The Eagles held their second open practice on Saturday, and head coach Doug Pederson spoke to the media before the team took the field to talk about his impressions of the team’s first preseason game, and what he and the coaches are still looking for as they finish camp and get closer to the regular season opener.
Similarly, Jim Schwartz spoke after practice on Sunday, and gave his run down from the first preseason game, and what they saw in terms of the new tackling rule.
Here’s what the coaches had to say:
The head coach opened with a question about what stood out on the film following Thursday’s first taste of action.
“The one thing, going back and watching the offense and defensive line one more time and just watching really the entire first-unit defense, because they were kind of all intact going into the game the other night, how well and fast they played. To have two three-and-outs, very outstanding. Great performance by that group.”
But it wasn’t just the defensive line that got Pederson’s praise, he lauded the offensive line and seemed encouraged by the play of No. 3 QB Nate Sudfeld. Pederson acknowledged Sudfeld’s two interceptions on the night, but that they are “just have to continue to coach that up”.
Despite the final score, Pederson felt a lot better about the night and individual performances after getting a chance to review the tape. He didn’t gloss over the areas that the team needs to improve though, saying:
“I guess some of the negatives would be obviously the turnovers. We put the ball on the ground way too much. I think there were four fumbles, one loss, and then we had the two interceptions, but those are obviously -- and then the 11 penalties.”
It wasn’t all bad either, rookie TE Dallas Goedert continued living up to his offseason-hype, and more than just his receiver skills, really impressed Pederson with his blocking ability. He’s obviously got some work still to do, but the head coach was encouraged with what he saw the other night, particularly Goedert’s way of attacking the position.
“Probably one of the bright spots the other night was his blocking, take away the route running and the ability to catch the football. I mentioned this before, how part of blocking is just a want to. You got to have a willingness to block, especially in this league with some of the linebackers and defensive ends that tight ends have to block.”
On injuries and recoveries
Pederson was asked about Jordan Hicks making his return in the first preseason game, and the coach was impressed with how the linebacker worked during the offseason to be ready for this moment. He mentioned Hicks being hungry to get back out there with his defense, and said, “[Hicks] was a little taken aback being able to be back on the field the other night”.
Alshon Jeffery’s recovery was brought up as well, with Pederson saying the wide receiver is “doing a great job” and is in the strength and conditioning phase of his rehab.
“He can’t do a ton of stuff yet necessarily on the field because of the motion of the arm swing, but we can get him in the tanks, the pools, the Alter Gs, things like that, and get his cardio up.”
During warm-ups on Thursday night, RB Donnel Pumphrey was sidelined with a lower body injury and Pederson called it unfortunate. The staff isn’t going to rush to get Pumphrey back on the field, but Pederson acknowledged the poor timing for the injury, saying, “It’s hard for young players, quite honestly in this league, to make rosters.”
On Ronald Darby and his contributions
It’s been a year since the team traded for Ronald Darby, and Pederson explained the move really helped bring in a guy with experience to give them some other options. It took the corner awhile to really understand the playbook and contribute, not to mention dealing with the injury, but Darby is continuing to get more confident and it’s showing on the field.
The head coach reflected on what Darby’s addition to the defense meant last year, and how it’s going to give great depth to the secondary this season:
“It’s all part of the bigger picture, the scheme of the defense. As you know, we play a lot of defensive backs. It’s a great situation to be in because it does definitely sort of – it locks your corners down, but now frees up the guys inside, whether it’s [S] Malcolm Jenkins coming down inside or [CB] Sidney [Jones] gets a chance to play in there, and now [CB] Avonte Maddox is in there. [CB De’Vante] Bausby has been working in there. Just frees these guys up and gives us more depth at those positions.”
On playing the Patriots next week
Pederson isn’t too caught up in reliving the Super Bowl matchup — in which the Eagles WON — against the Patriots in Foxboro for their second preseason game. As he usually does, the head coach said he’s looking forward to getting some more looks at young guys more than anything.
On whether he and the team will walk into their opponents home field with a litter extra swagger:
I don’t know about all that, but all I know is it’s a pre-season game. Again, just [a chance] to evaluate our guys
It was the defensive coordinator’s turn to talk on Sunday, and give his impressions of the team during the preseason and some specific player performances.
On the new tackling rules
Schwartz and the coaching staff cataloged all the calls made during their first preseason games, and the games throughout the league, and are trying to gauge across the board what was called and get some clarification as needed from the league.
The DC acknowledged that there is going to be an adjustment period while they get a more defined idea of what those penalties look like. He specifically pointed out Sidney Jones’ hit that drew a penalty, but considered it a teaching opportunity for coaches and players.
“Sidney’s [Jones] hit on the crosser is just something we have to learn from. There’s a lot of teaching that goes into it. There’s nothing better than live-rep teaching, and also feedback from other teams, and when I say feedback, from the film from other teams.”
Schwartz continued that moving forward, they’ve got “got to do a good job of not lowering your head and getting it out of there”. He explained that the new rule has nothing to do with hitting the opposing player in the head, but rather that the defenders can’t tuck their chins and lead with their heads.
“The way the rule is written and the way they’re interpreting it, it doesn’t matter if your head is dropping, you’re hitting them through the thigh or you’re hitting him in the mid-section. If your head drops and you lead with contact, it gets thrown.”
On specific player performances
Schwartz was asked about DT Destiny Vaeao and how he’s been developing through the course of camp. Early on, there were some concerns about his performance, but the DC mentioned some of the issues stem from the mental aspect of coming back from an injury moreso than the physical.
“He’s been very solid when it comes to assignment, getting his job done. He’s still probably a work in progress just mentally coming back from the wrist, and that’s such a big part of what those guys do. It’s one thing to be healed. It’s another thing to mentally say, ‘I’m confident putting it in there.’ And we’re still a little bit of a work in progress with that.”
Schwartz was asked about CB Avonte Maddox and how the rookie has been trending so far this training camp. He had a standard reply for most rookies, talking about how they have good and bad days, but ultimately, as long as they’re trending upwards they’re happy.
“He’s very competitive. He’s been playing inside and outside. That’s potentially something he might have to do. Maybe not, we’ll see. But he’s also done a really good job – I don’t want to speak for [Eagles special team coordinator Dave] Fipp – but he’s done a really good job on special teams. We like where he’s been so far.”
Similarly with DT Bruce Hector, Schwartz mentioned some ups and downs, but hopes to get the young player some additional reps throughout the rest of the preseason. The defense rotation was a bit out of sync in the first preseason game, and Schwartz mentioned not exactly being able to get everyone the reps he had hoped.
“Bruce has been trending up since, not just training camp, he impressed us during OTAs. I’d like to probably get him a little bit more, but again, the way that game worked, just trying to get series, it skewed our numbers. We might even end up doing some pitch counts and stuff like that. But you make plays, you get rewarded by a little more playing time, and I think Bruce is one of the players that’s in that category.”
On Jalen Mills and his leadership role
Cornerback Jalen Mills is heading into Year 3 with the Eagles, and has developed both on and off the field. Schwartz lauded Mills’ leadership, and specifically how he’s become a more vocal player on the field; he’s helping the safeties and linebackers and making sure everyone is communicating.
“He’s never had a problem showing his personality, but you can see that a little bit more because he’s so chill when it comes to knowing exactly what to do and how to do it. I think that’s a big step for him.”
The defensive coordinator credits Mills’ understanding of the entire defense for part of his new confidence on the field.