Maybe it's not quite accurate to call Will Parks a safety. He's the new version of what Brian Dawkins was, and in fact he credits Dawkins for the new definition of the position.
"B-Dawk, you didn't know where he was going to be from one play to the next. That's kind of what I'm doing out there," Parks said.
The evolution of the Eagles' secondary with Darius Slay in at one cornerback position, with Nickell Robey-Coleman competing with Cre'Von LeBlanc for the nickel job, with Jalen Mills moving to safety, along with Parks competing there, with a lot of competition at the other cornerback spot, and with a plan to employ a lot of "positionless" players (K'Von Wallace, among them) is one of the many things to watch when the team puts on the pads and enters Phase 3 of Training Camp on Monday at the NovaCare Complex.
"It's fun back there," Parks said. "They've got me a little over here, some other there, moving me into a bunch of different spots. I love it. It's going to make offenses think, with all of our guys moving around, 'Is he coming? Is he dropping into coverage?' That kind of uncertainty is something we can use to our advantage."
We're less than one month away from the regular season opening at Washington, so the Eagles have to accomplish quite a bit in the next couple of weeks as they evaluate the roster. And, let's be honest, the evaluation can't really have some substance until the pads go on.
With that, here are some things to watch with the pads on, the tempo higher, and two "live," tackle-to-the-ground sessions planned along with a whole lot of contact the rest of the time …
1. DeSean Jackson and the wide receiver corps
After playing in only one full game in 2019, wide receiver DeSean Jackson underwent surgery to repair a core muscle injury and has spent the many months from then until now rehabbing for this moment. It hasn't been the easiest of offseasons for Jackson, who says he has "a chip on my shoulder" looking to prove himself this late in his career. The Eagles need the best of Jackson for 2020. With Alshon Jeffery still on the Physically Unable to Perform list and not practicing, the Eagles have an extremely young group at wide receiver. J.J. Arcega-Whiteside needs to take a big step from his rookie season. Greg Ward has another year of growth to produce from the slot.
2. A muscled-up Carson Wentz leads the way at QB
Quarterback Carson Wentz has some "unfinished business" from 2019 after he had a taste, only nine snaps, of the postseason for the first time in his career before suffering a game-ending concussion against Seattle. Wentz spent his offseason building up his body and he looks great. He's the face of the franchise entering his fifth season, with Nate Sudfeld in the critical No. 2 position. And then, of course, there is second-round draft pick Jalen Hurts, who will get his first sense of the speed of defenses and his comfort level in this offense. That leads us to …
3. How much can the Eagles expect from the Class of 2020?
Hurts is the No. 3 quarterback and without any preseason, it's asking a lot of him to make significant tangible progress, at least to the point where the Eagles could count on him in a game situation. But that's not the case with No. 1 draft pick Jalen Reagor, who could have an opportunity to earn significant playing time at wide receiver. Fellow rookie wide receivers John Hightower and Quez Watkins are in similar situations. How about third-round draft pick Davion Taylor, who is part of a linebacker corps that has a lot to prove in this camp and in the season? Where is the depth here? Taylor and sixth-round pick Shaun Bradley will get reps to show they can be counted upon.
Along the offensive line, two draft picks – Jack Driscoll and Prince Tega Wanogho – are looking to earn some trust and win jobs. And that gives us a chance to talk about the offensive line …
4. How is the new-look offensive line coming along?
Right tackle Lane Johnson, who says he is up to 330 solid pounds after his rigorous offseason program, is fired up to have Jason Peters as his right guard, replacing Brandon Brooks. Now, let's understand, losing Brooks is a huge setback. He's the best right guard in the NFL. And Peters is in his 17th season and he's moving from left tackle to right guard and, well, that's not easy at all.
But Johnson is pleased with the progress to this point.
"It's been going good so far," Johnson said on Sunday. "He's such a great athlete that I think the transition comes easier (for him) than most. It's really just getting the reps in as much as we can – we're on limited time (on the field) right now) – and try to make up for lost ground. It's been fun."
Peters isn't the only change up front. Second-year man Andre Dillard, the team's first-round draft pick in 2019, moves into the starting job at left tackle and, really, he could hold the biggest key to the entire offense. He's going to face an array of great pass rushers, potentially starting with Washington's first-round draft pick, No. 2 overall, Chase Young, in the opener on September 13.
"He's looking good," Johnson said of Dillard. "He's filled out. He's a specimen as far as an athlete. The more he plays, the better he's going to get. Special athlete."
There is also a question of depth. Matt Pryor is the only experienced lineman projected to play a backup role. Who else steps up? Is this Jordan Mailata's crossroads Training Camp in his third NFL season after spending his first two campaigns on Injured Reserve? Is Nate Herbig someone to count on? How about Sua Opeta? And many other questions.
5. Depth at the running back position
You know the deal here: Second-year man Miles Sanders is expected to shoulder the load this year, but the Eagles are going to need a whole lot more than him in 2020. It's simply too physical a position to think that one or two backs are enough. So while the Eagles feel good about Sanders as the 1 and Boston Scott as the 2, they need a 3, a 4, and probably want to have a 5 and 6 ready somewhere on the active roster and practice squad.
The candidates to back up Sanders and Scott are Corey Clement, a star from Super Bowl LII who has had the previous two seasons ended with injuries, and Elijah Holyfield, who joined the team late in 2019 and could add an element of power in the backfield. Duce Staley has a lot of coaching to do, but he loves these kinds of challenges. Keep an eye on rookie Michael Warren, who had a terrific career at the University of Cincinnati. And mighty mite Adrian Killins (5-7, 177 pounds) was electrifying at Central Florida (6.1 yards per carry), so he'll be fun to watch.
6. Just how good is this defensive line?
The Eagles continued to invest heavily in the defensive line by signing Javon Hargrave in free agency and retaining Hassan Ridgeway. Bringing back Vinny Curry adds depth at end. Having Malik Jackson healthy at tackle is huge. The Eagles should be loaded up front. And while it's unlikely the Eagles are going to tackle early this week, once they do it's going to be exciting to watch this group. The biggest question remains depth at end, where the Eagles are hoping that second-year man Shareef Miller, a fourth-round draft pick in 2019, contributes this season. Joe Ostman opened eyes last summer before suffering a season-ending knee injury and he's back with his energy and hustle.
The Eagles think this about the defense: They're going to dominate at the line of scrimmage, giving linebackers clear paths to the football to make tackles. The secondary, revamped and certainly still with some questions, is unquestionably deeper and more versatile and, with Slay, the Eagles have a star at the cornerback position.
The bottom line on this team is this: The Eagles are pleased with where they are now. Everyone has adjusted to the new rules, the physical distancing, and the Reserve/COVID-19 list is blank. A veteran team hopes to get out of the blocks quickly now finds out about its new Eagles, its rookie class, and will go about solving starting job openings – particularly, the linebacker positions, cornerback, and the safety position next to Rodney McLeod on defense, and the offensive line and the wide receiver spots on the other side of the ball – as Training Camp goes to a new level with four weeks to go before the regular season starts.