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Three Plays from Eagles Training Camp: Ronald Darby, Avonte Maddox, Nate Sudfeld

Where Darby shines, Maddox struggles; Nate Sudfeld can’t stop throwing tuddies

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles-Training Camp The News Journal-USA TODAY NETWO

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

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Play #3) Ronald Darby v. Mike Wallace

I really, really liked what I saw from Ronald Darby down at the goal line today. More so than any other corner on the roster. Many beats have lauded the strong camp they’ve seen thus far from Mills—and he hasn’t looked bad at all—but to me it’s Darby who stands out above the rest.

What is important about goal line play as a defensive back? “There’s just not that far to go,” Rasul Douglas told me. “Everything’s more tight and condensed.” With less space, the ball often comes out much quicker—and critically, it often comes out to spot and not to a player. With the reduced windows, the quarterback can’t wait for the receiver’s break to release the football—it’s gotta be in the air by the time the receiver starts heading that direction. This is why red zone ability is a coveted trait in receivers: they can locate quickly, adjust well to the football away from the frame, and have a strong physical profile.

Darby, the most veteran of the Eagles corners, has a keen understanding as to the spot nature of goal line passing, and accordingly plays with a disruptive mindset. On two consecutive reps against Mike Wallace (the first a stop route; the second a three-step in cut), Darby immediately cut off his opponent at the break point, crashing into him as he closed on the football. Both could have been INTs—and Darby was pissed that they weren’t—but they were high-quality reps nonetheless.

Darby has always been an aggressive corner, which lends itself to that downhill style of play. But what makes it possible is Darby’s great fluidity in his hips to turn and run. He doesn’t have to worry about the deep area nearly as much when his back’s against the goal line, so he can keep his weight over his toes when reading routes and explode into the catch point.

Darby’s rookie year in Buffalo was very promising, and he’s kinda plateaued since. In a contract year, I’m expecting pretty big things.

Play #2) Avonte Maddox v. Nelson Agholor/Rashard Davis

Sticking with the defensive backs, I’ve gotta say: I didn’t think Maddox was a Year 1 contributor off his film at Pitt, and camp is backing up that stance. It’s not to say Maddox is untalented, lacks promise, or shouldn’t be stored on the 53-man roster—he’s just sushi-raw as a rookie.

If Darby plays aggressive, this is ten types of passive. You can see Maddox take the soft step backwards, thus giving up space to break that he didn’t need to relinquish. Now he’s stuck hinging his hips and attempting to run even with a quick player (Rashard Davis) who’s already got his momentum heading to the back of the end zone. That’s almost an impossible ask.

DB Coach Cory Undlin (fun dude) took multiple opportunities to work on Maddox’s technique from down in the slot. He stressed the need for Maddox to play with active feet so he doesn’t get caught flat-footed as he does here, but also hammered home “Thick! Avonte, get thick!” emphasizing the idea that Maddox needed to get his body squarely into the route stem to disrupt the timing and release of his responsibility.

With even a light shove here, Rashard Davis would have to widen enough that Ronald Darby, coming off his responsibility to help on this “Stab” concept, could angle on the ball a bit better.

Note: this is a good rep by Davis, who has really impressed me. Acceleration through Maddox and then again to separate in the end zone is very nice.

Play #1) Nate Sudfeld v. a dude holding a bag really high in the air

I wasn’t exactly drinking the Nate Sudfeld Kool-Aid. Yeah, the coaching staff is high on him—but it makes sense, in that Sudfeld looks the part and is definitely toolsy. That’s what coaching staffs like. But in terms of consistent accuracy and mechanics, Sudfeld was fine for a QB3. He could be a decent QB2. That’s all I really saw from him.

Today, the light started shining at least for me. Sudfeld had an absolutely stellar practice.

Four throws stood out. The one pictured above was a pretty nice touch pass. The next: a dart to Billy Brown in the center of the end zone, put on Brown’s backside shoulder to thread two closing defenders. Then: finds an open/scrambling Rashard Davis late in his progression, drops it in the bucket against the end line. And finally: to Anthony Mahoungou in the corner, again with a light touch.

Sudfeld is 6’6, which should help him a good deal in the red zone—and his touch throws have always been nice, since his days at Indiana. But there’s a hitch in his hips when he looks to generate power from the ground up, and that greatly affects his intermediate to downfield accuracy. Mike Groh and Press Taylor alike were working on it today with Sudfeld during red zone passing drills, in which Sudfeld (and all the QBs) attempted to put the ball over a second-level defender, but keep it catchable for a player 10 yards further in the end zone.

Remember, when the Eagles talk about red zone throws, they like them to be “facemask or higher” to prevent those second level defenders from snagging an interception in their short zones. In an attempt to keep the ball catchable and prevent it from sailing, Sudfeld’s hips were popping up in his rotation, which adds variance to the ball’s flight path. Groh helped him settle his hips and use an over-the-top delivery to better regulate the flat, but still high path necessitated by the drill. Sudfeld took to the coaching points well (Groh seems a great teacher) and you saw the fruits of the labor in the ensuing touchdown passes described above.

Here for #Studfeld, folks.

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