Good morning. The Eagles practice at 1 p.m. today, their second session leading up to Sunday's game against the Tennessee Titans. Players will meet with reporters after practice. Pay attention to the status of the four players who missed practice yesterday: Running backs Jay Ajayi and Darren Sproles, defensive end Michael Bennett, and safety Rodney McLeod. But Alshon Jeffery will be out there after he was a full participant for the first time yesterday.
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The big story on Tuesday was that Alshon Jeffery has been medically cleared for contact after offseason rotator cuff surgery, putting him on pace to play this week. Doug Pederson and Jeffery would not say whether Jeffery will be in the lineup against the Titans, but that seems like gamesmanship more than anything else. Jeffery was a full participant in practice. He's in his third week back at practice. He's allowed to get hit. My guess is he plays.
And when he does, the entire offense will benefit. There's some debate in Philadelphia about how good Jeffery really is, considering his receiving statistics last season (57 catches, 789 yards, nine touchdowns) were not those of a typical No. 1 receiver. He hasn't had a 1,000-yard season since 2014. But if you want to know how valuable Jeffery is to the Eagles, just look at the offense without him. Nelson Agholor is better when Jeffery is on the field. Zach Ertz can be better, too. Jeffery draws defensive attention, and the other pass-catching targets benefit.
"He's a guy who the defense has to account for," Ertz said. "A lot of time, third down they're going to match their corner on him and it's somewhat of a trickle-down effect from there. Alshon gets the one, Nelly gets the two, and another person gets the three a lot of the time. …He's a player that's an established No. 1 receiver and teams view him like that."
Jeffery's numbers can be better. Carson Wentz likes to spread the ball around and Ertz and Agholor are both going to get their share of targets and catches, so I don't see Jeffery challenging for the receiving title. But watch him play, and what how defenses play the Eagles when he's on the field. Agholor is averaging 7.3 yards per catch this season, which is five yards fewer per catch than last season. Part of that is because he can play in the slot and Jeffery commands the defense's attention.
"If [Jeffery is] doubled, it leaves [Agholor and Ertz] singled and that helps them right there," Pederson said. "I think just having those three guys together kind of feeding off one another, route combinations understanding concepts, helps Nelly and Zach and really helps Alshon."
The Eagles will look better if/when Jeffery is out there. Wentz's return last week was key, but now Jeffery can bring them to another level.
College rivalries can spill into the NFL locker rooms, but there's a new one in Philadelphia this year. The North Dakota State-South Dakota State matchup is not one that often resonates at the NFL level, except the Eagles have Carson Wentz (NDSU) and Dallas Goedert (SDSU) on the team. In case you're wondering, there's a friendly wager on this game.
"I'm sure you'll see about it when he wears something NDSU next week after we take the Dakota Marker from him," Wentz said Wednesday.
The Dakota Marker, by the way, is the trophy given to the winner in the game. Wentz never lost to South Dakota State while he was in college. Goedert, as a member of South Dakota State, won two of the last three meetings.
Marcus Mariota is expected to start against the Eagles on Sunday, Titans coach Mike Vrabel said in his Wednesday news conference. Mariota missed the past two starts with an elbow injury, although he entered last week's win in relief.
"He is getting better every day," Vrabel told reporters on Wednesday. "I think I have mentioned that since the game. He feels like there's a lot of confidence there. It was good work today, which was great to see. And he completed some big throws in the game for us. So it will be critical to have a good week of practice and do the same thing on Sunday."
This will be the first time the Eagles play Mariota. If you remember, there were hopes in 2015 that the Eagles would acquire Mariota, who played for Chip Kelly at Oregon. The Eagles couldn't move up to a top two pick, and Mariota went to Tennessee.
The quick answer to the question is Darren Sproles, assuming he's back this weekend.
The root of this question was Corey Clement's struggles handling punts last week. The Eagles avoided a major problem, but there was a close call. Doug Pederson defended Clement on Wednesday when asked about Clement's shakiness.
"Have you tried catching a punt in the rain?" Pederson said. "Corey is a great player and he does a lot for us. If we get Sproles back obviously, it's Sproles' role but yeah, if Corey is the guy, we just keep working with Corey."