Good morning. A healthy Carson Wentz was on the field when the Eagles started the busiest portion of the offseason schedule Tuesday with the first of 10 organized team activities that will take place over the next three weeks, followed by a mandatory minicamp.
— Zach Berman
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Tuesday was an important day for the Eagles, because a healthy Carson Wentz is critical for the 2019 season and the future of the franchise. Participation in the first OTA does not necessarily indicate a healthy season, but if Wentz was still limited by the stress fracture in his back, it would have been a bad sign about his recovery. It’s also noteworthy that he’s playing without the brace on his left knee, which should be evidence of the progress he’s made since the December 2017 knee surgery.
Wentz impressed during the Eagles’ 100-minute practice session. A starting quarterback should look good in shorts in May when there’s no live pass rush, but Wentz is getting back to normal. That’s the best news that could have come out of the first day of OTAs.
“I feel great, and as you guys saw today, there’s no limitations out there,” Wentz said Tuesday. “I’m out there doing team drills, doing all that stuff, which seemed like it was a while [ago] for me. I feel really good going forward, and I’m obviously cleared and ready to roll.”
I wouldn’t read too much into how the Eagles looked one way or another Tuesday because the first-team offense and first-team defense were not close to how the Eagles would like for them to appear on opening day.
Safety Malcolm Jenkins, tackle Jason Peters, tackle Lane Johnson, wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, and linebacker Zach Brown — five players who’ve been Pro Bowlers in their careers — were absent. Guard Brandon Brooks; defensive tackle Fletcher Cox; linebacker Nigel Bradham; cornerbacks Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills; running backs Corey Clement, Miles Sanders, and Josh Adams; and wide receiver Mack Hollins were out because of injuries. Without so many key players, this was not the team the Eagles prepared to field.
The most high-profile absence was that of Jenkins, considering he’s always at practice this time of year. Jeff McLane detailed the Jenkins news and situation. My view is that it’s not a big deal if an 11-year veteran misses OTAs in May; that won’t affect you in September. What does matter is how Jenkins feels, considering he’s one of the most important players on the team and one of the most respected players in the locker room. So this is a situation the Eagles must fix.
Some of the injured players will be held out until at least training camp, especially those coming off offseason surgeries. That’s not uncommon. If there are a notable number of absences in camp, though, it will be a concern, just as it was last year when the Eagles were incomplete even when the season started.
Tight end Dallas Goedert and defensive back Avonte Maddox, the Eagles’ top two picks from the 2018 draft class, both impressed during Tuesday’s session after productive rookie seasons. Goedert showed strong hands in making contested catches and was a threat down the field. He said he wanted to be bigger, faster, and stronger this season, and that appears the case.
Maddox played slot cornerback in practice, and he was swarming all over the field on defense. He was breaking up passes and even used as a blitzer. I don’t know yet where Maddox will play this season — slot? Outside? Safety? — but he’ll be on the field. Joe Douglas likes to talk about “position-less” players, and that’s Maddox; just put him in the secondary and he could adjust based on the formation and situation.
The improvement of Goedert and Maddox is also a credit to Douglas, who had only five picks in the 2018 draft and didn’t have one in the first and third rounds. To come out of it with contributing players such as these two, whose trajectories are going in the right direction, has been a boon for the Eagles.
Douglas’ name has been in discussions for the Jets’ open general-manager job, but he was at practice Tuesday and remains with the Eagles at this point.
“Our relationship has been great,” coach Doug Pederson said. “He’s a big part of our scouting process and getting the information we need through our scouts and assisting us in that area.”
The biggest reason for optimism at this point is Carson Wentz is healthier than last season and in position to be the elite quarterback the Eagles need him to be. Any hopes the Eagles have of being a Super Bowl contender this season (and in the years to come) require Wentz being a high-level quarterback. I was impressed with Wentz on Tuesday, even though I don’t put too much stock into one practice. What matters more was that he was a full participant, he’s no longer wearing that knee brace, and he sounded more comfortable and confident about his health.
The cause for concern wasn’t necessarily a takeaway from watching Day 1, but just the number of aging players they’re counting on this season. They’re established players, which is a good thing, but regression can come quickly in the NFL. It’s not often a steady decline, but almost like a player falling off the cliff.
The Eagles will have at least seven starters who will be age 30 or older on opening day; four of them weren’t on the field Tuesday. The Eagles are hoping that past performance continues, but if there’s notable regression, then the next players in line might not be good enough to give the Eagles the production they need at some of those spots.
Good question. Halapoulivaati Vaitai played right guard on the first day of practice, which was a notable development. I think cross-training Vaitai is important, considering he’s a reserve and Andre Dillard is in position to be the Eagles’ next left tackle — especially if Jason Peters is out for an extended period during the season.
Wisniewski’s top role right now is as a backup center/interior linemen, but I don’t believe he was brought in necessarily to be the injury replacement for Brandon Brooks. Much depends on Brooks’ recovery, and I wouldn’t rule out Matt Pryor getting those right-guard looks, too. But Vaitai’s size and experience are both assets for the Eagles, and if he proves he can play right guard, he’s even more valuable to the team. This is the time of year to evaluate it.
So that was interesting, and it’s something I’ll continue to track. I should note I also think that Vaitai is a good trade chip for the Eagles. If you need an offensive tackle this summer, it’s hard to find a 25-year-old with 20 career starts, including the Super Bowl.
Darren Sproles has not yet retired. He’s a free agent now. Perhaps it’s something to explore for the Eagles later this summer if they feel they need help in the return game or don’t like their running backs in a pass-catching role. I think they’ll take the spring to see what they have in their young running backs, including Boston Scott.