In a perfect world for the Philadelphia Eagles this fall, defenses won't know what's coming. Or, if they do, they won't have the tools to stop the waves of talent sprinting in from the sidelines as Offensive Coordinator and playcaller Shane Steichen and Head Coach Nick Sirianni see the results of what they're doing right now in these days and weeks leading up to the regular season: Hammering away at the fundamentals. Buttoning up the smallest of details. Making sure that there are no corners being cut as the Eagles prepare for the first of two sets of joint practices – this week at Cleveland and the following week at Miami.
"I like where the team is at," Steichen said. "I like the mindset of all the guys."
Next up, Cleveland.
"I love the joint practices, to be honest. It breaks up camp; it gives our guys another opponent. It's really all about competing," Steichen added. "You get two practices – obviously, they're in a controlled environment, but you get that true competition with situations you can set up with them. It's scripted and sometimes you have the call-it periods, but it's just good to go against another opponent."
The offense will continue to evolve through the rest of August and into September. What we've seen through this Training Camp period, which ended on Tuesday at the NovaCare Complex, and what is to come in the joint practices, the two remaining preseason games, and then a particularly crucial two weeks leading in the regular season opener at Detroit is going to expand just a little bit with each new day. There are some unmistakable takeaways to share from Training Camp in South Philadelphia, so let's pause as the team prepares for its Wednesday travel day to Cleveland and two days of joint practices with the Browns later in the week ...
1. Jalen Hurts continues to get better and better and we saw the manifestation of the "one percent better every day approach" with what Steichen called a "flawless" performance in the preseason opener on Friday night. Hurts was 6-for-6 and he made plays from inside the pocket, on a rollout, down the field, on a checkdown to the running back ... It was wonderful to see, and it's kind of been that way throughout the summer.
"It was a really good start," Steichen said. Hurts came back on Tuesday with a strong day of throwing the football, including a perfect pass down the right sideline into the breadbasket of wide receiver A.J. Brown for a touchdown. The ball is coming out of his hands faster. His timing is improved. The accuracy has been there through the summer and the deep-ball game has been on point. Being in the same system with the same playcaller for a second consecutive season for the first time since high school makes a difference. We're seeing that difference every day.
2. The Eagles are very good at wide receiver. Brown is everything he was advertised to be, and maybe more. He is a lead-by-example guy whose work ethic and incredible obsession with being perfect shows in the way he plays – the way he creates separation with his strength, the natural ball-catching abilities he has, the concentration he exhibits. It's really going to be fascinating to see how Smith and DeVonta Smith team up, and how defenses scheme to cover them. Add in Quez Watkins, who is having one of the most underrated summers here, and the performance of the versatile and productive Zach Pascal, along with the veterans Jalen Reagor and Greg Ward, and the Eagles have a receiving corps that can attack defenses in a lot of ways.
3. Jeff Stoutland and assistant line coach Roy Istvan are really in a good position with the offensive line. I talk to a lot of the national media members who visit camp and they all spend time watching the offensive line work technique and timing and combinations. It's a repetitive and endless dance and the payoff is enormous. Everyone who sees it comes away understanding just a little bit more about why the Eagles are so good up front. More than that, they're so deep up front. The way Cam Jurgens stepped in for Jason Kelce in the preseason opener was an example of A) A very talented player who has done his homework and, B) A coaching staff that worked Jurgens hard to get him up to speed. The Eagles have high-end talent, a great scheme, depth, and a chance to control the line of scrimmage each week. That's a huge key to a great offense.
4. Steichen wants the Eagles to "pick your poison" when attacking defenses, and that of course includes a potent and diverse running game that led the NFL last season. Hurts is part of that equation and so is a running back room that will distribute touches throughout the long grind of a 17-game season. We really haven't seen the plan here and likely won't until the regular season as the Eagles keep the backs fresh throughout the preseason. No sense wearing them out.
5. How much will the Eagles use two-tight end sets? What is their plan for incorporating Dallas Goedert and Jack Stoll into the offense? There is versatility here as the Eagles look to win the middle of the field, and we saw both players involved early in the passing game in the preseason opener. They're both going to block and they're both going to be a part of the passing game. The Eagles are going where the favorable matchups are, so Goedert and Stoll factor in here. Defenses can't cover every player and the Eagles trust Goedert's ability to win a one-on-one matchup against just about any safety or linebacker.
6. Practicing against a fast and very much improved Eagles defense every day has helped the Eagles' offense throughout Training Camp. Early on, it was fair to see the defense had its fair share of success, as is usually the case early in the Training Camp period. This defense is fast and the talent upgrade is undeniable. Seeing Brown and Smith against cornerbacks Darius Slay and James Bradberry benefitted both sides. This defensive front seven gets after it, so the "team" portion of the Training Camp practices was great to watch and extremely competitive. The one-on-one sessions with the offensive and defensive lines were battles. I guess this is where the "iron sharpens iron" mantra applies. It sure happened in this Training Camp.
The Eagles have joint practices with the Browns on Thursday and Friday and then the second of three preseason games on Sunday. This first "phase" of the summer, Training Camp at the NovaCare Complex and the preseason opener against the Jets, was nothing but a rousing success. Day by day, detail by detail, the Eagles march toward September 11, understanding that all the small steps add up to big success. That's the goal every day.
"We're out here just working on the little things, cleaning things up," Pascal said. "We know this is just the beginning. You have to take it step by step and focus on getting better along the way. That's where we are as a team."