Nobody looks ahead in this business as teams and individuals focus on the present and that's why the Eagles are being very realistic with what they saw in seven weeks – four in a virtual setting and three in the confines of the NovaCare Complex – of the offseason program. How much are you really going to read into on-field work where players are not wearing pads and there is no contact and, in fact, there are no 7-on-7 or 11-on-11 drills? Hey, there wasn't even a chance to see players work in a 1-on-1 environment.
So, what do you take away from the work?
But not enough to engage in "hot takes" with player evaluations. The coaching staff had a chance to evaluate how players learn and retain a high volume of information and then apply that to walkthrough practices. They had a chance to see how coachable the players are with technique work. And everyone watched the players as they moved, so there is a certain degree of evaluation there.
But drawing any conclusions? No, that happens in Training Camp. What the Eagles accomplished in seven weeks was significant as Head Coach Nick Sirianni established the first levels of the foundation of his program, emphasizing connection and fundamentals and football I.Q. and, perhaps most significantly, competition and accountability. Those are the mantras of his method, and those are ingrained in the players after seven weeks of reminders. Sirianni is extremely energetic and hands on and the response from the players was completely positive through the spring.
Now? The players who have been through it all understand the importance of training for the next seven weeks (July 27 is the reporting date for players to the NovaCare Complex). This is going to be a physical Training Camp and preseason summer. Prepping for the physical part is important, as is daily work in the playbook to have the mental side sharp, too.
1. The Eagles won't have to tangle with wide receiver Julio Jones when the regular season opens in Atlanta, as Jones was traded to Tennessee on Sunday. Jones was a monster against the Eagles – catching 41 passes for 703 yards and five touchdowns on 69 targets in five regular-season games, along with the nine-catch, 101-yard game when the Eagles opened their Super Bowl postseason run in the NFC Divisional Playoff round in January of 2018. Atlanta still has a lethal receiving corps, led by wide receiver Calvin Ridley, who had 90 catches for 1,370 yards and nine touchdowns last season. Russell Cage had 72 receptions in 2020, his second NFL season. Atlanta is expected to use first-round draft pick Kyle Pitts, a tight end taken at No. 4 overall, in a multitude of ways to take advantage of his freakish skills. Hayden Hurst is a talented tight end who caught 56 passes and scored six touchdowns a year ago. In other words, understand that Atlanta is still loaded with pass catchers. This will be a challenge for the Eagles' defense.
2. Defensive end Josh Sweat has a lot going for him as he enters his fourth Eagles season. He's healthy, he has been building as a producer, and he has a ton of confidence. Sweat figures to work into a pass-rushing rotation off the edge that includes Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett, Ryan Kerrigan, and others. "I wish we were starting camp right now," he told me last week. "I'm so excited to get it going. I feel really good and I can't wait to get into the defense and see what we can do on the field." Sweat added six quarterback sacks and 38 total tackles last season in a rotational role, adding nine tackles for loss and 12 quarterback hits. All of those numbers were career highs. That's the kind of trending you want in a player who has a terrific get-off, long arms and good athleticism, and is a big piece of what the Eagles want to do up front defensively.
3. Arryn Siposs is the lone punter on the roster at the moment and that could certainly change, but it's clear the team wants to take a long look at him and that the Eagles like what they've seen so far. So, what do we know about Siposs? He played Australian Rules football and is highly athletic. He punted at Auburn and did well there, averaging 44 yards per punt. Siposs signed with Detroit in 2020 and, without the benefit of preseason games, was beaten out for the Lions' job. But Detroit kept him on the practice squad all season, a telling move because it showed that the Lions saw something in Siposs and believed in him. The Eagles signed Siposs to a Reserve/Futures contract on January 13 and here he is. With three preseason games and a full Training Camp ahead, the Eagles will have plenty of opportunities to evaluate Siposs for 2021.
4. One of the more fascinating position groups to watch in Training Camp will be the running backs, fortified with the re-signing of Jordan Howard, who says he is in the best shape of his life, and the additions of Kerryon Johnson off of waivers and Kenneth Gainwell in the NFL Draft. We know that Miles Sanders is the guy here. He's primed for a big season in his third year with a strong offensive line in front of him. What happens behind Sanders? Boston Scott is a productive, versatile player. Seeing how the Eagles use Gainwell and his receiving skills will be part of the intrigue. And seeing how Johnson responds in a new environment is also important.
5. Watching DeVonta Smith on the practice field, even without the pads and the defense in his face, is just a joy. He's so smooth catching the football. His body control is obvious. Smith, said to be one who pays attention to every detail, appeared to do just that in the spring. This is a young group at wide receiver, so Smith fits right in as a leader with his maturity and sense of purpose. Can't wait to see the wide receiver-cornerback battles in Training Camp.
6. Speaking of which ... who lines up as the starters at cornerback? This has been discussed so many times, but there isn't an answer right now other than Darius Slay on one side. Avonte Maddox is going to be in the mix. He's a veteran who has played a bunch of snaps here. Who else? There are several young players who will get a long look during Training Camp. Michael Jacquet started two games at the end of 2020. Zech McPhearson will have plenty of opportunities to win playing time as a rookie. The Eagles acquired Josiah Scott from Jacksonville and added some young veterans this offseason like Shakial Taylor, among others.
7. While much of the roster is set for Training Camp, don't forget that there are still opportunities to add players via waivers, trade, or free agency. The Eagles have been able to find many contributors in this fashion over the years, and Howie Roseman and Andy Weidl have often talked about how roster-building is a year-round endeavor. Players like Jay Ajayi, LeGarrette Blount, Ronald Darby, Tim Jernigan, Cre'Von LeBlanc, and Chris Long are just some examples of Eagles who were all added at various points after the initial wave of free agency and made contributions to the team. The Eagles remain a work in progress, but there is plenty to be excited about as the team winds down their offseason program and gears up for Training Camp.