Jeff McLane: Without playing the what-if game, the Eagles’ greatest weakness is at cornerback. There probably hasn’t been enough attention brought to the issue this offseason because how could it get any worse than last season, when injuries besieged the unit? Sidney Jones, Rasul Douglas, and Avonte Maddox have also had promising summers. But if that is to be the starting trio when the season opens, the group has only a combined 25 starts over five total seasons. The Eagles didn’t expend second-, third- and fourth-round draft picks on the three to have them wait in the wings for multiple seasons. With Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills coming off surgeries, though, their time as a group may be coming ahead of schedule.
Jones, Douglas, and Maddox have shown they have the capabilities to perform as starters — particularly Maddox — but they’ve been erratic, too. Some of the inconsistencies stem from playing one of the more unforgiving positions in the NFL. Cornerbacks must have short memories. Unfortunately for them, most fans don’t. Darby could be cleared by Week 1, and he could ease some concerns about throwing all three youngsters out there together. He has the most experience among the corners, and seemingly the most talent, but he’s had his ups and downs, as well. He’s also coming off a torn ACL.
Mills isn’t close to returning. He hasn’t practiced since suffering a foot injury last October. He could provide depth when he’s back, and maybe supplant one of the starters, but Mills comes with his own deficiencies. The Eagles lack a shutdown corner. Many teams do. Jones may have the best chance to develop into a No. 1 corner. But for now, the Eagles have a bunch of No. 2′s and 3′s, which isn’t the end of the world. But if Jim Schwartz’s pass rush doesn’t get enough pressure, the corners could get further exposed.
Mike Sielski: Not to dodge the question, but it might be better to reframe it. Not all elements of a football team are equally important. Weakness in a particular position group is necessarily more damaging than weakness in another because certain positions matter more. The Eagles don’t look all that deep at linebacker, for instance, but the frequency with which teams use nickel and dime packages in the modern NFL probably mitigates that lack of depth. Jake Elliott misses a few more extra points and mid-range field goals than he should. But if the Eagles aren’t settling for field goals, if they’re scoring touchdowns, then as long as Elliott continues to kick well in clutch situations, his job won’t be in jeopardy.
So instead of asking, What’s the Eagles’ greatest weakness?, it’s probably more useful to ask, What area has the greatest potential to damage the Eagles? The answer to that question — and maybe this is a reach — is the offensive line. On paper, it should be excellent. But Jason Peters has a lengthy injury history and is 37, and his backup is a rookie. Brandon Brooks is recovering from an Achilles tear. Jason Kelce is 31 and has contemplated retiring. It doesn’t take much to envision an injury or two forcing the Eagles to test the depth of their offensive line, and their entire offense suffering as a result.
Paul Domowitch: I’m going to go with linebacker here. While it’s not the most important unit on Jim Schwartz’s defense, the Eagles have way too many questions at the position heading into the season.
First and foremost is the leader and best player on that unit, Nigel Bradham, who suffered a foot injury in the Eagles’ January playoff loss to the Saints and acknowledged that he tore ligaments in his big toe. He spent most of training camp as a spectator and didn’t play in any of the preseason games. On Aug. 20, he said he still hadn’t regained the push-off power in the damaged foot. He said he “hopefully’’ will be ready for the opener, but even if he plays, his level of effectiveness remains a mystery.
Then there’s Kamu Grugier-Hill, who played well in 10 starts last year but has been out since the second week of training camp with an MCL knee sprain and could miss the first two or three games. The Eagles let talented but oft-injured Jordan Hicks walk in the offseason. They essentially replaced him with two players — Zach Brown and L.J. Fort. Brown is a solid first-down, base-package middle linebacker who is good against the run, but he doesn’t have much mobility.
But beyond that, there isn’t a lot. The good news is Schwartz is a master at minimizing the weaknesses of his unit. The Eagles probably will be in their three-linebacker base package only 25-30 percent of the time, and he’s likely to favor three-safety, three-corner, one-linebacker looks over two-linebacker nickel sub packages.