What should we make of Jalen Reagor playing in the slot? What’s the latest with Zach Ertz? Will the Eagles be able to sneak Tyree Jackson onto the practice squad?
All this and much more in a game-day edition of Roob’s 10 Eagles training camp observations!
1. I like seeing Reagor working this summer in the slot. Nothing against Greg Ward, who’s steady and consistent and catches everything, but his 8.3 career yards per catch ranks 155th out of 160 active WRs with at least 50 career receptions and this offense needs more explosion than that.
There’ll always be a spot for Ward on my team and a situational role for him on offense, but playing the slot doesn't have to mean a slower possession-type guy. A more vertical slot adds a dimension the Eagles didn’t have last year, and Reagor’s skill set seems well suited to playing inside. That opens up an outside spot for either Travis Fulgham or Quez Watkins opposite DeVonta Smith and creates more matchup problems than having Smith and Reagor outside and Ward inside. And Reagor will be drawing a slot corner most of the time instead of a top outside corner, and that could help him get untracked.
Reagor seems happy getting snaps in the slot, which is big. I like his attitude lately. The defensiveness we saw last year has disappeared and he now seems more confident and mature. I’m still not sure what the Eagles have in Reagor, but the slot should give him more opportunities to show what he can do.
2. Speaking of Watkins, I’ve been raving about this kid all summer, and so far he’s lived up to the hype. He still isn’t getting many first-team reps, but he’s outplayed Fulgham, and I’m at the point where I’ll be surprised if he’s not one of the Eagles’ leading WRs this year.
How unusual would that be? The last receiver the Eagles drafted in the sixth round or later with more than 150 receiving yards in his entire Eagles career was Tony Woodruff, a ninth-round pick in 1982 who caught 36 passes for 554 yards from 1982 through 1984. The last Eagles WR drafted in the sixth round or later with 500 yards in a season? How about that Harold Carmichael, who went into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday.
3. A week ago I was getting a little concerned about Joe Flacco, but after a slow start he had a good second week and on Tuesday probably had his best practice yet. He’s clearly ahead of Nick Mullens, so if you’re thinking there’s a chance Mullens could win the No. 2 job, don’t. Not going to happen.
Not trying to be an alarmist here, but the reality is that most years the Eagles have needed their backup to play meaningful snaps. The exceptions in recent years? A few seasons with Donovan McNabb early in his career, 2016 with the rookie from North Dakota State and that’s it over the last 30 years. The last eight times the Eagles reached the postseason — 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2013, 2017, 2018 and 2019 — the backup QB played meaningful snaps.
Maybe Jalen Hurts can stay healthy and effective for 17 games, but the odds are Flacco will have to play at some point, and this past week provided a little confidence that he can go out there, run the offense and be a functional QB at 36 years old.
4. Here’s a name for you to remember: Kayode Awosika. He’s an undrafted rookie combo guard-tackle out of Buffalo, where he was a teammate of Jackson. Watching team and 1-on-1 drills he constantly jumps out at you. Awosika has worked at guard this summer, and he’s incredibly strong at 6-foot-3, 310 pounds and seems to move well.
He’s a raw talent but the kind of kid Jeff Stoutland has that knack of molding into an NFL player. Keep an eye on No. 72 Thursday night when the Eagles open the preseason against the Steelers at the Linc. The Eagles might have something here.
5. Steve Nelson has looked so good in camp. Is that because the Eagles’ receivers — without Smith in the mix — just aren’t giving the corners enough of a challenge? Nelson is a smart, experienced veteran corner with 68 starts under his belt working against a bunch of unproven young WRs trying to learn a new offense, and for the most part it’s been a mismatch. He's been very good.
I’m not sure how much of it is that Nelson is a better No. 2 corner than we’ve seen around here in a while or that the WRs are still finding their way. Probably a little of both. One thing is certain: Nelson is worlds better than what the Eagles had at outside corner before they signed him.
6. He hasn’t spoken to the media since camp began, he looks miserable between snaps, he often stands by himself away from his teammates between drills and then there’s the bleached-blond hair and backwards shorts. Ertz has made it clear he’s disappointed he’s still here. But … he’s had a heck of a camp and has really looked close to his old self.
I still think the Eagles ought to keep him around. Hurts could sure use a steady, veteran TE like Ertz. And if I’m Ertz, I’d be thrilled to get $8.5 million coming off a 36-catch season. How things got this bad I still don’t understand, but whatever team Ertz is with, I’ll be shocked if he doesn’t have a big bounce-back season.
7. This is the kind of thing maybe only I find interesting: The Eagles’ two most veteran position groups (by far) are the two lines. Six of the nine Eagles in their 30s play on the O-line or D-line, and their two oldest position coaches (by far) are 55-year-old Tracy Rocker and 59-year-old Stoutland. Grizzled veteran coaches for grizzled veteran players, young ascending coaches for young ascending players. Maybe it’s a coincidence, but there’s a symmetry to it and some logic to it as well.
8. I’m always the first guy to say that NFL teams can almost always waive even the most impressive undrafted free agent dude onto the practice squad. It’s really hard for NFL teams to claim a guy after final cuts. You’ve just put together a roster of 53 guys who were with you throughout the offseason and training camp, guys you’ve invested months in, who’ve learned your system and culture, who you liked enough to keep on your final roster, and now you’re going to cut one of them to make room for an unknown, untested guy from another team because he made some plays in training camp or preseason games?
Probably 99 percent of the time you can get those guys through waivers and onto your practice squad. But I’m at the point now where I don’t want to take that chance with Jackson. I’ve seen enough. He can play. The Eagles need to find a spot on the 53 for the 23-year-old rookie quarterback-turned-tight end. They can’t risk losing him.
9A. There’s never been a season where three Eagles RBs have had 250 receiving yards. I won’t be surprised if that changes this year with Miles Sanders, Boston Scott and Kenny Gainwell. The combination of a bunch of good receiving backs, a young inexperienced quarterback, question marks in the receiving corps and an offense that emphasizes quick passes is going to give the backs a lot of opportunities to catch the ball.
And, heck, 250 yards is 15 per game. If those three guys stay healthy — and Sanders can eliminate the drops — the backs are going to be a huge part of the Eagles’ passing game this fall.
9B. Speaking of receiving backs, how ridiculously great was Brian Westbrook? He’s one of only two RBs in NFL history with at least four seasons with 600 yards both rushing and receiving. The other one is Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk. What a talent.
10. Really looking forward to keeping an eye on Nick Sirianni Thursday night. Just the way he interacts with his players and coaches, how he manages the clock, how he’s able to get the offense in a rhythm with his play calling, how he responds to adversity and just how much command he shows over the entire sideline.
The result of the game might not count, but this is the first real test for Sirianni as a head coach, and it should be very revealing.
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