PHILADELPHIA — The final play of training camp for the 2023 Philadelphia Eagles started with a short pass from Jalen Hurts to Kenneth Gainwell and ended with a train crash.
The chippiness had been building between the Eagles and the visiting Indianapolis Colts throughout their lone joint practice Tuesday morning. The sidelines had already been emptied after Derek Barnett knocked the ball out of Colts rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson’s hand in the pocket while a handful of other players had been jawing back and forth. As tensions rose near the end of practice in a move-the-ball drill between the Eagles’ first-team offense and Colts’ first-team defense, Jason Kelce and Colts linebacker Zaire Franklin, a Philly native, were loudly at odds. After the first play of the drive, Kelce took umbrage with Franklin’s thump of a tackle on Gainwell, who also, out of character, objected to the level of physicality.
On the next play, Hurts dumped it off to Gainwell, who was once again met with a thunderous thud from Franklin. With the speed and anger of a freight train, Kelce then sprinted 15 yards downfield and ran over Franklin, sparking a melee that emptied everyone onto the field and forced Eagles coach Nick Sirianni and Colts coach Shane Steichen to call off the rest of practice.
“Sometimes your speed ain’t they speed, they get offended. That’s OK,” Franklin told reporters afterward. “Obviously, growing up in Philly, watched (Kelce) play for a long time, a lot of respect for him. Talked to him a little bit after we played him last year. Thought the OGs would at least look me in the eye before. It’s all good. I might have a chance to look him in the eye on Thursday. It’s all good.
As intense as Kelce typically is on the field (often more so in practice), the level of aggression toward another player was out of character. After cooling down, he returned to the news conference podium to apologize.
“I think tensions just got the better of me,” he said. “Certainly, we try and keep things civil on the field. I think, for me, I pride myself on being a guy that sustains the emotion and the level of play out there. I let my emotions get the better of me. That certainly doesn’t belong out there on the field and, just a little bit ashamed that it got to that level that I did what I did. I’m certainly not happy about that. I think very highly of the guys that are out there, in particular No. 44, Zaire. I think he’s a tremendous player. I think all of their guys are up front. And they brought a lot of intensity to the day and made practice intense. I think I didn’t handle things properly there at the end.”
Neither Kelce nor the rest of the Eagles’ starters are expected to play Thursday night when they conclude the preseason at Lincoln Financial Field, so it’s possible his final training camp act as a player will be the practice-ending shot heard ’round South Philly. Though he was apologetic about having let his emotions get the better of him, the response from his teammates was less so, with reactions ranging from those who thought it showed how connected the team is to Nakobe Dean’s matter-of-fact description.
“That’s football,” Dean said.
Here’s everything else we saw at the final training camp practice of the summer, with Bo Wulf focusing on the Eagles’ offense and Zach Berman eyeing the defense.
1. The two best players on the field Tuesday for the offense were A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith. It began in wide receiver-cornerback one-on-ones when Brown ran past Kenny Moore II for a long touchdown. In their rematch, Brown again torched Moore down the field, this time lining up from the slot, and hauled in a long touchdown before handing the ball to a young, crying fan in the back of the end zone.
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Smith split his one-on-one reps against Dallis Flowers, drawing a pass interference penalty before Flowers did well to run with him on an incompletion downfield.
2. In team drills, Smith was the one who shined brightest, though the ease with which Hurts and Brown are able to connect on slants and hitches was also on display. In the first team period, Hurts dropped a low Kelce snap, picked it up, floated back in the pocket to his right and launched a roughly 45-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Smith.
Later, in the first move-the-ball period, Hurts lofted a pass deep down the right sideline, where Smith rose above cornerback Darrell Baker Jr. to make an acrobatic catch while contorting his body to get both feet in, despite the ref throwing a flag for pass interference. Two plays later, Smith caught a back-shoulder pass for a touchdown from about the 15-yard line, again outmuscling Baker as Hurts threw it before the open blitzer reached him.
3. Other highlights from one-on-ones between the Eagles’ wide receivers and Colts’ cornerbacks included Olamide Zaccheaus beating Tony Brown downfield from the slot, and later dropping a ball despite being open on a long-developing route. Also, a really nice route from the slot by Jadon Haselwood on Chris Lammons with a misdirection hesitation that left the defender stumbling. I’d like to see Haselwood get some burn with the first-team offense. He, more than anyone else in the wide receiver room, seems well-suited to fill the Zach Pascal role from last year’s team.
4. Devon Allen also showed off his speed for one of the first times this camp as a receiver when his stutter-go left Kevin Toliver II in his wake for a long touchdown.
5. I only got eyes on the second half of one-on-ones between the Eagles’ offensive line and Colts’ defensive line, where Jack Driscoll, Tyler Steen and Josh Andrews won their respective reps. Colts rookie Titus Leo outdid Dennis Kelly.
6. While the offense moved the ball on the Colts’ defense through the air most of the morning, it had little success handing the ball off to running backs. Remember the Colts had perhaps the best defensive performance by any opponent against the Eagles in 2022, holding them to 17 points while Philadelphia’s running backs rushed for just 3.2 yards per carry. Gainwell, Boston Scott, D’Andre Swift and Rashaad Penny all rotated with the starters, with only two runs springing big among them. One was a Gainwell scamper for a touchdown from about 15 yards out with the first-team offense. The other was a sweep left when Penny followed a bulldozing Fred Johnson downfield for a long gain that fired up the offensive linemen on the sideline.
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7. Ah! Gainwell was also responsible for the highlight of the day, when he took a pitch to his left from Marcus Mariota, put on the brakes and lofted up a left-handed pass of about 30 yards to an open Grant Calcaterra. Gainwell, a former high school quarterback, told reporters after practice he’s actually ambidextrous.
Hurts explained that the play was put in last season by Steichen, though it was never used. Fun little easter egg on the play sheet to let the returning student know he’s not yet the master.
8. Though he made little hay as a runner, Swift did take a screen pass from Mariota for a long gain against the Colts’ second-team defense. He also dropped a pass downfield.
9. The other success the Eagles had on the ground came from the quarterback running game, as Hurts pulled one read for a long gain in the second team period and Mariota continued using his legs as perhaps his most effective weapon.
10. Before practice, Sirianni relented that, yes, while he doesn’t have to officially name a starting right guard, we can all see that Cam Jurgens has taken every rep with the ones this summer. The second-team offensive line, from left to right, was Johnson, Sua Opeta, Andrews, Steen and Driscoll, with Brett Toth and Cameron Tom rotating at times with Johnson and Andrews, respectively. Notably, Josh Sills, who was initially inserted as the second-team left guard upon his return from the commissioner’s exempt list, was buried on the depth chart.
11. Injury-wise, the good news was the elevation of Quez Watkins (hamstring) from non-participant to limited participant, though he did not take part in team drills. The list of players who did not practice: Britain Covey (hamstring), Kyron Johnson (appendectomy), Moro Ojomo (concussion), Haason Reddick (thumb), Nolan Smith (shoulder) and Greg Ward (ankle).
12. An interesting note on the punt return unit, where it’s important to keep in mind the injuries sustained by those who would otherwise be on the group. Ben VanSumeren, the undrafted rookie linebacker, worked with the nominal first-team group alongside Reed Blankenship, K’Von Wallace, Terrell Edmunds, Christian Elliss, Nicholas Morrow, Patrick Johnson and Boston Scott.
13. In pass protection, Hurts was not under fire as much as he was against the Cleveland Browns in the first of their two joint practices, but the Colts did get home on occasion, including a Samson Ebukam sack on a poorly-timed whiff by Jordan Mailata. Hurts then overthrew a wide-open Dallas Goedert for a would-be touchdown on the next play.
14. Calcaterra had a busy day, with one particularly impressive snag in traffic on a Mariota throw. He has no doubt separated from Tyree Jackson and Dan Arnold as the No. 3 tight end.
15. The feisty practice was not limited to the Eagles’ offense versus Colts’ defense. Barnett took his opportunity to get involved. Barnett “sacked” Richardson and knocked the ball out of his hand, and there’s not supposed to be contact on the quarterback. Richardson came to his defense, and Barnett was ready to square off before the skirmish was quickly broken up.
16. In one-on-ones early in practice, Eagles cornerback Mekhi Garner had two interceptions. (One looked like it drew a flag on the play.) Garner, a 6-foot-2, 212-pound undrafted rookie from LSU, should get decent playing time on Thursday when Philadelphia evaluates down-the-depth chart defensive backs. He’s made plays at times this summer and could be a solid practice squad candidate.
17. Don’t sleep on Justin Evans as a candidate to start at safety. Evans continued to work with Blankenship in certain looks with the first-team defense, and though he has not received the same attention as Edmunds or Sydney Brown — who both mixed in with the top unit — the playing time suggests he could be on the field.
18. What about Wallace? He had an interception in an 11-on-11 period that drew a flag for pass interference. Sirianni was not happy with the call, picking up the flag and handing it to the official. So maybe Wallace will get credit for the play in the meeting room.
19. Sydney Brown made his presence felt when he collided with a Colts tight end trying to break up a pass. Sydney Brown’s closing speed is apparent whenever he’s on the field.
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20. At linebacker, Zach Cunningham continues to be paired with Dean. It looks like Cunningham is the front-runner to start. I’m curious how much he plays on Thursday.
21. Another active day for Jalen Carter, who has come on during the past two weeks. He’s in the backfield often and continues to work with the first-team defense. If Carter was hot and cold early in camp, that has clearly changed. The hype is real for him.
“I just think he keeps growing and taking steady, incremental steps to keep growing and developing as a player and as a person,” defensive coordinator Sean Desai said. “(Defensive line) Coach (Tracy) Rocker is doing a tremendous job developing that way. We’re continuing to stay on him with the details. He knows that he’s got to keep refining those. I think he’s taking ownership of that and he’s growing.”
22. With Covey sidelined, Zaccheaus returned punts for the Eagles. It’s not out of the question he plays that role this season, Zaccheaus has only three punt returns in the NFL and had only five at the University of Virginia, so even if he’s done it, it has not been a primary role for him. The Eagles can also scan the waiver wire next week.
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