10 Eagles Practices, 10 Thoughts

The Eagles finished their 10th practice open to the media on Thursday so now is a good time to proffer 10 things learned about the 2020 version of the team.
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PHILADELPHIA - The Eagles finished their 10th practice open to the media on Thursday so now is a good time to proffer 10 things learned about the 2020 version of the team.

With no offseason to speak of and just two more open practices after an off-day Friday, Philadelphia will shift to regular-season mode where only the opening 10 minutes of stretching and some individual work will be able to be viewed.

So this as good a beat we’re going to have on the team until it actually hits the field for real on Sept. 13 at the Washington Football Team.

Here's what we've learned:

JASON PETERS SHOULD BE THE LEFT TACKLE AND NOW WILL BE THE LT

Intent on forging ahead with Andre Dillard, the team’s 2019 first-round pick, at left tackle, the Eagles brought back 38-year-old veteran Jason Peters to play right guard in wake of Brandon Brooks’ likely season-ending Achilles’ injury.

Dillard missed some time earlier in camp with a shoulder strain and tore his biceps on Thursday, an injury that will require season-ending surgery per an NFL source.

The domino from there is Peters moving back to his familiar LT position and Matt Pryor getting the first shot at RG in place of Brooks.

The issue now becomes depth and an unproven lot featuring Nate Herbig, rookies Jack Driscoll and Prince Teha Wanogho, and perhaps third-year project Jordan Mailata, who has looked overmatched more than not on most days.

You’ve probably heard a lot about how the defense has been ahead of the offense from many reporters who've been around practice consistently. That thought should be condensed to the defensive line has been ahead of the offensive line.

Carson Wentz has been his usual elite self at times, the receiving corps is much improved led by rookie Jalen Reagor and a slimmed-down second-year wideout on a mission in J.J. Arcega-Whiteside. Tight end Zach Ertz is scary efficient at this stage of his career and while Miles Sanders has missed a large portion of the summer with what’s believed to be calf injury the team is just being cautious there with an eye on Week 1 for one of the most hyped skill-position players in the league.

The OL has been poor, however. The context to that is Lane Johnson has been out with a lower-body injury as a precaution and the new plan: Peters, Isaac Seumalo, Jason Kelce, Pryor and Johnson from left to right is the best unit the Eagles could have put out there pre-Dillard injury or post-Dillard injury.

The Eagles should have used the pandemic as an excuse to kick the can down the road on Dillard to 2021 anyway and now they can move forward with the best short-term plan and essentially redshirt Dillard this season with the goal of a Brandon Graham-like late bloomer.

HOLYFIELD HAS SOME FIGHT

The Eagles need a bigger back and a between-the-tackles runner to complement Miles Sanders and Boston Scott and the son of the former heavyweight boxing champion of the world just might be that guy.

Tremendously productive in college at Georgia, Elijah Holyfield went undrafted last year because his 40 time could have been clocked by the Queen Elizabeth as well.

In other words, he’s not a home-run hitter but he’s already proven to be the toughest interior presence the Eagles have in the organization.

The extra reps Holyfield has gotten with Sanders out and Scott also missing a few sessions has only helped and Holyfield has even shown some receiving skills that might have been surprising to some.

“I’ve been trying hard to hone my skills at everything so I can do whatever they need me to do,” he said.

BURNETT BELONGS

With all the changes at receiver, Deontay Burnett rarely gets mentioned but outside DeSean Jackson, there has been no more consistent player at the position throughout camp.

Burnett, a 22-year-old Southern Cal product who arrived late last season, has worked on the outside and inside and has made plays in just about every practice.

While Jalen Reagor, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside and to a certain extent, John Hightower, have generated most of the hype, Burnett has been the turtle chasing the hare. We’ll see if slow and steady wins a 53-man roster spot.

DON’T WORRY ABOUT THE TE DEPTH

When Josh Perkins went down, the hand-wringing over the third tight end position began again. The thought going something like this: ‘if you’re going to play a lot of 12 personnel you need depth behind Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert.’

Doug Pederson plays a lot of Tiger Personnel because he has Ertz and Goedert. If one of them goes down, the default would shift far more heavily toward 11 and three receivers on the field especially with the upgrades at that position.

For now, undrafted rookie Noah Togiai has a leg up on waiver pickup Caleb Wilson and the recently signed Tyrone Swoopes.

TRICKERY

The Eagles unveiled the reverse-option pass from Greg Ward, the ex-University of Houston quarterback, on Thursday. It was successful as well as Ward threw a strike to J.J. Arcega-Whiteside for about a 20-yard gain.

The team also has Tyrone Swoopes, once a QB at the University of Texas, and now a tight end, not to mention Jalen Hurts, the second-round pick who has dual-threat ability.

On Hurts, the Eagles are taking it slowly although the guess here is that is Carson Wentz is injured a cursory look may be given to Nate Sudfeld before Hurts is thrown into the deep end of the pool no matter how many times Doug Pederson says Sudfeld is the No. 2 QB.

As far as Hurts, nothing really unique has been tried but that’s the kind of thing the Eagles would want to keep under wraps anyway. Hurts has been really effective in red-zone work with the read-option but for a team that likes trickery, you can bet something will be pulled out of the bottom of the folder sooner rather than later.

SLAY’S GOOD, NOT GREAT

There are probably only two true lockdown cornerbacks in the NFL right now and they both reside in the AFC East, the Patriots’ Stephon Gilmore, and the Bills’ Tre'Davious White.

If you’re expecting Darius Slay to be that, you’re probably going to be disappointed but if you temper the expectations to the best CB in the Doug Pederson/Jim Schwartz era, you’ll have a better representation of what you’re going to get, a really solid player who is the best outside corner Philadelphia has had since Asante Samuel.

NRC HAS BEEN THE BEST PLAYER IN CAMP NOT NAMED FLETCHER OR JASON

Slot corner Nickell Robey-Coleman has unbelievable coverage skills and the guess here is Greg Ward will be thrilled when he gets to see a different colored uniform.

If the Eagles signed Robey-Coleman for top-of-the-line money you’d have to argue it was a great signing. To get him on a Walmart clearance aisle one-year, prove-it deal will turn out to be a Howie Roseman masterstroke.

If you go back to the 2017 Super Bowl season one of the forgotten aspects of that magical run was Patrick Robinson’s play in the slot in what was a career year for him. Everything clicked for Robinson after he was moved inside after a poor summer at outside CB.

Everything about Robey-Coleman screams top-tier slot player and he’s the only Eagles CB who has been able to stick with DeSean Jackson route-running, staying on the speedster’s hip when he releases inside.

Whether he can duplicate Robinson's career year is up for debate but from a pure traits standpoint, he's actually a better nickel CB.

NRC is handsy, however, so you will have to watch for yellow on game days.

JUST TRADE SIDNEY JONES

Jim Schwartz has given up on Sidney Jones so it’s time to cut your losses and get what you can for the now third-year corner.

Jones has spent much of the summer on the sidelines with his latest lower-body injury and it’s outta sight, outta mind when it comes to the coaching staff.

Remember even when Jones was playing well in limited action down the stretch last season, Schwartz moved Avone Maddox and Cre’Von LeBlanc to the outside rather than roll the dice with Jones again.

The hope was a new set of eyes in DBs coach Marquand Manuel might help Jones but the projected Maddox-Jones battle to play opposite Darius Slay has turned into a Harlem Globetrotters-Washington Generals-like rout.

THE D-LINE IS DEVASTATING

Depth and talent abound up front for the Eagles on the defensive side. The interior has been especially impressive with Fletcher Cox taking back his throne as the best pure football player in Philadelphia and Malik Jackson showing he’s still got the same explosion after a Lisfranc injury.

We haven’t even gotten to see prized free-agent pickup Javon Hargrave yet due to a strained pec but he’s expected to be ready for Week 1 in Washington. That three-man rotation is a murderer’s row for Jim Schwartz and then there is Hassan Ridgeway, who may be the best DT4 in the business along with Anthony Rush, a 350-pound wall as a run-stuffer.

Outside Philadelphia will be able to come at you in waves once Derek Barnett is back from a lower-body injury.

The top four remains Brandon Graham, Barnett, Vinny Curry, and Josh Sweat and after that is an impressive array of speed and pass-rushing ability from Joe Ostman, rookie Casey Toohill and Genard Avery, who got off lightly after being carted off Wednesday.

Instead of the feared torn ACL, Avery has a bone bruise and should be back relatively soon. Add in 2019 fourth-round pick Shareef Miller and it’s evident that the Eagles have too many DEs to keep.

RILEY SETTLING IN

Nate Gerry is locked into one nickel linebacker spot and coming into the process the thought was that second-year Wisconsin product T.J. Edwards would be the other.

Slowly but surely, however, Duke Riley, a former third-round pick of Atlanta out of LSU who was acquired in late-September last season, has begun to inch ahead of Edwards.

It might be a week-to-week game-planning decision for Jim Schwartz, the 240-pound Edwards if he needs a run-support player or the 224-pound Riley if the passing game is the issue.

John McMullen contributes Eagles coverage for SI.com's EagleMaven and is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media. You can listen to John every Monday and Friday on SIRIUSXM’s Tony Bruno Show with Harry Mayes, and every Tuesday and Thursday with Eytan Shander on SportsMap Radio. You can reach him at jmcmullen44@gmail.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen

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