The Philadelphia Eagles’ 2019 OTA practice schedule starts tomorrow on May 21. Tuesday marks the first time we’ll get to see these Birds in their first full practice this offseason. Remember: 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 things we’ll be watching.
1 - Carson Wentz’s health
UPDATE: NFL Network reports Carson Wentz will have “no limitations for on-field drills during OTAs.”
Duh. There’s no other way to start this list.
It’s currently unclear to what extent Wentz will be participating in Tuesday’s practice. In his rookie minicamp press conference from two weeks ago, Doug Pederson was noncommittal about the starting quarterback’s status.
“Not going to get too specific or detail a lot of the things, but he’s been working. Encouraged by his progress and where he’s at. And just looking forward to the next few weeks with him.”
Wentz is still seemingly recovering from the fractured vertebrae that ended his 2018 season early. Here’s what Pederson originally said about Wentz’s potential recovery period back in mid-December:
“Don’t want to put a timetable on it, but it could be three months possibly.”
That was five months ago.
Wentz missing some spring practices would be far from the end of the world. But any time the team’s franchise quarterback is less than 100%, people are reasonably going to have some level of concern.
The guess here is that Wentz will be participating in practice in some capacity. But I also think the Eagles want to be super extra cautious with him so he’s ready for the actual games that matter.
Still, it’d be nice to see Wentz at 100% sooner than later. The last time he had a full offseason to prepare for the upcoming campaign was 2017, a year in which he nearly won NFL MVP.
If Wentz is limited, it’ll be interesting to see what Nate Sudfeld can do with extended first team reps. There’s obviously pressure on Studfeld to step up as the No. 2 guy with Nick Foles gone.
2 - First look at the new offensive weapons
The Eagles offense was too stagnant at times in 2018 so Howie Roseman went and out and acquired a bunch of new weapons for Wentz in the offseason. It’ll be fun to see the likes of Miles Sanders, DeSean Jackson, Jordan Howard, and JJ Arcega-Whiteside out there on the practice field.
Sanders’ usage will be especially interesting. How big of a role will he have as a rookie? How involved will he be in the passing game?
Eagles fans already know all about Jackson’s capabilities. He’s going to burn some defensive backs in practice. But can Wentz — whenever he’s back on the field — and Jackson get their timing down and get on the same page?
Howard’s physical style isn’t best highlighted in non-contact drills. It’s still be interesting to see just how many reps he gets in relation to Sanders.
JJAW could make for a very fun practice player to watch, especially if the quarterbacks are giving him some jump ball opportunities in the red zone.
How the new guys fit in will be interesting to watch.
3 - Will there be more 12 personnel?!
Earlier this offseason, Doug Pederson said the Eagles’ coaching staff has made a concentrated effort to get more two tight sets involved in the offense. Assuming he’s telling the truth, that’s very smart because 12 personnel helped saved the Eagles’ 2018 season.
I want to take Pederson at face value because 2019 marks the first full offseason where the Eagles know they have two really good tight ends. The team didn’t select Dallas Goedert until late April last year and they didn’t know exactly how much he could contribute as a rookie.
But now they should know that Goedert and Zach Ertz are both studs who deserve a lot of playing time. Goedert showed serious potential last year and he should only improve moving forward. Ertz, meanwhile, is coming off a year in which he broke the NFL record for single-season tight end receptions.
We should be seeing the Eagles utilize a good amount of 12 personnel during spring practices.
4 - The right guard spot
Brandon Brooks isn’t going to participating in OTAs as he recovers from his Achilles injury suffered in January. So, who get the first crack at right guard in his absence?
It could be 2018 sixth-round pick Matt Pryor. Or it could be Stefen Wisniewski. Maybe the Eagles rotate those guys there. Wis offers more experience but Pryor has more upside.
There’s also the possibility the Eagles could move Halapoulivaati Vaitai to guard. Doing so would free up Andre Dillard to get more reps at left tackle, which is the exact spot Pederson said the Eagles want to keep their 2019 first-round pick focused on.
5 - The defensive end rotation
Sadly, Chris Long is retiring. So, how do the Eagles replace him?
Let’s start with what we DO know: the Eagles have a good trio of defensive ends in Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett, and Vinny Curry. There’s reason to believe these guys can be more effective in 2019 than 2018 since injuries held them back last season. Barnett’s outlook will be especially interesting to watch; the Eagles seem to be really counting on their 2017 first-round pick to make a big leap in his development. At only 22 years old heading into his third season, he very well could be up to the task.
But what about beyond those three guys? We know Jim Schwartz loves to rotate his pass rushers.
Before we look outward, we must look inward. And by that I specifically mean the interior defensive line. The presence of both Malik Jackson and Timmy Jernigan could result in the Eagles using their ends to play at defensive tackle less often. This configuration could shorten up the defensive end rotation.
Still, what if there are injuries to the ends? The Eagles could suddenly be looking at one of Daeshon Hall, Josh Sweat, Shareef Miller, or Joe Ostman as one of their top three edge rushers. That’s not ideal.
It’s always possible the Eagles could sign a veteran defensive end (Derrick Morgan?) but for now the Eagles can use the spring to evaluate their young guys at that position.
The dark horse to watch at defensive end is Hall. I put him over Sweat on my latest 53-man roster projection. Maybe I’m reading into things too much but I found it interest how Howie Roseman mentioned Hall’s name before Sweat during his post-draft press conference. Also look at this recent article from Dave Spadaro that features three paragraphs on Hall before one shorter one on Sweat. Hall, not unlike Sweat, boasts an elite athletic profile. Hall also doesn’t have the injury history that’s always going to be a concern with Sweat.
Miller and Ostman obviously bear watching as well. The Eagles liked Miller enough to select him with a fourth-round pick. Ostman is a guy that’s drawn a lot of praise from the organization and it’ll be interesting to see if he’s anything more than a good practice player.
The Eagles were able to win a Super Bowl title largely in part because they led the NFL in pressures generated that season. The defensive end position is critical to their team success.
6 - The secondary configuration
There are many questions to be answered in the Eagles’ secondary.
Who is starting at the outside spots? Who’s starting at nickel cornerback? When will Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills be healthy? What position will Avonte Maddox play: corner, nickel, or safety? Can Cre’Von LeBlanc pick up where he left off after playing well down the stretch in 2018? Is Rasul Douglas ready to make the leap as a full-time starter? Is Malcolm Jenkins going to show up to practice? Is Andrew Sendejo going to make the team when he could be cut to preserve a 2020 fourth-round compensatory pick? Can Tre Sullivan step up into the old Corey Graham role?
I thought of all of those before I even got to one of the biggest questions of all: what’s in store for Sidney Jones’ future? Can he stay healthy? How does he fit in?
By re-signing Darby, the Eagles gave themselves a lot of options heading into 2019. The offseason is the time for them to experiment with different combinations and see what works best.
7 - The stock we put into spring performances
It’s fair to wonder how much spring success translates to the regular season.
Sometimes it just doesn’t. Take De’Vante Bausby last year, for example. He looked really good in OTAs but he didn’t even make the original 53-man roster.
I don’t think that final result made Bausby’s spring performance totally irrelevant, though. He was good enough to where he earned the right to battle for first team slot cornerback reps in training camp. Bausby then lost that role after struggling in summer practices and preseason games. But, still, his strong spring allowed him to at least contend for a significant role on the defense.
There could easily be some player(s) who follow in Bausby’s footsteps this offseason. Some guys will look good in the spring and then fade in the sweltering training camp heat. On the flip side, there could also be some guys who build on their spring momentum and take a big step forward in their development heading into the regular season.