MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – The official training-camp portion of the Eagles’ summer is over after Thursday’s 16th practice session, a trek that took the team to three different states and included three of a scheduled four joint sessions on the road vs. the Cleveland Browns and Wednesday’s work against the Dolphins.
A stomach virus wiped out Thursday’s planned affair with Miami and the Eagles instead took over the Baptist Health Training Complex for intrasquad work.
The finish line means it’s time to hand out the annual awards.
That includes the 2022 Mr. NovaCare Award winner, the player honored with the mythical “Paul Turner Trophy.”
Most Improved: S Marcus Epps – Forget about Epps taking over a starting job for the first time, the four-year veteran has comforted the coaching staff so much he’s now considered the top back-end defender on the team.
The Wyoming product entered the league as a sixth-round pick who was a little undersized and not known for his physicality. These days, the Southern California native had remade his body after opening his own gym and added a bruising physicality to the coverage instincts that got him into the league in the first place.
Best Newcomer and Best Player: WR A.J. Brown – If anything, Brown has been undersold. The big-bodied WR1 is exactly what the Eagles and Jalen Hurts needed and his presence alone is a significant addition to the offense. Brown and cornerback James Bradberry were neck and neck for best player (and newcomer) until Bradberry missed some time with a groin injury.
Best Rookie: C Cam Jurgens – First-round pick Jordan Davis is the most talented and should be a difference maker on Day 1 so many will default to the big Georgia defensive tackle but Jurgens is the choice here because he got extended time after Jason Kelce underwent elbow surgery.
The second-round pick wowed everyone with his Kelce-like athleticism and ability to get to the second level. Kelce is expected to be ready game for Week 1 in Detroit and already looks very comfortable after his procedure so Jurgens will slot back in as an insurance policy but one that is proven to be top of the line.
Biggest Disappointment: QB Carson Strong – Maybe that’s a little harsh for an undrafted rookie, but Strong entered camp as the favorite to take the developmental job from Reid Sinnett. A competition never developed because Strong looked so overmatched and nowhere near Sinnett as an option.
Honorable mention goes to second-year running back Kenny Gainwell and backup offensive lineman Jack Driscoll.
Gainwell is routinely corrected at practice for mental errors and technique issues and has dropped the football far too much while Driscoll had a difficult camp as the backup to right tackle Lane Johnson.
The much-ballyhooed competition at right guard never developed but that wasn’t Driscoll’s fault. When Isaac Seumalo was cleared for the start at camp he’s was given the job, likely at the urging of Jeff Stoutland, and never did anything to lose it. Driscoll, however, often looked lost on the outside, especially when working against veteran Brandon Graham.
Toughest Rookie Debut: LB Nakobe Dean – This is not about Dean’s performance because he was fine but the expectations were so out of whack for many who spent the run-up to the draft being told that the Butkus Award winner was a surefire first-round pick.
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When the Eagles nabbed the falling Dean in the third round it was spun as the steal of the century by too many with the narrative being that Dean would take over one of the off-ball LB spots sooner rather than later.
Instead, Dean has been like a typical third-round pick with upside, a work in progress behind T.J. Edwards and Kyzir White.
Best Undrafted Rookie: CB Josh Jobe – A high-level defensive coach was speaking very highly of Jobe to SI Eagles Today on Thursday and it certainly seems like the Alabama product has made this team. The only potential hiccup to that is the elbow injury that cost Jobe the practices in Miami.
There has been no indication that the injury is serious, however, and if the Eagles place him on injured reserve before the cut to 53 that means his season will be over and the rookie will not be allowed to practice, something that should make a redshirt year far less likely.
Toughest Injury: TE Grant Calcaterra (hamstring injury that cost the rookie sixth-round pick most of camp) – The good news here is that there haven’t been any major Tyron Smith-like injuries with Kelce’s surgery probably the most serious development, but also not all that concerning because no one seems to doubt that the All-Pro will be in the lineup against the Lions on Sept. 11.
The Eagles really like Calcaterra and he came out like gangbusters as a pass-catcher before straining his hamstring on a reception and missing significant time. He’s finally back and has picked up where he left off and it seems like Philadelphia will be defaulting to him as a 53-man player. Had Calcaterra not been injured, however, there would be no doubt.
Toughest to Figure Out: DE Derek Barnett – The Eagles seem to like Barnett as a player while concurrently worrying about his penchant to be a little too aggressive. With younger players like Tarron Jackson and Patrick Johnson taking big steps forward as overhang players, it’s tough to understand what Philadelphia sees in Barnett at times.
Biggest Flame Out: LB Davion Taylor – Taylor looked like a world-beater in the first half of camp and the raw player he has been through his first two seasons in the second half of the summer.
Best Comeback – DE Brandon Graham – Graham looks like, well, Brandon Graham with the typical explosion and energy he’s always had despite being 34 and coming off an Achilles injury that robbed him of most of the 2021 campaign. BG looks stronger than ever after spending most of his rehab in the gym.
Fastest Player – WR Devon Allen – Sorry Quez Watkins, we got to see the Olympic hurdler run once in Cleveland and it was like Teri Hatcher on Seinfeld – spectacular.
The Lane Johnson Award for Best Quote: RT Lane Johnson, of course, on the guardian caps the NFL made mandatory for most of camp. “I think it’s goofy as [expletive]. Look at it. I don’t feel too awkward, it just looks stupid.”
The Championship Banner Award: That goes to the Miami Dolphins, who halted the best preseason streak outside of Baltimore by “winning” a joint practice against the Eagles on Wednesday, the first “loss” in seven joint sessions in the Nick Sirianni era. That said, the Fish were hardly fighting champions crying “No Mas” to defending their newly-awarded mythical title belt due to some upset stomachs.
The Dominic Raiola (look it up) Too Much Vomit Award – This one goes to too much vomit. From the Eagles’ Zach Pascal dropping 16 pounds due to food poisoning all the way up to the Dolphins tapping out on Thursday.
Mr. NovaCare – S Reid Blankenship – The heavy favorites were Strong and Britain Covey but both never delivered, and Blankenship went from perhaps the biggest unknown of the UDFAs to a 53-man roster threat and a guaranteed practice squad player if he clears waivers.
-John McMullen contributes Eagles coverage for SI.com’s Eagles Today and is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Sports. You can listen to John, alongside legendary sports-talker Jody McDonald, every morning from 8-10 on ‘Birds 365,” streaming live on YouTube.com and JAKIBSports.com. You can reach John at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen