The Eagles’ depth chart will look different in May when the team takes the field for the first time, much less in September when they play a game that counts, so any assessment of the Eagles’ roster requires the caveat that there’s still much time to make changes and additions.
This is most apparent at running back and linebacker, two positions that remain incomplete. The void at running back has been well-chronicled during recent days, but there’s similar unknown about linebacker after Jordan Hicks’ departure.
“I don’t have that answer,” coach Doug Pederson said when asked who the top middle linebacker will be this spring. “The reason I say that is from the standpoint of a roster. We really haven’t put all those pieces together yet. We’re looking to continue to add, obviously, add value, add depth at that spot. And then we’ll sort that out as we go.”
The Eagles have invested in the development of Kamu Grugier-Hill and Nate Gerry, both entering their third seasons. Gerry could play middle linebacker and Grugier-Hill could play weak-side linebacker while remaining on the field in the nickel with Nigel Bradham. The Eagles signed veteran L.J. Fort in free agency, and though he has only three career starts, Howie Roseman said the Eagles had targeted him after watching him throughout last season.
“We felt like he would be a really good fit in our scheme," Roseman said.
Roseman also mentioned Paul Worrilow, who missed all of last season with a torn ACL before re-signing earlier this offseason. Worrilow has 52 career starts. There will still be opportunities in the draft, trade market, and with veterans who linger in free agency. But it’s clear this is one position with a fluid depth chart.
Elsewhere on the roster …
* Pederson remained coy about injury updates, avoiding timetables for players coming off major injuries. He wouldn’t even confirm which players will miss the offseason program. He mentioned that he’s optimistic about cornerback Jalen Mills for training camp and that they’ll be patient with Mills recovering from a foot injury. Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox had offseason foot surgery, and Pederson said Cox can “probably use a little time.”
“Come summertime, I think we’re going to be healthier,” Pederson said, "but at the same time, this is a great opportunity to develop some of our young players.”
Pederson highlighted offensive lineman Matt Pryor, cornerback Sidney Jones, safety Tre Sullivan, tackle Jordan Mailata, and quarterback Nate Sudfeld. All will likely see increased work this offseason.
Pryor, the Eagles’ 2018 sixth-round pick, will be in line for first-team snaps at guard while Brandon Brooks recovers from a torn Achilles tendon. Sullivan could see extra work while Rodney McLeod recovers from a knee injury. The Eagles will likely manage Jason Peters’ workload considering his age and experience, offering more opportunity for Mailata. Jones needs a big spring because Mills and Ronald Darby are recovering from season-ending injuries.
* Defensive back Avonte Maddox impressed the Eagles as a rookie last season playing throughout the secondary, from safety to slot cornerback to outside cornerback. The Eagles have enough depth at each spot that they could have Maddox stay at one position this spring and summer if they want. However, Pederson said Maddox will work at both the slot and outside cornerback and didn’t rule out safety, so it sounds as if Pederson wants to continue to utilize Maddox’s versatility.
The other players Pederson mentioned for slot cornerback were Cre’Von LeBlanc and Jones. It’s clear that LeBlanc left an impression on the Eagles with the way he played after joining the team in midseason.
“I know we felt really good about what Cre’Von had done towards the end of the year, as he came on,” Pederson said. “He’s tough, physical.”
And there’s no immediate need to play Maddox at safety because the Eagles added veteran Andrew Sendejo, a signing that excited Pederson.
“He adds depth. He adds value,” Pederson said. “Now you’re looking at him, you get Rodney healthy, get him back. The more guys, you go back to ‘17 and some of ‘16, you have guys back there that can rotate — like the D-line — they can rotate through and all playing and healthy, that’s going to help everybody.”
* There are no questions about the top of the depth chart at wide receiver, where Alshon Jeffery, DeSean Jackson, and Nelson Agholor are entrenched in the top three spots. There is more uncertainty behind them.
Mack Hollins had a lost season, spending all of last year on injured reserve. Shelton Gibson hasn’t distinguished himself in regular-season games. One under-the-radar player Pederson mentioned is Braxton Miller, Houston’s 2016 third-round pick who was on the Eagles’ practice squad last season. He now will get a full offseason with the team.
“I am really looking forward to these guys, guys that have been with us, taking the next step,” Pederson said.
* The playing futures of running back Darren Sproles and defensive end Chris Long remain unknown. Long is under contract, but indicated he hasn’t decided whether he wants to return to the Eagles. Sproles is not under contract, but he put off retirement to return last season and did not rule out playing again. Pederson said he wants both players back, although he wasn’t going to put pressure on them for a decision because “this is their time.”