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August 01, 2023

Eagles training camp game ball: DeVonta Smith is on the verge of stardom

Continuing with PhillyVoice's 'game ball' training camp series, DeVonta Smith and Josh Sweat starred in Eagles practice on Tuesday morning.

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060921DeVontaSmith Matt Slocum/Eagles pool photo

Eagles wide receiver DeVonta Smith during a team practice in the summer of 2021.

The Eagles' star power is looking better and better as training camp continues on. In PhillyVoice's "game ball" camp series, we're highlighting an offensive and defensive player who balled out in practice. One goes to a guy who's already made a Pro Bowl squad and could well be on his way to another selection. The other is a wideout who may be a consensus top-10 receiver in this league come this time next year. 

Here's what I saw from two Eagles players I expect to stand out all year long...

Offensive game ball: WR DeVonta Smith

An easy argument could've been made for either Hurts or A.J. Brown here, as the Eagles' skill position Big 3 is humming overall, but Smith is such a technician in practice that it really jumps out at you at the NovaCare Complex. Brown is a star in his own right and made his own highlight-worthy catches on Tuesday, but Smith continuously makes extraordinary plays like routine with perfect route-running. 

On the first play of practice, Smith was as open as you'll ever see in the back of the end zone on a quick goal-line play, as Hurts found him easily for six. You saw that last season and you're going to see it again this fall. 

In 1-on-1 battles with Darius Slay, was able to consistently create separation. He had one drop on the day, but made an excellent catch against Slay that I discussed in depth in my Jalen Hurts practice observations story from Tuesday, writing:

One of the best highlights of camp so far! Slay is all over Smith here with the type of sticky coverage that had the multiple-time All-Pro blanketing Justin Jefferson in Week 2 of last season. Hurts fires what amounts to a 50-50 ball Smith's way as Smith and Slay approach the goal line. Just as it looks to be an errant throw with elite coverage, Smith creates separation at the very last moment and snags the ball. 

Watching Smith work in practice is really something else. He's so technically proficient in real game action and that's even more heightened in a practice setting. He's my "game ball" recipient for the offense today. 

There were deep out routes that were textbook pitches and catches. He knows how to manipulate defensive backs with slight movements as well as any Eagles receiver I've ever seen (Zach Ertz was pretty damn elite at it as a tight end, too). His ladder warm-up drills went viral on Sunday. He gets people in a frenzy simply for doing drills kids do on the freshman football team! 

Almost two million people watched that little clip! 

As long as the Eagles have the Hurts-Smith-Brown trio together, they're going to be the favorite to win the NFC annually. The wild thing is that even after Brown had the best statistical wide receiver season in franchise history in 2022, I still think Smith might be the better wideout! Eagles fans are fortunate to be able to have this debate. I grew up watching a Pro Bowl quarterback throw to the likes of James Thrash, Todd Pinkston and Freddie Mitchell. 

Defensive game ball: DE Josh Sweat 

This Eagles front seven is absolutely loaded with talent and name recognition. Haason Reddick was one of the best defensive players in the entire sport in 2022. Fletcher Cox is a former All-Pro. Brandon Graham is a former Pro Bowler who made the play in Super Bowl LII. The young Georgia Bulldogs trio of Nolan Smith, Jalen Carter and Jordan Davis have fans salivating at this defense's future. Even with that, Josh Sweat is a force who shouldn't be overlooked by anyone. His presence at practice on Tuesday was overwhelming. 

Standing at 6'5" and weighing 265 lbs., he looked gigantic even lining up against the Eagles' hulking offensive line in full pads. He made practice hell at times for backup quarterback Marcus Mariota, consistently collapsing the pocket against the Eagles' second-string offense. Sweat is so good that he made me wonder if the Eagles should be considered about their backup left tackle depth! 

Sweat's sack total has jumped every season of his career:

Year Sack Total 
2021 (Pro Bowl) 7.5 
2022 11 

If he makes another similar leap statistically in 2023, we're talking about a guy who will garner All-Pro consideration. 

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