The preseason stretch run is upon us with the Baltimore Ravens in town for two days of practices, in pads (no tackling to the ground), and two games remaining before the full focus turns to September 8 and the start of the regular season.
That said, the roster evaluation process really reaches crunch time. Head coach Doug Pederson wanted wall-to-wall competition on the roster, and that’s what he’s seeing. Here, then, is a position-by-position look at the Eagles as they get down to the nitty gritty of the summer.
Suddenly very interesting, huh? Carson Wentz is the starter and that’s truly about all we know at this very moment. Oh, and that rookie Clayton Thorson is healthy and showed a distinct improvement from his debut in the preseason to Week 2 and that 17-year NFL veteran Josh McCown is an Eagle on a one-year contract and he’s already taken part in some 7-on-7 work in practice (he took a few reps in Sunday’s 10-10-10 practice).
Nate Sudfeld continues to recover from a broken left wrist and while there is no specific timetable on his return, the Eagles are confident that he’ll be back early in the regular season.
Cody Kessler remains in concussion protocol after taking a blindside hit in Thursday night’s preseason win at Jacksonville.
A very talented room showed its depth in Jacksonville as Miles Sanders, who started the game, shined with some early bursts, Jordan Howard was effective moving the chains and running hard inside, Josh Adams ran with a purpose and scored a touchdown, and both Donnel Pumphrey and Boston Scott had highlight runs late in the game.
Wendell Smallwood continues to have a good summer. Corey Clement hasn’t yet played in a game, but he’s ramped up his practice participation after suffering a season-ending knee injury in December 2018. Oh, and Darren Sproles has been Darren Sproles in this camp, which means that it’s still so difficult for defenses to catch up with him.
How many running backs will the Eagles keep? Great question.
It seems pretty clear cut here, but the Eagles always have a surprise or two up their sleeves when the 53-man roster is unveiled. For now, it would appear that Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert will provide an enviable 1-2 punch, with Richard Rodgers as a very solid No. 3. The Eagles also like Joshua Perkins and Will Tye, two experienced players with some versatility. Tight end is another position of strength, a common theme for the entire roster.
This is a loaded group that continues to get better through the summer. The first three on the depth chart, in no particular order, are Alshon Jeffery, DeSean Jackson, and Nelson Agholor. That’s as good a threesome as the Eagles have ever had. Rookie J.J. Arcega-Whiteside is really coming on and has been productive and consistent throughout camp. That’s an outstanding receiving foursome.
Who is No. 5? And will the Eagles keep six receivers?
No. 5 remains a competitive situation and just became even more so with Mack Hollins’ return to the field. He buzzed on special teams in Jacksonville. Greg Ward has continued to improve as a receiver and Charles Johnson has been solid this summer. Marken Michel had the 75-yard catch-and-run touchdown against Tennessee that opened some eyes.
It has been a flat-out great summer for Jeff Stoutland’s room. He’s got a lot to work with here, as all five starters return from last season – right guard Brandon Brooks is making good progress recovering from his torn Achilles tendon – and there is some promising depth with veterans Stefen Wisniewski and Halapoulivaati Vaitai combining with rookie left tackle Andre Dillard and second-year right tackle Jordan Mailata having outstanding preseason games, with plenty of reps ahead in the next two weeks.
There are some roster spots to be sorted out here – will the Eagles keep nine or 10 offensive linemen on the active roster and another two or three on the practice squad? – before August 31 at 4 p.m., the NFL’s deadline to reduce the roster from 90 players to 53.
Again, the Eagles look stacked here from the inside out. With Fletcher Cox, Malik Jackson, and Tim Jernigan, the Eagles have a deep threesome at tackle, buoyed by young players Hassan Ridgeway, Treyvon Hester, and Bruce Hector. Aziz Shittu signed last week and immediately made his presence known with a couple of tipped passes at the line of scrimmage. On the edges, Brandon Graham and Derek Barnett are expected to start with Vinny Curry as the third man in.
How many ends do the Eagles keep beyond that? There is a talented young group of ends competing, including preseason sensation Daeshon Hall, second-year man Josh Sweat, fourth-round draft pick Shareef Miller, and newcomer Eli Harold. It’s a group with a lot of promise and these next two preseason games will help sort out who stays and who doesn’t make it.
While there are still questions about who is going to play where when the regular season begins, there seems to be a lot more confidence in this group as a whole now that the Eagles have seen some of their new acquisitions in action in the preseason. L.J. Fort and Zach Brown are still learning the system, but they’re making good progress under the tutelage of coach Ken Flajole.
Combine that with the improvement of players like Nathan Gerry and Kamu Grugier-Hill (prior to his knee injury) and the Eagles have the makings of a good linebacker group. They’ve still got to get Nigel Bradham all the way back from a health standpoint, but his goal is to be ready for the regular season. Bradham did 7-on-7 work for the first time Sunday. Rookie T.J. Edwards and former CFL star Alex Singleton have been around the ball all summer and have shown promise. Enough to make the 53? We’ll see about that.
It’s a position group still not settled with Jalen Mills (foot) out of practice and still on the Physically Unable to Perform list, Cre’Von LeBlanc out indefinitely with a foot injury, and Ronald Darby (knee) working his way toward September 8. Their absences have given young corners like Sidney Jones, Rasul Douglas, and Avonte Maddox more summer and preseason reps and they have taken advantage with strong performances across the board. Darby was on the field for 11-on-11 drills for the first time in Training Camp on Sunday. A handful of other cornerbacks – Orlando Scandrick, Jeremiah McKinnon, Josh Hawkins, Sojourn Shelton, and Ajene Harris – have two preseason games left to impress.
We haven’t yet seen him in the preseason, and perhaps we won’t, but Rodney McLeod is making good progress in his recovery from last season’s knee injury. In place of McLeod, Andrew Sendejo has fit in very well playing alongside Malcolm Jenkins. The three of them figure to be a solid trio that can be versatile and interchangeable in Jim Schwartz’s system. The Sendejo signing in free agency could prove to be one of the team’s most underrated and high-upside moves.
The fourth safety? To be determined. Johnathan Cyprien continues to learn the system and get his practice and game reps. Tre Sullivan and Deiondre' Hall are incumbents from last season’s roster and Trae Elston is here with an intention on making a fast and lasting impression.
The only mystery is who will return kickoffs, but there are plenty of candidates. Jake Elliott is the placekicker, Cameron Johnston is the punter, Rick Lovato is the long snapper, and Sproles is in line to return punts. There are going to be some players who make the 53-man roster based in some way around their contributions to special teams, but that is something we’ll find out about when the roster is cut on August 31. Until then, the kicking game is extremely solid for the Eagles.