An 0-3 preseason record? Not a concern. An offense that has made too many mistakes and just hasn’t gotten it going with quarterback Nick Foles? There is enough time to work out the kinks. Negative thoughts about this preseason?
No. No. No.
I wrote an earlier version of this on PhiladelphiaEagles.com and am compelled to repeat, with some new thoughts, here. While there have been some ugly spots in this preseason – I mean, nobody thought Thursday’s 5-0 loss to Cleveland was pretty – the summer as a whole has been a positive one for the Eagles.
And as the comments cue (“Homer!” “Lapdog” “Who cares what Spadaro thinks? He’s paid to be positive about the Eagles!”) let’s go over reasons why the Eagles are in a very fine place with 10 days to go before the regular season begins …
- The defense is better than it was a season ago and could be very good this year. Adding Michael Bennett and Haloti Ngata up front helps a lot. The Eagles are better at the line of scrimmage and they’re more versatile then they were a season ago. We don’t know when tackle Tim Jernigan will return, but the Eagles seem well equipped and deep with talent along the defensive line. Along with that, the cornerbacks are improved – and the caveat here is that Sidney Jones comes close to playing at the level Patrick Robinson performed last year at the nickel position. Outside, Ronald Darby is far improved over last season and Jalen Mills plays with sustained tenacity. Avonte Maddox has a chance to be an excellent nickel cornerback. He’ll have to show he can play “big” enough to make it work on the outside.
- Having Jordan Hicks on the field makes such a big difference at linebacker. He goes into the season healthy (fingers crossed). Let’s keep it that way.
- There have been no major injuries to projected front-line players (more fingers crossed). The Eagles lost linebacker Paul Worrilow in the spring, an unfortunate injury to a free-agent signee who would have competed for the starting job at the WILL position. Tight end Richard Rodgers has a knee injury that is “week to week,” according to head coach Doug Pederson, and while that could drag into the regular season, the Eagles feel great about the progress made by rookie Dallas Goedert as the other half in what should be a devastating 1-2 combination at tight end with Ertz. Center Jason Kelce went down on Thursday night and it was scary for a moment, but he actually re-entered the game and, while he walked with a heavy limp in the locker room after the loss, Kelce should be OK. No projected starters are expected to play on Thursday. Ah, the beauty of a single cutdown date this year in the NFL. It’s a big benefit for the Eagles.
- The injured players from last year are making great progress. Defensive end Brandon Graham is already back on the practice field. Quarterback Carson Wentz looks absolutely great and should make a quick and successful transition to the starter’s role when the medical team gives him the final green light, whenever that is. Alshon Jeffery is bulked up as he recovers from his rotator cuff injury and the Eagles are excited to get him back in the offense. Jernigan remains the biggest mystery after having back surgery, but wouldn’t the Eagles have gone out and added to the position if they thought Jernigan would be out for an extended period of time into the regular season?
- The rookies can play. Goedert is going to be an immediate contributor. Maddox is making terrific strides and is going to help this secondary and these special teams for years to come. Defensive end Josh Sweat looks like he’s going to make the 53-man roster. Young offensive linemen Matt Pryor and Jordan Mailata have made a lot of progress and are strong contenders for the 53, although Pryor has leveled off. Undrafted running back Josh Adams has talent and is very much in the mix for the fourth running back spot with young veteran Wendell Smallwood.
- There have been nice jumps from some young players, notably Jones at cornerback, Shelton Gibson at wide receiver, Nate Gerry at linebacker and Nate Sudfeld at quarterback. This is good to know as the Eagles take pride in their development program.
- The chemistry in the locker room is great. Offseason additions Bennett, Ngata and wide receiver Mike Wallace breaths of free air, independent thinkers, and great adds to the locker room and on the field. Ngata had a big game in Cleveland, Bennett is an impact defensive lineman, and Wallace, while not productive enough in games, has been strong in practice.
- The running game is going to be better than it was last year. If you remember 2017, the Eagles were only OK running the football and then they went out and traded for Jay Ajayi and the ground game improved. Like, immediately with huge games against Denver and Dallas. Anyway, Ajayi is primed for a big season. Corey Clement is a baller. Darren Sproles is an X-factor who is going to be used more as a receiver in space in advantageous matchups.
- We know that Nelson Agholor can be a standout. We didn’t know that 12 months ago.
- The punter situation, one of the big concerns heading into Training Camp, has been handled very capably by Cameron Johnston, who has averaged nearly 48 yards a boot in 17 punts, with a net of 45 yards and six of his punts inside the 20-yard line. He’s done exactly what he needed to do to earn the confidence of the coaching staff. We’ll see what happens next, but the Eagles are dealing from a position of strength here.
This is not to say that the Eagles are a perfect, finished product. They aren’t “whole” right now. But that’s coming. An NFL regular season is a four-month project, and then come the playoffs. There is a lot to love 10 days away from the opener.
This feature is a weekly piece on BleedingGreenNation.com 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.