Philadelphia Eagles News

Is offense or defense most 'ready now' for Eagles?

On one side of the ball, the Eagles return nine starters and have infused youth into one playmaking position and feel like the best is yet to come. On the other side of the ball, the Eagles invested heavily in free agency and brought in at least two difference-making players and believe that they're poised to make a significant jump in 2020.

So, which is "ahead" as we project into the regular season at this point in mid-June: The Eagles' offense? Or, the Eagles' defense?

"All I know," cornerback Cre'Von LeBlanc said during an interview that you can hear in its entirety on Wednesday's Eagles Insider Podcast, "is that the guys we added can ball. We're going to use a lot of different players and show a lot of different looks in our coverage this year. It's going to be exciting to see how it all works out."

The pieces are a bit more in motion on defense, specifically in the back seven. The addition of Darius Slay via a trade with Detroit gives the Eagles a Pro Bowl-caliber, shutdown cornerback. Signing Will Parks in free agency adds a versatile, speedy piece at safety. Nickell Robey-Coleman is here to challenge LeBlanc at the nickel cornerback position and help upgrade the inside coverage picture. Linebackers Jatavis Brown (free agency) and Davion Taylor (third-round draft pick) bolster the linebackers.

The Eagles have allowed some familiar names and faces to go – linebacker Nigel Bradham was released prior to free agency. Safety Malcolm Jenkins is now a New Orleans Saint. Linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill signed with Miami in free agency. Defensive tackle Tim Jernigan is an unrestricted free agent.

And there is going to be an integration period for Slay and for defensive tackle Javon Hargrave and Brown and Robey-Coleman and the rookies when the Eagles actually get back to the practice field at the NovaCare Complex. The goals for the defense in the offseason were multiple – add impact (which the Eagles did with top-of-their-position players Slay, Hargrave, and Robey-Coleman), get faster (Parks and Brown certainly add to the speed-in-space element), and get younger (this happened across the board).

Now they just have to fit all of the pieces into the Jim Schwartz puzzle.

On the other side of the ball, the major changes came more in the structure of the coaching staff – the additions of Rich Scangarello, Marty Mornhinweg, and Aaron Moorehead, among others – rather than in the personnel side of things. As it stands now, the Eagles head into 2020 without only two players who were starters in 2010 – left tackle Jason Peters and slot receiver Nelson Agholor. Peters remains an unrestricted free agent and the Eagles are keeping their lines of communication open with him. Agholor is in Las Vegas with the Raiders.

It's time for second-year man Andre Dillard to step up at left tackle after he started three games there last season. And Greg Ward was sure handed and productive with Agholor injured late in 2019, so he projects as the first man in line to win the job in the slot. But he'll have competition as the Eagles used the draft weekend to select three receivers and add a fourth, Marquise Goodwin, in a trade with the 49ers. Ward could win the job, for sure. So could first-round draft pick Jalen Reagor, or maybe fellow draftees John Hightower and Quez Watkins. The Eagles have options, and that's a good thing.

Otherwise, the offense returns intact. Right guard Brandon Brooks continues to recover from his late-season shoulder injury. Receivers Alshon Jeffery and DeSean Jackson have things to prove after injuries ruined their 2019 campaigns and they know it.

What's impressive is that the Eagles – and this is all on paper, of course – have become a younger roster, they've upgraded their blue-chip talent, they've refined their salary cap picture, and they've retained so much experience and continuity.

And now we wait.

The virtual offseason program continues. Training Camp is scheduled for late July at the NovaCare Complex. The Eagles feel good about both sides of the football, and maybe the offense gets the nod for being more "ready now" simply because there aren't as many new faces as there are on defense.

That said, defenses tend to come together faster. We won't know until September, of course, when the regular season begins. And that time, I'm sure you would agree, just can't get here fast enough.

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