These days, for an Eagles reporter, seeing Tim Jernigan at the NovaCare Complex is akin to spotting a Sasquatch.
Jernigan is on the Non-football Injury list after having offseason surgery for a herniated disk, so he hasn’t yet been cleared to practice. But after the injury, that reportedly happened during a workout, and the surgery that followed and his agreeing to a significant pay cut that basically wiped out an extension he signed during last season, this entire Tim Jernigan saga is still very much shrouded in mystery.
And it seems like there’s plenty of reason to be concerned.
Eagles head coach Doug Pederson did nothing to alleviate that concern Saturday morning, when he was asked if he’s still counting on Jernigan for this season and gave a less-than-reassuring response.
“I think so,” Pederson said. “Yeah, again, he's another one that we've just got to be diligent with. Obviously, with the [back] and everything, we've got to be careful.”
If you were listening live to Pederson’s press conference, he actually said “neck” instead of “back,” which would have been news. But a team spokesperson said the head coach simply misspoke.
Either way, there are serious questions about Jernigan’s status as the season opener looms, less than six weeks away. If Jernigan is transferred from the Active/Non-football Injury list to the real list before the start of the season, he would be forced to miss at least the first six weeks of the season. That definitely doesn’t seem far-fetched. In fact, it seems more likely with every passing day.
Again, Pederson’s answer about Jernigan’s recent activity left plenty of questions about whether or not Jernigan will be able to avoid that fate:
He's inside. He's rehabbing. He's around in the afternoons in meetings. He's at the walkthroughs. He's with his position. So him and Brandon Graham are both — you don't see Tim out here as much based on we just don't want him getting banged around on accident or something like that. He's doing everything inside with the meetings, he's sticking around with his walkthroughs, and he's getting all the mental reps right now.
That doesn’t seem encouraging. Closing in on five weeks to the start of the season and the Eagles won’t even allow Jernigan outside for fear that someone could bump into him. Hard to imagine Jernigan going from that to bull-rushing offensive guards on Sept. 6 or anytime soon after.
With Jernigan out during the first four days of training camp, Destiny Vaeao has been lining up next to Fletcher Cox with the starting defensive line. Vaeao, 24, came to the Eagles as an undrafted free agent before the 2016 season and seems to be well-liked by the coaching staff. He’s solid, dependable. But he’s not nearly as disruptive as Jernigan has shown he can be.
Beyond Vaeao, the Eagles also have former All-Pro Haloti Ngata, who has been working with the second-string defensive line so far during camp. Ngata is completely healed from a biceps injury that ended his 2017 season in Detroit early, but it’s fair to wonder if the Eagles can really ask the 34-year-old to be more than a rotational player.
After Vaeao and Ngata, the Eagles have more questions marks. Elijah Qualls is an unproven second-year player. Aziz Shittu has shown flashes. And the Eagles can sometimes move Michael Bennett or Brandon Graham inside and they probably will in pass-rushing situations.
Still, the best possible thing is getting Jernigan back on the field as soon as possible. It just seems like it isn’t all that likely.