Eagles players officially report to training camp today, with the first practice of the 2019 season set for Thursday.
It’s a time of optimism all across the league, though for this particular team, only a year removed from winning the Super Bowl, the feeling is legit. Here’s why the Eagles will be a trendy pick to return to the big game.
Carson Wentz is back
Questions about whether Wentz is injury prone aren’t going away until he makes it through 16 games, or at least finishes the season. He enters 2019 healthy — 100 percent removed from the torn ACL that limited him last summer and caused him to miss the first two games, and past the back injury that eventually ended his campaign.
Anticipate better mobility. Anticipate better timing in the offense and in the red zone. Anticipate a better rapport with receivers. Anticipate Wentz, now in his fourth year in the system, improving in multiple facets, one season removed from an MVP campaign, having completing 69.6 percent of his passes for 7.7 yards per attempt with 21 touchdowns to 7 interceptions while playing hurt last season. Then try to tell anybody the Eagles won’t be a better team in 2019.
No offense is more loaded
Does any offense in the NFC, nay, in the entire NFL possess as much talent as the Eagles? DeSean Jackson, Zach Ertz, Jason Peters, Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks and Lane Johnson have all been named to multiple Pro Bowls. Wentz, Jordan Howard and Alshon Jeffery were each invited to one. Nelson Agholor posted back-to-back 60-catch, 700-yard seasons, Dallas Goedert caught five touchdowns (including playoffs) in his first year and Miles Sanders is considered a viable Rookie of the Year contender.
I could go on — Andre Dillard, JJ Arcega-Whiteside anyone? — which is a thought that should keep opposing defensive coordinators up at night. They’re deep across the board, and they’re good.
Fletcher Cox has help
Quick, name an interior lineman other than Cox who played at least 40 percent of the Eagles’ defensive snaps in 2019.
Can’t do it? That’s because said player did not exist. A washed Haloti Ngata was the closest at 35 percent, followed by Treyvon Hester (22 percent), who’s currently battling for a roster spot; Destiny Vaeao (15 percent), who’s already gone; and Bruce Hector (8 percent), a long shot to be here in September. Yet Cox managed to produce by far his most dominant season to date alongside that crew with 10.5 sacks, 34 quarterback hits and 12 tackles for loss.
The Eagles signed 2017 Pro Bowler Malik Jackson in free agency and brought back Tim Jernigan as well. After watching what Cox did pretty much single-handedly, imagine the level of pressure this trio can put in signal callers’ faces now.
Incredible depth on the back end
The Eagles turned their season around in 2018 largely with Avonte Maddox, Rasul Douglas and Cre'Von LeBlanc playing cornerback, and some combination of Tre Sullivan and Corey Graham in one safety spot. All return except for Graham (fortunately), as do Ronald Darby, Jalen Mills, Sidney Jones and Rodney McLeod from injury. Not only did the young players get great experience, they can push the people who are supposed to be high-level starters.
Meanwhile, Nigel Bradham reclaims the primary linebacker role, but Kamu Gruger-Hill and Nate Gerry have company for the other spots in experienced veterans Zach Brown and L.J. Fort. Jordan Hicks is gone, but he was constantly in and out of the lineup anyway.
Injuries or no, both units are stronger now than a year ago.
True, the Eagles will be without Brooks and Ronald Darby when training camp opens — though there’s a “legit possibility” the latter is ready Week 1. Regardless, the absence of two players, maybe for only a portion of the summer, is a far cry from the list of players who were unavailable last summer. Wentz, Jeffery, Agholor, Peters and Brandon Graham were among the prominent Eagles who missed the entire preseason, while Wentz and Jeffery were out into September.
The team’s overall health didn’t improve much from there, with Jay Ajayi, Sproles, Mike Wallace, Lane Johnson, Derek Barnett, Jernigan, Hicks, McLeod, Jones, Mills and Darby among the many who missed games. Sure, horrible injury luck could strike again in 2019, but at the very least it’s unlikely to reoccur to quite that degree.
Coaching staff stability
Last year at this time, the Eagles were figuring out how to cope with the loss of not one but two great offensive minds. Mike Groh was finding his way as a first-time offensive coordinator in the NFL after one year as the club’s wide receivers coach, replacing Jim Reich in that role, while Press Taylor went from an inexperienced quality control coach into Jim DeFilippo’s shoes running the quarterback room.
Groh and Taylor both return in their respective jobs, with Groh in particular battling back from mid-season questions about his preparedness for the role. The jury is still out on whether either is better than their predecessor, though just having a year to get acquainted with their positions will no doubt help.
Of course, the Eagles do have a new wide receivers coach in 2019 in Carson Walch. Yet, that marks the fifth year in a row for a change there — and it wasn’t a problem during the run up to the last Super Bowl.
Tremendous leadership at every level
Naturally there have been departures, but the core of the team that brought a world championship to Philadelphia 17 months ago is still intact. Another year older, of course, but what the Eagles have lost in declining skill, they make up for with one of the best locker rooms in the league.
Kelce. Peters. Graham. Malcolm Jenkins. Ertz. Cox. Bradham. Sproles. Wentz. And those are just the names that stand out. In truth, the Eagles are blessed with leaders at every level of the roster — in most cases, multiple — guys who are vocal in the media, and guys who simply lead by example. And not only does this group know how to be professional and know how to build a family atmosphere, but they know what it takes to go the distance, too.
The Eagles have the talent to compete too, but come January, that experience is what’s going to be the difference.
Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.