Benn isn’t showing any post-ACL effects from what I’ve heard and that’s the most encouraging thing. Let’s hope he stays healthy and continues to make plays. The coaches will move him up the depth chart eventually.
And it is good to read about Smith starting to make his presence felt on the field. He’s got a lot to learn, but you can’t teach athletic ability and he’s got plenty of that.
* * * * *
The Eagles did a lot of work today on those back shoulder throws that have become so prevalent in the NFL, as a way to get the ball to rangy receivers who can box out like basketball big men.
Nick Foles seemed to have a very nice touch on those throws, especially. But the defensive backs hung in and battled, eventually breaking their training camp interception slump with four picks.
“That was great to see,” middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans said. “It was great to see people picking up the tempo, picking up the energy, on the defensive side of the ball. We made some big plays.”
“We feel like we’ve been close the last couple of days. Today, it came together,” said Malcolm Jenkins, who picked off both Mark Sanchez and Foles.
“Y’all was talking about us yesterday — three days without an interception, stuff like that. We relayed the message,” said corner Cary Williams.
But Williams acknowledged having the quarterbacks throw behind him was no fun.
“I’ll tell you what, it’s one of the hardest throws you can defend, as a corner,” said Williams, who leaped high to bring down a Matt Barkley jump ball. “Back shoulders are just so difficult because those guys can see the ball … you get a good quarterback that can throw it at your back, some things you can’t do anything about.
“That’s what they’re coached to do, throw it at the back of our head … (the receivers) are stopping. They know where they’re going. We don’t know where they’re going, and they can see the ball, as well. It’s a part of the game. You just try to be as competitive as possible at the point of attack.”
Jenkins said: “It’s tough, because it’s the opposite of what you’re taught, basically. If you’re in good position as a DB, normally, the back shoulder’s open. That means you’re in phase with the receiver; they throw it back and away from you, it’s a tough play. It’s really all about the finish, being able to kind of get your hips around and disrupt the receiver so that he’s not making an uncontested catch. It’s hard for them, too — they’ve got to get their body around, still track the ball. But if the quarterback throws it right, it’s really hard to defend. And once you do start defending it, they’ll just throw it over the top … Today, we got a lot of ‘em.”
Good to hear the Eagles stressed this at practice. It is a good weapon for the offense and it is used a lot around the league so the defense is helped by practicing against it. Foles does make this throw very well. He’s got the touch and accuracy you need for it. I always wanted Reid to use it more in his tenure.