Everything changes now.
The players are in the NovaCare Complex. The intensity is another level higher. Training Camp is here for the Eagles – Tuesday was Report Day, with the mandatory conditioning tests taken – and the evaluations are made on a day-to-day basis. It's a fresh start for every player with a new coaching staff in place and, as Head Coach Nick Sirianni has stressed, each starting job and each roster position must be earned.
With that in mind, how do the Eagles look as we translate the impressions from on paper to on the field? We'll learn as we go along. The Eagles have six weeks of practices, including joint stints against New England and the Jets, as well as three preseason games, to figure it all out and emerge with the best 53 players for 2021. Two of those practices, August 8 and August 22, are open to the public at Lincoln Financial Field. With that, some storylines (updated version):
1. Can the offensive line lead?
Brandon Brooks is back and he looks great. Same with Lane Johnson. They both say they have something to prove – that they are the best right-side combination in the NFL. If that's the case, the Eagles are going to be in very good shape up front. The battle at left tackle – Jordan Mailata and Andre Dillard – is something to watch, and that competition should bring out the best in both players. Some young linemen are going to push the starters – namely, Jack Driscoll and Nate Herbig – giving the Eagles plenty of depth across the board.
It all starts up front in the NFL and the Eagles think they have as good a picture up front as any team. If you have a great offensive line, the rest of the offense is going to follow.
2. Adapting the offense to Jalen Hurts' skills
Head Coach Nick Sirianni has said it many times, how important it is to adapt an offensive structure around the skills of the players on the field. And while the quarterback position is not set in stone with Joe Flacco and Nick Mullens in the mix along with Hurts, the Eagles will be prepared should Hurts win the job this summer. His skill set is one that includes great athletic ability and legs to inflict damage on defenses, so how does Sirianni and Offensive Coordinator Shane Steichen incorporate that threat into the X's and O's? In Indianapolis, the quarterbacks during Sirianni's time there got the football out quickly, rarely took sacks, and minimized the giveaways. That's likely one of the mandates for the quarterbacks here as well.
3. Youth served at wide receiver
Boy, oh boy, is this a young group. So yes, it's possible that rookie No. 1 draft pick DeVonta Smith could step right in and be a leader in the room. Greg Ward, Travis Fulgham, and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside have been around the league for a few seasons and all three are here to compete for playing time, so it's not inconceivable that Smith, given his production at Alabama, establishes himself very early in his career. Factor in 2019 first-round pick Jalen Reagor and the Eagles have one of the youngest wide receiver groups, top to bottom, in recent memory. That isn't a bad thing. It's just the way it is. The kids are going to be asked to grow up in a hurry to produce in this passing game.
4. Talent and versatility at tight end
We don't know how much Sirianni plans to use his tight ends, but he's going to have some options. Zach Ertz, Dallas Goedert, and Richard Rodgers are three veterans who, as we know, have been highly productive in this league. The Eagles are well-stocked at the position, and they can create favorable matchups with this group, so we'll get a taste of Sirianni's plan in the weeks ahead. Just understand that as everyone obsesses over the wide receivers – as Eagles fans do every single season – the tight ends are going to be a major part of this offense in a variety of ways.
5. Depth has never been more important at RB
Welcome to a 17-game season. Maybe it doesn't sound like a huge jump to you but it is certainly a lot more to absorb for the players and running back is a position that is going to need depth more than maybe any other group. Does it make sense that teams are going to need four running backs they can count on through the course of the season? Developing backs for the active roster and for the practice squad has never been more important. Miles Sanders may be the lead man here and Boston Scott would seem to be in a strong spot to be the No. 2, but players like Jordan Howard, Kerryon Johnson, and rookie Kenneth Gainwell are going to be especially important as they work into the offensive flow. Jason Huntley is back for his second season, so we'll see how he fits into this scheme. Elijah Holyfield brings some power and a driving running style to the mix. Depth is so critical here. Every player is important.
6. Integrating new faces on defense
I wrote about this on Monday, how important it is for Defensive Coordinator Jonathan Gannon to bring newcomers Ryan Kerrigan, Eric Wilson, Anthony Harris, Steven Nelson, and Andrew Adams, among others, up to speed. Most have been here through the spring, so it shouldn't be all that crazy hard, but Nelson is just walking into the locker room on Tuesday and, well, it doesn't just happen overnight. Gannon and his staff have some coaching to do. He wants a physical, aggressive, and high-IQ approach to playing defense. He wants to take the football away. To do that, everyone has to be on the same page.
7. What does a new scheme mean for holdover players?
Brandon Graham has been a hand-in-the-dirt defensive end, a standup edge rusher, and an inside nickel pass rusher in his career. He's been outstanding with every new chore thrown his way. What does Gannon have in mind for Graham now? How about Fletcher Cox? This is a question that applies to every player from last year's defense, because what Gannon is bringing to the table is expected to be quite a bit different than what Jim Schwartz employed. We will find out which players might be impacted here, who might be asked to do something different than the role they've played in past seasons. It's going to be so interesting watching this Eagles defense.
8. At punter, introducing Arryn Siposs
There is one punter on the roster now, and his name is Arryn Siposs. The Eagles clearly like what they know of him and what they saw from him in the spring, so he's going to be the guy as Training Camp begins. A former Australian Rules Football player, Siposs punted at Auburn and last season spent the year on the Lions' practice squad and he is now in prime position to win the punter job here. The Eagles need a holder for Jake Elliott on field goals, so Siposs has a lot on his plate in camp.
9. Energy in abundance on the coaching staff
This is a young coaching staff that has real, genuine enthusiasm. They follow Sirianni's lead, which is to say the approach is to bring energy and a hands-on approach to the table every day. The NovaCare Complex is vibrant with camp opening. There isn't a coach in the NFL more excited right now than Nick Sirianni. He's ready to go! That kind of energy is infectious. Let's see how he conducts practices and how demanding he is and how accountable the players are for their actions on the field.
10. Building chemistry on and off the field
One of Sirianni's mantras is to "connect," and that means building great trust and chemistry on the field and away from the game. You are going to hear how much of a priority Sirianni places on this, because it's very important. On-field competitions, off-field events and fun and games – all of that is part of what Sirianni wants to build here.
Camp is underway at the NovaCare Complex! They're on the field, which changes everything. The evaluation process is happening, step by step, as the Eagles build toward their season opener in Atlanta.