July 31, 2018
It was an off day for the Eagles players on Monday, but there was no halt to the coverage grind just because the boys in midnight green got a day of rest. With Philadelphia preparing for live contact on Tuesday, the brief intermission served as an important marker for camp up until this point.
The points of real intrigue, namely whether Carson Wentz will be the starter for Week 1, remain up in the air with plenty of time remaining between now and Philadelphia's opening game. In the meantime, there are battles to discussed, Hall of Fame inductions to be made, and debates silly and serious to be had.
Let's take a look at some worthwhile reading for your Tuesday afternoon.
There has been a legitimate movement on behalf of pro athletes over the last few years to introduce discussion of mental health issues into the public consciousness. It's especially noteworthy when it has crossed into a sport like football, where perceived toughness and unflappability has always been at the center of the game.
Not a soul in Philadelphia would ever question the toughness of soon-to-be Hall of Famer Brian Dawkins, and that's what makes his recent discussion with Gunn so important. In a one-on-one interview with Gunn, Dawkins opened up about some of the inner demons he had to deal with as a young player juggling family, football, and life in general, painting a picture that is darker than most would assume.
"Overall, I didn't have any outlets, and so I began to drink a little more than I needed to, and that quickly spiraled down into depression. I went through a real dark, deep depression. Alcohol was a tremendous crutch. There were times I didn't even want to be around my family, didn't want to be around my son.
"I just wanted to be in a dark room by myself with nobody. My room, I won't say was a frequent occurrence, but it was something I would do. My faith back then wasn't that strong, so I listened to the other voice in my head, and that's where suicidal thoughts came in, and then actually planning out how I would go about it in such a way that Connie (his wife) and my son would get the money from my insurance policy."
Thomas and his wife eventually aided Dawkins in getting help. Dawkins began to see a psychiatrist and also began taking medication for his depression. The meds helped calm him down, but he wasn't himself. [nbcsports.com]
For this writer, this sort of discussion is as important as anything Dawkins ever did in an Eagles uniform. It's okay to not be okay, and Dawkins offering up his own story of struggle gives thousands, if not millions of fans a piece of commonality with one of their heroes.
On a bit of a lighter Dawkins note, McManus offered a fun retrospective on one of the standout plays from his unbelievable career, a bone-crunching hit on former Falcons tight end Alge Crumpler in the 2005 NFC Championship game.
Ever the team player, though, Dawkins spread credit around to the rest of his teammates on the eventual NFC Champion, crediting other notable Eagles for setting the tone against a talented Atlanta team.
During that week, we knew we were going to be physical. They’re a physical football team, but we were going to go out to make sure that everybody knew, when the game was over with, that the Philadelphia Eagles, that particular defense, was one to be reckoned with in that game. So it wasn’t just me. Hollis [Thomas] had a huge hit on Michael Vick ... Trot [Jeremiah Trotter] had a huge hit on Mike.
It was a continuation of hits. We wanted to punish, punish, punish as much as possible. That just so happened to be the hit that everybody thinks about as being the hit that set the tone, and I think it did set the tone [in part], but I think the tone was already set. That was just the exclamation point on how this thing is going to be the rest of the game, and everyone fed into it. [espn.com]
There was no shortage of tone-setters on that squad, but it's okay to take some extra credit every so often, Brian. Though I suppose that unselfishness is why he's a Hall of Fame character guy in the first place...
Philadelphia's trade for Jay Ajayi and the emergence of rookie Corey Clement helped fans forget about the season-ending injury suffered by Sproles last season, so it feels almost like a bonus to have one final year of Sproles in Eagles green. It sure looks like he'll be close to his old self when the lights go on, too — Sproles hasn't been wearing a brace during camp during his return from a torn ACL.
And while there are individual goals for Sproles to hit this year, the veteran back's focus this season remains on the ultimate team prize above all else.
Sproles said his goal is to move up in the rankings for all-purpose yards. He currently trails. No. 7 Steve Smith by just 25 yards and No. 6 Marshall Faulk by 35 yards. He said he has his “eyes set” on the No. 5 spot currently held by Tim Brown, whom he trails by 527 yards.
But the ultimate goal for Sproles is to go out on his own terms as a Super Bowl Champion. And when evaluating the pieces added to the Eagles’ offense for this season, he seems to believe the team has what it takes to repeat.
“We got a lot of weapons,” Sproles said. “And the thing is, when we can get everyone on the field at the same time, that’s scary.” [philadelphiaeagles.com]
Perhaps an undersold storyline heading into the year: could Philadelphia's wave of players returning from injury aid them mentally in the quest to repeat? With so many team leaders on the sidelines during the win in February, from Sproles to Jason Peters to Carson Wentz, there may be an uncommon will to win that many championship winners lack in the year following a title.
With live contact beginning on Tuesday, a new set of questions will rise all over the gridiron, which Ben accounted for nicely with a piece published early Tuesday morning. Speed may kill when no one is in jeopardy of being hit, but the game changes once you become a target, obviously.
Where I'm most interested in that dynamic beyond Wentz taking hits is at the running back spot, where Ben put the spotlight on second-year player Donnel Pumphrey:
The biggest question mark in Pumphrey’s translation to the pros was always how he would handle NFL size and strength. He never really got a chance to answer that last year with the whole ‘adding too much weight, hamstring tear’ debacle. This year he seems to be 100%. He’s had a year of NFL strength and conditioning work under his belt. We should see improvement.
The name to circle in the wings is Matt Jones. His game is predicated on that rumblin’ and tumblin’ power, and he’s every bit the 240 lbs listed by the Eagles’ roster. He has the best chance to stand out now that he can exchange power in the trenches. [bleedinggreennation.com]
It would be a mild surprise to see the Eagles give up on Pumphrey only a year after drafting him, but the running back group is deep this year, with Pumphrey hoping to hold onto the fourth spot in the backfield at best. Pumphrey's ability to deal with increased contact at his size will likely define the battle he's in to hold down a roster spot this preseason.
It's not exactly going out on a limb to predict the runaway best team in the division last season to repeat the feat this year, but there has been more dissent on Philadelphia predictions than you might expect this offseason. I suppose that's just the life of an underdog, and these Eagles don't seem to mind much.
BR's eight-man panel did not exactly unanimously crown the Eagles — Philadelphia earned 5/8 votes, with the other three going to New York (2) and Dallas (1) — but those on Philadelphia's side were adamant about their selection.
"Let's see...defending champions, deepest defensive line in the NFL, top-notch offensive line getting Jason Peters back, talented secondary adding Sidney Jones, minimal losses from last year's starting lineup and a big controversy about having too MANY starting-caliber quarterbacks," Mike Tanier said. "The biggest training camp question involves the punter, for heaven's sake. And the only division rival that made any serious upgrades is the one that won three games last year. There's not a lot to overthink here."
Tanier's point is hard to refute. And by "hard," we mean "nigh impossible."
Yes, the Giants should be a vastly improved team with a healthy receiving corps and the addition of Barkley. Neither the Cowboys nor the Redskins are teams opponents can take lightly on Sundays this fall.
As is usually the case, there are no easy outs in the NFC East. But the Eagles are loaded. An MVP-caliber quarterback. One of the most imposing defensive fronts in the NFL. A deep secondary. [bleacherreport.com]
We can all agree on this much — Washington recieving zero votes is hilarious, particularly considering just how bad the Giants were last season.
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