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August 13, 2017

Eagles 2017 training camp practice notes, Day 16

Eagles NFL
081317RonaldDarby Jimmy Kempski/PhillyVoice

This is what Ronald Darby looks like in Eagles green (or white, or whatever).

We're beginning to enter the dog days of Philadelphia Eagles training camp, and Doug Pederson continues to work his players hard (by modern CBA standards, anyway). After a nearly three-hour practice yesterday that included tackling, the Eagles practiced for nearly two and a half hours today. As always, we have notes.

• A focus for most reporters today was Ronald Darby, who practiced for the first time with the team. 

The Eagles wasted no time getting Darby in with the first team defense today, and in my first look at him, his quickness is obvious. There weren't any highlight plays, though he was beaten on a deep ball to Alshon Jeffery in 7-on-7's in which it looked like his feet got tangled with Jeffery's, which cost him a step or two. Still, it's very clear that he closes fast on receivers once they make their break, which requires opposing quarterbacks to be on time and accurate with their throws.

Here's Darby's spider chart from the 2015 Combine:

It's been widely accepted that Darby was a stud as a rookie, but his play fell off a bit his second year. In the locker room after practice, the Eagles' other newly acquired defensive back from Buffalo, Corey Graham, attributed Darby's second-year struggles to bad communication.

"None of us played the way we wanted to play last year," said Graham. "When you're losing, nobody played well enough.

"Guys were getting hurt. We had safeties in and out. That factors in too. At the safety position, pretty much every week I was with a different guy. So if I'm away from Darby, pretty much every week he's got a different guy talking to him. So there's different terminology, different assignments, things like that. So it's tough on a corner not knowing what you're going to get, not knowing if the safety even knows what he's talking about. So there's a lot that goes into it. You can't just look at him and say, 'Wow, he didn't play as good.' There are a lot of things that factor in."

Graham's story checks out. Here were the Bills' starters at safety each game last season, opposite Graham:

 1Duke Williams 
 2Duke Williams 
 3Aaron Williams 
 4Aaron Williams 
 5Aaron Williams 
 6Aaron Williams 
 7Aaron Williams 
 8Robert Blanton 
 9Robert Blanton 
 11James Ihedigbo 
 12James Ihedigbo 
 13James Ihedigbo 
 14Corey White 
 15Corey White 
 16Corey White 
 17Corey White 

When you're starting six different safeties during the course of a season, it's fair to forgive a down season for a corner.

Trey Burton made the best catch of training camp so far today, when he was about 30 yards down the field, and a defender was able to get a hand on the ball as it was coming down. Burton had to react quickly and was able to reach back with his left hand and made a one-handed stab.

• For a guy whose injury was merely classified as "arm soreness," Nick Foles sure has been out a long time, and I don't think he's dogging it.

• I thought Carson Wentz had a rare down day today. While there were a number of good throws, he was picked off in the end zone twice in red zone drills, once by Malcolm Jenkins, and once by Patrick Robinson. The pick by Robinson was a particularly bad throw, in which Wentz left the ball way short on a fade to Mack Hollins.

Derek Barnett had a good day after an excellent first preseason game Thursday night. He best moment today was on an outside pass rush in which he smoked Dillon Gordon for a sack.

• When we think of Jordan Hicks, I think most savvy Eagles' observers are aware that his coverage skills are his best attribute. However, he's also a very good blitzer. In one-on-one blocking drills, he toasted Darren Sproles twice in a row. Sproles may be little but he is easily the best pass protecting running back the Eagles have, and Hicks beat him with agility, as opposed to barreling right through him. Hicks is a really impressive player. 

• It's going to be hard for undrafted free agent running back Corey Clement to make the team. He's done some nice things, running hard with the football, and his pass protection has been better than what I was expecting, but he really struggles catching the football. I would imagine the Eagles would like to get him on the practice squad and have Clement really work on that aspect of his game, which is so important in a west coast offense.

• One player we haven't mentioned much is defensive end Steven Means, who had a strong camp a year ago. He's been a little quieter this year, but has been a better player than Alex McCalister. That's an interesting roster spot battle to watch, for those of you who are intrigued by back of the roster camp battles. While Means has been better, McCalister is a size-speed freak who was drafted by Howie Roseman. We'll see.

• The Green Bay Packers were unhappy about the devastating hit that undrafted free agent safety Tre Sullivan laid on receiver Malachi Dupre Thursday night. Sullivan said that the Eagles' coaching staff told him the hit was fine, because it landed on the shoulder of the runner.

• If Caleb Sturgis had the camp last year that he is having this year, he may not have beaten out Cody Parkey, who was viewed as the incumbent at the time. Sturgis was money in camp last year, but he's been a little more shaky this year. Today he went 9 of 11:

Distance Good? 
 46No good (wide left) 
 41No good (wide right) 

Sturgis' kicks throughout camp:

Day FG made / FG att 
 5 7/8
 11 7/11
 13 11/11
 14 3/4
 16 9/11
 TOTAL 37/45 (.822)

• The Eagles made a bunch of number switches the last few days. Here's my analysis on that:

  1. LeGarrette Blount changed from 35 to 29, which is a far better look for him.
  2. Terrence Brooks went from 29 to 24. I don't like that. 24 is fine and good for Brooks, but that should go to a corner or running back.
  3. Darby is 35. Terrible. He's got to get out of that number, just like Blount did.
  4. The Eagles wasted no time giving away Jordan Matthews' old number (81) to camp body Keevan Lucas.
• The Birds will be back out there again tomorrow for a full practice, and a "10/10/10" practice on Tuesday.

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