As we get closer to training camp, it’s time to clean out the ol’ mailbag.
The Eagles report to camp on Tuesday and the first practice of the summer is scheduled for Wednesday morning. No matter the expectations for the season, this is always an exciting time of year.
And some of the best storylines of the summer won’t be the guys we’re talking about already; that’s what makes it fun. And that’s where we’ll start today’s mailbag:
You’re asking me to guess this year’s training camp darling and there’s nothing I love more than a good training camp darling. We’ve had some good ones in previous years. Guys like Paul Turner, Henry Josey, Hank Baskett, DeAndre Carter. Last year’s award would go to Deontay Burnett.
It’s definitely different since training camp moved back to the NovaCare Complex from Lehigh. Fans don’t have as many opportunities to watch practice so they’re mostly going off reports. But that’s OK because hype still builds. Last year, Burnett did everything he could to make a roster spot and still didn’t get one.
So, typically, we think of training camp darlings as guys who come from nowhere to have a great summer and at least come close to earning a roster spot. Here are a couple nominees for this year:
WR Michael Walker: Walker, 24, went undrafted out of Boston College back in 2019 and after some time with the Jaguars, he signed a deal with the Eagles in June. While there are bigger names competing for that last receiver spot — J.J. Arcega-Whiteside and John Hightower — Walker might be able to make a positive impression. He has a little bit of NFL experience so he might do well in preseason games against undrafted corners late in the second half. And his special teams background could have him returning kicks and punts.
RB Adrian Killins Jr.: Killins is a returning player from last year. As an undrafted rookie out of Central Florida, Killins spent the 2020 season on the practice squad but was elevated for a couple games and played a very limited role. During the spring (and even some last summer) we saw Killins get work with the receivers. And the idea that he’s a good fit in Nick Sirianni’s offense shouldn’t go unnoticed. The one thing we know about Killins is that he’s fast so if the Eagles are running more screen plays or just finding ways to get passes to running backs, Killins could rip off a few dynamic plays.
TE Tyree Jackson: At 6-7, 249 pounds, Jackson stands out. And it’ll be really fun to watch the former college quarterback make his transition to tight end. The Eagles also have Hakeem Butler, who is converting to TE from WR, on their roster. His size along makes Jackson intriguing and if he starts making some big plays, he could easily become a fan favorite.
I don’t think there’s a huge rush, especially because of how important of a position this is. If this is a true competition then Andre Dillard and Jordan Mailata will be splitting first-team reps, which during a long training camp still gives them plenty of work and plenty of work next to Isaac Seumalo. So even if Nick Sirianni waits until the week before the season to name a starter, that player will have that full week of preparation getting all the first-team reps, which should be good enough after getting half the work all summer.
Now, if one player is clearly running away with the job, maybe the Eagles decide to end the competition early. Or specifically if Mailata begins running away with it, maybe the Eagles try to trade Dillard. But at the very least, the coaching staff will want to see these guys in the joint practices and games to get the best evaluation they can. So I think it’ll last pretty deep into the summer.
Miles Sanders, Boston Scott and Kenny Gainwell are the three I’m most confident will be on the team. Now, there’s a chance the Eagles keep just three running backs but it’s more likely they’ll keep four. That means the final spot comes down to Kerryon Johnson, Jordan Howard, Elijah Holyfield and Killins.
Unless Sirianni is determined to keep a big-bodies back like Howard or Holyfield and unless Howard really turns back the clock this summer, I think Johnson is the fourth guy in. He lowered his salary to veteran minimum, which will help, and he’s excellent at pass protection. That might be enough to keep him around.
Most likely UDFA to make the roster: TE Jack Stoll: Stoll is an undrafted rookie tight end out of Nebraska. I know the Eagles like him because his contract details say so. He got $122,500 in guaranteed and a signing bonus of $22,500, according to a league source. That’s significant. Maybe Zach Ertz ends up sticking around for the season but if not, then Stoll will have a legitimate shot to make the roster. At 6-4, 247 pounds, Stoll dealt with injuries in 2020 but had a good pro day and has enough ability as a pass catcher to stick.
Most likely surprise cut: I don’t have a great guess here. I don’t think J.J. Arcega-Whiteside qualifies as a surprise cut at this point. I’ll offer up Andrew Adams. The only reason I’m doing this is because the veteran free agent finds himself in a crowded safety position. The Eagles might keep just four safeties and they could be Anthony Harris, Rodney McLeod, K’Von Wallace and Marcus Epps. Perhaps the Eagles would opt to keep a young player like Epps or Grayland Arnold over the 28-year-old Adams.
There will be in-person interviews this year, which is super exciting. It won’t be completely back to normal but there will basically be mini socially-distanced press conferences on the field following practice. So we’re not back to super small groups or 1-on-1s but it’s a lot better than watching some reporters (Full disclosure: I was guilty a couple times) fumble with the mute button for the 500th time.
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