Eagles practice: Nick Sirianni bullish on Jalen Hurts; Defense stifles in red zone; DeVonta Smith does pushups

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — The Eagles held their 16th open practice of the 2022 training camp on Thursday. It was supposed to be the second of two joint workouts with the Dolphins, but the spread of a non-COVID-related illness forced Miami to cancel. Here were my 10 observations from Days 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, and 15. Let’s get to the action from Day 16:

When the Eagles first messaged beat reporters that joint practice was canceled, without explanation, I thought that maybe they were doing so because of the excessive heat. They didn’t exactly look their best on Wednesday and with all their travel perhaps they felt it would be best to work out alone. But Miami had informed them early in the morning that a number of Dolphins were up last night vomiting, and out of precaution to prevent a possible spread, they decided it would be best to stay away from Baptist Health Training Complex.

The Eagles said they were confident that something viral hadn’t spread to their team and still held an intrasquad practice at the Dolphins facility. It was a relatively short session of about an hour and after they moved inside for an air conditioned 20-minute walkthrough. As for Saturday night’s preseason finale, Miami coach Mike McDaniel said he hoped that by canceling practice the Dolphins will be healthy enough in two days to play.

» READ MORE: Eagles practice alone in Miami after Dolphins cancel session due to ‘non-COVID illness’

On the injury front, the most notable news was that cornerback Darius Slay returned to action after leaving early the day before with an unspecified leg injury. There were a few new names the Eagles added to their injury list. Defensive end Derek Barnett (ribs) and defensive back Andre Chachere (groin) were held out, while wide receiver A.J. Brown’s and guard Landon Dickerson’s absences were designated as “rest” days.

Running back Miles Sanders was still sidelined with a hamstring injury. The eight snaps he played in the preseason opener two weeks ago was the last time he was in action. Sanders has over two weeks until the season opener in Detroit, and the Eagles have intimated that they aren’t concerned about his hamstring, but his injury history suggests that maybe they should be.

The following also continued to be out: linebacker Shaun Bradley (illness), linebacker Christian Elliss (hamstring), defensive tackle Javon Hargrave (toe), cornerback Josh Jobe (elbow), center Jason Kelce (elbow), defensive back Josiah Scott (hamstring), and receiver Greg Ward (toe).

Nick Sirianni said before the workout that he thought Wednesday was Jalen Hurts’ best practice since he became the Eagles head coach. “What he was doing with the football and being able to go through reads and the progressions that fast and getting the ball to where it needed to go, I thought, was unbelievable,” Sirianni said.

I had written that Hurts had maybe one of his lesser days of the summer, but that was based partly on how the offense had performed overall. Some other reporters were more harsh in their assessments of the quarterback. Hurts checked down a fair amount, but as Sirianni explained, it was often where his reads should have naturally taken him. Are the lack of downfield throws throughout camp a reason for concern? Possibly. But you also don’t want Hurts forcing deep throws just for the sake of it.

The Eagles’ objectives in practices or even joint ones aren’t always apparent to the uninformed eye. The observations here typically come with qualifiers to account for missing information. Hurts can also be effective without completing every pass. Outside standards are sometimes unrealistic.

That said, some coaches can be prone to evaluate their teams through rose-colored glasses. Or they may use their public statements to pump up players that may be under the microscope. Sirianni, from my understanding, actually said the same thing about Hurts’ Wednesday performance in a team meeting as he did in his news conference. I’m not sure if he’ll have an assessment near that following Thursday.

» READ MORE: Jalen Hurts said he can’t live without FaceTimes from his grandma — and then she called

The Eagles worked in the red zone for most of the session. The first unit offense had great success against the Browns in joint practices a week ago, but seemed to struggle against its own team on Thursday. Hurts tossed a couple of interceptions, although I’m not sure the first was all his fault.

His pass went right into the arms of Slay. Hurts was clearly thinking that his target — Jalen Reagor — would be in that spot based upon the coverage. He walked over to the receiver and had a brief conversation with him after the play. Hurts’ second pick was probably mostly on his shoulders. He tried for receiver DeVonta Smith on a corner route, but his throw was low – and maybe late – and cornerback Avonte Maddox made a leaping catch.

Hurts had some good moments, too. He hit tight end Dallas Goedert just short of the goal line on his first attempt in seven-on-sevens. He found Smith in the end zone just before the boundary two passes later. In 11-on-11s, he wisely went to Goedert when he got matched up against the much smaller Zech McPhearson. And he had a nice toss to receiver Zach Pascal who won a short race to the pylon for a touchdown.

But Hurts seemed to be missing Brown the more team drills went on.

Credit should also be given to Jonathan Gannon’s defense. Slay must have been happy to not have to chase Tyreek Hill again. He broke up a contested fade to Smith in seven-on-sevens. In 11-on-11s, tight coverage resulted in a sack for linebacker Haason Reddick. Maddox diagnosed a play-action roll out pass to Goedert. Reddick plugged the hole when he read a draw to Kenneth Gainwell.

Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox roasted guard Isaac Seumalo, and Hurts scrambled to no avail. A shovel pass to Goedert netted zero yards. McPhearson broke up and nearly picked off a heave to Goedert in traffic. The second-year corner took away a slant to Smith and Hurts’ second-read throw to receiver Quez Watkins went behind him.

The Eagles offense had more success on the ground in the red zone. Hurts kept and picked up positive yards on a zone read much to Sirianni’s delight. Running back Boston Scott had a couple of carries off tackle in which he burst through holes, the last between left tackle Jordan Mailata and left guard Sua Opeta, who was filling in for Dickerson.

A Hurts draw through a parting Red Sea resulted in a score. On the two-point conversion, he kept on a power rush behind Mailata. One coach said, “I don’t know,” on whether Hurts would have gotten in under normal circumstances. Tackle Lane Johnson, though, ran toward his quarterback and said, “Oh, I do know,” and gave Hurts a high five.

Smith didn’t have many catches, although he didn’t bear direct responsibility for most. He did allow for one of Hurts’ better passes to sail through his hands. After the set, Smith fell to the ground and did a bunch of pushups. “Got to get pushups after the drop,” he said afterward.

Smith is noticeably bigger than he was as a rookie. He’s never going to be built like, say, Brown, but he even admitted to now looking in the mirror and admiring his new muscles. The 170-pound Smith was an offseason workout warrior, but he also said he tried to eat more. Receivers aren’t exactly known for their strict diets, and he conceded that he still eats food that may not be optimal for an athlete.

“You know what’s crazy, I got a Wawa addiction, honestly,” Smith said. “Wawa sandwiches, I literally eat one every day for some reason.”

His sandwich of choice: Honey turkey.

What about the meatball?

“No, no, no, no, no,” Smith said.

» READ MORE: DeVonta Smith is bulking up thanks to his ‘Wawa addiction’

A day after having arguably his best practice of camp, Gardner Minshew had some unfortunate throws in the red zone. He threw behind tight end Richard Rodgers and a deflection landed in the arms of defensive end Tarron Jackson. A toss to slanting receiver Deon Cain was aimed too inside of his receiver. Minshew was also high off the outstretched hand of tight end Jack Stoll. I’m not sure who was the intended receiver on a ball that was nowhere near either receiver Britain Covey or Cain. And a hospital pass to Cain over the middle was fortuitously without collision, but ended up incomplete.

He did open seven-on-sevens with a touchdown toss to Gainwell, who ran a nice stick route. The second-year tailback has had his ups and downs in camp, but he performed with zest on Friday.

Third-string quarterback Reid Sinnett didn’t take a single snap. He didn’t take any team reps the day before either. It is expected that he’ll start on Saturday and play at least the first half. Rookie Carson Strong watched along with Sinnett. He should see some action in the preseason finale, although I’ve never seen a quarterback get as few team snaps in camp.

» READ MORE: NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Odds, Pick

Davion Taylor didn’t have one of his best outings in Sunday’s preseason game at the Browns. The former third-round pick would seem to have his roster spot secure, but whether he’s earned it or not is up for debate.

“All those guys in that linebacker room are competing for playing time to be starters and be on this team and that’s where he’s at,” Gannon said on Wednesday when asked to assess Taylor’s performance this summer.

His response wasn’t exactly a ringing endorsement of the linebacker. Taylor did stand out positively on Friday when he called out the direction on a run and knifed into the backfield for a stop.

» READ MORE: What we learned from Eagles-Browns: Davion Taylor and defense struggle; Deon Cain makes his roster case

Sirianni joked that his coaching point to Stoll, after he lost the football on Wednesday, was to not sweat so much. … The Eagles re-signed undrafted rookie cornerback Josh Blackwell to fill the roster spot after defensive back Ugo Amadi was traded. … The Eagles will resume practices on Monday. They have to trim their roster to 53 by 4 p.m. Tuesday. Friday marked essentially the end of training camp. Practices will no longer be open to reporters in their entirety, so this will be the last report until next year. Thanks for reading.

Inquirer Eagles beat reporters EJ Smith and Josh Tolentino preview the team’s final preseason game against the Miami and recap the joint practice leading into the game. Watch at Inquirer.com/EaglesGameday

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