Thoughts on NFL schedule release, Carson Wentz's recovery, and slot cornerback | Early Birds

Good morning, Eagles fans. The quiet period of Eagles news is over. The team reported for the offseason program this week, with some key players speaking to reporters on Tuesday. The regular-season schedule comes out on Thursday. The draft is next week. The Sixers and Flyers are in the playoffs, and the Phillies are playing well, but the Eagles are going to be a big topic of discussion again in the coming days.

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— Zach Berman

eagles fans celebrate
Camera icon DAVID MAIALETTI / File Photograph
Eagles fans will learn the defending Super Bowl champions’ schedule on Thursday night.

Get your calendars ready

The NFL will release the schedule on Thursday at 8 p.m. This is always an anticipated evening during the offseason. I don’t say that so you can start picking wins and losses — that’s a difficult exercise this time of year — but rather for fans who want to start planning road trips. I can’t remember a better year of road destinations than this season, with London, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Nashville, and Tampa joining the three NFC East cities.

The London game vs. the Jaguars will be played either Oct. 21 or Oct. 28. It is the first time the Eagles are playing overseas since the London Games started in 2007.

“I’m really excited about it,” owner Jeffrey Lurie said. “London has become a hotbed for American football. Every game sells out instantaneously. It’s an incredible city as we all know. I’m very much looking forward to it. First time we’ve had a chance to go over there. Nice to go over as Super Bowl champs. It’s going to be a big game. We’re playing an outstanding football team in the Jaguars. But very much looking forward to it. I think London has a chance to be a franchise one day in the NFL.”

The Eagles will likely have their bye week after that game. The season opens for the Eagles on Sept. 6 in the Thursday night kickoff game at Lincoln Financial Field — could it be a rematch of the NFC championship game? — so they’ll have extended rest entering Week 2. The Eagles-Rams game will be one of the most anticipated dates on the NFL schedule because of the quality of the two teams and Carson Wentz facing Jared Goff. (That’s also where Wentz suffered his injury last season.) My guess is the Eagles will play a league-maximum six prime-time games, with Week 1 included, so pay attention to those dates.

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Thoughts on Carson Wentz’s recovery

Carson Wentz met with reporters on Tuesday for the first time since the week of the Super Bowl. There was nothing earth-shattering from Wentz’s press conference, but the good news for Eagles fans is that he still seems set on returning for the season opener. That would be just fewer than nine months from when he tore the anterior cruciate and lateral collateral ligaments in his left knee. That’s an awfully quick recovery.

“You’ve seen the horror stories of people coming back too soon and those things,” Wentz said. “I can assure you I’ll be smart about it.”

The Eagles won’t put Wentz out there if it’s not prudent. Having Nick Foles allows them to be patient, although any team should be careful with their franchise quarterback. But it’s not unprecedented to return within that period — even at quarterback. Carson Palmer came back in fewer than nine months in 2015. Donovan McNabb did it in around that time frame in 2007.

I can certainly see Wentz on the field in Week 1, but without the same mobility early in the season. Can he play as a drop-back quarterback? He’s certainly good enough. It will be a mental adjustment getting rid of the ball quicker and not creating plays with his feet. Wentz did not want to entertain that hypothetical on Tuesday, but it’s not the last time he’ll be questioned about it. Wentz’s recovery will be the biggest story line of the summer.

Malcolm Jenkins discusses the slot cornerback spot

There aren’t many unknowns on the depth chart for the Eagles. Slot cornerback is one of them. The Eagles must replace Patrick Robinson, who filled that role last season.

“The loss of Patrick Robinson is big because he played great last year, made a ton of plays for us, won us some games,” safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “So just to replace that amount of production is always tough, but we’re confident in the guys we have in the room. I’ve had a lot of experience at the nickel position. We have other guys on the roster who are versatile that can drop in.”

Jenkins likes to play the slot, where he played in 2015 and 2016. It brings him closer to the ball. I think Jenkins is best when he’s used multiple ways, depending on the matchup. One week, it might be the slot. The next week, it could be as an extra linebacker. So I don’t know whether dedicating Jenkins to the slot is the best option. They know he can do it, but they’ll test others in there during the summer. As I’ve written before, Jalen Mills can bounce inside in the nickel formation.

Also, it’s worth noting it’s still early. Last year, Robinson didn’t move to the slot until midway through the preseason. During Jenkins’ two years in the slot, the Eagles tried other combinations first. They could still add an option in the draft next week, too.

“Still haven’t finished building all the roster, whether we’re doing something in the draft or adding guys,” Jenkins said. “But the top combination of five or six DBs haven’t been thought of yet. That’s what the offseason is for, for guys to compete, to get evaluated, and come August, we’ll be ready to identify who that group is.”

carson wentz press conference
Camera icon TIM TAI / Staff Photographer
Carson Wentz speaks to reporters at the NovaCare Complex on Tuesday.

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I don’t think Daryl Worley was so valuable that the Eagles need to look for a cornerback now in the first round. Certainly, he was an intriguing player with starting experience. But he wasn’t likely to be a top three cornerback for the Eagles unless they traded Ronald Darby. You can argue that it makes Darby less expendable, although I never thought they should trade Darby in the first place. He can be productive this season, and that’s a position where the Eagles need as much depth as they can find.

If there’s a legitimate first-round cornerback on the board at No. 32, then yes, I can see the Eagles looking in that direction. That’s because of value and importance of the position. I don’t think it’s because Worley was released. The Eagles have the luxury of drafting the top talent on the board there. Their two-deep chart is mostly in good shape, except for perhaps safety. The “need” the Eagles will be thinking about, if any, is in 2019 and 2020.

I’d be surprised if that happened before the draft. If a team that needs a quarterback fails to find one in the first round, then perhaps Nick Foles is a discussion. But I don’t think the Eagles get a 2018 first-round pick at this point, and I don’t think they land a 2018 second-rounder, either. If Foles is moved, it’s more likely to happen after the draft or during the summer if/when there’s an injury. At this point, my guess is Foles is on the roster in 2018.

Leighton Vander Esch, for those who don’t know, is a linebacker from Boise State. I don’t believe he’ll be there at No. 32, but you never know. If he’s there, he’s certainly someone I think they’d consider drafting because he’s a potential long-term starter who can fit a role in 2018 and also fits the body type they need on special teams. The Eagles don’t usually invest in that position early in the draft. Vander Esch could be an exception. As for a trade, it depends who else is on the board and what the trade offers are at No. 32. I don’t think the Eagles sit out Day 2 of the draft. So one way or another, I see them picking on Day 2 — whether it’s trading back or using a player to trade up. Trading back would be the easier scenario.