PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - The first day with the pads on for the Eagles in 2017 came with another first for receiver Marcus Johnson, reps with the starters.

With Alshon Jeffery on a bit of a pitch count after tweaking his shoulder, a strong spring and an impressive work ethic paid off as Johnson, a practice-squad player last season, got some looks with the starters over some bigger names, a clear indication he's in the mix to make the 53-man roster this time around.

Johnson, a University of Texas product, has been a popular name around camp.

Ask Doug Pederson or Frank Reich who has been standing out among the young receivers and they immediately default to Johnson. After Saturday's practice, which was dominated by a sharp offensive showing, Zach Ertz mentioned how impressive Johnson was and after the session ended, Jalen Mills, the team's top corner, spoke glowingly of the 6-foot-1, 204-pound wideout.

"Marcus does a good job. He works hard," Reich said. "He's into it. [He’s] Smart. He's got some speed. He's got strength. He has the qualities that you're looking for. So very, very excited about his progress and he's getting a good look."

Johnson got off to a fast start in last year's camp as well until a quad injury limited him from there. He was released at the final cutdown and signed to the PS after clearing waivers. Johnson still wasn't completely healthy, however, and waived from the PS before being brought back for good in early December.

"Last year I was doing things well but the (route tree) was what was holding me back," Johnson said at his locker after practice. "We have so many plays and so many variations in the playbook so when I got the time to sit back and reflect what I need to work on, route running was No. 1 on the list. ..I'm just crafting and learning the offense and the route concepts whether I'm outside or in the slot."

Mission accomplished, according to Mills.

"Fast guy and I don't think I've seen him drop anything," Mills said when talking about Johnson. "He's running the route tree very well and you have to keep your eyes on him as well because he's a burner too."

Johnson was the standout on the outside during a day in which the football rarely hit the turf in 7-on-7 drills.

"It's a blessing to go out there and be the true athlete you are," he said.

For now, the working plan for the Eagles is having Jeffery and Torrey Smith on the outside with Jordan Matthews working out of the slot. Nelson Agholor had a strong spring while filling in for an injured Matthews while rookie Mack Hollins intrigues the Eagles with his ceiling as a player.

If you are looking for the reserve receiver who has played the best during the first week of camp, however, the answer is Johnson and it hasn't been all that close.

"You can't get caught up in it," he said. "It's Day 1 (with pads). You have to keep building."

DAY 6 NOVACARE NOTES:

-Rookie defensive tackle Elijah Qualls went down during one-on-one, pass-rushing drills while working against Jason Kelce and was in significant pain before limping off to the medical tent. Qualls, though, was seen walking through the locker room by 973espn.com with a slight limp and said he was good.

-Lane Johnson also hobbled off for a short time after getting nicked during an inside run but quickly returned and finished practice.

-Jeffery claimed that the shoulder injury is nothing serious.

-This might have been Carson Wentz's sharpest practice as a pro. He was lights out in 7-on-7s with a Sam Bradford-like flawless day.

-Nick Foles sat out as expected with elbow inflammation and Matt McGloin handled the second-team work.

-Halapoulivaati Vaitai worked at left tackle for the first time today, a good indication that the Eagles want him cross training on both sides so he can take over the game-day swing tackle role that was originally earmarked for Allen Barbre.

-Defensive end Alex McCalister told 973espn.com that he is up to 247 pounds and would like to eventually get to 250 or 255. Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz mentioned McCalister as a player on the rise after Marcus Smith was released.

-With Smith gone, defensive tackle Justin Hamilton got his No. 90.

-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at jmcmullen44@gmail.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen