Training Camp Gets Real

Posted: July 29th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 14 Comments »

Full team. Full pads. No tackling, but this was the closest thing we’ve seen to real football in a long time. Let’s check out what happened.

Fran Duffy had some good DL notes. You have to start with 1st round pick Derek Barnett.

A. All eyes were on first-round pick Derek Barnett, who impressed me a number of times. He can win with speed on the outside as he beat Taylor Hart with a violent chop move, but can he win in other ways?

Barnett lined up for two straight reps against veteran lineman Matt Tobin early in the drill, and on both times he tried to win with a spin move inside. On the first rep, Tobin was able to keep him blocked, but on the second rep you could see Barnett better sell the outside speed rush before countering inside with the spin move, winning with ease, and getting to the “quarterback” on the rep.

Barnett also squeezed in a speed-to-power rush which wasn’t extremely effective at first glance, but the important takeaway is that he is working on those moves now and refining his timing with executing those techniques. As he continues to develop his plan of attack against offensive tackles, Barnett will become an increasingly dangerous weapon for this Eagles defensive line.

Barnett is going to win some reps and lose some reps. The key for him is to learn. You can learn by winning or losing a rep. You find out what works and what doesn’t. You also see just how critical technique can be. Hand-placement, pad level and footwork are every bit as important as catching the blocker by surprise. The best pass rushers know what move to use and when to use it, but also how to execute it properly.

That note about Tobin blocking him the first time, but then getting beaten is very encouraging to hear. That shows you Barnett is paying attention and learning.

Next is rookie Elijah Qualls, who missed most of the spring.

B. One player I was very excited to see was rookie defensive tackle Elijah Qualls. His first rep came against Jason Kelce, and he stumbled out of the gate, allowing Kelce to bury him into the dirt. On his next rep, this time against Stefen Wisniewski, Qualls won with an outside rip move. Later, Qualls showed the ability to string multiple pass rush moves together, executing a bull rush on Josh Andrews before converting to a swim move and winning inside. Qualls certainly has the size to compete inside, but his athleticism is a bit underrated by some. He showed off his potential as a pass rusher on Friday morning.

Last year the Eagles got 11.5 sacks from the DT position. That’s not good enough. Fletcher Cox and Tim Jernigan should combine for more than that this year, but backup DTs need to help as well. Destiny Vaeao had a couple of sacks as a rookie. Qualls will be competing for a roster spot, but also to get playing time. He has the skill set to be disruptive and to get to the QB.

Qualls doesn’t look like a pass rusher, but he’s got the athleticism, the moves and the mindset that you need to get to the QB. If he can get into the backfield, Qualls will have a job and get on the field.

Now for a note on second year DE Alex McCalister.

D. The rep that drew the biggest reaction came from second-year defensive end Alex McCalister, who exploded off the snap and bull-rushed converted-defensive lineman Taylor Hart, vaulting him into the air and onto the ground. The defensive line group, perhaps mostly at their former linemate’s suspense, was hooting and hollering all the way up until the two faced off again on the next rep. This time, McCalister tried to win with an inside dip move, and Hart rode the former Florida pass rusher out of harm’s way with relative ease. It was a rough day for Hart, who saw his first significant one-on-one action since becoming an offensive lineman, but it was good to see him battle back after losing the previous rep.

Howie Roseman talked about how great McCalister looked early in the offseason. The media didn’t seem to think he had added nearly enough bulk or muscle to be much of a factor this year. Jim Schwartz mentioned in Friday’s PC that McCalister is a DE the team likes. Let’s not make too much of him beating Taylor Hart, who it sounds like really struggled, but it is encouraging to hear McCalister flashed. He is a natural pass rusher with great length and good athleticism. There is a lot to work with. He just has to show he’s got functional NFL strength. He needs more days like that.

Lots of good stuff from Fran and Chris McPherson. Go read those notes.


Jimmy Bama was impressed by Torrey Smith

Torrey Smith had a really solid day catching the football and then getting yards after the catch. There was nothing spectacular from him. He didn’t haul in any bombs down the sideline or make any acrobatic catches, but he ran good routes and was able to get away from defenders once he had the ball in his hands.

Earlier this offseason, we compiled video of all of Smith’s targets last season. There’s no way to sugarcoat it. Smith’s 2016 season stunk. Two of the areas where he was particularly bad was catching the football (drops), and that he rarely got yards after the catch.

In reviewing all of Smith’s targets, by my count, he had seven drops and only 20 catches. That means that he dropped seven of just 27 catchable balls, or 25.9 percent. Somehow, that’s worse than any of the Eagles’ receivers were a year ago. I even forgave some of the close ones, as in, I didn’t count them as drops.

As for yards after the catch, he did not have a single broken tackle on the entire season and was only able to muster 58 total yards after the catch. That’s an average of 2.9 yards after the catch. 25 of his yards after catch were on a play in which the Bills didn’t cover him at all, and he ran in for an easy TD. Take out that one long play, and he had 33 yards after the catch on 19 catches, or an average of 1.7 yards after the catch. That’s not good, obviously.

We only bring up Smith’s bad 2016 season because he has not looked like that same player so far throughout OTAs, minicamp, and (admittedly) the first day of camp. He has had sure hands and looks far more capable of getting yards after the catch than he did a year ago.

We tend to focus on Alshon Jeffery, but Smith could be a key player this year. I recently wrote about the Eagles receivers and listed Jordan Matthews ahead of Smith in terms of ranking the Eagles pass catchers. That is because Matthews has been consistently good. Smith is more of a playmaker and has a higher ceiling, but as Jimmy points out, Smith was awful in SF. You always hope a change of scenery will help a talented veteran to get back to playing well, but there are no guarantees. Smith is off to a good start.

Here’s your Nelson Agholor update.

I believe the hype surrounding Nelson Agholor’s offseason has been a little over-the-top at times. While he has looked better this year, he has had his share of drops, and let’s be real — he’s facing some very questionable corners.

Still, I thought he made a couple of noteworthy plays today. On one play, he snatched a pass with his hands in the middle of the field, then immediately ducked under a defender coming from behind him (not in his line of vision) and got some yards after the catch. Later, he caught a pass on the sideline while facing the quarterback, and was being closed in on by Douglas, who was not in his line of vision. Agholor gave a little fake to the inside, then ran around Douglas to the outside up against the sideline. On those two plays, I thought Agholor looked what scouts call “twitchy.”

On the down side, on a slant, Agholor was trying to catch a pass that was a little over his head in traffic, but he could not bring it in. While it was not an egregious drop, you’d prefer he make that kind of catch.

Agholor won’t have anyone’s full confidence until he plays well in regular season games. There are reasons for optimism, but he hasn’t earned any trust to this point. It is good to hear Agholor is flashing some of the athleticism that got him picked in the 1st round. He was dangerous after the catch at USC. That’s been missing in the NFL. Then again, you do have to catch the ball before you get RAC yards. Zing!!!

One of the keys for Agholor will be his confidence. As he makes plays and has some success, that will help him in a big way. Just as drops became a mental issue last year, making plays can have the opposite effect and build him up.



Jeff McLane has good stuff on Wentz and Jeffery.

Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith had some dazzling moments. On the second play of 7 on 7s, Carson Wentz dropped and fired a bullet to a slanting Jeffery. Jalen Mills had tight coverage. You could say he didn’t do a single thing wrong. But Wentz tossed a dime into a tight window and Jeffery never lost concentration. Those are the types of passes that should become commonplace – and, quite frankly, were absent last season – with a true No. 1 outside receiver. Jeffery would later pluck a toss that was just a shade behind him, but he made it look effortless. His best moment may have come when he didn’t even catch an intended Wentz pass. The quarterback threw downfield, but the ball was considerably behind his target. Jeffery, though, contorted his body to get a hand on the ball, and as he fell twice tipped the ball to himself. But the effort – while drawing deserved applause — was all for naught and the ball hit the grass.


Wentz appeared to have a solid, productive day. He wasn’t perfect, of course. But he had more success than failure. He hooked up with Jordan Matthews when he found his slot receiver alone running down the seam. Matthews ran out the play, all the way to the end zone like he normally does, but he still doesn’t seem to have the typical spring in his step. In fact, when he headed to the sideline I noticed that he was walking with a slight hitch. Knee tendonitis kept Matthews out of most of the spring, and he has been reluctant to give more detail, but seems to be something more going on in regards to his health. He finished practice and didn’t appear to take any snaps off, but his condition bears monitoring.

There are too many new faces for the offense to be running smoothly, but it is very encouraging to hear that it is so much improved from last year. The Eagles spent a lot of money to bring Jeffery to Philly and so far he seems to be the real deal. Nothing is worse than signing a star and having the guy play mediocre or even bad football. If you pay for steak, you want to eat steak. Jeffery has proven to be a big, juicy ribeye so far.

Wentz has stepped up from the spring and should continue to get better as he builds chemistry with his receivers. I don’t think we can really quantify how much it should help him to have such improved receivers this year. It had to be discouraging last year to have so many passes dropped. Drops are down this year, and just as important, receivers are also making tough catches. Wentz can take chances and actually believe there is a chance someone will make a play for him.


Finally we have Brandon Lee Gowton.

Shelton Gibson dropped at least five passes today. That’s not an exaggeration. The guy just hasn’t been able to catch the ball. Gibson also fumbled on a special teams rep. The strip came from a player on the sideline after the play was mostly over, but defenders are always trying to do that in practice. It helps them work on their strip and it encourages the ball-carrier to always protect the rock.

Not good. Gibson is looking more and more like a practice squad candidate. There is still time for him to turn things around, but he’s dug such a big hole that it just doesn’t seem likely. Gibson has big time speed so he’s a player you don’t want to get rid of casually. He’s worth trying to develop.

And now for misc notes.

• Douglas had tight coverage on a Nelson Agholor drop. He may have gotten a hand on the ball as he contested the catch.

• Terrence Brooks ran over to the fans after Jaylen Watkins broke up a pass meant for Trey Burton and said “Do we have any defensive fans here?” Fans responded with applause. It was the only time Eagles fans will probably ever applaud Watkins.

• Still liking what I see out of Billy Brown. Made a tough grab over the middle of the field with a defending hanging all over him.

• Najee Goode knocked down a short pass intended for Zach Ertz.

• Pederson had Agholor and Bryce Treggs practice jet sweeps.

• Mack Hollins spends some practice time working on his long snapping. He doesn’t look too bad at it.

• Adam Zaruba was at Eagles practice for the first time since signing with Philadelphia earlier this week.

The Zaruba Era has begun. Will he prove to be the key to the Eagles winning their first 10 Super Bowls? Only time will tell.


14 Comments on “Training Camp Gets Real”

  1. 1 Tumtum said at 1:17 AM on July 29th, 2017:

    5 drops, holy moley. He is making the PS tough.

  2. 2 Dominik said at 7:58 AM on July 29th, 2017:

    Jimmy said Gibson looked better, not making any catches, but not dropping any (or at least many) either and having a few good plays (one PI, one underthrown ball were he had a lot of seperation). Now is the question if Jimmy didn’t look close enough or if BLG saw drops and automatically counted them for Gibson, since he’s so used to it.

  3. 3 P_P_K said at 10:27 AM on July 29th, 2017:

    “Full team. Full pads.” Best thing I’ve heard since last Jan, “Packers 34, Cowboys 31.”

  4. 4 Someguy77 said at 5:05 PM on July 29th, 2017:

    Interesting to hear Hollis Thomas talk briefly this afternoon on WIP about his perspective on the current training camp location.

    He said as a player you definitely appreciate a training camp that enables you to sleep at home. Ditto having better facilities to watch film & medical facilities to treat injuries.

    From the fan perspective, he said the current fan experience at the Open practices ‘flat out sucks’ and called Flight Night a ‘complete ripoff.’ I’m sure the Eagles don’t appreciate hearing that on the station that broadcasts their games & advertises events including Flight Night.

    Thomas added that the players miss not getting the interaction with the fans and realizing how energetic & enthusiastic this fan base can be when over 10k show up to just watch an early training camp practice. Also said as a player that you tended to concentrate a bit more because you didn’t want to be embarrassed and have the crowds rag on you especially if you got pancaked as a OL/DL.

  5. 5 Guy Media said at 10:37 PM on July 29th, 2017:

    “From the fan perspective, he said the current fan experience at the Open practices ‘flat out sucks’ and called Flight Night a ‘complete ripoff.'”

    AMEN! Put the camp back at a college campus!

  6. 6 A_T_G said at 11:49 PM on July 29th, 2017:

    I personally found Lehigh very convenient, but what is stopping them from giving fans that experience in Philly? Rope of areas, set up risers, etc. either at the Link or nearby.

  7. 7 DJH said at 5:35 PM on July 29th, 2017:

    By almost all accounts Wentz had a strong day. Yes, it’s training camp. Grain of salt. But we’d much rather hear he looked sharp then that he was sailing passes (a tendency he has had).

  8. 8 Nailed It! said at 6:33 PM on July 29th, 2017:

    By all reports today was a very strong day by Wentz.

  9. 9 kajomo said at 7:02 PM on July 29th, 2017:

    I know it’s early, but I have not read a single note anout Chris Long all offseason besides when he stands next to Cox or Johnson.

    Barnett is clearly taking some rookie lumps as well. I wasn’t high on him pre-draft and hope he proves me wrong. Even if he does I don’t expect much from him as a rookie.

    Are fans too bullish on this DL this year? Again I know it’s early just throwing it out there.

  10. 10 or____ said at 7:27 PM on July 29th, 2017:

    It’s too early. Period. Stop there.

  11. 11 Ryan Rambo said at 7:50 PM on July 29th, 2017:

    Block function is awesome!!

  12. 12 SteveH said at 10:24 PM on July 29th, 2017:

    From Jimmy’s notes:

    “Rookie DT Elijah Qualls had a really rough moment. He went down in pain on one rep, and then proceeded to get reamed out by defensive line coach Chris Wilson. “You get beat every f****** time, and now you’re hurt!” Wilson screamed. Qualls remained on the ground sort of in the field on play about 5-10 yards from where the rest of the linemen were conducting the drill, and trainers came over to look at him while the drill continued. Qualls was eventually helped off and into the locker room. Yikes.”

    I can’t help but feel that even in the world of burly manly men and manliness, that’s a little harsh no? I would have been uncomfortable just having to witness that.

  13. 13 Guy Media said at 10:35 PM on July 29th, 2017:

    Can Wilson give me some credit if he’s going to use my quotes?

  14. 14 SteveH said at 11:58 AM on July 30th, 2017:

    I imagine this is what you scream at the TV every time Ryan Mathews touches the ball. “YOU GET TACKLED EVERY FUCKING TIME AND NOW YOU’RE HURT??”