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May 23, 2024

Eagles OTA practice notes: Defensive versatility likely to be a theme under Vic Fangio

Players like Cooper DeJean, Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, Avonte Maddox, Zack Baun and more will be versatile pieces on the Eagles' defense.

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052324EaglesOTAs Jimmy/PhillyVoice

Here are some Eagles players at Eagles practice.

The Philadelphia Eagles had a full-team practice on Wednesday, the first of its kind this season that the media was able to watch. It was short, and there were no 11-on-11 sessions, but there were still plenty of observations to be made.

• As a reminder, OTAs are voluntary. Players not in attendance:

  1. CB James Bradberry
  2. K Jake Elliott
  3. RT Lane Johnson
  4. CB Kelee Ringo
  5. WR DeVonta Smith
  6. EDGE Josh Sweat
  7. TE C.J. Uzomah

Johnson, Smith, and Sweat skipped OTAs last year, too.

Bradberry's absence isn't surprising, since he is unlikely to be on the team Week 1. I'll hold off on commentary about Ringo until more is known about the reason for his absence. (I can't imagine he'd skip a practice without a good reason, but we'll see.)

• There were no 11-on-11's, so we didn't get a great look at how the team views the depth chart, but there were some clues during 7-on-7's. As a disclaimer, guys cycled in and out, but here's an initial look at the depth configuration (again, no linemen):

First team offense: Jalen Hurts, Saquon Barkley / Kenny Gainwell, A.J. Brown, Parris Campbell, Joseph Ngata, Dallas Goedert.

First team defense: Darius Slay, Isaiah Rodgers, Avonte Maddox, Reed Blankenship, Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, Devin White, Zack Baun. Nakobe Dean (foot) did not participate in 7-on-7's.

Second team offense: Kenny Pickett, Tyrion Davis-Price, Britain Covey, Johnny Wilson, Jacob Harris, Grant Calcaterra.

Second team defense: Quinyon Mitchell, Tyler Hall, Cooper DeJean, Mekhi Garner, Tristan McCollum, Oren Burks, Ben VanSumeren.

Third team offense: Tanner McKee, Kendall Milton, Will Shipley (slot WR), Johnny Wilson, Shaquan Davis, Albert Okwuegbunam.

Third team defense: Mario Goodrich, Josh Jobe, Tyler Hall, Andre Sam, Avonte Maddox (safety), Jeremiah Trotter, Brandon Smith.

• The linemen didn't participate in team drills, but during individual drills Tyler Steen was the first-team RG (as expected), and Mekhi Becton was the first-team RT with Johnson absent.

• We got an initial look at where a number of players in question will likely be playing this season:

  1. Cooper DeJean played both at slot corner and at outside corner. I've seen a number of fans project him to safety, which I understand because the team has a lot more corner depth than safety depth. And sure, if at some point down the road it makes sense for DeJean to play safety, one of his best traits in college at Iowa was his versatility. But the team drafted him to play corner, and that is where they are initially playing him.
  2. Avonte Maddox played a lot of safety in addition to his usual slot corner position.
  3. Zack Baun played off-ball linebacker. He played both on the edge and at off-ball linebacker for the Saints, but he played a lot more on the edge and so the general feeling was that he would primarily play there in Philly as well. However, in Vic Fangio's initial press conference, he was asked about the off-ball linebackers and he mentioned Baun in that group, even before guys like Nakobe Dean and Devin White. Baun got first-team reps with Dean watching from the sidelines.

When Vic Fangio was asked during his initial press conference what can be expected of his scheme, he stressed the need to be versatile. 

"We have a system that is versatile, we like to think," he said. "It needs to be versatile because every week you're facing different strengths of an offense, different schemes. So, what you play in one week 10, 15 times, you may not play at all the next week. You have to have a versatile system for the offenses today in the NFL. What we'll eventually do is learn what our guys are best at."

Fangio was talking about the need for the scheme to be versatile, but for the scheme to be versatile you have to have versatile players, too. Back seven guys like DeJean, Maddox, Baun, Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, Isaiah Rodgers, and Sydney Brown could all play multiple positions in 2024.

Sydney Brown didn't practice as he continues to recover from a torn ACL suffered against the Giants in the regular season finale last year. However, he was on the field way back behind the rest of the secondary and was taking mental reps during 7-on-7's, flowing to one side or the other depending on the direction of the play. No inside information here, but one might surmise that his recovery is going well given his activity during practice.

Saquon Barkley is 6'0, 233, and you've all seen pictures of his quads, right? Still, seeing him in person among his teammates on the field, my first impression of him was... he's big! D'Andre Swift is 5'9. 215, so his "on paper" dimensions aren't *that* much different from Barkley's (Swift actually has a higher body mass index), but Barkley just looks so much bigger out there. One of the areas where the Eagles were outstanding in 2021 and 2022 was putting away opponents in their four minute offense, when their run game would dominate and they'd just run out the clock. In 2023, they lost some games because they could not salt away games late on offense. They hope that Barkley can be a closer of sorts in the fourth quarter of games.

Devin White had good coverage on Barkley, who was running a wheel route down the left sideline. White stuck with him and caused an incompletion.

• Rookie fourth-round pick Will Shipley played some slot receiver. And by that I mean the Eagles had another running back on the field along with Shipley, and Shipley lined up at receiver. Shipley caught 69 passes his last two seasons at Clemson, so he has some receiving chops. He struggled a bit catching the football on Wednesday, but the more noteworthy point here is that the team views him as a potential weapon from the slot.

• I mostly liked what I saw from Kenny Pickett. He threw with more zip than I was anticipating, and he was mostly accurate. Two throws stood out:

  1. He hit Albert Okwuegbunam on the money on a deep ball down the seam. (Albert O. later had a bad drop.)
  2. He put a back shoulder throw in a perfect spot in the end zone to Kenny Gainwell who was being guarded by Ben VanSumeren.

Low bar here, but I thought Pickett looked better throwing the football than Marcus Mariota ever did in Mariota's one season in Philly.

Parris Campbell got first-team reps at wide receiver along with A.J. Brown and Joseph Ngata. He had a bunch of targets from Jalen Hurts, and made two contested catches on short throws against newcomer Isaiah Rodgers, who got first-team reps opposite Darius Slay. Hurts also found Brown a few times, as always. Brown's best catch was on a comeback route against Rodgers. Rodgers had sticky coverage, but Brown caught the well-placed ball from Hurts, and kept both feet inbounds.

• One of the no-name guys who caught my eye was WR Jacob Harris, who was previously listed as a 6'5, 211-pound tight end. He was a Rams fourth-round pick in 2021 who has also spent time with the Jaguars. He has one career target, which was actually a 6-yard TD.

There were two plays in which he ran deep routes against rookie first-round CB Quinyon Mitchell. On the first one he had a step on Mitchell, who was forced to get a little grabby on the play. The ball was overthrown.

And then later, Harris battled with Mitchell on a 50-50 deep ball down the field. I thought Harris was more physical on the play and was able to break free from Mitchell momentarily, but the ball bounced off Harris' chest while shaking off Mitchell.

My initial thought was, "Oh hey that guy can run." I looked up his 40 time, and sure enough... he ran a 4.39 (!) 40 at 6'5, 219 at UCF's pro day in 2021. He didn't finish on any of the passes that went his way, but he has size and athleticism. Consider me mildly intrigued.

• You might think from the above bullet point that Mitchell had a shaky day. Nope. He made a really nice play when he came off his man and broke up a pass intended for rookie WR Johnny Wilson deep down the field. He already has all the physical tools you want for a corner, but he showed great awareness for a rookie participating in his first OTAs.

Johnny Wilson was active. He made a nice catch on a low thrown from Tanner McKee. Drops were an issue for Wilson in college but he caught the ball well on Wednesday. 

• During post-practice interviews, Jalen Carter seemed to realize that he is going to have to play a whole lot of snaps this season in the wake of Fletcher Cox's retirement, and that a big focus of his this offseason is on conditioning.

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