July 26, 2021
Philadelphia Eagles training camp is almost here, as players will report to the NovaCare Complex on Tuesday, and the first practice of 2021 camp will be on Wednesday.
For my own benefit, I put together a list of things to watch for over the next month or so, and since I went to the trouble of listing them for myself as a guide, I may as well just publish them here as well.
1) What is Nick Sirianni's on-field coaching style? Is he strictly a rah-rah guy, or will he get on players for mental mistakes, and how do the players respond? What are the first clues of what his offense will look like? He has touted the Colts' ability to tailor their offense to the skill sets of three different quarterbacks (Andrew Luck, Jacoby Brissett, and Philip Rivers) the last three years, so how is he shaping the offense to fit Jalen Hurts' skills.
2) What is the vibe of the team surrounding Hurts? Is he clearly the guy that his teammates feed off of? This time last year, Hurts was the third quarterback in the pecking order, and sort of an afterthought in terms of his likely contributions during the 2020 season. This year, everything is different, as he'll garner more attention than any other player on the roster, with only DeVonta Smith anywhere in the same ballpark.
3) Does Hurts' accuracy seem to be improved? We all know that he has the intangibles like leadership qualities and intelligence, and obviously he's a threat as a runner, but his accuracy is going to have to improve substantially if he's going to be this team's starting quarterback in 2022 and beyond.
4) Is Hurts exhausting all his progressions in the passing game before he tucks and runs? In 2020 camp, Hurts was constantly running with the ball, like, even on 7-on-7's. And then during the regular season, he was quick to tuck and run if his first option or two wasn't there. It's not at all out of the ordinary for quarterbacks who possess the type of running ability that Hurts does to lean on that skill as a young player. However, in his second season in camp, he should be looking to refine his skills in the pocket. Training camp is the time to iron out some of the areas where you're not quite as comfortable.
5) Who will be the backup quarterback? Joe Flacco is the heavy favorite, given that he has a fully guaranteed one-year deal worth $3.5 million while Nick Mullens is here on the cheap, but Mullens should be legitimate competition for Flacco.
6) How does Miles Sanders look in pass protection and as a receiver? While he was an explosive runner in 2020, those other areas — as well as ball security — were not good. Will 2021 be the year he puts it all together?
7) How is Sirianni using Kenny Gainwell? The rookie had receiving chops in college, so I'm interested in seeing if Sirianni lines Gainwell up all over the formation, perhaps in the slot or on the outside, to create mismatches against opposing linebackers and safeties.
8) DeVonta Smith impressed in the media's limited opportunities to watch him during the summer. Can he carry that over into camp, and be the dominant receiver in the pack right away as a rookie?
9) How will Jalen Reagor respond to a disappointing rookie season? He has the athleticism and ability to be an explosive receiver in the NFL, but will we see the effort necessary to improve in a whole slew of areas, notably his route running, contested catches, hands, run-after-catch, and fielding punts? And what is Sirianni — along with his staff of offensive assistants — doing to unlock Reagor's ability?
10) There were hints from wide receivers coach Aaron Moorehead that Travis Fulgham lost playing time last season because of bad practice habits. Is he going hard every day and making the most of his opportunities and talents? There's a quasi-starting job for him on the line this summer.
11) Last year as rookies, Quez Watkins and John Hightower had very good camps. Can they show that they have improved over the last year, and secure their spots on the roster? And then of course there's J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, who has also been a good camp player, but it has not translated over into games that matter. He probably needs another impressive camp just to keep his roster spot, but all optimism on him will be non-existent until he actually shows something in real games.
12) Is Zach Ertz really going to be on this roster this season? Really?!? (I still say, probably not.)
13) We know that this will be a big year personally for Dallas Goedert, who is in a contract season, and Richard Rodgers is a known quantity. But beyond those two guys, the Eagles have a boatload of extra tight ends on the roster in Jack Stoll, Caleb Wilson, Jason Croom, Hakeem Butler, and Tyree Jackson. It feels like one of those guys will eventually earn a roster spot, but who will it be?
14) The best training camp battle this year is Andre Dillard vs. Jordan Mailata for the starting LT spot. Yeah, we'll be paying heavy attention to both players.
15) How does Lane Johnson look? Is his ankle finally cooperating for him? And is Brandon Brooks the Brandon Brooks of old after another ruptured Achilles rehab?
16) How much work is Landon Dickerson getting? Is it looking likely that he'll be ready for the start of the regular season? He still has to sign his rookie contract, by the way.
17) How are some of the other young offensive linemen playing? There are future starting roles potentially up for grabs. Beyond Dickerson, the two linemen I'll have an eye on are Jack Driscoll and UDFA Kayode Awosika.
18) What are the early indications of what Jonathan Gannon's scheme will look like? Is he running a "Mike Zimmer-like" defense, and what exactly does that mean?
19) Josh Sweat and Derek Barnett are in contract years, and the Eagles have decisions forthcoming on the futures of both players with the team. Barnett has better production early in their careers, but Sweat outplayed Barnett in 2020. Which player is more deserving of a contract extension either during or after this season.
20) What will Ryan Kerrigan's role be in this defense? Will it be straightforward as a rotational fourth DE, like Chris Long was once upon a time, or will he play something of an "Anthony Barr" type of role in Gannon's defense. And then if indeed that role exists in this defense, who else is getting reps there. The obvious other candidates are guys like rookie Patrick Johnson, Genard Avery, and Joe Ostman.
21) The Eagles selected two defensive tackles in Milton Williams and Marlon Tuipulotu. Williams has extremely impressive athletic measurables, while Tuipulotu is more of a run stuffer. Last week, we argued that the Eagles should be looking for Fletcher Cox trade opportunities. We didn't mention the progression of Williams and Tuipulotu in that piece, but if they impress in camp, it would perhaps make it easier for the front office to consider trading away Cox to avoid paying him $32 million over the next two seasons while also collecting a high draft pick in return. And then also, I'm curious to see Tarron Jackson in action, both at DE and at DT if the Eagles have an inside-outside role in mind for him.
22) Javon Hargrave missed most of camp last year with a couple of injuries, and his play in the early part of the season probably suffered from that. What does he look like when he's fully healthy, and will he live up to his expensive contract?
23) The Eagles brought in Eric Wilson from the Vikings (again, Zimmer connection there), and he'll presumably have a handle on Gannon's defense. Will he take on a leadership role on the defense, and how quickly, if so? And then as an extension of that question, Alex Singleton is going from bubble guy in past years, to a player who is a roster lock and likely starter. Will he take on a leadership role on the defense, and which of those two guys will communicate the play calls to the defense?
24) In their rookie seasons, Shaun Bradley and Davion Taylor didn't play much. Bradley showed a little more than Taylor did both in training camp and in the real games. Taylor is a project player that the team will have some patience with, but how far has he come along now that he has been with the team for over a year? Also on the young linebacker front, can JaCoby Stevens push Bradley and Taylor for playing time as a rookie?
25) If the Eagles hadn't signed Steven Nelson to be the starting CB2 opposite Darius Slay, the frontrunners for that job would have been Zech McPhearson, Michael Jacquet, Avonte Maddox, and Craig James. That's a multi-player starting job camp battle that is now off the table, and as a result, those players are somewhat less interesting to watch in camp. Still, someone is going to have to fill in if/when Slay or Nelson go down at some point this season. I'll be curious how McPhearson looks in his first camp as a rookie.
26) Like Wilson above, Anthony Harris is coming over from the Vikings, and should theoretically know Gannon's scheme. What kind of leadership role will he take on in the secondary?
27) When will Rodney McLeod be a full go after a second ACL tear in three seasons?
28) Who will win the third safety job, among K'Von Wallace, Marcus Epps, and Andrew Adams?
29) We didn't track Jake Elliott's field goals last camp because we were often confined to certain areas of the practice fields as a result of COVID. With (presumably) more freedom to move around this year, we'll be back on that beat this year after Elliott had his worst season as a pro in 2020.
30) And finally, yep, we'll be timing Arryn Siposs' punts for hang time and (when we're able) distance. I'm still bitter that there's no punter competition.
Some links provided in this content are sponsored by Pickswise, a PhillyVoice.com Sports Betting Partner, independently created by PhillyVoice. 21+ Please gamble responsibly.
Like us on Facebook: PhillyVoice Sports
Add Jimmy's RSS feed to your feed reader