Football fans have been fortunate that the coronavirus pandemic hasn’t yet impacted the NFL to the extent it has with other major pro sports leagues. We got to experience free agency, the draft, and, heck, even the schedule release.
But now the interruption is starting to be felt. Whereas NFL teams would normally be kicking off OTA practices around this time of year, they’re instead relegated to virtual offseason workout programs.
Maybe you don’t care so much about dudes running around in shorts but the lack of real OTAs is definitely a bummer for me. I always enjoy writing up practice notes here at Bleeding Green Nation. It’s fun to share the first look at the roster for the upcoming season with you all. Not to mention discussing all the other news and updates that typically emerge from spring practice sessions.
While we won’t be able to have our typical offseason coverage here at BGN, we do have some ideas that aim to provide some sense of normalcy. With that in mind, let’s look at the top things we’d be watching if OTAs were actually still taking place. Read on for the entire list and also listen to the latest BGN Radio podcast episode with Jimmy Kempski for additional commentary:
1 - New offensive wrinkles
Doug Pederson recently downplayed the idea that the Eagles are revolutionizing their entire offensive identity.
“I don’t think from the naked eye you’re going to see a ton of different concepts, different ideas, different things from the naked eye. What you’re going to see from our standpoint is subtleties within what we do as an offense: protections, the play action game, screens, even the run game. But those are all things that we’re going to work on in training camp. But I think overall, you are not going to see big, wholesale changes. We didn’t overhaul the entire offense, and keep in mind, this offense won a World Championship a couple seasons ago, so we are just finding ways to make it better at this time.”
Still, the Eagles did make a number of changes to their coaching staff this offseason. They promoted Press Taylor to passing game coordinator. They hired former Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello as a senior offensive assistant. They hired Joe Moorhead discipline Andrew Breiner as a pass game analyst. They hired a new wide receivers coach in Aaron Moorehead. Oh, and they even brought back Marty Mornhinweg (!) as a senior offensive consultant.
The Eagles didn’t make all of those changes just to maintain status quo on offense. It would’ve been interesting to see some of the “subtleties” that Pederson talked about. Maybe we would’ve seen some things that BGN’s Benjamin Solak specifically wrote about.
2 - The many questions at wide receiver
Is Alshon Jeffery around at all? He skipped OTAs last year. Where’s he at in terms of recovering from his Lisfranc injury?
Is DeSean Jackson fully healthy and practicing after having core muscle surgery?
Is Jalen Reagor immediately getting first team reps? Is he lining up in the slot or on the outside? Both? Is he making big plays down the field from the jump?
Is JJ Arcega-Whiteside showing any signs of progress after a discouraging rookie season? Is he running with the first team receivers as Jeffery’s replacement?
Is Greg Ward the first team slot receiver? Where does he stand on the depth chart?
Where does Marquise Goodwin fit in?
Are Day 3 rookies John Hightower and/or Quez Watkins showing promise? Do they look like they belong?
It’s easier to glean information about some positions than others during OTA practices. Receiver would’ve been a real interesting position to watch.
3 - The backup quarterback situation
Pederson said that Nate Sudfeld is going to have to earn the No. 2 quarterback job but also admitted that there’s value in his experience with the Eagles’ system. Sudfeld would likely be taking second team reps behind Carson Wentz on the first team. That leaves rookie second-round pick Jalen Hurts working with the third team.
Hurts could eventually overtake Sudfeld on the depth chart but the veteran could open the 2020 season as Wentz’s primary backup. Hurts is going to be hurt by the lack of normal offseason reps.
It also would’ve been interesting to see if the Eagles showed any of those rumored Taysom Hill / two quarterback packages with Hurts.
4 - The offensive line configuration
It still remains to be seen if Andre Dillard will be the Eagles’ starting left tackle in 2020. Pederson recently gave Dillard the strongest vote of confidence to date but he also confirmed the Eagles are still talking with Jason Peters. With Derrick Gunn reporting that “it’s only a matter of time” before the Eagles re-sign Peters, I’m not inclined to assume Dillard is definitely the starter.
Still, with Peters currently unsigned, Dillard would be getting all the first team left tackle reps. The non-contact nature of OTA practices limits what we can glean from the trenches but there still would’ve been a focus on Dillard.
The left tackle question isn’t the only one to be answered.
Who is first up at right guard with Brandon Brooks still recovering from injury? It’s probably Matt Pryor but does anyone else get a look there? And where exactly is Brook at in his recovery? He said in January that he expected to back on the field in June.
Who’s the swing tackle now that Halapoulivaati Vaitai is gone? Dillard would be the backup left tackle again if Peters returns. But if JP isn’t back, who is it then? Jordan Mailata? Prince Tega Wanogho? Is PTW even healthy enough to practice after being flagged for medical issues during the pre-draft process? How does Jack Driscoll fit in? Is he getting tackle reps or do the Eagles view him as an interior offensive lineman?
5 - The running back rotation
We know Miles Sanders is the top guy. What does the rest of the rotation look like, though? Is Boston Scott the clear No. 2? How do Corey Clement, Elijah Holyfield, Mike Warren, and Adrian Killins fit in? When are the Eagles going to sign a veteran running back and who will it be? Perhaps one of the rumored trio of Carlos Hyde, Devonta Freeman, or LeSean McCoy? Isaiah Crowell? Someone else?
6 - The secondary configuration
Who’s the No. 2 cornerback across from Darius Slay? Avonte Maddox is the favorite to get the first look there. He finished the 2019 season ahead of Sidney Jones in that role. But will we see a rotation that signifies the job is up for grabs? Or is Maddox’s spot secure?
Is Jalen Mills truly being used in the old Malcolm Jenkins role? Is Will Parks getting some similar looks?
Where is K’Von Wallace lining up? Is he getting any reps with the first team defense?
7 - The defensive end rotation
Brandon Graham and Derek Barnett are the top two staters. Josh Sweat is likely the third guy in the rotation. What does the depth chart look like beyond that trio? Is Genard Avery truly the fourth option? Is Joe Ostman showing anything after looking good last offseason? Do the Eagles re-sign Vinny Curry at some point?
8 - What’s going on at linebacker?
Nathan Gerry and T.J. Edwards are the projected starters but is that truly the case? Who’s the third linebacker: Jatavis Brown, Duke Riley, or Davion Taylor? To what extent are we seeing the Eagles use “positionless” defensive backs like Mills or Parks or Wallace in linebacker roles?
One can only hope that Eagles training camp will safely start on time in late July and we’ll be able to learn more about the team then.