Good morning, Eagles fans. Under normal circumstances, the Eagles would have been deep into training camp and preparing for their first preseason game this Thursday at the Colts. But almost nothing has been normal in this year of the coronavirus. Practices in pads are still a week away. Most meetings at the NovaCare Complex have been conducted virtually. And head coach Doug Pederson, along with three players -- tackle Lane Johnson, linebacker Nate Gerry, and tackle Jordan Mailata -- have been quarantining away from the facility after having either contracted or been exposed to COVID-19.

This week’s schedule does include the start of on-field workouts with players practicing in helmets and shells starting Wednesday for five days. Padded practices begin next Monday, and yours truly, among other media members, will be there to report on the action. Camp takes on additional importance with no preseason games, and the scrimmages could be more intense than usual. A lot will depend on how far Pederson is willing to go. There are certainly going to be some “live” portions with tackling to the ground. But how many? And how many players on the roster bubble will push the envelope to get noticed?

We have a week to -- finally -- find out.

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Jeff McLane (earlybirds@inquirer.com)

Barnett has been compared to teammate Brandon Graham, another mid-first round draft pick whose career started slowly before he began reaching his potential.
Lynne Sladky / AP
Barnett has been compared to teammate Brandon Graham, another mid-first round draft pick whose career started slowly before he began reaching his potential.

Eagles DE Derek Barnett needs to be more productive

Derek Barnett enters his fourth season an enigma. He doesn’t enjoy the limelight and would prefer for his play to speak for itself. But his performance in his first three seasons, at least on paper, hasn’t said enough about the defensive end having elite talent.

Barnett hasn’t been a bust -- not by any means -- and there have been glimpses of greatness. But when you’re a first-round pick -- and a top-15 selection, no less -- you need to be more consistent and more productive.

Could this be the season? Brandon Graham thinks so and cautioned reporters Sunday to “watch out” for Barnett, who is seemingly healthy entering training camp for the first time in three years. Two years ago, Barnett was coming off core muscle surgery. Last offseason, it was surgery for a torn rotator cuff.

And while he missed two games in 2019 because of an ankle injury, Graham said Barnett is “trying to have his breakout year now that he’s coming into the year feeling good.”

It’s certainly possible. Barnett is still only 24 years old, and many defensive ends need a few seasons to adjust to the size and speed of NFL tackles. The Tennessee product has the athleticism to turn the corner in the pros, but he’s needed to add more strength to his 6-foot-3, 259-pound frame.

He’s also had to adjust to living under the Philadelphia microscope and drawing additional attention because of his draft position (No. 14). Graham has lived in those shoes. A 2010 first-rounder, Graham had some early struggles because of injury and outside forces. But he would develop into one of the more consistent ends in the NFL and a local fan favorite.

The similarities between Graham’s and Barnett’s career arcs haven’t been lost on them.

“We talk about that all the time,” Graham said. “You can only control what you can. Stay away from social media because everybody is going to say what they going to say, but when you’re making them plays you can make them eat them words.

“I feel like that’s where he is right now -- he’s going to try and make everybody eat those words and let everybody know he’s valuable and he’s going to be a great addition to this year of having him back and having him healthy."

Barnett recorded a respectable five sacks in his rookie season, added another in the NFC championship game, and pounced on the fumble from Graham’s strip-sack of Tom Brady in the Super Bowl. His rookie season was promising. But he came into sophomore season behind the eight-ball after missing most of the preseason and was lost for the season after just six games.

He had a solid third season last year -- 6 1/2 sacks, 22 quarterback hits, and 10 tackles for loss in 14 games. But the Eagles need more out of Barnett with Graham at the tail end of his career, and a group of unproven young talent behind him.

The Eagles have one of the best collections of defensive tackles at the top of their order with Fletcher Cox, Malik Jackson, and Javon Hargrave. The trio should help alleviate pressure off the ends. But the Eagles need Barnett, who had his fifth-year option picked in May, to bring pressure from the blind side.

“I’m just excited for him because he really does have that edge,” Graham said of Barnett. “He loves to run to the ball, he has a motor, too.”

The Eagles appear to have big plans this season for running back Miles Sanders.
MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer
The Eagles appear to have big plans this season for running back Miles Sanders.

What you need to know about the Eagles

From the mailbag

With Jatavis Brown retiring Did they miss an opportunity at Linebacker skipping over Murray and Queen? — From a Fan’s Perspective via Twitter @FromAFanPod

In case any of you readers missed it, the Jatavis Brown era with the Eagles lasted all of four-plus months. The linebacker was signed to a one-year deal in March and the team seemed pretty excited about his possibilities both on defense and special teams. Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz mentioned him by name when he asked a couple weeks ago about the seemingly thin group at the position.

But Brown decided to retire Sunday. He just thought it was time, according to a team source. Maybe there’s more there than we know. Nevertheless, the Eagles don’t exactly have experienced linebackers after losing Jordan Hicks and Nigel Bradham the last two offseasons. Nate Gerry has the most -- 15 career starts in his first three seasons. But he has less than 1,000 total snaps on defense.

To answer your question, From a Fan’s Perspective, I don’t know. That’s kind of cop out, but I just never put much stock into Howie Roseman drafting a linebacker that early. Kenneth Murray and Patrick Queen may turn out to be studs, but linebacker just isn’t an important position in the Eagles’ scheme. Only one plays every down. Schwartz rarely has to use three because so many teams utilize three or more receivers.

I think Roseman will add another linebacker sometime soon. But it’s not like there’s much talent waiting to be signed off the the street. Gerry and T.J. Edwards appear to be the top two linebackers. Alex Singleton and Duke Riley return. Rookie Davion Taylor was a third rounder and the highest pick the Eagles have expended on a linebacker since they took Hicks in 2014. If he turns out to be as talented, Taylor could be a dark horse to play right away on defense.

If he develops into a starter, I’m not sure taking either Murray or Queen would have been the best value.