There’s no Eagles practice today, which is a good opportunity to take a longer view of some training camp developments, and non-developments. We’ll know more about this team when they start playing other teams, but already some parts of the team are shaping up along the lines of what we expected, or in areas that felt predictable. And there are some that are drawing some early concerns.
1) The Eagles look prepared for trench warfare
Defenses are usually ahead of offenses at this stage of training camp, so we have to be careful reading too much into early training camp performance. But so far, there’s every reason to think a coaching change isn’t going to slow down a pass rush that was 3rd in sack rate in 2020. What is encouraging is how they’re looking good. Jonathan Gannon mixing up formations is a nice change. Even better are the internal improvements: Josh Sweat may wind up starting opposite Brandon Graham, and if so it won’t be because Derek Barnett has taken a step back, it’ll be because Sweat has continued to improve and leaped over him on the depth chart. Javon Hargrave, who looked useless to start the season last year, has looked good. And the Eagles might have something in Milton Williams, and Tarron Jackson has shown flashes. And I haven’t even mentioned Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox, and Ryan Kerrigan, who combined for 20 sacks last year. We expect this unit to be the strength of the team, but there are also concerns with aging and fit. So far, the defensive line is looking like advertised, and maybe even better in that it’s deeper.
It’s a somewhat similar situation on the other side of the ball. The offensive line was the relative “strength” of the 2020 offense, but like the defensive line there are aging concerns: when healthy the best players coming into this year are all in their 30s. That’s what makes Jordan Mailata’s leap in performance so satisfying. This team needs a few long-term pieces on the offensive line, and it’s looking more and more like they have one in Mailata.
2) The decision to not bring in a veteran WR isn’t panning out
I’m all for a youth movement at wide receiver. And Nick Sirianni’s background indicates that he should be able to get something out of his WRs if they’ve got anything to give. But it was curious that the Eagles didn’t bring in a veteran backup to at least push the young players. The oldest WR in camp is recently signed Andre Patton, who is 27 and has six career receptions. Miles Sanders has more career receiving yards than any WR currently on the roster. The team barely had any cap space this offseason, but there were receivers available in free agency on cheap contracts. It wouldn’t have hurt anyone to bring in one guy with some experience, even if he was projected to fight for a roster spot.
We’re not even to the first preseason game and already it looks like the recurring theme of Howie Roseman not having a plan B for when things go wrong at wide receiver is going to repeat in 2021. It bit them in 2018 when Mike Wallace (remember him?) was hurt almost immediately, and again in 2019 when DeSean Jackson was also hurt almost immediately. Travis Fulgham was his one good secondary option, and he was picked up late in camp after being cut twice, he was a fluke and not a product of a good process.
These errors are magnified by Roseman’s inability to draft the position. It isn’t a surprise that none of Jalen Reagor, JJ Arcega-Whiteside, John Hightower, or Quez Watkins have really stepped up so far. Watkins has improved, but he’s not challenging for a starting job; JJAW has been “better” by not being terrible, but we’ve seen that play before.
You’re not going to believe this (spoiler alert: you will) but it does not appear that a coaching change—and since the position coach is a holdover, the potential impact of coaching change is somewhat blunted—has magically made Howie Roseman’s WR picks good. A veteran wouldn’t have been a panacea but considering nearly every carry over WR had the mental part of their game questioned, a seasoned veteran could have helped, especially with such a young coaching staff. Nick Sirianni probably wouldn’t mind having someone he didn’t feel the need to yell at all the time.
3) Nick Sirianni is going to be very tired
Speaking of Sirianni yelling, he has got to tone it down. Not because it gets him a step closer to Joe Judge nonsense. No, he needs to relax a little because at the rate camp is going he’s going to lose his voice by Week 1 and get burnt out by the end of the year. Coach, your offense is going to be bad. And it is filled with young players. It’s good that you’re trying to correct mistakes as they happen, I’m not knocking that. But take your foot off the gas just a little bit to make sure you still have enough in the tank for the rest of the way. It’s a 17 game season coach, and you’re not even into the preseason yet. Pace yourself.
4) That AFC South QB
No, not Carson Wentz.
Until he’s on another team or in prison, there will always be rumors of the Eagles looking to trade for Deshaun Watson. Like the rumors of trading away Wentz, they could easily refute them. And like with those rumors of trading away Wentz, they haven’t. This is just the latest example:
#Eagles coach Nick Sirianni on Deshaun Watson rumors: ‘I’m not going to talk about hypotheticals and rumors. All I can tell you is every decision we make is a group decision.’— Tom Moore (@TomMoorePhilly) August 5, 2021
At the beginning of camp, Howie Roseman was asked about Watson and gave a boilerplate “we’re always evaluating everything” type of answer. Fair enough. But the rumors have persisted, and the Eagles have done nothing to dispel them.
Maybe chalk the latest non-denial denial up to Sirianni’s inexperience but a simple “we like the guys that we have” type of cliche statement would put some distance between the team and the rumors. But it fits a pattern of not downplaying the rumors, and when the coach throws a little fuel on the fire, that’s worrisome.
5) Na Brown Award Watch!
The leader by a country mile is Zech McPhearson. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, we need to see what happens when he faces receivers that aren’t the Eagles lackluster crew. Honorable mentions to Tyree Jackson, Davion Taylor, and Josiah Scott.