Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz isn't going there. Ask him to assess a young player, like cornerback Avonte Maddox as Schwartz did on Sunday after Training Camp practice at the NovaCare Complex, and he is not going to project the future. Schwartz is a veteran in the talk game, too.
"Like a lot of rookies, he has ups and downs, but I think if you look at his trend line, he's trending up, which is a good sign," Schwartz said. "There are always going to be things that those guys struggle with over the course of camp. He's very competitive. He's been playing inside and outside and that's potentially something he might have to do. Maybe not, we'll see. But he's also done a really good job on special teams. We like what he's done so far."
Maddox is one of Schwartz's new pieces in a defense that has so much potential and ability. There has been a lot of conversation about the offense and the flexibility of it, and deservedly so. The Eagles are going to hit defenses with a lot of tough matchups ahead.
But so is the defense. Schwartz can move his pieces up and down the line of scrimmage in every situation. The linebackers have earned rave reviews from the coaching staff all summer, and it's going to be intriguing seeing how Schwartz uses that group. Malcolm Jenkins is the defense's Swiss army knife. The cornerbacks are growing every day. Rodney McLeod and Corey Graham are veterans, good tacklers, and multidimensional.
"It's a cornerstone in the way our defense is going," Schwartz said of the safeties and the way he uses them in the scheme.
In his third year here, Schwartz has what he needs on defense. It all starts with the line, but the way the cornerbacks have grown in a year's time really pushes the defense to a new level. In the NFL, the two most sought-after defensive commodities are pass rushers and cornerbacks, and the Eagles have both.
This is still a work in progress, as it always is. Schwartz doesn't call a whole lot of blitzes during the course of the season, but as we saw in the preseason opener when Jenkins and Bradham shared a sack, it's there when Schwartz wants it.
This is the time in the summer when the defense really comes together. Let's see how Schwartz plays it at New England and then in preseason game No. 3 in Cleveland. The Eagles should be in position to peak going into the season.
TOUGH DECISIONS AHEAD AT RUNNING BACK
As expected when the Eagles began Training Camp, the running back room has been highly competitive and clearly loaded with talent. Jay Ajayi is having a terrific summer and is primed for a big year. Corey Clement has taken the next step from Year 1 to Year 2 as a complete back. Darren Sproles has the quick feet and the great burst and the versatility to line up anywhere in this offense. The Eagles are going to try to get him into some very advantageous matchups. Wendell Smallwood has stayed healthy and is very much in the mix to make the roster. Undrafted rookie Josh Adams had some positive touches (6 carries, 30 yards) in the preseason opener and should have more work in the weeks to come. The disappointment has been the hamstring injury suffered by Donnel Pumphrey which has kept him off the field for the last week. Same with Matt Jones, who missed the game against Pittsburgh. He was back on the field on Saturday. Can the Eagles keep five halfbacks? We'll see how the numbers crunch, but it's not going to be an easy call on the cutdown to 53.
THANK YOU, EAGLES FANS
More than 70,000 fans attended the two public practices at Lincoln Financial Field, which is just amazing. More than that was the way the fans reacted during practice, with "E-A-G-L-E-S, EAGLES!" chants and "FOLES! FOLES! FOLES!" chants and constant great energy. Those kinds of days lift everyone's spirits. Thank you to all who attended. The support is, as always, incredible and appreciated.
THE LATEST ON CARSON WENTZ
I think the way head coach Doug Pederson has used quarterbacks Carson Wentz and Nick Foles in practice has been really smart. He's given them both reps with the starters, so that each quarterback has his timing down with the line and the skill-position players. What's the latest on Wentz? No word, but he looks fluid and is throwing a good football in camp. Foles has his timing back after missing a week of work with the neck/trap muscle spasms. Whenever Wentz is cleared for full activity, he can be ready to start in an instant. He knows the offense and has his chemistry going with the receivers.
LOOKING FOR A SLEEPER?
One of my "Stock Up" players in this camp is linebacker LaRoy Reynolds, who has been excellent on special teams and in the defense. He is physical and gets to the football. It wouldn't surprise me a bit if the Eagles give him meaningful reps at all three linebacker positions.
MOST IMPROVED PLAYER?
Perhaps the most improved player from last year to this year is wide receiver Shelton Gibson. He caught the 63-yard touchdown pass from Nate Sudfeld on Thursday and followed up with strong practices on Saturday and Sunday. It's just so obvious that his confidence level is so much higher than it was a season ago. Of course, Gibson needs to keep it going, but he's stacking some days and earning the confidence of the coaching staff and the quarterbacks.
DALLAS GOEDERT UPDATE
Nothing to report on the injury to tight end Dallas Goedert. He did not practice on Sunday after leaving Saturday's public practice and favoring his arm as he walked into the locker room. The encouraging news is that Goedert watched practice, part of it, anyway, on Sunday. He told reporters after practice that he has an elbow injury which shouldn't keep him out long.
AN UNDERRATED FREE AGENT ADDITION
Richard Rodgers is much more fluid as a pass catcher than he's been given credit for from his days with Green Bay. The Eagles are in an excellent place once again at tight end.