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Eagles training camp preview: 10 questions and answers

From The Eagles.

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles-Minicamp Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

This feature is a weekly piece on titled From The Eagles, featuring Eagles Insider Dave Spadaro. The intention is to provide a perspective directly from the Philadelphia Eagles in this forum for the great fans who visit BGN.

Inside the NovaCare Complex, where the last-day work is being finished on the strength and conditioning room floor and the auditorium is tidied up and the lighting is new and bright, the signs are plain that Training Camp has arrived. The pace is faster after five weeks of players and coaches and staff taking vacation time. The urgency is clear: The 2018 season is here and the work is just beginning.

This is a fun time to be in the building – which, by the way, is currently not housing the Lombardi Trophy, as it has been sent to have the Super Bowl LII score engraved – with camp upon us. All of the camp essentials are in place – the bunting is up along Pattison Avenue, the field is pristine, the tents housing the corporate and community partners and fans are in place. In a matter of hours, the parking lot will be filled and the players will be ready to embark on the 2018 campaign.

What kinds of questions do you have about this team? I think I have a pretty good idea, so let’s play some make-believe question and answer. It’s a slow news day, so here goes …

1) When will quarterback Carson Wentz be ready to play?

He’s aiming for the first regular season game, against Atlanta on September 6. Wentz has been a diligent worker with the athletic training staff at NovaCare and, by all accounts, Wentz has made great progress. But at this point, nobody knows for certain when he’s going to be cleared to play football all out. We have only 44-45 days until the opener against Atlanta. Wentz won’t play until he’s cleared to play. The Eagles aren’t going to force him back onto the field as Washington did with Robert Griffin III and basically ruined his health forever. The answer to the question is that nobody knows, honestly, right now. And they may not know until mid-to-late August, truth be told.

2) Who should we be most concerned about as far as the other injured players?

It’s not just about Wentz, of course. The Eagles had a large handful of veterans miss much, if not all, of the spring practices. Players like wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, offensive tackle Jason Peters and running back Darren Sproles should be ready early in camp, if not right at the very start. Defensive end Brandon Graham says he is, no doubt, going to be ready for the opener, so while he may not be on the field early in camp, he’s trending in the right direction to be ready for the Falcons. Safety Chris Maragos is still a ways away, it seems, from practicing. Middle linebacker Jordan Hicks, so critical to the defense, is likely to be brought along slowly as he comes back from his Achilles tendon injury. Defensive tackle Tim Jernigan has gained back all the weight he lost from his back surgery, but it’s unknown how soon he’s going to be on the field. Running back Josh Adams, signed after the draft, didn’t practice at all after suffering a foot injury and is a question mark for the start of camp. He’s a prospect from Notre Dame, but a foot injury for a running back? It’s important to bring him back at the right pace so the injury doesn’t become a career-threatening one.

3) Which side of the ball is more advanced – offense or defense?

I’d have to say offense at this point. The Eagles have a complete offensive line, they’ve got an outstanding quarterback – be it Wentz on September 6 or Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles – and the skill positions are deep and talented. The defense, while promising, has questions across the board at linebacker, has questions at safety and has some uncertainty at cornerback. Right now, the offense is a step ahead.

4) What are the best positional battles for camp?

Cornerback, for sure. Who replaces Patrick Robinson at the nickel position? De’Vante Bausby, Sidney Jones and rookie Avonte Maddox appear to be the leading candidates. At linebacker, nobody has really stepped up at the WILL position, so Kamu Grugier-Hill, Corey Nelson and Nate Gerry are the leading contenders. The battle for playing time at running back will be fun to watch, as will players like Wendell Smallwood and Matt Jones and Donnel Pumphrey, all of whom are looking to make it as the fourth running back here. Punter? The battle is Cameron Johnston against himself. Can he show consistency as a punter and holder and win the job?

5) How does the rookie class fit in?

First draft pick Dallas Goedert is going to play at tight end in tandem with Zach Ertz. Maddox can help in coverage and on special teams. The rest of the small draft class – defensive end Josh Sweat, offensive linemen Matt Pryor and Jordan Mailata – are developmental players.

6) Will the Eagles keep adding to the roster?

Always. Will they or will they not sign safety Corey Graham, as has been talked about for weeks? It makes sense for Graham to return to the defense. He did a good job last season and the Eagles lack depth behind starters Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod, so …

Keep an eye on the linebackers, too. The Eagles need someone to step up and replace Mychal Kendricks at WILL and they could probably use another veteran for depth across the board. Who starts for Nigel Bradham (suspended) in the opener?

7) Who is a good Training Camp longshot to follow?

Bausby is the leading candidate, having had a cup of coffee in his career with Chicago and Kansas City, and he’s impressed from the start. Matt Jones, once a third-round draft pick by Washington, looks great in a uniform, but he’s stumbled badly since a promising start to his career with the Redskins. The ultimate longshot is wide receiver Tim Wilson, from Radnor High School and East Stroudsburg, who earned a contract after impressing the team in the Rookie Camp as a tryout player. He will have to be great to be a practice-squad consideration.

8) Who will be the darling of the preseason games?

Some candidates: Billy Brown at tight end, Pumphrey at running back, Nate Sudfeld at quarterback, Rasul Douglas at cornerback and, as always even if you haven’t noticed much, Steven Means at defensive end. And here’s my guy, based solely on watching him in the spring and noticing his quickness: linebacker Asantay Brown, a rookie from Western Michigan. He’s only 215 pounds, and I haven’t talked to a scout or a coach about him. But if I’m talking about someone making a big play or three late in a preseason game, he’s my guy.

9) What is the tone of Training Camp?

Head coach Doug Pederson wants camp to be physical and competitive. He’s going to have a day or two (maybe three) where there are “live” periods and the players will tackle. At the same time, he’s going to make sure to monitor some of his older players to keep them fresh for the regular season. As for the competitive part, the Eagles have a roster as deep and talented as I’ve ever seen. The competition will be great.

10) How will we know that this is a successful Training Camp when it’s all over?

Health is the first sign, so if the Eagles can avoid any major injuries and get back their veterans, it’s been a great camp. It’s also important some second-year players like Sidney Jones and linebacker Nate Gerry and even Pumphrey show up and make some plays. Defensive end Derek Barnett is an emerging star, and he’s making that kind of progress. And, of course, if the Eagles declare, somewhere around August 27 before the preseason finale against the Jets, that Wentz is the starter for the Atlanta opener, then you know it’s been a great, great, great Training Camp. And if not, it can still be a great camp, as long as the Eagles emerge largely healthy.

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