The Philadelphia Eagles are entering training camp as the defending Super Bowl Champions.
We’ve been waiting a long time to be able to say that.
This was the easiest off-season the fan base has had to endure… ever. And I don’t think you can really argue against that. Instead of over-critiquing every move that organization made or didn’t make because every little detail could mean the difference between winning our first championship and coming up empty-handed yet again, our overall mindset during free agency and the draft was “We’re the Super Bowl Champions!” Because the truth is, we are. Not to say that there weren’t any concerns or other storylines to take note of though, because there definitely were. And as ecstatic as we’ve been to continue celebrating, we’re just as ecstatic to get the 2018 season going and actually seeing if our Eagles can defend their crown.
With Eagles training camp officially beginning on July 26, here are some of my thoughts regarding the team and other storylines heading into it:
The RPO: Countering the counter-punch
How is Doug Pederson and the rest of his offensive coaching staff going to adjust to the league defenses’ counter to the RPO? These play schemes were a staple to the team’s offense in 2017 and are the latest “trend” to come along in the pro game. Whether you believe it’s here to stay or not, defenses around the league first have to figure out a way to stop it or at least limit it. With a full off-season at their disposal, I’m sure every team has their own answers on what to do.
It is a little overblown just how much the RPO was used by the Eagles last season, but there were definite in-game situations that Doug Pederson loved to call them. He’s shown to be one of the best coaches in the league at putting a great game plan together to stay one step ahead of the opposing team, so it will be interesting to see what he does when defenses throw their counter-punch this season, and his counter to them will be.
This very well could be Duce Staley’s last year with the Eagles’ coaching staff. Some of you might be saying “who cares,” but I’ve been a big fan of Duce as a coach. He was able to remain with the team after Andy Reid left and after Chip left, and has worked his way up to now being Doug’s assistant head coach. You have to believe that he was given that position in part because Doug is grooming him for a future promotion with another team, and as someone who is such a fan of the RB position I have so much respect for what Duce has been able to do with our group of RBs over these past several years. Just look what he was able to do last season. Not only did he help develop Clement into a 3rd down receiving back, but he also was able to have the whole RB room buy into their roles in the committee after the team acquired Jay Ajayi. The players love him, and I’m confident that he’ll be a good head coach whenever he gets the opportunity.
Waiting on Wentz
Whether he does end up playing Week 1 or not (I believe he will), can we all just make sure we remain patient with Carson Wentz?
First of all, I want to re-iterate that if Wentz is healthy by Week 1 he should and will be the starter.
Secondly, we all need to remember that even if he’s fully healthy, it still might take some time for him to get back into the same type of rhythm he was in last season. NFL players, former and current, have said that the toughest part of coming back from a knee injury like that isn’t getting the knee fully healthy, it’s getting over the mental hurdle of being confident and comfortable enough to play on it. That means planting with it without second guessing whether it’ll hold up or not. I don’t expect to see the MVP-level Carson Wentz for the first few weeks of the season, but I do think we’ll start to see that level of play once again at some point.
Considering our fan base, I know that once Wentz shows any sign of struggling there will be a group of fans screaming for Foles to start. Patience is a near impossible virtue to tell most Philly fans to practice, but I’m going to try to anyways.
I’m very interested to see how our CB corps plays out. Ronald Darby, Jalen Mills, Sidney Jones, Rasul Douglas, and Avonte Maddox are pretty much definites to make the roster, which maybe leaves room for one more on the final 53. That is a good amount of talent and depth, especially compared to where the position group was just a few years ago.
We’re all very excited about Jones’ potential. The 2017 draft prospect was projected by many to be the 2nd best CB in the draft class right behind Marshon Lattimore before he got injured. But because we haven’t really seen how well he can play at this level yet (Week 17 of last season doesn’t count), it’s difficult to project what his role will be right now.
Ronald Darby seems to be the CB that not a lot of fans are talking about, but with Sidney Jones being a relative unknown, Darby is the best CB on the roster. Fans criticize him a lot over the big plays he gave up late in the year, but fail to acknowledge the big plays he made along with the times he showed excellent coverage skills. You also need to factor in that he was acquired prior to the Week 3 pre-season game, got hurt in the middle of the 1st regular season game, and then had to play on the right side (he had mostly played on the left side in Buffalo) once he returned to the lineup halfway through the season. Now healthy and with a full off-season and training camp with the team, you can expect more consistency and more big plays out of him.
Jalen Mills more than held his own and was a very solid CB throughout the regular season, but in the playoffs he stepped up big time and played at a high level. Mills makes up for his lack of great speed and a tendency to bite on the double move with good quickness and great competitive intangibles and confidence. He played safety in college, and some believe he has the necessary quickness and physicality to play in the slot, so any versatility he can offer will only benefit him and the defense. But regardless of where he lines up, he’s more than earned his spot in the secondary.
Rasul Douglas played well in certain spots when called upon last season. He’s someone who excels in off coverage and has very good ball skills, but he doesn’t have good speed and still needs work with his technique in press coverage. His role in the secondary is the biggest unknown to me among all of the CBs.
Avonte Maddox, the 4th round pick from this past draft, has great athletic ability and intangibles but is very unpolished in his overall technique. I wouldn’t expect much from him in his first year as he’s a bit of a project.
De’Vante Bausby is sort of the wild card here. The practice squad acquisition from 2017 had been turning heads throughout OTAs and mini-camp. He’s got good length for the position and could be a surprise contender for the slot CB role if he can keep this level of play up once the pads come on during training camp and pre-season.
How this position group plays out this season is going to have a big impact long-term. Would Darby be worth re-signing? Should the team explore moving Mills to safety or the slot? Is Douglas going to be the odd man out beyond this season? And will Jones show enough for us to believe he’s the guy that we expected to get when we took him with our 2nd round pick in 2017?
Not enough people aboard the Jay Train
There are way too many people sleeping on Jay Ajayi, both in the media and amongst Eagles fans. Some fans are very excited about Corey Clement and his future role in the offense, and rightfully so. The Glassboro native went from being a power/slashing runner in college and an undrafted free agent to being a big play receiving back for the Eagles.
But regardless of what you think his future potential is, you can’t forget about Ajayi. I don’t think people realize just how good of a runner he is (scouting report here). We’re talking about someone who finished with 1,272 yards rushing and averaged 4.9 yards per carry in 2016 while running behind a banged up and subpar offensive line in Miami. He struggled early in 2017, but after being traded to Philadelphia he put up an impressive 5.29 yards per carry (regular season and playoffs). His chronic knee issue is a concern, but more for the long-term than the short-term. When healthy, he might not be an elite talent like Le’Veon Bell, Todd Gurley, Kareem Hunt, etc., but he’s just a tier below and a great player.
Ajayi will be in a great situation entering this season as he prepares himself for his 2nd contract next year. He won’t have to be the featured back and touch the ball 25-30 times a game which will help keep him relatively fresh for the a playoff run, but he will still be the lead back in the Eagles’ committee which should get him around 15-20 touches a game depending on the gameplan and game flow. I’m projecting 1,000 rushing yards and 6 touchdowns for the Jay Train in 2018.