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Eagles Training Camp: one unanswered question for each positional group

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Training camp byke

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Green Bay Packers The Post-Crescent-USA TODAY Sports

“I love me a little contact, Petey!”

The Eagles are practicing with live tackling today; and anytime any teams practices with contact, I will think of Julius Campbell wiping out Turk from Scrubs and then hitting the iconic “Strong side! Left side!” chant with Opie from Sons of Anarchy.

Whichever Eagle references Remember the Titans today will immediately become my favorite Eagle. These are the rules.

Quarterback

When will Carson finally get hit?

Yeah, I know, it’s a bit of a cop-out question. It doesn’t really refer to an uncertainty outside of training camp—but really, at this point, we can say that the quarterbacks are very known quantities. Despite the coaching staff’s Stalin-esque devotion to censorship when it comes to Wentz’s health and timetable, he’ll clearly on track to play in early September. Foles is the best backup in the league; Studfeld has his shining moments; Callahan is short.

So when will he finally be free for a hit? When will we all feel our breath catch in our chest at the first (and second and third and fourth) strike? Will he get any run in preseason games, or go into Atlanta cold turkey?

Obviously the quarterbacks aren’t free to ragdoll around in practice, even on live hitting days—and everyone in the building knows to treat Carson like’s he’s made of feathers. But there’s not much else to figure out with these signal-callers. Everything is all about Carson.

Running back

Will contact shift Pumphrey’s edge?

Ask anybody, not just me, and they’ll say Pumphrey is clearly the leader for RB4. Matt Jones, Wendell Smallwood, Josh Adams—they all have good and bad moments, but nothing about their games really stands out. Pumphrey gets far more attentive reps from the coaching staff, and for the first leg of practices, his quickness jumps off the field, especially as a receiver.

But that being said, game isn’t played with shells and taps. The biggest question mark in Pumphrey’s translation to the pros was always how he would handle NFL size and strength. He never really got a chance to answer that last year with the whole ‘adding too much weight, hamstring tear’ debacle. This year he seems to be 100%. He’s had a year of NFL strength and conditioning work under his belt. We should see improvement.

The name to circle in the wings is Matt Jones. His game is predicated on that rumblin’ and tumblin’ power, and he’s every bit the 240 lbs listed by the Eagles’ roster. He has the best chance to stand out now that he can exchange power in the trenches.

Wide Receiver

Can Shelton Gibson fend off the risers?

I know this: Shelton Gibson is definitely, 100%, unquestionably better than he was last offseason. He routes are nice and crispy, and he’s made some excellent snags away from his frame, even when going to the ground/through contact. His ability to keep his routes on the correct path and fight for leverage downfield, however, still leaves me wondering.

That’s something else that pads and live hitting will help us figure out, of course. But Gibson is still, for the most part, inconsistent. If not for Kamar Aiken, he’d comfortably be the dropsiest receiver in camp. Add in the fact that Rashard Davis has looked really good and the coaching staff seems psyched about what they have in Greg Ward Jr., and we have a thicket of smaller, speedier guys looking at the same WR6 roster spot.

Gibson has the advantage of draft pedigree (though 6th round isn’t too awe-inspiring) and an elite trait: that downfield speed. But when it comes to the work we’ve seen on the field thus far, he and Davis should be in a dead heat, as I see it.

Tight End

How will Goedert hold up under duress?

I love Dallas Goedert. I loved his film at South Dakota, I loved his testing, I loved the pick, and I love what I see from him in practice. Doug Pederson was right to say in his interview with Dave Spadaro for the team site that you can tell he’s still thinking out there a little bit, not yet playing totally loose. That’s okay. It’s Day 6 of his NFL career.

The nagging worm of doubt I have with Goedert has to do with size and physicality, so I’m excited to see him on contact day. He’s listed as 260 but he’s a dense, smallish 260—and in terms of play style, he’s more a finesse player than a power one. Eagle fans have been spoiled by a Zach Ertz who excels when battling physicality at the top of his routes; that’s not going to be Goedert, as much.

I’ll be interested to see if players like Nigel Bradham and Malcolm Jenkins get put on Goedert and really fluster him with physicality within five yards. Players who are thinking and not flowing can often get bullied as such. Goedert is ready to contribute tomorrow; every positive rep just builds up the QB’s and coaching staff’s trust thereof.

Offensive Line

Who has immunity?

Chance Warmack is a Stoutland guy; we know that. Isaac Seumalo is only in his third season and was drafted in the third round. We’ve sang ourselves the same songs when justifying their presence on the roster.

So where does the buck stop? Because Matt Pryor has looked great; Jon Toth has better center reps than Seumalo. Obviously it’s just a week of camp, and should be taken as such: a grain of sand on the larger scales of a player’s history. But eventually you’ve got to cut the cord, and that time should be quickly approaching for Seumalo and Warmack.

Toth is a real outside shot—but with Pryor’s ability to play tackle as well as guard (something Seumalo was supposed to do), expect to hear a strong push for his roster spot as we near September.

Defensive Line

How do rotations end up shuffling out?

Here’s the thing about playing Destiny Vaeao next to Michael Bennett on the interior DL in camp: who cares? It’s fun, it’s fine, whatever—you’re just evaluating the individual players, really. But eventually, you have to start looking at your potential combinations and iterations of pass-rushers and ask “Who has the best chemistry?” or “Who can we get on the field together without becoming weak in a certain way?”

Because Vaeao + Bennett on the interior is begging for some power running plays, let me tell you.

So Haloti Ngata has barely taken any first-team reps—he’s as veteran as they come, he doesn’t really need ‘em. That acknowledged, I’d like to get a better feel for the lines Schwartz intends to roll out there in certain down and distance situations. Especially with Jernigan uncertainty moving forward, you have to have new plans in place. No Brandon Graham also hurts.

Linebackers

Can I begin the Jordan Hicks CPOY 2018 campaign yet?

I know I’m supposed to care a lot more about the whole “Who’s starting at WILL thing” but to me it’s impossible to tell right now. They rotate so many different lines in that everyone is just getting basic reps with basic responsibility. Not much to write home about.

EXCEPT FOR JORDAN HICKS BEING BACK. (Again lol.)

I promised myself I wouldn’t believe again. I wouldn’t fall for the same tease. No, Jordan Hicks—don’t break my heart again! Not like this! But here we are. I’m watching a super smart, highly instinctive player fly around the field and I’m getting all worked up.

I just want Hicks to survive through camp. I just want to see him play like, at least 8 regular season games. That’s my goal. Everything else is just candy.

Cornerbacks

Can Rasul Douglas add something this year?

Sul (SUUUUUUUUUL!) has been the most mixed of bags in camp. The good stuff is still good—but the real news is that the bad stuff is still bad. Feet die at the top of routes and he lunges; he plays soft when he has the profile to play big. He’s not in danger of falling off the roster, but there’s a lot of talent in front of him, and not a lot of reasons to give him any playing time.

Remember all of Douglas’ tackles last year? Little ankle nippers, they were. Dives for the ground, hoping for a trip. That isn’t going to fly, especially not for a player of his tackle radius, and especially uncharacteristic of a player who supposedly wins a physical brand of football.

I really like Douglas’ potential, but I expected more in Year 2. There’s still plenty of hope, but hope has an expiration date. The Eagles’ CB room is generally small, and Douglas could have carved out a niche role for himself as a big man match-up player—and there’s still time for that—but we haven’t seen that yet.

Safety

Tre Sullivan plays where?

Tre’s gonna make this roster. He’s clearly the apple of the coaches’ eye, takes some first-team reps as a third safety, looks great on the hoof, et cetera. All good stuff. It’s fun to see.

I’m not entirely sure, however, what his ideal deployment is yet. He has good range to play deep; he has good size to play near the line of scrimmage; good length to cover. In camp, they aren’t really looking for players to define their roles; rather, they want to see how everyone looks everywhere. And Sullivan has looked good everywhere—I’m just not sure where he’ll really shine.

The bigger need is deep safety, so that’s where I would look first. With an operable third safety who can play a deep half, you can safely rotate Jenkins into the line and still play split safeties in the defensive backfield—which Corey Graham struggled to do in 2017. Those reps are the ones I’m circling for Sullivan.