Good morning, Eagles fans. It might seem quiet right now, but one month from today, the Eagles will be on practice field for training camp.
This is an offseason edition of the Early Birds newsletter, which will come every Wednesday until camp opens. If your friends haven't subscribed to Early Birds, it's free to sign up here. 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
The Eagles will report to training camp on July 25 and practice for the first time on July 26, which is less than a month away. And unlike the past two seasons, the entire team will report on the same day.
The Eagles have not yet announced their training camp schedule, but the NFL announced all the report dates last week. The first practice date was already known because NFL teams can begin full-team sessions two weeks before their first preseason game. The Eagles' preseason schedule opens Aug. 9.
What's noteworthy about this year's report date is Doug Pederson's change to the training camp schedule. In his first two seasons as head coach, he's held three days of practices for the rookies and selected veterans. Those veterans were quarterbacks and often players recovering from injuries.
"It's a great three days to get acclimated, number one, to the schedule," Pederson said in 2016 about the rookies and selected veterans coming early. "It's great for the coaches to kind of get back into the swing of football and thinking football before we get the rest of the team in here. And then I think thirdly, just getting the quarterbacks in here and getting their arms loose and kind of getting into a full lather before they really get cranked up Friday, Saturday and the rest of camp."
There's no word on why Pederson made the change. He'll explain when camp opens, if not sooner. Twenty-one of 32 NFL teams have their rookies reporting early. The other 10 teams have the whole team reporting on the same day.
Having attended every training camp practice under Pederson, I can tell you the Eagles are not missing much with this change. They're limited with what they can do during those first few days. The practices are considerably better when the entire team is present.
The NFL Network's top 100 players were revealed during the past few weeks and Carson Wentz came in at No. 3 after his breakout 2017 campaign. It was his first time on the list. The voting is done by NFL players.
"He's an incredible quarterback and it's crazy because he's only two years in the game," Denver Broncos pass rusher Von Miller said on the telecast. "If he wouldn't have gotten hurt, he would have most likely been MVP."
Wentz threw for four of his team-record 33 touchdowns against Miller and Broncos. The No. 1 player was the actual MVP: New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown ranked No. 2.
There were four other Eagles on the list, although no one else in the top 50. Malcolm Jenkins came in at No. 96, Lane Johnson at No. 95, Fletcher Cox at No. 69, and Zach Ertz at No. 68.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston is expected to be suspended for the first three games of the season, according to multiple reports. (It has not yet been announced by the league.) If that proves to be the case, Winston will miss the Week 2 game against the Eagles. That would seem to be a break for the Eagles. Tampa Bay's backup quarterback is Ryan Fitzpatrick. However, it should be noted that the Bucs went 2-1 in the three games Fitzpatrick started last season while Winston was out with injury. They were 3-10 with Winston. Regardless, it's a game the Eagles should be in position to win. They'll also have extended rest after opening the season on a Thursday.
This is a good question, and one I'm glad to answer because I tend to use these terms with the assumption that readers know some of the football jargon.
The two safety spots have blurred in recent years, and different teams ask their safeties to play differently based on scheme or man/zone concepts. For the Eagles, Rodney McLeod is usually the deep safety, which is the free safety. He's the center fielder who is the last line of defense, and range is an important quality. Malcolm Jenkins often plays closer to the ball and is almost like a combination of a linebacker and defensive back at times, and he plays a key role in run support. He would be classified as the strong safety if using those terms. (The "strong safety" gets its name from the safety who lines up on the strong side of the formation.) Jim Schwartz likes when his safeties have cornerback skills — it's no coincidence that the Eagles' safeties last season had cornerback backgrounds — and asks for his versatility from his group.
The cornerback plays on the outside of the formation and is often one-on-one against a wide receiver. Obviously, coverage ability is critical. Ball skills are important in locating and defending a pass in the air. Chip Kelly was more rigid about this player being tall with long arms. Both those qualities help, especially in press coverage. Speed is obviously very important, too. The outside cornerback has the sideline on one side, but he also isn't playing in traffic very often.
The slot cornerback plays the slot receiver. He needs to be agile, as the slot receiver can go in either direction off the line. And many of the top slot receivers are those smaller, shifter receivers The slot cornerback is also playing in traffic more — a slot cornerback isn't really on an island like an outside cornerback. Because of Avonte Maddox's size, he's often been labeled as a slot cornerback. Jalen Mills is versatile enough that can play both the outside and inside. The Eagles have preferred Rasul Douglas on the outside, where his length is an asset. But it's not just about size. It's how a player fits in run support, the types of techniques they play, and the defense the Eagles is running. Schwartz mixes up press coverage and off coverage depending on the situation.