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June 07, 2024

5 Eagles thoughts: The backup quarterback battle, Devin White's fit and more

The Eagles will be forever known as a 'quarterback factory.' As the team rolls into the 2024 season, will Kenny Pickett or Tanner McKee be the team's backup QB?

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Kenny-Pickett-Eagles-minicamp Colleen Claggett/for PhillyVoice

Kenny Pickett #7 of the Philadelphia Eagles performs a throwing drill during practice at the NovaCare Complex in Philadelphia, Pa. on Tuesday, June 4, 2024.

With both OTAs and mandatory minicamp in the rearview mirror, a column on some Eagles thoughts bouncing around my brain feels overdue. 

Let's get after it...

Who will be the Eagles' backup quarterback?

Jalen Hurts is obviously entrenched as the Eagles' franchise quarterback, leading them to the postseason in each of his seasons as the team's QB1. No city, of course, knows the power a backup QB wields quite like Philadelphia though. From A.J Feeley and Jeff Garcia to Nick Foles hoisting the Lombardi Trophy and even Hurts himself in 2020, the Eagles have benefited more from their backup signal-callers than any franchise. 

Naturally, even when there's a clear-cut lead dog like Hurts, the backup QB question is favorite in Philly.

The Eagles acquired Kenny Pickett and a fourth-round pick earlier this offseason from the Steelers for a third-round selection and two seventh-rounders. That type of investment illustrates that the Eagles are always going to take the QB2 spot seriously. Hurts missed starts in both 2021 and 2022 with playoff positioning and seeding on the line. The Eagles won't take their chances.

Pickett has looked pretty good in 2024. Sporting his double-glove look, he's been accurate in camp. The velocity on his throws comes and goes, but he's sound. The same is the case for 2023 sixth-round pick Tanner McKee, who starred in last year's preseason, but has yet to play a true NFL snap. McKee is a rhythm passer with good ball placement. 

Pickett will be the QB2 because of his pedigree as a former first-round pick and the draft capital the team parted with to acquire him, but don't count out McKee being the second-best quarterback on this team. Both guys have the ability to carve out NFL careers as legitimate backups. 

Devin White brings pass-rush ability to linebacker unit

Devin White may no longer be the All-Pro he was during Tampa Bay's Super Bowl year in 2020, but he's bringing an element to the Eagles' off-ball linebacker group that has long been absent: the ability to rush the quarterback. 

White is coming from a Buccaneers team that blitzed the third most in the NFL last season though. The Eagles were tied for 23rd in blitz rate in 2023. New Eagles defense coordinator Vic Fangio held the same role with Miami this past year. The Dolphins were even lower coming in at 27th. 

Will they actually allow White to do what he does best?

"If you're good at something, he's going to make sure he exploits it," White said of Fangio before mandatory minicamp on Wednesday. "If I'm good at rushing the passer and I show him I can win, he'll put a lot of things in to get going... In camp, I've been trying to show him that."

In 11-on-11 action during Wednesday's practice, White had a would-be "sack" if it was actually full-contact football, rushing the 'A' gap and getting in Hurts' way.

For an Eagles fan base that foams at the mouth at the thought of sending additional pressure defensively, that's a welcomed sight. 

How will the Eagles replace Fletcher Cox?

Fletcher Cox was a multiple All-Pro, a Super Bowl champion and a locker room leader. The intangibles are not going to be replaced instantly, but the Eagles' defense tackle rotation needs to step up to fill his on-field role big time this fall. Cox, even in his age-33 season surrounded by talented youngsters, was the Birds' best interior defensive lineman in 2023. He played 684 defensive snaps that the likes of Jalen Carter, Jordan Davis and others will need to replace.

Can those two former first-round picks have breakout seasons?

"What's been really good is them looking and going and taking a leadership role," new defensive line coach Clint Hurtt said on Monday. "You don't replace a guy like Fletcher Cox, but they're doing their very best to try and go step out to the forefront and bring everybody together."

The main priority for Davis, as his been the case through his whole career, will be his conditioning. Can he handle a heavier workload? The Eagles will need him to be the interior anchor the envisioned him to be when they traded up for him in 2022 both late in games and late in the season. Being in the best shape of his life may be all that keeps Davis from stardom.

Carter started the 2023 season fast and even looked to be the Defensive Rookie of the Year favorite for a bit. He faded down the stretch, as did almost everyone involved with the Eagles' defense. Will he be full go for the entirety of 2024 and beyond? 

The potential is endless for both. It's up to the two former Georgia national champions to make it happen. 

Kellen Moore's motion offense

The Eagles' offense grew increasingly stagnant during the 2023 season, bordering on predictable. In a league that is increasingly utilizing pre-snap motion, the Eagles drew criticism for how much they lacked on that front. The Eagles used pre-snap motion on just 25.7 percent of their offensive plays last year, per ESPN Stats and Info. That number was dead last in the league. Conversely, the Chargers, where new play-caller Kellen Moore spent the 2023 campaign as an offensive coordinator, used pre-snap motion 61.2 percent of the time, the seventh-highest mark in the sport.

The Eagles' play-calling has been intentionally vanilla during OTAs and minicamp, but there's clearly been an uptick in motion compared to what was seen previously in the spring and summer during the Nick Sirianni era. Parris Campbell, the Eagles' likely WR3, has done it often, as have Dallas Goedert, DeVonta Smith and even Saquon Barkley at times. 

Hurts after practice on Thursday mentioned that "95 percent" of the Eagles' offense this year is new with Moore as the offensive coordinator. Motion looks to be a big part of that.

Tanner McKee: bucket hat aficionado

I can't recall seeing an NFL player, at least a QB, go through warm-up drills in a bucket hat before, but McKee brought his own summer style to the NovaCare Complex on Thursday:

Hey, if Pickett is going to be the "two gloves guy," who also wears a Kelly green hat, I guess McKee needs to make his own fashion stamp in the backup QB battle. 

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