Three weeks into the 2020 offseason, the Eagles have been wheeling and dealing and building their roster. Their long-planned blueprint has been executed with a combination of aggressiveness, stealth activity, and identifying through extensive research and scouting players whose skills are great fits for the system.
Along with that, the entire NFL – and the entire world – has been dealt the health crisis of a lifetime, throwing every plan into jeopardy. For three weeks, I've reached out to Eagles players, new to the team and those coming back for 2020, to discuss their perspectives on what's ahead.
DE Brandon Graham: Taking the positive approach
Never one to shy away from looking at things from the glass-is-half-full perspective, Brandon Graham is taking this time to get in his workouts in his basement gym, spend time on the telephone to check up on his family and friends, and be the best daddy and husband he can be.
He has been vigilant about social distancing. He has been active on Amazon ordering new toys for his kids and he and his wife ordered 300 cheesesteaks for hospital workers in Philadelphia to be delivered on Wednesday. Oh, and there is a 2020 football season to prepare for.
"I'm embracing this, man. You've got to adjust and right now I feel I'm getting good quality time, even during this chaos, with the family," Graham said. "We're taking it very seriously, and at the same time we're getting things done in the household that we've been wanting to do. I'm trying to take the positive approach with this."
Graham has lost family members – an aunt on his father's side just died from the coronavirus – so this is very real for him.
"It's here. It's real. You have to make sure you take care of yourself and what's you're doing," he said. "At the same, you have to try to make the best of the situation and come out of this a better person."
CB Darius Slay: Fun loving, competitive, and ready for the spotlight
A cornerback in the NFL is going to win some and is going to lose some. It's a rough job. The limitations on what the rules allow a cornerback to do test players mentally and, certainly, physically. Darius Slay loves the challenge. He's here to help lead the secondary and elevate a defensive backfield that has a new look after a struggle of a season in 2019.
"I have thick skin. I'm tough. I realize you're going to have your moments out there," he said. "That's the nature of the position. There are a lot of great players on the field and I have all the respect in the world for them. At the end of the day, though, you have to have fight in you. You have to forget about what just happened and get after it on the next play. That's why I love. We share a brotherhood out there. We're all part of the NFL and that's a special thing.
"You have to have trust with the guys on the back end. Where I've been (in Detroit), we had nothing but professionals back there. If you give up a play, hey, it's on to the next play. You have to feed off of each other. You have to have trust and accept your wrongs as you accept others' wrongs. That's what it's all about."
WR DeSean Jackson: Extra chip on the shoulder for 2020
The 2019 season was a difficult one for wide receiver DeSean Jackson, we all know, and he's raring to get back to action and help ignite more playmaking ability into this offense. And, yes, for everyone who says he's "done" or "washed up" or any other negativity, Jackson has a message.
"Man, I'll always have a chip on my shoulder, but, yeah, I definitely have an extra chip on my shoulder," Jackson said. "One thing I can say is I'm always going to have my hard hat on, and I'm coming to work, and I'm going to work hard, and I'm going to give my best effort. We've got a lot of light left, and I'm going to shine on it.
"It was a roller-coaster ride and very frustrating. Humbling at the same time, too, because never in my whole career did I have to go a whole year without being able to play football and being out there with my teammates and brothers and to go to war. I tried everything I could to get back healthy and stay healthy. It was kind of like shooting myself in the foot. I could never really get through it."
S Rodney McLeod: New-look secondary has options
There is still the sense of unknown for an Eagles secondary that saw Malcolm Jenkins leave in free agency and add Slay, cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman, and safety Will Parks. The prospects are enticing, however, for returning safety Rodney McLeod, who returns with a two-year contract.
"There's really no telling what it will look like," McLeod said. "I think everybody has a very unique skill set and that's what's special about this group. Everybody is very versatile and very competitive and that's what you want. You want to create that competitive atmosphere, particularly in the secondary room. Depth is our friend and I'm excited to get out there and compete with everybody.
"There is so much talent to go around."
McLeod has talked about having an added leadership role, but that shouldn't be a huge difference for him. He's always been accountable and front-facing when times are good and not as good. It's going to be important that the secondary really has its communication down with the new faces and with Jalen Mills, now listed as a defensive back, potentially in an expanded role.
"Time on the field and in the classroom," McLeod said. "We'll work through it, but we know we can't have communication breakdowns. Those lead to big plays and we don't want that."
DT Javon Hargrave: This system suits him just fine
Javon Hargrave is happy to "bring what I've got to the table. I'm disruptive. I feel like I can do a little bit of everything." After playing nose tackle in Pittsburgh for four seasons, he will be a defensive tackle here. And the Eagles want him to attack.
"At the end of the day, it's just football," he said. "It took me a while to adjust, but I got it. Here, it's a D-lineman's dream to play in this scheme. They let you get off and go make plays. I'm real excited. That's all I really talk about nowadays, having the opportunity to play in this defense."
S Will Parks: The definition of the hybrid safety
An NFL safety has had his job responsibilities changed so much through the years. It used to be that the free safety played more in coverage and needed speed to cover sideline to sideline. The strong safety helped support the run. And that's the way it was.
A safety has to do everything – in coverage, in space, as a pseudo-linebacker – everything.
"That's the way it is," new safety Will Parks said. "That's what the NFL is looking for these days. The game has definitely changed. You've got tight ends who move like receivers now. You have backs who move like tight ends. You need to have that guy who can be interchangeable so quick throughout the course of the game. That's one of my abilities, to be able to adapt on the fly and understand that the game is changing, and you've got to be able to change with the game."
Parks, a Philadelphia native, attributes his versatility to the way he grew up. He was in a lot of different circumstances early in life and he adjusted. It's carried through to the NFL.
"A whole bunch of different things that have happened in my life have helped me at this level," he said. "I'm thankful for that and I'm going to take advantage of this opportunity."
TE Zach Ertz: "If there is a bright spot …"
When you're married to a professional athlete, schedules can make life together a bit challenging. That's the case, at times, with Zach Ertz and his wife, Julie, one of the world's top soccer players. With both athletes now at home, they're spending the most time together they've had since being married.
"The only good part, in our eyes, is that Julie and I have been together with no end date," Ertz said. "To be a 'normal married couple,' has been a blessing. We're trying to make the most of this time together. We're trying to use this time to connect with people. Everyone is in the same circumstance. We're able to hop on and do a FaceTime with friends and family and be deliberate in that regard."
CB Nickell Robey-Coleman: Coverage inside is fast and multiple
If you don't quite understand the difference between playing outside as a cornerback and inside as a cornerback, allow Nickell Robey-Coleman a chance to explain. It's a bit complicated, so follow along. At the end, it makes a lot of sense.
"A lot of people don't really know about the slot, but it's getting more popular with the way that offenses are changing up their schemes and being more of a passing offense than a running offense," Robey-Coleman said. "In the slot, you can go three different ways. You can go vertical, you can go in, and you can go out. There is no sideline. On the outside, you have the sideline to your advantage. You can use the sideline as your best friend. In the slot, it's straight space. It's all space. It's a different mindset. It's a different progression the way you go about things.
"You also have to be involved in the run fits and you have certain blitzes that are called up. You're involved with all three levels of the defense and you have to be ready because they're going to throw different things at you. On the outside, you can eliminate certain routes because of the sideline. That's the gist of it. The slot is, I would say, undervalued at this point, but the more and more the game goes along, I think the value is going to go up."
LB Jatavis Brown: I'm here to be a playmaker
Perhaps the least-heralded addition to the roster to this point, linebacker Jatavis Brown is looking to make an impact in the Eagles' defense using his speed and relentlessness to add to the linebacker corps.
"It's a good fit for me," he said. "I'm excited to be there."
It's going to be important that Brown makes the most of his time with his playbook, once he's permitted to have his hands on one. The Eagles have an open competition at linebacker and Brown intends to make himself known.
"I'm going to go there and have fun and work hard and play my best football," he said. "I'm excited for a new chapter in my football life. I think it's a situation where you're going to see the best of me in Philadelphia. I can't wait to get started."