A group of about 75-80 season ticket members visited the NovaCare Complex on Wednesday night as part of the ongoing AAA Insider Series and toured the building, met the Vince Lombardi Trophy and posed for pictures, had some bites and a drink or two, and then settled in for a roundtable conversation with Eagles legends Bill Bergey, William Thomas, and Hollis Thomas.
It was a fun evening, a bit of a primer with Training Camp a week away, and among the conversations was the length of the regular-season schedule (William Thomas: "Sixteen games is fine with me. I never wanted any more than that. Coming from college, it feels like you're playing two seasons that first year.") to the preseason schedule (Hollis Thomas: "Three games is fine. Two for the players you know are going to make the team and one for those guys who are on the bubble.") to the mentality of a player in Training Camp (Bill Bergey: "I was the strange one. I loved every bit of camp. The dew on the grass. The work. The sweat. You couldn't give me enough of that.").
At the end of the conversation, after the raffle prizes were given out – some autographed pictures, autographed footballs, and a cool helmet autographed by many on the current team – the alumni gave their predictions for the season. Bergey stayed away from numbers, but promised a successful season for the Eagles. William Thomas said 13 wins. Hollis Thomas said 12 wins. All of them have high hopes for what is ahead with this football team.
Don't we all? Much of the challenge for the Eagles is to live up to those expectations, to stay focused in the here and now, and to improve on a daily basis. What people think about the Eagles at this moment means, let's be honest, a whole lotta nothing. Every team is 0-0. Every team has high hopes. That's what makes the NFL so special. Worst to first happens, as we all know very well.
Anyway, a week from now we're going to be kicking off Training Camp. THE PLAYERS WILL BE ON THE FIELD!! WE'LL ACTUALLY SEE THE EAGLES IN ACTION AND GET A SENSE OF WHAT KIND OF TEAM THIS WILL BE!!
So, we're all eyes and ears. And I've got a list here of Five Intriguing Players to Watch in this 2019 Eagles Training Camp. Quarterback Carson Wentz isn't on the list because, well, I know what kind of player Wentz is and he was out there throughout the spring, and I'm very well versed in the great game he brings to the table. Same with wide receiver DeSean Jackson and the veterans who have been here through the years.
This is a list that's a bit off the beaten path. But they are all intriguing, nonetheless …
Sidney Jones, cornerback
OK, so Sidney Jones is in his third season here and the expectation was that we would know all about him by this point. But we don't. He played only that regular-season finale as a rookie and then had season No. 2 marred by a recurring hamstring injury. What is Sidney Jones? We're going to find out, because Jones is squarely in the thick of an extremely interesting cornerback picture. Jones, who was predicted to be a top-10 to 15 draft pick prior to suffering an Achilles tendon injury prior to the 2017 NFL Draft, has nothing guaranteed. Is he going to be a starter? Is he going to be a backup? Does he make the roster? Maybe that's a bit of a reach – that he doesn't make the 53-man roster – but who really knows? The Eagles have a lot of promising young players at cornerback combined with incumbent veteran starters returning from injury (Ronald Darby, Jalen Mills) and, honestly, the entire depth chart at this position is going to be a fascinating battle to follow. Jones has to be at his best every day in Training Camp and then in the preseason games. He has a great challenge in front of him.
Miles Sanders, running back
Nobody denies that Miles Sanders is an extremely talented young running back. But he's also got a lot to learn in a short period of time, a situation exacerbated by his missing the entire spring on-field work because of a hamstring injury. Sanders has to show, No. 1, that he's healthy. That's the most important thing here. No. 2, he has to get comfortable in the offense, perfect his timing, show he can pass block and run routes and do all the things that running backs coach/assistant head coach Duce Staley demands of his room. Sanders has a chance to contribute as a rookie but, again, there is absolutely nothing guaranteed here. The Eagles have a sneaky-talented running back room. Sanders has to show something to get on the field in his first season.
Jordan Mailata, offensive tackle
We're in the second season of the Jordan Mailata Experiment, which now moves from left tackle to right tackle. Mailata is in a different place now, with a full season of NFL football under his belt. The question is: Can Jordan Mailata play good football in a game right now? Training Camp is going to help answer that question. As much as we all want to see No. 1 draft pick Andre Dillard in his first camp, the curiosity factor with Mailata remains.
Charles Johnson, wide receiver
There is going to be some intense competition for a roster spot or two at wide receiver, and Charles Johnson is in the race along with players like Mack Hollins – who has worked so very hard to get back to full health after missing last season with a groin injury – Shelton Gibson, and a host of younger receivers. Well, Johnson is the veteran of the group. He's been around the NFL since 2013. He's never really found solid, long-term footing. He'll have to play special teams to make it here and he will have to show up every day in camp, but he's got a good bit of talent and he's coming off a strong spring showing. This is going to be a spirited competition for the job or two behind receivers Jackson, Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside.
Josh Sweat, defensive end
The Eagles are on the search for depth at defensive end and second-year man Josh Sweat is among the players who the team expects to stand up and stand out in this camp. A fourth-round draft pick in 2018, Sweat played in nine games and had 68 defensive snaps before an ankle injury ended his rookie season. Now? Sweat has to earn his way onto this roster and the field. It won't be easy with a lot of competition on the edge.
An extremely talented player, Sweat now has to live up to that talent. Potential is a dangerous word in the NFL. It's all about production, not potential. Sweat has to produce this summer to make it here.