There are so many intriguing storylines with this 2021 Eagles team. New coaches trying to establish themselves. Unknown players fighting for roster spots. Veterans trying to revive their careers. Injured guys hoping to return to form.
Over the next month, the 2021 Eagles will come to life. Here are 10 things I’ll be watching during Nick Sirianni’s first training camp, which begins Wednesday morning at the NovaCare Complex.
1. Can he coach? It might be too soon to declare for sure whether Nick Sirianni will be successful, but you can tell a lot about any coach by watching how he interacts with players, how efficiently practice operates, whether players are getting better, how engaged the veterans are and how high the level of competition is. Training camp will be the first real chance any of us will have to see Sirianni in action, and we’ll learn a lot about him over these next few weeks.
2. The young receivers: Devonta Smith, Jalen Reagor, Travis Fulgham, Quez Watkins and John Hightower are all unknowns to some extent. How consistently do they catch the ball? How crisp are their routes? How well do they beat corners off the line of scrimmage? The Eagles have a lot of young potential at the WR position, and we should have a pretty good idea what each one of them is all about by the end of camp.
3. Kerryon Johnson / Kenny Gainwell: We know what Miles Sanders, Boston Scott and Jordan Howard can do, but Johnson and Gainwell are wild cards. Will Johnson’s knees allow him to return to his rookie form from 2018 with the Lions? Can Gainwell come in as a 4th-round rookie and learn the offense, catch the football and pick up the blitz? Johnson and Gainwell are both intriguing prospects, but both will have to shine to earn playing time in a crowded backfield.
4. Landon Dickerson: Hopefully, Dickerson is cleared to practice either at the start of camp or soon after because I want to see this kid line up against Fletcher Cox and Javon Hargrave during OL-DL drills. Those 1-on-1 drills are always a highlight of practice because you’re not getting any help, you’re on your own and there’s nowhere to hide if you get beat, and they’re guaranteed to get chippy. Really hope we get to see Dickerson in action soon.
5. K’Von Wallace: This is an older secondary. Rodney McLeod is 31, Darius Slay 30, Anthony Harris 29 and Steve Nelson 28, and of that group only Slay is signed beyond this year. The Eagles definitely need some new blood in the mix, and Wallace, a 4th-round pick last year, is one of the few younger prospects in the defensive backfield. With McLeod coming off a knee injury and little safety depth behind McLeod and Harris, everybody is looking for a big jump in Year 2 for the former Clemson star.
6. Lane Johnson: I think everybody around the Eagles is holding their breath with Johnson, coming off another surgery to repair an ankle injury that dates back to the 2018 game against the Jaguars at Wembley. Johnson is 31 now and has only started and finished 13 games over the past two years. Can he still be the Pro Bowl right tackle he was from 2017 through 2019? A lot of eyes will be on Johnson this summer.
7. Defensive line: There’s so much talent here, and this should be one of the NFL’s best defensive lines. It’s really the heart of the team, led by Brandon Graham and Fletcher Cox, who’ve played a combined 313 games in Eagles uniforms. Now, this group has its fourth position coach in four years and a new defensive coordinator. How will all these pieces fit together? How will playing time be alloted? How deep a rotation will Jonathan Gannon use? We’ll start to get an idea of all of these questions over the next few weeks.
8. Left tackle: Most training camp competitions aren’t true competitions. We all know who’s going to come out ahead 99 percent of the time. Andre Dillard vs. Jordan Mailata is different. This will be legit and a lot of fun to watch.
9. J.J. Arcega-Whiteside: I didn’t include him with the “young receivers” because he’s now in his third year and running out of chances. But he is a former 2nd-round pick and the Eagles will give him every opportunity to show that he can play.
10. Jalen Hurts: Not much more to say here than what we’ve been saying all offseason. You want to see how Hurts commands the huddle, how well he’s learned Sirianni’s offense, how he understands what Gannon’s defense is doing to stop him and more than anything how accurately he’s throwing the football. Can’t wait to see him in action!
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