Jalen Reagor, bless his innocence, is too young to be intimidated.
He isn't thinking about the time lost when the COVID-19 pandemic robbed the NFL of its on-field practices this past spring. The idea that he would miss four weeks and maybe one or two games in the regular season after suffering a shoulder injury in Training Camp? He rehabbed right past that timeline. Sleeping before his professional debut?
"I slept great," Reagor said, smiling on Tuesday afternoon. "I woke up, went to the stadium, and listened to some music. Relaxing. I felt great going into the game."
And then Reagor went out and flashed what he can do, running past the Washington secondary and hauling in a pass from quarterback Carson Wentz to convert a third-and-22 situation with a 55-yard gain. It was a beauty of a catch as Reagor tracked the pass and caught it over his shoulder in traffic and, oh boy, how good can this kid be someday? Some day soon, even.
See, the Eagles are in a bit of a transition stage on the roster these days. A youth movement that was a 2019-to-2020 priority is taking place, complete with growing pains that were expected. Howie Roseman looks at the roster in chunks of two and three and four years, and the Eagles are, when you take a deep dive, are moving on from the 2017 Super Bowl roster in many respects.
On defense, the Eagles are relying heavily on third-year cornerback Avonte Maddox, a starter. Second-year man T.J. Edwards is a starter at linebacker, alongside fourth-year man Nathan Gerry, a second-year starter, and fourth-year man Duke Riley, a second-season Eagle. Rookie linebacker Shaun Bradley is a core member of the special teams units already.
Josh Sweat is in his third season and is on the rise, likely to mix in at defensive end with veterans Brandon Graham and Derek Barnet for much of the remainder of the season.
On offense, the Eagles have a very young group of running backs – Miles Sanders is in his second season, Boston Scott is in his third year, Jason Huntley is a rookie, and Corey Clement is four years deep into his career. Tight end Dallas Goedert is in his third season and part of the best 1-2 tight end tandem in the NFL. Reagor headlines a young handful of receivers on the active roster that includes Greg Ward (second year on the field), J.J. Arcega-Whiteside (second season), and John Hightower (rookie). Rookie Jalen Hurts is a developmental quarterback.
Along the offensive line, players like rookie Jack Driscoll, who started at right tackle against Washington, lined up next to second-year man Nate Herbig at right guard.
This isn't a wholesale change for the roster. That just doesn't happen in the NFL. And injuries to players like left tackle Andre Dillard (second season) knocked the transition program back just a bit, but the intention remains the same: The Eagles know they are in a season in which the roster is evolving with youth. It doesn't mean the ultimate goal of winning the Super Bowl is compromised – there are no steps back in that department – but it means the Eagles have a lot of moving pieces that need to come together for this season to head in the direction the Eagles want.
"We have to get everybody ready," Head Coach Doug Pederson said. "Yeah, we are asking some of our younger players to step up, but that's what this game is all about. It's the NFL. It's our profession. Doesn't matter how long you've been here. Once you're here, you are expected to produce."
The success of the drafts over the last couple of years are going to come into clear focus in 2021 when the team's salary cap picture tightens and the NFL potentially, because of a drop in revenue this season (no fans in the stands), significantly drops the league's salary cap maximum. If that happens, every team is going to enact cost-cutting measures. The Eagles will be no different. And the drafts of 2018, 2019, and 2020 will be even more in focus as the players selected in those springs are going to be counted on to be starters in many cases.
This is just some food for thought, some perspective on where the Eagles stand. We're all looking forward to seeing the team rebound from the opening-game loss at Washington and beat a good, sound, talented Los Angeles team on Sunday. That is the short-term focus now. At the same time, recognize that the Eagles are a younger team, as was their design in the months that followed the 2019 campaign. Sometimes you have to take the good with the bad, and that's OK. The Eagles have a youth movement happening right before our very eyes. How quickly the kids grow up could well determine the fate of this 2020 season and how far the Eagles go on the wings of the young players on the roster.