- Dave Spadaro looks at five pressing questions facing the Eagles with Training Camp on the horizon including whether any key roster moves will be made between now and July 25.
Let’s fill some time here with questions about an Eagles team that looks to defend its Super Bowl Championship and become only the ninth team in history to repeat as Lombardi Trophy winners. It’s a slow news month, as players and coaches take time off until the start of Training Camp on July 25 at the NovaCare Complex. With that, the answers will begin to come …
1. Are there any signs of a Super Bowl hangover?
The last time we saw the Eagles, the spring mandatory minicamp had ended and the Super Bowl Ring Ceremony was raging. It was an epic celebration, and then the players took their rings and went home. Literally. Other than losing linebacker Paul Worrilow to a season-ending knee injury, the Eagles had an impressive spring. The tempo of the practices was high. With younger players taking a lot of reps, coaches had a chance to better evaluate some of their “unknown” talents. Head coach Doug Pederson did a good job backing off on some of the players from the Super Bowl season, and now the five weeks off give every player a chance to rejuvenate.
The Eagles worked hard in the spring. There did not appear to be any lingering emotions from the Super Bowl, except for a locker room-wide feeling of confidence and sense of purpose. While Pederson wants his players to “rip off the underdog masks,” there is also the idea that the Eagles are fighting history and striving to make some of their own with a repeat. The locker room had great energy that translated to the work on the field. It was an excellent spring. There is no Super Bowl hangover. Once camp begins, the Eagles are in the same boat as every team and they seem to know that they are a hunted team now that is going to get the best from every opponent.
2. Among the injured Eagles, who will be ready to go when camp opens?
There is a sense of the unknown here for some players, but the Eagles believe that most of the injured Eagles – linebacker Jordan Hicks, running back Darren Sproles, and left tackle Jason Peters, to name three – are in a very good place as it relates to playing football at the start of camp, or at least shortly after it begins. There are some others who are not quite as clear-cut, among them quarterback Carson Wentz, safety Chris Maragos, defensive tackle Tim Jernigan, and defensive end Brandon Graham. Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata missed time in the spring for an undisclosed reason, but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of concern.
We all expect the Eagles to have a loaded defensive line, but health is going to play a large part in this picture. The Eagles want to rotate players and keep them fresh, and it’s going to be important that the players get reps together in the summer, so having Jernigan, Graham, and Ngata on the field means something for Jim Schwartz’s defense.
Wentz? Making great progress. Still at the NovaCare Complex. Working as hard as anyone can to get back in the lineup as soon as possible. Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, who played hurt for much of last season, in retrospect, showed how tough he is. He didn't practice in the spring, but seemed unbothered by his inactive spring. Let's hope Jeffery comes back strong. He's a key piece in the passing game, obviously. All in all, the feeling seems to be that the Eagles are going to get their players back in due time – Jernigan is perhaps the biggest unknown – and ready to go for the regular season. We’ll see. The injured players won’t be back until the athletic training staff and medical team clears them.
3. Are there any significant roster moves coming down the pike?
Even as they are on vacation, the personnel department always has its eyes open. The NFL’s Supplemental Draft happens on July 11 and there is no word on whether the Eagles will be involved. Teams around the league are adjusting their rosters all the time, so players can come free any day. Coaches have talked about the possibility of bringing back veteran safety Corey Graham, who is still on the market after doing a good job in a reserve role last season. Nothing for sure there, though.
It appears at this point that the answer to the above question is “no.” But you understand how that works. The picture changes all the time. The roster is always fluid.
4. How will the Eagles teach the new rules of the NFL?
Just to remind you, there are new rules in the league. The helmet has, essentially, been taken out of the game so that is going to be an adjustment for every player, coach, and even the referees. It’s a difficult thing to reinforce, because there isn’t much hitting in Training Camp. Really, it comes down to proper form tackling, and the coaches will emphasize that, but it’s impossible to replicate the speed and instant reactions of a game situation. Then there is the way kickoffs and kickoff returns are to be played, and it’s a whole new world for special teams coordinator Dave Fipp.
The Eagles are in the same boat as every team and the teams that adjust the fastest and in the most complete fashion are the ones who are going to come out ahead. So, it’s a critical summer for the coaching staff.
5. Where are the best roster battles ahead?
We can go up and down the list and mention just about every position. The running back room is fascinating with the return of Darren Sproles, the elevation of Jay Ajayi to the top of the depth chart, the maturation of Corey Clement, the arrival of Matt Jones, and the anticipated improvement of both Wendell Smallwood and Donnel Pumphrey. How about wide receiver, where a veteran like Markus Wheaton is a candidate to make the roster after a strong spring? And cornerback, with the rapid development of De’Vante Bausby and the expected big step forward from second-year men Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas. And linebacker, where the Eagles have an open competition at the WILL position. On and on it goes. The roster is a deep one and the competition is going to be outstanding from the first practice on July 26.