Here are the magic words coming from wide receiver A.J. Brown as the Eagles gather at the NovaCare Complex, full focus on the Detroit Lions and Sunday's season-opening game: "I'm excited and I feel fresh and I'm ready to go. Heading into the season, I think we're in a good place, but we know that really means nothing. We have to keep going each and every day."
Brown is one of a large handful of new Eagles expected to make a significant impact in this 2022 season. As the week goes on, we can talk about Detroit and the challenges that improving team poses to the Eagles in Week 1. For now, let's get you caught up with some storylines as the Eagles get into their weekly routine and open what promises to be a very interesting season ...
1. What is the "personality" of this offense?
Inside the walls of the NovaCare Complex, this question comes with the belief that the Eagles are balanced enough and versatile enough to attack a defense's weakness. It's not about a "media label," if you understand the difference. The Eagles aren't interested in having a "personality" – a running team or a passing team. The hope is that the Eagles can create favorable matchups in the passing game and in the running game each week. There may be some games when Offensive Coordinator Shane Steichen dials up a pass-heavy approach. There may be some games when defenses are playing in coverage and leaving the box light, so the Eagles will emphasize the running game.
The presence of Brown obviously changes things. The combination of Brown and DeVonta Smith gives the Eagles two legitimate No. 1 wide receivers, and that's going to stress every defensive backfield. Brown is so physical that he naturally creates separation on short routes and those catch-and-run possibilities certainly open up the rest of the field for the passing game. That, in turn, opens up the running game. It's going to be a week-by-week proposition for the Eagles. Don't worry about labels. The goal is efficiency.
2. And that means exactly what for quarterback Jalen Hurts?
It means that Hurts has to be consistent with his performance, something he has talked about throughout his career. He isn't going to change anything about the way he conducts his business – he just strives for more consistency. To that end, Hurts has put in the work to improve his game and his summer performance was impressive. What does that mean starting Sunday? Hurts enters the regular season confident in his understanding of the offense and the steps he has taken to improve his game. He will be mentally prepared for whatever the Lions throw at him on Sunday. Hurts just has to play his game and follow the structure of the offense. What's been obvious and great to see is the progress Hurts and Head Coach Nick Sirianni and Steichen have made in their second season together in the offense from a trust standpoint. That's going to go a long way. The Eagles are going to emphasize Hurts in the running game and they're going to showcase his skills throwing the football to a plethora of weapons. Efficiency and consistency are the goals here for Hurts and the offense.
3. How quickly can a newly constructed defensive backfield come together?
There is a lot going on in the secondary, that's for sure. James Bradberry is set to start his first game as an Eagle opposite Darius Slay at cornerback. Marcus Epps is slated to be a full-time starter for the first time in his career. C.J. Gardner-Johnson joined the team last week and is in a crash course to get up to speed. It's not the most seamless transition to a new picture in the secondary, but that's just the way it is and the coaching staff and the players are working hard on getting on the same page both from a terminology standpoint and from a communications standpoint as they study what the Lions do and prepare their checks and audibles. You'd expect Detroit to try to do some things for the first time on Sunday to force the Eagles to read and react. The Lions obviously want to catch the Eagles in a blown coverage or a miscommunication of some kind. It bears watching, for sure.
4. Where is Brandon Graham in his recovery from last season's injury?
The storyline here is perfect, just perfect: Graham plays in his first game after suffering a season-ending injury in Week 2 of 2021 and it happens to be in his hometown and you know, you just know, that there is going to be a full section at Ford Field filled with Eagles No. 55 jerseys. Everyone is rooting for Graham in his 13th season to be the same Brandon Graham who is an all-time Eagles great: fast, powerful, relentless, and playing with the infectious joy he has. Graham has made inspiring progress in his return from the torn Achilles tendon and he's encouraged. The regular season is a different animal, as we know, so Sunday will be a different kind of test.
5. In what way do the new Eagles veterans fit into the regular season plans?
In a pretty huge way, actually. Brown is a starter at wide receiver. Zach Pascal will work in at wide receiver as part of that position's depth and he will also see reps on special teams. Running back Trey Sermon, added last week off waivers from San Francisco, is part of a four-man room and will work on understanding the scheme and gaining timing in the offense. Ian Book is the team's third quarterback. On defense, Haason Reddick is a critical player who is being counted on to impact the pass rush, set a physical edge against the run, and drop back effectively in coverage against the pass. Linebacker Kyzir White is going to get a lot of reps at the WILL linebacker spot after a great spring and summer. The secondary, see above.
An offseason of improving the roster puts the Eagles in position to get immediate impact from all of these veterans added. It has been a coordinated and dedicated effort to get all of the new players integrated into the culture and the schemes here, so here we go. The season is upon us and many of these veterans have major roles from the jump.
6. Can the Eagles lead the NFL in rushing as they did in 2021?
Miles Sanders is a talented, big-play running back who fits exactly into what the Eagles want him to do as a multi-purpose back. Second-year man Kenneth Gainwell and veteran Boston Scott give the Eagles variety and more talent running the football and making plays in the receiving game. Sermon is the "big" running back in this group, but he's new and it remains to be seen how and when the Eagles will use him.
Add Hurts and his running ability into the equation and the Eagles can attack defenses in a multitude of ways in the running game. The offensive line looks set with Jordan Mailata at left tackle, Landon Dickerson at left guard, Jason Kelce at center, Isaac Seumalo at right guard, and Lane Johnson at right tackle, with solid depth at every position.
Again, it's not about leading the NFL in rushing that is important (back to that "personality" thing). It's about being effective when the Eagles want to run the ball, no matter the situation. That's the proper way to measure success on the ground.
7. How does the 2022 Rookie Class factor into the picture?
Just because the Eagles don't "need" defensive tackle Jordan Davis or center Cam Jurgens or linebacker Nakobe Dean – their first three draft picks in 2022 – to start doesn't mean the Eagles aren't counting on them to contribute as rookies. They've got to be ready when called upon, as do sixth-round draft picks linebacker Kyron Johnson and tight end Grant Calcaterra and the three undrafted rookies – safety Reed Blankenship, cornerback Josh Jobe, and offensive lineman Josh Sills. The Eagles have an eight-man rookie class that they have high hopes for – for this year and for the future.
8. What are the top concerns with this team?
Health is always a concern, as with every team. The Eagles return the same coaching staff, for the most part, from last season, so continuity is a plus. The offense comes back largely the same as well. There are new pieces to fit in with the defense as the clock ticks toward the opener.
Then there is this to consider: A lot of people are hyping up this team. The Eagles can't pay attention to the outside noise, a message Sirianni has preached since the team gathered in the spring. The idea in the halls of the NovaCare Complex and the message for everyone who walks into the locker room is to be "1% Better Every Day."
9. With so many new faces, how does Jonathan Gannon get his defense up to speed?
Remember that he's teaching his players the game plan this week, not the entire playbook. So for Gardner-Johnson, in particular, what he needs to know is boiled down to what the Eagles plan to employ against the Lions on Sunday. The veterans are helping Gardner-Johnson, so it's really more than just the coaching staff here. Making the most of every hour between now and 1 PM is crucial. That's how it happens. It takes a village in the NFL ...
10. Nick Sirianni, Year 2. What changes?
Sirianni has walked this path before so that sense of familiarity is obviously very important. The Eagles opened the 2021 season with a road win at Atlanta. It was a total team win highlighted by an offense that came out sharp and on point and a defense that clamped down on Atlanta in the red zone early and then overwhelmed the Falcons at the line of scrimmage later in the game.
The Eagles are in a different place than they were a year ago in large part because of Sirianni's leadership and in-game coaching last season that landed the Eagles in the playoffs. Now it's on to 2022 with a fresh start and new storylines as the Eagles get to work in South Philly and the anticipation grows ahead of Sunday's 1 PM kickoff in Detroit.