They are playing in the worst division in NFL history. They have three offensive linemen and one defensive lineman bound for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Even with a rookie coach and a green quarterback, if everything went right, the Eagles had a chance to collect 12 wins.
Everything isn’t going right.
Two offensive linemen are injured. So is the No. 1 wide receiver, DeVonta Smith, who happens to be a rookie. The No. 2 wide receiver, second-year enigma Jalen Reagor, arrived out of shape, and now he can’t get out of his own way.
To put it another way, with a new coaching staff, with an offseason once again disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 36% of the Eagles’ projected starters on offense aren’t where they should be.
It is, in a word, alarming. Perhaps catastrophic.
Nick Sirianni is an enthusiastic creature with adequate football knowledge who has no business being an NFL head coach, but Jeffrey Lurie and Howie Roseman wanted a Yes Man, and so he is. Jalen Hurts could probably use a full season of seasoning, but, with the traitorous defection of Carson Wentz, Hurts lacks that luxury.
Sirianni is installing a new offense. Every player needs every rep. This is doubly true at Training Camp 2021, Rock-Paper-Scissors edition. Players held the NFL hostage this spring, refusing to adhere to normal offseason training activities.
After enduring this watered-down version of how professional football should be run, the Eagles now need every second of camp to matter. With a raft of unknowns on defense, their best hopes for 2021 lay in elite play from its offensive line, quick studies from its young receivers, and synergy with Hurts, who was inconsistent in his four starts in 2020.
Left guard Isaac Seumalo hasn’t practiced due to a hamstring strain. Right guard Brandon Brooks is hurt again; he lasted less than two practices before he hurt his hamstring. Brooks tore his right Achilles tendon in 2018, separated his right shoulder in 2019, then tore his left Achilles in 2020. He’s the most talented guard in the NFL, but he’ll be 32 in 10 days.
Smith, the 166-pound first-rounder, sprained his MCL on Saturday. He’ll miss at least two weeks, possibly three.
This means Smith, whose chief weapon is speed, won’t be running full-speed patterns for a quarterback who has never thrown him a pass in a game. This means he’ll miss the first two preseason games, Thursday against the Steelers and a week later against the Patriots, and he probably won’t play Aug. 19 at the Jets, either. If Smith does play in the finale he likely won’t see any time with Hurts, since starting quarterbacks seldom play preseason finales.
This also means Smith won’t be in game shape until September at the earliest.
At least they have the other first-round receiver ... or do they?
Reagor, the 21st overall pick in 2020, spent most of last season rehabbing a torn ligament in his right thumb and being ignored by Wentz. Saddened by the death of a friend, he showed up to Camp Kobayashi (Sirianni said Thursday that he uses videos of eating-contest stars to emphasize the importance of technique. Seriously.) in poor shape, failed the pre-camp conditioning test, missed the first three days, and has since been an object of Sirianni’s derision.
This is excellent news for the hopeful fans of third-year bust JJ Arcega-Whiteside. This is awful news for fans of the Philadelphia Eagles.
Sirianni reamed Reagor in the middle of practice Wednesday. Sirianni wouldn’t reveal the subject of the discussion, but he acknowledged Thursday that Reagor’s performance was subpar: “The standard is high, what we want.”
What he wants first, though, is durability. He’s not getting it.
Come on, man
Asked about his practice philosophy, Sirianni must have believed the press conference was bugged by the players’ unions.
“Availability. Player health is the first thing,” he said.
Actually, winning is the first thing. That requires familiarity with the scheme and with teammates. After a week of workouts, the Eagles are lacking ... right?
“Just because they’re not practicing 2½ hours, we’re full speed, mentally, in walk-throughs. We’re still meeting full-speed,” Sirianni said. He then realized how that sounded on its own and finished: “Practice is one piece of the puzzle. It’s a big piece.”
Is he worried that players will be playing themselves into shape come September?
He should be. His 12-win team will be lucky to go 8-9 if they don’t ambush the Falcons in the opener then win at Dallas two weeks later. His two starting guards and his two starting receivers won’t have had the sort of training camp they need to help the Eagles charge from the gate.
Sirianni knows this.
He’s just whistling past a graveyard.