After three days where only Eagles rookies, quarterbacks, and selected veterans participated in practice, the rest of the team is in Philadelphia for the first full team session on Thursday. Eagles training camp is now officially here.
The Eagles don’t have a ton of starting job up for grabs, especially after Isaac Seumalo was named the starter at left guard on Wednesday. But there’s still competition for playing time and roster spots. Here are the top training camp battles to keep an eye on this summer.
The most unsettled position on the Eagles’ roster. Who starts on the outside? Who is the nickel corner?
Patrick Robinson and Jalen Mills ran with the first team defense in the spring. The Eagles moved Mills to the slot and had rookie Rasul Douglas take his place on the outside in nickel packages. Philadelphia also worked Aaron Grymes in as the nickel corner.
With Ron Brooks now healthy, though, he’s primed to take his job back. Doug Pederson said as much this week: “He's obviously our nickel defender, nickel corner.”
Brooks locking down the slot role just leaves the outside spots to be determined. Robinson and Mills are the early favorites but Douglas is challenging for playing time. The feeling here is Douglas isn’t ready to be a full-time starter right away, but he might play in a rotational role with Robinson. Mills seems nearly locked in to a starting job. The team has high expectations for the Green Goblin.
Alshon Jeffery is obviously the Eagles’ No. 1 wide receiver. Behind him, things aren’t so settled. It seems like Torrey Smith is bound to be a starter but perhaps Nelson Agholor will split snaps with him, especially if he continues to show promise.
Another interesting conversation is what happens in the slot. Jordan Matthews will likely be the starter in that spot. But what if his injury is more serious than indicated, as it’s been suggested? Matthews is expected to be limited in practice so that could mean more reps for Agholor in the slot during practice. If Agholor continues to impress in that role, maybe the Eagles will try to get him more playing time there.
Five receivers seem like locks to make the Eagles: Jeffery, Smith, Matthews, Agholor, and Mack Hollins. The team could possibly keep a sixth. If that’s the case, Marcus Johnson and Greg Ward are currently pushing for that spot. Rookie fifth-round pick Shelton Gibson doesn’t look roster-ready at all. He’s majorly struggled with drops this offseason. He’s pretty much been the worst of all 11 wide receivers the Eagles are currently carrying on the team.
Zach Ertz, Brent Celek, and Trey Burton are likely locked into their roles. Will the Eagles keep a fourth? The team seemed willing to do so last year prior to Chris Pantale’s struggles.
Anthony Denham, who signed with the Eagles’ practice squad last season, had a good spring catching the ball. Undrafted wide-receiver-turned-tight-end Billy Brown has also looked good as a receiver this offseason. Celek is likely in his last year with Philadelphia and Burton is scheduled to be a free agent next offseason. Keeping Denham or Brown could be a prudent decision.
The Eagles will likely keep five defensive ends: Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry, Derek Barnett, Chris Long, and Steven Means. The only question is: how will the rotation work out? Barnett impressed in spring drills and could earn more playing time as a rookie with a strong summer. He might even be able to take the starting job away from Curry.
Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod are locked in as starting safeties. The battle at this position is for the third spot. Terrence Brooks appears to be in the lead after standing out in OTAs and minicamp. Brooks didn’t just look good in coverage; he also showed some physicality (as much as you can in non-contact drills, at least). Jaylen Watkins won the third safety job last year but he could be on the outs this summer.
I don’t know if there’s really much of a battle here. LeGarrette Blount seems poised to take the bulk of the carries. Darren Sproles will probably have his usual Sproles role. Donnel Pumphrey seems bound to mixed into the offense as a pass-catcher (especially in the slot). Wendell Smallwood’s exact role has yet to be defined.
But let’s say Blount struggles and Smallwood looks good. The 2016 fifth-round pick might have a shot to play himself into more playing time, and potentially even a lead role (?). Again, I’m not counting on that, but it’s a situation to keep an eye on.
How many quarterbacks will the Eagles keep on the 53-man? If it’s three, Matt McGloin should beat out undrafted rookie Dane Evans with ease. But maybe the Eagles want to do what they did last year by only keeping two on the active roster with a third on the practice squad. If that’s the case, Evans has the upper hand since McGloin isn’t eligible for the scout team.
What if Nick Foles struggles and McGloin looks really good in the preseason? Would the Eagles make McGloin the No. 2 behind Carson Wentz? Doesn’t seem likely, but maybe not impossible.
The veterans hold the edge here. Donnie Jones is likely to beat out undrafted punter Cameron Johnston. Jon Dorenbos is likely to beat out fellow long snapper Rick Lovato. Anything else would be a major upset.