I hope this training camp is as boring as possible.
Boring is good. Boring means no significant injuries. Boring means no one the team is counting on looks like they’re going to have a bad year. Boring means the defending NFC champions look like what the defending NFC champions should look like.
There’s one, maybe two true starting jobs available on offense, right guard and 3rd receiver (running back will be a rotation, so the starter is nominal). On defense it’s probably just one safety spot available and a nominal starter at DT. And there’s really only about a dozen roster spots available at most, probably closer to five. Look at the roster and count up the players you’d expect to be on the 53 man roster, it’ll be in the mid 40s at the least.
With so few starting jobs or roster spots available we’ve got to find our entertainment somewhere.
1 - Will there be an actual punting competition?
There are several signs that a team is very good. One of them is if a punting competition is worth watching, because if you’re paying close attention to the punters then the rest of the roster is probably in really good shape. Or you’re a sicko. But the Eagles roster is really good, so punter is one of the areas we can legitimately turn our attention. Also if you’re a sicko that’s cool too.
So are the Eagles actually going to have a punting competition, or is UDFA Ty Zentner just there for an extended look to make everyone feel better?
2 - Can a LB step up?
The Eagles don’t value linebacker, which is fine, something has to be the least important position on the field and the way the game is going that position is linebacker on defense and running back on offense. That’s just the way it is.
But you do need to put some players on the field to play the position. If someone said the Eagles have the worst LB core in the league, I wouldn’t argue. Nicholas Morrow is on his third team in as many years. Nakobe Dean, as you probably know, played only 34 snaps last year. The backups are even less proven or uninspiring. Christian Ellis has just 29 career snaps as a linebacker, Shaun Bradley didn’t see the field at all as a linebacker last year, Davion Taylor is somehow still on the roster, and UDFA Ben VanSumeren only started playing LB in 2020. That’s the entire depth chart.
So a little confidence boost isn’t too much to ask. I don’t want to get fooled by preseason performance, but can Dean, or Ellis-who made a little noise for himself in OTAs, for what that is worth-get the “this guy looks so much better” label that usually results in the player actually looking so much better?
3 - Can and will a depth CB step up?
In addition to signing Steven Nelson and then James Bradberry to start, the Eagles have signed, drafted, or traded for 15 depth cornerbacks since 2021. The backups played a total of 980 snaps in those two seasons, 235 (24%) of which were in the 2021 regular season finale full of practice squad players. So there’s good news in that they haven’t had to play their depth players there. But that’s also bad news because we don’t have much of an idea of their quality.
Is Zech McPhearson any good? He looked fine coming off the bench last year against the Jaguars, but that’s also the only meaningful time he played last year. Josh Jobe made the team as an UDFA but only played on defense in one blow out. Is Kelee Ringo a steal or is there a reason why he dropped to the 4th?
Similar to linebacker, we’re not going to really know before real games begin, but hopefully we don’t have to know, because the starting CBs are really, really good. But is someone going to show they’re ready to be called on when the need arrives?
4 - Who is going to replace Javon Hargrave?
It is rare that a rookie DT looks like a star right away, even Aaron Donald didn’t start until his team was 1-3 and had given up 34 points in each of their losses. And we know that year two is when most players make the leap. So I’m not concerned that Jordan Davis’ rookie season was not amazing, nor will I be surprised if Jalen Carter struggles this year.
Six DTs played in the Super Bowl and half of them are gone. The opportunities will be there for everyone at DT. Who will seize them?
5 - How will Nolan Smith see the field?
Haason Reddick played 74% of snaps last season, and that doesn’t tell the whole story. From Week 1 to 8 he played less than 70% of snaps five times, with 5.5 sacks, 5 tackles for loss, and 8 QB hits. From Week 9 to 17 he never played less than 70%, and had 10.5 sacks, 6 tackles for loss, and 18 QB hits.
So we may not see a lot of Nolan Smith giving Reddick a breather. So I would not be surprised if through injuries, ineffectiveness, or Sean Desai just wanting to get a good player on the field to make plays, that Nolan Smith sees some time as an off the ball linebacker.
Ironically that would mimic the career path of Haason Reddick, who the Cardinals tried to make work as an off ball LB. But for Reddick that was an intentional position change, for Smith it would, or should, be a “break glass in case of emergency” thing. As mentioned above, the Eagles LBs are possibly the weakest in the league. Might we see some of the groundwork for that laid in camp?
6 - Hey remember Derek Barnett?
The Eagles have made the Super Bowl twice in the Derek Barnett era! In one he recovered a fumble to clinch the game, in the other he was on IR the whole season and has been pretty quickly forgotten.
The Eagles want to be able to stack pass rusher after pass rusher and never play a down without someone who can get to the QB. Nick Sirianni is of course not Barnett’s biggest fan, so if he makes the team it should be on merit and not on sentimentality.
7 - Will backup OT be L/R or swing?
Last season Jack Driscoll was the backup RT/RG and Andre Dillard was the backup LT/LG. Will the Eagles stick to the left/right split, or go the swing tackle route? There are benefits and drawbacks to both approaches. With the left/right split the players can concentrate all their efforts on perfecting the side they are on, but you’re also potentially playing an inferior player by going that route. With a proper swing tackle you’re putting the best player on the field, but you’re also limiting their effectiveness by having them be a jack of two sides rather than a master at one.
The answer to this question might be dependent on if Dennis Kelly makes the roster. If he does, then they probably keep the left/right split. If he doesn’t, then Driscoll is probably the swing tackle considering the rest of the OT options.
8 - What are they going to do with all these tight ends?
The Eagles have seven tight ends on the roster to start camp, which is as many interior linemen and more than defensive ends and safeties (six each). Why? Dallas Goedert is the unquestioned starter. Jack Stoll was just fine as the #2. Goedert has missed time in every season since his rookie year, but do you need seven? Especially when one of them was just drafted last year? What’s more, they all kind of fit the same profile of pass catching TEs, there’s no “6th OL” type block first player on this depth chart. Is this a sign that we’re going to see the offense move more towards a two TE offense?
9 - Is the QB factory producing quality again?
I will never get my hopes up about a late round QB, but I am a little interested in what Tanner McKee can bring to the table. Heading into the 2022 season he had some 2nd/3rd round tier QB rating talk, but then Stanford’s season was so bad that they asked David Shaw to leave. Plenty of “this guy might be something in a year” QBs who don’t become something that year show why they weren’t, but every once in a while a guy comes along and sticks around. Could that be McKee?
10 - Who is getting traded?
Howie Roseman is probably going to make a deal between now and roster cuts; he’s traded away six players total in 2019, 2021, and 2022. Who Is Going To Get Traded is the Eagles own little game/reality show. Let’s meet this year’s contestants! Quez Watkins! Greedy Williams! Dan Arnold! Derek Barnett! Ian Book!
Who will get traded in a swap of day three draft picks? Stay tuned to find out!