Head Coach Doug Pederson met the media on Wednesday before an excellent Training Camp practice – big day for wide receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, running back Elijah Holyfield, and a defensive line that just keeps coming – and said a little bit of this, a little bit of that … so, what did it all mean? That's what I'm here to do right now – expand Pederson's quotes into some context for this football team.
On wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, who is on the Physically Unable to Perform list as he recovers from last season's foot injury, Pederson said, "He's working extremely hard. He's doing his on-land running. We've increased that. He's looking really good. He's feeling really good. And we're hoping to get him out there soon with the team at some point here in the near future. I've been impressed with his workout, with his treatment, with his rehab, and we'll see here in the next couple of weeks, but obviously as you mentioned, not going to put a timetable on him or make any decisions at this time."
Some context: The Eagles loaded up on wide receivers in the 2020 NFL Draft, taking Jalen Reagor in the first round and John Hightower and Quez Watkins later. DeSean Jackson is healthy. J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, who has been much improved in this camp and accentuated his play with a corner-of-the-end-zone grab and a diving catch for a touchdown on Wednesday, is on the rise. No doubt about that. He's not a burner, but Arcega-Whiteside is much better in and out of his routes and at the top of his route and he's catching everything thrown his way and using his body nicely. Arcega-Whiteside devoted six hours per day in the offseason to working on his speed, his explosiveness, his core strength, and just gaining back the confidence that wavered during a tough rookie season and all of that work has paid off.
Reagor has played well throughout camp, showing that this moment is not too large for him. Hightower and Watkins are improving daily. Jackson looks like he's all the way back, healthy and faster than everyone else on the field and he and quarterback Carson Wentz have their chemistry going. Greg Ward is manning up in the slot. If Jeffery is able to get back for Washington on September 13, that's great. If not, the Eagles will utilize their tight ends, who are just so dominating, and they will get Reagor into the mix early and see how he complements the speed of Jackson. Arcega-Whiteside appears ready to take the next step in his NFL career, too.
On how the Eagles will use the tight ends this season, Pederson said, "It's definitely a big part of our offense, the 12 personnel with the two tight ends is something that we feature quite a bit. It's hard to tell exactly how the season is going to go. We could be more 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end) this year or possibly even 13 (one running back, three tight ends). Listen, it just depends on the opponents that we're playing each week and the structure and how we as an offense are playing, and guys – I love having the two tight ends. I grew up with two tight ends in this sort of West Coast offense when I was in Green Bay, and it's something that we're blessed to have these two guys in our system, and we'll continue to explore opportunities for both of them on the field at the same time."
Some context: The Eagles are going to use their tight ends a lot, as they always do, and they may even see some formations with three tights that will bring power to the table. We know about Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert and the opportunities they present for the passing game. Joshua Perkins was placed on Injured Reserve with an upper-body injury and now the Eagles have some inexperienced options if they keep a third tight end. The options, as they stand now: Tyrone Swoopes, who has been in the league for three seasons, but just joined the Eagles this week; Caleb Wilson, claimed from Washington early in Training Camp; and non-drafted rookie Noah Togiai. Tight Ends Coach Justin Peelle is excellent, and he certainly has a challenge getting those three young players ready for the regular season, if that's the direction the Eagles plan to take for September 13.
On the progress made by young offensive tackles Andre Dillard and Jordan Mailata, Pederson said, "I've been real impressed obviously with Dillard and his growth, obviously his strength and what he did this offseason coming into camp mentally and physically prepared. He's done a really nice job for us. He has really stepped in and embraced that role at left tackle. Mailata is doing some good things. He flashes from time to time. Again, keeping in mind that football is relatively new to him. He doesn't have a lot of game experience, obviously, outside of preseason games in the past, but is doing a really good job for us there at left tackle, as well, and could potentially be someone that maybe could swing from left to right if need be."
Some context: We've been talking about this all summer – the offensive line, more than any position, missed out on the absence of spring practices. You just can't make up for lost reps, and with new starters at left tackle (Dilllard) and right guard (Jason Peters), and the reliance on young linemen for depth, the Eagles knew there would be some tough sledding through the month of August.
The Eagles are pleased with the progress that Dillard has made, but he also has some rough moments in practice. That's going to happen for a second-year left tackle. Dillard is going to have his ups and downs, that's just the way it is. Mailata has missed practice the last couple of days, and he's a player who needs every rep he can get. He certainly has improved and is in the running to be a backup swing tackle here. Matt Pryor's versatility helps – he's played both guard and tackle this summer – and draft picks Jack Driscoll and Prince Tega Wanogho are trying to catch up on all that lost time. I'm sure it's the same way around the league – the offensive lines are the last position group to get up to full performance after missing all of those spring reps.
On running back Elijah Holyfield, who was claimed off waivers from Carolina last season just before the playoff game against Seattle, Pederson said, "Unfortunate not to have an offseason, OTAs, but I'll tell you, he's really – again, with the running back situation where we are and Miles (Sanders) resting right now and getting healthy, it's allowed him just like (Adrian Killins Jr.) to get more reps and get more time, and he's really taken advantage of his opportunity when he's out there in practice, whether he's in the one (first-team offense) huddle or the two huddle, making the most.
"He's improved. Yeah, you watch him, even in his pass blocking drills, which are tough drills for players to go through, especially one-on-one, but he's done a nice job there. He's carried over into the team setting and been impressed with where he's at and how he's understanding our offense. He's learning. Obviously, he's asking great questions with (Assistant Head Coach/Running Backs Coach) Duce (Staley), and having (personnel consultant) Darren Sproles out there, too, has been beneficial for all of our running backs. But Elijah has done a nice job for us."
Some context: For much of the early portion of Training Camp, a leading question out there was, "Will the Eagles sign a veteran running back before the regular season?" Well, here we are, two-plus weeks before the opener at Washington and the Eagles are riding with Sanders, who is still out with a lower-body injury; Boston Scott, who has had a fine camp; and Corey Clement, who has looked like the healthy Clement who played so well in 2017 and then 2018 before he was injured. Will the Eagles keep a fourth back? Holyfield is on the come, no doubt. He has been impressive this summer. Mike Warren and Killins are getting plenty of reps. Those young players are benefiting from all the added reps and, clearly, the Eagles are pleased with their progress. The running back group is very, very young but there is a lot of talent her. The trust of having Staley coaching them up is clearly very important to the equation.