There are details to be ironed out and an agreement to be made between the NFL and the Players Association, but we're inching closer to the open of Training Camp and the Eagles' 2020 season. With that, the understanding is that the time on the field is going to be far less than in a normal year. The spring reps simply cannot be replaced. Reducing the roster to 53 players and preparing for the regular season is the mission. With that, here are some thoughts on the Eagles and what could be ahead.
Developing depth along the offensive line
So, what we know is this: The Eagles have the offensive line plan in place with Andre Dillard at left tackle, Isaac Seumalo at left guard, Jason Kelce at center, Jason Peters at right guard, and Lane Johnson at right tackle. Two-fifths of the projected starting group is different from 2019, and in the world of the Eagles, where stability has been a constant along the line of scrimmage, that's a lot of change.
Matt Pryor figures to be a promising option as the sixth lineman, but who emerges among a young group that includes Jordan Mailata, Nate Herbig, Sua Opeta, Jack Driscoll, Prince Tega Wanogho, Casey Tucker, and Julian Good-Jones. The Eagles historically keep nine or 10 offensive linemen, so there are, in theory, three to four roster spots to be won.
All of those young players need reps. The challenge for the coaching staff is to maximize time on the practice field. Mailata, in his third season, said as a guest on a recent Eagles Insider Podcast that he feels he is ready to be a factor in his third NFL season.
"I'm in my third season in the system and I've learned so much about the intricacies of the game," he said. "Becoming familiar and comfortable and taking as many mental reps as I've had, how much I've worked on my craft techniquewise, that is what makes me more confident now than I've ever felt before. You gain the edge and you gain experience even if you are on IR (Injured Reserve) for two seasons.
"This is the healthiest offseason I've had in terms of in the gym and on the field. I've got a chip on my shoulder. I want to play even more. I see this as a prove-it year. I'm not going to tell a lie. I'm really excited to get out there and show the team that I'm still a great player and a great teammate."
The secondary needs to come together
Everyone is excited about the new-look secondary, and that is justified. Bringing in a top-level cornerback like Darius Slay gives the Eagles a player who can match up against any wide receiver in the game. He's going to provide a big upgrade to a defensive backfield that allowed far too many big passing plays a season ago. And re-signing Rodney McLeod gives the Eagles a stable, productive player at the safety position. Those are two starters. The other two starters remain open questions, so those are answers that have to come in a short period of time.
Can, for example, Jalen Mills make the transition from cornerback to safety? He's got the mental part of it down, so there aren't many questions there. He just hasn't taken extended reps at safety. He hasn't been on the field communicating with his defensive backfield mates from that spot. Will Parks is looking to win the job as well, so it's going to be pretty intense to watch who wins the starting job opposite McLeod.
At cornerback on the other side of Slay, the Eagles need someone to emerge from a group that includes Avonte Maddox, Sidney Jones, and Rasul Douglas. Who claims the job?
The Eagles have to throw a lot at the secondary, literally, to make sure everyone is on the same page.
Who wins jobs at wide receiver?
The Eagles are fortunate to have veterans at the position, albeit two who are returning from injury. It's important, so very much so, that both DeSean Jackson and Alshon Jeffery are ready for the start of the regular season. They are basically plug-and-play receivers who have rapport with quarterback Carson Wentz, who know the offense, and who are established producers in the league. Health is the key with those two.
Beyond Jackson and Jeffery, what do we really know about the receiver corps? Greg Ward stepped up in a big way last season from the slot and should be even better in 2020 as a reliable pass catcher and route runner. And then … what, exactly?
The Eagles have a first-round draft pick in Jalen Reagor they need to bring along quickly. They need to see if veteran Marquise Goodwin fits on the roster. Same with the two other draft picks – John Hightower and Quez Watkins. Second-year man J.J. Arcega-Whiteside had a terrific offseason and was recognized by the team for his conditioning and preparation. Deontay Burnett and Robert Davis hope to build from their time on the roster from last season. Shelton Gibson is trying to put it all together. There are 13 receivers on the roster and the Eagles will likely keep five, as they've done in the past. That, like everything else, is subject to change.
Carson Wentz, Nate Sudfeld, Jalen Hurts, Kyle Lauletta
There is no official depth chart, but we pretty much have the idea about how the quarterback hierarchy is set at the moment, right? Wentz is the franchise, and Nate Sudfeld stayed with a one-year contract in the offseason be the No. 2 man. The Eagles used a second-round draft pick on Jalen Hurts after his standout collegiate career at Alabama and Oklahoma. Kyle Lauletta was on the practice squad last season and has the challenge of impressing the coaching staff with every rep he gets.
There are only so many plays the offense will run in practice during the summer. Work on the side is going to be extremely important. Wentz, no worries. Sudfeld knows the scheme, but he wants every throw he can get. Hurts has taken only mental reps in the offense. Lauletta has the X's and O's down, but he's not built any chemistry with the receiving corps.
It's the same challenge that every team has in this (hopefully) once-in-a-lifetime Training Camp period. That the Eagles have returned their coaching staff and added some veteran coaches helps a bunch in a division with three new head coaches. There is a lot of work to do in a very short period of time.