PHILADELPHIA — Whatever Philadelphia Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said to his players after Monday’s joint practice with the Cleveland Browns should be bottled up for the inevitable game that falls below the team’s standards. Because the Eagles responded with a decidedly better practice Tuesday when they looked like the superior team.
“I think you get yourself in a pickle when you go out there and play so well all the time and the standard is so high because you play so well and it doesn’t look like that for a couple days, or for a day,” Jalen Hurts said. “But when you play well and execute at a high level, that’s the expectation. That’s something that we all embrace.”
— Philadelphia Eagles (@Eagles) August 15, 2023
Here’s what The Athletic observed Tuesday when the teams moved the session up to the early afternoon to guard against weather (and inadvertently clearing the night for anyone who wanted to make it down to Chester, Pa., to see Lionel Messi play against the Philadelphia Union).
Zach Berman watched the offense and Bo Wulf watched the defense.
1. The Eagles missed two key starters at Tuesday’s practice: offensive lineman Landon Dickerson (foot) and edge rusher Haason Reddick (thumb). Dickerson was spotted after practice Monday with his ankle taped and it did not appear serious. It sounds like the Eagles are being conservative with Reddick’s thumb injury, and there is no expectation that he’ll miss time this season (at least at this point).
Wide receivers Britain Covey (hamstring) and Quez Watkins (hamstring) remained sidelined. So was Patrick Johnson (ankle).
2. In Monday’s substandard performance by the offense, the protection was uncharacteristically spotty. It recovered Tuesday. Hurts had an especially strong practice, and fewer plays were busted by Cleveland’s pass rush. It looked like only one play would be ruled a clear sack against Hurts.
In related news, Myles Garrett did not participate in team drills for the Browns.
This was a heavy red zone day, so there were more touchdowns than a typical practice.
3. With Dickerson sidelined, Sua Opeta was first up at left guard with the first-team offensive line. Josh Sills also mixed in with the top group. No concern about Jason Kelce, who took all his reps Tuesday.
4. The best play came late in practice when Hurts scrambled and lofted a fade to A.J. Brown, who outmuscled the Browns cornerback to haul in the touchdown. It’s one of those plays when you realize just how good Brown is — and just how much trust Hurts has in him.
“Just playing ball,” Hurts said. “I think that’s the connection that I’m sure the whole city wants to grow. … He’s a great player. He’s had a great camp. He showed up in a number of ways.”
— Philadelphia Eagles (@Eagles) August 15, 2023
Brown made another dynamic catch early in practice during seven-on-sevens, but it looked like he was out of bounds. He almost toppled over children near the corner of the end zone. Good agility by Brown to avoid them. Or maybe good agility by the children to escape.
5. The final offensive drive of the day included the second-team offense. Marcus Mariota threw one of his best passes in camp to Tyrie Cleveland, who made a leaping contested catch in the corner of the end zone. Cleveland was hyped after the play, flexing his arms and screaming at onlookers while his teammates swarmed him. Mariota went right back to him for a two-point conversion.
This continues a strong few days for Cleveland after he was productive in the preseason opener. Cleveland, 25, played three seasons with the Denver Broncos before signing to Philadelphia’s practice squad during the postseason in January. He’s putting himself in contention for a roster spot.
Each day, Cleveland said he reminds himself of a Muhammad Ali quote: “Don’t count the days, make the days count.” It’s working.
6. The running game was strong, too — for as much as it could be ascertained. Kenneth Gainwell and Boston Scott had productive runs early. D’Andre Swift broke free in the middle of practice. Trey Sermon accelerated into the end zone later in practice. That’s also a byproduct of strong blocking by the offensive line. Also, Hurts carried the ball a few times — including once for a touchdown.
7. DeVonta Smith is in my notes a few times. He simply finds ways to get open, most notably on a touchdown at the end of an 11-on-11 period when Hurts was under pressure and tossed the ball to No. 6 for a score. I wrote “possible sack” in my notes. But let’s give him the touchdown. When Smith makes it look easy, it’s often because of what he did at the top of his route.
8. Too many incompletions overall from Mariota. He had some nice touchdown passes, including the one to Cleveland and another to Greg Ward on a tight-window pass across the middle. But there were also enough errant throws that proved to be outliers when the second-team offense came onto the field.
9. The lone sack of Hurts came on an apparent screen that was blown up. A number of defenders met him in the backfield, so not sure it was one particular lineman — at least from my vantage point.
10. An impressive catch by Swift in traffic showed why Sirianni said the running back has “receiver hands,” although if this were a game, Swift would have taken a big hit.
11. In the seven-on-seven periods early in practice, Brown and Dallas Goedert caught easy touchdowns that revealed good ball placement and the advantage of both of their frames in the end zone. Hurts finished last season with 22 touchdown passes. He could break Carson Wentz’s record of 33 touchdowns if the Eagles don’t run as much near the goal line this season.
12. Hurts wore red and black Jordan cleats, one day after he was announced a part of the Jordan Brand.
“It’s a great honor and I obviously have a ton of respect for M.J. and what he’s been able to build with that brand,” Hurts said. “Being a part of that now and being able to carry on the legacy he set … it’s an honor.”
Sirianni said he hopes for free shoes. Here’s more on Hurts’ affinity for Jordan (the player).
13. The first competitive drill of the day is seven-on-seven while the respective lines of scrimmage battle one-on-one. For the Eagles’ defense, it’s once again a rotation at linebacker and safety. Myles Jack and Zach Cunningham are paired together, as are Nakobe Dean and Nicholas Morrow, with Christian Elliss also in the mix. At safety, it’s Reed Blankenship and Terrell Edmunds, then Sydney Brown and K’Von Wallace. Later, Blankenship paired with Justin Evans and Sydney Brown at different points. The competition is very much on, though I suspect the most likely Week 1 pairing is Blankenship and Sydney Brown.
The highlight play of seven-on-sevens was a leaping touchdown grab by rookie wide receiver Cedric Tillman over Avonte Maddox.
14. The most memorable play of the afternoon for the defense came on the fifth play of the first 11-on-11 session. For the second straight day, Cunningham tipped a Deshaun Watson pass right into Blankenship’s waiting arms. It was another display of the benefit of Cunningham’s famously long arms and another example of Blankenship being in the right place at the right time, as he has all summer. But the fireworks happened in the aftermath of Blankenship returning the interception out of the end zone.
Sydney Brown, working as his safety partner, laid a solid block on Demetric Felton Jr. (much to the chagrin of Browns owner Jimmy Haslam, who was watching from the end zone). Cleveland rookie tackle Dawand Jones took exception to the block and ran over to shove Sydney Brown, who shoved Jones back and then they were all enveloped by a sea of machismo. If the Eagles lacked energy Monday, they very much did not Tuesday. Sydney Brown, meanwhile, remains a bit of a maniac on the field in sort of a souped-up Kurt Coleman kind of way.
“I want to be a feared player,” the third-round rookie said after practice. “That’s kind of my mindset going into this. … My intention isn’t to hurt people, but if you’re carrying that football, you got it coming for you.”
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15. Earlier in the drill, most of which took place from near the 20-yard line, Donovan Peoples-Jones dropped a potential touchdown with Darius Slay in coverage. David Njoku, who some people are predicting to have a monster season, also caught a short pass from Watson with Maddox in the area. Zech McPhearson, working on the outside for the second straight day, nearly caught an interception in the back of the end zone but was ruled out of bounds.
16. The first period for the second-team defense was just as feisty, with Wallace out to prove his own untethered nature. On the first play, he followed up a forceful Elliss tackle with a heavy thump of his own, again to the chagrin of Haslam. On the next play, Derek Barnett delivered a shove after the whistle that led to a shove in return and earned both players penalty flags. Then on the next play, Wallace again delivered a powerful thud after a dump-off pass that led to Haslam urging one of his employees to, uh, retaliate against No. 42.
17. With the ones back on the field, things began with a Cleveland false start, leading to the first dancing from Elliss I’ve seen this summer. We do love to see it. Josh Sweat and Brandon Graham then shared a “sack” of Watson. On a third down, Blankenship was called for what looked like a ticky-tack pass interference call on Njoku in the back of the end zone. That led to a short Peoples-Jones touchdown on Slay, though the more memorable part of the snap was rookie Jalen Carter barreling through Joel Bitonio.
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18. According to Astronomy.com, if two stars traveling at a fast pace run into one another, they’re likely to leave behind nothing by hydrogen gas. I believe that’s what happened at the NovaCare Complex when Elliss and Browns offensive lineman Michael Dunn collided in the hole of a run play for a momentum thud that was as powerful as it was painful to my heart.
19. A new wrinkle introduced Monday continued Tuesday as James Bradberry took a handful of reps as the slot cornerback, some even with the second-team defense. It’s hard of what to make of this from Sean Desai’s perspective. It has coincided with McPhearson getting more work on the outside, which makes sense since Desai has not had eyes on McPhearson as an outside corner. But it would be easy to get both guys on the field for reps at outside corner. Is the Bradberry experiment in service of seeing more Josh Jobe with the ones? Is it an indictment of the summer Maddox has had thus far, or perhaps a prelude to Maddox moving to safety again? Most likely, it’s an exploration of a break-glass-in-case-of-emergency possibility. Whatever the reason, it’s interesting.
“He actually asks me for tips every day now,” joked Maddox of Bradberry. “It feels good to be the one giving him tips. … Every day he got a question and I got an answer. It’s totally different (playing in the slot), I know that. He said, ‘Now I see what you go through.’”
20. Former Arizona Cardinals general manager Steve Keim was in attendance for the two days of joint practices as a guest of the Eagles. Howie Roseman has a history of bringing ex-general managers into the fold.
21. In the “move the ball” portion of the proceedings for the first-team defense against the Browns’ top offense, it was again a decisive victory for the hosts. Either Graham or Sweat knocked the ball out from Watson’s hand on the first play of the drill (it was hard to tell which). Next came a possible sack of Watson by Jordan Davis, though Watson may have scrambled for positive yardage were it a real game. Bradberry, working on the outside, was then targeted twice in a row, first on an incompletion to Amari Cooper then on a completion to Peoples-Jones. On play No. 5, who else but Blankenship secured the drive-ending interception.
For the record, Edmunds was Blankenship’s safety partner for this final period of the joint practice for the starters, while Dean and Morrow were the linebackers.
22. After Philadelphia demonstrably won the first three of four “move the ball” competitions, it was up to the second-team defense to secure the clean 4-0 sweep. The secondary featured Jobe and McPhearson on the outside, with Mario Goodrich at nickel and Wallace pairing with Evans at safety. Anthony Schwartz started the proceedings with a catch on McPhearson, then another on Jobe. But on the ensuing play, Joshua Dobbs targeted Tillman in the back of the end zone, only for Jobe to come down with the interception that led to his teammates mobbing him in celebration.
23. Before practice, Sirianni acknowledged the first day was not up to the team’s standards, especially on offense. Rest assured that message was relayed to the team during meetings, especially from an energy perspective. So it must have been encouraging to see such a demonstrative bounce-back performance from the team.
“Much better day today,” Kelce said. “Happy with the way the team and especially the offense responded. … That’s why we’re in training camp. They did some things in the first day that certainly threw us off guard. I thought they had really good energy. I think all of us, as an offense, were excited to get back out here and go to work. I think that’s how you wanna respond. I think guys are fired up to get back on the field. Had a much better day today and we’re just gonna keep trying to improve. That’s the name of this game. Nobody right now is good enough to win the Super Bowl. Everybody’s gotta keep getting better. The teams that continue to do that, the teams that continue to work and obsess about improving their game, their technique, what they bring to the table for their teammates, those are the teams that are gonna continue to get better.”
(Top photo: Mitchell Leff / Getty Images)