The ultimate Eagles OTA preview: Offense edition

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OTA’s are nearly upon us. The Philadelphia Eagles will return to the NovaCare Complex for the second phase of their offseason workout program which begins tomorrow and there is plenty to be discussed. Here is everything you need to know about the week ahead and what it means for the stars and underdogs alike.

 

Quarterback:

While we won’t expect to see much of Carson Wentz over the next week or two, that doesn’t mean that the position won’t be worth watching. Talking of Wentz, the franchise QB has already been a presence in and around the Eagles facility and it would hardly be surprising to see him itching to get into the thick of it once again. Nobody is expecting him to come out with a red jersey on, but with two youthful players looking to compete for a roster spot, it will be really interesting to see how close he is to the other quarterbacks who are competing.

Newly promoted QB coach, Press Taylor, will have a flurry of arms at his disposal, including Super Bowl winning quarterback Nick Foles, Nate Sudfeld and Joe Callahan. Nick Foles will take most of the reps with the starters, but it’s worth noting that his participation in the program last year was limited, largely due to the birth of his child and also due to elbow soreness. If Foles assumes the role of the leading quarterback in absence of Wentz, then the stage becomes set for a very exciting period.

The OTA window opens with a huge battle between Nate Sudfeld and former Packers QB Joe Callahan. The war for QB3 will be one that transcends OTA’s and runs deep into Training Camp, but with a year of schematic experience under his belt and a week 17 game behind him, Sudfeld strides in to the offseason looking to build on the progress made so far and one day inherit the QB2 spot. Callahan meanwhile has proven himself in the preseason for Green Bay after signing as an UDFA back in 2016. After spending time with the Saints and Browns, he has a full offseason to compete for a roster spot in Philadelphia and it’s something the surprisingly mobile signal-caller won’t be taking lightly.

It’s early days yet, but seeing how much Sudfeld has developed from first signing with the team last season, to where he is now will be a really strong indicator of the strength of the coaching tree that Howie Roseman planted after drafting Wentz. Let the fun begin!

 

Running back:

Arguably the most exciting positional battle on the entire roster, the prospect of a complete reshaping at running back remains a distinct possibility heading into OTA’s. The Eagles didn’t draft some extra reinforcement after losing LeGarrette Blount, but they did however sign undrafted free agent Josh Adams, and a running back who torched the Eagles back in 2016, Matt Jones.

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That’s all well and good, but there are two more backs in the thick of competition. Wendell Smallwood was rapidly displaced by Corey Clement last season, despite the fact he completely changed his running style during the offseason. Smallwood became a prominent special teams contributor as his offensive role diminished, but he will be vying to make up for lost time when OTA’s open tomorrow.

Then, there’s Donnell Pumphrey. The return of Darren Sproles really doesn’t bode well for the 2017 draftee who struggled during camp and preseason, eventually ending up on IR with an injury. Pumphrey didn’t produce what was advertised during his explosive SDSU career and the Eagles committee shaped itself without his presence. With Sproles back to fill that versatile void once again, the pressure is really on for Pumphrey to take all of those mental reps and put them to good use.

The two backs we haven’t mentioned (Jay Ajayi and Corey Clement) will likely be the mainstays here. The committee effort usually consists of 3/4 backs and Ajayi’s role only increased as time went on following his trade to the Eagles before the Denver game. Clement’s snap-count also dramatically increased. At first, he was a change-of-pace back who could wear down the defense and the clock in late-game situations…but as the season wore on, Clement took on a much bigger role. Expect Ajayi and Clement to be the starting tandem who set the tone, while the utter underdog free for all takes place behind them.

There are plenty of unanswered running back questions and OTA’s won’t answer all of them, but it will at least shape up the structure for Training Camp and give us a firm indicator as to who has the early advantage of earning those clinical rotation roles.

 

Offensive line:

The best offensive front in the league didn’t see much change during the offseason, but there are several things to keep an eye on. The starting five should remain the same, although whether or not Jason Peters will be back for OTA’s will be a factor here due to his age and conditioning. Pederson has previously expressed great confidence in the future hall of famer, knowing that Peters can take care of his body and stamina without being at voluntary workouts.

This brings us to Big V, who performed admirably in place of Peters during 2017. The development he showed between his rookie season and what we saw in the Minnesota game for instance was staggering and we can expect Vaitai to continue to grow. Especially as he will now be mentoring former TCU teammate, Matt Pryor. I spoke with the Eagles rookie just before minicamp and he expressed great excitement when it came to reuniting with his friend.

“Even freshman year at TCU he was showing me the ropes playing tackle, or helping me get used to a new state (being from California), how to handle college, football and classes at the same time.” Pryor said, speaking glowingly of his former and future teammate. The two didn’t take long to re-ignite their chemistry, either.

“Five minutes after the call (From the Eagles), I text him.” The 6’7, 338 lbs lineman stated. “He was talking about how excited he is to be teammates again, telling me the ropes, how great an organization the Eagles are, what a great city Philadelphia is and just giving me all the details. But this is something he spoke to me about before I knew I was going there.”

This conveniently brings us to the left guard battle. Pryor can play just about every spot if asked but listed as a guard, he will either be competing for the starting role or backing up Brandon Brooks on the opposite side of Jason Kelce. Behind Wisniewski at LG, there remains little in the way of depth. Isaac Seumalo and Chance Warmack both tried and failed to win that starting role last year, going as far as 2 weeks into the regular season before Pederson decided to roll with the more reliable player in Wisniewski.

This will be Seumalo’s third season to try and earn himself a spot as a starter on the Eagles offensive line and it could be one of the last ‘chances’ (sorry) for Warmack to do the same. The former first round pick was inconsistent during his lone season as an Eagle and with Wisniewski contracted for two more years, the Eagles have time to develop the heir to his throne. Warmack doesn’t have that luxury and confidence may finally be starting to dwindle on Seumalo. If Pryor can come in red hot and start making an impact, then the entire depth rotation at guard could see a huge shift in momentum by the time training camp rolls around.

At tackle, many of the eyes will naturally be on Jordan Mailata. The former rugby star who was selected in the 7th round by the Eagles didn’t exactly stun in his rookie minicamp debut, but that was expected. There is a LOT to take in and the coaching staff were wasting no time in throwing him in the deep end. Linemen are much more than just dominant athletes and keeping an eye on Mailata’s progress will no doubt be in the interest of many.

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Tight End:

The TE picture is also one that has changed quite a lot. Losing Trey Burton to the Bears stung the Eagles, that goes without saying. But drafting Dallas Goedert in the second round was a HUGE move. Back-to-back 1,000 yard season’s don’t just happen by chance and Goedert has the potential to become one of the next big receiving TE threats in the league. Of course, having Zach Ertz to help show you the ropes is always a bonus.

The Eagles also lost Brent Celek, a future franchise hall of famer who devoted his entire career to the City of Philadelphia. A leader who helped shape the careers of James Casey, Zach Ertz and Trey Burton, Celek’s diminishing role has now gone completely and in his place, former Packers Tight End Richard Rodgers now stands. Rodgers could be in line to fill that ‘blocking’ niche, which takes responsibility off of the rookie and gives Goedert some receiving freedom as he takes the TE2 spot.

*On that note, seeing if Joe Callahan strikes a chord with his former teammate will certainly be worth keeping an eye on, with both players deeply entrenched in roster battles.*

The shakeup has left two undrafted free agents from last year seemingly out in the cold, one of whom was previously projected to make a real impact in his second offseason with the team. The silky soft hands of Billy Brown will face a tough task in forcing his way onto the roster, but it wouldn’t be the first time that the Eagles have kept a fourth tight end around…*cough cough, Mr Burton.* Brown will be joined by another former rugby star in Adam Zaruba as the long shots who have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

OTA’s may not exactly be the best proving ground for a tight end, but with just about every prospect not named Zach Ertz having something to prove and a role to cement, it makes for another really exciting roster battle to watch.

 

Wide receiver:

Alshon Jeffery won’t be an active participant due to a shoulder surgery, but this opens the door for a huge wide receiver showdown. The Eagles currently have 12 wide receivers on the roster and only Nelson Agholor realistically has his starting role locked down.

Newly signed Mike Wallace will be tracked down by Markus Wheaton. Both veterans bring very different skillsets to the table, with Wallace opening the field with his speed and Wheaton’s injury plagued career on the edge of a complete resurgence or an unfortunate decline, these two explosive receivers will leave it all on the field, even without pads.

Behind the older guys are the likes of Mack Hollins and Shelton Gibson. Hollins will most likely stand in behind Nelson Agholor in the slot, as he’s able to manipulate linebackers, nickel corners and safeties with his bigger frame and explosive burst from the line of scrimmage. We all saw just how lethal Hollins can be, averaging over 14.1 yards per reception in his rookie season, but Gibson remains very much a wildcard.

After struggling to show any signs of consistency during camp and preseason, Gibson spent a year in the shadows until a brief appearance in the week 17 loss to Dallas. Gibson electrified during his time at WVU but it appears that drops and confidence were the stones weighing a rookie-season breakout down. It will be interesting to see if Gunter Brewer, a coach who has worked with Randy Moss, Dez Bryant and most recently Mack Hollins, can get the best out of a very capably explosive receiver who could one day take over the WR2 spot, growing into that role while the veterans produce currently.

Beyond those players, there remains the true underdogs. Players such as Bryce Treggs, returns ace Tim Wilson, former QB Greg Ward and a resurgent former Bear in Marquess Wilson. There always seems to be one pleasant surprise when it comes to Eagles wide receiver battles. Whether it’s Paul Turner or Rasheed Bailey, the Eagles are no strangers to finding those stunning standouts during a grueling offseason campaign. Could one of these names steal the spotlight when the competition level is higher than ever?

 

Who are you excited to keep an eye on this week? Let us know in the comments and stay locked in to Philly Sports Network for the latest OTA updates.

 

Mandatory Credit: Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports

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