The Eagles begin Organized Team Activities on Tuesday at the NovaCare Complex, and the big difference as they start Phase 3 of the offseason program is that the players, who are at the facility for six hours three days a week and there for four hours on the fourth day, can get on the field and play some 11-on-11 spring football. Remember, though: No pads, no contact, no tackling.
But football as it exists in the spring, nonetheless. And for head coach Doug Pederson, another chance to evaluate and assess what he has on this roster.
"We can compete, offense versus defense, have more of a practice session, not real long, take what we've done in Phase 2 and put it together in Phase 3," Pederson said. "Continue to develop our younger players, our new players and we get to do that for the next three or four weeks."
The biggest objective?
"We want to continue to teach fundamentals, teach basics, because that's what is going to carry us during the season," Pederson said. "And no injuries. That's extremely important."
The Eagles have had some significant change to the roster, par for the course in the NFL's offseason. But when you really boil it down, the front liners remain essentially the same as what started – and for the most part ended – 2017. Starting wide receiver Torrey Smith was traded to Carolina and replaced by Mike Wallace. Nickel cornerback Patrick Robinson signed with New Orleans in free agency and needs to be replaced (Robinson, although technically not a starter, played 69 percent of the team's defensive snaps in 2017). Running back LeGarrette Blount, who played in 31 percent of the snaps in the team's running back-by-committee approach, is going to have his reps eaten up by Jay Ajayi, Corey Clement, and Darren Sproles.
For a team that had a lot of sticky contract situations, the Super Bowl champions come back remarkably intact. And they look forward to having star left tackle Jason Peters, middle linebacker Jordan Hicks, quarterback Carson Wentz, special teams ace Chris Maragos, and Sproles healthy after missing the playoff sprint last season.
Those five players are unlikely to see action in the 11-on-11 work in these OTAs, but they are all on course recovering from their injuries. When Training Camp rolls around, we'll see where they are in terms of being ready to play football.
For the next few weeks – right up until June 14 when the OTAs end – the Eagles will ramp up the evaluations, keeping in mind that there are no pads and no tackling. There are going to be some interesting positions/players/battles to watch …
- Cornerback is one of the most crowded positions on the roster, as is wide receiver. So even though there isn't any tackling, the coaching staff will get a better sense of some of the "natural" movements of the two positions, along with things like consistency in catching the football, using the techniques being taught, route running, etc. A lot of these evaluations change – wait, all of them change – when the pads go on, but this is the next step.
- With Wentz not taking part, we'll see a lot of Nick Foles and, especially, Nate Sudfeld, taking major reps at quarterback. I think we all have a pretty good sense of what Foles can do, but not so much with Sudfeld. He played pretty well in the regular-season finale against Dallas, completing 19 of 23 passes, so there is a sense of excitement with Sudfeld after a full offseason in the system. Can he develop into a top-rate No. 2 quarterback? Can he be a starter in the NFL? With Wentz "The Franchise" and the team's signal-caller for the next decade, the Eagles need to keep the line of succession going. Where will Sudfeld be in two or three seasons? These next few weeks will tell just a little bit of that tale.
- Offensive line is a position to watch in the developmental sense, particularly late-round draft picks Matt Pryor and Jordan Mailata. There won't be any one-on-one sessions with defensive linemen rushing the quarterback, but the mental retention from what line coach Jeff Stoutland teaches in the classroom and how it translates to the practice field is extremely important.
- It would be wonderful to say that running back is a position to really start to understand beyond the players we know – Ajayi, Clement, Sproles, Wendell Smallwood – but let's understand that spring football is Fool's Gold at that position. Second-year back Donnel Pumphrey has to show up in a big way to make a positive impression. Same with veteran free agent Matt Jones. But without the pads, we just don't know.
- The rookies are going to be in the spotlight, particularly tight end Dallas Goedert, the team's first draft pick. Let's see how much the Eagles move him around the formation and how he responds mentally and physically. And cornerback Avonte Maddox, a leading contender to replace Robinson, is going to have to hold up and be productive every day. The other three draft picks – Pryor, Mailata, and defensive end Josh Sweat – appear to be down-the-line (literally) prospects.
- And this will be the first look – on a full-time, he's-the-only-guy basis– at punter/holder Cameron Johnston. It's all about consistency for Johnston, who is going to be a very busy guy for the next three weeks before the Eagles break and enjoy the layoff prior to the start of Training Camp in late July at the NovaCare Complex.