Understanding the new landscape for this 2020 Eagles Training Camp, we move into a new phase of the program at the NovaCare Complex. What have we learned about the Eagles as the first full week with the entire roster present begins? Digging beneath the obvious – the pads don't go on for a few more weeks, the day-to-day routine is far different than in the past – we're finding out a few things. For example …
- (UPDATE: This item was added Sunday night.) Head Coach Doug Pederson is in self-quarantine after testing positive for COVID-19. He communicated to me via text on Sunday night that that he has no symptoms and that he's feeling fine. The Eagles released a statement: "We received confirmation this evening that Head Coach Doug Pederson tested positive for COVID-19. Pederson is asymptomatic and doing well. He is currently in self-quarantine and in communication with the team's medical staff. The organization is following the protocols established by the NFL and the NFLPA. Any individuals in close contact with Pederson at our facility have been notified and will continue with daily testing procedures and compliance with all protocols before returning to the facility." What does this mean? The first priority is that Pederson recovers fully and has no side effects or lasting impact. That's No. 1, by far. As for the football team, the Eagles haven't said officially who takes over for Pederson, who will return to the NovaCare Complex after he has two negative tests, per NFL protocol. At this juncture, the players are on the field only for conditioning work and for walkthroughs, and position coaches and coordinators are generally in charge of those. Pederson is the second NFL head coach to test positive for COVID-19. Saints Head Coach Sean Payton tested positive in the spring. There is no word on how Pederson was exposed to COVID-19, and that's why this is such a dangerous situation for everyone in the world.
- A supposition from many out there is that the Eagles would, at some point, bring in a veteran running back to add depth and insurance behind second-year man Miles Sanders. And they could still do that at some point in the next six weeks before the opener at Washington. Anything can happen, as we all know. But Assistant Head Coach/Running Backs Coach Duce Staley sure didn't sound like he had any concern about Sanders, who was so electrifying in his rookie season. Let's, then, explore what the Eagles have behind Sanders and understand just how important Corey Clement could be to this team in his very crucial fourth preseason with the team.
Boston Scott is the next version of Darren Sproles in, at least, the way he can be used most effectively – as a change-of-pace ball carrier, a player who can contribute to the passing game and someone who can help out in the return game (he's not at the level of Sproles there, as few are). Scott is in.
The Eagles were excited to add Elijah Holyfield when they acquired him off of waivers last year from Carolina, so here is that opportunity. Holyfield is a solid 5-10, 215-pounder who had success at Georgia and, well, the Eagles are going to put him in let's-see-him moments when the pads go on later this month (August 17, to be exact).
Michael Warren had great numbers at the University of Cincinnati (1,265 yards, 14 touchdowns last season) and he's a 218-pounder who has a lot to learn in a short period of time. Adrian Killins is small (5-8, 177 pounds), but speedy. He accounted for 4,361 all-purpose yards at Central Florida.
That brings us to Clement, one of the reasons the Eagles won Super Bowl LII. He's had more than his share of injuries the last two seasons and he says now that his body is right, his weight is where he wants it to be, and he has a very keen understanding of his crossroads summer. The question is, ultimately, can Clement show the Eagles enough in the next four to five weeks to win a job? It's an underrated question, but if Clement is right and on top of his game, the Eagles should be fine in terms of depth at running back. If not, depth could be something to think about.
Said Staley about Clement: "He has his ears pinned back. He's ready. He looks awesome. You can tell he's been working. He wants to get back to the old Corey."
- Interesting comment from Passing Game Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach Press Taylor on how the virtual offseason challenged the teaching aspect of coaching down to the very fine details, specifically as the Eagles welcomed in Jalen Hurts to the quarterback room.
"It challenges the way that you're speaking to the guys. It really challenges your language," Taylor said. "You have to be able to explain it. What the expectation is, what it's looked like from these other guys, what we expect him to do, try to find a way to put him in those situations without being hands on, not in a huddle. We had to find ways to show him what the huddle looked like, what it sounds like at the line of scrimmage from our quarterbacks, without standing behind him, see him do it, correct him immediately. It challenges the way you teach things.
"At the same time we had more meeting time this spring than we ever had with these guys. You're able to dive into all aspects of it. Start with the big picture, shrink it down to the details. We talk about every philosophy, what we're doing, first and second down, offensive philosophy, red zone, four minute (offense), two minute, eight minute, the middle eight, all the different philosophies we have throughout a game."
- You know why Defensive Coordinator Jim Schwartz likes "positionless players?" Because when he has a cornerback like Darius Slay, who can play inside or outside, it requires other defensive backs to be just as flexible. The Eagles will, at times, match Slay on the offense’s best receivers this season. That's a departure from what Schwartz has done in the past with the Eagles. With Slay, one of the best cornerbacks in the league, the dynamic changes.
"I don't know that it's going to be a 100-percent, all-the-time thing," Schwartz said. "Maybe it's a particular game, maybe 50 percent of the games, maybe 75 percent of the games that Slay is matching a particular receiver. But you will see that from our defense. In order to do that, it's not just on Slay to know inside and outside, which we have a very good comfort level with and feel like he can do that. But now it's going to put all of your corners, your safeties and your nickels just a little bit more into they have to be a little bit more multidimensional."
- It's anticipated that Rodney McLeod will start at one safety position. The other job is, as Schwartz said, an open competition. And, as you know, Jalen Mills is getting a long look, moving from cornerback to safety. Schwartz detailed why Mills is making the move. "I think with Jalen, we've seen things from him that match the safety position. He's tough. He'll tackle. He has range and instincts. We like his vision at that position. We've seen players in the past sort of transition that same way, whether it's a Malcolm Jenkins, who we had experience with. I think you see it across the league. A lot of those things Jalen has done in the past. He's played the technique when he's been a corner, but he's done those kind of things. He is an experienced player, a little bit like Slay. He does have a base to work from. I think he checked a lot of boxes for us when it came to making that transition, number one, what he's done in the past, then number two, what his skill set is for us right now. We are really excited about it, too. Jalen is a good leader for us. He's tough. He brings an edge to our defense. I think you might even see that a little bit more when he's inside right there at the safety position as opposed to being all the way out on the perimeter."
- Just so you know, three players remain on the Reserve/COVID-19 list – linebacker Nathan Gerry and offensive linemen Lane Johnson and Jordan Mailata. Each player must test negative three times for COVID-19 before being removed from that list and joining the active Training Camp roster. Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery is on the team's Active/Physically Unable To Perform list.
- This is the schedule for the Eagles for the week ahead, as it is with every NFL team (new rules apply to every team): From August 3 through 11, players will have an acclimation period – 60 minutes in the weight room and 60 minutes of on-field conditioning. No conditioning tests may be administered during this period. In addition to strength-and-conditioning work, teams can have 60-minute walkthroughs on each of the first four days and 75-minute walkthroughs on each of the last four days. August 8 is a mandatory off day.
- In case you missed it, quarterback Carson Wentz is ripped. Jacked. Last year, he "leaned out," and it served him well. This offseason, without an injury to rehab, Wentz added muscle and it's obvious to see. Can't wait to watch him on the field.
- All of the work put in to making the NovaCare Complex a safe working environment has paid off to date. It takes a few days to acclimate, as Pederson said earlier this week, but once you get it down it's very simple and extremely safe and, after one week with players in the building, it has worked well.
- The linebacker group has no real “household” names, as Schwartz said last week. But he is working with a group that can run and cover ground. You can expect Gerry and T.J. Edwards on the field quite a bit. Schwartz also wants to see how the new linebackers fit in. "One thing I am really excited about in the linebacker position, adding guys like Jatavis (Brown), Davion Taylor, Shaun Bradley, we have some real speed at that position. Duke (Riley) is fast," Schwartz said. "All our guys have different skill sets, but we've made a real strong point to add speed. I think we're probably a faster group than we've been in any of the four years previous. So I'm excited about that."
- The Eagles need some of the young defensive ends to step forward behind starters Brandon Graham and Derek Barnett – Josh Sweat made good strides in his second season – and they also know that, in certain situations, veteran Malik Jackson can take reps from the edge. This is going to be really interesting to watch, how the Eagles manipulate their roster and keep the defensive linemen fresh. The projected starting group – Graham and Barnett, Fletcher Cox/Jackson/Javon Hargrave – could be one of the best in the NFL. How much depth the Eagles develop holds the key for the long haul of a 16-game regular season which is so close you can almost touch it.
Take a look inside the Eagles' weight room to see how the team is preparing for the 2020 NFL season.