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June 09, 2023

Eagles OTA practice notes: A new camp battle for a starting spot is emerging

The Eagles finished up their final day of OTAs this week. How did the roster look? Here are Jimmy Kempski's notes.

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6.1.23_Eagles-Jalen-Carter-defense_ColleenClaggett-9691.jpg Colleen Claggett/for PhillyVoice

Here is a random generic picture of some guys at Eagles OTAs.

On Thursday, the Philadelphia Eagles held a very short practice, and then they broke for the summer, beginning a long stretch until they will return for training camp in late July. Still, as always, we have some practice notes.

• In our OTA practice notes from a week ago, linebacker Christian Elliss had the play of the day, when he made an impressive leaping interception of Marcus Mariota. On Thursday, he had a pass breakup early in 7-on-7s, and later he picked off Jalen Hurts over the middle and returned it for a pick-six.

The Eagles' two starting linebackers are currently projected to be Nakobe Dean and Nicholas Morrow. Dean's starting spot is probably secure, but Morrow signed a one-year deal worth barely over $1 million. That's not exactly starter money. Elliss could make a push for a starting job later this summer.

(Programming note: I already have a Christian Elliss breakdown ready to go, scheduled for next Saturday, the 17th. I may have to move that up to this weekend. Spoiler: I liked what I saw.)

• Hurts was also intercepted by undrafted rookie CB Mekhi Garner, who was covering Olamide Zaccheaus. Garner emphatically celebrated post-INT by punting the ball, lol. The coaches didn't like that.

Garner is a big corner at 6'2, 212, and he was thought of by the draft community as a draftable player. Lance Zierlein on, for example, gave him a 6th/7th round grade, and Dane Brugler of The Athletic gave him a 7th round grade. Drafttek, a site I reference often, had him as the 124th ranked prospect in the country, and he ended up being the second-highest rated undrafted player.

Garner played his first three collegiate seasons at Louisiana before transferring to LSU as a senior. He consistently got his hands on footballs, as he had 7 PBUs in 2020, 8 in 2021, and 8 in 2022. He ran a slow 40 at the Combine, but has pretty good athleticism otherwise.

He also has some thump, and could maybe transition to safety at some point.

Eli Ricks is the more recognizable name among the Eagles' undrafted rookie corners, but Garner is probably the more intriguing player.

• Wait, so Hurts threw two picks to a backup linebacker and an undrafted rookie corner? Is it time for Eagles fans to crack each other's heads open and feast on the goo inside? Meh. On the next rep after the Garner pick, Hurts connected with DeVonta Smith on a double-move go route for a TD. I think Hurts will be fine.

• I liked what I saw from Terrell Edmunds. He was in on a lot of plays won by the defense, and he had a nice pass breakup deep down the field. The starting safety spots will be an interesting camp battle between Edmunds, Reed Blankenship, and rookie Sydney Brown. Also in safety news, Tristan McCollum got some reps at safety. He had previously been playing corner. Kudos to anyone who knew that McCollum existed.

• An observation that I missed during last week's practice was that second-year Kyron Johnson is now playing off-ball linebacker this season, after playing the rush linebacker (SAM) spot as a rookie. There's more opportunity to make the roster as an off-ball linebacker than there is on the edge on this team, so that move makes sense. Johnson played some off-ball linebacker in college at Kansas.

• Third-year DT Marlon Tuipulotu participated after sitting out practice last week. He suffered a season-ending meniscus injury Week 10 against Washington last season. 

• Sirianni was asked if there were any individual players who stood out during OTAs.

"A lot of guys are standing out to me," he said. "I have no problem singling one guy out that I think has just done a phenomenal job this off-season is Quez Watkins. I love his attitude, and I've said this to him, and I have no problem saying it here, some people around here, and it's not in this building, we have a ton of confidence in Quez Watkins, but I kind of sense from him — he's never said this, but oh, some people think I stink? Wait. Wait. That's how he's attacked every day. That's how he's attacked practices, and I think that he looks really good.

"We know he has a lot of talent, and I'm excited about that. I really like the way he's gone about his business because he can't control anything but what he can control, and he can't control what other people think about him. He can't control anything like that. Can't control things that may have happened to him last year, the opportunities that he got last year or did not get. All he can control is how he works, and I've really been excited about how he's gone about his business."

Watkins has speed and talent, but if we're being honest he did kinda stink in 2022. Good for him for working hard to get better and being recognized by the coaching staff for it. That's a start, but he'll need to be more consistent in the real games.

• I enjoyed watching Nolan Smith work on a punt block drill. I don't want to overstate his participation, but he was completely invested in the drill, whereas other first-round picks might think they're above playing special teams. Smith talked about special teams on his appearance on Chris Long's podcast a couple weeks ago, and I found it revealing in (a) how competitive he is, and (b) how much he clearly loves football.

"I was on all the teams," Smith said. "I was a special teams guy. I played on all four teams. I think the lowest I was on teams was the two, and that was on punt. I was the left guard, and I'm still mad about that. Coach Hartley, I'll never f****** forget that. Smael Mondon did not beat me out of that job. I took every step, every day correctly." 

Smith was one of the top recruits in the country coming out of high school (2nd in the nation by ESPN, 2nd by Rivals, 4th by 247Sports), and he was mad about not starting on the punt coverage team. Gotta love that.

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