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Lawlor: Eagles Have Real Reason For Optimism Entering Preseason

Posted Aug 7, 2017

The Eagles have had 17 Training Camp practices and walk-throughs following Monday morning's indoor session and so far things have gone very well for the team. That's not to say everything is perfect, but from an overall perspective, there are a lot of reasons to feel good about where the Eagles stand right now.

Carson Wentz has taken his game to another level. Fans were excited last summer just to see a good throw or a series of plays where the young quarterback showed his potential. Wentz is having whole practices where he plays at a high level this year. Beyond that, he's able to play well multiple days in a row. The coaches stress the need to "stack practices," meaning to play well over and over and over. Wentz has done just that.

Wentz has embraced his leadership role on the team and seems comfortable with being the face of the franchise. He hasn't gotten caught up in any media or fan hype. Wentz continues to work on his mechanics and improve his overall game. He is focused on doing whatever it takes for him to improve and for the team to win. That is absolutely the mindset and work ethic you want in your young quarterback.

One of the things that will help Wentz have a strong season is a run game that can take pressure off of him. It looks like the Eagles have a good group of running backs. LeGarrette Blount missed the days of live tackling, but he has had some very good moments in camp. Blount is the biggest back the Eagles have had in a long time, if not ever (former first-round pick Keith Byars was listed at 6-1, 245 pounds). He still shows good athleticism and has actually done a nice job as a pass-catcher this summer. Darren Sproles is Darren Sproles. He gets older but somehow stays dynamic.

Wendell Smallwood really stood out during the tackling practices. The extra contact brought out the best in him. He ran with authority, but also showed an excellent burst and the ability to create big runs. Rookie Corey Clement has been a pleasant surprise so far. Rookie Donnel Pumphrey has had more impact as a receiver, but he has looked good as a runner as well. There were questions about the running backs in April. The group looks a lot better right now.

The most improved group on the team is the receiving corps. Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith look like the real deal. Nelson Agholor has taken his game to the next level and is playing with more confidence than ever. Second-year player Marcus Johnson has been outstanding this offseason. He has really opened some eyes. This group has gotten dramatically better from where it was a year ago. The big problem for the Eagles this time around will be trying to figure out how they can keep all the receivers that they want. What a difference a year makes.

Tight end looks solid as well. Brent Celek remains the crafty veteran. Zach Ertz is having a strong summer and might be finally ready to have the "breakout" season we've all been waiting for. Trey Burton has played very well and is doing everything he can to make the coaches notice him. Burton could be a valuable role player this year.

All the skill guys in the world do you no good if you can't win in the trenches. The Eagles' offensive line has looked very good and should be one of the best units in the league. Isaac Seumalo has settled in nicely at left guard and adds youth to the mix. Lane Johnson seems like a man on a mission. Last year's suspension is behind him and he's ready to have a great year. The backups have also been impressive. Dillon Gordon is getting reps as the backup left tackle and he looks good there. Halapoulivaati Vaitai has had a strong camp. He looked lost a year ago. He's now trying to show the Eagles he could be the right tackle of the future. I'm excited to see what Chance Warmack does in the preseason games. I think he'll be playing with a chip on his shoulder.

The Eagles also have a talented defensive line. That group should be one of the best in the league. Fletcher Cox is the big man up front and he's impressive, whether playing at defensive tackle or end. The coaches are moving him around more this summer. Tim Jernigan is the player who really has people talking. He's been dominant in several practices. Jernigan is finally in a system that will let him attack up the field on every snap. He could be in for a huge year.

Depth on the inside isn't ideal right now. Beau Allen is hurt and neither Elijah Qualls nor Destiny Vaeao has really stood out. They have had good plays here and there, but neither player has generated much buzz. Gabe Wright flashes every now and then. We'll see how the young guys do in the preseason games. That may bring out the best in them.

The edge rushers have had a solid camp so far. Brandon Graham is the best player and that shows on a regular basis. Vinny Curry has a chance to start opposite of him. Curry makes a play or two every practice, but hasn't been so good that he's locked up the starter's role. Chris Long looks like a talented, veteran pass rusher. Rookie Derek Barnett is all over the place. He is working hard on a variety of pass rush moves. He relied on speed to win most of the time in college. That won't work in the NFL so he's working on countermoves. I think Barnett will open some eyes when he's in a game and in attack mode rather than learning in practice.

Linebacker looks good with Nigel Bradham and Jordan Hicks as the key players. They have played as expected. The big question was depth and that looks to be improved. Najee Goode remains a steady backup. Joe Walker is back from his ACL injury and has impressed on defense and special teams. The real test will be to see him in game action. Rookie Nate Gerry has gotten some reps with the starters. The Eagles are trying to get a feel for where he's at in the move from safety to linebacker.

Don Cherry and Steven Daniels are second-year players hoping to win roster spots. Kamu Grugier-Hill was a good special teams player last year. He wants to show the Eagles he can help at linebacker as well. He's had a good camp. The Eagles don't have answers yet, but they do have good competition.

Safety is one of the strengths of the team. Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod have each looked terrific this summer. They know the scheme and each other. Terrence Brooks was a Raven at this time last year. He is making the most of his first camp as an Eagle and seems to make a play every day. Jaylen Watkins is battling him for the No. 3 safety spot.

The Eagles just signed Corey Graham to add to the secondary. He's played both safety and corner. Doug Pederson mentioned on Friday that Graham would initially focus on safety. The NFL is a passing league these days and you need smart, versatile defensive backs. Graham played for Jim Schwartz in 2014 so he has a feel for the system. Graham makes the Eagles better.

There is no secret that cornerback is the position on the team with the most questions. Jalen Mills will be one starter and he's played well this summer. Things are wide open after that. Patrick Robinson has not played as well as expected. He continues to work with the starting defense in the hope that things click for him and he gets back to the level he's played at before in his career.

C.J. Smith is having a good camp and could push Robinson for a starting role. Rasul Douglas, like most rookie corners, is up and down. He flashes major talent on one play and then looks lost on the next rep. This isn't a question of skill. He should be fine in the long term. Undrafted rookie Jomal Wiltz flashes, but isn't pushing for a job yet.

It does look like the Eagles have good options at nickel corner, with Ron Brooks and Aaron Grymes each playing well this summer.

Maybe the most important thing of all is health. The Eagles, knock on wood, have only had minor injuries so far. One bad moment can have a devastating effect on a season. Injuries are the X-factor for every team.

A lot more has gone right than wrong so far in Training Camp and that should lead to some real optimism. The Eagles look like a team on the rise.

Tommy Lawlor, goeagles99 on the Eagles Message Boards, is an amateur football scout and devoted Eagles fan. He is the editor of IgglesBlitz.com.


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