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May 20, 2019

What they're saying: Players to watch at Eagles' OTAs and how to replace Chris Long

Eagles NFL

With rookie minicamp out of the way, the Philadelphia Eagles 2019 offseason continues this week with OTAs at the NovaCare Complex, when veterans will join the fold before next month's mandatory minicamp. 

The big story surrounding the team heading into camp was the status of quarterback Carson Wentz, who is simultaneously recovering from a second-straight season-ending injury and, if the reports are to be believed, in the process of getting a new, monstrous contract extension from the Birds. 

On Monday, Eagles fans got some good news in the form of a report stating that Wentz will not only be on the field when OTAs open on Tuesday, but he also won't have any restrictions due to the injured back that forced him to finish the 2018 season from the bench. However, that came on the heels of some bad news that came out over the weekend: Chris Long, one of the Eagles most productive defensive linemen, announced his retirement from the NFL on Saturday night.

How big of a loss is that for Philly? What's the plan to replace Long in the defensive end rotation? Do they have a plan yet? We'll take a look at all of that, plus some other non-rookies and camp battles to watch as the majority of the team gets set to take the practice field in South Philly, in today's edition of What They're Saying... 

The Long road back?

Sheil Kapadia | The Athletic

With Chris Long no longer playing — not to mention Michael Bennett playing for the Patriots now — the Eagles will have to adjust their defensive end rotation for 2019. Sure, they'll be getting Derek Barnett back from injury, and Vinny Curry is also back in the fold, but according to Sheil Kapadia of The Athletic, the Eagles will feel the loss of both defensive ends this season.

Of course, there's also a path here for a potential return for Long... 

In the past two seasons (playoffs included), Long’s 12 sacks ranked third on the team, and his 47 quarterback hits were second behind Fletcher Cox. Some seem to be making the case that Long’s retirement isn’t that big of a deal. I disagree, especially when you combine it with the Michael Bennett trade.

Last season, the Eagles were able to put Long, Bennett, Brandon Graham and Cox on the field on third down. This year, it will likely be Graham, Malik Jackson, Cox and Derek Barnett. That still has the potential to be a good group, but Graham’s production declined last year, Jackson has a lot to prove and Barnett is coming off a season-ending shoulder injury...

The defensive line is still good, but it doesn’t look as deep or as disruptive as last year’s group on paper. By the way, Long has said he’s retiring because he faced a reduced role in 2019. The Eagles could be one injury away from needing Long to fill his same role from a year ago. If that scenario were to play out, I wonder if he’d consider returning.  []

How big of a deal is it really?

Daniel Gallen | Penn Live

The role the Eagles are looking to fill in the wake of Long's departure isn't exactly a huge one, all things considered. And that's why they won't likely look outside the organization, writes Penn Live's Daniel Gallen. 

If one of the more intriguing position battles on a team’s roster is for the Nos. 4 and 5 defensive end spots, the team’s roster is in pretty good shape. And that’s where the Eagles are. Graham, Barnett and Curry are entrenched atop the rotation. But there are still some snaps available for some younger players on the roster to snap up. According to Benjamin Solak of Bleeding Green Nation, that number is around 20 snaps per game.

Given that smaller but still important number, it doesn’t quite make that much sense to go out and sign a higher-priced veteran to fill that role — yet. So that leaves 2018 fourth-round pick Josh Sweat, 2019 fourth-round pick Shareef Miller, 2017 third-round pick Daeshon Hall and practice squad standout Joe Ostman to compete for those leftovers. And it’s an interesting group.  []

At least the starters are set

Tommy Lawlor | Iggles Blitz

The reason the backup role is so important to the Eagles is because of how often Schwartz rotates in his defensive ends, and his desire to line up multiple DEs across the line in third and long situations. As for the starters, they're set — as is their top backup spot. From there... 

The team is set with the starters. Brandon Graham is an impact pass rusher and Derek Barnett is a player on the rise.

The Eagles brought back Vinny Curry to give them a veteran backup. Curry started for Tampa last year and the Eagles in 2017. He was a backup and situational rusher for the Eagles from 2012-2016.

Curry can be an effective starter. He is a good run defender. He was an effective pass rusher in the past, but had a down season in 2018. Was that him adjusting to a new team, a new scheme and playing hurt…or has he started to decline? The Eagles obviously think he can return to his previous form.

After that, things are wide open.  []

Most likely candidates to replace Long

Brandon Lee Gowton | Bleeding Green Nation

In his breakdown of the top storylines to watch heading into OTAs, BGN's Brandon Gowton, like many Eagles writers out there, pointed to the defensive end rotation as something to keep an eye on. Much like Sheil, Brandon is concerned by the Eagles lack of depth at DE, especially if one of the top guys comes down with an injury. 

So, who will be the guy to take Long's newly available snaps?

5 - The defensive end rotation

Sadly, Chris Long is retiring. So, how do the Eagles replace him? ...

Before we look outward, we must look inward. And by that I specifically mean the interior defensive line. The presence of both Malik Jackson and Timmy Jernigan could result in the Eagles using their ends to play at defensive tackle less often. This configuration could shorten up the defensive end rotation.

Still, what if there are injuries to the ends? The Eagles could suddenly be looking at one of Daeshon Hall, Josh Sweat, Shareef Miller, or Joe Ostman as one of their top three edge rushers. That’s not ideal.

It’s always possible the Eagles could sign a veteran defensive end (Derrick Morgan?) but for now the Eagles can use the spring to evaluate their young guys at that position.

The dark horse to watch at defensive end is Hall. I put him over Sweat on my latest 53-man roster projection. Maybe I’m reading into things too much but I found it interest how Howie Roseman mentioned Hall’s name before Sweat during his post-draft press conference. Also look at this recent article from Dave Spadaro that features three paragraphs on Hall before one shorter one on Sweat. Hall, not unlike Sweat, boasts an elite athletic profile. Hall also doesn’t have the injury history that’s always going to be a concern with Sweat.  []

Takin' it Hall the way

Daniel Gallen | Penn Live

Let's go back to Gallen for a second, who also likes Daeshon Hall as a surprise candidate to replace Long, listing him as one of his players to watch heading into OTAs.

DE Daeshon Hall

I might be a little higher on Daeshon Hall than others, but I’m interested to see what he can do after spending a whole offseason with the Eagles. He was the No. 77 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, but he’s played just four games in two seasons because of injuries. There could be something here after the Eagles signed him off the Houston Texans practice squad late last season. And with Chris Long announcing his retirement, there could be some snaps for Hall to earn.  []

More players to watch at OTAs

Dave Zangaro | NBC Sports Philadelphia

There will be other interesting camp battles to watch on both sides of the ball, especially further down the depth chart on offense — again, it's a good sign when that's the case. In fact, three of the players on Dave Zangaro's list of 10 non-rookies to watch this offseason were wide receivers...

Mack Hollins

After a decent rookie season for a fourth-rounder, Hollins lost his 2017 season in mysterious fashion. A few days after he said he was healthy, the Eagles put him on IR and we haven’t seen him since. He’s presumably healthy now and he needs to prove it.

Braxton Miller

He came aboard during last season as a practice squad player but might still have upside. The former third-round pick is 26 but is relatively new to the receiver position. Doug Pederson has talked up Miller this offseason, so maybe he could find a role as a gadget player/return man on the roster.

Greg Ward

After a brief stint in the short-lived AAF, Ward has another shot at an NFL roster. The former college QB is another one like Miller who could become a gadgety/return man in the NFL, but his chances are running out.  []

Running out of room

Mike Kaye |

The Eagles seriously addressed their running back issues this offseason, saying goodbye to Jay Ajayi, who missed much of last season with a torn ACL, and acquiring Jordan Howard from the Bears and Penn State's Miles Sanders in the draft. With Corey Clement's spot as the third running back secure, that leaves several players on the roster bubble, including the Eagles top two rushers from a year ago, Josh Adams and Wendell Smallwood. 

5. Who will be the fourth running back?

Spots Available: 1

Likely Competitors: Wendell Smallwood, Josh Adams, Boston Scott, Donnel Pumphrey

Quick Thoughts: Smallwood and Adams should highlight this competition. With Jordan Howard, Miles Sanders and Corey Clement taking up the first three spots on the depth chart, the next man up will need to offer versatility on offense. Smallwood is probably the most well-rounded running back in the competition but he is also the player with the most trade value. If another team’s starting running back suffers a major injury during training camp, Smallwood could be a trade chip as he enters the final year of his rookie contract. The team is also high on Adams, who is coming off offseason labrum surgery. Scott and Pumphrey may compete for a job at kick returner.  []

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