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Eagles training camp observations: DeVonta Smith ends workout with highlight; Zach Ertz here to stay? 7 takeaways from 1st pr


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Eagles training camp observations: DeVonta Smith ends workout with highlight; Zach Ertz here to stay? 7 takeaways from 1st practice


Updated Jul 28, 2021; Posted Jul 28, 2021

PHILADELPHIA -- The Eagles hosted their first training camp practice of the Nick Sirianni era on Wednesday at the NovaCare Complex.

The team donned shells and shorts as they took part in a light-contact workout. The media was allowed to watch the practice in its entirety.

Here are seven observations from Wednesday’s practice:

The Ertz in the room

Sporting his best early 90′s WCW Sting look, tight end Zach Ertz walked out to the field on Wednesday with bleached-blond hair. That attention-garbing hairdo was the only thing different about Ertz’s return to the practice field, as he took part in regular individual and team drills. At one point, he caught a contested pass during 11-on-11 red-zone work and fell to the ground. Ertz wasn’t holding back during practice, which is good and bad.
Ertz has made it clear that he wants a change of scenery and the Eagles have made it clear they want fair value for him. Neither side will get what they want if Ertz gets injured during training camp, and he took quite a bit of contact in practice on Day 1.
Ertz looks like he’s in good shape and was smooth running routes as he switched back and forth with the first-team offense with Dallas Goedert. The Eagles used 11 (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WRs) and 12 (1 RB, 2 TEs, 2 WRs) personnel groups during practice.
Following practice, Eagles GM Howie Roseman said he expected Ertz to be on the Week 1 roster. Sirianni said having Ertz on the team doesn’t box the play-calling into heavy 12 personnel looks. Sirianni thinks having Ertz gives the Eagles more options when it comes to personnel groups because of his versatility.
Let’s talk about DeVonta
This practice was unusually quick and mostly focused on red-zone drills, so it wasn’t set up for Smith to really shine down the field. That said, he was targeted regularly by QB Jalen Hurts (read more about Hurts in Chris Franklin’s daily QB breakdown).
Hurts targeted him twice to end 11-on-11 drills in the red zone for the first-team offense. The first pass was a nice throw over a defender by Hurts, but as Smith went to contort his body to make a tough catch for a touchdown, the ball bounced off his hands.
Hurts and Smith, given their relationship and confidence in each other, decided to go for a do-over on the next rep. Hurts took the snap out of shotgun and rolled to his right, Smith beat a trailing DB and Hurts tossed a perfect zip pass to Smith in the back of the end zone for a touchdown. It was a really nice play that showed the chemistry and timing between the former Alabama teammates.
Smith went up against Darius Slay most of the morning and the cornerback proved to be a tough assignment. Slay showed phenomenal body control on a pass breakup during the first-team red-zone period, knocking a Hurts pass away before Smith could snatch it in the back of the end zone. Smith said Slay offered him advice on his releases in his route running after practice.
Mixed day for Hurts
Hurts had some good plays and some bad plays to start camp, as one would expect in the first practice of the summer.
He held onto the ball for too long at times and threw into crowded spaces during team drills. In 7 on 7 red-zone drills, Hurts targeted running back Kenny Gainwell at the tip of the end zone, but he was surrounded by multiple defenders. Gainwell and second-team nickel corner Josiah Scott caught the ball at roughly the same time and Scott ended up winning a quick tug-of-war for the ball and the interception. Hurts wasn’t completely at fault for the pick, as Gainwell had it snatched out of his grasp, but the decision to throw it to the rookie in tight coverage might have been a bit overzealous.
Hurts used his running backs well in the passing game, though he had an off-target pass to Boston Scott. It also felt like he ran around a bit too much, relying on his legs when he could have won with his arm.
Hurts’ highlight play was the practice-capper touchdown to Smith.

Several sidelined for the first practice

The Eagles had quite a few on-field spectators at practice ... along with fans and media.
Safety Rodney McLeod (knee) and offensive tackle Le’Raven Clark (Achilles) were seen working on a side field as they were placed on the Physically Unable Perform/Active list ahead of practice. The Eagles can take either player off the reserve list at any point before the season starts. McLeod and Clark both count against the 90-man roster, but if they are still on the PUP list in Week 1, they’ll be lost for the first six games of the season, and not count against the 53-man regular-season roster.
Second-round lineman Landon Dickerson was put on the non-football injury list. He suffered his torn ACL in college at Alabama in December, so he was not eligible for the PUP list. The Eagles can take Dickerson off the list at any point during training camp. Dickerson was seen on the field watching practice.
Linebacker Alex Singleton, safety Andrew Adams and defensive end Matt Leo were all put on the COVID-19 list and were not seen on the field. Wide receiver Jalen Reagor was limited in the workout and did not take part in team drills, due to lower-body tightness.
Wide receiver Quez Watkins is day-to-day as he’s still completing his physical with the team. Fellow wide receiver Greg Ward was out of practice due to a non-COVID-19-related illness.
Left guard Isaac Seumalo (hamstring) was listed as week-to-week by the team and stood on the sideline during practice. Cornerbacks Shakial Taylor (lower body) and Nate Meadors (hamstring) were both sidelined as well. Taylor is "day-to-day” while Meadors is listed as "week-to-week.”
Formation fun!
Keep in mind, this was the first practice of training camp and what happens on Day 1 isn’t the same as what happens on Day 6 or Day 17. That said, the Eagles offered a glimpse of their hybrid defense on Wednesday, switching things up with some 3-4 looks.
The first-team nickel defense looked like this:
DE: Brandon Graham, Josh Sweat, DT: Javon Hargrave, Fletcher Cox
LB: Eric Wilson, Davion Taylor (reminder: Singleton is on COVID-19 list)
CB: Darius Slay, Steven Nelson, Avonte Maddox (NCB)
S: Anthony Harris, K’Von Wallace (reminder: McLeod is on PUP)
The first-team offensive line looked like this:
LT: Jordan Mailata/Andre Dillard (Correction: Originally, it was noted Mailata was the lone first-team LT, but he rotated with Dillard), LG: Nate Herbig (replacing Seumalo), 😄Jason Kelce, RG: Brandon Brooks, RT: Lane Johnson
Interesting promotions to keep an eye on
While Herbig replacing Seumalo wasn’t a stunner, Taylor, last year’s third-round pick, playing over T.J. Edwards with the first-team defense was interesting. As NJ Advance Media has previously reported, the new staff is pretty high on Taylor, who has the ability to play in coverage and blitz. With the Eagles using more of a hybrid defense, defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon could be looking to take advantage of Taylor’s athleticism. That said, Edwards had an excellent pass breakup over in the middle on a throw from QB Joe Flacco during team drills.
Another interesting switch was former second-round pick J.J. Arcega-Whiteside filling in for the first-team offense with Reagor, Watkins and Ward out of the lineup. Granted, those are three guys who could all very well play over Arcega-Whiteside during the season, but still, he was used ahead of John Hightower next to first-round pick DeVonta Smith and Travis Fulgham in three-receiver sets.
The Daily Highlight
During 7-on-7 drills, third-string QB Nick Mullens completed a pass across the middle to QB-turned-TE Tyree Jackson. Almost immediately after the catch, Jackson lowered his shoulder and trucked linebacker Rashad Smith. The play ended shortly after the hit-and-run, but Jackson certainly set the tone in what was supposed to be a light-contact practice.
Jackson is an intriguing talent at 6-foot-7 and 250 pounds, but he needs to show he can adapt well to the blocking, catching and route-running of a tight end. The highlight play was a good start and a nice way to stand out early to the staff.
- Following practice, Roseman said the roster is over the 90% mark with vaccinations. He clarified that those numbers are of the players who have at least started the vaccination process. Hurts confirmed that he was vaccinated prior to camp.
- Cox and Graham both confirmed that third-round pick Milton Williams is playing behind Graham at defensive end this offseason. Williams is a hybrid lineman in the mold of Graham, so that makes sense. Williams is an intriguing piece to a hybrid defense because he can play pretty much anywhere on the line.
- Sirianni brought up the potential for a "speed 21″ personnel package after practice. A normal 21 personnel grouping would consist of a running back, a fullback and a tight end. In a speed 21 package, typically referred to as a "pony” package, there are typically two running backs and tight end. With Gainwell, Boston Scott and Miles Sanders having so much potential in the passing game, especially on screens, having two back out there could be dangerous for opposing defenses.
- NJ Advance Media asked Roseman about his comfort level with Hurts after practice. Roseman said Sirianni and him want Hurts to "take the reins” for the QB1 job. Roseman brought up Hurts’ work ethic, leadership and natural ability as his strengths that the team liked. Sirianni said he has confidence in Hurts, and added that Hurts took first-team reps because he earned them by "working his butt off.”
- Right guard Brandon Brooks looks like he’s in phenomenal shape coming off Achilles surgery. He looks svelte physically and fast off the line. Nate Herbig also looks quicker and more technically sound after losing 30 pounds this offseason. It’s impressive how much depth the Eagles have on their first two offensive line units.
- It’s time to just call Adrian Killins a wide receiver. The former undrafted running back spent all of his time with the wide receivers on Wednesday. He has good hands and runs an impressive slant route. He did have one miscue, though, during red-zone drills when he caught a pass over the middle and was stripped shortly after by cornerback Craig James.
- The Eagles will practice again on Thursday at 10 a.m. NJ Advance Media will have full live coverage on Eagles Extra (sign up for two weeks FREE now) throughout the day.
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