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August 26, 2020

Eagles practice notes, Day 9: Andre Dillard remains a concern at LT

Day 9 of Philadelphia Eagles training camp is in the books, and Wednesday was a lively practice, as the Birds had their second of two "tackling to the ground" days. Let's get right to the notes.

• This offseason, we took an in-depth look at all of Andre Dillard's snaps on the 2019 season, and came away from the exercise surprised at how bad his rookie season was. In case you missed that, here you go:

As we noted in that piece, Dillard's biggest flaw as a rookie, by far, was his inability to anchor against power. If it doesn't get fixed, and opposing pass rushers know they can just bull rush him into the quarterback, it will likely be a fatal flaw for his NFL career. 

Dillard put on added muscle this offseason, which no doubt helps, but isn't always the same as adding functional strength that will translate to offensive tackle movements. 

In a team session today, Joe Ostman wrecked Dillard on a bull rush. Ostman got under Dillard, stood him up and sent him falling back into Carson Wentz's legs. Wentz's left knee bent awkwardly from the impact as he went to the ground. (He's fine. He bounced right back up and finished practice with no issues.)

In my view, while not the first time Dillard has given up substantial ground against a bull rush this summer, it was the most concerning play of the entire camp. Not to take anything away from Ostman, who has had a good camp and has put himself in a great position to make the team, but we're not exactly talking about a star edge rusher here. What's going to happen when Dillard has to face Chase Young or Nick Bosa for four quarters?

The most concerning area of the roster isn't linebacker, or the secondary, or wide receiver. It's left tackle, and I don't think (fill in the whatever the second-most concerning thing is) is even close.

• Dillard's backup at LT so far has been Jordan Mailata, who has not had a good camp. Asked how Mailata is progressing Wednesday morning, Doug Pederson gave a concerning answer (at least in my view, knowing how to decode Doug's vernacular over the last half decade or so).

"Mailata is doing some good things," Pederson said. "He flashes from time to time. Again, keeping in mind that football is relatively new to him. He doesn't have a lot of game experience, obviously, outside of preseason games in the past, but is doing a really good job for us there at left tackle, as well, and could potentially be someone that maybe could swing from left to right if need be."

That quote might sound complimentary. It's not. There are three issues there:

  1. Mailata started cross-training at right tackle last year, and Pederson said he "potentially" could be someone who plays there, "if need be." By comparison, Halapoulivaati Vaitai played LT and RT in his rookie season. So that's not great that Mailata is not definitively a swing tackle by now.
  2. Yes, football is "relatively new" to Mailata, but at some point when does that "new to football" crutch go away? This is his third year of NFL coaching.
  3. "Flashing" from time to time is fine if you're a wide receiver or a running back. Like, if you have two drops, but then you make an acrobatic 40-yard TD catch, nobody cares about the drops. When you're an offensive lineman, consistency is far more important than the occasional really impressive rep. Nobody cares if you pancaked a guy on one play if you give up a sack-fumble on the next.

At some point, the Eagles are going to decide if they need to give Jason Peters a few reps at LT, to sort of wake up his muscle memory there, in case they need him.

• As long as we're getting off to a super-negative start, let's go ahead and note that Genard Avery was carted off today with what appeared to be a right knee injury. He was rushing the passer up the middle, went down, and immediately looked to be in a lot of pain. 

Avery had his head in his hands as trainers looked him over on the field, before being taken away on the cart, while practice continued. Cre'Von LeBlanc and Jake Elliott ran over to offer their support on Avery's way off the field.

• In better news, the wide receivers just continue to make plays. 

  1. J.J. Arcega-Whiteside had the best catch of camp today, in my opinion, on a heater from Wentz. Running along the back of the end zone, Arcega-Whiteside reached back for the Wentz cannon shot with his right hand, and while he didn't pluck it cleanly with one hand, he was able to gather it in after his hand made initial contact, all while having the presence and coordination to toe-tap in bounds for the completion. Earlier in the day, he had a diving reception, again, in the back of the end zone. He had a great day, and has had a very encouraging camp.
  2. Jalen Reagor jumped to catch a ball over the middle today while running full stride. It was more of a reactionary jump to catch a ball that was on him quickly than it was jump in which he was able to plant-and-sky for the grab. He's just so athletically gifted that he made it look easy.
  3. John Hightower caught a deep 50-50 ball over Avonte Maddox today. Hightower had good position and he high-pointed the pass with Maddox draped all over him.
  4. Deontay Burnett had a one-handed grab over the middle while going to the ground on a throw that was behind him. Jason Kelce was fired up watching that one, running in after the play to give Burnett an atta boy.

DeSean Jackson had a "maintenance day."

• I wouldn't mistake the receivers making plays with the secondary playing poorly. I thought the secondary had a strong day as well today. 

  1. Darius Slay had a nice pass breakup near the sideline against Zach Ertz.
  2. Nickell Robey-Coleman picked off Wentz on an off-target seam pass to Ertz.
  3. Rasul Douglas had a pick, and then had a fun return in which he reversed field and pitched to Craig James, who ran in for a TD. 
  4. Avonte Maddox had a few pass breakups, though he dropped what should have been an INT. 

• The running backs made some nice plays today as well, after not having shown much through the first eight practices.

  1. Boston Scott made a quick cut in the hole, and burst through the line in a way that I haven't seen yet in camp. Scott and Miles Sanders have mostly been sidelined so far, and the other backs haven't shown that blend of explosiveness and ability to run inside through arm tackles.
  2. Elijah Holyfield had a nice run after a spin move got him free near the line of scrimmage.
  3. Adrian Killins showed off his pure speed on a pitch play to the left that wasn't defended well, and Killins had plenty of room to make a play.

• As we noted above, Ostman has had a good camp. So has rookie seventh round pick Casey Toohill. I'm beginning to think the Eagles will keep both of them, which would mean six defensive ends.

In 1-on-1 drills, the Eagles had Ostman rushing against interior offensive linemen, which makes sense if the Eagles are intent on using Ostman in a Joker role.

• If the Eagles do indeed keep six defensive ends, where do they go light? Could they keep just three running backs initially? Two tight ends? Nine offensive linemen? In doing 53-man roster projections, I find that some years I'll have 55 or 56 players I would want to keep, and it's difficult choosing which guys to cut. Other years, there might only be like 49 or 50 guys I definitely want to keep, and I reluctantly keep three or four guys who haven't shown much.

This year I think it's the former, which can sometimes indicate a deep roster. I don't know if it's a deep roster as much as it is that the Eagles have a lot of rookies with some potential, but they're not necessarily deep in terms of player who will help this season.

• 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