As we get ready for the start of the preseason (now only three months away!) I thought it would be a good time to look at some of the questions I have about the team heading into this year.
So without further ado, let's get right into it.
1. Who plays right guard?
This is probably the biggest question on the offensive side of the ball. If the team likes Dickerson on the left side, the obvious question becomes who starts at the other guard spot. The obvious answer is Isaac Seumalo, but I don't think this is as obvious as it seems. Seumalo has been hurt a lot and apparently the team is really high on Jack Driscoll. There has also been some rumblings about moving Andre Dillard to guard, and while his experience on the right side was not great when he played tackle there, maybe the thinking is that cross-training him will be a success.
The advantage of playing Dillard in that spot is that he is the most athletic option, and if he flourishes, the team can feel comfortable signing him to an extension. His biggest hurdle to playing guard is strength, but I trust that, if they put him at guard, they are comfortable with him being able to handle it physically. Plus, he also gives them a backup option at left tackle that doesn't exist if he isn't on the roster. I watched his game against KC last year and I did see him get manhandled once by a bigger defensive lineman, but for the most part he held his own. At guard he isn't going to be someone who can move people, but I think the team could find creative ways to use him in the run/screen game, similar to how they used Seumalo, who also wasn't exceptionally strong or able to move people on his own.
This will be a very interesting spot to watch.
2. How much do we play two tight ends?
Last year we played a lot of two-tight end formations even after the Ertz trade, with Jack Stoll logging 40 percent or more snaps for seven of the final nine games of the season. I think that was mainly due to Jalen Reagor not being very effective, as his snaps decreased as the season went on, as opposed to a fundamental belief in Stoll.
This year, the Eagles seem to be destined to be a three-wr base offense, with AJ Brown and DeVonta Smith playing the majority of snaps, and Quez Watkins and Zach Pascal splitting reps as the third wr (one built to stretch the field and the other a possession receiver who can block.) One wild card is Grant Calcaterra, who is basically a big wide receiver at 6'4" and 240 pounds, who ran a 4.6 40.
But unless Calcaterra forces his way into the conversation, I don't see us playing a lot of two TE formations. In short-yardage spots, we should either have an extra lineman on the field or bring in Pascal to give us a better option in the pass game than Stoll. Watkins should be on the field in our base offense, as he provides a deep threat needed to open up underneath routes for the other targets.
As noted, Calcaterra is the great unknown. I can see why the team drafted him, since they clearly like players of his profile (bigger players who can run rub routes and mesh.) From watching him at SMU, he seems like a decent route runner who can block okay at the second level. So I could easily see him stealing snaps from Pascal if he stands out in the preseason. But my guess is that the coaching staff will go with the known quantity over him, at least initially.
As far as Stoll, I think his role will be limited to the primary backup at TE1. If he see a lot of snaps in two TE sets like he did last year, I would be surprised.
3. What does our secondary look rotation like?
Moving to the defensive side of the ball, one question that sticks out to me is what our secondary rotation looks like.
We know Bradberry and Slay will be the outside corners. But after that, things get murky to me. Avonte Maddox is clearly the third-best defensive back on the roster and is the clear slot corner in nickel, but does he come off the field in base defense? Against two tight end formations, we will almost certainly play a 5-2-4 alignment, and I would argue the best four defensive backs are Slay, Bradberry, Maddox and Epps. Adding a little mystery to the equation is that we signed a nickel corner in Jimmy Moreland.
Last year our defensive backfield depth chart was pretty clear in the top six spots with McLeod, Harris, Epps, Nelson, Maddox and Slay taking the vast majority of snaps. Maddox only played more than 75 percent of the snaps in only seven out of 16 games, which to me wasn't ideal considering I think he is better than any of our safeties who were on the field for more snaps.
Considering we are mainly a zone defense, it does seem counter-intuitive to refer to a player as a slot, outside corner or safety. As long as Maddox understands his responsibilities, why couldn't the team keep him on the field over Harris or Epps in base? Especially since I think we might run a lot more 5-2-4 alignments this year than we did last year, reducing the snaps for Maddox even further if he is only used in a nickel role.
So those are three questions that I have heading into training camp. Now only a few months until we start to get some answers.