The quarterback ... controversy? The big-name addition. The fear that The Bodyguard’s body can’t guard anyone anymore.
As they begin their season Sunday at Washington, these are not quite the biggest questions facing the Eagles, nor the sexiest. Those questions are too easy: the progress of quarterback Carson Wentz; the health and contributions of receivers Alshon Jeffery, DeSean Jackson, and Jalen Reagor; and whether or not Fletcher Cox can succeed Malcolm Jenkins after Jenkins’ six-year stint as the defense’s face and voice.
No: these Big Three unknowns are a bit more more esoteric. Granular.
And, or course, far more interesting.
1. Jalen Hurts' package
In 2009, in his first season after being released from prison, Michael Vick joined the Eagles as Donovan McNabb’s backup. Vick played in 13 games, including playoffs, and went 13-for-28 with two touchdown passes — one early in the playoff loss to the Cowboys — and ran 25 times for 95 yards and two touchdowns. That’s four TDs on 53 touches.
Doug Pederson was on that Eagles staff. Doug Pederson now has Jalen Hurts on his roster.
Michael Vick ran for 1,299 yards in his two seasons at Virginia Tech. Jalen Hurts ran for 1,298 yards in one season at Oklahoma.
Asked Monday how he expects to use Hurts, whom the Eagles controversially selected in the second round in April, Pederson replied, “I can’t share that.”
Cool, but you don’t take a running quarterback in the second round and not use him. Remember: Four TDs from Vick on 53 touches.
Remember this, too: Taysom Hill scored seven touchdowns for the Saints last season on just 52 touches. Jalen Hurts was drafted to be a not-so-secret weapon.
Expect Hurts' package to earn its own headline every game.
2. Darius Slay is "The Shadow” — right?
It’s easy to envision the Eagles' rich, new, lockdown cornerback smothering Cooper Kupp when the Rams visit in Week 2, or erasing Amari Cooper against Dallas in Weeks 8 and 17. It’s not that simple. Because the Eagles aren’t that good.
Asked early in training camp about Slay roaming if he wants to, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, who’s about as transparent as a South Philly windshield, supplied an unusually candid answer:
“It’s going to make all of your corners, your safeties, and your nickels have to be just a little bit more multidimensional. If Slay lines up at the nickel, the nickel needs to be able to line up at the outside corner, and you need to be able to play man and zone, and blitz from that same look. ... So, I don’t know that it’s going to be a 100 percent, all-the-time thing.
"Maybe it’s a particular game. Maybe it’s 50 percent of the games.”
3. Is there really a “next man up?”
The Eagles' most efficient and decorated unit the last three seasons has been its offensive line. They earned the No. 1 seed in 2017 and won Super Bowl LII because that line protected Carson Wentz and, more importantly, Nick Foles; it cleared the path for the five-headed running back corps that finished third in the NFL in rushing; and it was the main reason the Eagles led the NFL in time of possession that season. The Birds also finished fourth in time of possession in 2018, and were second in 2019, main reasons why they returned to the playoffs each year.
Jason “The Bodyguard” Peters led the group before the Eagles let the 38-year-old left tackle walk via free agency, having drafted Andre Dillard to replace him in 2019.
This season, that line will be without right guard Brandon Brooks, the best of them; he ruptured his Achilles tendon. Brooks' replacement, Matt Pryor, proved so inefficient that they re-signed Peters ... to play right guard, not left tackle, of course. Then Dillard tore his biceps and was lost for the season. The Eagles tried Pryor and Jordan Mailata at the position. Things went poorly. So, on Monday, Peters backed off his demands for more money to play left tackle and slid back into the spot, to Pederson’s delight and gratitude.
This is what should have been all along, and now the Eagles not only enter their opener with just practices to solidify their offensive line — it looks like Pryor will play right guard — but they also start the season without a single viable backup, thanks mostly to shortsighted drafting over the last three years.
How dangerous is this?
Peters has taken an average of 66% of the offensive snaps in the last five seasons. This season, there is no safety net on Wentz’s blind side.
Or is there?