The Eagles reported for training camp a month ago amid expectations for a return to Super Bowl form.
Nothing has happened in the interim to seriously mar that picture. But it’s also true that a month of practices and preseason games hasn’t brought the picture into much sharper focus.
Part of the reason is injuries. Nothing catastrophic has happened, unless you’re Joe Ostman, whose strong bid for a roster spot at defensive end was derailed by a torn ACL. But there are 12 significant Eagles – players who should make the final 53 when it’s announced next Saturday – who either are injured and aren’t practicing or who are supposed to be ready for the Sept. 8 opener but haven’t practiced fully or played in the preseason.
We’re not counting Carson Wentz. Everybody knows Eagles coach Doug Pederson hasn’t risked his quarterback in a preseason game, but Wentz has taken the most practice reps among the QB group, especially last week when the Eagles practiced twice against the Baltimore Ravens.
Is All-Pro defensive tackle Fletcher Cox (foot) really going to be in top form by Sept. 8? He has said he will be, though Cox has not been a full practice participant. When Brandon Graham followed a similar recovery regimen a year ago, Graham said he was not sharp or in shape for the early games, and it affected his season.
Defensive end Derek Barnett (shoulder) has been practicing lately but hasn’t played in a game. He’s 23 and plays a really physical position. And the Eagles are counting on him to dominate this year.
Nigel Bradham is the linchpin at linebacker, especially with Kamu Grugier-Hill on the shelf for at least a few weeks into the season with a knee injury. Bradham hasn’t fully practiced since foot surgery for an injury suffered in the playoff loss at New Orleans, and he isn’t issuing any fiery assurances about being ready to roll for the opener.
Pro Bowl right guard Brandon Brooks (Achilles) looked great in one-on-one drills against the Ravens, but he isn’t cleared for full practice. Right tackle Lane Johnson (knee) and tight end Dallas Goedert (calf) both are scheduled to be ready for the opener after suffering injuries in camp, but they aren’t practicing yet.
Cornerback Ronald Darby practiced against the Ravens wearing a bulky knee brace. It’s hard to picture a guy whose main asset is his quickness carrying that hardware into the season. And Darby has not played in a preseason game.
We know corner Cre’Von LeBlanc (foot) and quarterback Nate Sudfeld (wrist) aren’t going to be healthy by Sept. 8. What of corner Jalen Mills (foot), who is on the Physically Unable to Perform list and can’t practice? If Mills stays on PUP when the season starts, he’ll have to miss at least six weeks.
Running back Darren Sproles is following his usual spare-the-36-year-old-body preseason regimen. The last two seasons, he hasn’t made it through September without a serious injury. And this time around, we really haven’t seen Sproles do a lot of vintage Sproles stuff in practice.
It was nice of Pederson to play most of his offensive starters, sans Wentz, Thursday night against the Ravens. But he played them mostly in front of Cody Kessler, so we sure didn’t see much.
So, what have we learned after a sweltering month under the South Philly sun?
Safety Rodney McLeod (knee) is healthy and ready to roll for the opener. Ditto Wentz (back) if there was any hint of doubt remaining about that. DeSean Jackson is still fast at 32 and is really driven to make his return to the Eagles count. Rookie running back Miles Sanders, who figured to get off to a slow start after missing a lot of spring work, did not. Sanders has been the offensive star of camp along with smooth, capable rookie left tackle Andre Dillard. Jason Peters looks and feels great, so for right now Dillard can watch and learn.
The defense has gotten the better of the offense a decent number of times in practice. Given expectations for the offense, that might be an encouraging sign for Jim Schwartz’s unit, which endured an incredible string of injuries last season and finished 30th in passing yards allowed. And at least five defensive starters haven’t fully practiced. This is the healthiest, best training camp corner Sidney Jones has had.
The receiving corps sure seems to be the deepest the Eagles have enjoyed in, well, maybe forever. Some wide receiver is going to get cut and play a lot this season for another team. The same might be true at running back.
The major Eagles worries are what they were when camp began, though the nagging, moderate worry at linebacker might have become more serious with neither Bradham nor Grugier-Hill healthy. L.J. Fort might have been a clutch pickup there. Out of a large group at corner, is there a three-player rotation that can really get it done, or do the Eagles just have a big bunch of middle-of-the-road corners?
How is the pass rush going to look without Chris Long or Michael Bennett? Preseason games have not reflected the leap forward that 2018 fourth-round defensive end Josh Sweat was hoping to make.
The biggest worry, of course, is Wentz’s health. There is nothing Wentz or anyone could have done in camp to make that concern go away.
It is clear now that with Nick Foles in Jacksonville and Wentz far enough removed from injury rehab that he can relax a bit, Wentz is enjoying full command of the team. He is the calm, confident leader the coaches need him to be, entering his fourth NFL season.