- Best roster battle? Deepest position? Players on the spot? It's all here as the Eagles prepare for their 2018 Training Camp.
In the span of about four and a half weeks, the Eagles are going to grind out Training Camp and evaluate their 90-man roster with the ultimate goal of reducing the number of players to 53 in preparation for the 2018 season-opening game against the Atlanta Falcons at Lincoln Financial Field. Cutting through all the hoopla, Training Camp is about finding the best 53 players, plus a practice squad. And that business is just about underway.
As the Eagles get ready to go here, why not a primer to give you everything you need to know about Eagles Training Camp, 2018? It's here, and it's very real and tremendously exciting as the Eagles look to become the ninth team in NFL history to repeat as Super Bowl Champions.
TRAINING CAMP DATES: The players report on Wednesday to take physicals, attend NFL meetings on rules and regulations, have a team dinner, and then take part in an organizational meeting that lasts almost three hours. It's an introductory day that explains to the players the rules of engagement for Training Camp, which really aren't that different from the spring practices. The players will practice twice a day for much of camp, and during those days only one of those practices can be held with players wearing pads. The other practice is a walk-through, per the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
On August 5 and August 11, the Eagles will have public practices (tickets were gobbled up quickly last week) at Lincoln Financial Field. Otherwise, the practices are held at the NovaCare Complex and are conducted in front of a few hundred fans, mostly corporate partners or community relations invitations, with some Season Ticket Members.
Camp ends for the spectators on Tuesday, August 14, two days before the Eagles play at the New England Patriots in Preseason Game No. 3. The final preseason game is on August 30 against the visiting Jets, and then all attention is turned toward the September 6 game against Atlanta that begins the NFL season.
KEY STORYLINES: Quarterback Carson Wentz's recovery from knee surgery is the dominating theme, but there are other players in similar situations, including left tackle Jason Peters (knee), middle linebacker Jordan Hicks (Achilles), safety Chris Maragos (knee), defensive end Brandon Graham (ankle), defensive tackle Tim Jernigan (back), wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (shoulder), and running back Darren Sproles (knee). Of that group, Sproles is the one most likely to be given full clearance at the onset of camp. He said in the spring that he was "ready to go" and that the Eagles were holding him back as a precaution at the time. The hope is that every one of those players is given a green light in time to get ready for the Falcons, but there is a lot unknown here.
Beyond the injury angle, there are some significant stories to follow. How will the new players fit into the Eagles' culture? Who steps up to fill what is an inexperienced group of linebackers? Who wins the job as the nickel cornerback, replacing Patrick Robinson? Who emerges as a long shot to win a roster position?
BEST ROSTER BATTLE: Twelve months ago, the Eagles really didn't have a whole lot set at the cornerback spots. They had just drafted Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas to go along with Jalen Mills and the veteran Robinson, who signed a one-year contract in free agency. A lot felt and was, honestly, unknown. But then the Eagles traded for Ronald Darby. And Robinson turned up his game in the regular season. And Jalen Mills continued to make progress and Douglas contributed as a rookie and Jones made great progress recovering from his pre-draft Achilles tendon injury. The team used a fourth-round draft pick on Avonte Maddox, who is most definitely in the mix at nickel. And then the Eagles started things up in the spring and young veteran De'Vante Bausby showed up in a big way and, all of a sudden, the Eagles have a pretty crowded and very talented group at cornerback. Who wins the nickel cornerback job? It's probably the best open battle of camp.
NOT FAR BEHIND: The weakside linebacker position, manned by Mychal Kendricks since 2012, is suddenly open. The Eagles signed veterans Corey Nelson and Paul Worrilow in free agency, expecting them to compete for playing time at WILL. Worrilow, though, is gone for the season after suffering a knee injury in the spring. Nelson is a contender for the job, along with returning Eagles Kamu Grugier-Hill and Nathan Gerry and probably others who the Eagles will look at this spring.
DEEPEST POSITION: It could very well be running back with Jay Ajayi, Corey Clement, Darren Sproles, Wendell Smallwood, Donnel Pumphrey, and veteran Matt Jones now in the mix. The Eagles are certainly going to keep three running backs. They are likely to keep four. This is going to be great competition. The Eagles are going with a running back-by-committee approach, and they're going to need depth. They've got it heading into Training Camp.
BIGGEST CONCERN: Probably the linebacker group as a whole, given that there is no clear-cut answer at the moment at WILL, and Hicks is coming back from injury and Nigel Bradham is suspended for the first regular-season game. Know that the Eagles will keep their eyes open around the league if they don't like what they're seeing early in camp.
MAN ON THE SPOT: There are a bunch of men on the spot, but how about punter/holder Cameron Johnston? He is in line to replace one of the all-time bests in Donnie Jones. Can Johnston show the consistency both as a punter and a holder to win the job? He's got the first crack at it.
PLAYER WE'LL LEARN A LOT ABOUT: Wentz will take more and more reps on the field through August, and Nick Foles is going to start in the preseason games, but the guy who we're going to see a lot of in the preseason games is Nate Sudfeld. The Eagles don't want to risk Wentz in the preseason. They know all about Foles. They're going to find out about Sudfeld after his strong first year as an Eagle. The expectation here is that Sudfeld plays a ton in the preseason games.
VETERANS WHO NEED TO MAKE A MOVE: There are many, but here are two to consider: Matt Jones, a former third-round draft pick by Washington who could be in a last-chance situation after his career turned the wrong way with the Redskins and with the Colts, and wide receiver Markus Wheaton, who not too long ago was an excellent deep threat with the Steelers. Injuries really have taken Wheaton off track the last couple of seasons.
DRAFT CLASS EXPECTATIONS: Second-round draft pick Dallas Goedert has a chance to be an immediate contributor as the No. 2 tight end to Zach Ertz, and fourth-round draft pick Avonte Maddox is pushing at the cornerback position. Otherwise, it's all about development as defensive end Josh Sweat and offensive linemen Matt Pryor and Jordan Mailata improve their techniques and show they are NFL-ready.