After nearly two months of their offseason program, the Eagles finished their final practice of mandatory minicamp on Thursday afternoon and they celebrated at a raucous Super Bowl ring ceremony on Thursday night. With attention now shifted to the 2018 season, the Eagles hope the spring provided the foundation for another championship campaign. Here’s an overview of what happened:
What was learned
Carson Wentz is progressing. The biggest story of the spring was how involved Wentz appeared in workouts. He was five-plus months removed from surgery at the start of organized team activities, and he took part in individual drills at the first session. He progressed to seven-on-seven drills and it was hard to tell that Wentz tore his ACL in December. He’s competitive and motivated as it is, but Wentz is pushing hard to be cleared by the Sept. 6 opener against the Atlanta Falcons. With the way he performed throughout the spring, that remains conceivable.
Jay Ajayi is the Eagles’ lead running back. Last season, the Eagles went out of their way to emphasize their committee approach. This season, they’ve made it clear that Jay Ajayi is atop the depth chart. After averaging 5.8 yards per carry in his seven regular-season games following a midseason trade to the Eagles, Ajayi is primed for an even bigger role. It’s a contract year for him, too, so he’s in line for big numbers. “Came in last year and obviously proved to us that he can handle it,” coach Doug Pederson said. “He’s definitely going into camp as the No. 1 guy.”
The Eagles have depth at cornerback. At this time last year, the Eagles left for the summer with uncertainty at cornerback. They didn’t even know who would start. This year, the Eagles have the opposite problem: They might have too many starting-caliber cornerbacks. Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby return as last year’s starters. Sidney Jones, if healthy, will push for playing time. Rasul Douglas has impressed the coaches this offseason, too. Add in rookie Avonte Maddox and 2017 practice-squader De’Vante Bausby, and a conceivable case could be made for the Eagles to keep six cornerbacks.
However, the Eagles are still searching for their slot cornerback. That competition will continue throughout training camp and the preseason. Remember: Patrick Robinson didn’t get that job until midway through camp last summer.
The injury list is deep. If you thought the Eagles’ injury list was deep last season, it only grew this spring. Wentz, Jason Peters, Alshon Jeffery, Brandon Graham, Tim Jernigan, and Jordan Hicks were all starters who were either out or limited from injuries that occurred last year. Darren Sproles, Haloti Ngata and Chris Maragos are other contributing players who were absent, and there were some deeper reserves who didn’t practice, either. Pederson emphasized the need to exercise caution with injuries this time of year. For many of the injured veterans, the Eagles know what they can do. The goal is to get them healthy for Week 1.
The cancelled White House visit controversy faded quickly. Outside the locker room, the cancelled White House visit was a big story. Inside the locker room, it came and it went. The team planned to send a small delegation to Washington, and when they were uninvited by President Trump, the Eagles were ready to practice again. Other than the opinions of individual players, the organization remained mostly quiet despite the White House speaking against the franchise. Although it was unsaid, it seemed the team did not want to engage in a back-and-forth and enter a political hailstorm. They preferred to focus on their Lombardi Trophy.
De’Vante Bausby: After spending last season on practice squad, the 25-year-old cornerback had a strong showing throughout the spring. He worked his way into the first-team slot cornerback for some practices and continued to make plays. Bausby, who played four games with the Bears in 2016, could have been promoted to the active roster last year if there was an open roster spot. If he continues playing as he did during the spring, he could force the Eagles to go deep at cornerback this season.
Nate Gerry: Entering his second season, Gerry is fighting to earn a starting job in the base defense. He looked like a different player than he was one year ago, when Gerry didn’t make the 53-man roster while converting from safety to linebacker even though he was a fifth-round pick. Gerry eventually was promoted to the roster and benefited from a year learning the position. He’s bigger this season, and he’s worked his way from competing for a roster spot to competing for a starting spot.
Dallas Goedert: The Eagles’ top draft pick displayed the pass-catching ability that compelled the team to pick him in the second round. The Eagles are intrigued about the possibilities of playing Goedert and Zach Ertz together. The story could be different when the pads come on, but the 6-4, 260-pound South Dakota State product doesn’t look like a future prospect — he looks like a Day 1 contributor.
Who will start at weakside linebacker? The Eagles cut Mychal Kendricks at the beginning of organized team activities, and there’s no clear-cut replacement. Corey Nelson, a free-agent signing from the Denver Broncos, has experience and is a strong contender. Nate Gerry and Kamu Grugier-Hill are returning players who were in the mix during the spring. The Eagles also signed veteran LaRoy Reynolds, although he’s been out with an injury. If Hicks returns healthy, the third linebacker will only be on the field for about a third of the snaps. He becomes more important if there’s an injury to Hicks or Nigel Bradham, though.
Can Sidney Jones remain healthy? There was considerable optimism about Jones, a 2017 second-round pick who missed almost all of last season with a torn Achilles tendon. After practicing for two weeks, Jones was shelved with lower-body soreness. Pederson said the soreness was unrelated to last year’s injury, but it was nonetheless concerning that Jones could not remain healthy during the spring. The Eagles considered him like a bonus draft pick and Jones has the potential to the be the team’s top cornerback. He flashed his ability early in OTAs. Jones must prove that he’s healthy – and that he can remain healthy.
Will there be a Super Bowl hangover? The organizational message is about repeating, but it hasn’t been done since the 2004 season. Since then, only two teams even made the Super Bowl the year after winning it. (Seattle in 2015 and New England last season.) It’s hard to win back-to-back Super Bowls, and there can sometimes be a hangover effect noticeable early in the season after the Super Bowl. “The message from me to them…was about sacrifice; what are you willing to give up between now and camp to prove that we can make another run?” Pederson said. “Nothing is ever handed to us. We have to go earn it. We faced adversity. The team was very resilient last year, but what are you willing to give up individually between now and camp to help this football team get back to that championship game again?”
July 25-26: After five weeks off, the Eagles will report to training camp on July 25. The first full-team practice will be July 26. The team has not yet released the final details of the training camp schedule, although Pederson mentioned July 25 as the report date and NFL rules don’t allow the full team to practice until two weeks before the preseason opener. The only remaining question is whether Pederson will require the rookies and selected veterans to report early like he did in past seasons. But it sounds like July 25 is the day he expects everyone to arrive.
August 9: The Eagles open the preseason at home against the Pittsburgh Steelers on August 9. Pederson will likely be cautious with his veterans, so look for the preseason to mostly be an audition of down-the-depth chart players. Wentz will likely remain under wraps for all four games. The Eagles visit New England on Aug. 16 and Cleveland on Aug. 23, and they close the preseason at home against the New York Jets on August 30.
September 1: The roster must be cut from 90 players to 53 players by 4 p.m. on Sept. 1. With a deep, aging roster built to win in 2018 but also needing young players for future development, Howie Roseman will have some tough decisions to make before the deadline. This is usually a weekend off for the players, but the Eagles will need to practice because they open the season on a Thursday.
September 6: In as anticipated of a season opener as there’s been in Philadelphia, the Eagles kick off the NFL schedule on Sept. 6 at home in front of a national audience as defending Super Bowl champions. They play the Falcons, their opponent from the NFC divisional round. The biggest storyline will be whether Wentz is healthy enough to play or if Nick Foles opens the season as the starter.
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