Now, the logjam is starting to break and we're seeing Training Camp through the trees. Draft picks are agreeing to contract terms. Team facilities are putting the finishing touches on months of preparation for a safe working environment in the NFL. If you try really hard, you can almost smell football in the air …
With that said, the Eagles are, in a sense, on their very own clock. We're moving toward real football on the field. Let's discuss some topics on hand.
What's happening now
Monday was a day to complete the paperwork as the Eagles wrapped up contract details with the 2020 Draft Class, including No. 1 draft pick WR Jalen Reagor. The team has historically been great at making sure the rookies are under contract and on the field when practice begins, so finishing the draft class on Monday was no surprise. And as for when the rookies will actually step on the field, that date hasn't yet become official. You get the sense that, given the way the news is moving so quickly with the NFLPA and the league continuing talks on the protocols to be put in place for camp, the preseason, and the regular season, that teams are going to get the word to "go," and that everything is going to move very, very fast. Kansas City and Houston, the teams that open the regular season on September 10, are scheduled to have their rookies report on Monday. We're all watching.
A new-look offensive line
Lane Johnson is stoked on the idea that Jason Peters, an idol since Johnson joined the Eagles in 2013, is going to line up next to him in the season ahead. Peters makes the move from left tackle to right guard and, well, Johnson thinks it's going to work out just fine.
"He's such a rare athlete. I think the transition may be a little tough at first when he's practicing, but once he gets it down, I don't see it really being a problem because of the type of athlete he is," Johnson said on Monday's Eagles Insider Podcast, which also features former Eagle Tra Thomas talking about the move from left tackle to right guard, and Merrill Reese and Ray Didinger discussing the historical significance of such a move. "Playing next to him is going to be a dream of mine. I'm ready to be a dominant right side of the line with him."
The Eagles are going with, on paper at this point, Andre Dillard at left tackle, Isaac Seumalo at left guard, Jason Kelce at center, Peters at right guard, and Johnson at right tackle. Matt Pryor is the sixth lineman who can play at either guard spot and, really, he can fill in at tackle as well, although moving Peters to tackle in an emergency might be the preferred move. The Eagles then have a handful of young linemen they really need to bring along and that's going to be a challenge for line coaches Jeff Stoutland and Roy Istvan. Reps, reps and more reps are the key.
Speaking of position groups …
What starting jobs remain up in the air, so to speak? Well, health will determine much of who starts at wide receiver, with DeSean Jackson and Alshon Jeffery the leading candidates on the outside, and Greg Ward in the slot. While the Eagles are super high on Reagor and the draft class, as well as veteran Marquise Goodwin, acquired in a draft weekend trade, they haven't seen any of them in uniform. So, let's reserve some expectations here until the coaching staff has a better sample size to evaluate. Defensively, the linebacker corps has some questions and the second cornerback spot is going to be a competition on the other side from Darius Slay. While Jalen Mills is going to be the leader, so to speak, taking over a starting safety job, Will Parks is an NFL veteran who is here to push for playing time. The nickel cornerback spot is up for grabs with Cre'Von LeBlanc and newly acquired Nickell Robey-Coleman battling.
The overriding question is, though, just how much 11-on-11 work will the league permit in Training Camp, and how difficult is it going to be for coaching staffs and personnel departments to evaluate the players in limited on-field action? Fascinating stuff ahead, no doubt.
Going from 90 players to 53 players won't be easy
There are all kinds of specifics still undecided as the NFL moves forward, including the amount of hitting and on-field work the players are going to get – preseason games, anyone? – and that's going to put a lot of pressure on the personnel departments around the league to get it right reducing the roster to 53 players. Does it mean that teams won't be as aggressive looking around the league for players who hit the waiver wire? How does an undrafted player make a roster? Do coaches cut down on the playbook and keep it as simple as possible? There are so many moving parts here, and as long as the NFL is heading toward a regular season, we're all pleased. It's safe to say, though, that nothing is etched in stone in any way during this pandemic that is now in its fifth month.