Good morning. The Eagles are in thick of organized team activities, with two more sessions this week and four next week before mandatory minicamp to finish the offseason program. Follow The Inquirer for all the coverage.
— Zach Berman
Mike Groh experienced an uneven first season as offensive coordinator with injuries decimating the Eagles’ skill positions and Carson Wentz being less effective than in 2017. The Eagles’ points per game dropped, they were not as effective on third downs and in the red zone, and Groh became an easy target because it was his first year in the role after Frank Reich took the Indianapolis Colts job following the Eagles’ Super Bowl victory.
Behind the scenes, there was a sentiment that Groh took on too much outside blame — he’s an offensive coordinator in title, but it’s not a traditional offensive-coordinator job because Doug Pederson calls the plays — and there was an understanding that he had a tough act to follow.
“Well, we didn't win the Super Bowl, so obviously we fell short of what our goal was,” Groh said Tuesday when asked to reflect on his first year on the job. “That's what we've been in here working all offseason on, and excited to be back out there on the practice field with these guys and working towards that goal again.”
Asked what he learned that could help him in Year 2, Groh conceded there were “a lot of things” and it’s “a conversation for hours about things that you learn through experience.” He mentioned the adjustments the Eagles needed to make throughout the season: They went from Nick Foles to Wentz and back to Foles, there was a period when they were signing wide receivers off the street to play on Sundays, they acquired Golden Tate in midseason, and their leading running back was not on the opening day roster. So adjust was an apt word for Groh to use.
“But going into the second year and being able to step back and evaluate and look forward and add new guys to the team and just really keep moving forward and to have everybody out there practicing right now makes a big difference,” Groh said.
Clearly, Groh was not in the mood to be introspective. But he’ll be a key figure to watch this season. The Eagles spent the offseason loading their skill positions and should be better with changes atop the depth chart at running back, the additions of DeSean Jackson and J.J. Arecega-Whiteside at wide receiver, and likely a healthier Wentz.
Pederson is still calling plays, so Pederson should get credit when the offense is playing well and criticism when it struggles. But Groh has a piece in it, too, so his reputation in Philadelphia will hinge on how the offense performs this season.
“I’m really comfortable in it,” Groh said.
Malcolm Jenkins remains absent from offseason workouts, and there’s speculation that it’s contract-related. (Jenkins has not yet spoken publicly about it.) Don’t count defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz among those concerned about Jenkins missing time, though, even though he acknowledged Jenkins is “one of our … biggest leaders.”
“I know this: When the chips are down, you'll be able to count on Malcolm Jenkins,” Schwartz said. “And a lot of other guys we're trying to find that out about, and that's what they're doing here at this time of year. Malcolm has some of those credits already in his bank account.”
That was a good way of putting it, and it was interesting perspective for this time of year. The Eagles need to learn more about their young defensive backs. They already know what Jenkins can do. There’s certainly a benefit to having Jenkins around, but he’s built enough equity with the team that this won’t matter much come September.
Also, Schwartz was careful not to overstate what is happening in OTAs. He said players are competing against themselves right now; jobs are not won or lost in May, and he won’t overreact to a player’s performance at this time of year.
“I think 27 years in the NFL I could probably make a pretty good all-star team of OTAs and first week in training camp and we can put that group together and there probably wouldn’t be very many people that a lot of guys have heard of,” Schwartz said.
Reporters “probably have some articles in the first week of training camp of somebody that really stood out. But this league is not about that. It’s not about doing that. It’s about being consistent over a long period of time. That’s why training camp is long. You want to see who can persevere and survive the tough times in training camp and who can rise when it’s all said and done.”
Speaking of absent players, the Eagles have been without three of five starting offensive linemen this spring. Jason Peters and Lane Johnson are absent from the voluntary workouts, and Brandon Brooks is recovering from a torn Achilles tendon. Jason Kelce and Isaac Seumalo are the two starting offensive linemen on the field. Kelce went into detail about why he believes it’s important he’s at practices — he says center is a position that needs to be present — but he’s noted the valuable reps that have gone to the Eagles’ younger offensive linemen.
The Eagles have invested three draft picks the past two years in offensive linemen, including 2019 first-round pick Andre Dillard and 2018 seventh-round pick Jordan Mailata. They are the first-team offensive tackles this spring. If Peters and Johnson were present, Dillard and Mailata would be down the depth chart. This is the other side of established players missing OTAs; the Eagles will have more insight on their developmental linemen by the end of the spring.
“We’ve had a pretty set offensive-line group for a while,” Kelce said. “Let those guys get healthy, get the time they need, and we get to evaluate some of the young talent that are going to end up being the future of the offensive line.”
This is a great question, and it’s one that should get a lot of attention this summer. The Eagles want to play Dallas Goedert more this season; he took 48 percent of the offensive snaps last season, and he’s earned more playing time. But to get him on the field, they need to take either a third wide receiver or a running back off the field. So the Eagles will need to mix and match personnel.
There will be times when Nelson Agholor comes off; there will be times when Agholor could flex outside and DeSean Jackson or Alshon Jeffery comes off the field. They can go with three wide receivers and two tight ends in an empty package, but then there’s no threat to run.
Pederson will need to be creative. The coaching staff has spent time this offseason studying this question, too, so my guess is you’ll see different looks than you saw last season. I think Goedert will go up about 15-20 percent in snaps, and it’s taken out of the top three wide receivers’ workload (and a little bit of Zach Ertz’s, too).
As for the No. 4 wide receiver, J.J. Arecega-Whiteside, I see him in a situational role — third downs and red zone would make sense.
Joe Douglas is in charge of the player personnel department, both the college and pro scouting side. He introduced the grading system the Eagles use and sets the draft board. He is involved in every transaction the Eagles make, although he technically does not have final say — Howie Roseman does.
But Douglas handles the day-to-day workings of the personnel department. It would be a significant loss for the Eagles considering the role he plays, but it wouldn’t be something that catches them off guard. They’ve prepared for this possibility. As far as how big of a loss it would be if he left, it all depends how they would replace him and what that department looks like.
I think it’s smart, and I think it’s necessary. Andre Dillard was drafted to be the Eagles’ future left tackle. So where does that leave Mailata? He’ll need to have versatility.