The Eagles lightened the mood in Friday's Training Camp practice, with defensive tackle Fletcher Cox and offensive tackle Jason Peters doubling as punt returners, and the players will have a day off on Saturday before returning Lincoln Financial Field for an open-to-the-public practice on Sunday (10 a.m.) We'll, then, take advantage of this pause in the action to update you on the position-by-position State of the Eagles …
Carson Wentz is far advanced from where he was at the end of the 2016 season. He's worked very hard on his game and on learning the nooks and crannies of the Eagles' scheme and, for the most part, Wentz has delivered strikes in practice in Training Camp.
Nick Foles was coming along just fine as the No. 2 quarterback until he suffered an elbow injury that has kept him sidelined for a week. There has been no indication that the injury will linger in any way, but Foles has still missed some valuable camp time.
Matt McGloin has been up and down with his timing and accuracy, but given the added reps with Foles out, McGloin has played his best football of the spring and summer. Dane Evans has a live arm and is able to use his feet to run his way out of trouble. It will be interesting to watch Evans in the preseason games.
In a camp largely missing many disappointing moments, one at the top of the list is not seeing running back Donnel Pumphrey on the field when the pads went on. Pumphrey was getting some reps with the No. 1 offense before suffering a hamstring injury just as the pads were about to go on. He has missed some valuable practice time and is listed as day to day with the injury. LeGarrette Blount returned to practice on Friday after missing three days and is set to resume his role as the team's No. 1 running back.
During Blount's absence, though, second-year man Wendell Smallwood took advantage of the increased reps, as did Byron Marshall and Corey Clement. A good guess would suggest that Blount, Smallwood, Darren Sproles, and perhaps a fourth running back could make the 53-man roster, so there is a lot of competition here. It's a numbers game getting to 53, and running back is a position that could be in a state of flux.
This is going to be a fun group to watch. Zach Ertz, Brent Celek, and Trey Burton have been heavily involved in the passing game this summer and have lined up all over the formation in camp. The Eagles fully intend to take advantage of the position versatility this season.
An overhaul of the position has the Eagles feeling very, very good about their wide receivers. The additions of Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith have clearly upgraded the group, and the improvement internally from Nelson Agholor and Marcus Johnson has given the Eagles depth and some tough decisions ahead.
Obviously, wide receiver play in the preseason games is must-see television. The Eagles have a lot of moving pieces here with the inside/outside play of Agholor in camp and the rise of Johnson. Jordan Matthews has been extremely productive in camp. Mack Hollins is making plays. Great stuff here.
One of the strengths of the team, the offensive line is an extremely competitive situation. The starters are, left to right, Peters, Isaac Seumalo, Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks, and Lane Johnson, and the Eagles feel terrific about that lineup. Sure-thing backups include Stefen Wisniewski, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, and Chance Warmack, with a slew of other experienced veterans vying for roster spots.
In a league hurting for depth along the offensive line, the Eagles have solid footing with their offensive line and there are going to be some good players who don't make the 53-man roster.
Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry have been starting on the outside, with Chris Long, Derek Barnett, and Steven Means in line as the backups. At tackle, Fletcher Cox and Tim Jernigan should form a dynamic duo, with Destiny Vaeao and Beau Allen (who is still not cleared to practice) expected to be the main backups. Sixth-round pick Elijah Qualls has some catching up to do after missing most of the spring and then suffering a groin injury in camp.
How much depth do the Eagles have here? It's a lingering question. There is no doubt that Jordan Hicks starts at middle linebacker, Nigel Bradham plays the strong side, and Mychal Kendricks lines up on the weak side. Najee Goode is playing well as a reserve. Kamu Grugier-Hill has had a strong spring and summer. Nathan Gerry is trying to make the transition from safety in college to linebacker in the NFL.
, Don Cherry, and Steven Daniels are pushing to back up Hicks in the middle. Cherry can also play on the strong side.
The preseason games are critical to establish a depth chart at linebacker.
Without a doubt, cornerback is the biggest positional question mark on the roster. Jalen Mills and Patrick Robinson have played with the No. 1 defense through camp. That is certainly not set in stone. Ron Brooks is the nickel corner and seems fairly established there. Everything else is wide open. Everyone is going to have a chance to win a job and playing time.
Four preseason games will tell the tale about the cornerback group. C.J. Smith, Aaron Grymes, Rasul Douglas … all of them and more are hoping to impress.
The addition on Thursday of Corey Graham adds an experienced hand at safety behind starters Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod. Who is the third safety? Terrence Brooks has had his hands on the football throughout camp and has to be consistent in the preseason games. Jaylen Watkins is in the mix, for sure. Chris Maragos makes this team because of his dominating play on special teams. Rookie Tre Sullivan will get plenty of reps in the preseason.
The issue here isn't with the starters, because Jenkins and McLeod are set. The issue is depth and movement. What happens if the Eagles need Jenkins to play cornerback in certain situations? How does Graham fit?
Locked and set: Caleb Sturgis is back after his fine 2016 season as the placekicker, Jon Dorenbos has recovered from his wrist injury and is the longsnapper, and Donnie Jones looks as good as ever in camp as the punter. Darren Sproles returns punts. The Eagles have options with kickoff returns – could be Smallwood, could be Agholor, could be Johnson. A lot of the answers are coming in the four preseason games. Training Camp practices are not game-similar conditions. The preseason games matter, and that's why Thursday night at Lambeau Field is so important for so many players on this roster.