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July 26, 2023

Eagles training camp game ball: Two undrafted players shine in first practice

PhillyVoice is 'handing out' two game balls for each Eagles training camp practice. Tyree Jackson and Christian Elliss stood out on Day 1.

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072623 Eagles Practice Nick Sirianni Colleen Claggett/for PhillyVoice

Head Coach Nick Sirianni of the Philadelphia Eagles talks with players during practice at the NovaCare Complex in Philadelphia, Pa. on July 26, 2023.

Eagles training camp got started in earnest on Wednesday morning down at the NovaCare Complex. It was a bit of a sloppy affair, but that's to be expected for the first practice even for a team coming off a Super Bowl berth. Here at PhillyVoice over the next several weeks, we'll be giving out a training camp game ball to one offensive and one defensive player each practice. I'm going to spotlight two undrafted players trying to establish themselves in 2023...

Offensive game ball: TE Tyree Jackson

Tyree Jackson has been a "developmental" tight end the last few seasons. The Eagles appeared high on him throughout the 2021 season. Jackson is a converted quarterback from the University of Buffalo standing 6'7". His athleticism pops. After tearing his ACL in Week 18 that season, Jackson appeared in just five games in 2022, playing 57 total snaps across special teams and offense.  

In that missed time, Jack Stoll established him as the team's block-first TE2 and Grant Calcaterra filled in as a pass-catching TE3. Jackson came into camp as a bubble player with Dallas Goedert, Stoll and Calcaterra seemingly ahead of him on the depth chart, but he had a strong showing on Wednesday. 

Working in with the second team offense and backup quarterback Marcus Mariota, Jackson found the end zone twice in red zone work. That's the exact type of situation where Jackson should be thriving if he's going to make it as an NFL pro, being a jump ball threat who can quickly body his way through smaller defensive backs before getting open for six. One play had Mariota moving in the pocket, finding Jackson in the back of the end zone on a leaping grab for a touchdown. He's a hard target to miss! 

Later in practice, the Eagles went through some "third and eight from the eight-yard line" situations. Jackson once again hauled in a touchdown from Mariota with this one coming over the middle of the field. 

Given that unconventional path to becoming a tight end for the Birds, Jackson has become a low-key fan favorite among back-of-the-roster players. He threw 48 collegiate touchdowns in the MAC. He's a Philly Special redux candidate in the Trey Burton mold!

Defensive game ball: LB Christian Elliss

Christian Ellis was the most eye-popping Eagles player during the two OTAs practices that were open to the media last month. He continued to shine on Wednesday. On one play where QB2 Mariota was rolling around the pocket, Elliss kept his eyes up and focused on the quarterback while hanging near the goal line. His patience paid off. He intercepted Mariota as the defensive sideline erupted in cheers and screams. 

I wrote on Wednesday morning about a handful of camp battles that will play out this summer. One such spot is the No. 2 linebacker spot behind Nakobe Dean. Veteran Nicholas Morrow may have entered the offseason as the more likely player to snag that role, but Elliss is balling out and looking like the favorite in the reps the media has seen. Here's an excerpt of what I said about Ellis:

Could Elliss be the next T.J. Edwards? I don't necessarily mean that in terms of play style, but Edwards was an undrafted free agent who cut his teeth on special teams before developing into a three-year starter in midnight green. Elliss went undrafted out of Idaho, spending time on the practice squads of the Eagles, Vikings and 49ers before returning to Philly and making his pro debut with the Birds late in the 2021 season. Ellis played 62 percent of the Birds' special teams snaps last year. Is he about to make that leap?

I'll go with Ellis as the guy out there to begin the season in Week 1. Outside of Jurgens and Steen, Ellis is the guy I'm going to be most locked in on during camp, joint practices and the preseason. 

Rarely do I look so smart so quickly. Buy some Elliss stock, Eagles fans.

The Birds return to the field on Friday morning. Stay tuned to PhillyVoice for all your Eagles analysis and news.

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