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June 02, 2023

Eagles OTA practice notes: Nolan Smith could be a fan favorite

Jimmy breaks down the Eagles' open OTA practice.

Eagles NFL
060223JalenCarterNolanSmith Colleen Claggett/PhillyVoice

Eagles rookies Jalen Carter and Nolan Smith

The Philadelphia Eagles had a full-team practice on Thursday, 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.

• On Jalen Hurts' first throw of the day, he hit Quez Watkins streaking over the middle on a throw with some heat that was on the money through a number of defenders, including Darius Slay. That earned a "Nice throw, J!" from Dallas Goedert.

Nolan Smith measured in at 6'2, 238 at the NFL Combine in February, which makes him quite an undersized edge rusher, at least on paper.

I don't know if he has put weight on since Indy, but Smith looks bigger than his listed weight. He's rocked up, and is stout in his lower half. If I had no knowledge of his listed height and weight, I would not look at that guy and think, "That guy is small."

As for play style, Smith's energy was unmissable. The highest level of action the Eagles had in practice was a 7-on-7 session, and Smith's role was to rush the passer at the snap, stop when he got close to the quarterback, and then trail the play from behind. With the Eagles' top four edge rushers not in attendance, Smith played almost every single rep of the day, and he was in full sprint chasing plays down, sometimes like 40 or so yards down the field. Fans are going to love his effort.

• Speaking of weight, Cam Jurgens is trying to pack on some pounds in advance of playing guard this season. He said that he is currently around 305, but wants to be somewhere in between 310 and 315.

• No surprise here, but it's worth reporting that Nakobe Dean will wear the "green dot" helmet for the Eagles this season. For those of you unfamiliar, the "green dot" player receives the play call inside his helmet from the defensive coordinator and relays that to the rest of the defense. They usually have some responsibility in making sure players are lined up correctly pre-snap, if they're out of position.

But more importantly, the "green dot" player will rarely leave the field, which is an indication that the Eagles view Dean as a three-down backer, and the top guy on the Eagles' LB totem pole. Again, no surprise there.

• Staying with the linebackers, Christian Elliss had the play of day, making an impressive leaping INT of Marcus Mariota. Elliss spent the first few months of the 2022 season on the practice squad, but was elevated a few times to play on special teams, and was eventually activated to the 53-man roster. Including the playoffs, he played in nine games, making 12 tackles. 

I thought he looked good in the regular defense in very limited action in some blowouts last season, and he has a chance to be the "out of nowhere" guy to turn heads in 2023 training camp. There's certainly opportunity to stand out at linebacker on this roster.

• With Avonte Maddox recovering from surgery, Zech McPhearson was the first-team slot corner. McPhearson has been developing behind the scenes the last two seasons as a backup outside corner, and has been a good special teams player, but hasn't been needed in the regular defense because Slay and James Bradberry (and Steven Nelson before Bradberry) have been able to stay healthy. Guys like Kelee Ringo and Josh Jobe and Greedy Williams are probably outside corners only, so adding backup slot corner duties to McPhearson's plate this offseason makes sense.

"We try to get players to be flexible with their positions," Eagles DB coach DK McDonald said. "That's what we're doing with him because he is a good cover guy. When you go back to watch his college film, that's what he did. He played a little bit of nickel in there. So we're just trying to create more opportunities, one, for him to get on the field, but two, just to make sure that we have guys ready to go. 

"He has quickness, he has a high football IQ, he's able to move and do all the things you ask a guy in the nickel to be able to do that we ask Avonte to do, so he has a chance to go in there and compete and still play on the outside, too. That's what we like about Zech."

In 2022, Maddox missed games at three different junctures during the season: 

  1. He missed the Eagles' Week 4 and 5 games vs. the Jaguars and Cardinals.
  2. He missed the Eagles' Week 10, 11, 12, and 13 games vs. the Commanders, Colts, Packers, and Titans.
  3. He missed the Eagles' Week 17, 18, and divisional round games against the Saints, Giants, and the Giants again.

In Maddox's absence, opposing offenses often moved their best receivers into the slot specifically to attack Josiah Scott, usually with success. The Eagles need an upgrade at backup slot corner, and McPhearson can perhaps be an already in-house solution.

• The first-team safeties were Terrell Edmunds and Reed Blankenship. No surprise there. Third-round rookie Sydney Brown will have a chance to compete for a starting role, but the vets usually play with the first team early on while the young pups get their sea legs.

• The Seahawks didn't ask Rashaad Penny to do much as a receiver out of the backfield in his time in Seattle, but I thought he caught the ball with ease in drills. D'Andre Swift caught the ball well too, but that's more to be expected.

• Rookie receiver Joseph Ngata made a few catches. He received total guarantees of $230K, most among the Eagles' undrafted free agents, which makes him something close to a lock to at least stick on the practice squad, as long as he isn't a complete zero throughout training camp. Ngata did catch some heat from Nick Sirianni during practice. It appeared that Sirianni felt that Ngata chose the wrong way on an option route.

• There was punting! In fact, the Eagles had Arryn Siposs and undrafted rookie free agent Ty Zentner punting right of the media, almost as if they heard my pre-practice pleas. Each punter got eight punts, and I timed their respective hangtimes.

Punt Siposs Zentner 
4.81 5.00 
4.85 4.51 
5.13 4.60 
4.40 4.58 
4.93 4.61 
4.98 3.91 (bad snap) 
5.11 3.81 (shankopotomous) 
5.18 4.76 
Avg 4.92 4.47 

The day was decisively won by Siposs.

• Players in attendance who did not participate in practice:

  1. CB Avonte Maddox
  2. DT Marlon Tuipulotu
  3. WR Tyrie Cleveland
We covered Maddox above. Tuipulotu is likely still recovering from his season-ending knee injury in 2022.

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

  1. WR DeVonta Smith
  2. WR Devon Allen
  3. WR Jadon Haselwood
  4. RT Lane Johnson
  5. OL Josh Sills
  6. Edge Haason Reddick
  7. Edge Josh Sweat
  8. Edge Brandon Graham
  9. Edge Derek Barnett
  10. DT Fletcher Cox
  11. CB Josiah Scott

Johnson is recovering from surgery to repair his adductor, Barnett is still recovering from his Week 1 torn ACL, and Sills remains on the commissioner's exempt list.

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