Eagles

Eagles 2019 training camp battles: Replacing Jordan Hicks at linebacker

Eagles 2019 training camp battles: Replacing Jordan Hicks at linebacker

As we near the start of the Eagles’ 2019 training camp, we’re taking a closer look at some key position battles to watch this summer. We already looked at cornerback and running back.            

Up today: Linebacker 

Names to know 

Nigel Bradham, Kamu Grugier-Hill, Zach Brown, Nate Gerry, L.J. Fort, Paul Worrilow, T.J. Edwards, Alex Singleton, Joey Alfieri 

What to watch 

While he struggled to stay healthy over his four years in Philadelphia, Jordan Hicks was an effective player when he was on the field. After Hicks bolted in free agency, taking a big deal from the Arizona Cardinals, the Eagles will need to replace him. 

That starts with Bradham, who will be the linebacker who never leaves the field in 2019. He’ll be out there in the Eagles’ base defense, nickel defense and dime defense. It’s a role he took over in Hicks’ absence anyway. Bradham is recovering from injury, but he expects to be ready for training camp. 

The front-runners to be the other two starting linebackers should be Grugier-Hill and free-agent pickup Brown. Grugier-Hill started the first 10 games of his career last season and did a nice job. I think there’s probably even more untapped potential. Brown, meanwhile, is a former Pro Bowler and spent the last two years in Washington. He’s a seven-year vet with 74 starts under his belt. He fell out of favor in Washington some and was released this offseason, a move that saved Washington a bunch of cap money. Brown has been a good player, but KGH is probably better in coverage. 

We’ll see which of those two stays on the field more. One of them will be a part-time player in the team’s base package. While there are technically three starting linebackers in their base package, the Eagles spend around 75 percent of their time in nickel. 

After those three, it’s a competition to make the roster. Gerry seems to be an often-forgotten player, but he knows the defense (he’s been here since 2017) and is the type of hybrid player the Eagles like in this NFL. Fort was brought in as a special teamer with upside; he’ll be on the roster for teams and likely as a backup. 

Worrilow came back from an ACL tear, but missed some time this spring. Edwards and Alfieri are two talented UDFAs and Singleton was a star in the CFL. One of those rookies could be a practice squad fit. 

One of the players from the paragraph above could make the team, but it depends on how many linebackers the Eagles keep. They kept five on their initial 53-man last year, but Bradham didn’t count because he was suspended. They kept six to start 2017 and kept just four after 2016’s training camp. 

Prediction 

Bradham doesn’t leave the field this year; that’s not much of a shocker. But I think Grugier-Hill ends up playing more than Brown. I think he’s better suited for playing nickel downs. The Eagles will keep five or six linebackers: Bradham, KGH, Brown, Fort, Gerry and maybe either Worrilow or Edwards. 

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Predicting Eagles' 53-man roster with one week left of the preseason

Predicting Eagles' 53-man roster with one week left of the preseason

With one week of preseason remaining, the Eagles’ roster is largely set, save for maybe a spot or two, so this is my final shot at predicting the 53-man roster.

There are a lot of intriguing debates to be had, but I put a lot of thought into first, who will be the 46 players active on game day, and then who are the best 53 overall.

What I came up with I think is pretty close to where the Eagles are, barring any trades between now and cut-down day.

QB (3): Carson Wentz, Josh McCown, Nate Sudfeld

Clayton Thorson has been better of late, but not so much the fifth-round rookie shouldn’t pass through waivers and make it to the Eagles’ practice squad. The real intrigue here is whether there’s any trade market for Sudfeld, an unrestricted free agent in 2020.

RB (4): Miles Sanders, Jordan Howard, Darren Sproles, Corey Clement

Honestly, it’s hard to discount the possibility Wendell Smallwood makes this roster as a fifth back. With Josh Adams likely to land on the scout team though, there doesn’t appear to be a need.

WR (6): Alshon Jeffery, DeSean Jackson, Nelson Agholor, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, Greg Ward, Mack Hollins

Ward clearly outperformed Hollins this summer, and Arcega-Whiteside can fill vital roles on special teams. Still, Hollins keeps getting opportunities, so I can’t help but think the third-year wideout will be here, even he’s inactive on Sundays. Keep in mind, the former fourth-round pick only started practicing again in June after a year-long absence.

TE (3): Zach Ertz, Dallas Goedert, Joshua Perkins

There’s a chance Perkins would’ve made the roster over Richard Rodgers anyway, but the vet’s never-ending string of injuries makes it a formality.

OL (8): Jason Peters, Isaac Seumalo, Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks, Lane Johnson, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Andre Dillard, Jordan Mailata

Stefen Wisniewski’s demotion from backup center to backup guard doesn’t indicate good things are on the horizon for the vet. The Eagles seem to like Nate Herbig and may be able to sneak him on to the practice squad – don’t be surprised if he’s on the 53 though.

DE (6): Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett, Vinny Curry, Daeshon Hall, Josh Sweat, Shareef Miller

Hall looks like the Eagles’ third or fourth best end right now, but Sweat is a talented prospect whom the club shouldn’t give up on quite yet. Miller is still extremely raw and won’t be in uniform on Sundays.

DT (4): Fletcher Cox, Malik Jackson, Tim Jernigan, Hassan Ridgeway

There’s been little discernable difference between Ridegway and Treyvon Hester, other than the Eagles traded a draft pick for Ridgeway. Blocking the occasional field goal is great – just maybe not enough on its own to crack this particular roster.

LB (6): Nigel Bradham, Kamu Grugier-Hill, Zach Brown, L.J. Fort, Nathan Gerry, T.J. Edwards

Edwards truly played himself into a spot here, though injuries within the ranks didn’t hurt. The undrafted rookie may or may not be active on a weekly basis, but he’s not making it through waivers after a preseason in which he showed improvement each week.

CB (6): Ronald Darby, Sidney Jones, Avonte Maddox, Rasul Douglas, Orlando Scandrick, Cre’Von LeBlanc

It seems LeBlanc could be out awhile, which is problematic. With Scandrick, the Eagles won’t necessarily miss LeBlanc on the field – yet to IR him the first half, he needs to be on the roster Week 1. That’s far from a guarantee, but with no end in sight to Jalen Mills’ stint on the physically unable to perform list, it may be necessary.

S (4): Malcolm Jenkins, Rodney McLeod, Andrew Sendejo, Jonatan Cyprien

Once the Eagles are finished jockeying players around after initial cuts, there’s a chance the Eagles carry five safeties, one of whom is a dedicated special teamer such as Deiondre’ Hall or Rudy Ford. It can probably wait until LeBlanc hits IR, or another corresponding move.

ST (3): Jake Elliott, Cameron Johnston, Rick Lovato

Is Elliott the best kicker in the league? Obviously not, but the Eagles’ philosophy right now basically boils down to Grass isn’t always greener. Probably astute and accurate – he’s won them more games than he’s lost so far.

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JJ Arcega-Whiteside and the art of not overthinking

JJ Arcega-Whiteside and the art of not overthinking

Before the Eagles parted ways for the summer, rookie JJ Arcega-Whiteside wanted to ask his veteran teammates where he should train, who he should train with and what he should be doing over the next six weeks. But all the vets kept giving him the same advice: go on vacation. 

So he went on vacation. 

Before training in the heat of Dallas with Alshon Jeffery for about a month, the rookie receiver spent a week relaxing on the island of Maui. Palm trees, beaches and waterfalls have a way of taking your mind off of football. At least a little bit. 

“It’s hard to not think about [football],” Arcega-Whiteside said. “But definitely shut down a little bit and just relaxed, watched the sunrise and sunset and laid on the beach all day.”

Overthinking is something that can plague young players. They don’t want to make mistakes and sometimes they allow that fear to paralyze them. The opposite happened on Thursday night, when Arcega-Whiteside reeled in his first NFL touchdown catch. 

I was thinking right before that route, ‘I’m just gonna go play fast on this one and see what happens.’ And exactly what we’ve been practicing, training happened. I was able to get open and score a touchdown. I’m pretty thankful for that.

Overall, Thursday night’s game against the Ravens was a breakout performance for Arcega-Whiteside. He caught eight passes for 104 yards and a touchdown, becoming the first Eagles receiver to go over 100 yards in a preseason game since Jordan Matthews in 2014. 

The 22-year-old showed off a bunch of the traits that made him a second-round pick in April. 

• There was the way he used his big frame to make a tough catch in the middle of the field: 

“Sometimes for me, I just have to think I’m 220-225 [pounds],” he said. “I’m gonna get hit but I’m not gonna get smacked. Hopefully that doesn’t happen now that I said that. When the ball’s in the air, it’s yours, you gotta go get it. That’s gotta be your mentality.”

• There was the way he caught a ball off his shoestrings on an under-thrown pass from Josh McCown, showing off his focus on concentration.  

• And there was the 4th-and-2 he caught and turned into a big-gainer of 35 yards.  

Arcega-Whiteside ran a 4.49 time in the 40-yard dash at the Stanford pro day at 225 pounds. He can scoot. 

“Me and Josh started getting rolling for a second,” Arcega-Whiteside said. “It just felt like whatever ball he threw to me, I was going to catch it. I was confident to know that we were going to do something good.” 

After Thursday’s game, both Doug Pederson and McCown praised Arcega-Whiteside’s work ethic. It’s clear in the months he’s been with the team, he’s already been winning over his teammates on and off the field. 

Based on his performance in training camp and now in preseason games, Arcega-Whiteside can probably help this year, but it’s a stacked receiver room. He’s clearly behind Jeffery, DeSean Jackson and Nelson Agholor in the receiver pecking order, but he still wants to contribute. 

“I want to come out here and have a big role and help the team win games,” he said. “I’m not here to just sit behind somebody all year. At the same time, I do realize these guys are superstars. They’re the best of the best. I’m happy that I get to be next to them.” 

And he’s happy to take their advice. 

Even if it means going on vacation and escaping for a week. By the way, he’d recommend Maui for a little relaxation. And on a soggy night in Philadelphia, that didn’t sound too bad. 

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