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July 26, 2023

Previewing the Eagles' training camp battles

As training camp gets going at the NovaCare Complex, here are the positional battles to watch from Quez Watkins and the slot receiver job to Cam Jurgens and the right guard spot.

Eagles NFL
6.1.23_Eagles-Quez-Watkins_ColleenClaggett-9943.jpg Colleen Claggett/For PhillyVoice

Eagles WR Quez Watkins

The Eagles' media contingent will have their first chance to look at the team in training camp on Wednesday. The Birds are short on training camp practices this year, so there's a limited amount of reps for players to prove themselves to the coaching staff (and reporters too!). 

Even with a strong core coming off a Super Bowl appearance, the Eagles have a handful of positions up for grabs this summer, something that will be magnified in joint practices and the preseason as well. Before things get going for real down at the NovaCare Complex, here are the positions that are in flux...

Right Guard

This is the most important position battle. Cam Jurgens is the third player drafted to be the successor to future Hall of Fame center Jason Kelce. Isaac Seumalo was the first in 2016, who played on his rookie contract at guard, signed an extension and left for a bigger deal elsewhere this offseason while Kelce still remains entrenched. Landon Dickerson was the second in 2021, but injuries forced him into the lineup as a rookie at left guard and he's turned into a Pro Bowler. The team is not moving him off there. Now it could be Jurgens finding his footing at a different interior spot.

Jurgens played just 35 snaps as a rookie, but impressed in the 2022 preseason while doing his best Kelce impersonation. He'll be duking it out with rookie third-round pick Tyler Steen (65th overall). Steen is a converted tackle out of Alabama, where offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland's ties still run deep. Steen stands 6'6" and weighs 321 lbs. Jurgens is a little closer to Kelce in stature, measuring at 6'3" and 303 lbs. 

A year already in the Eagles' system should benefit Jurgens in his quest for the starting RG gig, but I truly believe the organization is viewing it as an open competition. I'll say that Jurgens is the Week 1 starter, but I'd imagine they have a quick leash. This is a team that has defined itself for the last two-plus decades by its offensive line play and they're aware their path back to the Super Bowl likely requires a first-round bye. There's little time to get cute with things. I think back to Seuamlo getting benched after a bad showing against Kansas City in Week 2 of the 2017 season before Stefan Wisniewski replaced him in the lineup and the Birds hoisted the Lombardi Trophy five months laters. 

Slot Receiver

I'd imagine this is the matchup that has the most intrigue for the fan base. Quez Watkins displayed legit NFL capabilities as sixth-round pick during his sophomore campaign in 2021 when he totaled 647 receiving yards as the No. 3 passing target in an ultra run-heavy offense. Last season's acquisition of A.J. Brown knocked him inside to the slot and a dip in numbers was to be expected, but Watkins didn't do enough with the few opportunities he was given. 

He had a costly fumble at home against Washington. He had his infamous Super Bowl drop. That's a recipe for falling out of favor in this city, but both Nick Sirianni and Quez Watkins sang his praises back in early June during OTAs. I read that as them wanting to light a fire under him a bit with this adversity, so we'll see Watkins' on-field response shortly. 

Opposing Watkins is Olamide Zaccheaus, the South Jersey native and St. Joe's Prep graduate who signed with the Eagles this offseason on a one-year deal after four seasons in Atlanta. 

They bring different things to the WR3 spot. Watkins is a vertical slot guy with great speed at 6'0". Zaccheaus, conversely, is 5'8" and more of a shifty player who's a factor in the short-to-intermediate game. The Birds haven't had a guy like Zaccheaus in recent memory and I'm intrigued at what he could potentially bring to the offense. We know what Watkins' floor is, it's one where the team can have an elite offense and make the Super Bowl, but there's always room to innovate. 

I expect both players to get their share of snaps to begin the regular season, but I think we'll see Watkins get that Week 1 starting nod.

Off-Ball Linebacker 

Despite his own limited NFL experience, the Eagles appear set to hand over the top linebacker spot to second-year player Nakobe Dean, who only played 34 defensive snaps as a rookie. The camp competition will be for that No. 2 job. In the vein of Spinal Tap drummers, Nicholas Morrow is the latest veteran linebacker who the Eagles have brought in on a year deal to potentially start, a seemingly annual occurrence. It would've been easy to assume that it was Morrow's spot to lose, but third-year LB Christian Elliss was the most impressive Eagle during the two OTAs practices that were open to the media. It was only two practices, but, hey, there aren't many training camp practices either! 

Could Elliss be the next T.J. Edwards? I don't necessarily mean that in terms of play style, but Edwards was an undrafted free agent who cut his teeth on special teams before developing into a three-year starter in midnight green. Elliss went undrafted out of Idaho, spending time on the practice squads of the Eagles, Vikings and 49ers before returning to Philly and making his pro debut with the Birds late in the 2021 season. Ellis played 62 percent of the Birds' special teams snaps last year. Is he about to make that leap?

I'll go with Ellis as the guy out there to begin the season in Week 1. Outside of Jurgens and Steen, Ellis is the guy I'm going to be most locked in on during camp, joint practices and the preseason. 


As opposed to the previously mentioned battles, the safety situation isn't like the Joker breaking a pool stick in half and tossing it in front of two dudes in "The Dark Knight." There are three guys for two jobs here after both C.J. Gardner-Johnson and Marcus Epps left in free agency. 

Reed Blankenship, even as an undrafted player out of Middle Tennessee State, was the Eagles' most impactful rookie in 2022, providing stability when Gardner-Johnson was out with injury and whenever he was thrown out there. I don't have a sense of where new defensive coordinator Sean Desai is leaning, but Blankenship needs to be one of the two guys out there. 

The other two players in the mix are Terrell Edmunds and Sydney Brown. Edmunds is entering his sixth pro season, starting 75 games with the Steelers in that time span with five interceptions and 26 passes defended. Brown is a third-round rookie out of Illinois who had six interceptions as a redshirt senior and has a physicality to his game. 

Brown has the upside and the organization certainly liked him enough to use a Day 2 pick on him, but I'm thinking the vet in Edmonds gets the job out of camp in Week 1. Much like Blankenship in 2022, however, Brown could make his presence felt as the season wears on and take the job himself. 

The RB Committee 

I look at this less so as a competition because the Eagles' ideal version of their running back room is this group complementing one another and all playing integral roles. The Eagles want a running back by committee. There are huge health question marks with Rashaad Penny and D'Andre Swift, but Penny should see early down work with Kenny Gainwell getting those third down reps with a heavy dose of Swift mixed in. Boston Scott should obviously be active during the team's two games against the Giants as well.

This isn't a real battle, but I'll say Penny gets the first Week 1 rep, though that's immaterial to the big picture. 

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