OK, so there have been way too many penalties – of the pre-snap, in-line, and special teams variety – and head coach Doug Pederson and his staff are constantly harping on those mistakes to the players. And the Eagles are only 1-2 in three preseason game and, look, everybody wants to win every time out. The offense hasn’t exactly been scintillating and the defense hasn’t taken the football away a whole lot, and those are areas of emphasis for the Eagles.
But in the big, big picture, this has been a fantastic summer and preseason. As the Eagles gear up for the Race to the 53-Man Roster, let’s review all of the things that have gone the right way …
1. Begin along the offensive line. Left tackle Jason Peters has been durable and impressive this summer, unlike last year when he was coming off his knee injury and rested here and there. Not now. Peters is really sharp and he’s been on the field just about every day. Isaac Seumalo has quietly improved his game to the point where the Eagles think he’s one of the top players at his position in the league. Jason Kelce looks great. Halapoulivaati Vaitai has adjusted very nicely from swing tackle to right guard and Jordan Mailata has come a loooooong way at right tackle.
Are there some concerns? Yes, of course. Lane Johnson has a knee injury that is keeping him off the field for the rest of the preseason. Brandon Brooks is racing to play in the opener – he took good, high-quality reps in one-on-one drills last week and looks forward to being cleared next for full-team workouts – as he recovers from the Achilles tendon injury. But the Eagles look extremely strong up front with their starters and with their depth. Some of the young linemen have stepped up – Andre Dillard has made impressive strides at left tackle and Matt Pryor is displaying his versatility playing left tackle as well as guard – and that bodes well for the long season ahead and the future. The Eagles continue to invest in the offensive line and their commitment continues to pay off.
2. The rookie class has played well. Dillard is on his way. Running back Miles Sanders is so important to the team that he was rested in the third preseason game – he only stepped on the field to take the opening kickoff, which was a touchback – and it would be a real surprise if he plays Thursday at New York. Wide receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside is third in the league with 12 preseason receptions and fifth in the NFL in the preseason with 147 receiving yards. Defensive end Shareef Miller continues to grow and learn his craft. Quarterback Clayton Thorson is going to have a tough time making the 53-man roster given its present constitution, but there’s no doubting his improvement.
3. From a health standpoint, the Eagles really have no complaints. Oh, they’ve got quarterback Nate Sudfeld sidelined with a fractured left wrist, but he should be back early in the regular season. Same with linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill, who has a knee injury and is working toward getting back early in the regular season. Tight end Richard Rodgers suffered a foot injury last week and is out for some time. Those are all players the Eagles are counting on, but they are expected back before too long. And one by one, the injured players from a year ago are getting back on the field. Running back Corey Clement and safety Rodney McLeod played Thursday and looked good. The defense expects players like cornerback Ronald Darby and tackle Fletcher Cox and end Derek Barnett and linebacker Nigel Bradham to be ready for the opening game, or very close to it. Not many teams are this healthy this late in the summer.
4. There has been not a smidgen of drama. Everyone has bought into head coach Doug Pederson’s team-first message. This is a selfless group that has great chemistry and camaraderie. More than that, it’s a hard-working team. All of this smoke about the Eagles being “a Super Bowl contender?” That’s great and everything, but this locker room has done a great job blocking out the noise.
5. It is very clear how deep this roster is and how tough some of the cuts are going to be next week. The Eagles have done and are continuing to build competition. They’re identifying players with specific skill sets who fit into what the coaching staff is teaching (more on that later in the weekend, but a note that we should all recognize just how good this coaching staff is).
6. The Eagles needed players like defensive end Daeshon Hall to step up and show they could be trusted and counted on for the regular season and that’s happened. Hall has had a couple of penalties that he’ll learn from in this preseason, but he’s also been fast off the ball, excellent with his hands, and powerful as he bends the edge. Hall is going to help in pass-rushing situations. And then there’s wide receiver Mack Hollins, who has made a strong case to stay on the 53-man roster and play a key role on special teams, at the very least. Grugier-Hill was one of the most improved players in camp prior to his injury. All of the young offensive linemen have improved. The running back position is loaded. Having Josh McCown added to the roster and then seeing on Thursday night how he performed in the system is extremely encouraging.
7. The Eagles aren’t finished adding and subtracting and manipulating this whole 53-man roster plus practice squad. How many phone calls will Howie Roseman engage in over the next week? He will explore ways to upgrade the roster and he’ll see if can add future draft capital by dealing some of the talent on the current roster. It’s an exciting time and the Eagles are operating from a position of strength.
8. The special teams are shaping up to be special. Yes, we all want Jake Elliott to be perfect, but he’s going to miss on occasion. Cameron Johnston has had a superb summer. Dave Fipp is going to have a lot to work with in coverage and in the return game. This phase of the team is in great hands.
9. The in-game management is on point, and I’m a big believer that doing it right as far as challenges and decisions like that go a long way toward success. The Eagles have successfully challenged three times in the preseason games.
10. Locker rooms change all the time with about 30 percent turnover, and you never really know what kind of personality you’re going to get until you see how it all meshes. This locker room has excellent leaders, energetic young players, and respect throughout. "We all we got. We all we need." Expect to hear a lot of that this year as the Eagles, a team that knows it will be among the NFL’s hunted, gets lined up for one big game after another in the regular season.