OK, seriously. The NFL schedule was released on Thursday and I had some fun projecting the Eagles’ 2020 regular season. It was all for a giggle, because the reality is that the reaction I have, and that most of the football people whom I've talked about it with through the years is that a schedule is just … a schedule. I understand the fans and the media enjoy projecting wins and losses. It's part of what we do in the spring.
But I never look at it that way, even though I've "analyzed" what it all means long before the games are played. Truth is, we don't know how teams are going to look between now and when the kickoff comes. Teams that look good in the spring sometimes falter when the regular season begins. A key injury here or there changes the entire dynamic. A lot of things go into play before the game starts.
The other part of it is this: I never go into any game thinking the Eagles are going to lose. So while the words I wrote on Thursday were intended to be of the fantastical and lighthearted side, the part about the Eagles going 16-0 in the regular season is true. I always feel that way. You play 'em to win 'em.
The truth is, we don't yet have a feel for the Eagles, either. This is a team with an offense that returns mostly intact from the 2019 playoff edition, but there are some key questions that don't yet have answers, and some new players who figure to play key roles who we haven't yet seen on the field. And if you were to line up the key questions for this team, they would probably go something like this …
1. Who starts opposite Darius Slay at cornerback? There are a host of candidates including Avonte Maddox, Sidney Jones, Rasul Douglas, and Jalen Mills, who is listed as a defensive back and not specifically a cornerback, but who knows how the secondary is going to look on September 13?
2. Who starts at safety alongside Rodney McLeod? It could be Mills. It could be Will Parks, signed in free agency. Maybe a returning player like Rudy Ford or Marcus Epps or rookie K'Von Wallace.
3. Is Andre Dillard ready to take the next step and start at left tackle? The more reps he can get before September 13, the better. But there are a lot of players in that situation.
4. How will the health picture look at wide receiver? DeSean Jackson and Alshon Jeffery are the presumptive starters. They both had their 2019 seasons ruined by injury. The hope is that both will be ready to go and leading the way at the new-look wide receiver position.
5. Who is going to emerge from a large group of young defensive ends? Among the candidates with the hope for more production and depth: Josh Sweat, Shareef Miller, Genard Avery. The Eagles have nine defensive ends, include Matt Leo, who is exempt from the 90-man roster. Behind starters Derek Barnett and Brandon Graham, and maybe Malik Jackson who may take some reps on the edge, who do the Eagles have as a proven pass rusher? Sweat recorded four quarterback sacks – fourth on the team – and 29 combined quarterback hits and pressures – fifth on the team – playing just 34 percent of the snaps last year, so maybe he's the guy who takes the next big step.
NEWS AND NOTES AND THIS AND THAT
- The Eagles think that second-year linebacker T.J. Edwards is ready to make a big contribution in 2020. He'll have that chance in a room that includes Nathan Gerry, Duke Riley, free agent addition Jatavis Brown, and third-round draft pick Davion Taylor.
Edwards said in a telephone interview on Thursday that he believes that he is prepared to take on that responsibility. "I think a lot of it has to do with me knowing a little bit of what to expect when I show up in the building, whenever that is," Edwards said. "Knowing kind of what I'm going to have to do to prove myself, knowing the pressure is on so I have to be at my best this offseason at all times and I've definitely tried to do that. I'm excited to get back and to get around the guys again and see what the future holds."
You can hear the entire interview with Edwards in Wednesday's Eagles Insider Podcast. On Monday, vice president of football administration Jake Rosenberg is the guest and we discuss the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, the team's work in free agency and in the NFL Draft, among other things. It's an extremely interesting listen. Subscribe to the Eagles Insider Podcast here.
- Running back Corey Clement isn't feeling sorry for himself. One of the team's main contributors in the Super Bowl LII win, he's had two consecutive seasons ruined by injury. Clement was released in March and then re-signed in April. A whirlwind, indeed. "This is my third pitch," Clement said. "I'm not striking out."
One of the things he's doing now is trying to play with more weight. He entered the league, he says, at 227 pounds and then, in an effort to have more burst and quickness, dropped to 208 pounds after his rookie season. Clement plans to play between 220 and 225 pounds this season. "My frame is my frame. I don't want to fight against my body," Clement said.
- In case you were wondering, or just hadn't yet counted it up, the Eagles have a full 90-man roster right now, plus Leo. They have some wiggle room within their salary cap with a projected $23.5 million available, per OverTheCap.com, so the Eagles can add to the roster at any point, but they would have to take a player off the current list.
- One of the most competitive positions will be the reserve positions for the offensive line. We know the five starters – on paper – at this point: Dillard, Isaac Seumalo, Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks, and Lane Johnson. And we know the Eagles are probably going to keep nine or 10 offensive linemen total on the 53-man roster. So, who are the backups? I don't know that yet, but this is interesting: Third-year guard Matt Pryor, who can also play tackle in a pinch, has the most NFL game experience (2) and total game reps (148, all last season) of the young group of linemen on the roster. That's amazing.