The stark reality that the Eagles have turned the page from their Super Bowl season will be evident Tuesday afternoon, when the Eagles practice for the first time with their 2018 roster. Tuesday marks the first day of the organized team activities, when the Eagles can finally play 11-on-11, offense-vs.-defense football. They won’t wear pads and they won’t tackle, but it will be the closest resemblance to football that they’ll have all spring.
There will be 10 sessions of OTAs during the next three weeks, and all of them are voluntary. They will be followed by a mandatory minicamp from June 12 to 14.
Quarterback Carson Wentz will not participate in the offseason practices, so Nick Foles will be the top quarterback – just as he was at the Super Bowl. But a passer in focus will be Nate Sudfeld, who is expected to receive considerable work. Sudfeld joined the Eagles during Week 1 last season, so he did not benefit from an offseason and training camp with the team.
“This will be a big spring for us to really get our hands on him now and really begin to detail him,” said coach Doug Pederson, who also has Joe Callahan at quarterback. “I really feel comfortable and excited about his future, and this spring will be big for him.”
Wentz headlines a group of key players rehabbing from injuries that ended their 2017 season. The Eagles will likely remain cautious with left tackle Jason Peters, linebacker Jordan Hicks, running back Darren Sproles, and special-teams ace Chris Maragos. They’ll be joined by several high-profile players expected to miss time because of offseason surgeries, including wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, defensive end Brandon Graham, and defensive tackle Tim Jernigan.
That means the first-string offense and defense Tuesday will look much different from the way it will in September, and there will be opportunities for down-the-depth-chart players to take more practice snaps during the next few weeks. In fact, Pederson will even monitor the workloads of key veterans who aren’t injured. The coaches don’t need to evaluate Fletcher Cox or Malcolm Jenkins much during the spring.
“It’s my job to protect them a little bit through this offseason,” Pederson said. “Obviously, we’re not playing a game right now. So, it’s my job to make sure that these guys are getting the work they need, but at the same time, getting them more prepared for training camp.”
Here are other story lines to watch during OTAs:
A healthy Sidney Jones
This is an important offseason for cornerback Sidney Jones, who missed almost all of last season while recovering from a torn Achilles tendon. Jones, the Eagles’ 2017 second-round pick, is now healthy and could be one of the biggest additions to the defense in 2018. The Eagles are crowded at cornerback with Jones joining Jalen Mills, Ronald Darby, Rasul Douglas, and Avonte Maddox. Jones might have the most upside in the group, and the Eagles will finally see him at full strength.
Who’s in the slot?
The Eagles don’t have notable competitions for starting jobs. The one battle to watch throughout the spring and summer will be at slot cornerback, where the Eagles must replace Patrick Robinson. The position is like a starter for the Eagles – Robinson played 69 percent of the defensive snaps last season. Maddox, the Eagles’ fourth-round pick, will compete for playing time in that role. Mills was a starting outside cornerback last season, but he could move to the slot in the nickel package. That would also allow the Eagles to get both Darby and Jones on the field with Mills.
There will be intense competition for the running-back spots behind Jay Ajayi, Corey Clement, and Sproles. Wendell Smallwood and Donnel Pumphrey are recent draft picks who need to show improvement. Smallwood slipped last season, and Pumphrey spent most of the year on injured reserve after struggling during the preseason. Matt Jones, a former starter in Washington, will try to rejuvenate his career in Philadelphia. And the Eagles will pay attention to undrafted rookie Josh Adams, a former Central Bucks South and Notre Dame star who is attempting to be the 2018 version of Corey Clement.
The rookies took the field at a minicamp earlier this month, but this will be the first time the veteran offseason additions practice with the team. Wide receiver Mike Wallace, defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, and defensive end Michael Bennett are the most notable newcomers. The Eagles added three veteran linebackers, too. Rookie tight end Dallas Goedert will work with Zach Ertz for the first time.
Although the camp is voluntary, attendance will be taken. Of course, it should be kept in perspective. On one hand, Pederson challenged the team in February to be committed this offseason and not rest on the laurels of the championship. On the other hand, it’s May. Cox’s absence was a big story last spring. Nobody cared about the spring practices Cox missed when he was the best player on the field against Atlanta in the playoffs.
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