The Nick Sirianni era of Eagles football kicked off with Day 1 of training camp at the NovaCare Complex Wednesday with a 75-minute session that was heavy on red-zone work.
Asked by SI.com’s Eagle Maven if there was a message behind starting the process with so much situational work in close quarters, Sirianni deferred to the medical and training staff, who wanted the players ramping up slowly in shorter bursts. So, the rookie head coach took advantage of the advice to get in a lot of work in a very important aspect of modern football.
"Last year we had some things that we got to go through to see the health of the team," Sirianni said. "We have some guys here with our strength staff and our training staff led by [vice president of sports medicine/head athletic trainer] Tom [Hunkele], Dr. Arsh [Chief Medical Officer Arsh Dhanota, MD, CAQSM] and [vice president of player performance] Ted Rath, they're the experts at how we ease guys into things. I don't want to say 'ease into it' because we were rolling down there. You saw how we were going."
The goal being a successful ramp-up period.
"Just to make sure the health of the team... Like the availability is the best ability, right? Sirianni said. "We just need to make sure we're doing the right things to keep the team healthy. That's the ‘why’ behind why we start in the red zone, so we weren't pulling up, throwing go balls, and pulling muscles there."We're just taking the information and the education that we're getting there, and Howie and I are trying to make the best decisions possible to keep our team healthy."
DILLARD HAS LT EDGE
In a bit of a surprise, 2019 first-round pick Andre Dillard got most of the work with the first-team at left tackle. Fan-favorite Jordan Mailata also got some work with the ones and should get opportunities in the competition as things progress in the coming days.
Josh Sweat, who got the first rep at right defensive end, bulled rushed Dillard on his first opportunity but things seemed to slow down from there for the former first-round pick, who acquitted himself well.
With Isaac Seumalo dealing with a hamstring injury and rookie second-round pick Landon Dickerson on the Active/Non-Football Injury List, the Eagles' first-team offensive line from left to right was Dillard, Nate Herbig, Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks, and Lane Johnson.
Most Eagles fans have already forgotten about J.J. Arcega-Whiteside but the former second-round pick tends to play very well in the summer and got opportunities with the first-team in the slot because Jalen Reagor was limited with lower-body tightness and Greg Ward was out and listed as day-to-day with what was described as a non-COVID illness.
Arcega-Whiteside inside with rookie receiver DeVonta Smith and Travis Fulgham in 11 personnel gave the Eagles’ quarterbacks some serious length to throw to.
JJAW brought down an impressive one-handed grab from Joe Flacco in individual drills but did get caught being forced out of the end zone before slipping back in during one red-zone period, drawing a flag from the official on hand.
One of the earliest potential roster surprises can come from watching special teams drills and the punting unit.
The personal protector for expected punter Aaryn Siposs was Elijah Riley, the second-year former undrafted free agent out of Army. A versatile defensive back, Riley could find special teams is his path to the 53.
Also working as the backup PP was starting safety Anthony Harris. Free-agent Andrew Adams could also factor in but he began camp on the Reserve/COVID-19list.
A few fans might have thought about calling 911 after watching the 6-foot-7, 249-pound Tyree Jackson lower his shoulder after catching a pass from Nick Mullens and bulldozing linebacker Rashad Smith, drawing an audible gasp from.
A former quarterback at the University of Buffalo, Jackson is among a group of young tight ends trying to push for a roster spot, a job made that much more difficult by the presence of Zach Ertz.
Incidentally, Ertz showed up with a new Slim Shady blonde look and a role, as he worked with the first team at times although Dallas Goedert did get more of the action when the Eagles were in 11 personnel.
Cornerback Josiah Scott, a trade pickup up from Jacksonville, made one of the plays of the day for the defense, picking off a Jalen Hurts pass to Kenny Gainwell out of the backfield in the red zone.
Another RB with perceived pass-catching skills, Adrian Killins, was stripped by cornerback Craig James for another turnover.
The biggest number of the day came from Howie Roseman when the Eagles’ GM confirmed that over 90 percent of the Eagles players are at least on their way to being fully vaccinated.
“We’re really excited about where we are from a team perspective,” said Roseman. “We’re over 90 percent of guys who have started the process. All we’re trying to do is educate them and try to give them the information. We understand it’s a very personal decision and they’re doing a great job with it, as is our medical team.”
The Eagles placed three players on the Reserve/COVID-19 list before practice: Adams, defensive end Matt Leo, and starting linebacker Alex Singleton.
With Singleton not in the mix, 2020 third-round pick Davion Taylor got the first crack at the nickel LB duties next to Eric Wilson.
Roseman also essentially noted the staff is at 100 percent, making note that you can’t be around the players if you’re not vaccinated. That coupled with the fact that no coaches were missing and you can do the math there.
Getting the first looks as punt returners were DeVonta Smith, Boston Scott, and Kenny Gainwell. Reagor was also back with them watching. Interestingly, Michael Walker, who was a great PR at Boston College, was not among the group. Ward figures to be in that mix as well when healthy.
It took the Eagles a while but they were on cornerback Steven Nelson from the time Pittsburgh released him in March, according to Roseman, finally agreeing to a deal with the veteran on July 25.
It didn’t take look at all for Nelson to ascend the depth chart at a position in need in Philadelphia as he took the first teams reps at cornerback opposite Darius Slay.
DAILY GAME BALL: Darius Slay got the better rookie first-round pick DeVonta Smith in the close quarters, including a pass breakup in the end zone. It was a welcome to the NFL moment for the rookie and Slay punctuated it by being a good teammate, staying to give Smith some pointers about getting off the line of scrimmage and running routes.
John McMullen contributes Eagles coverage for SI.com's EagleMaven and is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media. You can listen to John, alongside legendary sports-talk host Jody McDonald every morning from 8-10 on ‘Birds 365,” streaming live on both PhillyVoice.com and YouTube. John is also the host of his own show "Extending the Play" on AM1490 in South Jersey. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen
Ed Kracz is the publisher of SI.com’s Eagle Maven and co-host of the Eagles Unfiltered Podcast. Check out the latest Eagles news at www.SI.com/NFL/Eagles and please follow him on Twitter: @kracze.