The main objective of the Eagles and many other NFL teams this summer has been to get their key players to the Week 1 starting line, even if it has meant keeping them hermetically sealed during the preseason.
Quarterback Jalen Hurts had just seven pass attempts in the preseason, though that number quite possibly could have swelled to 10 or 11 if not for that nasty pregame tummy ache against the Patriots.
Running back Miles Sanders had just two preseason carries.
None of the Eagles’ five starting offensive linemen played more than 10 snaps. Tight ends Dallas Goedert and Zach Ertz played a combined 19 snaps. Defensive linemen Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham played seven and eight snaps, respectively.
Scoff if you’d like, but the strategy seems to have worked. With the Sept. 12 season opener in Atlanta less than two weeks away, the Eagles are as healthy as they’ve been this close to the start of the season in a long time.
Not only that, they’re starting to get some injured players back as well. On Monday, safety Rodney McLeod and second-round rookie offensive lineman Landon Dickerson, who both are coming off torn ACLs, were activated from their respective injury lists and participated in individual drills in the team’s 75-minute practice at the NovaCare Complex.
McLeod was on the PUP (physically unable to perform) list. Dickerson was on the nonfootball injury list. If the Eagles hadn’t activated them before Tuesday’s roster cutdown, both players would have had to sit out at least the first six regular-season games.
One or both could still end up being placed on injured reserve to start the season. But under the league’s 2021 IR rules, they could be activated after just three weeks.
McLeod and Dickerson suffered their ACL injuries last December, just six days apart. McLeod, who missed 13 games with an ACL tear in 2018, suffered his injury in the Eagles’ Week 14 win over the Saints.
Dickerson tore his left ACL in Alabama’s 52-46 win over Florida in the SEC championship game. He also had an ACL injury to his right knee in 2016.
Dickerson likely will open the season on injured reserve. McLeod has said for months that his goal was to be ready for Week 1.
“The fact that I was able to get back out there today is a blessing,” McLeod said after practice. “Long hours, long days. It felt good. It’s the first step.”
Does he think he can be ready to play against the Falcons?
“I’m just trusting the trainers and the plan right now,” he said. “Taking it one day at a time and monitoring my progression as the days go on and we get closer.”
The Eagles signed six-year veteran Anthony Harris to replace Jalen Mills at one safety spot. McLeod, if he’s healthy, would man the other spot. If he’s not ready, K’Von Wallace or Marcus Epps likely would start.
“I’ve seen a lot of improvement from guys like Marcus and K’Von,” McLeod said. “They’re two younger guys who have come on the scene and made a lot of plays throughout camp.”
The question with the 31-year-old McLeod is at what playing level will he be when he returns. It’s one thing to be back. It’s another to be back to your old self.
“It just comes down to making plays you’re accustomed to making,” he said. “Early on, hopefully not, but I might be a step short.
“It’s just a matter of seeing yourself making those plays again. The confidence will come with that. Once those things happen, that reassurance that what I’m feeling and how I’m playing aligns with one another, then I’ll be fine.”
The Eagles have high hopes for Dickerson. If he hadn’t torn his ACL last December, he might have been a top-15 pick in the draft. The Eagles ended up taking him with the fifth pick in the second round, the 37th overall selection.
But at the moment, there is no rush to play him. Even without him, they have a top-five line that includes three Pro Bowlers, and possibly more offensive-line depth than any team in the league. That’s the one benefit of having had to use an NFL-record 14 offensive-line combinations last season.
“It felt great to be back on the field,” Dickerson said Monday. “It was a tremendous feeling to just be able to be part of the team again. I wanted to get back out there. Be with my guys. Be with my teammates.”
Dickerson and McLeod spent a lot of time together during the offseason rehabbing their ACL injuries, particularly since they got hurt at about the same time.
“We’ve been on similar timetables with similar injuries,” said Dickerson, who is listed at 6-foot-6, 333 pounds. “We’ve shared stories and asked each other questions and given each other tips on maybe things we’re feeling or experiencing. Things that worked for us and things that didn’t work. All sorts of good stuff.
“It’s been great being able to establish a relationship with a guy like Rodney.”
Dickerson said he has no idea when he’ll play and that he’ll leave that to the team doctors, trainers, and the coaching staff.
“My job right now is to just try and get my body better one day at a time,” he said.
“I’ve trusted the process with the staff here. It’s really been whenever I felt comfortable and whenever they felt comfortable with me getting back out on the field.”