Eagles might be in trouble for 1st 2 games without Alshon Jeffery

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Eagles might be in trouble for 1st 2 games without Alshon Jeffery

The news wasn’t all that surprising but it doesn’t make it any more palatable. 

The Eagles are reportedly going to be without their top wide receiver Alshon Jeffery for at least the first two games of the 2018 season (see story)

For obvious and not-so-obvious reasons, that’s a huge blow. 

And the Eagles might be in trouble without him. 

Even when Jeffery wasn’t putting up huge numbers last season, he was still clearly the Eagles’ No. 1 receiver. If Jeffery wasn’t making catches, he at least demanded attention. And despite tearing his rotator cuff — that’s what eventually needed the surgery that will keep him out to start this season — Jeffery managed to play all 19 games last season on the way to a parade down Broad Street. 

Without their top receiver for a couple weeks, the Eagles are going to have to rely on a group of receivers that has suspect depth. 

Sure, Mike Wallace and Nelson Agholor are now the starters — both are pretty good. 

But Wallace is 32 and coming off a lackluster preseason in which he missed some time. He’s still an upgrade over Torrey Smith, but it’s fair to question just how good he’ll be, especially without Jeffery on the other side garnering his usual dose of attention.

Agholor is coming off a tremendous breakout season. While Jeffery was the team’s best receiver, Agholor was their most explosive. But he did the majority of that work in the slot. Without the Eagles' top WR, Agholor will probably have to play outside a little more — that’s a spot where he has never had the same level of success. That might take away a big dynamic of the offense.

And those are just the top two guys! It gets even sketchier from there. 

Mack Hollins is seemingly the next guy up on the depth chart. At least, it was Hollins who had been the guy filling in with the starters for Jeffery early in training camp. But after a modest rookie season, Hollins has had a forgettable summer. He didn’t flash at all in training camp and didn’t have a catch in the preseason. Part of that might be because he reportedly had a sports hernia surgery this offseason. That might excuse his play, but it certainly doesn’t instill any confidence that he’ll be a contributor. He hasn’t even been able to practice recently thanks to a “lower-body” injury. 

In Hollins’ absence, Shelton Gibson has really emerged. He’s been making plays all summer, including in the first three preseason games. Gibson looks like a different guy and the Eagles might actually have something there. But if you’re counting on a fifth-round pick from a year ago, a guy who has two career receptions, to fill in for a player who had 73 receiving yards and a touchdown in the Super Bowl, you need to rethink that. 

With Jeffery on the shelf for a while, the Eagles are probably going to keep six receivers on their 53-man roster. But do you really expect DeAndre Carter or Rashard Davis or Greg Ward to contribute immediately? 

Maybe this opens the door for Markus Wheaton or Kamar Aiken to make the team, but those two have been hurt this summer too and are seemingly past their best days in the NFL. 

Or maybe the Eagles can try to scour the waiver wire after final cuts and find a player to plug in. The problem is that after winning the Super Bowl, the Eagles are 32nd in the waiver wire order. Hard to imagine getting a stud that no one else wanted. 

The Eagles still have Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert and Corey Clement and Darren Sproles, and it still seems likely Jay AJayi will be ready for the opener. So they still have weapons. But, depending on Carson Wentz’s health, we could have Nick Foles throwing to Shelton Gibson in Week 1. That’s not great. 

Jeffery played the entire last season with that torn rotator cuff, so getting a Super Bowl ring is an easy trade-off for missing the first few weeks of the next season. 

But, now that we’re here, it doesn’t make it any easier. 

More on the Eagles

Learning on the fly, Eagles’ interior DL needs to lead defense

Learning on the fly, Eagles’ interior DL needs to lead defense

As we’ve learned over the last four seasons, Jim Schwartz’s entire defense is predicated on getting pass rush from the front four. 

That won’t change in 2020.

Where that pass rush specifically comes from, however, might. 

Because after a year when the Eagles interior defensive line was completely demolished by injuries, the Eagles now boast an impressive group of defensive tackles that might just be the best in the entire league. 

It’s no secret: Those defensive tackles will need to be the engine that powers the defense in 2020. 

With us three healthy, and it being a really good rotation, that it should be really good for this team,” Fletcher Cox said on Wednesday. “… The defensive line, we have to be the group that leads this team. I’m really looking forward to it.

In 2019, the Eagles were forced to sign guys off the street to play next to their perennial Pro Bowler, Cox. But even Cox wasn’t his usual self last year after coming back from offseason toe surgery. 

In 2020? 

Cox is fully healthy and having a full offseason to prepare. Malik Jackson and Hassan Ridgeway both return from injuries that ended their 2019 seasons early. And the Eagles went out and signed Javon Hargrave to a three-year, $39 million contact. This defensive line is legitimately four deep with guys who are starter caliber. 

“I think it’s a really good group,” Cox said. “It’ll be a solid group along with all the other guys that’s in the room that I played with last year. It’s a really solid group and I’m really looking forward to getting back to football with those guys, with Malik and [Javon] coming in. It’ll be a really good rotation, whatever we decide to do. I’m just excited for those guys.”

That doesn’t mean there won’t be growing pains. Because obviously Cox is still the centerpiece of the defensive line and, really, the entire defense. But he hasn’t played much — or at all — with the three guys who will be playing next to him. 

Take a look: 

Cox and Hargrave: Have never played together 

Cox and Jackson: Have half a game together 

Cox and Ridgeway: Started five games together 

And with Jackson, that half of football came after a training camp where Cox was limited coming off injury. So Cox has the most experience with the defensive tackle who is expected to play the least. Hargrave is expected to be a starter and Jackson will be a rotational player who might play a lot of snaps at defensive end too. 

It’s going to take time for these guys to learn to play with one another. And this offseason is obviously an unusual one thanks to COVID-19. There were no OTAs and there’s an abbreviated training camp with no preseason games. 

“When Timmy (Jernigan) was here, it took a while for us to get on the same page,” Cox said. “You just don’t learn those things over night. I didn’t have a training camp with Malik. We only had like half of a game under our belt. We never really got into that same groove. It’s going to take some time. 

“I think the main thing for [Hargrave] is going out, playing fast, learning the defense, which he’s doing a really good job at, catching onto things that we do. The realest thing is just going out and getting the repetitions with him. It think it’s going to take a lot of repetition for him and me to get on the same page, a lot of communication. So far, so good.”

On paper, this is the best group of defensive tackles ever assembled with Cox. And Hargrave ought to be the best complement next to him we’ve ever seen, surpassing the likes of Jernigan and Bennie Logan. But we’ve got to see it first. 

The Eagles better hope these guys figure out how to play next to each other pretty quickly. The 2020 defense is relying on them. 

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Eagles waive DT Bruce Hector and DB Prince Smith

Eagles waive DT Bruce Hector and DB Prince Smith

The Eagles on Friday released two players, including a defensive tackle who played in 11 games over the last two years and a Philadelphia native trying to make the team as an undrafted rookie.

The moves, along with the additions of Vinny Curry and Marcus Green, leave the roster right at the 80-man training camp limit.

The team released defensive tackle Bruce Hector and cornerback Prince Smith, an undrafted rookie who played at New Hampshire.

Hector originally made the Eagles as an undrafted rookie free agent out of South Florida in 2018. He bounced up and down between the active roster and the practice squad three times and played in eight games, with 82 defensive snaps and 19 more on special teams. 

Hector, 25, was with the team in last year’s preseason but was traded on Aug. 22 to the Cards in exchange for safety Rudy Ford. But when the Cards released him nine days later, he rejoined the Eagles on Sept. 1 on the practice squad. 

He had two more stints on the practice squad and two on the active roster last year, playing 53 defensive snaps and 20 special teams snaps in three games. He was active for the Seattle playoff game and got five defensive snaps and seven on special teams.

After cutting ties with Hector, the Eagles have six defensive tackles remaining on the roster - Fletcher Cox, Malik Jackson, Hassan Ridgeway and Anthony Rush, who were all with the team last year, Steelers free agent Javon Hargrave and undrafted rookie Raequan Williams.

Smith grew up in Philadelphia and played high school football at Imhotep Institute Charter in West Oak Lane. He signed with the Eagles on April 30, just after the draft.

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More on the Eagles