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August 21, 2020

Eagles practice notes, Day 5: Defensive line sack party

Day 5 of Philadelphia Eagles training camp practice is in the books, and it was one of the two "tackling to the ground" sessions that the Birds will have this year. There are a lot of notes to get to, so let's just get right to them.

• Friday belonged to the defensive line, which recorded six(!) sacks to close the final period of the day, a two-minute drill, in a span of fewer than 10 plays.

  1. That session started off with Josh Sweat killing Andre Dillard with a quick inside move to "sack" Carson Wentz.
  2. On the next play, Sweat then went to a speed-to-power rush that backed Dillard deep into the pocket. That's concerning for Dillard, who had his share of occasions last season in which he'd get beaten by one move, than immediately beaten again thereafter by a counter. Sweat didn't get all the way to Wentz on that second play, but Fletcher Cox did, beating Matt Pryor on the other side of the line.
  3. And finally, finishing off the first-team offense on fourth down, Malik Jackson beat Isaac Seumalo for a sack. It was a dominating effort by the guys up front. 
  4. In came the offensive and defensive 2's, and it was more of the same. Casey Toohill beat Jack Driscoll on the edge for a sack, followed by Hassan Ridgeway beating Sua Opeta. I was trying to take notes so furiously of the sack parade that I missed one, lol.

As always with training camp notes, it's your choice whether to think, "YAY D-LINE!!!" or "Uh oh, O-line."

• I made a specific effort to try to watch Jason Peters today, and how he looked at his new home at RG. He took some sessions off, as he has for the last half decade or so, with Matt Pryor filling in, but for the most part I thought he looked fine.

On one running play, he and Jason Kelce had a nice combo block on Cox. They were able to drive Cox a few yards off of the line of scrimmage. On a stretch play to the outside, he did a nice job getting to the second level and getting a hat on Duke Riley

The challenge for Peters won't be in the run game, though. Executing a mirror version of his footwork will be more difficult in pass protection. He didn't look awkward at RG, but I wonder if his foot speed is just a tick slower than it would be if he were on the left side. There was one play in which Jackson got the upper hand on him early in the play, getting lower than JP, getting him off-balance and pushing him back into the pocket.

On a side note, I should mention here that Jackson had a really disruptive day, overall. He's clearly healthy.

Joe Ostman had a pair of sacks against Jordan Mailata. Ostman nearly made the team last year (if not for a torn ACL), mostly by beating Mailata every day. That has continued this camp. I think it's fair to wonder whether Ostman is really making a lot of good plays, or is Mailata just a failed experiment in the making?

On a side note, I noticed Ostman lining up in a Joker role a few times today. I have not noticed Genard Avery in that role at all. Avery has been invisible so far. 

• Staying on Mailata for a moment, the offense ran a pitch play to the left, with Mailata pulling to the outside. He had a head of steam rounding the corner, and looked intent on laying to wood on a LB or DB. He got K'Von Wallace in his sights, and Wallace made it seem like he was going to take on Mailata's block. However, at the last second, Wallace ducked under Mailata's block, and then combined with Shaun Bradley on a big hit near the sideline on Elijah Holyfield.

Wallace is a rookie, and Mailata is heading into his third year as a pro, but I think that play is an example of the difference between a guy who has played football his entire life (Wallace), vs. one who just picked up the sport a couple years ago (Mailata).

• The backup safeties in general had a great day. Will Parks is really fun to watch in practice. He's already one of the best trash talkers on the team, and Jim Schwartz is going to absolutely love the energy he brings to the field. He's always buzzing around the football on defense, but the one play that really stood out to me today was on special teams. He was opposite the gunner (Robert Davis) on a punt, and was initially able to chuck him out of of bounds. When Davis re-entered the field of play, Parks had him measured up nicely, and blasted him with a big hit.

It appears as though Parks going to have a significant role in the defense this year, too. He and Nickell Robey-Coleman are essentially splitting nickel duties. It's called nickel when Robey-Coleman is in there, and quarter when the third safety (Parks) is in. 

As long as we're on depth chart matters, Duke Riley missed the first practice when we initially started trying to figure out the pecking order, with T.J. Edwards getting first team reps. Now that he's back, Riley is getting first team reps alongside Nate Gerry.

• The other safety who was impossible to miss today was Grayland Arnold, an undrafted free agent who doesn't have good size or athletic testing measurables from the Combine, but did make a lot of big plays (six INTs in 2019) at Baylor.

It wasn't his ball skills that got noticed today. It was his physicality. Arnold twice pasted Adrian Killins. On the first pasting, Arnold met Killins in the hole, and Killins went down hard. Later, on a screen, Arnold lifted Killins off of his feet and planted him into the turf. That drew a big reaction from the veteran Eagles defenders on the sideline. 

To note, Killins is only listed at a mere 177 pounds, but Arnold's willingness to lay the wood is a good sign for him.

• As for the starting safeties, Rodney McLeod jumped a route with the offense backed up deep in their own end, and he had a gift pick-6 go right through his hands. He did the hard part, reading the play and jumping it, but you have to finish when you create those opportunities.

• The tackling sessions are good for evaluating the running backs.

  1. Corey Clement continues to look like "Super Bowl" version of himself. He has run hard, and caught the ball well so far. Today, he was able to snag two low, "quick reaction" throws by Wentz in the flat.
  2. Elijah Holyfield has caught the ball well enough, despite very little in the way of college receiving production (he had seven career catches at Georgia). However, I haven't seen any obvious stand-out traits from him yet.
  3. Killins took his lumps today, but it's noteworthy that the team is giving him a lot of opportunities. He was the first-team kick and punt returner today, and he got reps both with the first-and second-team offense. The Eagles clearly want to see what he can do.
  4. Michael Warren hasn't stood out in any way yet, that I've seen.

• Hey, we're almost 10 notes deep already, and haven't yet mentioned a wide receiver, for a change. I thought J.J. Arcega-Whiteside had a strong day. He made a very difficult catch along the sideline, skying for the ball and then keeping both feet in, with McLeod and Avonte Maddox draped all over him. 

He also caught a TD pass in the red zone on a play that Wentz extended. Arcega-Whiteside kept working to make himself available, and Wentz eventually found him. That was actually one rare thing Arcega-Whiteside did reasonably well last season. His lone TD reception of the season came on a play like that, and he had a long reception in the Patriots game when Wentz extended a play.

The other receiver who made a big play was Marcus Green, who caught a deep ball down the sideline against Cre'Von LeBlanc. (Great ball by Nate Sudfeld on that play, just FYI.) 

Strap has had a strong start to camp, but Green got him today. He did had a nice PBU on a slot fade throw to Killins.

• With both Zach Ertz (upper body, day-to-day, though probably just a "we don't need Ertz getting tackled" day) and Dallas Goedert both out today, tight ends like Noah Togiai and Caleb Wilson got a ton of reps. They both made their share of catches, but I wouldn't say I saw anything overly impressive. Wilson did have a nice sideline catch working against Craig James, I suppose.

• In other injury news, Sidney Jones remained out. Not great. If there was ever a legitimate competition for the starting corner spot opposite Darius Slay between Jones and Maddox (I don't think there ever was), Jones is doing nothing to close that gap.

Jalen Hurts didn't get many reps today, but there was a sequence that I found semi-impressive for a rookie. First he got John Hightower lined up correctly, and then sold a hard count, getting Toohill to jump offsides.

• Saturday will be the Eagles' first day off at camp.

• 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
• August 20: John Hightower is making plays

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