Ertz, Smith back at practice for Eagles
PHILADELPHIA - As preparation for the Week 1 Monday night matchup in Atlanta swings into high gear, the Eagles provided some good news Wednesday as both Zach Ertz and Marcus Smith returned to practice.
In fact all 53 members of the main roster along with the 10-man practice squad were able to work, giving Chip Kelly a full deck as his team starts focusing on Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Co.
Ertz, the team's best pass-catching tight end, missed the entire preseason because of a core muscle injury which required surgery, and Smith, a reserve outside linebacker, missed the three practice contests with a hamstring injury.
When Ertz went down the Eagles claimed that there was a chance he would be ready for Monday's season opener against the Falcons, although his status remains murky as Wednesday's practice was a light one-hour affair.
"We'll monitor him during the week, but he's cleared to go today," Kelly said. "So we'll see how he handles it."
Philadelphia native Rasheed Bailey wasn't brought back to the Eagles practice squad last weekend but Kelly believes in the Roxborough High product and hopes he continues to play even if that means Canada.
"We just grade every player," Kelly claimed. "Rasheed did a really nice job here. But, when you look at inside receiver, outside receiver, special teams, we just had (practice squad players) Freddie (Martino) and Quron (Pratt) rated higher."
Kelly made note of how steep the climb is from Division III Delaware Valley to the NFL and offered Bailey some advice as well as a referral.
"He just needs to continue to improve," the coach claimed. "It's a tough deal. Making an NFL team. Whether it's on the 53-man roster or the practice squad. He improved from where he was coming from. I thought he had really worked extremely hard at it. I talked to a CFL team. Called them up about him yesterday. I hope he continues to play. I think he has a bright future."
VINNY THE OLB
Pass-rushing specialist Vinny Curry is now a full-time outside linebacker, at least as far as preparation goes. Curry is sitting in on meetings with that position group instead of the defensive linemen. However, Kelly stopped short of saying the former Marshall star will play exclusively at that position.
"Vinny's out there at full-time linebacker now," Kelly admitted before clarifying, "that doesn’t mean Vinny’s not going to line up on the defensive line in the Atlanta game."
Curry was moved out of necessity after Travis Long went down with a torn ACL and Smith continued to have hamstring issues. The lack of depth at the position behind Connor Barwin and Brandon Graham remains a concern and ramped up Curry's transition.
He's been seen after practice often working with Barwin as well as offensive tackle Jason Peters in order to speed up the process but Kelly's believes Curry already has enough experience on the line to play there if needed.
Kelly touched on Atlanta a little bit and predictably brought up Ryan, Jones and Atlanta's terrific passing offense, which matches up against his rebuilt defensive backfield.
“It’s going to be a good matchup," the coach said. "Generating a pass-rush obviously (is going to be important). Trying to get to Matt so we can get the ball out of his hands a little bit quicker than he hopes to get it out. It depends on how their protection holds up against our rush. And then how does our coverage hold up against some really talented receivers. Especially Julio (Jones) and Roddy (White). They’re a really good pair. It’s not like you can just single one guy out."
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen