PHILADELPHIA – As has become customary during the preseason, the Patriots joined forces with their first opponent of the year, practicing with the Philadelphia Eagles at the NovaCare Center down in Pennsylvania.
Tuesday's practice, the first of three this week in advance of the preseason opener on Friday, was considerably more spirited and energized than the last few workouts we've seen in Foxborough. Several times, Eagles and Patriots players pushed and shoved one another during and following scrimmage plays and drills. But overall, there was the typical game-like atmosphere and stepped up level of play from the nearly 180 players on the four practice fields at the Eagles' facility.
Here are the most notable events of the afternoon:
…On the attendance front, a dozen Patriots were not on the field and presumably did not make the trip down to Philadelphia. All 12 had missed or been limited in practices this summer: WR Michael Jenkins; rookie WR Mark Harrison; CB Ras-I Dowling; safety Nate Ebner' o-linemen Marcus Cannon, Dan Connolly, Markus Zusevics, Tyronne Green, and Kevin Haslam; TE Rob Gronkowski; defensive linemen Jermaine Cunningham and Armond Armstead.
…Practice ran nearly 2-and-a-half hours. It began with both squads warming up on separate fields, then joining forces for individual drills, then group special teams periods. During kickoff period, Patriots return man Leon Washington took the first one of the day 100 yards for a would-be touchdown. Normally, the return men aren't tackled during these drills, but Washington wasn't even touched by another Eagle because his 10 blockers did an excellent job creating lanes through which Washington zig-zagged before turning on the afterburners and finishing off the play.
...New England typically uses ball boys wielding large tennis-racket-type devices to replicate the long reach of tall defensive linemen during passing game periods such as 7-on-7. The Eagles have their version of this. It involved three ball boys wearing shoulder pads outfitted with 4-ft, vertical octagonal screens protruding from them.
…An NFL officiating crew was present for practice to help the coaching staffs get more of a game-like feel to the workout. During drills and 11-on-11, the refs threw penalty flags when necessary and helped keep the tempo fast-paced between plays and series.
…Middle linebacker Dane Fletcher, bouncing back from a 2012 season on injured reserve due to a blown-out knee, make a nice pass breakup during 7-on-7 near the goal line. He jumped in front of the intended Eagles receiver and swatted the ball to the ground, thwarting what would have been a sure TD.
…Tensions began to escalate between the two sides when the punt team period started. Rookie Brandon Jones, playing one of the vice positions for New England, got entangled with Philly gunner Jordan Poyer. The men grappled briefly before being separated.
…On the very next punt, New England's Adrian Wilson and an Eagles punt coverage player tumbled to the ground together and when they got up, Wilson got in the Philly player's face. Words were exchanged, but again, the men were separated before things got out of hand.
…Cornerback Aqib Talib was matched up with Philly's top receiver, DeSean Jackson, for most of the day. On their first play in 11-on-11, Jackson ran a short out pattern, which Talib read perfectly. He jumped in front of Jackson and got both hands on the football, but couldn't hold on. He likely would have taken the interception unmolested for a long touchdown had he been able to complete the play. From that point on, Eagles QBs never threw to Jackson while Talib was covering him.
…Jackson responded a few plays later, though, when faced Patriots rookie corner Logan Ryan. He and safety Tavon Wilson were playing a zone on the left side of New England's defense, but they apparently didn't communicate who would cover Jackson. Eagles QB Nick Foles launched on a deep bomb to Jackson when he saw the receiver streaking down the right sideline. Jackson easily hauled in the pass for a score.
…Tempers flared again during 11-on-11 when the Patriots offense had the ball. On a running play up the middle, rookie receiver Aaron Dobson was assigned to block Eagles veteran corner Cary Williams, who appeared to take umbrage with the rookie's aggressiveness. Both men shared violent shoves to the facemask and nearly every other player on the field had to run in to separate the two combatants. Coaches Bill Belichick and Chip Kelly weren't pleased. Belichick made Dobson a spectator for the remainder of practice. Kelly did likewise with Williams.
…Wide receiver Danny Amendola lost his helmet at one point while trying to make a diving catch over the middle in 11-on-11. An Eagles defender fell on top of him as Amendola rolled to the ground. Amendola appeared dazed at first as he got up and searched for his helmet. He then trotted to the sideline to receive brief medical attention for what looked like a chipped tooth or bloody lip.
…Tight end Daniel Fells appeared to injure an ankle during red zone work, when he got tangled at the goal line with a couple of Eagles defenders. Fells limped off, but returned a few plays later and caught a couple of passes on successive plays.