It was just a normal Wednesday practice, but it really wasn't. Back from the bye week, with half of a regular season in front of them, the Eagles welcomed back a large handful of players who could significantly impact the win/loss record the rest of the way. Maybe it will start on Sunday at the New York Giants, maybe it will happen later, but the Eagles are becoming whole – as close to it as we've seen for most of this season, anyway – and that's great news.
Who's back? Well, in one way or another, the Eagles welcomed back three key members of their offensive line, a rising star at running back, a productive veteran at wide receiver … the kinds of players who can make a difference down the stretch. Here is who was back on the field as the Eagles went indoors at the NovaCare Complex on a rainy Wednesday and what their roles could be moving forward …
RB Miles Sanders
Give him the football in every way possible. As noted last week, the belief here is that the Eagles can build the offense around Sanders, the second-year player who has been plagued by hamstring and knee injuries since Training Camp. Sanders had just 71 rushing attempts – plus 12 receptions – in the first half of the season, a number that needs to blow up accordingly in the next eight weeks. How does 20 to 25 touches each game sound? Sanders gives the Eagles an explosive element in the running game and the passing game, and he should improve the offense's efficiency in the red zone, where the Eagles rank 11th in the NFL in touchdown percentage.
The Eagles banked on Sanders being the lead dog in the running game and his health hasn't allowed that to happen. Boston Scott has done a nice job picking up the slack and Corey Clement and Jason Huntley have shown some flashes, but let's understand just how much Sanders means. He had a pair of 74-yard runs among those 71 carries and averaged 6.1 yards per carry (86.8 rushing yards per game). Sanders is back, hopefully healthy and ready to upgrade – big time – the Eagles' offense in a variety of ways.
WR Alshon Jeffery
It is still not certain if Jeffery is going to be given the green light for Sunday at the Giants, but he is closing in as he was a full participant for the first time this season on Wednesday. And when he does return, Jeffery will be in a less-familiar role. The wide receiver position has transitioned in 2020 to a young group led now by Travis Fulgham and first-round draft pick Jalen Reagor. Slot receiver Greg Ward is in his second season there. John Hightower is the take-a-shot rookie who is separating down the field and Quez Watkins is another draft pick who can run like the wind and is developing. J.J. Arcega-Whiteside is progressing in his second season.
Where would Jeffery fit in? How would he fit in? Both answers are unclear. Fulgham isn't going to lose reps. Reagor is on the upswing now that he's healthy. Maybe Jeffery works in slowly and the Eagles see how it all develops. Maybe Reagor or Fulgham move into the slot and challenge Ward. The Eagles have options here, and that is the exciting part of things. Jeffery, with his big body and large catch radius, can create favorable matchups, particularly in the red zone.
RT Lane Johnson
The man is doing everything he can to get back on the field as he battles knee and ankle problems. There is no doubt that Johnson wants to play Sunday against the Giants. If he can go, boy, would that be a boost for an offensive line that has played musical chairs all season. The good news is that the knee injury wasn't listed on the report. Stay tuned on this one throughout the week. Johnson played 74 percent of the snaps in the first meeting against the Giants, 60 snaps, as he toughed it out. The Eagles would love to have him in the lineup for 100 percent of all games because, well, he's one of the very best offensive linemen in the NFL.
LG Isaac Seumalo
His 21-day practice window has been activated, so Isaac Seumalo is itching to jump back into the starting role at left guard. When he returns – and it could be Sunday at New York – Seumalo will start at left guard. IF the Eagles can get back Seumalo and Johnson, they can start an offensive line that actually looks fairly normal – Jason Peters at left tackle, Seumalo at left guard, Jason Kelce at center, Matt Pryor/Nate Herbig at right guard, and Johnson at right tackle. Jordan Mailata becomes a swing tackle. Pryor/Herbig would be the swing guard. There would be depth! Oh, the joy!
OL Jack Driscoll
This is an impressive rookie who we haven't seen since the Baltimore game when, on his 55th snap of the afternoon, got rolled up on and was carted to the locker room with an ankle injury. Driscoll practiced on Wednesday and potentially provides much-needed depth along the offensive line. You see what's happening around the NFL, right? Teams are being decimated by offensive line injuries. If the Eagles can get Johnson, Seumalo, and Driscoll back, the offensive line gains starting talent and depth heading into the final two months of the regular season. That would be huge.
DT Malik Jackson
A quad injury has hampered Jackson the last couple of games and the rotation at defensive tackle has been altered – and impeded. Having Jackson back gives the defensive line some needed versatility and depth and, of course, major talent. Jackson is someone to watch in the final eight games. He is disruptive when healthy. The Eagles could use his run-stopping skills and his ability to rush the quarterback.