Philadelphia Eagles training camp begins TOMORROW! We've (almost) made it through the NFL’s dead zone. Before camp officially kicks off, I wanted to share seven things I think about the Eagles.
1 - I think I’m cautiously optimistic about Carson Wentz
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t at least a little concerned with how Wentz struggled at times during spring practices. I hardly think it’s the end of the world, but he didn’t look as sharp as I wanted him to be. We’re talking about practice, yes, but seeing him go 2/11 in a red zone drill isn’t super encouraging. Especially when he was sailing passes high like he did as a rookie.
But I’m not going to base my entire outlook on Wentz on those practices. I’m very cautiously optimistic about his future. He has real weapons to work with now. He has the benefit of having an entire offseason to work on his mechanics.
One thing to consider about Wentz going into Year 2 is that the coaching staff has had an entire offseason to build a playbook around him. Last year the Eagles were planning for Sam Bradford to be their starter. That plan changed only eight days before the first game. Now Wentz is clearly is the guy. He’s more experienced and has a better understanding of an offense that figures to cater to his strengths.
I’m really interested to see how Wentz does this year. I’m excited because I think there’s reason to believe he’ll improve. I’m nervous because I’m worried about the ramifications if he doesn’t get better. Everything is riding on Wentz. If he’s not the guy, the Eagles are screwed.
No pressure, Carson!
2 - I think I have more faith in Doug Pederson than I did last year
I wasn’t a fan of the Pederson hire last offseason. It was very uninspiring.
My feelings on Pederson have since changed. I thought he actually had a pretty decent rookie season. He wasn’t perfect, but to me there was clearly more good than bad.
I find it strange that I’m the one defending Pederson now. I think some of the criticism about him has been too much.
Now, I’m not fully buying in on Doug. He still has a lot to prove. This is a big season for him. He said the Eagles have the talent to make the playoffs this year. I don’t know that I’d say he’ll be fired if the Eagles don’t make the post-season, but I do think there’s real pressure to get there this year.
3 - I think the Eagles defense will be pretty good despite the cornerback issues
The Eagles’ 2016 defense was better than most realize. Everyone points to bad cornerback play but Jim Schwartz’s unit still ranked: fourth in DVOA, 13th in yards per game, and 12th in points per game. Philadelphia ranked 10th in takeaways and 16th in sacks. That’s not a “bad” overall unit by any means.
Now, clearly there’s room for improvement. And I do think the Birds got better. I’m very bullish on Philadelphia’s defensive line, as I’ve outlined before. Methinks the Eagles are going to generate a lot of pressure on quarterbacks this year. That should make life easier on the cornerbacks.
If you want to tell me that teams will try to get rid of the ball quicker in order to negate the Eagles’ pass rush, I’ll agree that’s a fair concern. However, if there’s one thing Philadelphia’s corners should be able to do well, it’s be active near the line of scrimmage. Jalen Mills and Rasul Douglas are aggressive players who will take chances. They’ll give up some big plays at times, no question, but they’ll also be in position to come up with some key takeaways as well.
I think the defense will be the strength of the team once again this season. The cornerbacks may be a weakness but the defensive line, the linebackers, and the safeties are all looking good.
4 - I think Eagles fans should be so excited to watch Alshon Jeffery
It’s not that I think fans are actively unexcited about Jeffery. It’s just that I think we need to be even more excited to watch him play. Jeffery can do some really special things.
The Eagles wide receivers were sooooooooooo badddddddddd last year. Going from them to Jeffery is an unbelievable upgrade.
On a personal note, I’m really excited about Jeffery because Terrell Owens is a big reason why I got into the Eagles. I’m not saying Jeffery is T.O., but I love the idea of having a big-bodied, jump-ball wide receiver on the team again. It’s just fun to watch players like Alshon impose his will on a defense without them being able to stop him.
By the way, I agree with John that the Eagles need to call this play on the first snap of their first preseason game. Wentz to Jeffery is gonna be lit.
Dear Doug,— John Barchard (@JohnBarchard) July 23, 2017
Since we're super thirsty for WR tuddies & you have some new toys... Can you open up the 1st preseason game like this?
5 - I think the running back situation will be fine but I’m at least a little concerned
I have an obsession with the run game. For the past couple offseasons now I’ve been writing about how important it is for the Eagles to improve in that area. Last year was super concerning because Philadelphia didn’t have much at running back beyond the always-injured Ryan Mathews. I do think LeGarrette Blount figures to be an upgrade over Mathews this year, but I’m at least a little worried how he’ll play 1) outside of New England and 2) after coming off a big workload. It’s not like the Eagles are expecting him to play this major role, but I hope he’s at least somewhat effective.
I can live with the Eagles not having an elite running game this year. I would prefer it, but I don’t need it. But one thing I do need is to not see the Eagles have Wentz throw the ball way too much again. I get that he’s supposed to be a franchise passer but he shouldn’t have to throw the ball 63 times a game at this point in his career.
6 - I think “weakness” and “depth” concerns can be overstated
Which team in the NFL has the magical roster with no weaknesses or depth concerns? Can you find me one? I bet you you can’t. Go to the SB Nation blog of the team with what you think is the best roster and ask their fans if they have any positions of weakness or depth concerns. They’ll almost certainly say yes.
Some teams undoubtedly have more issues than others. But I’m just tired of hearing how the Eagles lack depth. That may be true, but where are all these other teams who are absolutely stacked? All teams are bound to be flawed in the salary cap era. You only have so much money to spend. It’s nearly impossible to fix everything at once.
I think the Eagles are relatively fine, depth-wise. Not great but fine.
7 - I think Howie Roseman will make at least one trade before the season starts
I always bring it up: Roseman has made twice as many trades as the next team since taking over as general manager in 2010. So this isn’t really a bold prediction. I just think there are some moves to be made still. I think at least one of Jordan Matthews, Mychal Kendricks, Jason Kelce, and/or Allen Barbre is gone before Week 1.
8 - I think Kyle Fuller will end up on the Eagles
I really wanted the Eagles to draft Fuller in 2014. Unfortunately, he went off the board before they could pick. But now he might be available again. One Bears writer from the Chicago Tribune projects Fuller to be “on the roster bubble” and notes he could be “on the outside looking in.”
Fuller was one of the six players the Eagles were targeting with their first round pick that year. Given their cornerback situation, I think the Eagles would like to take a chance on the 25-year-old if he shakes free. I don’t expect Fuller to be an instant lock-down corner for Philly but I still believe in his potential. He’s worth a shot.
9 - I think the rest of the NFC East is poised to take a step back
Washington - They lost DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garçon. They fired the most competent general manager they’ve had in forever. They called out their starting quarterback, who is virtually guaranteed to be gone after this year, shortly before training camp. Washington isn’t going to be great.
Giants - Great defense! Brandon Marshall! Evan Engram! Yeah, I don’t care about that. The Giants don’t have a great offensive line and their quarterback seems to be on the decline. New York might not be terrible but they have some pretty fatal flaws.
Cowboys - Everyone on the team will probably be suspended by Week 1 at this rate. Even if Ezekiel Elliott misses just a game or two, that could make a difference in the playoff race. Dallas is bound to take a step back this year after going 13-3 in 2016.
10 - I think the Eagles will make the playoffs
I think 10-6 is the ceiling for this team, but I’m going with a 9-7 record prediction. I think that’s good enough for the Eagles to make the playoffs. Philly closed the gap on the rest of the division this offseason. Wentz is primed to take a step forward and the Eagles’ defense has the potential to be good with their defensive line leading the way. I don’t know how great Pederson will be but I don’t think he’ll hold the team back.
The Eagles haven’t won a playoff game since 2008. I don’t know if I’m counting on that to change this year, but I think they’ll at least make it there.