When the season began, the Eagles had one of the oldest groups of skill players in the league. The nine backs, receivers and tight ends on the field for the opener against the Redskins averaged 27.6 years old.
When the Eagles face the Redskins again on Sunday, that number will be down to 23.3.
DeSean Jackson and Darren Sproles are long gone. Alshon Jeffery’s season is over.
The new guard is in place, and if the Eagles are going to win the NFC East it’s going to be with a bunch of kids with lots of energy and talent but very little experience.
But one thing stands out about all the young guys. They don’t act like young guys.
This is a youth movement by age but not by attitude.
“It comes from being around all these the vets and seeing how they go about their business,” rookie running back Miles Sanders said. “You don’t see a lot of playing around and joking around here. They go about their business and get their work done, and we kind of take after them. You don’t want to be the guy out there messing up or they’re not going to trust you to be out there. So it’s just that type of mindset that we have. We’ve got to be on our (stuff) and be accountable.”
When the season began, the Eagles had the 3rd-oldest roster in the NFL.
They’re now 17th-oldest.
It’s too early to determine how many of these young guys are here for the long haul. But one thing that ties them all together is a serious-minded approach to football.
And that’s not always the case with young guys.
“It just shows how serious they are about it,” said Zach Ertz, at 29 an elder statesman. “As a veteran player, you want to see the young guys come in and take this extremely seriously because we put a lot of stock in this thing and we’ve been through it for so long and so it’s extremely important to us. So as a veteran player, you want to see that, and that’s a very easy way to gain trust from the older guys — seeing them approach it a certain way. Not just when they’re starting or playing a lot but how they’ve been approaching it the whole offseason.”
The Eagles go into Washington for a crucial game Sunday, and five running backs and receivers likely to be in the rotation — Sanders and Boston Scott at running back, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, Greg Ward and Robert Davis at receiver — have played 44 career games.
The Eagles are putting a tremendous amount of responsibility on these kids at a key moment in the season.
“Some guys have the work ethic, some guys just don’t have it,” Ertz said. “Some guys think they’re still in college, and it’s not a job, where other guys kind of embrace it and say, ‘This is my profession, this is what I’m going to do, this is what I’m passionate about and hopefully I want to play for a long time, so I’ve got to take this thing seriously and invest in it so it pays off in the long run.’”
Sanders, the rookie second-round pick, has had a significant role all year, but Scott, Ward, Robert Davis and Josh Perkins all came from the practice squad and Arcega-Whiteside didn't play for much of the season.
Now they’re all in key roles for a team that’s struggled but is somehow in the playoff hunt.
“These guys take it very seriously,” Nate Sudfeld said. “I’ve got a unique perspective on it because I’ve been around these guys for a long time, so I see the work they put in behind the scenes, and it’s not easy to keep putting in the work when you don’t feel like it’s showing out on game days because you’re not playing. But to see those guys putting in this work behind the scenes, doing things the right way, and taking advantage of opportunities, that’s why everyone respects them.”
We’ve all seen young guys who have plenty of talent but for whatever reason never pan out.
Maybe they liked to party too much. Maybe they didn't spend enough time studying. Maybe they thought talent along was enough to get by.
We haven’t seen any of that this year.
Where is this coming from?
A lot of it starts with Sanders, who is kind of the unofficial leader of the youth movement. At 22, he’s such a serious, driven kid, and his attitude clearly rubs off on everybody else.
But it goes deeper than that. A big part of player evaluation is trying to determine what kind of people you’re adding to your team.
One clown, one key guy who isn’t putting in the work, can destroy a locker room. Because others invariably follow him and wind up off track themselves.
“These guys, they could very easily be just excited for the opportunity to get on the field, and it is a big moment for them, they’ve worked really, really hard and now have the opportunity to contribute as a starter in the NFL,” Malcolm Jenkins said. “But I think they’re all locked and loaded on what the team needs to do to win, and that’s a testament to them, it’s a testament to the leadership on the team, as well as the coaches. While they’re happy and excited to be here, it’s all business.”
Sanders certainly looks like a stud, but it’s way too early to predict what kind of careers most of these kids will have or what next year’s roster will look like.
But for a team that really hasn’t had many exciting young offensive contributors in recent years, at least there’s hope.
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