Philadelphia Eagles News

Lawlor: Training Camp Off To A Strong Start

  • One of the key themes at camp is competition. This isn't just a buzzword that Doug Pederson throws around for fun. He means it. The Eagles want guys competing in every way and on a daily basis. There are some roster situations where there is obvious competition.

Training Camp is underway and that means there is some real football being played in Philadelphia. Players are wearing pads. They are hitting. There is real contact. There isn't much in the way of tackling, that comes starting Tuesday, but the days of guys just running around in shorts are over. 

All eyes are on Carson Wentz. The Eagles' star quarterback is working his way back from December's ACL injury. Just watching him casually, you would never know that he was moving around on a surgically repaired knee. Needless to say, that's a great sign. The Eagles are being smart as they work Wentz into practice. He's not out there for every drill and session. They are mixing him in carefully, making sure to give him time to rest and recover. 

It would be short-sighted to say "Carson looks great" and assume everything is fine. Injuries are tricky. The medical staff teamed up with the coaches to figure out the best way to get Wentz the right amount of practice reps. The real test for Wentz will be when he can take a hit. That might happen in camp or a preseason game or the team could be very cautious and wait for the regular season. 

Wentz has impressed everyone who has attended the practices so far. He's throwing the ball accurately and with great velocity. Wentz looks like a player who wants to build off the success he had in 2017. Some young guys struggle with success. They relax and lose the edge that helped them play so well. It sure sounds like Wentz is as driven as ever. That's good news for the Eagles and bad news for the other 31 teams.

One of the key themes at camp is competition. This isn't just a buzzword that Doug Pederson throws around for fun. He means it. The Eagles want guys competing in every way and on a daily basis. There are some roster situations where there is obvious competition. The Eagles have a group of players battling to be the weakside linebacker. Kamu Grugier-Hill and Corey Nelson have shared the job all spring and summer. Grugier-Hill is the better athlete. Nelson is more experienced and has better cover skills. You also can't count out Nathan Gerry. He's played both outside spots in practice and actually started at the weakside spot on Saturday.

The Eagles are deep at cornerback for the first time in a while. That means players are battling for roster spots and playing time. For now, Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby are the starters on the outside. Sidney Jones and De'Vante Bausby are battling for the nickel spot. Rasul Douglas is trying to make his case for playing time. D.J. Killings and Avonte Maddox are doing everything they can to impress the coaches.

None of those players can relax. They are pushing each other. Mills is playing lights out. Jones has shown the talent that had teams thinking of him as a top-10 pick before his Pro Day injury. Bausby is playing the best ball of his young career. This is exactly what coaches want. Players aren't panicking. These guys are embracing the challenge, and it has brought out the best in them so far.

With the Eagles trying to repeat as Super Bowl Champs, it is interesting to see how they handle certain positions. Some teams would feel like every position has to have proven veterans there. The Eagles are comfortable with giving young players a shot to show what they can do.

Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod are one of the best safety duos in the league. The players behind them are unproven. The Eagles are letting Tre Sullivan, Jeremy Reaves, Stephen Roberts, and Ryan Neal fight for jobs. Sullivan was with the team last year, but the rest are rookies. As you would expect, Sullivan has looked the best so far. The Eagles could make a move here, but for now they are letting the young guys show what they can do.

Alshon Jeffery is out with an injury and second-year receiver Mack Hollins is starting in his place. Hollins only caught 16 passes as a rookie, but he got plenty of playing time and the coaches trust him. Hollins has played well so far, showing the ability that has the coaches so excited about his future.

Tim Jernigan is out as well. Destiny Vaeao has started in his place. Vaeao has played in 27 games and two career sacks. The Eagles are giving him a chance to start for now. There hasn't been enough contact to judge a defensive tackle.

There are some new faces in camp. Michael Bennett has looked really good so far. He's mainly worked against the backup offensive line, but has regularly gotten pressure and been disruptive. That's exactly what you want from him.

Receiver Mike Wallace has flashed his breakaway speed. Eagles quarterbacks have underthrown him a few times as they adjust to his speed. Torrey Smith was fast, but Wallace is on another level. Pederson loves to call deep pass plays and Wallace gives him a gifted deep target.

Rookie Dallas Goedert has looked terrific. He has shown the ability to get open consistently and has caught everything thrown his way. He could add another dimension to the offense.

Brent Celek was an outstanding blocker, but his ability as a receiver had regressed in recent years. He caught the ball well, but his athleticism was losing out to age. Goedert is bigger, quicker, faster, and a better pass-catcher. The coaches may not look at him as just an option, but rather someone they actually design plays for.

There are a couple of questions for Goedert. Can he be an effective blocker? We still don't know the answer to that. How will he handle the physicality of the NFL? We don't know the answer to that either. More practices and some preseason games will give us answers to both questions.

The 2018 Training Camp is off to a great start. Injured players look to be on the mend. Young players are stepping up in several roles. The new guys are fitting in well and making you believe this team could actually be better than last year's squad.

Tommy Lawlor, goeagles99 on the Eagles Message Boards, is an amateur football scout and devoted Eagles fan. He is the editor of IgglesBlitz.com.

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