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August 05, 2021

Updating the Eagles' best training camp battles

Eagles NFL
080521TravisFulgham Kate Frese/for PhillyVoice

Travis Fulgham

Heading into 2021 Philadelphia Eagles training camp, we identified five important roles that were up for grabs. Here we'll give something of a progress report on each of those five camp battles.

1) LT: Jordan Mailata vs. Andre Dillard

It's a wrap. The gap in play between Mailata and Dillard has been gigantic, and it's already clear that Mailata is going to be the starting LT. Much of the focus has been on Dillard's struggles, but it's important to note that Maialta hasn't just won this competition by default. He has been legitimately very good in his own right.

It's also noteworthy that Mailata did not have a good training camp in 2020, but in the real games he showed that he belonged in the NFL, possibly as a long-term starter. As we showed earlier this offseason, you could see on film how Mailata's confidence grew as the season progressed.

This year, he came out of the gate on top of his game, and it's remarkable how far he has come after being introduced to the sport three years ago. I imagine the Eagles will continue to split first-team reps between Mailata and Dillard, at least until after the first preseason game next Thursday, but they can't possibly still view this as a real competition.

2) S: K'Von Wallace vs. Marcus Epps vs. Andrew Adams

Anthony Harris will start at one safety spot. The other spot would normally be Rodney McLeod's, but McLeod is on the PUP list as he continues to recover from a torn ACL. 

If McLeod isn't ready for Week 1, the starting safety spot opposite Harris will likely be filled by Wallace, Epps, or Adams. And even if McLeod is ready for Week, it will be interesting to see who will be the third safety.

Adams was a full participant in practice for the first time on Wednesday after landing on the COVID-19 list, so his training camp is just getting underway.

As for Wallace and Epps, neither player has stood out in an obvious way so far, good or bad. Both players will have every opportunity to beat out the older Adams for playing time.

We reviewed Epps' 2020 season a while back. He is purely a deep safety, as he's not going to add much value close to the line of scrimmage, unless he is matched up against a tight end man-to-man in coverage. Even as a deep safety, while he has demonstrated good ball skills on occasion, there were times in which he "bit the cheese," in which he either committed to an underneath route leaving the deep route open, or took a false step as a result of guessing on a receiver's route, leaving that receiver open. He was a liability as a tackler.

We also reviewed Wallace's 2020 season. I liked his effort, his football IQ, and in limited opportunities, he was able to run with opposing receivers. Tackling is a concern, but he's more willing than Epps.

I would give Wallace the early lead, given that he has gotten more reps with the first-team defense.

3) CB2: Zech McPhearson vs. Avonte Maddox vs. Craig James vs. Michael Jacquet

We had this as a camp battle before the Eagles signed Steve Nelson, of course. Nelson is almost certain to start opposite Darius Slay this season.

If the Eagles hadn't signed Nelson, McPhearson would be far out in front of the rest of the pack, as he has shown good instincts and a physical nature early in camp as a rookie. He's been impressive.

Maddox has consistently been the starting slot corner, and will likely continue forward in that role when the season begins. McPhearson will likely be the first outside corner off the bench should Nelson or Slay go down. 

While McPhearson has some inside-outside versatility, my bet is that Josiah Scott will back up Maddox in the slot, as Scott has also looked like a capable player.

4) WR3: Travis Fulgham vs. Greg Ward vs. Quez Watkins vs. John Hightower vs. J.J. Arcega-Whiteside vs. the rest

DeVonta Smith is the WR1, and even though Jalen Reagor hasn't done much of anything in camp so far, he's still the WR2.

Under Doug Pederson, Ward was the starting slot, even though he was neither a threat down the field, nor a playmaker once he had the ball in his hands. His main appeal was that he actually caught the football, a skill that eluded so many of the other Eagles wide receivers over the last half decade or so.

So far in 2021 camp, Fulgham appears to be getting more looks with the first-team offense. It would be a disappointment if Fulgham couldn't unseat Ward for the third WR job. Since Reagor's return to the lineup, Fulgham has mostly been playing outside, with Reagor often sliding inside in 3-WR sets.

And then there's Watkins, who has had a strong camp, and seems to be improved in a number of areas, most notably his route running. He could also carve out a role in the offense if he continues to stack days like he's been doing throughout camp.

There will be a rotation of receivers in the real games, some of which could be dictated by game plan, but for now, I would have Fulgham as the receiver most likely to see the third-most snaps once the season begins.

To note, the receiver position has consistently been missing players. Smith and Reagor have yet to play together in 11-on-11's, so we haven't really seen what a fully healthy rotation will look like just yet.

5) RB2: Boston Scott vs. Kenny Gainwell vs. Kerryon Johnson vs. Jordan Howard vs. Jason Huntley

The No. 2 running back is Scott right now, based on first-team reps. None of the other backs have gotten nearly as many looks. 

(Bonus) LB: Davion Taylor vs. Alex Singleton vs. T.J. Edwards vs. Shaun Bradley vs. the rest

Eric Wilson will start at one LB spot. Beyond him, Taylor started out camp getting the lion's share of first-team reps, but he's now week-to-week with a calf injury. Singleton hasn't yet practiced after landing on the COVID-19 list. He might practice for the first time today.

Taylor's early playing time with the 1's was an interesting surprise early in camp, but with Singleton returning and Taylor's unfortunate unavailability, the top three linebackers will probably be as previously expected — Wilson, Singleton, and Edwards.

MORE: Stock up, stock down after first week of Eagles training camp

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