Welcome back, Eagles fans. I know that by now the sand is cleaned from between your toes and the summer is in the rear-view mirror and you’re about to check back in with the team. I’m here to give you a crash-course lesson on what’s happening with the Super Bowl Champions (last mention, I promise) because the season is upon us. The game this week is on Thursday night, Lincoln Financial Field - get in your seats early if you're going! - airing on NBC with kickoff set for 8:20 p.m.
It’s been a unique summer. There’s been a lot of talk about “turning the page,” a reference that has nothing to do with books authored by head coach Doug Pederson or quarterback Nick Foles based on, you know, what happened on February 4. Well, I guess in a sense it does have a relationship because the Eagles wanted to come into the summer, defined by NFL standards as the start of Training Camp in late July, putting in the past the big win over New England in Super Bowl LII. The Eagles moved on at that point.
But it hasn’t been easy.
A spotty preseason during which the Eagles lost three of four games caused a minor conniption for some folks, but those who have been around understand that nobody plays the preseason games to win. The objective is to find the best 53 players to form a regular-season roster, and even that is temporary because men like Howie Roseman (executive vice president of football operations, a fancy title that back in the old days was termed general manager) and Joe Douglas (vice president of player personnel) and Andy Weidl (director of player personnel) and Dwayne Joseph (director of pro scouting) spend virtually every waking moment watching tape, back and forth, forth and back, to find players who are upgrades to the players already on the 53-man roster. It’s a cruel business, but every player who gets into the game knows the deal.
Speaking of players, and speaking of business, you may have been aware, prior to tuning out the world and reading every trashy novel you could get your hands on, that the Eagles have had some questions regarding the quarterback position. Pederson, for one, appreciated all the interest, even if he became a bit animated the other day talking about it. But, this just in: Foles will start on Thursday night against the Falcons, Nate Sudfeld will be the No. 2, and Carson Wentz will continue to work harder than any human works to recover from his December 10 knee injury. It shouldn’t be too much longer for Wentz, who looks terrific when he’s on the field. But I’m not a doctor and that’s just a guess, so don’t get your hopes up too high. The Eagles are going to be just fine with Foles, who won a few pretty big games in last season’s playoffs.
Second-year wide receiver Mack Hollins said it best on Monday when he was asked about his confidence level in Foles: “Hey, he put jewelry on our fingers. That’s all the confidence I need.”
There are a few other things different about this team you need to know, just so you aren’t alarmed when you tune back in on Thursday night. The Eagles have a bunch of injuries they’ve got to overcome, but I guess that really isn’t new since they were in the same situation last season and won the Super Bowl. Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery is a question mark for this game as he returns from surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff he played with last season. Running back Jay Ajayi is also a question mark with a foot injury that limited him in practice on Monday. Hollins himself didn’t practice Monday as he recovers from a groin injury.
On defense, linebacker Nigel Bradham won’t play, because he’s been suspended by the NFL for something he did in the offseason of 2016. Justice has its own time process, apparently, especially when it comes to the NFL. Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said that Bradham is “not going to be replaced by one person. I'll just say that.” To clear it up, the NFL still permits just 11 men on defense on the field at one time, and while there are some rules changes to understand – players can’t lower their helmets any longer to initiate contact and get away with it, so you’ll see more penalties and, hopefully, fewer injuries, and the kickoff rules are different, perhaps resulting in more kickoff returns, which I love – the number of players on the field isn’t one of them.
Despite the new rules and some new faces, the Eagles have been able to stay remarkably stable with the roster. They have a new starting wide receiver, Mike Wallace, and they welcome back some players we adore, left tackle Jason Peters and running back Darren Sproles, but otherwise the offense is the same as last season (Ajayi and Corey Clement will get more rushing attempts as they replace LeGarrette Blount’s production. Blount is now a Detroit Lion). And on defense, Sidney Jones is playing the nickel cornerback position with Patrick Robinson in New Orleans and veteran linemen Michael Bennett and Haloti Ngata will work into the defensive line rotation.
Oh yeah, there’s a new punter/holder, and his name is Cameron Johnston and he’s one of two Eagles from Australia (offensive lineman Jordan Mailata is the other) as the Eagles “turn the page” (there’s that phrase again) at the punter position.
I think you’re caught up. The regular season begins on Thursday night and, as your juices get flowing and your angst level rises, here’s a reminder: The season is a marathon, not a sprint. It's super-important to win the NFL opener, but win or lose, there are still 15 games to follow. The Eagles may not truly find themselves until later in the season when they’ve got Wentz back and they’re fully healthy and they have some cohesiveness going.
One piece of advice: If you bump into an Eagle – a coach or a player – try not to mention the thing that happened on February 4. We all know that you are still celebrating and pinching yourself and wondering, if even a little, if it really happened, but for the team, it’s a thing of the past. What’s ahead is unknown, extremely exciting and very promising. The Eagles expect to contend again in 2018, and it all starts on Thursday. So, welcome back, I hope you had a great summer and let’s all look forward to an even better fall and winter in Philadelphia and, well, wherever you are with Eagles Midnight Green coursing through your veins.