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August 20, 2020

Eagles practice notes, Day 4: John Hightower is making plays

Eagles NFL
082020JohnHightower (Pool Photo) Chris Szagola/Associated Press

Eagles rookie WR John Hightower

Day 4 of Philadelphia Eagles training camp is in the books, and our focus so far has been on the skill positions, because, well, there are a bunch of new skill position guys. 

Doug Pederson said that Friday's practice will be one of their two tackling days during camp, which should be a fun day to watch the big boys. But for now, it's more of the skill guys. Let's get to today's notes after a short practice in pads.

• Rookie fifth-round WR John Hightower has had a very good start to camp, and Thursday was his best day so far. In 1-on-1's, he cooked Darius Slay, using Slay's inside leverage against him and getting wide open.

Here he is during the same set of drills beating Rasul Douglas on a comeback route.

Of course, wide receivers have a huge advantage in 1-on-1's, but the amount of separation he is getting, without resorting to quadruple head fake routes that would be wholly unrealistic in games, has been impressive. He's slippery, and has a better idea of how to run routes than other rookie receivers we've seen pass through the NovaCare Complex.

In 7-on-7's, Hightower caught a TD on a nice deep pass from Jalen Hurts, with Slay and Jalen Mills nearby. From my vantage point on that play, it was tough to tell whether Slay or Mills was more responsible, but Mills said after practice that Hurts held the ball too long, a common training camp complaint from a DB.

In 11-on-11's, Hightower made a diving catch on a pass in traffic over the middle that looked like he didn't have much of a chance of getting to while it was in the air.

It is at this time that I would like to caution against getting too worked up about a rookie wide receiver in the first four days of camp. We've seen that camp hype not translate to real games in the past. Ideally, Hightower will have to prove that he can be consistent over the next few weeks, and he may not be tested by a big, physical, intimidating press corner until he's actually in a real regular season game. 

But right now, he's making plays, which is a great thing for an Eagles team that has gotten very little out of drafted wide receivers in recent years.

• While Hightower had more of a highlight reel day, Jalen Reagor made catches in bulk, mostly on short throws. The perception of what Reagor brings to this team is largely that he's a deep threat, something that the Eagles have sorely lacked for most of the Carson Wentz era. And that's certainly true.

However, he is also impressive as a receiver who can get yards after the catch. Reagor is rocked up, and has power to break tackles, in addition to being a burner. As such, the Eagles have thrown him a lot of short passes since camp has begun. For example, just today:

  1. Reagor caught a slant in front of Craig James. He did a good job using his body to get in between the ball and the defender, shielding off James and making the catch.
  2. In a trips formation, he was the outside receiver. The two inside receivers cleared out the DBs in front of them, and Reagor ran a little delay route inside behind them for an easy pitch-and-catch with some room to run.
  3. He caught a pass over the middle on a short crosser in traffic.
  4. They ran a quick screen to him, as they have done several times in camp now.

If Reagor can be successful (a) catching short passes, and (b) getting positive yards after the catch, it will only help his deep ball value. Think slant, screen, comeback, and then boom, a sluggo or an out-and-up.

• In other receiver news, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside practiced in pads for the first time on Thursday. He had a few nice catches, most notably one in which he went up high and plucked a Wentz pass out of the air over the middle.

Arcega-Whiteside is well aware that he wasn't good last year, which is a good sign. Les Bowen asked him what he told his friends and such what his rookie year was like when he went home after the season. Arcega-Whiteside responded, "I kept it real. I wasn't good enough." During the rest of his interview, he noted that he bought a JUGS machine so he could catch passes while away from the facilities, and he gave some details on what seemed like a pretty strenuous offseason workout program.

Some players are delusional about how good they are. Arcega-Whiteside at least passes the self-awareness test about his rookie season, and seems legitimately motivated to be a better player in Year 2.

• We mentioned on Tuesday that Mills probably had the play of the day, when he jumped a Wentz pass over the middle, picked it off, and took it the other way. In coverage, Mills should be able to replicate the contributions that Malcolm Jenkins provided the last couple of years. However, it's going to be a steep hill to climb for Mills to match Jenkins in run support, and as a blitzer, where Jenkins really became a weapon the last few years.

Today, I got a good look at Mills trying to blitz through an open A gap. He timed it nicely, but got erased pretty easily by Elijah Holyfield. That might've gone differently if it were Jenkins.

Will Parks and K'Von Wallace are a pair of safeties that are competing for playing time this year behind Mills and Rodney McLeod. Parks and Wallace both had PBUs today, and have both generally been active.

• Hurts can run, which has been obvious to anyone watching practices, but he has apparently been impressive off the field as well, per Daniel Jeremiah of NFL Network, who has close relationships with a slew of people in the Eagles' front office (h/t Brandon Gowton on the transcription):

“I’m excited to see what they do with Jalen Hurts. And all reports I’ve got out of Eagles camp are that they have been blown away with — not only, everybody knows how athletic he is — but just how smart he is and how much of a professional he is. He just carries himself like a veteran. Everybody on the team has really fallen in love with him. So, how are they going to use him? I know Taysom Hill is kind of the template some have used for him. But, to me, I don’t think he’ll get that much volume that Taysom Hill got. But I think they’ll find spots. Maybe it’s in short-yardage, probably a good chance you’ll see him sprinkled him in in the tight red zone to do some things kind of running the football and using that mobility. He’s somebody they think can develop and be a starter and be a quality starter in the league."

Hurts has also shown off a strong arm. It'll be interesting to see how he comes along with his accuracy, and decision-making, but in my view, out of the box the Eagles appear to have something to work with there. He did get picked by rookie UDFA safety Elijah Riley today on a pass he tried to fit into a tight window.

• To hear some audio recaps of each practice, Brandon Gowton and I are recording daily podcasts. You can find those here:

Previous training camp notes

• August 17: Miles Sanders, the next Brian Westbrook?

• August 18: Jalen Reagor's rare athleticism
• August 19: Lots of punting, and more injuries

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