The initial reaction to the first rendition of the Eagles' 2020 53-man roster is that, well, expect the situation to be fluid. Seven wide receivers? Six safeties? Three running backs, one of whom (Miles Sanders) hasn't practiced in weeks? Two tight ends? Eight offensive linemen, when there have traditionally been nine or 10 on the roster? Six defensive ends?
That's a lot. That's not the way it usually falls on roster cutdown day.
In the unsettled landscape that is the NFL in the COVID-19 season, the Eagles went with the oddly balanced, or unconventional, approach to 53. That's fitting, for sure, because things are moving quickly in the NFL as teams now turn to the waiver wire and then put together a practice squad that can include as many as 16 players (17 for the Eagles).
"It's dramatically different. It's been a dramatically different Training Camp," Howie Roseman said shortly after the team reached the 53-man limit. "For us there's so much preseason tape to watch and to not have that has given us extra time to really dive into our team and to dive into our team like we're bystanders, as opposed to guys who are just right next to it. I think that's really helped us, because we have to evaluate our own team first and foremost."
T-minus eight days and counting to the opener at the Washington Football Team and your guess is as good as mine in a few key areas like …
1. What is the offensive line going to look like to open the season? When the Eagles last practiced, Matt Pryor played left tackle and Jordan Mailata played right tackle, with Jason Peters at right guard. Jason Kelce is the center and Isaac Seumalo is the left guard. The projected backups are Mailata (when Lane Johnson is healthy to play right tackle), Nate Herbig and rookie draft pick Jack Driscoll. Sixth-round draft pick Prince Tega Wanogho did not make the initial 53-man roster. Roseman confirmed that veteran tackle Cordy Glenn is visiting the Eagles, but has to go through COVID testing before any workout can take place. Roseman also discussed the possibility of Peters moving back to left tackle, but is thrilled with how he's taken to the right guard spot.
"He has played left tackle at a high level, at a Hall of Fame level, and then you watch him play right guard and he's doing an amazing job there and we're used to having a Pro Bowl quality player (Brandon Brooks) at that spot, too," Roseman said. "I think for us, we know that we have to look at all these options and figure out what's in the best interest of the team and that's what we're doing right now. We're looking at all those options. I know Jason was here this morning on an off day and he's excited and we're excited."
2. The Eagles are going heavy at defensive end, keeping Genard Avery, acquired last season in a trade, and seventh-round draft pick Casey Toohill. With Derek Barnett an unknown for the opener after having not practiced in Training Camp due to a lower-body injury, it makes sense to carry some extra oomph here. Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry, and Josh Sweat are going to get a lot of reps at Washington, with Toohill as the projected No. 4 until Avery (lower body) and Barnett are ready to go. And, honestly, Barnett could play against Washington. The Eagles are keeping mum about injuries until they are required to offer an injury report on Wednesday.
"I think when camp opened, Casey was probably fighting an uphill battle," Roseman said of the rookie defensive end. "We had a chance as a staff to kind of watch all those defensive ends together and watch all their reps kind of like one after the other like we would do if we were scouting other teams, and I think the thing that stands out with Casey is he's got the tools in his body and he has the explosiveness in his body. He's got a relentless motor and happy for that kid that he's got an opportunity to be on the 53."
3. The defensive tackle group, still waiting for Javon Hargrave to be healthy, is led by Fletcher Cox and Malik Jackson, both of whom were dominating in Training Camp. Hassan Ridgeway is a key figure here in the rotation. Fingers crossed that Hargrave is back sooner rather than later and that everybody makes it through the season unscathed. This should be a dominating group.
"We believe in Malik a lot and he was a huge loss for us last year," Roseman said. "He was a big part of our offseason in 2019, and I just wanted him to understand that at that time where we were, Hargrave was a player that we had a really high grade on at an important position, and it was because of our belief in the line; it wasn't because of our belief in Malik. We believe in Malik. I think Malik has come in with an incredible attitude. You see every day in practice that he's made a difference."
4. Six safeties? It's a huge number, and it probably has a lot to do with the lower-body injury suffered by Will Parks last week that will keep him out for "multiple weeks" and that could land Parks on the short-term Injured Reserve list (players must be on the active roster until 4 PM on Sunday before they can go on short-term IR). Marcus Epps and Rudy Ford know the scheme and they will back up starters Rodney McLeod and Jalen Mills. Rookie K'Von Wallace continues to learn the system.
"When you talk about Rudy, Rudy shows up on special teams. I think for him, it's important that we get a little bit more production out of that talent, too," Roseman said. "I think Coach (Dave) Fipp has a lot of confidence in that and we have a lot of confidence in Coach Fipp to get that. I think one day at practice, we had him running 23 miles an hour, which is just insane, and one day over the summer, I was watching our Green Bay game on NFL network just in the background and you see when him and Craig (James) are covering punts, it's hard for the punt returner to get going."
5. Nothing particularly unusual at linebacker, with six here. Alex Singleton, Davion Taylor, and Shaun Bradley will work in with projected starters – but who really knows? – Nathan Gerry, Duke Riley, and T.J. Edwards. Roseman raved about Edwards' instincts on Saturday, saying the second-year man has really taken a significant jump in 2020.
6. The running back number is an interesting one. Does having only three mean that Sanders will play at Washington after having missed multiple weeks with a lower-body injury? Boston Scott is a fine No. 2 and Corey Clement looked sharp in Training Camp. How many running backs will we see on the practice squad? Will the Eagles add a veteran between now and Washington? Questions, questions …
"I think you'll see more vets on the practice squad than normally you would because we have to have those guys on the practice squad prepared and ready to play, so some of the things that we're doing here are in preparation to have maybe more ready-made guys where it's not as much developmental as it has been in the past," Roseman said.
7. And what about all of those wide receivers? Alshon Jeffery spent the entire camp on the Physically Unable to Perform list, so clearly he's closer to playing that many out there expected. All three draft picks made it, but Jalen Reagor has an upper-body injury so with him and Jeffery iffy for the short term, it makes sense that the other five – DeSean Jackson, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, Greg Ward, John Hightower, and Quez Watkins – are ready to go. After Jackson, wow, is that a young group.
"Alshon has come back with incredible energy," Roseman said. "He's in great shape. He's motivated to win and be part of it."
8. The waiving of defensive end Shareef Miller means that two draft picks from 2019, Sanders and Arcega-Whiteside, are on the current active roster. First-round pick Andre Dillard is on Injured Reserve.
9. Craig James had a fine Training Camp and won a roster spot, and reportedly a new contract, and in the process he beat out former Eagles draft picks Rasul Douglas and Sidney Jones, both of whom were waived. Douglas played a lot of snaps in the last three seasons and he was a bigger cornerback. Other cornerbacks here: Darius Slay, Avonte Maddox, Nickell Robey-Coleman, and Cre'Von LeBlanc. Slay and Robey-Coleman are significant upgrades to this group. Can't wait to see them against Washington.
"Craig James is a guy that obviously did a really nice job for us on special teams and he was a guy that every week during Training Camp, we kind of said as a staff, talking with our coaches, let's give him opportunities against better players, let's give him an opportunity against better competition, and he rose to the occasion," Roseman said. "He's super competitive. He's got explosiveness in his body, speed, and twitch."
10. The Eagles are heavy in talent at tight end with Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert, but low in numbers, with two. Roseman indicated in our one-on-one interview on Saturday that there are some possibilities from the waiver wire and around the league at tight end, so we will see. It's usual that the Eagles would have three tight ends on the gameday roster. And with only eight offensive linemen on the current roster, there aren't many parts that are interchangeable.
"There definitely will be changes in the next 24 to 36 hours just based on the IR rules to begin with, and I don't know that we're necessarily exactly where we want to be even on the 53," Roseman said. "But knowing that we have these extra practice squad spots and we have the ability to bring guys up gives us a little bit different flexibility. But by the same token, I think we are not done yet and where we are at this moment, probably looks a little bit different as we get going here and probably for our game next Sunday."