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August 15, 2023

Eagles training camp game ball: Reed Blankenship has been team's most impressive defender

In the Eagles' second joint training camp practice against the Browns, Jalen Hurts and Reed Blankenship had strong performances.

For the first time in PhillyVoice's Eagles training camp "game ball" series this summer, we have a repeat winner! I originally didn't want any repeats, but on a day where the Birds truly thumped the Browns in joint practices following Monday night's disappointing showing, it felt apt for the defense's most impressive performer. 

Here's more on how Jalen Hurts and Reed Blakenship fared on Tuesday...

Offensive game ball: QB Jalen Hurts

Given that our own Nick Tricome handled Monday and Tuesday's editions of "Hurts Watch," a game ball selection for Hurts gives me an opportunity to contrast his two joint practices.

Monday's output was the "chicken or egg" scenario when it comes to discerning blame for an NFL offense. Is it the quarterback or the offensive line? It was a mix of both. The Eagles' elite unit showcased an inability to slow down the likes of Myles Garrett and Za'Darius Smith with Hurts constantly flushed outside the pocket into would-be "sacks" without this being full-contact football. Additionally, some of Monday's sacks, which Tricome pegged as five or six total in his writeup, felt a bit like Hurts rolling around without a clear idea where to hurl it. It was a smorgasbord of turnstile o-line play, indecisive quarterbacking and coverage sacks. Let's put things simply: it was a stinker.

The Eagles' collective demeanor was flipped on Tuesday. This was the energy you'd expect from the NFC's best team. 

Some of the Eagles' offensive success had to do in part with field position. Monday's offenses were working from around the 40-yard line going in. Tuesday was red zone work. Hurts is built to thrive there with his dual-threat capabilities, as are big-bodied pass-catchers like Dallas Goedert and A.J. Brown. As you could imagine, Hurts ran for a score and also hit those two guys in the end zone for touchdowns. Hurts looked like his 2022 self all afternoon, keeping the Browns' D consistently scrambling. 

I severely doubt Hurts will play in Thursday's preseason home game against Cleveland, so this is the last we'll see of Hurts against real competition until next week's joint practice reps when the Colts come to Philly. 

Eagles defensive game ball: S Reed Blankenship

Blankenship has had the best summer of an Eagles defender. No, he's not the best player on this D. He's not even the best player in the secondary! Blankenship's growth, however, from midseason contributor as an undrafted rookie in 2022 to the clear-cut No. 1 safety during camp has been exponential. He won the defensive game ball on Monday and is now snagging it again.

Blankenship took all the first-team reps at one of the safety spots on Tuesday while Justin Evans, Sydney Brown and Terrell Edmunds rotated opposite him. Blankenship hasn't received the top safety billing by default compared to lower-level competition, he's actively earned it.

After an interception in Monday's joint practice off a tipped Deshaun Watson pass that linebacker Zach Cunningham deflected, the same exact thing happened on Tuesday. The Watson-to-Cunningham-to-Blankenship trifecta led to Blankenship running the ball back downfield, Brown leveling a Cleveland player on a block and a mini skirmish between the Eagles' defenders and the Browns' offensive players. It was an intensity that was sorrily missing in Monday's lackluster performance. 

Blankenship one-upped himself later, picking off Watson again. This time Blankenship was covering Cleveland tight end Jordan Atkins in the end zone. Blankenship went under Atkins, putting himself in perfect position to land the interception. Those tip drill picks showcased great awareness and a nose for a ball that's been clear throughout camp. Tuesday's second interception was football IQ and skill put together. 

Not too shabby for a guy who was preparing to play the likes of Western Kentucky and Florida International while at Middle Tennessee State this time two years ago. 

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