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10 position battles to watch during Eagles OTA practices

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Here’s what’s worth keeping an eye on.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The Philadelphia Eagles’ 2018 OTA practice schedule starts tomorrow on May 22. Tuesday marks the first opportunity we’ll get to see the defending Super Bowl champions in their first full practice this offseason. These drills are designed to be non-contact (no pads allowed) so it’s not quite real football yet, but it’s still better than nothing. Here are some key position battles that are worth monitoring.

QUARTERBACK

The biggest battle here is Carson Wentz versus his health. Is he going to be ready for Week 1? There hasn’t been a strong indication he WON’T be able to play, but we’ll need to see how he continues to progress. If Wentz can’t start against the Falcons, the Eagles can always count on Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles to fill in.

The more interesting “battle” to watch in terms of offseason practices? That’s the third quarterback spot. The Eagles brought in Joe Callahan to “push” Nate Sudfeld (aka Nate Studfeld). Terms like “battle” and push” are used in quotes because Sudfeld is the heavy favorite here. He’d need to be awful all offseason long in order to lose his spot. And I don’t think he will be.

I’m genuinely interested to see Sudfeld in his first offseason with the Eagles. Philadelphia’s coaching staff has raved about him ever since they signed him last September. Sudfeld showed some brief flashes in Week 17 last season. Now I want to see more.

If Wentz is healthy and Sudfeld has a great summer, it’ll make Foles, who said he wants to be a starter again, more expendable in a potential trade situation.

RUNNING BACK

Jay Ajayi, Darren Sproles, and Corey Clement all seem like locks to make the final roster. The battle to watch here is for the fourth running back job. Donnel Pumphrey, Wendell Smallwood, Josh Adams, and Matt Jones are the contestants.

Pump never really flashed at all last summer He barely even made the 53-man roster despite the fact Philly traded up in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft to get him. Maybe we’ll see a different Pump this offseason now that he’s had a full year in an NFL training program. He had better hope so for his sake.

Smallwood had some nice moments in training camp last offseason before he missed another big chunk of practice time due to injury. Those nagging injuries have made him unreliable and explain in part why he was phased out of the rotation last season. This offseason is do-or-die for the Eagles’ 2016 fifth-round pick.

Adams is an intriguing undrafted free agent signing. But while he has talent, he also has a foot injury he’s still recovering from. Adams is already behind the eight ball as a rookie. Missing practice time doesn’t do him any favors.

Jones is the most experienced option of the bunch. He’s far from reliable, though, when you consider he fumbled eight times in his first 20 career games. Jones shouldn’t lack motivation since this could be his last NFL opportunity. But effort might not be enough.

If they had their way, I think the Eagles would really like Pump to step up this offseason. In theory, he’s the type of shifty player who should stick out in non-contact OTA drills.

TIGHT END

With Zach Ertz locked in as one of the league’s best tight ends, the competition here is for the playing time behind him. Is it safe to assume Dallas Goedert is definitely going to be the No. 2 tight end? It’s not like he’s facing stiff competition, but rookie tight ends often take time to develop, so his progress will be worth monitoring. It’ll be interesting to see if Billy Brown can overtake Richard Rodgers as the third tight end. Or if the Eagles keep four at this spot. Adam Zaruba and Joshua Perkins could also be in the mix.

WIDE RECEIVER

The Eagles are likely locked in from 1-4 with Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, Mike Wallace, and Mack Hollins. Who will the fifth receiver be? Will the Eagles keep six, like they did last year?

Shelton Gibson is the early favorite for the fifth spot. After mightily struggling at times last offseason, the 2017 fifth-round pick eventually gained enough momentum to overtake Marcus Johnson on the active game day roster. Gibson offers speed (4.39 40-yard dash) that not every receiver can. Special teams contributions will also be important for him.

Jeffery missing practice time this offseason could open up reps for one of his former teammates, Marquess Wilson. I think the 6-4, 206 pound Wilson could be this year’s version of the aforementioned Marcus Johnson.

The other strong contenders for roster spots include Markus Wheaton, Greg Ward, and Bryce Treggs. Wheaton had a terrible year in Chicago last season but this is still a guy who had 107 receptions for 1,508 yards and eight touchdowns in four years with the Steelers. Ward showed some real nice potential despite transitioning from being a quarterback. The Eagles liked him enough to keep him on the practice squad for the entire year. Treggs led the Eagles in receiving last preseason. He didn’t do much with his brief shot with the Browns, though it’s not exactly like people regularly flourish in Cleveland.

OFFENSIVE LINE

The Eagles have one of the best offensive lines in the league in terms of both starters and depth. With that said, there are some roles to figure out.

Who is the fourth tackle? It’s not an significant spot considering Jason Peters is 36 years old and coming off injury while Lane Johnson is one suspension away from being out for two years. Taylor Hart could get the first crack at the job. Matt Pryor and Toby Weathersby will also be in the mix as Jordan Mailata continues to learn the position.

Who is the top backup guard? Chance Warmack was the first guy off the bench late last season after Isaac Seumalo’s fall from being the unquestioned starter in Week 1. Can Seumalo redeem himself? Does Pryor factor in here as well?

DEFENSIVE TACKLE

With Timmy Jernigan expected to miss at least four-to-six months due to injury, there’s opportunity for young players to step up at defensive tackle. Destiny Vaeao could be the default No. 3 defensive tackle to start OTAs since he was the No. 4 guy last year. I’m more interested to see what the likes of Elijah Qualls, Aziz Shittu, and Bruce Hector can do. Those guys potentially offer more juice as disruptive players than Vaeao does.

LINEBACKER

The Eagles sure do have a lot of linebackers with reasonable chances to make the team: Jordan Hicks, Nigel Bradham, Corey Nelson, Mychal Kendricks, Kamu Grugier-Hill, Paul Worrilow, Nate Gerry, Joe Walker, LaRoy Reynolds.

The most interesting spot to watch is the WILL position. Nelson reportedly turned down similar money from the Broncos in order to play for the Eagles because of the opportunity for more playing time in Philly. More playing time for Nelson means less playing time for Kendricks, who currently carries the seventh largest cap hit on the roster.

I’ve quietly wondered if Kendricks is even attending OTAs. There’s been no indication either way. We’ll see for sure tomorrow.

CORNERBACK

After years of struggling to find good corners, now the Eagles have a different problem on their hands. They kind of have too many good corners options. Not a bad problem to have.

I maintain that Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills are likely to be the first team outside corners in Philly’s base defense during OTAs. Perhaps the Eagles will rotate Sidney Jones into the mix there. Especially if/when the Eagles shift Mills into the nickel corner role.

Speaking of that spot, it’ll be interesting to see who all gets reps in the slot. Mills and 2018 fourth-round rookie Avonte Maddox are bound to get looks there. Who else? D.J. Killings? Randall Goforth?

SAFETY

Who is the third safety? There’s no clear cut, proven option behind starters Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod right now. It wouldn’t be a shocker to see the Eagles re-sign veteran Corey Graham at some point. The Eagles might want to see how their young safeties perform in OTAs before doing that, though. Tre Sullivan and Jeremy Reaves currently figure to get a lot of second team reps. They’ll have an opportunity to stand out.

PUNTER

Cameron Johnston is currently running unopposed, so he’s only competing against himself for now. That could change, though, especially if Johnston isn’t punting the ball well this spring. The team will also keep an eye on his holding ability for field goals and extra points.


Other things to watch

  • Carson Wentz isn’t expected to fully participate in OTA practices. That doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll be nothing at all, though. The team showed a video clip of Wentz throwing during Phase 2 of the team’s workouts. They also posted a picture of him wearing a red practice jersey and a brace on his knee. So, to what extent will Wentz be active in practice? Maybe throwing in some individual drills?
  • Besides Wentz, how are other injured Eagles progressing in their respective rehabs?
  • What will defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz have to say in his first media appearance since the Eagles won the Super Bowl in February? (Schwartz speaks on Tuesday, May 29)
  • What will Mike Groh have to say in his first press conference as Eagles offensive coordinator? (Groh speaks on Tuesday, May 29)
  • Is anyone skipping voluntary OTAs this year? Fletcher Cox, Jason Peters, and Donnie Jones missed some practice time last offseason.

Eagles Spring Practice Schedule

OTA Offseason Workouts: May 22-24, May 29, May 31-June 1, June 4-7.

Mandatory Minicamp: June 12-14.

BGN Coverage: The following practices are open to the media: May 22, May 29, June 4, June 7, June 12-14. I'll be at all of those practices. Follow me for live updates: @BrandonGowton.

Eagles Roster

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53-man prediction