Much was made of Howie Roseman’s comments earlier this offseason when he said the team needs to retool, rather than rebuild. The front office had a vision of “injecting youth” into the team, rather than plugging holes with veterans on a one-year deal. The youth movement made sense at the time; the team two years removed from a Super Bowl victory and an aging supporting cast around the team’s core. Guys like Malcolm Jenkins and Jason Peters (before Brandon Brooks’ injury) were moved on from, and younger talent in Jalen Mills and Andre Dillard were injected into the starting lineups. The team drafted several wideouts to bring youth to an aging, oft-injured receiver room. A high draft pick was used on a developmental back-up QB. The vision was coming to fruition. Then came the shake-up; an abbreviated off-season with no pre-season games or opportunities to see players' in-game speed action. The question that needs to be answered is – how does all of this affect the Eagles heading into what was shaping up to be a promising season?
The Youth Movement
There is an age-old adage in the NFL that during the offseason, veterans are much more reliable than rookies. At least this is true until the rookies can prove themselves reliable on and off the field. This adage seemed more relevant this offseason than any other in recent memory, especially with the Eagles. This could be the exact reason why Alshon Jeffrey is still on the roster. The front office and coaching staff wanted to get younger at wide receiver and defensive back positions, and they did that through free agency, trades, and the draft. Having too much new blood in this environment is not a good thing, as continuity and trust are tough to build in a shortened offseason. The preseason games are for the vets to get their legs under them, for the new faces to get continuity with teammates, and rookies to earn their spots. Now, this will all need to happen in about a month and a half of practices.
Continuity in the Trenches
The Eagles, for the most part, have a good bit of continuity along the offensive and defensive lines heading into the season. With Brandon Brooks out, rather than pulling a guard off the street that is unfamiliar with the locker room, bringing back Jason Peters to play RG provides some continuity for the group. Andre Dillard played well enough in his short time playing LT to have confidence in the blindside protector. The lone cause for concern will be the lack of depth behind these guys, as Matt Pryor is the only back up that has had NFL game experience.
The defensive line also returns all four starters from last year’s opener, with Malik Jackson expected back and healthy. Javon Hargreaves joins a vicious front and can fit right in with the leadership already in that group. The team announced they brought Vinny Curry back on another deal, further proving that the continuity is key for that group during this offseason. Given that the defensive line is the engine and transmission that drives the defensive success; ensuring they are ready to go from the first snap is key given the youth and shakeup in the back-seven.
Big Changes in Secondary and Linebacking Group
When 50% of your secondary changes from one year to the next, that is usually cause for concern, especially in this environment. The Eagles lost their leader and voice in Malcolm Jenkins, and plan on replacing him with Jalen Mills. With Mills moving to safety, this opens a spot for the new star – Darius Slay. The Eagles also brought in Will Parks to play the nickel safety, and Nickel Roby-Coleman for depth and competition at the nickel corner spot. These additions are exciting, no doubt about it. However, there is a small concern, simply because they will not have preseason tune-ups.
The real concern happens to be in the middle of the defense for the Eagles, the linebackers. The team returns Nate Gerry, who at times, played very well for the team last year. TJ Edwards is expected to be one of the starting linebackers and has also shown flashes of potential. The starting strong-side linebacker could be Alex Singleton, or a rookie. The Eagles drafted two in Davion Taylor and Shaun Bradley. The hope is, that the defensive line can play strong enough to at least slow down opposing running backs enough for the linebackers to clean up. The group should not have issues in coverage but are undersized against a bruising running attack. This group is fresh, young and have not played much together.
Carson Wentz is Healthy, No Preseason Drama
Ending on a good note, we will finally have an offseason where all talk is not going to surround Carson and his lack of preseason game appearances. Wentz is healthy, has a few new weapons, and is locked in ready to go. This is his team now. That would not have stopped the drama that would have surrounded the team had Jalen Hurts gone out and had an incredible preseason. Wentz has a bad game – fans may be calling for the rookie. That is just the drama that comes when you run a quarterback factory.