PHILADELPHIA -- The Eagles hosted their first padded practice of training camp on Tuesday at the NovaCare Complex.
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After five shorts-and-shells workouts, the Eagles were finally able to hear and feel the thud of pads smashing into each other.
Here are seven observations from Tuesday’s practice:
Rookie CB Zech McPhearson is a player
Fourth-round rookie cornerback Zech McPhearson has been around the ball daily in training camp. The Texas Tech alum has gotten his hands on a half-dozen balls (at least) through as many practices. While he’s only secured one interception (Monday’s defensive play of the day), he has shown he can make routine plays on the ball.
Tuesday, McPhearson was a constant in the play department. He had a pair of early pass breakups against QBs Joe Flacco and Nick Mullens in 11-on-11 drills. He was really impressive on the breakup against Mullens as he physically dominated fellow rookie Jhamon Ausbon on a corner route. The offense wanted a pass interference call, but the sideline judge was right there and didn’t throw any laundry. Following practice, McPhearson said if there is no flag, there’s no problem.
McPhearson’s final pass breakup came in 7-on-7 developmental period at the end of practice. McPhearson jumped a route and nearly picked off the Mullens pass but couldn’t secure the ball. The ball ricocheted off McPhearson’s shoulder pads into the hands of fellow DB Grayland Arnold, who has also been around the ball frequently in camp. The pick was Arnold’s second of camp.
Quez Watkins’ return has been a welcomed sight
After missing the first week of team drills, second-year wideout Quez Watkins has returned with a bang. He has had highlights in each of the last three practices, and he looked very quick as a route runner on Tuesday. He seems to get open with regularity, especially across the middle of the field. He had a nice gainer on a slant route, as Flacco threw a dart to him across the middle.
In 1-on-1 work, Watkins made a nice move on an out route to break free from cornerback Craig James. Watkins catches the ball cleanly on almost every rep.
LT battle update
Pads didn’t make a difference in the battle for the left tackle job on Tuesday. Once again, Jordan Mailata looked excellent, while Andre Dillard struggled in the team and 1-on-1 drills. Mailata received the first-team reps on Tuesday and held DEs Derek Barnett and Josh Sweat in check.
Dillard struggled against Sweat in second-team drills. He also lost to hybrid defensive lineman Milton Williams in a 1-on-1 rep. Dillard’s strengths are his footwork and athleticism, but neither helped him in shorts and shells. The added physicality of pads didn’t make him better. In fact, Dillard went to the ground a few times. Towards the end of practice, Dillard had his hand checked by a trainer as Casey Tucker took second-team offensive line reps.
While NJ Advance Media has preached patience with this battle, it’s hard to see Mailata not winning the starting left tackle job, barring a massive implosion in the preseason.
The H-Ertz connection
While Jalen Hurts has been up and down throughout camp, his chemistry with TE Zach Ertz has grown by the day. They have connected on a few deep plays, and Hurts is finding him open down the seam.
Hurts has a reputation of struggling to find TEs across the middle due to his short stature (6-1), but so far during the team drills, he has readily found Ertz.
To this point, Ertz has outplayed tag-team partner Dallas Goedert in the passing game, and it seems like angry Ertz is a very good Ertz in training camp. Ertz had a rough year last season, and while most would assume he’d be lost in the shuffle with Hurts at QB and Goedert likely to get a promotion, the three-time Pro Bowl playmaker is making the most of his reps.
Jason Huntley is earning a job
While the entire running back group has flashed on the field, no one’s stock has been boosted more than second-year back Jason Huntley. It seems like at least once every practice Huntley is breaking away for a big gain on the ground. That’s all well and good for a speedster without pads, but on Tuesday, with some added weight on his shoulders, Huntley made his most impressive run of camp thus far. Huntley took a handoff against the second-team defense, made a quick cut outside and then accelerated upfield untouched for a 60-yard touchdown.
To say Huntley is fast would be an understatement. While some have mused about Huntley simply sticking around because of his return ability, there’s reason to think he could be part of an offensive package come Week 1, given his impressive big-play speed.
Sorry Eagles fans, Tyree Jackson can’t remain a secret
The QB-turned-TE is having a fantastic camp. Jackson converted to his new position in January, and he’s already outshining the rest of the TE group, outside of Ertz and Goedert. While Richard Rodgers appeared to be a lock heading into camp, Jackson has become a consistent playmaker with the first- and second-team offense. Before practice, head coach Nick Sirianni praised Jackson for his growth as a route runner.
During practice, Jackson caught a handful of passes in team drills. He took contact well as Mullens and Flacco targeted him across the middle of the field. While he didn’t pick up a lot of yardage after the catch, Jackson caught the ball cleanly and was consistently open after running quality routes.
Boys and girls, it’s going to be fun watching Jackson in action during the preseason.
Prior to practice, WR DeVonta Smith (knee) was seen wearing a helmet and working on the JUGS machine. His involvement in pre-practice work actually surprised Sirianni as it was brought up during his press conference ahead of the workout. Smith didn’t take part in team or individual drills.
Defensive end Ryan Kerrigan (thumb) and wide receiver Michael Walker (foot) were new additions to the injury report. Linebacker Davion Taylor (quad) was forced inside the NovaCare Complex early in practice, but it is unclear if his exit was due to his pre-existing injury.
Right guard Brandon Brooks (hamstring) tight end Jason Croom (knee), left guard Isaac Seumalo (hamstring) and cornerback Nate Meadors (hamstring) remained sidelined with injuries. Cornerback Shakial Taylor (lower body) was limited.
FS Rodney McLeod (knee) and OT Le’Raven Clark (Achilles) remained on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list, but were seen working on another field during practice. Second-round lineman Landon Dickerson remains on the non-football injury (NFI) list.
LB Alex Singleton, DE Matt Leo and S Andrew Adams remain on the reserve/COVID-19 list, but Adams was seen working on a side field with trainers during practice.
- WR Travis Fulgham had a nice day, especially in 1-on-1 coverage drills. First, Fulgham beat CB Darius Slay on a “go” route deep down the field. On the next rep, Fulgham forced a holding penalty on Slay on an out route. Fulgham also made a nice over-the-middle catch off a Hurts pass in 11-on-11 period.
- DT Raequan Williams is competing for a deep-depth line spot and he stood out on Tuesday. Williams batted two of Flacco’s passes at the line during 11-on-11 work. Williams and T.Y. McGill have been regular batted pass producers in camp.
- RB Kenny Gainwell is starting to build some momentum, especially as a receiver out of the backfield. During 11-on-11 drills, Gainwell caught a pass in the flat, made a defender miss with a juke move and then turned upfield for a 15-20-yard gain. Maybe, he read our stock watch report on Monday?
- RB Kerryon Johnson continued his strong camp. He made an impressive catch over the middle in team drills. He also had another big gain on the ground, even with additional contact. He’s the leader in the clubhouse for the No. 3 running back job behind Miles Sanders and Boston Scott. Speaking of Scott, he was effusively praised by Sirianni prior to practice for his versatility and leadership skills.
- CB Michael Jacquet had an impressive breakup on a comeback route by WR John Hightower in 1-on-1 drills.
- Hurts’ best throws of the day were made with wide-open receivers, and that’s fine. First, he hit slot receiver Greg Ward for a 20-yard gain across the middle with a great ball that hit the WR in stride. Then, he made a downfield throw to Ertz for another big gain on the sideline. Wide-open passes can sometimes be difficult with pressure in the pocket, which Hurts felt regularly, so it’s fine to praise those kinds of plays.
- RB Miles Sanders had a brutal drop in 11-on-11 two-minute period. Hurts was a bit late with the ball, but Sanders let the ball hit his numbers and bounce off his chest.
- The SAM linebacker role is likely to be a hybrid pass-rusher spot for the Eagles. Genard Avery made a nice push toward Mullens on a rush and forced a sack-fumble on the play. Mullens has struggled with snaps and sack-fumbles over the past two practices.
- Color us impressed: Undrafted G Kayode Awosika got the better of DE Brandon Graham on a 1-on-1 pass rush rep. The veteran made him battle again on the next rep, which was more even than a clear win for either side. Graham, especially when it comes to interior rush 1-on-1, is a dominant force in drills. Awosika is a dark horse for the ninth or 10th job on the offensive line.
- The Eagles will practice again on Wednesday at 10 a.m. The players will don pads, and NJ Advance Media will have full live coverage on Eagles Extra (sign up for two weeks FREE now) throughout the day.
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