Good morning, Eagles fans. Happy Wednesday. If you’re like us, the absence of the preseason is starting to really sink in. At least there’s a silver lining: We’re less than a week away from getting a glimpse of padded training-camp practices, which are set to start next Monday. In the meantime, the team is spending days bouncing among lifting sessions, team meetings, and a daily walkthrough.
Until then, let’s talk about what’s at stake during this extended training camp without preseason games. The Eagles have a few offensive positions up for grabs. More on that later.
— EJ Smith (email@example.com)
There are a handful of position battles worth keeping an eye on, and reporters will likely have the chance to do so starting next week. Here are the three offensive battles to watch most closely:
The “X” wide receiver spot
Unless Alshon Jeffery is both fully recovered from his Lisfranc foot injury and restored to his 2018 form, the Eagles will be looking elsewhere for a starting receiver opposite DeSean Jackson. They’ve had a track record of liking their “X” receiver to be a bigger, possession guy in lieu of a speedster, but they didn’t spend the entire offseason adding the fastest receivers possible just to limit them to one position in the offense.
Until Jeffery’s return, the battle will likely be between this year’s first-round pick, Jalen Reagor, and last year’s second-round pick, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, with some rookie wild cards such as John Hightower and Quez Watkins thrown in. The team still has practice-squad promotions Robert Davis and Deontay Burnett in the fold, too. Greg Ward should remain a slot receiver, meaning he wouldn’t be in the equation on the outside.
Whether Reagor is on the field for the first snap of the season will have everything to do with how the next few weeks go. If he has a solid camp and shows proficient understanding of the team’s offensive scheme, it’s easy to see the Eagles going with him. If Reagor needs more time to develop an understanding of the offense, Arcega-Whiteside could be the guy. A solid camp for the sophomore would go a long way, especially considering he’d give the team more diversity at the position, whereas Reagor would offer many of the same traits that Jackson offers.
There are workarounds, though. The Eagles run more two-tight-end formations than anyone else in the league, lining up in “12″ personnel 52% of the time last season, according to Sharp Football Stats. With Zach Ertz in the slot and Goedert at the line of scrimmage, Reagor’s and Jackson’s speed becomes a better complement, especially in vertical play-action schemes.
Much like his draft classmate, rookie Jalen Hurts has an important few weeks of catching up ahead of him. If Hurts, the team’s second-round pick, can put together an impressive camp, it’s easy to see the Eagles’ giving him the backup quarterback spot for the season. But asking a rookie quarterback to pick up enough to assume that role is a tall order even before considering the cancelation of OTAs and rookie mini camps. Before Hurts reported to the facility late last month, his entire offseason was spent learning the team’s offense via video conference.
If Hurts is still flipping flash cards come September, Nate Sudfeld will get another shot at holding down the backup quarterback position. He lost the spot to Josh McCown last preseason after breaking his wrist in the first preseason game with his new title as QB2. Sudfeld could be the safer option early in the year, but he’s also got a considerably lower ceiling than Hurts, who the team believes will become a starting-quality QB before too long.
Even if Hurts loses the battle for backup quarterback, it’s possible the Eagles will dress him on game day with a specialized package of plays for him to leverage his athleticism while behind center.
The Eagles’ front office emphasized the importance of the backup quarterback this offseason, pointing to their Super Bowl LII win with Nick Foles as evidence for how crucial a reliever at the most important position can be. But the Eagles would have also left Minneapolis broken-hearted had Halapoulivaati Vaitai not held his own at left tackle with Jason Peters sidelined.
Vaitai, who started 10 games that season and 20 over a four-year stint with the Eagles, capitalized on his experience in free agency, earning a $45 million contract with the Detroit Lions. His departure sets the Eagles back in pursuit of a tackle capable of playing either side, especially considering they’re starting second-year tackle Andre Dillard on Carson Wentz’s blind side.
The race will likely come down to Jordan Mailata, Jack Driscoll, and Prince Tega Wanogho. Mailata has very little game experience, having never taken the field for a regular-season game and ending each of the last two seasons on injured reserve. Still, he’s shown enough physical tools in his limited exposure to stick around this long, and he’s the most experienced option the team has. Driscoll, the team’s fourth-round pick, might be better suited as an interior lineman, but the Eagles have a greater need for the former Auburn tackle on the outside with their current roster construction.
What’s the deal with the linebackers core? Are we hybriding it up with three safeties? — from Mike P. (@lookitssupergus) on Twitter.
Good question, Mike. I think the Eagles are pushing the limits of their modern view of positional value this season when it comes to linebackers. Part of it is the reality of having three well-paid defensive tackles and generally putting significant money into the defensive line as a whole. Once you factor in the investment made in Darius Slay, I think you’re looking at a defense that will ask its positions of strength to make up for what it lacks at linebacker.
No matter what fans might think of Nate Gerry, it’s evident now that the Eagles believe he can be a passable linebacker in sub packages, which I expect the Eagles to use more than ever, as you mentioned. Whether it’s a three-deep-safety formation or a look with more defensive backs underneath remains to be seen. Schwartz used both at different times last year.