No spring practices. No preseason games. No scrimmages against other teams. A Training Camp like no other in history. And then here comes the constant: Cutdown day is Saturday, and by 4 PM on that day the Eagles and every team in the NFL must reduce the roster to 53 players. A day later, a practice squad of up to 16 players is established.
One week after that, the Eagles play at Washington to open the regular season.
"I think there's still plenty of time to evaluate players," Defensive Coordinator Jim Schwartz said. "In a normal year you draft a guy or you have a guy that's left over from the year before, and you see him progress through the offseason program, whether he looks stronger, faster, better technique, those kinds of things. Then you get him in the classroom. You're saying, 'OK, his understanding is better.' Then you validate that by going out to do position drills in Phase 2, then validate that again with OTAs and minicamp. And then you have a month off, then you come back and validate it again in Training Camp, then evaluate it again with your first scrimmage, then preseason games.
"The only thing we really have now, we missed that spring. We didn't miss the knowledge of the scheme and things like that because we were able to evaluate that just doing things like we're doing right now, just going over Microsoft Teams. You did see where guys were at the beginning of Training Camp. You did have a couple scrimmages you could see. We did miss out on those preseason games. We've had enough practice time, enough individual time, enough technique work, and things like that, that we have a good evaluation of our guys. Nothing really replaces live game reps."
This isn't necessarily going to be easy for the Eagles, especially when you factor in the injury list. On offense, running back Miles Sanders hasn't practiced in weeks with a lower-body injury. Right tackle Lane Johnson has been off the practice field for a couple of weeks with a lower-body injury. Wide receiver Jalen Reagor is week to week with an upper-body injury. The offensive line is still adjusting after the losses of right guard Brandon Brooks and left tackle Andre Dillard. Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery is on the Physically Unable to Perform list.
On defense, end Derek Barnett (lower body) and tackle Javon Hargrave (upper body) remain sidelined. Safety Will Parks (lower body) is out for multiple weeks.
So, the Eagles not only have to make sure they have the right 53 players, but they also have to make sure they're covered with a large handful of key players sidelined heading to the final week of practice before opening the regular season.
This is going to be interesting.
"I feel good about the competition across the board," Head Coach Doug Pederson said. "I like what I've seen in this camp. There have been good battles."
Here are some roster questions that the Eagles are no doubt considering as we get into the final hours before 4 PM on Saturday arrives …
How many do the Eagles keep here? They've usually kept four on the 53-man roster, but they've liked what they've seen from their room of young running backs this summer, and Sanders still isn't practicing, so would Howie Roseman consider keeping a fifth running back? Sanders, Boston Scott, and Corey Clement look certain to make the 53. After that, it's a numbers game.
Will Jeffery be activated to the 53-man roster on Saturday, or will he remain on PUP and stay sidelined through the first six games of the regular season? What does Reagor's injury mean for the numbers here? DeSean Jackson is going to make it. Same with Reagor. J.J. Arcega-Whiteside has had a good summer. Greg Ward looks vastly improved from his vastly improved 2019 season. How about fifth-round draft pick John Hightower and sixth-round selection Quez Watkins? Have they done enough to make the 53? Do the Eagles keep five receivers? Can they possibly slide a sixth onto the 53-man roster?
Both lines of scrimmage
Where are Barnett and Hargrave in their recoveries from injury? Only the Eagles know that, and they're not saying. Maybe the 53-man roster will reveal the expectations, then. Do the Eagles keep extra defensive linemen, just in case? Same with the offensive line, knowing that there is a 38-year-old starter in Jason Peters and, potentially, the reliance of some young linemen – Matt Pryor and Jordan Mailata – who haven't played a whole lot of snaps in an NFL regular season.
What if Parks is out for an extended period of time? How does that alter the 53-man projection for a team that plans to interchange a lot of pieces in an ever-changing secondary to give quarterbacks a lot to think about and even more to look at during the course of a game?
These are just some of the questions the Eagles need to answer. It's a jigsaw puzzle that always comes together and then you step back and look at it and tinker with it and always keep your eyes open to improve it until the season ends. There are just a lot of complications that every team must consider, the Eagles included. And that makes for a heightened sense of anticipation as 4 PM on Saturday nears.