The Eagles held their twelfth practice of training camp Saturday. Here are my observations and notes:
1. For those of us who cover the NFL, training camp is often the time to focus on positional and roster battles and young players. The veterans and stars can get lost in the shuffle because, well, everyone knows that Fletcher Cox, for instance, is still dominant and will make the team. But every so often there’s a reminder of how great an established player can be – like Cox in Thursday night’s preseason opener – that it deserves special mention. Zach Ertz missed three practices last week and sat against the Steelers. But he was a full participant on Saturday and was his usual excellent self. Rookie Dallas Goedert received a lot of ink for his impressive debut, and rightfully so, but Ertz is still the man at tight end. His best moment came when he plucked a corner fade out of the air with one hand for a touchdown. Defensive end Derek Barnett pulled up and would have likely sacked Nick Foles, but the quarterback finished the play and hit Ertz over safety Malcolm Jenkins. Ertz made a hand motion afterward as if to signal pass interference. Jenkins thought the opposite, grabbed the pylon and threw it as if it were a flag. Ertz caught another touchdown a play later. Foles, moving left out of the pocket, threw across his body to Ertz, who was in the back of the end zone in between safety Rodney McLeod and Jenkins. The Pro Bowl tight end scored again on a pass from quarterback Nate Sudfeld.
>> READ MORE: Fletcher Cox, first-team defense wow in preseason opener
2. Carson Wentz was again held out of team drills, but he did participate in 7-on-7 drills. During his first set, he tried to hit receiver Anthony Mahoungou on a “go” route, but cornerback D.J. Killings had tight coverage and broke the pass up. Wentz flipped short to receiver Shelton Gibson on his second toss, but he connected with Ertz, who lost linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill on a late read. He went back to his trusty target during red zone 7 on 7s. His first attempt sailed high off Ertz’s outstretched hand, and when he tried for the tight end on a comeback route, cornerback Jalen Mills knocked the ball away. Mills wagged his finger, as he is wont to do following a breakup, but Ertz had words for the corner. He later said that he thought there was pass interference. The velocity on Wentz’s throws, dating back to the spring, has looked higher than it was last season. Coach Doug Pederson said that the Eagles track the speed of the throws and confirmed that Wentz is throwing harder.
3. Goedert left practice early and didn’t return. I didn’t catch what happened. The Eagles didn’t have an update on his injury. Foles, as mentioned above, practiced. Pederson said earlier that he would be limited, but the quarterback was a full participant. He missed last week with neck spasms. Foles had maybe his best practice of camp. Receiver Mike Wallace was back at work. He made his presence felt almost immediately when he beat Mills on a deep post route. The play probably should have been whistled dead with a sack, but Foles uncorked a pass anyway and Wallace did a great job of tracking the 45-yard heave. He popped up off the ground and raised his arms to the crowd. Running back Matt Jones also returned.
>> READ MORE: Nate Sudfeld shows flashes in preseason opener
4. The following active players were absent: receiver Nelson Agholor, running back Corey Clement, running back Donnel Pumphrey, receiver Markus Wheaton, center Ian Park and linebacker Asantay Brown. Sidney Jones was at practice and participated in individual drills, but that was all he did. The cornerback suffered a lower ankle sprain on Thursday. Receiver Mack Hollins was in uniform and had his helmet, but he mostly watched. Defensive end Chris Long got dinged up, but he returned.
4. Isaac Seumalo’s issues with the snap have been well-documented, but he suffered a demotion of sorts on Saturday. The linemen typically engage in 1 on 1s during 7 on 7s. One center, though, snaps the ball to the quarterback during 7 on 7s. “Snap boy” is usually a job for a center low on the depth chart, but Pederson jogged over to the linemen and pulled Seumalo for the job. The center had two high snaps earlier in team drills – the second ended the play – and clearly needs more work. His blocking has been sound throughout camp. He has a role on offense as the tackle-eligible sixth offensive lineman. It’s not like he will be called upon to back up center Jason Kelce. Stefen Wisniewski would likely get the nod. But Seumalo’s future is cloudy. If he’s not a starting guard, and he can’t learn to consistently snap, where does he fit in? I can’t imagine the snap is that hard to fix, though.
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Doug Pederson and Carson Wentz chat during Saturday’s practice.
5. Elijah Qualls had an eventful preseason opener. He was flagged three times – twice for holding – but the defensive tackle also had some plus-plays against the run. He has competition for a roster spot. Cox, Haloti Ngata, Destiny Vaeao and Tim Jernigan, when he returns, are on the roster. The Eagles will keep a fifth defensive tackle if Jernigan opens the season on PUP. Right now, I have undrafted rookie Bruce Hector ahead of Qualls. The Eagles may not see it that way. They may give Qualls the edge because he was drafted. He had a difficult time getting by center Jon Toth during 1 on 1s, huffed off and slammed his helmet to the ground. Aziz Shittu could be in the mix as well. I’ve yet to see him get the better of guard Matt Pryor in 1 on 1s, and that was again the case on Saturday. Tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai blocked Barnett to the ground on an outside speed rush. Tackle Jordan Mailata stonewalled end Joe Ostman on back-to-back rushes. Tackle Taylor Hart anchored well against end Michael Bennett. Hart has potential, but there isn’t a 53-man roster spot, and he’s out of practice squad eligibility.
>> READ MORE: Dallas Goedert makes his NFL debut in style
6. A running diary of team drills, so to speak, starting with the first unit: With Jones sidelined, De’Vante Bausby was the starting slot corner. Rookie Avonte Maddox spelled him late in practice. Nate Gerry is still the main guy at weakside linebacker, although Grugier-Hill got some late reps. The defense had the edge during the first three sets, but the Foles-run offense rebounded in the red zone. During the last team period, Foles threw several outlet passes to running back Jay Ajayi and Darren Sproles. They were in rhythm. Barnett had what would have been a tackle for loss on an Ajayi carry.
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7. Second team: Sudfeld roped a pass to receiver Bryce Treggs on a deep dig. Bennett had pressure. Running back Wendell Smallwood turned the corner and gave cornerback Rasul Douglas a stiff arm that knocked him on his back. Ertz snagged a high Sudfeld toss. Douglas broke up a corner fade to Gibson. Smallwood picked up Gerry’s blitz off the edge. Gibson was wide open for a touchdown when Sudfeld found him on a late release. Douglas was late. Treggs motioned into the slot. Safety Tre Sullivan came up at the line but was soft and Sudfeld hit his receiver for an easy slanting score. Sudfeld found tight end Joshua Perkins alone downfield, but the pass was dropped. Running back Josh Adams, who had a few reps with the first unit, pulled on a pitch sweep and got to the next level with a head of steam. Seumalo’s snaps were fine during this period.
>> READ MORE: Jordan Mailata turns in solid NFL debut
8. The third unit: Quarterback Joe Callahan threw behind Perkins on a slant into the end zone. Matt Jones was met by Qualls at the line. Receiver Tim Wilson beat Killings to the pylon for a touchdown. Callahan hit receiver DeAndre Carteron a slant.
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9. And a leftover … Jake Elliott is still perfect in camp. He hit five of five kicks from distances of 33, 24, 33, 40, 46 and 43 yards.
>> READ MORE: Elliott good from 45, so the Eagles can skip meetings