EAGLES: A Day at Lehigh

This morning, fellow Philly Phour writer Alex Cohen and I ventured to Lehigh to spend the day watching the Philadelphia Eagles partake in training camp. It was an early rise to ensure that we could get a good view of the main field, but it was certainly worth every second of it. I make an attempt to go to training camp every year and I can never get over great the atmosphere is day in and day out.
We arrived to the field about fifteen minutes before the start of the 8:15 practice. Soon we learned that we were on the later end of arriving, as there were close to 3,000 fans in attendance to watch the morning practice. We ended up standing along the front fence, practically ten yards from some of the players on the field. The thing that makes training camp so special for fans is that while it’s taken very seriously, all of the players seem so relaxed. Most of them constantly interact with the fans and aren’t afraid to pump up the crowd or give them a thumbs up. The fans entusiasm is felt by the players, in turn creating a great environment for the dedicated ‘Birds fans that made the trip on a Monday morning.

Analysis on Practice:
Practiced opened up with indidivual drills by positions. The quarterbacks and wide receivers worked together for awhile before the team moved into 7 vs. 7’s. From the beginning, it was was not hard to see a connection between Kevin Kolb and Jeremy Maclin. They clearly have something special working there and it was fun to watch them gel together so well. Michael Vick was a bit streaky on the day. His biggest problem is that he can make a 50-yard pass and then miss the next receiver by five yards on a simple route. Kafka seemed to have a similar problem with consistency.

Riley Cooper runs an out route in practice

The most interesting aspect of Monday’s practice was at the receiving positions. As I mentioned, Maclin looked sharper than every on both his route running and catching abilities. DeSean Jackson did not participate in camp, but I noticed him running on he open practice field alongside linebacker Stewart Bradley. Jason Avant also seemed to make no mistakes and looked comfortable being the second receiver with Jackson out. As I predicted, the fourth spot is going to be one heck of a battle. Hank Baskett didn’t seem to make many mistakes, but also didn’t really open eyes and make himself noticeable on the field. Riley Cooper, the rookie from Florida who has been hyped by the media, had a very hot and cold day. He dropped a total of three passes alone in the morning practice and heard a lot of criticism from the fans. He seemed to struggle making that burst that could get him past the cornerbacks and give him separation. Instead he seemed to take too many steps and rely too heavily on his 6-foot-4 frame to make catches. At the same time, the catches he makes are quite acrobatic and his size enables him to make catches that most wide receivers couldn’t dream of making. The big surprise at wide receiver came from Kelly Washington, who was acquired in the offseason. He has good experience in the NFL, which is something rare with this Eagles offense, and it was apparent in his playmaking on Monday. He made a couple of crowd-pleasing grabs and didn’t drop a single pass all day.

At tight end it was rookie Clay Harbor that stole the show. Brent Celek played well in the morning session, but left early due to dehydration problems. He came back for the afternoon practice and didn’t seem to lose a step. Coming into today, I was under the impression that Cornelius Ingram was far and away the favorie to be the second tight end. After watching Ingram drop a ball from five yards away, attention soon turned towards the rookie from Missouri State. Harbor caught almost everything his way, including the best catch of the day when he sprawled out and dove over the middle during the 7 vs. 7 drills. Watch out Ingram, the rookie is coming for you.
Not much to update about the running game. They only got a few looks during the scrimmage and after the initial burst there wasn’t much hitting. McCoy and Weaver both made solid catches and did a great job interacting with the fans and getting them excited about training camp. J.J. Arrington took a big hit in the middle of the morning practice when it looked like he was lost on the field. Charles Scott seems to throws his arms at the ball rather than cradling it for a catch, but he makes up for it with his powerful running. He is very stocky and his low center of gravity could be vital for third down plays (barring he makes the team, which seems like a long shot as a rookie).

Winston Justice, LeSean McCoy, Leonard Weaver, Brent Celek and Jeremy Maclin

The offensive line seemed to struggle the most at practice. Granted most of my attention was paid to the young offensive and defensive players, but based on the scrimmage plays there is a lot of work to be done. Left guard Todd Herremans didn’t put pads on but worked out on the side with Jamaal Jackson. Right guard Stacy Andrews left during practice with a shoulder injury that is only listed as day-to-day. With both of them banged up, Max Jean-Gilles and Mike McGlynn stepped in with the first team. It seemed like almost all of the offensive lineman struggled against the defensive line in the one on one drills. During the scrimmages, defensive coordinator Sean McDermott opened the floodgates and blitzed almost every other play. If Kolb/Vick/Kafka weren’t wearing the red jerseys, there would have been a lot of hitting going on. Tackle Winston Justice had back to back false starts, in turn forcing Andy Reid to give him the axe and sub him out for King Dunlap. The offensive line was one of the biggest question marks coming into the season and health is a big concern right now.

The defensive line was highlighted by performances by rookie Brandon Graham and Trent Cole. Graham doesn’t ever seem to stop moving and seems eager to play every snap possible. His additional fifteen pounds he added since the draft make him a big threat on top of his speed off the line. Cole was relatively quiet but added good pressure during the scrimmages.
At linebacker, Omar Gaither filled in at middle linebacker with the first team defense. He intercepted a Michael Vick pass during the afternoon practice and did a great job covering the tight end. Akeem Jordan started at strong side linebacker for the second straight day instead of Moises Fokou. He did a solid job all day and Fokou quickly found himself in the backround as the favorite to start come opening day. Ernie Sims also made a few good plays on the ball. He is not a very tall guy, but he is speedy and shifty (Andy Reid’s favorite type of build for his defensive players). One thing that the offense exploited all day was the quick eight-to-ten yard passes. The linebackers seemed a step too slow and Kolb did a great job hitting his receivers on out routes and flag routes over the middle. Seeing as the linebackers biggest problem in the past has been covering the tight end, I still think the Eagles linebacker core needs to work on closing off the middle of the field.
Even though the receivers made some great plays, I thought the secondary was the strongest group on the field Monday (exactly what you all want to hear I’m sure). Ellis Hobbs struggled a bit covering Maclin, but he always had a hand in there and held great coverage throughout the day. Joselio Hanson also practiced with the first team and broke up a few pass plays. The biggest surprise of the day came from Macho Harris, who Reid and McDermott converted from safety heading into training camp. Harris made a ton of plays in the morning practice and the fans let him hear it. If he continues to progress, he could give Hanson a run for his money during Nickel packages.

7 vs. 7 drills

At safety, both Quintin Mikell and rookie Nate Allen worked well patrolling the backfield. Mikell blitzed a few times, one of which would have resulted in a sack if there were pads involved in the afternoon practice. Allen seems very comfortable with the first team and it’s exciting to see how far he has come in such a short amount of time.

Finally, there wasn’t much exciting action from special teams during either practice. They ended the afternoon practice with David Akers practicing inside field goals, but most of the special teams work was on the second field. Similar to Leonard Weaver, Akers does a great job interacting with the fans and even spent a few minutes throwing balls into the crowd before the afternoon practice.
Overall, Monday showed a lot of promise. Even though the Eagles are far from game ready, the first team offense and defense look pretty solid considering the number of injuries that have kept both sides from a full lineup. It’s always exciting to be at training camp and be able to watch the team improve firsthand and I look forward to being there in the near future.
Player of the Day: Kevin Kolb
He didn’t miss a pass until the middle of the afternoon practice. Enough said. He continues to improve every day and the fans are quickly becoming lovers of No. 4. He does a superb job finding his receivers on out routes and is very melodic with his delivery. The main concern I have right now is his skill throwing the long ball. Kolb only threw two balls longer than 25 yards on Monday.

Players to Watch: Clay Harbor, Kelly Washington, Macho Harris
All three of these guys were in the background heading into training camp. Harbor played twice as well as Ingram today, Washington was up there with Maclin and Avant, and Harris outplaed all cornerbacks all day. They are all struggling to make the 53-man roster and things should get interesting in the coming weeks.

Injury Update:
Did not practice: WR DeSean Jackson, LB Stewart Bradley, CB Asante Samuel, RB Mike Bell, DE Victor Abiamiri
Taken off: CB Macho Harris (Hamstring-DTD), DT Anthony Dixon (concussion), TE Brent Celek (dehydration by returned), Stacy Andrews (shoulder)

List of Tweets (most recent at the top)
What a great day at #Eagles training camp… I could do this every day
Ending practice with some field goals. Caps off a great day in Lehigh #Eagles
Things seemed a little too perfect with the lack of injuries today…the injury bug is always present in Lehigh #Eagles
Its Anthony Dixon, the DT…all play had to be stopped #Eagles
Defensive player collapses from dehydration..waiting to see the number #Eagles
Macho Harris limping of the field #Eagles
Just to give you a taste of how big King Dunlap really is #Eagles http://twitpic.com/2b1onv
Vick to Cooper for a 55 yard bomb…Looks like Cooper woke up for the afternoon practice #Eagles
Vick throws his second int of the day. Gaither makes a great play to come up with it #Eagles
First bad pass by Kolb all day. He’s about 49 of 50. I’ll take those odds #Eagles
7v7 drills with the first team offense #Eagles http://twitpic.com/2b1g29
Vick struggling with back to back throws against the defense…no hitting but still hearing helmets hit hard
Hobbs and Hanson starting at corner with the first team #Eagles
Ingram playing with second team even though Harbor outplayed him in the morning #Eagles
6000 people here for the morning session…only about half that now. Probably because they aren’t in full pads #Eagles
Riley Cooper brings in a pass http://twitpic.com/2b19ud
Charles scott makes catching a ball seem like a chore but man can he run through people #Eagles
Another fan favorite David Akers throwing some balls into the stands with the fans…longest tenured Eagle showing some love #Eagles
Weather dropped about ten degrees now that its overcast…some players starting to come put now for the afternoon practice #Eagles
@EaglesInsider Thanks for having us on fan forum today. Loved talking Birds…check out our blog https://thephillyphour.wordpress.com
Phillies writer @alexmcohen and I just got interviewed by Eagles writer Dave Spadaro…will be on @ThePhillyPhour later on
Philly football lovin in the parking lot in between practices http://twitpic.com/2azwsz
Heart of the #Eagles offense http://twitpic.com/2azp6t
Vick talking with Dave Spadaro http://twitpic.com/2azi01
Morning practice ending early…maybe Andy was getting hungry #Eagles
I asked Ellis Hobbs how many kick returns he was going to return for TDs: “I don’t predict, I just do”
Weaver cracking jokes with the fans…hes having fun out here #Eagles
Winston Justice subbed off for a false start…the defense is loving it #Eagles
Riley Cooper drops his third pass of the day…ironic enough all from Vick #Eagles
When I thought Riley Cooper was big, King Dunlap doesn’t even look human #Eagles
Man Kolb is clicking on all cylinders…him and Maclin work well together #Eagles
Mikell rushes the line and blocks a Vick pass. Going to need that pressure this year #Eagles
DeSean Jackson and Stewart Bradley running in no pads on the other practice field #Eagles Gaither starting at middle linebacker with the first team… Akeem jordan over fokou again. Sims on the weak side
Kolb has those ten and out passes down perfectly…something mcnabb never seemed to nail #Eagles
@movingthechains washington is making riley cooper look silly out there…on the fence in my black maclin jersey, feel free to come talk
Ellis hobbs gives a thumbs up @alexmcohen for feeling healthy and ready
No stewart bradley or asante samuel today
Vick is throwing a better long ball than a short one. Completed another long bomb after a ball that should have been picked off
Vick throws a perfect 30 yard bomb to Maclin much to the fans liking…fans are loving Weaver too
Andy Reid making an appearance from the breakfast table. Maybe he and Haynesworth should start conditioning together
Cooper and Ingram highlight the second team
Avant, maclin and baskett with first team. Cole with a botched snap that Vick can’t handle

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