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Three Plays From Eagles Training Camp: Zach Ertz, Nate Gerry, and Donnel Pumphrey

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Pump and Gerry make mistakes; Ertz gets away with one

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles-Minicamp Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Howdy folks! As every day of training camp rolls by, there will be threads of live analysis as well as posts of practice notes here at Bleeding Green Nation. I’ll be providing commentary and analysis on three plays that stood out to me as noteworthy reps, with some notes from the players as well on their performances. Please note that these are just practice reps, and not worthy of overreaction.

Day 1

Play #3) Zach Ertz v. Malcolm Jenkins

Camp is fun for veterans. I’m sure the older you get, the more jaded you feel, but there’s a sweet spot in which you’ve got a strong game, you know most of what’s going on, and you have a good rapport with your teammates. Jenkins and Ertz are right in that flow.

So when Jenkins skied over Ertz on a slight overthrow from Nick Foles and half-intercepted, half-dunked on Zach, he wasn’t slow to let Ertz know about it. The defense hooted and hollered as Ertz jogged back to the huddle—he was just biding his time.

Out of the slot, manned up on Jenkins, Ertz ran a short post with a bit of a double move at the break point. He initially tried to bend Jenkins inside, then outside, then break back across his face—but the first head fake didn’t make Jenkins bite, so when Ertz came back across there was...a bit of contact.

Ertz eventually freed up into space and made a nice diving catch; Jenkins immediately called for the flag, which didn’t come. After the play, I asked Jenkins if it really was OPI: “I mean, depends on who you ask. He’s savvy enough to push off and not get called for it.”

A diplomatic answer from a diplomatic man. But did he think maybe there was a little extra mustard on Ertz’s shove, following the interception from a few reps previous?

“Yeah,” Jenkins laughed. “He was a little upset about that one.”

Play #2) Donnel Pumphrey v. Duce Staley

It’s known ‘round these parts that I think Pumphrey can be a good player in the NFL—an opinion that leaves me the butt of a joke or two. I bear my cross gladly.

But Pumphrey’s value is predicated on a) his quickness and b) his ability as a receiver out of the backfield, both of which he unnecessarily handicapped in a 7-on-7 rep. Releasing into a flat route, Pumphrey was approached by the WILL linebacker in coverage. He squared his feet, gave a little stutter step to the inside, and flared outside: throw on target, good catch, and a “tackle” almost immediately by the closing WILL. Seemed a routine play.

Duce was...not thrilled. And you can tell when Duce isn’t thrilled pretty quickly: he starts pacing the field and bellowing with a deep bark, shaking his head and waving his finger, occasionally slapping his call sheet in his blustery anger. It’s pretty funny.

Duce was emphasizing to Pumphrey, still a novice route runner, that there’s no need for stutter steps and head fakes when you have the leverage you want against a defender. Pump was working to the flat, and he was already between the flat area and the linebacker—so don’t dance and give him time to catch up to you! Go!

Pumphrey’s gotta clean up simple stuff like that. If he doesn’t, he shouldn’t make the roster—doesn’t matter how dangerous his agility and vision are. The biggest determinant, of course, will be Pumphrey’s ability as a runner. He looks bigger and characteristically shifty, but we’ll have to wait for full pads/live blocking to really understand what he can bring to the ground game.

Note: later in the 7-on-7 period, Sproles hit a similar release move against a similar alignment, and Duce yelled at him, too. Pumphrey and Sproles then chatted after the play, and I’m about 75% sure they were making fun of Duce (in a good-spirited way).

Play #1) Nate Gerry v. Greg Ward Jr.

Nate Gerry is on the list of players fighting for the starting WILL slot on Philadelphia’s defense. If early camp is any indication, his shot is an outside one: both Corey Nelson and Kamu Grugier-Hill have seen first-team reps, while Gerry has been almost exclusively a second-team player. And reps like this one don’t inspire confidence.

Goodness look at the artistry.

Playing as the WILL backer, Gerry dropped into zone coverage more than a few times across the past two days—in each rep, he’s seemed to me a little lost and jumpy. On this rep, the offense attacked the linebackers with a hi-lo stretch with the TE (Josh Perkins) and slot receiver (Greg Ward Jr.). This concept here is not dissimilar to a mesh/sit idea, with low crossing routes (slot) sucking the linebackers in, while the high sit route (TE) opens up in the vacated space.

But here, Gerry missed the crossing route entirely. Dropping to his hook/curl zone, Gerry read Nate Sudfeld’s eyes and saw him working to the sit route that was coming across the field. Gerry leaped to undercut the sit route—the first route coming towards his zone—looking to make a play. It wasn’t a terrible instinct, but Gerry failed to respect his role within the larger scheme of the zone coverage. The MIKE on this play is solely responsible for that very zone into which Perkins, the TE, was working. That area was already covered.

Accordingly, when Gerry jumped the sit route, Sudfeld dumped his pass off to Greg Ward Jr., who was blistering across Gerry’s face. With no hope of closing on Ward that quickly, Greg picked up a ton of (imaginary) YAC, as he had plenty of room to turn the corner and get upfield.

I talked with Gerry, a safety-to-LB convert, about the difference between making reads in deep zones and short zones. “Things happen a lot quicker when you’re closer to the ball. You don’t have much room for error. Playing DB, you’re playing twelve yards off the ball, sometimes you can take an angle to catch up, things like that. Once you’re playing linebacker, if you make that mistake right away, you don’t have much time for error.”

I agree, and it was evident on this play. Gerry still sees the field as a defensive back. If he can’t improve his reactionary quickness and decision-making closer to the line, he’ll continue to fade in the race for WILL snaps.

Nate Gerry