Eagles training camp observations: Smith in the red zone


The Eagles opened up their 2021 training camp on Wednesday morning at the NovaCare Complex.

New head coach. New quarterback. New excitement.

The first practice of the summer lasted just under 1 hour and 15 minutes on Wednesday. The Eagles won’t be able to go in full pads until next week by rule of the CBA.

But there was still plenty to observe from Nick Sirianni’s first practice. Let’s get to it:

1. A few housekeeping items to start off. The Eagles placed Rodney McLeod and Le’Raven Clark on the Active/PUP list before practice and put Landon Dickerson on the Active/NFI. Dickerson is on the NFI and not the PUP because his injury (ACL) predates his NFL career. All three players were in attendance. McLeod was working out on a side field. Dickerson had a big brace on his left knee.

Meanwhile, the Eagles also placed Andrew Adams, Matt Leo and Alex Singleton on the Reserve/COVID-19 list.

There were some other injury notes:

2. Here are some notes about the offensive depth chart:

• Surprise! Jalen Hurts was with the first team. The Eagles haven’t named him QB1 yet, but it’s obvious he is.

• Andre Dillard got the first first-team reps at left tackle and Jordan Mailata also rotated in. We’ll see if that changes throughout the summer as those two battle it out for the starting job. The Eagles’ first-team offensive line:

LT: Dillard/Mailata

LG: Nate Herbig

C: Jason Kelce

RG: Brandon Brooks

RT: Lane Johnson

Herbig was at left guard because Isaac Seumalo is dealing with an injury at the start of camp.

The second team OL (left to right) Dillard/Mailata, Sua Opeta, Luke Juriga, Matt Pryor, Jack Driscoll

• The Eagles used Dallas Goedert and Zach Ertz with the first team at tight end in both 12 and 11 personnel. Goedert got the first reps, but, yes, Ertz was in attendance on Wednesday, sporting a new hair color.

• During team periods, the first-team receivers were DeVonta Smith, Travis Fulgham and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside in the slot. Jalen Reagor and Quez Watkins have injuries, while Greg Ward is out sick.

3. Here are some notes about the defensive depth chart:

• Darius Slay and Steven Nelson were the first-team outside cornerbacks and Avonte Maddox worked as the nickel. That Nelson signing was big for the Eagles. They added a real CB2 and also got Maddox back to his more natural position.

• Without Singleton (COVID-19 list), the two linebackers in the nickel package were Eric Wilson and second-year player Davion Taylor. It would be a big boost for the Eagles if Taylor plays well in his second season.

• They rotated, but Josh Sweat actually got the first first-team reps over Derek Barnett at right defensive end. That’s something to keep an eye on as camp progresses. The other three on the top line were Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox and Javon Hargrave

• Without McLeod, the top two safeties were Anthony Harris and second-year player K’Von Wallace, who got the nod over Marcus Epps and Grayland Arnold.

4. The Eagles did a ton of red zone work on their first day of camp with mixed results for the offense. There was one particular series of plays late in practice where Hurts went to DeVonta Smith on three straight plays.

a. Hurts rolls left and throws across his body to Smith in the back left corner of the end zone. But Darius Slay had tight coverage and was able to knock the ball down.

b. Hurts threw a dagger toward the back of the end zone to a streaking Smith. The ball was placed behind him but Smith still dropped it. A rare drop for the sure-handed receiver.

c. On the very next play after the drop, Hurts went back to Smith, this time on the right side, for a touchdown. Smith was working against Nelson on that play.

It seemed pretty clear that Hurts was working to get the ball to Smith during this series and that’s fine because it’s a good sign that they have a solid rapport. Smith is also getting great reps against Slay; the two of them briefly chatted and exchanged tips after practice.

5. As I watched the left tackle spot rotate, I also noticed that the right defensive end spot is rotating. That ensures that Mailata and Dillard will always get solid work, even when they’re working with the twos. Because sometimes they’ll see Barnett and sometimes they’ll see Sweat. Those second-team reps are going to make both of them better as well.

6. Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham are two of the oldest players on the roster but they both made some big, disruptive plays on Wednesday. Cox went through Herbig to “sack” Hurts early in practice, the first “sack” of the summer.

And a little later, Brandon Graham bulldozed his way into the backfield to force Hurts off his spot. Hurts escaped right and simply threw the ball away.

7. The “football is back” moment of the day came from giant tight end (and former college quarterback) Tyree Jackson, who is 6-7, 249 pounds. Jackson caught a pass from Nick Mullens and then truck-sticked linebacker Rashad Smith. That thump was met with a bunch of “oohs” from the few select fans in attendance.

While Jackson is converting to tight end, that experiment might be over for Hakeem Butler, who was back with the receivers on Wednesday.

8. It was an up-and-down day for the first-round pick, but DeVonta Smith did have some good moments. We mentioned the touchdown earlier but he also looked really good in individual drills. My favorite thing about Smith is how he attacks the football. He’s not a passive receiver:

During receiver drills, Sirianni was very active as he coached up the receivers. Not much of a surprise there; Sirianni is a former receivers coach.

9. The Eagles showed some three-man fronts defensively during Wednesday’s practice. We suspected that might be the case and it appears that it is. They will be multiple up front.

10. Plays of the Day:

Offense: The best offensive play — without bias — came from Mullens who threw a laser to a streaking Adrian Killins Jr. for a touchdown.

The play of the day would have been a diving Travis Fulgham catch in the back of the end zone from Hurts, but Fulgham wasn’t able to hold on.

Defense: The defensive play of the day was the first interception of training camp. It came from Josiah Scott near the end zone off of Hurts. He then went the other way. Scott, whom the Eagles traded for this offseason, is fighting for a roster spot.

A couple dropped interceptions on Wednesday as well: One from T.J. Edwards and one from K’Von Wallace.

Stupid Observation of the Day: My favorite eagle, Noah, is back for another season and still in his prime.

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