Receivers on the Rise

Posted: August 13th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 410 Comments »

I can’t recall the Eagles having a young trio of receivers like Jordan Matthews, Josh Huff and Nelson Agholor. You have a 2nd round pick, 3rd round pick and 1st round pick. All three have a good combination of size and speed. All three are tough, hard-nosed and willing to block.

Matthews has established himself as a good NFL player. Huff showed flashes of real talent last year, but remains unproven. Agholor is a rookie and we have yet to see him in action. The practice reports for Huff and Agholor are encouraging.

Here is Jimmy Bama with his take on Huff from today.

Josh Huff had perhaps his best day of camp so far. In 1-on-1’s, he beat Byron Maxwell on an in-route in which he was able to gain significant separation. On his next rep, he smoked Marc Anthony (not of J-Lo fame) on a deep ball. In 2-on-3’s, he had a sliding sideline catch in which he was able to stay in bounds and did the same in the back of the end zone during red zone drills. But my favorite play of the day was subtle. On the seam route mentioned above in the Bradford section of these notes, Huff waited until the last second to put his hands up and snatch the pass, so as not to tip off Byron Maxwell that the ball was in the air. Huff received an atta boy from Maxwell on the play.

Huff and Maxwell have really battled the last few practices, and it has been fun to watch. “You’ve seen it,” said Maxwell. “He has the talent. Just go and do it. Be who they think you are. Be who you think you are. That’s really what I’m trying to (tell him). He has all the tools, he can do it. ‘You a dog, you a beast, be that.'”

Maxwell is the team’s best CB. Huff is not the best receiver, but he’s going against the top corner on a daily basis. That challenge seems to be bringing out the best in him.

Here is Tim McManus with more on that.

Josh Huff and Byron Maxwell have been going at it all summer. On this play, Huff finds some room down the seam, hauls in a well-placed Sam Bradford dart and takes off. Maxwell compliments the receiver as he makes his way back to the sideline for giving him “late hands” meaning he did not give Maxwell any tells that the ball was coming his way until it was too late. They communicate like that after every play.

“I tell him what I did to get to that point and he’ll tell me what I can do better, and vice-versa,” said Huff. “If he beats me on a route or beats me in press, I always ask where I could do better and he always gives me positive feedback.”

“Iron sharpens iron,” said Maxwell. “In order for him to get ready and in order for me to get ready for Sunday, we’ve gotta help each other out here, right now.”

While the relationship is obviously good, it gets competitive between them. The next time they lock horns, Maxwell has Huff covered and an out pass from Bradford sails high. Afterwards, Huff screams a four-letter expletive and slams his helmet down on the sideline.

“He got the better of me on that one. He got a little savvy vet-ness to him, I guess you could say,” said Huff. “He got away with a hold in my opinion.”

I really like the fact these two players are pushing each. They are competitive, but in the right way. Sometimes players will woof at each other and compete, but it feels like more of an ego thing than a productive, competitive relationship. Maxwell seems to be bringing out the best in Huff.

* * * * *

Agholor had a solid day, per Bama.

Nelson Agholor had his worst moment of camp today. He got himself wide open on a deep route, Timmy Tebow placed the ball on a platter for him, aaaaand… drop. Ugh. Otherwise, Agholor was terrific. He does a great job snatching the ball away from his body, which he did all day, and he had a tremendous leaping grab in the front corner of the end zone in which he was able to keep both feet in bounds.

Jordan Matthews had a glowing review of Agholor after practice. “Nelson, I think he’s the most explosive of (the Eagles receivers). You think about what he’s been able to do. He’s come out with the ones and looked so natural, and then when he has a chance to make big plays, he makes them. I can’t say enough good things about him. The guy works hard too.

“Nelson is always going to make the next play. It’s a good thing that he’s hard on himself, because he knows how hard he works at his craft. Every day he comes out here he wants to put a good product on the field. You see a lot of guys who come out here and just punch the clock. They might drop balls, and go ‘OK, I’ll be here tomorrow,’ but these lockers aren’t promised. It’s beautiful when you see a guy who’s a first round pick still have that chip on his shoulder to understand that hey, nothing is promised, none of this stuff is guaranteed. He comes here and works his butt off every single day like an undrafted guy, and I really appreciate that.”

The presence of Matthews and Huff (and to a lesser extent, Riley Cooper) takes the pressure off Agholor. He can get on the field and play if he earns time, but there isn’t pressure on him to start and be productive right away.

If Matthews is able to build on his rookie season and Huff and Agholor play to their potential, this receiving corps could be outstanding, now and into the future.

* * * * *

Jeff McLane had good notes on OL/DL.

2. I focused a lot of my attention on 1-on-1 drills between the two lines. Earlier this week, I asked defensive coordinator Bill Davis about the drills and what the coaches wanted to see out of the players. “It’s really about the first couple steps, angles, their sets, our angles, our hands, their hands, those type of things are what you are looking at,” Davis said, also referring to the o-line. Matt Tobin has been one of four linemen that have rotated into right guard with the first team, but he’s also played a lot of tackle with the second team. He did better at guard during 1 on 1s and battled to a stalemate when pitted against DT Bennie Logan. Tobin was fooled by a Conor Barwin spin move at tackle, but blocked Marcus Smith to the ground during a later edge rush. Smith had a highlight rush on Tuesday, but bounced back to earth a day later. Dennis Kelly was the victim of Smith’s stutter-step, bull rush. He looked more confident on Wednesday and stood up a DE B.J. McBryde attempt. Julian Vadervelde has been a surprise contender in the competition at RG. But watching the 1 on 1s, you can see why offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland has him in the mix. Vandervelde looks steady. He also told me earlier this week that he feels as healthy as ever. He was like a wall when undrafted rookie Travis Raciti tried to maneuver past him.

3. So what about some of the lesser-known linemen? Center David Molk isn’t exactly an unknown after filling in for Jason Kelce last year, but he’s done his work under the radar this summer. The knock against Molk is that it’s a struggle for him to swing to guard. He’s a capable enough backup center, but Vandervelde, for instance, is more versatile. Still, Molk knows the center position. He’s very adept at snapping the ball and holding his ground despite the limited space in the middle. He gives up more than 40 pounds to DT Beau Allen, but used his quickness and hand placement as leverage during one drill and didn’t forfeit his footing.

4. As for the undrafted rookie offensive linemen, Malcolm Bunche (6-6, 320) has impressed the most so far. He got DE Vinny Curry off his feet during one rush and seemed to handle a DE Fletcher Cox bull rush. Nice. It should be interesting to watch Bunche on Sunday against the Colts. OL Brett Boyko struggled. DE Brandon Bair drove him to the ground, rookie DE Brian Mihalik turned the corner on him, and Raciti beat him with a spin move. DE Taylor Hart took reps with the first team defense during team drills on Wednesday. He looked a little sluggish against OL Andrew Gardner during 1 on 1s, though.

I don’t know what to make of Vandervelde. If it is him vs Molk for a spot, I prefer Molk, who I saw start and play effectively last year. But Vandervelde is a better swing G/C so that helps his value. I’m looking forward to seeing both in games.

Bunche is another player that has my attention. Chip was asked about him the other day and mentioned some good things. Bunche has gotten practice mentions the last couple of days. I don’t see him pushing for the roster this year, but he could be good practice squad material. He was a good run blocker in college. Maybe Jeff Stoutland can bring out the best in him.

* * * * *

MISC NOTES

Glad to hear Smith had another good moment today. He needs more of them, and to play more consistently Still, it is good to hear he’s offering some impact.

* Andrew Gardner was the RG today. That was his 3rd day, the most of any RG candidate so far.

* Finally, a bit of humor for you.

Classic.

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Another Day, Another DB Update

Posted: August 12th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 291 Comments »

Chip Kelly held a press conference prior to Tuesday’s practice. As usual, he had plenty of interesting things to say, but one item stood out. Kelly said that Eric Rowe would be competing for the Nickel spot. Previously he had left Rowe out of the list of players battling for that job.

Rowe is a good fit for when he goes against guys like Jordan Matthews in the slot, but the question is how he’ll do when going against a Wes Welker type. Those guys are smaller, quicker and very elusive. They can be tough to cover for someone that is tall and over 200 pounds.

Rowe played CB and S in college so he is used to lining up all over the field. He has good cover skills and is a gifted athlete. He just might prove to be capable of playing in the slot. Byron Maxwell, who is a bigger corner, did a good job in the slot for Seattle.

* * * * *

The Eagles added a DB to the roster, signing former Raven Marc Anthony. He was a 7th round pick back in 2013.

He is an interesting choice for the Eagles. A couple of years ago I actually listed him in a mock draft for PE.com.

Seventh Round (No. 218 overall) – CB Marc Anthony – Cal – 5-11, 196 pounds

Anthony is a talented player. He has good game tape. He played well at the Senior Bowl. Unfortunately, he ran slow at the Combine and that has killed his value. Corners need to run about 4.50 in the 40-yard dash. Anthony was timed at 4.63. In the past, teams would write him off. There is a new movement in the NFL to focus on corners with size and physicality, even if that means sacrificing some speed. The Seahawks are the best example of this. Anthony is a risk, but I think he’s a smart risk. Let him press and be physical and see if he can overcome the lack of top speed. He is a good athlete overall.

Interestingly, I also had the Eagles taking Lane Johnson, Zach Ertz and Joe Kruger in that mock.

Anthony helps with depth for Training Camp and preseason games. I would think of him as a long shot to actually provide competition for a roster spot. We’ll see him play on Sunday and get a feel for if he’s a camp body or could turn into something more.

* * * * *

Marcus Smith got some praise. First up is Jimmy Bama.

Marcus Smith had the highlight of the day during one-on-one pass rush drills. He put Dennis Kelly on roller skates, and then on his back. Absolutely destroyed him. “It was a head fake bull (rush),” said Smith. “I came off the ball, and did kind of a stutter step to get him off his feet, and then I bull rushed him and got to the quarterback.”

After standing out for the first time since, um, ever, Smith then went into a celebratory dance routine a la Freddy Mitchell. “I was just happy I finally conquered the move I’ve been wanting to do, so now I can bring other moves off of that,” Smith said. The Eagles are light on OLB depth, and they need Smith to step up his game this season. Today was an encouraging sign.

Tim McManus also had a note on him.

Later during team drills, Smith blows up a run play, bursting into the backfield to corral Kenjon Barner before the back even had a chance to make a move. “Good job, Marcus!” a group of teammates yelled from the sideline. Pretty good day for the second-year linebacker.

Jeff McLane offered his take.

We had a Marcus Smith sighting. The Eagles’ 2014 top pick delivered the pass-rush move of training camp, and I’ll get to that in a moment, but Smith was also very active later during team drills. I don’t want to overstate one practice, but the second-year outside linebacker showed some signs of life. Let’s see if he can translate that to game action once the preseason starts on Sunday. As for the pass-rush move, it came during one-on-ones and against OL Dennis Kelly. “I did kind of a stutter-step to get him off his feet and then I bull-rushed him,” Smith said. And, boy, did he get Kelly off his feet. Smith drove the 6-foot-8, 321-pound Kelly back as if he were on skates and, finally, onto his rear end. Smith then did a dance as his defensive teammates jumped around him (and over the fallen Kelly). “I don’t know what that really was,” Smith said. “I was just happy that I finally conquered the move that I really wanted to do. Now I can bring other moves.” Kelly said that he lost his balance, but that Smith, who added 15 pounds, was stronger in this camp than a year ago. “That’s not going to look good on film for me,” Kelly said. “But it was a good move.”

Smith isn’t exactly turning into Lawrence Taylor, but this is encouraging. Smith needs to build on this. Don’t let one good day be an anomaly. Having success on the field will help his confidence, which will then help him to have more success. Can’t wait to see him play this weekend.

* * * * *

Your Sam Bradford highlights of the day. McManus again.

Sam Bradford is having another fine day. He connects with Nelson Agholor, then zips a back-shoulder throw to Brent Celek for the touchdown. Agholor is getting a lot of first-team reps today. It appears Josh Huff is not a full participant.

Bradford finds Murray for a short-gainer and then tries a back-shoulder throw to Jordan Matthews in the corner of the end zone. But Jaylen Watkins, playing first-team nickel, has good coverage and the pass is incomplete.

Bradford finishes strong. He finds Sproles in the flat, then connects with Jeff Maehl down the left side for a big gain. That’s followed by the play of the day. Bradford lofts a perfect ball to Matthews in the right corner of the end zone about 30 yards downfield. Watkins is on him and again has tight coverage but Matthews rises up and wrestles the ball in for the score. A fired-up Matthews celebrates with an angry flex and a series of chest bumps as he makes his way up the sideline.

That last plays sound like one heck of a throw/catch by Bradford and Matthews. It is also encouraging that Jaylen Watkins still had good coverage, as well as having broken up a previous pass. Good news all around.

* * * * *

Brandon Lee Gowton covered the RBs.

DeMarco Murray runs ANGRY. The Eagles running back ran up the gut and completely bowled over Walter Thurmond head on. Violent. It was reminiscent of the way Murray once destroyed Damion Square.

Speaking of running backs, it was another day where Ryan Mathews looked pretty good as well. The Eagles’ backfield is stacked.

Murray has been in and out of practice. It is noteworthy because he’s such a key part of the offense, but I’m not worried right now. The Sports Science staff tries to prevent injuries when they can and that means being protective of players.

* * * * *

McLane had a good note on the ILBs.

There was a flip side to the run drills, and a few linebackers stood out on defense. Rookie Jordan Hicks had a couple of “stops” that stood out. He shuffled to the sideline and caught RB Raheem Mostert before he turned upfield, and Hicks got to him again up the middle a play later. The Eagles drafted Hicks in the third round, which virtually assures him a spot on the roster, but he looks like he belongs so far. DeMeco Ryans’ recovery appears to be going swimmingly. He made one of those slashing run stops into the backfield, on a Darren Sproles carry, that have become customary over his career.

The Eagles expect Hicks to be a key player in the future. He won’t play a ton this year (barring injuries), but the team loves his athleticism and instincts.

* * * * *

I have not been to Training Camp so I can’t offer an opinion on this. I hadn’t even considered the notion that Bradford wouldn’t play this weekend. It will be interesting to see if the coaches do sit him or if he’s out there.

And if Bradford is on the field, will he look confident or timid? Guys coming off a torn ACL (or two) have been known to be nervous about the first contact of the year. Definitely something to watch.

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More on the Nickel Situation

Posted: August 10th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 407 Comments »

There were a lot of reactions to the previous article so let me address some of them.

* A few of you pointed out there was a 4th option…letting Brandon Boykin play this year and show he deserves to be kept around in the future. Yeah, we’d all love that. The problem is that Chip Kelly doesn’t want a CB that is 5-9, 183. Period. We can argue the merits of Chip’s philosophy, but the bottom line is that Boykin wasn’t going to get a long term deal. You either deal him now or lose him to free agency.

I already covered the question of Kelly and not wanting small players in a previous post.

Someone pointed out that Brandon Graham looked like a goner and ended up getting a new deal. There is a big difference in the two. Graham was a backup, but he still played the position of OLB. He went up against starting OTs when rushing the passer. Graham showed the ability to play like a starter.

Boykin played the slot. While the coaches value that position, they aren’t going to pay an undersized guy to play that role. If the Eagles thought Boykin would sign for a reasonable deal, they might feel different. They know he wants big money and just aren’t going to overpay for a player his size or for that role.

* Eric Rowe is going to stay on the outside. The coaches want him to focus on learning one position for now. They feel his best position is CB. It would be great if Rowe could start at CB and Nolan Carroll could cover the slot. Some want Rowe to play FS, freeing Walter Thurmond up to play Nickel. Rowe is staying at CB, and for now he’s the backup to Carroll.

* What about Denzel Rice? He might be in the mix to play the Nickel. I couldn’t remember if the coaches had worked him there or strictly on the outside.

* Some of you want me to be more critical of Kelly. I don’t criticize for the heck of it. My first goal is to understand the thinking behind a move. If there is logic, I can deal with it.

I don’t like the 3-4 defense, but that’s what Chip wants to I set aside my feelings and focus on his ability to build a good 3-4 defense. I’m not as fixated on having big players as Kelly, but that’s what he wants. I focus on him trying to build the roster he wants. That’s how my mind works.

* Were the Eagles foolish for dealing Boykin with a rookie, unproven second year player and journeyman veteran as the key replacement options? This is a matter of opinion, but I don’t think so.

This isn’t a case of the Eagles trying to force a player into the Nickel spot. They thought Shepherd looked natural in there and took a long look at him there in the spring. Had he struggled, Boykin would probably still be an Eagle.

One of the reasons the Eagles targeted Jaylen Watkins in the 2014 draft was his versatility.

They have seen him play the slot in college and think he’s got the skill set to play there in the NFL.

As to Biggers, he has plenty of experience playing the Nickel spot in the NFL. This isn’t new to him at all.

We don’t know if Shepherd would have panned out, or if Watkins or Biggers will pan out, but there is some logic in the thinking. The Eagles weren’t relying on one player to be The Answer. They had multiple options to replace Boykin and hoped one would pan out. We have to wait and see what happens.

* Can these moves fail? Yes, absolutely. Just because there is logic behind them doesn’t guarantee a thing. Chip might be wishing he never let Cary Williams and Brandon Boykin go. Kelly isn’t afraid to take chances, and that is a good thing. You must be bold when trying to build an NFL roster. But bold moves that don’t pay off will get you fired.

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Shepherd Down for the Year

Posted: August 10th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 197 Comments »

JaCorey Shepherd impressed the Eagles coaching staff enough in the spring that they felt comfortable with trading Brandon Boykin. Unfortunately the Eagles will now be without both players.

The first issue is who will play the Nickel spot now. Shepherd didn’t have the job locked down, but he was the front-runner. Veteran E.J Biggers and second-year Eagle Jaylen Watkins are the most likely candidates. Watkins took over for Shepherd in Sunday’s practice session.

Watkins was a 4th round pick in 2014. The Eagles liked his versatility, overlooking his lack of college starts. He played in a crowded secondary at Florida and that limited his time as a starter. It also forced him to adapt to whatever role was open…CB or S or NB.

There was some thought that Watkins would compete for the starting FS spot and he did bulk up this offseason to get ready for that challenge. The coaches decided Walter Thurmond was a better fit there and Watkins bounced back and forth between CB and S. He now will focus on the Nickel spot.

Biggers has played the Nickel before so that gives him a bit of an advantage. Biggers is versatile, but has yet to find a spot where he can stand out.

Rookie Randall Evans spent most of his college career playing the slot so he is comfortable in that role. He’s adjusting to the NFL, but not nearly as quickly as Shepherd was.

The good news for Shepherd is that this happened early enough that he’s got a good shot to be back for the 2016 season.

A lot of people are now going to bring up the Boykin trade now. Many people were against it to start with and now that bandwagon will grow even bigger. Why trade him at all? Why trade him in early August?

There was logic to the Eagles thinking. That doesn’t mean you have to agree with it, but the plan did make sense. Boykin was heading into the final year of his contract. It was highly unlikely he was going to re-sign here so the Eagles had to balance the idea of keeping him for a final season with trading him for good value  The Eagles waited until the Steelers made an offer they felt was too good to pass up.

Boykin became expendable because the Eagles felt they had multiple players who could handle his role. They were especially high on Shepherd, who they felt could play right away. The Eagles could have held on to Boykin, but they wanted the practice reps to go to the players who would take over for him. If Boykin was on the team, he was going to be on the field and practicing with the 1’s.

The Eagles knew that trading Boykin would weaken the secondary this year. He is a proven commodity and good player. But trading him also brought value. It added a draft pick next April. And it cleared room for Boykin’s replacement to start plying right away. No one is saying the replacement would be the same level of player, but he could be good enough.

There were essentially three scenarios. Keep Boykin for 2015. Hold him until late in the preseason, just in case of injuries. Deal him right away. There were ups and downs to each scenario. The Eagles chose Option 3 and that has left them open for criticism. Should Watkins or Biggers prove to be an adequate replacement, that would silence most critics. If no player steps up and the Nickel spot is a year-long weak spot, the Boykin trade will be a regular source of criticism.

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Practice at The Linc

Posted: August 9th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 234 Comments »

The Eagles held Sunday’s practice in front of fans at The Linc. It was Military Appreciation Day, with the Eagles hosting members of the Armed Services and involving them before and after practice.

Let’s start with the bad news of the day. Rookie CB JaCorey Shepherd collided with Darren Sproles. The rookie wasn’t expecting the collision to be so violent. He had to be carted off the field with a knee injury.

We should find out the results of the MRI some time on Monday. Keep your fingers crossed for the rookie.

* * * * *

As far as practice notes, let’s start with Andrew Kulp. Real good stuff from him today.

As CSNPhilly.com’s Geoff Mosher noted in his Day 6 observations, (Jaylen) Watkins appears to be progressing nicely this camp. The 2014 fourth-round pick had an interesting duel with first-round rookie Nelson Agholor in 1-on-1s on Sunday. On one rep, Agholor employed what it appeared to be a killer double move, but Watkins didn’t bite at all, and wound up breaking up the pass attempt downfield. However, Agholor would get the better of him eventually in the same period, hauling in a perfectly thrown deep ball over Watkins for a touchdown. If Shepherd is out for any significant period of time, Watkins may become the new favorite after appearing in just one game on defense for the Eagles last season, which means his every move be under intense scrutiny going forward.

Watkins took over for Shepherd as the top Nickelback. He and E.J. Biggers will compete for the job if Shepherd is out for an for an extended period. Watkins has the skill set to be good in the slot. You hope Shepherd is okay, but the Eagles have other options. We’ll get into this situation more once we know Shepherd’s MRI results.

Now onto Ryan Mathews.

It can be difficult to tell whether running plays are successful or not at camp due to the lack of tackling, but it was a little easier on Sunday thanks to the aerial view the Linc’s press box provides, and Ryan Mathews really stood out. Mathews was hitting the correct holes, and with a suddenness and force and conviction that you like to see. On one play, he juked an unattended defender right out of his shoes in the backfield, then turned the right corner where there was nothing but daylight. Mathews also contributed some fine catches out of the backfield, including a score. There’s a reason the buzz around this two-time 1,000-yard rusher is growing.

I think some people forget Mathews was a great college player and a 1st round pick. Talent isn’t an issue. He just needs to stay healthy. The Eagles won’t over-work him so that puts Mathews in a terrific situation. By playing less he could actually be more of an impact player.

* * * * *

Notes from Jimmy Bama.

There was one play that I absolutely loved from Malcolm Jenkins. Typically, when there are run plays, the RB will be tagged, and he’ll still run the play out into the secondary anyway. In a red zone drill, DeMarco Murray was tagged and was looking to finish the run into the end zone. However, Malcolm Jenkins stood him up at the goal line and refused to let Murray in to the end zone. Loved that.

Nelson Agholor’s change of direction is very impressive. On a kick return, he stuck his foot in the ground, mid-sprint, made a 90 degree cut, and lost almost no speed at all. That was joy-stick stuff. Impressive.

Eric Rowe flashed a bit today. He looked very athletic on a diving pass breakup.

Jenkins was a terrific free agent signing. The Eagles got a good player and also a good leader.

Agholor has been up and down this summer, but there is no question about his talent. I can’t promise you he’ll turn out like Jeremy Maclin, DeSean Jackson or Jordan Matthews, but I will guarantee you he’s not going to be Freddie Mitchell.

Rowe is pushing Nolan Carroll for a starting gig.

* * * * *

Next up is Tim McManus.

One-on-one time. Josh Huff tries to shake Byron Maxwell with a post-corner move but Maxwell has him blanketed and forces the incompletion. The former Seahawk definitely has some swagger to him. He hams it up afterwards, pointing to the fans in the corner of the end zone, who respond with a roar. It’s a good sequence for the defensive backs. Nolan Carroll with some good coverage on Miles Austin. Jaylen Watkins follows with a pass breakup of a Sam Bradford ball intended for Nelson Agholor. Cory Undlin is loving it.

It’s Huff vs. Maxwell once again. This time, the receiver finds some separation on an in-route and makes the catch, but Maxwell strips the ball loose after a few strides.

It’s the 3-on-2 period, where two receivers go up against a pair of defensive backs. Trey Burton makes a nice sliding grab along the left sideline. That’s followed by one of the nicest hook-ups of the day as Bradford lofts a pretty deal ball to Huff, who makes an over-the-shoulder catch with Malcolm Jenkins in coverage.

The toughest thing about Training Camp is that you don’t want one side to dominate the other. You want Maxwell to win some battles, but Huff to win a couple as well.

Because the secondary struggled so much in 2014, it is encouraging to hear this group of players is winning their share of battles. Maxwell seems like the real deal and the other DBs are coming along nicely.

As to Huff, he is better this summer than he was a year ago. He still has plenty of work to do to get where he needs to be, but he’s showing the physical potential that made the Eagles think he was worth a 3rd round pick. It will be really interesting to see him in preseason games.

* * * * *

Jeff McLane has some praise for Walter Thurmond.

It’s going to take a strong push for someone to supplant Thurmond at safety. He’s constantly around the ball. He had the two interceptions today. He also rushed into the backfield on one ran play, past WR Jordan Matthews and wrapped up RB Raheem Mostert. I don’t know how good Thurmond will be compared to other starting safeties around the league. It’s too early to say. But the Eagles seem to like him more than the other alternatives (e.g.: Earl Wolff).

That’s good to hear. Thurmond isn’t going to be a punishing hitter so he needs to be active in the passing game. He does need to show that he can be a reliable tackler. The preseason games will be a huge test in that area. The Eagles focus on technique in camp, but don’t do a lot of live tackling.

* * * * *

PE.com had notes on the OL/DL.

During the one-on-one pass rushing drills between the two sides of the line, there were a few standouts, both expected and unexpected. On the defensive side of the ball, undrafted rookie defensive end Travis Raciti impressed, consistently pushing the pocket. Linebacker Connor Barwin was also his usually impressive self, teaching second-year lineman Kevin Graf a lesson at one point in which Graf overset to the outside, leaving Barwin an easy lane for a spin move.

On the other side of the ball, Andrew Gardner held up well at left tackle, holding his own against Fletcher Cox. A day after Chip Kelly sung his praises, undrafted rookie Malcolm Bunche impressed again. The drills should be taken with grain of salt, though, as explained Sunday by defensive coordinator Bill Davis.

“It really is about the technique of the first couple steps and then the hands and you’ll see them peel off and that will be the end of it,” Davis said. “If you have put a quarterback in you have to protect him. So it’s really about the first couple steps, angles, their sets, our angles, our hands, their hands, those type of things are what you are looking at.”

I do miss the days when we used to get extensive notes on the OL vs the DL. Those were some of the most compelling battles up at Lehigh.

Travis Raciti is a UDFA that could push for a roster spot or land on the practice squad. He has a good frame and is athletic. He might need a year of seasoning to really push for a spot, but he does have talent.

* * * * *

Misc Thoughts

* Several people wrote about Trey Burton today. He had his best day of camp so far. Burton got bigger and stronger in the offseason and some wondered if that slowed him down. He’s been quiet so far this summer, but maybe today’s showing will get him going.

Burton is the #3 TE, but most importantly he is an impact STer. We’ll get to see that part of his game in the preseason contests. STs plays are not full speed in camp. You don’t want 22 of your players sprinting up and down the field and running full speed into each other. Too much of an injury risk.

* Some of the UDFA TEs have made plays this summer, but it doesn’t seem like one of them has stood out above the rest.

* Julian Vandervelde was the starting RG again today. I wonder if this is a reward for him playing well or a way of punishing the others for not playing well enough.

* One encouraging part of camp is that Earl Wolff has been able to stay on the field. He hasn’t stood out in a big way (aside from a hit on Quron Pratt), but Wolff is practicing every day. He has the talent to play. He just has to stay on the field and play to his potential.

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