The game plan is set. The team is on the road. On the eve of the first game of the 2020 season(!!!), get caught up on the best content with the Weekend Water Break, presented by Crown Royal.
1. Who's in; who's out for the Eagles
The Eagles made a series of roster moves Saturday afternoon prior to the team boarding the buses at the NovaCare Complex to ride to the team hotel.
The team downgraded defensive end Derek Barnett (hamstring) and running back Miles Sanders (hamstring) to out. Both players were questionable after being limited participants in practice all week. Vinny Curry is likely to start opposite Brandon Graham at defensive end with Josh Sweat now the first one off the bench. Boston Scott told reporters on Friday that he was prepared for a bigger role with Sanders' status up in the air.
Barnett and Sanders join defensive tackle Javon Hargrave (hamstring, pectoral) and wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (foot) as players sidelined for Sunday due to injury.
The Eagles elevated two players from the practice squad in defensive tackle T.Y. McGill and guard Sua Opeta. New roster rules for 2020 allow for teams to promote two players from the practice squad for the game who will return to the practice squad without clearing waivers the following day. However, a team can only do that with a player twice. After two times, a player must sign an active roster contract and be counted against the 53.
Right tackle Lane Johnson is questionable with an ankle injury. He is a game-time decision.
2. 6 questions to ponder looking ahead to gameday
Eagles Insider Dave Spadaro's pregame column tackles six key things to watch when the Eagles take on the Washington Football Team. With Sanders out and questions along the offensive line, will Head Coach Doug Pederson and the offensive coaches tweak the game plan accordingly?
Spadaro writes: Doug Pederson and his staff have to be ready to adjust to how the flow of the game is going. Washington has an impressive front seven. The Football Team is going to be aggressive up front. That front seven wants to be disruptive and the talent level suggests it has the capability of dominating games. Yes, the strategy would change. Those deep balls to (DeSean) Jackson? Sure, if the Eagles can give Wentz time. Getting the ball out of Carson's (Wentz) hand quickly? A must. Establishing the running game? Has to happen. If the Eagles have it going on up front, everything flows. If not, maybe incorporate some small-ball thinking into the equation, minimize mistakes, protect the football, and win the battle of field possession.
3. DeSean Jackson eyes return to action
DeSean Jackson opened 2019 in a spectacular way with eight receptions, 154 yards, and a pair of 50-plus-yard touchdowns. He was off to exactly the kind of start he dreamed about. But one week after the season-opening win over Washington, Jackson was injured early in a game at Atlanta and then played only one more game, weeks later against Chicago, and recorded one reception.
That was it.
Surgery followed and Jackson actually planned to play had the Eagles defeated Seattle in the Wild Card playoff game. It didn't happen and Jackson continued his rehab through the offseason.
"I feel good. I feel great right now," said Jackson, who has taken on a more rigorous stretching program and a cleaner diet to prepare for Year 13. He isn't a kid any longer, but he sure is the fastest player on the field and the Eagles plan to take advantage of it. Without Jackson on the field last year, the Eagles lost their most explosive threat in the vertical passing game and they reworked the offense down the stretch of the regular season to win four straight games and capture the NFC East title.
4. The much-anticipated debut of Darius Slay
All eyes will be on No. 24 on Sunday and his presence in a secondary that gave up way too many big plays in the passing game in 2019, writes Eagles Insider Dave Spadaro. Darius Slay, who has been a Pro Bowl player in each of the last three season when he played with Detroit, could – or could not – shadow Washington's second-year receiver Terry McLaurin, who last season caught 10 passes (on 12 targets) for 255 yards and two touchdowns. In the game Slay played against McLaurin last year, the stat total was 12 targets that netted five receptions and 72 yards, mostly in man-on-man situations.
How the Eagles play it on Sunday is a mystery, but as it unfolds we're all going to be grading the performance: The Eagles could have, with Slay, their best cornerback in many years, dating back beyond Asante Samuel, a three-time Pro Bowl player as an Eagle, beyond Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown – all the way back to Troy Vincent, a member of the organization's Hall of Fame. To be that guy, Slay has to be as close to a shutdown cornerback in a league that favors the offense and the wide receivers in a heavily slanted way.
Slay, though, doesn't feel the pressure.
"Nah, I think a lot of teams would be excited for me to be on their team," he said. "I think I've got a good characteristic. I think I'm a cool guy. I think I'm a nice, fun guy. On the field, it's not pressure for me. I just like to play the game. What makes me a good guy on the field is the fact that I compete every play. I give it my all and I just do my best to win. Like I said when I first got here, the Eagles got a guy who is going to go out there and work hard and do what he can do to help the team win."
Take a look at the best practice and workout photos of the week!
5. In fact, Slay is one of the NFL's 'most intriguing' players for 2020
Sheil Kapadia from The Athletic ranked the players who are the "most intriguing" for the 2020 season. No. 24 Darius Slay came in at No. 23.
"The Eagles believe they're getting a top-five corner," Kapadia wrote. "If Slay plays that way, given the defensive line talent, this defense has the upside to be much better than last season. But it's a high-variance group, and if Slay struggles, the Eagles could be left second-guessing whether they missed on another cornerback."
6. Preparing for the unknown
Vaughn Johnson looks at a season opener that can maybe only be rivaled by the World War II era that forced the Eagles and the Pittsburgh Steelers to combine forces and become the Steagles in 1943.
Johnson writes: First on the list of unknowns: What is it like to play in a stadium with zero fans? The last time any of these players performed in front of virtually no one was Pop Warner. But even then, as tight end Zach Ertz pointed out this week, at least the players' family members showed, whether they actually wanted to be there or not.
The players have had the benefit of feeding off the fans' energy going back to high school, which for some, was more than a decade ago. In 2020, they will have to find their own source of energy.
"We just have to feed off our own energy," defensive tackle Fletcher Cox told reporters this week. "We got to bring our own energy. We got to support each other. We got to go out and have fun and run around."
To make up for the lack of real noise, stadiums are allowed to provide noise over the speakers. The Eagles practiced with faux crowd noise during their scrimmage at Lincoln Financial Field, which will also not have fans until further notice, back on August 30.
"I know one thing for me, if I'm hit and I'm throwing a deep ball, I'm not going to hear the crowd noise to know if it's complete or incomplete," quarterback Carson Wentz said. "I'm going to have to get up and see. The crowd noise is going to stay the same."
7. Another change: How the team travels in 2020
The Eagles are on the road this Sunday to kick off the 2020 regular at the Washington Football Team. It will be the first of at least (fingers crossed for playoffs!) eight road trips that will span 18,972 miles this season. The Eagles will truly be "on the road" for a total of 262 hours from wheels up to wheels down for all of their trips, including nearly two full days of transit time (47 hours and 15 minutes).
The Eagles typically reserve close to 200 hotel rooms on the road. That number, due to the restrictions put in place by the league to limit the size of travel parties, will be closer to 140. There will be around 25 fewer people joining the team on the road. The difference is that some of the front office staff and corporate guests are being replaced by members of the practice squad, who will travel this year unlike in past seasons. The Eagles have staff members helping out in other ways, such as the strength and conditioning coaches will aid the equipment staff in getting things ready at the stadium. The video crew will aid in getting the players set up at the hotel.
"We're all coming together. It builds that camaraderie from department to department, and it makes the best experience for the players so that we're not missing a beat." said Dan Ryan, the team's director of team travel and football logistics. "This is a business trip. We're there to win a game and then come home. That's the goal."
8. Presenting the Eagles' case for the Super Bowl
Bill Barnwell from ESPN lays the path for each of the 32 teams to win the Super Bowl in the 2020 season. One key factor in the Eagles' quest is not even a player or a coach, according to Barnwell.
"Howie Roseman is also one of the most aggressive general managers in the league when it comes to in-season trades; a midyear trade for help on defense, either at linebacker or in the secondary, could come into play," wrote Barnwell.
One edit regarding Carson Wentz. The franchise quarterback started and finished all 16 regular-season games in 2019. Barnwell wrote that it hadn't happened since his rookie campaign.
9. Looking for a surprise breakout candidate?
Pro Football Focus offered a breakout candidate for each of the 32 teams. PFF selected an early-round draft pick entering his second season. No, not Miles Sanders. Wide receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside.
"He battled injuries and produced a lowly 52.6 receiving grade on his 19 targets while struggling against tight coverage — an area in which he excelled at Stanford," wrote PFF's Anthony Treash. "In 2018 with the Cardinal, Arcega-Whiteside produced the third-best receiving grade in the FBS against tight coverage and tied for the most contested catches (22). He was as strong as one can be at the catch point in college."
10. Behind Enemy Lines
From our Game Preview presented by Unibet, we asked Kyle Stackpole, editor for the Washington Football Team, what's been the biggest difference with quarterback Dwayne Haskins entering Year 2.
"In January, Head Coach Ron Rivera challenged Dwayne Haskins to step up and become the 'franchise-style quarterback' Washington expects him to be. And in the months that followed, Haskins responded," Stackpole wrote.
"Haskins lost 11 pounds and trimmed his body fat to 7 percent this offseason. He also took the initiative with his quarterback coaches and workout partners. Typically, his quarterback coaches would devise a plan for him each offseason. But this year, Haskins came to them with a plan of his own. In addition, Haskins reached out to several of his teammates, including starting wideouts Terry McLaurin and Steven Sims Jr., and threw with them throughout the offseason.
"In Training Camp, Haskins cemented himself as the starter by showing a solid grasp of the offense, making good decisions, and asserting himself as a leader. That last point is perhaps the most important. When asked about his expectations for this season, Haskins did not talk about how many touchdowns or yards he hoped to throw for. He wants to be a "great leader" and someone who can usher this team into a new era of football. His teammates seem to agree with him, as they recently voted him as a captain.
"On Sunday, expect Haskins to come out more confident and comfortable than he was as a rookie. He devoted this offseason to becoming the long-term answer at quarterback for Washington, and the team seems to believe in him."
11. No, Barrett Brooks is not available for Sunday
The former offensive tackle is part of NBC Sports Philly's coverage on Sunday. In our latest Where Are They Now?, Brooks explained what it was like making the jump from the field to the broadcast studio.
"It means a little more than being handed to me like most guys coming out of the league," Brooks said. "I had to work for everything that I received as far as doing the things that I do on TV. I had to build credibility, not just to the people at NBC Sports, but also to the fans. They don't know me back to 1995. It's a new fan base now. I really had to gain their trust and they had to see the knowledge that I have and that they can trust what I'm saying."
12. A season-defining meeting?
From earlier this week, Eagles Insider Dave Spadaro got insight into the meeting between Head Coach Doug Pederson and Jason Peters that resulted in the offensive lineman returning to the left tackle spot that he's manned since 2009:
It was a normal Monday morning for Head Coach Doug Pederson, ensconced in his NovaCare Complex office watching tape and looking through some notes and preparing the day's practice and, in the bigger picture, for the Washington Football Team on Sunday, and then everything changed. A loud knock at the door. "Come in," Pederson said, invitingly.
In walked No. 71, Jason Peters. He turned to his left to face Pederson, behind his desk.
"I asked him, 'What's going on? What's up?'" Pederson said.
Peters had a message for the head coach.
"I want to play left tackle," is the general gist of what Peters had to say.
"I was excited about that. I assured him that everything was going to be OK, that we would get him the proper reps over there and get him ready to go," Pederson said. "I was excited. He was excited. I said, 'Let's put everything behind us and move forward and focus on Washington.'"
The Eagles rewarded Peters for his selfless move by rewarding him with a restructured contract for the season.
Check out what the players have been posting on social media in the latest Social Media Roundup!
13. Jason Peters is also one of the team captains
Head Coach Doug Pederson took a different approach to selecting the captains for 2020. Instead of being voted upon by the team, he chose the eight players – Carson Wentz, Jason Kelce, and Jason Peters on offense; Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, and Rodney McLeod on defense; and Craig James and Duke Riley on special teams.
"It is important to me to select players who are great leaders, who are going to be captains all year," Pederson said. "I felt like these gentlemen represented what we're looking for in the way they've worked so hard and led the way for the team on and off the field. It's a group I'm proud to call our captains for the season."