Good morning. The Eagles will begin their offseason program Monday, the schedule will likely be announced within the next two weeks, and the draft will begin on April 25. April is a busy month for Eagles coverage, and it will pick up in the coming days.

This is an offseason edition of the Early Birds newsletter. I want to know what you think, what we should add, and what you want to read, so send me feedback by email or on Twitter @ZBerm. Thank you for reading.

— Zach Berman

Eagles coach Doug Pederson (left) talking with Kamu Grugier-Hill during training camp last year.
Eagles coach Doug Pederson (left) talking with Kamu Grugier-Hill during training camp last year.

What will be different during the 2019 offseason program?

Doug Pederson will address the 2019 team for the first time Monday, when he will begin his fourth offseason program as Eagles head coach. One of the benefits of a veteran team is that a notable number of core players have been in the room throughout Pederson’s tenure, or at least for two seasons. The Eagles have 18 players under contract from Pederson’s first season, and 31 players remaining from the Super Bowl team in 2017. (That’s 32 if you count Vinny Curry, who left and came back.)

This also means that Pederson must guard against his message getting stale. It’s already something he’s considered.

“Yeah, you’ve got to find creative ways to motivate,” Pederson said. “I think you’ve got to find creative ways to utilize your time in the spring so it doesn’t get mundane and monotonous; we’re doing the same thing over. So there’s going to be a couple changes. Not major things, but some things with the schedule that we’re going to do a little differently.”

Most of the changes will be noticeable during Phase 3 of the offseason program. Pederson adjusted the schedule so that the offense will use the weight room while the defense meets, and then they’ll flip. The entire team will get together for special teams, walk-throughs, and practice, but he wants the days to be a bit different from what they’ve been for the veterans.

He’s looked at ways to adjust the practice schedule this spring, too.

“I’m exploring some ways to really maximize our OTA practices, those 10 practices we get, and really dive into more situations,” Pederson said. “I started two years ago with that, got a little better last year. But I want to really dive into the situational stuff in OTAs, prepare our players for those opportunities in games. Those are all things I’m looking at moving forward.”

When Pederson discussed areas for growth in 2019, he mentioned the day-to-day managing of the team. This struck me as interesting because it’s been a strength of Pederson’s as a head coach. The Super Bowl season was an example, but also the way the Eagles finished the 2016 and 2018 seasons. He has a good sense of the locker room. Yet he’s continuing to search for ways to be more effective with his messaging and dealing with players, which is essential for a head coach.

“Still being open, still being honest, communicating with the players,” Pederson said. “Being demanding, holding guys accountable, things like that. Those are all the areas I can continue to grow in.”

What’s going on at middle linebacker?

Pederson acknowledged that he can’t answer who will be the Eagles’ middle linebacker this spring, because the roster is not yet complete. There will be a clearer picture after the draft. There’s a noticeable hole at middle linebacker in the base defense after Jordan Hicks’ departure, although the Eagles have internal options they like. It’s important to note that the Eagles are seldom in their base defense, and often play with only one or two linebackers on the field. Nigel Bradham would be the one, and Bradham and Kamu Grugier-Hill could pair together in the nickel.

The Eagles also return third-year veteran Nate Gerry, who can play middle linebacker, and they have Paul Worrilow coming back from a torn ACL and signed L.J. Fort in free agency. Worrilow has significant starting experience (52 games). Fort has played 61 NFL games. These are the players Howie Roseman discussed when asked about middle linebacker. It’s not like having Hicks, although the Eagles might end up mixing and matching personnel based on packages instead of relying on one player for that role.

“L.J. was someone that we were really excited about acquiring,” Roseman said. “He was someone we had our eye on throughout the season; he was a target free agent for us. We felt like he would be a really good fit for our scheme. Paul is another guy who when we signed we thought would really fit into what we do defensively. Obviously, he had the ACL early on. Incredibly hard worker.

“And then we have Nigel back. Kamu’s someone who continues to grow as a player on defense. We have some young guys on defense, too; Nate Gerry, who we want to take another step.”

Roseman emphasized that there’s considerable time before the Eagles play a game. Unless they invest a pick in the first two rounds on a linebacker, it’s unlikely the starter will come from the draft. They can still sign another free agent or make a trade, though. The date to remember is May 7; any player signed after that day does not count against the compensatory-pick formula.

More on the preseason schedule

The preseason schedule was revealed Tuesday. The most notable game is in Week 2, when the Eagles will visit Jacksonville to play Nick Foles and the Jaguars. The Week 3 game is the one that gets the most attention because the starters play the longest in that game, although this year’s matchup with the Ravens might be different from a typical third preseason game.

The Eagles and Ravens will practice together in the days before the game at the NovaCare Complex. The Eagles had joint practices with the Dolphins before the third preseason game in 2017, and they limited the number of snaps the starters played in the game. Pederson mentioned the competitive practices as one of the reasons. The joint practices were something the Eagles sought this year after not holding them last year.

“We had a great experience two years ago with the Dolphins coming, and we want to do it again,” Pederson said.

Paul Worrilow talking to the media in April 2018.
Jose F. Moreno
Paul Worrilow talking to the media in April 2018.

What you need to know about the Eagles

From the mailbag

Yes, Houston defensive lineman Ed Oliver would be a player I would move up to acquire if he slips in the draft. I think Oliver would be an outstanding fit as a penetrating defensive tackle in the Eagles system, and believe he can flourish in the NFL. If he falls into the mid-to-late teens, and the Eagles are willing to surrender their second second-round pick, I’d go after him.

I don’t think the Eagles will get into the top 10 unless they surrender their 2020 first-round pick, and I don’t see that happening. So I think the 15-20 range would be where to make that move. If I had to guess a position in which the Eagles would move up to acquire, it would be for a high-upside defensive lineman.

I don’t anticipate that happening, but I suppose I wouldn’t rule it out if the value is too obvious to bypass. However, I don’t think that can’t-miss cornerback will be there at No. 25, and if that was the case, the Eagles might be compelled to trade down in that situation. So I don’t think they’d force a cornerback in the first round.

They’ve invested significant draft capital in recent years to the position: a 2017 second-round pick (Sidney Jones), a 2017 third-round pick (Rasul Douglas), a 2018 third-round pick (Jalen Mills), and a 2018 fourth-round pick (Avonte Maddox). Add in Jalen Mills and Cre’Von LeBlanc, and the Eagles have six young cornerbacks they like.

The flip side is that three of them will be free agents after this season. Still, I think the Eagles identify the 3-4 that they want going forward and build thereafter. I just don’t believe the Eagles will continue putting such high draft capital in that position, and I don’t know if the guaranteed roster spot is there, either.

That’s a good number. If I had to bet, I’d go under, but I believe it will be around there.

My guess is Jordan Howard will get 200 carries this season. To top 850 yards, he’d need to average more than 4.25 yards per carry. He has a career average of 4.3, mostly inflated from his 5.2 yards per carry as a rookie. During the past two seasons, Howard has averaged 3.9 per carry. At that average, he’d need 236 carries to top 850 yards. I don’t see the Eagles giving him more than 225 carries.

The best-case scenario is that his yards per carry improve. If Howard averages 4.5 yards per carry – a good number – he’d have 900 rushing yards with 200 carries. He’d have 1,013 yards with 225 carries.

As for the touchdowns, I’d go with the under. I think he’ll be their short-yardage running back and he’ll have those opportunities, so eight is a reasonable number. But my guess is closer to six or seven.