Eagles

Eagles 2019 training camp battles: Running back competition could have surprise ending

Eagles 2019 training camp battles: Running back competition could have surprise ending

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 looked at cornerback yesterday.

Up today: Running back 

Names to know 

Jordan Howard, Miles Sanders, Corey Clement, Wendell Smallwood, Boston Scott, Josh Adams, Donnel Pumphrey 

What to watch 

There are really two separate battles here. The first is for that last roster spot, assuming the Eagles keep four running backs. The second is for playing time and roles once we know who is on the team. 

Let’s start with the battle to actually make the roster. If we assume two things: 1. The Eagles will keep four running backs, and, 2. Clement will be healthy, then we can be pretty sure we know three of the four running backs who will make the team. Howard and Sanders are stone locks and if Clement is healthy, he should be way ahead of the other backs. In recent seasons, the Eagles have kept four RBs, which means there’s one spot left for four players. 

Let’s look at those four players: 

• Wendell Smallwood has been with the Eagles since 2016 and is entering his fourth NFL season — hard to believe. No, he never turned into a feature back, but how many times have you written him off already? He doesn’t go down without a fight. He stayed healthy enough to win a job this time last year and again had a role in 2018. Maybe this is the year the Eagles finally move on, but I wouldn’t rule him out completely. 

• Josh Adams was a rookie last season and didn’t even make the roster out of camp. But he was promoted from the practice squad and went on to lead the team in rushing with 511 yards. That’s the eighth-highest total ever for an Eagles rookie. So it might seem crazy to think he’s the odd man out … but he’s probably the odd man out. He excels at running between the tackles and the Eagles have Howard and Sanders to do that this year. 

• Boston Scott might actually be the front-runner for this job. And the BoScott Hype Train has officially left the station. He has a Sproles-like body, meaning he’s short but also built well. Scott, a sixth-round pick last year, came from the Saints during the season and never really got much of a chance. But he has a much more complementary collection of skills than the other guys up for this job. Most importantly, he has some ability as a punt and kick returner. The Eagles don’t have a ton of players with punt return experience. 

• And, finally, Donnel Pumphrey is still around. His chances aren’t great to make the roster, they’re not even good, but they’re also non-zero. Remember, last year, he was legitimately in the mix for that last spot but couldn’t stay healthy in camp. He would need to have a tremendous summer, but crazier things have happened. 

No matter who wins that fourth job, it’s unlikely they have a major role in the offense if the top three backs stay healthy. That was a problem for Sanders this spring, when he missed all of OTAs with a hamstring injury. We need to see him on the field at training camp. It would also be nice to see Clement back on the field practicing after his knee injury in 2018. During practices this summer, we’ll see how first-team reps are split as the depth chart takes form before our eyes. 

Prediction

While I’m hesitant to rule out Smallwood (I’ve been burned by that before), I think Scott is the favorite to win the job. The key, for me, is his complementary skillset and his ability to be a returner. 

As for how playing time shakes out, I think Howard begins the season as the lead back and Clement begins the season as the primary third-down back, but Sanders eats away their snaps and touches as the season goes on. He’s a talented young back playing catch-up after missing OTAs and I think it’s going to be hard to keep him off the field if he takes the strides I expect him to. 

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Tim Jernigan loves Philly but at peace with whatever free agency brings

Tim Jernigan loves Philly but at peace with whatever free agency brings

For the last month of the 2019, the Eagles finally saw how much a healthy Tim Jernigan can help their defensive line. 

Will that be enough reason to bring him back? 

That’s a question the Eagles will have to ask themselves this offseason as Jernigan is set to become a free agent. On one hand, when Jernigan is healthy, he’s been pretty good and Jim Schwartz has previously said Jernigan “means something to our spirit.” And he’s still just 27. 

On the other hand, Jernigan has struggled to stay healthy the last few years and the Eagles might not be able to rely on him. 

An emotional Jernigan spoke to our Derrick Gunn just after the playoff loss earlier this month and was well aware his future is up in the air. 

It hit different when you’re a free agent because you don’t know what’s going to happen with you. At the end of the day, man, as long as my teammates know that I gave everything I had on Sunday, when those lights turned on, I gave y’all everything I had. I’m at peace with that. 

“However it turns out with me in this free agency thing, I’m at peace with that. As long as y’all boys know I gave y’all everything I had. The city knows I gave them everything I had. It’s always love from here, from me there’s always love.

As of earlier this month, Jernigan said he and the Eagles hadn’t had any discussions about a possible contract. That doesn’t mean they won’t. 

Remember, the Eagles traded for Jernigan before the 2017 and he played really well that season before an ankle injury began to limit him. Still, he started 15 regular season games that year and all three in the playoffs, including Super Bowl LII. 

He played well enough that during the 2017 season, the Eagles gave him a four-year extension worth up to $48 million. 

But then Jernigan hit some hard times. He suffered a mysterious back injury in the offseason and needed surgery. Jernigan still hasn’t said publicly how he suffered the injury. He and the team renegotiated the deal and Jernigan played just three regular season games in 2018, but then played in the playoffs. He fought his way back. 

Last offseason, the Eagles unsurprisingly declined the option on his renegotiated contract but still signed him to a one-year deal worth up to $2 million for the 2019 season. Jernigan hurt his foot early in the season in 2019 but returned to play 10 games and eventually played at a pretty high level. 

So, yeah, there have been some ups and downs. 

“I’ve been through a lot the last two years,” Jernigan said. “I’ve had my highs and lows, I’ve had my times where I didn’t know if I was gonna make it. I went through every emotion but I made it. That’s definitely a positive to take from the season. I was able to finish this thing the right way.” 

The Eagles know they’ll have Fletcher Cox and Malik Jackson at defensive tackle in 2020. It would seem like Jernigan would be an obvious choice to be the third guy in the rotation but Hassan Ridgeway is also going to be a free agent and is two years younger. 

But Ridgeway hasn’t been able to stay healthy either. He’s actually played one fewer game than Jernigan over the last two seasons and he hasn’t had the highs, especially not in this city. 

There’s a decent chance the Eagles try to bring Jernigan back for another season. But if it doesn’t happen, there won’t be hard feelings on Jernigan’s side. 

“Either way it go, whether I’m with the Eagles next year or I’m not,” Jernigan said, “I can promise you, I am one of those people, I’ll always be around this city, you know what I’m saying? I’m gonna always be around this city, even a long time from now. I met people away from football that I found love for. It’s love from me. 

“If I ain’t here, then y’all know what it is, man. I’m six years into my career, 27 years old, I can always end up back here. It ain’t over till it’s over, man.”

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Eagles Stay or Go 2020: Is it time to move on from a legend?

Eagles Stay or Go 2020: Is it time to move on from a legend?

Reuben Frank, Dave Zangaro and Andrew Kulp bring back Stay or Go with the 2020 version, trying to figure out the future of the Philadelphia Eagles.

Today, we’ll look at offensive tackles: 

Jason Peters 

Roob: It’s time. He’s one of the greatest Eagles of all-time, but it’s time. Peters is still a pretty good left tackle, but he’s not what he used to be, Andre Dillard is here for a reason, he looks ready, and at some point you just have to make the decision to move on. It’s going to be weird seeing an Eagles team without J.P. He’s been here so long he blocked for Vince Young. But it’s time to turn the page, and I think the Eagles understand that now.

Verdict: Goes

Dave: It was a great run for Peters, who arrived in 2009 thanks to what was probably the best trade in franchise history. Peters had years of dominance, making seven of his nine Pro Bowls with the Eagles. But he’s turning 38 later this month and even though he played fairly well in 2019, the Eagles drafted Andre Dillard for a reason. Peters is a free agent and as tough as it might be for the organization, it’s time for them to let him leave. I just wouldn’t want to be the one who has to tell him. 

Verdict: Goes 

Kulp: After seven Pro Bowls, two first-team All-Pro selections and 11 seasons with the Eagles, it's easy to get sentimental about a player. Peters is a surefire Hall of Famer. Hell, he's still probably better than at least half the left tackles in the league. Unfortunately, he may not be better than the left tackle the club drafted last April. We won't know until the change is made, but it's time to find out rather than pin the hopes on a 38-year-old oft-injured free agent-to-be. 

Verdict: Goes

Lane Johnson 

Roob: It was a tough year for Johnson, who missed the first Seahawks game with a concussion and then missed the last four games of the season with a knee injury. It was the first time in Johnson’s seven-year career he’s missed multiple games because of injury. Johnson turns 30 this spring, and he’s still an elite right tackle when he’s healthy, and there’s no reason to expect anything less from him. The Eagles really need him to stay healthy.

Verdict: Stays

Dave: The Eagles missed Johnson down the stretch of last season. Simply put: They’re a much better team with him on the field. The Eagles think he’s the best right tackle in the NFL and gave him a huge contract extension during the season to keep him in Philly through the 2025 season. He’s the only player on the roster signed through 2025. He’s not going anywhere for a while. 

Verdict: Stays 

Kulp: There's nothing not to like about Johnson. He'll be 30, still in the meat of an offensive lineman's prime. He's arguably the best right tackle in the NFL and a leader. His brand new contract extension does squeeze the Eagles for a cap hit just south of $16 million in 2020, but when healthy, the two-time Pro Bowler is worth every penny. Plus, if the Eagles win another Super Bowl, he'll probably get everybody beer again. 

Verdict: Stays

Andre Dillard 

Roob: It’s kind of weird that Dillard was so bad at right tackle after holding his own at left tackle. He didn’t seem to have a great attitude about trying to play on the right side – it’s like trying to write with your left hand and all that – and that’s a concern. You want a guy to embrace any challenge and dive in head-first. Dillard has the physical tools in the world, he’s still got to prove he can handle the mental challenges that come with the job. 

Verdict: Stays

Dave: The rookie started three games at left tackle and acquitted himself quite well. Playing on the right side was a disaster and wasn’t a good sign, but that’s not why they drafted him. I expect him to be the starter at left tackle in 2020. He still has to answer plenty of questions but he’ll have to do it on game days. He needs to play in 2020. If he works out, the Eagles could have three waves of incredible stability at left tackle with Tra Thomas, Peters and then Dillard.  

Verdict: Stays 

Kulp: The kid took some lumps, especially in his lone start at right tackle, where he was benched at halftime. Dillard showed promise at his natural position on the left though, and the only way he's ever going to take the next step is to play. They're literally going to give Peters the boot for this kid, so yeah, he'll be here for a little while. 

Verdict: Stays

Halapoulivaati Vaitai 

Roob: Big V is an unrestricted free agent, and while he’s never been a full-time starter in his four years here he’s really been a valuable sixth o-lineman who could back up both guard and tackle spots. Vaitai started 20 games at various spots here and was the Super Bowl left tackle, so he’s got a decent body of work after an inauspicious start back in 2016. The Eagles would love to have him back, but somebody is going to give Big V a lot of money.

Verdict: Goes

Dave: As a fifth-round pick back in 2016, the Eagles got a lot of use out of Big V in the last four years. He played in 52 games with 20 starts and started four more games in the playoffs, including at left tackle in Super Bowl LII. He’s not a top-tier guy but he’s solid and versatile and he’s been a solid player for the Eagles. They’d probably like to have him back. But even average tackles get paid in this league and he might get near-starter money elsewhere. 

Verdict: Goes 

Kulp: Big V is a largely competent swing tackle who's at his best when given a full week to prepare to play rather than coming off the bench cold, and even then he's is good for one or two massive blunders per game. And in the NFL, where tackles are at a premium, that's probably good enough to get paid this offseason. Vaitai is a free agent and could very well be starting somewhere in 2020 – it just won't be here. 

Verdict: Goes

Jordan Mailata 

Roob: Assuming Big V and Peters leave via free agency, Mailata could very well become the backup at both tackle spots. Mailata will be going into his third year, and that’s about when you expect to see results from this sort of long-term project. He’s still young. At 22, he’s two years younger than Dillard but this will be a big training camp for him. He’s still never played in a regular-season NFL game, but he should be in the mix for a role this coming season.

Verdict: Stays 

Dave: This is tough because we’re two years into the Mailata experiment and he still hasn’t played in a game that counts. But I haven’t seen anything to change my opinion that he can play the game and the Eagles always knew this was a long-term project. And, by the way, he’s still just 22. The Eagles might try to bring Big V back or sign a different veteran; if not, Mailata could be the swing tackle next season. 

Verdict: Stays 

Kulp: Two years into the rugby-player-turned-American-footballer experiment, we're no closer to knowing whether Mailata belongs on an NFL field. That was likely the plan all along, though looking at this list of players, he currently projects as not just the top backup – he's the only backup on the roster. The 6-foot-8, 346-pound Australian showed there's a lot of pure physical ability to work with in preseason action, and he's only 22 and on a cheap rookie deal, so the Eagles probably owe it to themselves to see this thing through now. But, man, it's a little scary to think he might be one injury away from starting in 2020. 

Verdict: Stays

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