The COVID-19 outbreak on Major League’s Baseball’s Miami Marlins has left most people a bit shaken about the prospects of an NFL season being played to completion in 2020. Teams already had to cancel their OTAs this spring and strict health and safety protocols have been put in place in order to allow teams to take the field at training camp this summer.
Nevertheless, as the football world holds out hope that playing football in a pandemic will be possible, Eagles players have been funneling back in to Philadelphia for the start of camp. There will be no exhibition games this year but, as we saw last year, that hardly matters. Starters barely play in the fake games nowadays. Most of the answers we need to get about this team will come in training camp over the next couple months.
Like most other teams, Philadelphia has a number of questions that need to be answered before traveling to the nation’s capitol for their Week 1 tilt against the Washington Football Team. Here are the 10 most pressing queries as we dip our toe carefully into what is sure to be a very weird 2020 season.
Can Andre Dillard be a starting LT?
The No. 22 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft played a quarter of last season when Jason Peters was injured, with mixed results. However, that shouldn’t be too surprising. Rookie left tackles rarely burst onto the scene and dominate in their first season, especially when they’re filling in. Dillard was a disaster in the one half he played at right tackle, and in the three games on the left side, he alternately struggled and kept his head above water.
When he was drafted, it was known he would need some time to develop. But there were whispers that the Eagles were looking to trade him in the weeks leading up to this week’s draft, and reports of Dillard’s less-than-tough mentality have left the second-year open to questions about his ability to hold onto the job. How he responds to all that will be a big factor in the effectiveness of the offensive line this year.
How will Jason Peters adjust to RG?
There was talk the entire off-season about Peters potentially returning to play his familiar left tackle position once again but, in the end, the Eagles decided to keep Dillard at that spot and brought Peters back to play right guard in place of the injured Brandon Brooks. The 38-year-old has 205 career games at tackle under his belt, and none at guard. No one is expecting Peters to be as good as Brooks, he only needs to be better than Matt Pryor would have been. But how will he respond shifting to the other side of the line and playing on the interior? In addition, if Dillard struggles, will Peters shift back? How much time will Dillard have to right the ship if things go south early?
How will the WR depth chart shake out?
Marquise Goodwin made the WR depth chart a bit clearer when he opted out of playing this season, and with Alshon Jeffery starting 2020 on the PUP list, things appear to have stabilized a bit, at least at the start of camp.
DeSean Jackson and Jalen Reagor will be the outside speed receivers, with Greg Ward in the slot. JJ Arcega-Whiteside figures to get the first crack at the No. 4 spot, with John Hightower and Quez Watkins big question marks further down the depth chart. But what happens when Alshon comes back? Does he get traded? What is Arcega-Whiteside’s future? Will the Eagles add anyone else (Taylor Gabriel?) to the team with Goodwin no longer available? And will they be moving Reagor between the X and Z spots like they did with JJAW last year?
Who will be the team’s No. 2 cornerback?
Darius Slay is a clear No. 1, something the Eagles have desperately needed for years. The question is what the rest of the depth chart will look like. Former second round pick Sidney Jones made some nice plays during the Eagles’ stretch run in the final month of the season, but didn’t see the field all that much. Avonte Maddox had a terrific rookie season in 2018, but was injured for a spell and was otherwise ineffective for much of his sophomore season. Rasul Douglas is still kicking around, but is limited physically and doesn’t offer much resistance matched up against opposing No. 2 receivers. Cre’Von LeBlanc was also quite good in ‘18 but was hurt for most of last year. He’s a dark horse as the No. 2 guy if he can handle playing more than just the slot.
None of these cornerbacks have shown they need to be on the field, so an open competition in the summer could determine who gets the No. 2 spot on Jim Schwartz’ defense.
Can the Eagles live without Malcolm Jenkins?
There’s no doubt Jenkins’ performance had slipped a bit in the last couple seasons, but that was to be expected of a player who is in his early-to-mid 30s. Nevertheless, Jenkins is still a very good player and, with Jalen Mills unproven at safety, it’s fair to wonder if allowing Jenkins to move onto New Orleans will be a disaster for the defense.
Jenkins was the quarterback of the secondary and its emotional leader. He helped get young players lined up and sometimes brought order to chaos. He was also a huge voice in the locker room. Who will step up and fill those roles?
Will Parks and K’Von Wallace will both get a shot to win the strong safety gig, and Wallace may be the long-term answer. But for now, the transition from Jenkins to Mills could be a huge problem for the Birds in 2020.
Who are the linebackers?
There may not be a weaker defensive position group in the NFC East than the Eagles’ linebacking corps. And sure, Schwartz usually never has more than two linebackers on the field at any one time, so no one is saying GM Howie Roseman should have gone out and signed three Pro Bowlers. But linebackers are playmakers and, even in a defense where the defensive line and secondary are the focus, you need decent linebackers to be successful.
Nate Gerry can cover a bit, but by no means should be your No. 1, and yet, here we are. The Eagles picked up Jatavis Brown, who had an outstanding rookie season in San Diego but has struggled since and barely played last year. Undrafted second year player T.J. Edwards isn’t going to “make plays” for you, but he’s technically sound and can help stop the run. Duke Riley and Alex Singleton are big question marks with limited upside as well.
Even if you don’t value a position that much, you shouldn’t ignore it completely. The Eagles never should have let LJ Fort go.
Will we see less 12 personnel this year?
Will this continue to be an offense dominated by Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert, or will the addition of Jalen Reagor put the Eagles into more three-wideout sets? The need for the Birds to become more dynamic on offense is real, and although Doug Pederson’s two tight end sets were once a big advantage, last year they were among the worst in the league at producing offense with two tight ends on the field at the same time. A change of pace seems needed at this point. Which leads to...
Will the new voices in the coach’s room lead to new ideas in play design?
Rich Scangarello was brought in from Denver to help infuse new life to the Eagles offense, and Press Taylor was elevated to become the new coordirnator of the passing game. Pederson needed some new voices and, combined with Reagor and a year of a fully weaponized Miles Sanders in his second season, quarterback Carson Wentz has more to work with. Hopefully.
We likely won’t see much in training camp in terms of anything new or dynamic, but much of this summer will be spent working on different packages, alignments and play designs in an effort to transform the offense from a plodding, joyless effort to more of what we saw in Week 1 against Washington last year.
Do the Eagles need another RB?
The Eagles have long been linked to the free agent running back market, but so far, they have not pulled the trigger. Carlos Hyde is gone and, while Devonta Freeman and LeSean McCoy are still both available, Philly doesn’t seem anxious to meet their demands.
It makes sense. Sanders is expected to see a lot more of the ball in 2020, and Boston Scott showed great promise once he was elevated from the practice squad. They figure to get the bulk of the action, with Corey Clement coming back as the potential No. 3. While adding Freeman certainly would be fine, they probably don’t need him right now. But it’s something to watch for this summer for sure.
Who Is the Backup QB?
If Carson Wentz is lost for the season at any point this year, you can kiss the 2020 playoffs goodbye, and that likely would be the case no matter who the back-up is. Situations like Nick Foles leading the team to a Super Bowl victory are so special because they’re so impossible. A back-up QB is needed to help you get through a 5-6 game stretch without your star signal-caller. Asking anything more than that is asking for too much.
That being said, the back-up plan to Wentz is Nate Sudfeld. Sudfeld has looked decent in past exhibition games, but is wholly unproven. If Wentz were to go down, is Sudfeld good enough to help the Eagles go 3-3 or 4-2 during a 6-game Carson-less stretch? Maybe he is, and if this team is the QB Factory they claim to be, then he probably will. But no one should expect much out of second round pick Jalen Hurts this season, with no OTAs to help him get acclimated to the squad.
Keep an eye on the waiver wire and/or a potential reunion with Josh McCown as well. This situation likely isn’t put to bed just yet.