Eagles camp notes: Nakobe Dean returns, Nolan Smith eager for game action

PHILADELPHIA — The practice-only portion of training camp finished with a light 54-minute session on Thursday — the final one before the Philadelphia Eagles travel to Baltimore for the preseason opener against the Ravens on Saturday.

The summer now shifts into a different gear for the Eagles. Saturday begins a 13-day span with three preseason games and three joint practices. They will face different players more than their own during the next two weeks. Here’s what happened on Thursday, along with news, notes and thoughts:

1. Coach Nick Sirianni remained cryptic about playing time distribution in the preseason game, suggesting the decision has not been made. He spoke before practice and wanted to get through the next two days before deciding. During the past two seasons, Sirianni played his starters in the first preseason game. My guess is that won’t happen this year — or at least with the established starters — because the joint practices with the Cleveland Browns begin Monday. The Saturday-to-Monday turnaround is tough, and the joint practices focus more on top-of-the-depth chart players.

If you remember last year, Jalen Hurts went 6-for-6 on the opening drive but took a big hit out of bounds. Hurts didn’t play again in the preseason after that possession. Sirianni said Thursday that play won’t affect his thinking, although he acknowledged the benefits of limiting the quarterback to a controlled setting.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh already announced his established starters won’t play, including quarterback Lamar Jackson.

2. The Eagles remain fairly healthy for this point in camp. Wide receiver Deon Cain (ankle) and linebacker Patrick Johnson (ankle) were the only players absent on Thursday because of injuries. DeVonta Smith returned to the team after an excused absence on Wednesday to attend friend and former college teammate Henry Ruggs’ sentencing hearing in Las Vegas.

3. Nakobe Dean was back from his ankle injury as a full participant and took work with the first-team defense. The injury cost him about a week, but he still has more than enough time this summer to cement himself as the top linebacker. I’m expecting Dean to remain in that role even after Philadelphia added Myles Jack and Zach Cunningham on Sunday.

“They added competition to the room,” Dean said. “They bring a lot of insight. A lot of questions we can ask them.”

Jack and Cunningham were second-team linebackers on Thursday. Nicholas Morrow and Christian Elliss rotated with the top unit.


Myles Jack gets starter reps, Reed Blankenship standing out at Eagles training camp

4. Nolan Smith finds his way into my notebook every practice, and Thursday was no different with good pressure on Marcus Mariota. He’s one of the players I’m most eager to watch on Saturday. Smith hasn’t played since October because of his injury in college, and it’s an understatement to say he’s excited to finally play in a game again.

“I missed seven weeks (last season),” Smith said, “so I can’t wait to just run and hit someone of a different color.”

5. Olamide Zaccheaus has stood out more for highlight-worthy plays than consistent production this summer, although he was one of the top performers in the short session on Thursday. He made an impressive catch along the sideline with Avonte Maddox in tight coverage during seven-on-sevens. Nice pass from Hurts, too. (Zaccheaus’ high school teammate, D’Andre Swift, also showed good quickness in the passing game when he took a screen pass to the second level.)

6. When the first-teamers were on the field, Dallas Goedert stood out based on volume and production. He was targeted twice on the first four passes, continuing a consistent summer. I can’t project every pass catcher to have a productive season — there are only so many targets to go around — but consider that Goedert was on pace for 81 catches and 1,028 yards before a Week 10 injury last season. Draft him confidently in your fantasy football leagues.

7. It was interesting to see undrafted rookie receiver Joseph Ngata get some work with the first-team offense. It was a series with DeVonta Smith and Quez Watkins on the sideline, so this doesn’t suggest Ngata will be a first-teamer. But it’s validation for what I’ve thought throughout camp: He’s the best of the down-the-depth chart receivers and will make a compelling case for the 53-man roster. Ngata was a top recruit at Clemson who was hindered by injuries in college. He’s 6-foot-3 and 217 pounds, giving him good size on the outside. Pay attention to him in the preseason.

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Undrafted rookie receiver Joseph Ngata is making a compelling case for earning a spot on the 53-man roster. (Mitchell Leff / Getty Images)

8. Credit to cornerback Josh Jobe. Entering camp, I figured he’d be behind Greedy Williams. Jobe is clearly the top reserve cornerback on the outside and continues to make plays in coverage. He was on the roster throughout last season and I expect him to have an elevated role in 2023 (at this moment, at least).

9. The Eagles practiced in the stadium on Wednesday so the coaching staff can work on communication in game-like scenarios, which Sirianni said still must be ironed out leading into the season. There was one sequence that caught attention when general manager Howie Roseman alerted defensive coordinator Sean Desai for having the wrong group on the field. Apparently, the headsets went out, which contributed to the communication lapse.

There were also too many penalty flags, which the Eagles attributed to working in more game-like conditions. One note I heard around the team is there have been fewer training camp penalties this year compared to 2022. (I haven’t kept track of penalties, so I can only relay what I’m hearing.)

One of the penalty flags on Wednesday was for unnecessary roughness by Derek Barnett after a block by Landon Dickerson sent Barnett to the ground. The block was questionable in practice, but only the retaliation drew a flag. Sirianni planned to address it in Thursday’s meeting.

“I love his competitiveness,” Sirianni said. “But in a scenario like that, you can’t react. Anytime you get a personal foul you always want to talk about, ‘Hey, we can’t do that because we have to fight them within the next play legally.’ … You have to be able to play tough, violent, strong, nasty, aggressive, all those different adjectives, and have to do all those things while doing it legally.”

10. Some celebrity sightings at practice (not including Bo Wulf, who is there daily): Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro attended and took in the session with Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie. Malcolm Jenkins, who is one of the most important players for the franchise during my 12 years covering the Eagles, checked out his former team. So did former offensive lineman Todd Herremans.

(Photo of Nolan Smith: Mitchell Leff / Getty Images)

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