More Sports:

August 29, 2022

25 Eagles training camp questions, answered

Eagles NFL
Eagles-Jalen-Hurts-2022-Open-Practice-NFL.jpg Colleen Claggett/For PhillyVoice

Eagles QB Jalen Hurts

For my own benefit each year, I put together a list of things to watch throughout training camp before it begins, and then publish it. Now that training camp is over (or at least the parts that the media is allowed to watch), let's republish the list of 25 things I was looking for, and I'll provide updates on each.

1) Can Jalen Hurts look significantly better this camp than he did a year ago? On paper, the Eagles have a very potent offense. They have an elite offensive line, a top five-ish type of tight end, the wide receivers are now a strength, and the rushing attack finished first in the NFL in 2021. Hurts also heading into a season with the most continuity that he has ever had. He is surrounded by intriguing talent that he should be able to succeed with entering his third pro season.

Hurts will be the most watched player in Eagles training camp this year, which isn't uncommon for the quarterback position, but this year the attention paid to Hurts will be at a heightened level because the roster around him is stacked. Whether the Eagles take the next step as a football team in 2022 will be largely dependent on Hurts' development as a passer.

This offseason, Hurts put in the time working with outside quarterback coaches. There's little question about his want to be a better player. To be determined if the extra work can help iron out his accuracy deficiencies. 

It will also be interesting to see if some of the coaching staff's focus will be on trying to develop areas of his game that were exposed by the Giants and Buccaneers late in the season last year. As a passer, Hurts is more comfortable working the right side of the field, and relying on his running ability as a crutch. It will be interesting to see if/how Nick Sirianni and the Eagles' staff work on Hurts' tendencies to avoid the middle and left sides of the field, as well as his penchant for holding onto the ball too long and vacating clean pockets.

Thinking back to 2017, there was an obvious difference in Carson Wentz's play in camp compared with his rookie season in 2016. It felt pretty clear that he was poised to make a big leap that season, and sure enough, he did (and then some). There won't be any expectations for Hurts to make that kind of monster leap this season, but certainly he'll be expected to improve as a passer.

This will be Hurts' second camp as the unquestioned starter, which could put him in a more comfortable position to improve each day and further cement his status as a team leader, even if there are questions about his long-term future from the outside. 

UPDATE: Here's how I scored Hurts' stock up / stock down / stock neutral training camp performances throughout training camp:

  1. Day 1: 😐
  2. Day 2: 📉
  3. Day 3: 😐
  4. Day 4: 📈
  5. Day 5: 📈
  6. Day 6: 📉
  7. Day 7: 📈
  8. Day 8: 📈
  9. Day 9: 😐
  10. Day 10: 📈
  11. Day 11: 📉
  12. Day 12: 📈
  13. Day 13 (with Browns): 😐
  14. Day 14 (with Browns): 📈
  15. Day 15 (with Dolphins): 😐
  16. Day 16: 📉

And then of course in his one preseason game performance, he earned a resounding stock up. 📈

The final tally:

📈: 8
😐: 5
📉: 4

There's little question in my mind that Hurts looked better in 2022 training camp than he did in 2021, particularly on the accuracy front. I also thought that he worked on a number the deficient areas of his game as noted above, including the following:

  1. He worked the middle of the field extensively, and did not seem to overly favor the right side of the field over the left side, as he so blatantly did during the 2021 regular season.
  2. There were times early in camp that he was quick to leave the pocket and run, even on occasion in 7-on-7s, when there's no pass rush. There's no question that he can make plays with his legs and he should continue to do so in real games, but practices are for correcting deficient areas. However, as the summer wore on, he looked to win more from the pocket instead of using his running ability as a crutch.
  3. I thought he looked more decisive and quicker getting the ball out in practices than he has been in the past. Still, don't expect a lot to change in terms of Hurts' average time from snap to throw in 2022. He will likely remain one of the slowest quarterbacks in the league to get the ball out, which is common for quarterbacks with running ability. Last year, Hurts took 3.12 seconds on average to get the ball out, according the NFL's NextGen stats, which was the slowest in the NFL. Based on what I saw in camp, I do expect that number to come down some in 2022, but... baby steps on that front.

When asked what areas he believed Hurts made his biggest strides this summer, Nick Sirianni focused on decision making.

"I think he's seeing the field really well," Sirianni said. "He's building that memory bank of plays versus different coverages and knowing where to go with the football from that. I think his decision-making process is just continuing to get better, which is common among quarterbacks that are on it and that are getting better. I just think his decision-making is happening fast. It's happening quickly, and he just keeps getting better at that."

Overall, while I do not think Hurts made a meteoric jump in camp like Wentz did in 2017, I do think Hurts will be a better player in 2022 than he was a season ago, regardless of the addition of talent surrounding him. 

2) At varying points in his career, Miles Sanders has shown the ability to be (a) an explosive runner, (b) a weapon as a pass catcher, (c) good enough in pass protection, and (d) secure with the football. However, he's been been more miss than hit in some of those categories, and only seemed to put them all together for a brief period during his rookie season in 2019. Sanders is capable of becoming a complete back, but he has been inconsistent. Last camp, Sanders spent a lot of time on the JUGS machine, but he still struggled with drops. It will be interesting to see how well he catches the football this summer.

UPDATE: I failed to mention Sanders' durability concerns. The last time he appeared on the field was the first preseason game against the Jets, on August 12th, two and a half weeks ago. 

Early in camp, Sanders looked as explosive as a runner as I've seen him since the Eagles drafted him in 2019, but how many games will he miss this season?

3) What is Kenny Gainwell's role? It feels like Nick Sirianni wants a running back that he can line up as a receiver to exploit mismatches against linebackers, and he'd like to grow that role for Gainwell in the passing game in 2022. However, because the Eagles don't lack receivers who can make plays in the slot, they'll have to find the right balance between trying to exploit matchups vs. simply targeting their best receivers (A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith, Dallas Goedert, Quez Watkins, etc.) no matter who is covering them. To be able to get favorable matchups, however, Gainwell has to show that he can also be effective as a runner, or opposing defenses will simply stay in nickel when he is in the lineup. Will Sirianni try to force the issue with Gainwell, or let it happen more naturally if it makes sense?

UPDATE: Gainwell looked good as a runner in the Eagles' preseason game against the Browns. As a receiver throughout camp, I didn't see a player worth forcing into the lineup for an elevated role in the passing game, worthy of taking targets away from the Eagles' talented receiving corps.

4) A.J. Brown is known for being a tough, physical, tackle-breaking beast, and training camp is not a setting where those attributes typically show up. As such, expectations for his performance in camp should be viewed with that point in mind. What is of interest to me is how well he catches the football after a season in 2021 in which he compiled his share of egregious drops. I'm also curious to see how quickly he gels on the field with his good friend Hurts. 

UPDATE: The idea that Brown might not be able to show his physicality during camp was flat wrong. He often outmuscled corners on contested catches, and gained separation at the top of his routes by using his size to his advantage.

But beyond that, Brown exceeded my expectations in other areas, notably:

  1. He is a savvier route runner than I anticipated.
  2. He does an outstanding job on contested catches not just with his physical nature, but also with his "poker face," so to speak, when the ball is arriving. He does not show his hands until the last moment as the ball approaches, thus not tipping off opposing corners to put their hands up an try to break up the play if their back is turned to the ball. 
  3. He did have a few rare drops, but overall his hands were fine.

A.J. Brown is everything as advertised, and then some. Oh, and yes, he and Hurts very quickly built rapport.

5) DeVonta Smith often looked like a polished veteran receiver in his first season with the Eagles, but he can still get a whole lot better. His production improved each year at Alabama:

 DeVonta SmithRec Yards YPC TD 
2017 160 20.0 
2018 42 693 16.5 
2019 68 1256 18.5 14 
2020 117 1856 15.9 23 

In training camp last year, it was clear that Smith was a good player, but he wasn't dominant. Can he smoke anyone and everyone that covers him in camp in his second season?

UPDATE: I don't think Smith "smoked anyone and everyone that covered him" throughout camp, but he sure did have some moments in which he looked uncoverable. During joint practices with the Browns, for example, Smith was toying with a Browns secondary that was missing starters Denzel Ward and Greg Newsome.

My biggest takeaway about Smith was that he did some things athletically that I did not know he was capable of. He made several sideline catches in which he displayed a vertical jump that I hadn't seen previously. He also looked flashy at times running with the ball in the open field after the catch.

Smith put on some muscle this offseason, and I think it is translating to more explosiveness on the field.

6) Is Dallas Goedert getting the "old guy treatment" in camp this year, as in, is the staff giving him days off like they would for older vets like Jason Kelce, Lane Johnson, Fletcher Cox, etc.? Goedert isn't old, of course, but the Eagles should probably consider keeping him rested because there's a huge dropoff from him to whoever would start in his place if he got hurt.

UPDATE: I don't think Goedert was treated with kid gloves, necessarily, and he did make it through camp unscathed. Goedert got a boatload of targets throughout camp, and more often than not the results were positive. If Goedert stays healthy for all 17 games, he is a lock for a 1000-yard season.

7) Who is the No. 2 tight end? The top two candidates are Jack Stoll and rookie Grant Calcaterra. Stoll is a better blocker than he is a receiver, while Calcaterra is a better receiver than he is a blocker. Can one guy separate from the other?

UPDATE: Calcaterra missed double-digit practices, but when he participated he looked good as a receiver. As he showed in the preseason game against the Dolphins, he has a long way to go as a blocker. 

Stoll will make the team and he will get playing time this season as a blocker, but he did not impress as a receiver and I don't believe that separated from Calcaterra while the rookie was out. 

8) Howie Roseman makes his share of training camp trades. In fact, he has made 13 of them in between the start of training camp and the start of the regular season since he stepped back into the GM chair in 2016.

Year  Eagles tradedEagles received 
2021 Sixth-round pick Gardner Minshew 
2021 Matt Pryor and a seventh-round pick Sixth-round pick 
2019 Ryan Bates Eli Harold 
2019 Bruce Hector Johnathan Ford 
2018 Seventh-round pick Deiondre Hall 
2017 Allen Barbre Seventh-round pick 
2017 Jordan Matthews and a third-round pick Ronald Darby 
2017 Matt Tobin and a seventh-round pick Fifth-round pick 
2017 Terrence Brooks Dexter McDougle 
2017 Jon Dorenbos Seventh-round pick (later voided) 
2016 Dennis Kelly Dorial Green-Beckham 
2016 Sam Bradford First- and fourth-round picks 
2016 Eric Rowe Fourth-round pick 

The two Eagles players that could be dangled as trade bait are Andre Dillard and Jalen Reagor. Look for the Eagles to hype them up during camp. Conversely, the positions the Eagles could maybe look to add to are safety, running back, punter, and a sneaky under-the-radar position might be tight end.

UPDATE: Add the two Ugo Amadi trades to the list, and yes, Dillard and Reagor could still be had for the right price. I do think Reagor and Dillard (especially Dillard) both had their best camps to date, though neither player exactly had a high bar to clear.

9) There aren't many camp battles to watch at the starting spots, but one that maybe qualifies is Isaac Seumalo vs. Jack Driscoll at RG. Both players are competent starters who have had difficulty staying on the field. Seumalo is probably the heavy favorite to start at RG for the Eagles this season, especially with Driscoll possessing the ability to play both guard and tackle off the bench, which in this case perhaps works against him. Still, it'll be worth keeping an eye on both guys. 

UPDATE: This was never a camp battle. Seumalo is the starting RG, and always was.

10) Landon Dickerson remained on the PUP list through the entirety of training camp last year, so 2022 will be the first year we actually get to see him in action during practice. Dickerson is a strong candidate to make a big leap this season, given that he was recovering from a ACL tear as a rookie and still played well.

UPDATE: Dickerson was shaky at times as a pass protector throughout camp, but he did have his hands full with a deep and talented Eagles interior defensive line. In the run game, he and Jordan Mailata opened up their share of gaping holes on the left side of the line, like they did down the stretch last season. My worry meter here is low, as I still expect Dickerson to build on his encouraging rookie season.

11) After the Eagles selected Cam Jurgens in the second round of the 2022 draft, some (self included) quibbled with their use of resources, even if Jurgens is a good player. The issue is that Jurgens was thought of as a center-only prospect who won't play unless ironman Jason Kelce goes down. Sirianni said after the draft that Jurgens can play guard, even though he never has. We'll see soon enough if the staff actually gives him reps there during training camp.

UPDATE: Kelce had elbow surgery, and Jurgens assumed first-team reps at center for the majority of camp. I don't want to make too much of preseason game performances, but in those games Jurgens looked very much like a player who can take over for Kelce without skipping much of a beat whenever Kelce hangs up his cleats.

12) Brandon Graham is coming off an Achilles tear, but it happened early enough during the 2021 season that he should be a go for camp. If Graham can regain his pre-injury form, he'll be a huge addition to the defense. The Eagles will likely ease him in, and it is to be determined how well he is able to move around and what kind of power he has in his lower half.

UPDATE: The Eagles did not ease Graham in. He went full throttle in camp from start to finish, exhibiting the energy and enthusiasm of an undrafted player just trying to make the team, and he had his share of dominant moments along the way. He didn't appear to be hindered in any way by his 2021 injury.

13) Last camp, Josh Sweat was a monster and seemed poised for a breakout season. He ended up having his best statistical year in 2021, but was often forced to play somewhat out of position after Graham went down. Can Sweat dominate in camp again like he did a year ago?

UPDATE: Sweat had another good camp, and with the reinforcements added to the interior of the defensive line, he likely won't have to play out of position in 2022.

14) Jordan Davis is probably among the top three most interesting players to watch this camp, mainly because he's a size/athleticism unicorn, but also because there are some who see him as a flawed player. There are many who believe that Davis is just a run stuffer who will play a very limited number of snaps due to stamina issues. The counter is that Davis played on one of the most talented and deepest defenses in NCAA history, and as such he often gave way to very talented pass rushers who kicked inside on passing downs. Hell, a first-round pick in the 2022 draft (Jermaine Johnson) transferred out of Georgia just so that he could get on the field. Davis will have an opportunity to put some of those concerns to bed if he still looks spry at the end of practices deep into August.

UPDATE: I didn't see any stamina issues with Davis throughout camp. I did see a hulking beast with abnormal quickness for a player his size.

15) Milton Williams played a mix of DT and the Brandon Graham role in the Eagles' defense during training camp and the preseason, but after Graham went down Week 2, Jonathan Gannon played ill-fitting guys like Ryan Kerrigan and Josh Sweat in that spot instead of Williams, who instead mostly played at DT. He will likely focus on DT going forward. Williams finished his rookie season with 30 tackles (6 for loss), 2 sacks, 6 QB hits, and 2 batted passes as a raw prospect. He flashed down the stretch and gave the Eagles reason for optimism in his play in 2022 and beyond. We'll see how much he has progressed with a year in the league under his belt.

UPDATE: I thought Williams had a quiet, perhaps disappointing summer.

16) Haason Reddick will play the SAM position for the Eagles this season, but he should be used primarily as a pass rusher. His best skill will be wasted if Jonathan Gannon has him dropping into coverage with regularity. Reddick should be on the field on all obvious passing downs, whether the defense called has a SAM linebacker on the field or not. If Reddick is dropping into coverage often in camp, that doesn't necessarily mean he'll be doing a lot of that in games, and really, it would make some sense to have him work on some of his non-dominant traits during camp. But it would definitely make some fans nervous about his role in the defense.

UPDATE: Reddick dropped into coverage quite a bit the first couple days of camp, but he was mostly sent after the quarterback thereafter. Reddick is the fastest pass rusher the Eagles have had in some time, and he'll be deployed from a variety of alignments. 

During camp, he was mostly neutralized by Lane Johnson, who is the best RT in the NFL, but he was a lot more disruptive when rushing against the Browns and Dolphins.

17) Please give me some one-on-one pass rusher matchups between 6'0, 230-pound rookie Kyron Johnson and 6'8, 365-pound Jordan Mailata.

UPDATE: I thought Johnson was quiet early in camp, but he flashed some speed and athleticism in the preseason games.

18) Most draft experts assumed Nakobe Dean would be a first-round pick, but he fell to the third round (a) because of a pectoral injury, (b) the fact that he is undersized, and (c) perhaps because of some concerns about his athleticism. In addition to just seeing what Dean can do on the field, how much of a leadership role he attempts to take on as a rookie, and where exactly the Eagles will have him lined up (they're cross-training him at the MIKE and WILL spots), it will be notable if Dean makes it through the entirety of camp with no setbacks to his injury.

UPDATE: T.J. Edwards and Kyzir White had their share of standout moments throughout camp, but Dean was very quiet. I did not sense that Dean's injury affected him in any way, but he did indeed seem challenged by his lack of ideal size and athleticism, in my opinion. 

Dean is going to have to rely on his instincts and intelligence at this level, and at some point, he may become one of the smartest players on the field, like he was at Georgia. However, at the moment he doesn't have that advantage because he's trying to learn two positions simultaneously in a new defensive scheme. If Dean is going to make impact in the Eagles' defense, it may not be felt for a while.

19) The Eagles have had their share of free agent linebacker acquisitions who failed to even make it through a full season with the team, like Corey Nelson, Paul Worrilow, LaRoy Reynolds, L.J. Fort, Zach Brown, Jatavis Brown, and Eric Wilson. We'll see if Kyzir White can break that trend, and be the first good Eagles free agent linebacker since Nigel Bradham.

UPDATE: White was much better this camp than any of the above named busts. He has speed, and I thought that he showed good zone coverage instincts.

20) There's a pretty good chance that James Bradberry will only be in Philly for one season, but he's not your average "Band-Aid" type of player. In his two seasons with the Giants, Bradberry had an impressive 35 pass breakups and 7 INTs. Those 35 pass breakups were tied for third in the NFL over that two-year span.

Player Pass breakups 
J.C. Jackson 37 
Xavien Howard 36 
James Bradberry 35 
Trevon Diggs 35 
Marshon Lattimore 30 

He tied for eighth with those 7 INTs. In Bradberry and Darius Slay, the Eagles now have two corners who get their hands on a lot of footballs, and it should be fun to watch them battle Smith and Brown all summer.

On a side note, had Bradberry been a free agent in March, he almost certainly would have attracted a better offer than the $7.25 million he signed in Philly on a one-year deal. The Giants pretty much did the Eagles a huge favor by cutting him in May and serving him up on a platter after other teams around the league had already made roster moves at corner. 

UPDATE: Bradberry will be a significant upgrade over the Eagles' 2021 Band-Aid CB2, Steven Nelson. I thought he did the best job of all the Eagles' corners of covering A.J. Brown, and he is likely to be matched up against opposing teams' biggest receivers throughout the season.

21) The starting trio of Slay, Bradberry, and Avonte Maddox aside, it should be fun getting to know all the young cornerbacks Roseman has been collecting since the 2021 draft. A quick recap (players 24 years of age or younger only):

• 5/1/21: Drafted Zech McPhearson (24) in the fourth round.

• 5/18/21: Traded a sixth-round pick to the Jaguars for Josiah Scott (23).

• 9/7/21: Signed Mac McCain (24) off the Broncos' practice squad. (McCain ping-ponged back and forth between Denver and Philly thereafter, but he's back again.)

• 10/15/21: Traded Zach Ertz to the Cardinals for a fifth-round pick and Tay Gowan (24).

• 11/2/21: Traded a sixth-round pick to the Broncos for Kary Vincent, Jr. (23)

• 5/1/22-ish: Signed undrafted rookie free agents Josh Jobe (24), Mario Goodrich (22), and Josh Blackwell (23).

Basically, Roseman is throwing a lot of young corners against the wall and seeing if one or two will stick. Will the strategy work?

UPDATE: Meh. Nobody really popped. McPhearson competes, and he's a smart player, but he had his share of losses on plays deep down the field. He'll be the CB4. Jobe seems to be the best of the rest of the bunch after some solid preseason performances.

22) Can Marcus Epps show that he can be a reliable starting safety, and if not, will Roseman look to trade for someone else. Epps has shown good ball skills in two seasons with the team, and was improved as a tackler in 2021, but an impact player on the back end could complete this defense. He'll also have to fend off free agent Jaquiski Tartt to keep his starting job. But certainly, safety is the most glaring concern area on the roster.

UPDATE: Epps is the best safety on the roster. If there's a concern, it's probably the other starter, Anthony Harris. Otherwise, I would be surprised if Tartt makes the team, while K'Von Wallace, Andre Chachere, and Josiah Scott don't exactly inspire a lot of confidence should either Epps or Harris go down. This remains the most concerning position on the roster.

I will quickly mention that undrafted rookie Reed Blankenship showed something this summer, and still has a chance to crack the initial 53-man roster.

23) Can someone step up and become a viable returner? And if they do, will the Eagles reward them with a roster spot if they can't also contribute in the regular offense or defense? Jason Huntley showed some juice whenever he got opportunities last year and he was pretty clearly the best kick returner on the team, but he spent most of the season on the practice squad. And then there's undrafted free agent Britain Covey, who was a fantastic returner in college at Utah. Huntley and Covey will be the returners to keep an eye on during the preseason games.

UPDATE: Neither Huntley nor Covey did enough to make the initial 53, in my opinion. Reagor was typically the first man up at punt returner, while Watkins seems to be the top kick returner. I would not expect the Eagles' return units to scare opposing special teams coaches this season.

24) The Eagles have had opportunities throughout the offseason to add a punter to the roster to challenge Arryn Siposs, who struggled mightily down the stretch. They passed in the draft, during the undrafted free agency phase of the draft, in free agency, and via the USFL. If Siposs falters in camp, what will the Eagles' plan be? And oh yes, we'll be timing punts for hangtime, and perhaps more importantly for Siposs, looking at distance.

UPDATE: Siposs didn't get many reps during camp, which was curious. I've stopped trying to figure out why the Eagles didn't give him competition this summer. He did finish strongly in the final preseason game.

25) And finally, we should point out that Nick Sirianni has a difficult job this camp. Excluding walkthroughs, there are only 14 16 practices this training camp (including joint practices with the Browns and Dolphins). That is the lowest number of practices I can ever remember an Eagles team holding during camp in my time covering the team (dating back to 2010). And if those practices are on the shorter side this year like they were in 2021, Sirianni is going to have to cram a whole lot of preparation into a relatively small amount of time.

Of course, the Eagles are leaning hard into keeping their players healthy for the games that actually matter, which is a strategy I understand and can agree with. However, is there a point at which the team isn't getting an adequate amount of work in?

And finally, what's the vibe? Eagles players have been brash this offseason about the state of the roster. They seem to think they're Super Bowl contenders. A little swag can be a good thing, but only if that confidence doesn't turn into complacency. The 2017 team had swag, but they also worked hard in practice and played hard in games. They didn't really start to puff out their chests a bit until they got rolling. This current roster hasn't proven yet that they can beat good teams. Sirianni will have to figure out how to encourage enthusiasm while keeping players focused on what has to be done in order to enjoy the spoils of success. 

UPDATE: The Eagles should head into Week 1 a healthy football team, relatively speaking. That's a pretty big deal, and I agree with the Eagles' strategy to lean so heavily into that approach, especially when they are returning 10 offensive starters and their entire coaching staff.

As for the "vibe," the Eagles look like a confident and perfectly capable team. Whether they can compete with the NFC's best or not will largely ride on Jonathan Gannon and his defensive scheme. The Eagles have better players on defense this season, and Gannon's adjustments to the vanilla approach he employed in 2021 still remain something of a mystery. In my view, that uncertainty has elevated Gannon ahead of Hurts in terms of the Birds' biggest concerns heading into 2022.

Follow Jimmy & PhillyVoice on Twitter: @JimmyKempski | thePhillyVoice

Like us on Facebook: PhillyVoice Sports

Add Jimmy's RSS feed to your feed reader