Everything was in place the way it will be when the Rams visit Lincoln Financial Field on September 20: the benches, the tunnel, the pregame music and warmup routine. It was the "dress rehearsal" for the regular season and the Eagles went out on a sun-drenched Sunday and conducted an intrasquad scrimmage that was as revealing as it was cool. Being in the stadium felt great, even if the absence of fans left a void that just couldn't be replaced, no matter how much crowd noise filled the emptiness of the stands.
This is the home stretch of Training Camp, folks. And there are several things to talk about with a football team that has one eye on Saturday, when the roster must be reduced to 53 players, and another eye on the Washington Football Team, the opponent on September 13 when the regular season begins. What's going on with the Eagles? Plenty, featured in a six-pack of topics …
1. Questions along the offensive line
The questions are legitimate with the absence of right guard Brandon Brooks (Achilles tendon) and left tackle Andre Dillard (biceps): Who is playing those two positions? The Eagles have Jason Peters, who seems to have acclimated nicely at right guard, but he's also an option at left tackle should the Eagles go in that direction. Matt Pryor has taken the reps with the No. 1 unit the last couple of days of practice. On the right side, Lane Johnson remains day to day with a lower-body injury, so the Eagles are giving Jordan Mailata a lot of very valuable reps. Players like Nate Herbig and Jack Driscoll need to mature quickly and show they can be counted on for quality backup reps.
This is a position the Eagles haven't been in for many, many seasons – having an unsettled offensive line heading into the regular season. We're going to find out right away how much the Eagles can survive without two projected starters, because Washington's front seven is among the best in the NFL.
2. The injuries keep on coming
There is no need, per NFL rules, to present an official injury list with specific injuries. So, much of what we think we know about the Eagles' injuries is vague, but clearly concerning. Key defensive linemen Derek Barnett (lower-body injury) and Javon Hargrave (upper-body injury) have yet to practice. Running back Miles Sanders (lower body) hasn't practiced for a couple of weeks, but he's at practice in his jersey every day, if you're looking for optimism. Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery remains on the Physically Unable to Perform list as he recovers from last season's foot surgery. The offensive line, see above. Quarterback Carson Wentz didn't practice on Sunday with a lower-body injury and is listed as day to day. Wide receiver Jalen Reagor suffered an injury and was taken to the trainer's room and it was later reported that he suffered a shoulder injury, although the Eagles have not substantiated that report. Most of the players listed on the daily injury reports will return for the regular season, but when?
This is the way of the world in the league – shortened prep time usually equals more injuries – so the key is getting these players back into the action as quickly as possible. The combination of injuries and the potential for players becoming infected with COVID-19 means the Eagles have to be great at preparing the practice squad, up to 16 players, and establishing a go-to emergency list beyond the practice squad.
There are a lot of injuries. Some are going to impact the season – Brooks and Dillard already have. Some of these are just the nature of the game. Either way, the Eagles could use some good fortune here closing in on September 13.
3. Who is winning starting jobs?
Jalen Mills looks like a natural safety. Avonte Maddox has established himself as the starting cornerback opposite Darius "Big Play" Slay. T.J. Edwards and Nathan Gerry, along with Duke Riley, are in line to get a lot of reps at linebacker. On offense, Greg Ward has commanded the starting slot receiver position. The offensive line has openings, of which we are well aware. There is not much time to decide who is playing where, but Offensive Line Coach/Run Game Coordinator Jeff Stoutland always seems to come up with the right answer.
4. Training Camp standouts
Just to name a few … second-year wide receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside looks so much more improved from last season. He's confident, he's more explosive, and he has shown up and made plays. So has rookie John Hightower, every day. He has work to do, but Hightower has something there. Reagor was having a terrific camp until his injury on Sunday. Defensive tackle Malik Jackson looks like he has recovered from his 2019 foot injury and he's going to be a big part of things on defense. Third-year defensive end Josh Sweat has taken a jump – it's going to be interesting to watch him in the regular season. He's had an excellent summer. Running back Elijah Holyfield is playing strong football. Left guard Isaac Seumalo is a solid, strong, dominating player.
And, by the way, wide receiver DeSean Jackson looks sensational. Keep your fingers crossed with No. 10 …
5. The changing looks of the secondary
You get the sense that maybe, just maybe, Defensive Coordinator Jim Schwartz can do a lot of things from a coverage standpoint and a pressure standpoint because he has so many interchangeable pieces in the secondary. He's going to have guys coming in and going out and it's going to be very confusing to offenses. Nickell Robey-Coleman is an underrated addition who is going to help so much as the nickel cornerback, with Cre'Von LeBlanc a fine option who can also play outside. Will Parks has been used in a variety of ways this summer. It all starts with Slay, of course, and there are going to be times – to be determined how many times – he takes on a single receiver and doesn't let go.
The Eagles haven't had this kind of versatility in the secondary – players who can cover, who can blitz, who can play in the box – and we'll see how Schwartz plays around with his scheme in the course of using all of these pieces.
6. What we think we know
We think the Eagles are going to have a ferocious defensive front. We think the offense is going to be tight end-centric in many ways. We think the offense has explosive playmakers at the skill positions. We think Wentz has a good situation around him offensively. We think the rookie class – Reagor, for sure – can contribute. We think the offensive line, when all is said and done, will be one that most other teams wish they had. We think the Eagles have one of the premier coaching staffs in the league.
And now we look ahead to a critical final week before the roster is cut down and the entire focus turns to Washington. It's a critical, exciting time for a team that had a taste of gameday on Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field.