The 2015 schedule for the Philadelphia Eagles has been announced. The schedule features six nationally televised games and a second consecutive Thanksgiving Day game ...
The Eagles will not have to wait long for their first crack at the defending NFC East champions, though they will have to prepare for the year's first division clash on a short week. Following the Week 1 Monday Night Football game in Atlanta, the Eagles will ready themselves for a Sunday afternoon clash against the Dallas Cowboys. What a treat for the Philadelphia faithful in the Lincoln Financial Field home opener.
And what a treat for the league's defending rushing champion, DeMarco Murray, to have the opportunity to face off against the team with which he rushed for a league-best 1,845 yards in 2014. The team by which Murray was drafted in the third round in 2011. The team that then turned its back on Murray, allowing him to leave in free agency.
The rest of the Eagles roster, meanwhile, will have no lack of motivation as they look to avenge the Week 15 loss to Dallas that spelled doom for their playoff chances. The opportunity to stake an early claim for best in the division won't hurt either. After all, no team has repeated as NFC East champion since the 2003-2004 Eagles.
As for the on-field fireworks, the clash between the Eagles' young, dominant defensive line and the Cowboys' heralded offensive line has been established as the one to watch. Though the Cowboys' group received the plaudits in 2014, DeMarco Murray rushed for under four yards per carry only three times in 2014 and two of those games took place against the Eagles. Fletcher Cox was particularly dominant against Dallas in the two meetings and one of the league's best defensive players will have an early opportunity to prove just how much the rest of the league needs to be paying attention to him. Undrafted Dallas rookie La'el Collins in expected to add to the Cowboys' beef up front.
Meanwhile, in the Eagles secondary, new No. 1 corner Byron Maxwell will be thrown into the fire with a test against one of the league's best receivers in Dez Bryant.
The Eagles offense, meanwhile, will be tested by a Cowboys defense that finished 19th in 2014 (tested is a relative term in this case, since the opening week matchup with the Falcons features the team that finished 32nd in defense in 2014). The Cowboys welcome back outside linebacker Sean Lee, who missed all of last season with a knee injury. Dallas may have to move Lee back inside though, as Rolando McClain was suspended by the league for the first four games of the season for violating the NFL's Policy and Program for Substances of Abuse.
The biggest attraction, though, is simply the unveiling of the 2015 Eagles in front of the Lincoln Financial Field fans for the first time in the regular season. With so many new pieces on offense and defense, and an opponent that always stirs emotions, there's no question that the stadium will be rocking. What a way to kick off the year at home.
No position group for the Eagles has seen as much offseason turnover as the secondary. Safety Malcolm Jenkins will be the only holdover among four starters in the back of the Eagles defense, with newcomers like Byron Maxwell, Eric Rowe and Walter Thurmond set to make an early impact. Returners like Brandon Boykin and Nolan Carroll are also expected to be counted on in a big way.
But for a defense that purports to value versatility, there's another returning Eagle who may have been overlooked by some. A fourth-round pick last May, Jaylen Watkins played only four games during his rookie season as a special teams contributor. But with experience at cornerback, safety and nickel, Watkins could be a moveable chess piece for defensive coordinator Bill Davis – if Watkins makes the necessary sophomore jump.
"Obviously my goal is getting on the field, being active and contributing to the team," Watkins said during mini-camp, following a day in which he worked with the first-team defense at safety alongside Malcolm Jenkins. "I got my feet wet last year in the last game, but I need to actually – my first step is getting on special teams, contributing, making plays in preseason and proving myself before I can say what jump I'm going to have. As far as right now, I'm trying to make the 53 and then be a starter on this defense."
At Florida, Watkins played both cornerback and safety as part of a talented Gators secondary, so he's used to uncertainty when it comes to his position.
"As long as I keep performing the way I'm performing, showing the coaches that I am valuable at all three positions, whichever one that they say best fits me (is where I want to play)," Watkins said. "I can't really say I want to play this position or that position, I just want to play. So wherever they say I best fit this defense, that's where I'm going to play."
As someone bouncing between positions in the secondary, Watkins' partner at safety is a player to emulate. Jenkins, after all, was a cornerback when he first entered the NFL.
"We're very similar players," said the 5-foot-11, 194-pound Watkins. "He's much bigger [Jenkins is 6-0, 204], but as far as our skill-set, we're pretty much the same player, as far as knowledgeable about the game, we're pretty much the same player, so we have a lot in common. We do talk a lot. Today, we were on the field together, it was good to actually be out there with someone who actually understands you and the way you play."
Watkins has also taken well to new secondary coach Cory Undlin.
"Everything in our meeting room on the wall is about technique and he's always talking about how technique overrides talent and he has us all believing that," Watkins said of Undlin. "It's just amazing to see all of us putting so much emphasis on our technique and you actually watch the film and you look like a totally different player because the emphasis is on technique."
Though Watkins himself may not have a preference in terms of position, there are openings at both cornerback and safety for a starting spot. If safety is where Watkins ends up making a push, it's a position with which he's comfortable.
"I've done it so much now that it's become second nature," Watkins said. "Cornerback is more of a "You have your job" and the other one's more "You have your job and other jobs." You're the last line of defense and you're in one-on-one coverage. But now, it's not really a difference anymore. It's just what I do."