Eagles Training Camp: 5 storylines to watch

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts (1) and teammates warm up during practice at the NFL football teams training facility in Philadelphia, Thursday, June 8, 2023. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

It’s been nearly six months since the red-and-yellow confetti fell down onto the field at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. Tears have been shed. Complaints have been lodged. And knots have formed in stomachs.

The Philadelphia Eagles will forever be on the wrong side of history when it comes to Super Bowl LVII. However, it’s time to start anew and turn the page onto a new chapter: the 2023 football season has officially arrived.

The full squad reported to the NovaCare Complex for training camp on July 25 to take conditioning tests and pick up their playbooks. Now, it’s time to hit the practice field. The Eagles will keep it light this summer — 9 scheduled practices, plus 2 joint sessions with the Browns and Colts — just as they did in 2022. The formula worked as injuries were kept to a minimum; stick to the script and stay hydrated.

Eagles Training Camp: 5 Storylines to Watch

The Eagles enter the 2023 campaign with no real drama. Yes, they lost some key starters from the Super Bowl runner-up team — RG Isaac Seumalo, S C.J. Gardner-Johnson, S Marcus Epps, RB Miles Sanders, DT Javon Hargrave, LB Kyzir White, LB T.J. Edwards — but the core nucleus remains intact. General manager Howie Roseman had a blueprint in place to fill those spots, and it’s tough to argue with the early sketches. Here are the storylines we’ll be watching at camp:

Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Quez Watkins (16) carries the ball against Washington Commanders safety Bobby McCain (20) during the second half of an NFL football game, Monday, Nov. 14, 2022, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

1. The Sultan of the Slot: The battle for the starting slot receiver spot between Olamide Zaccheaus and Quez Watkins has the potential to get heated. Watkins has been cagey about the team’s decision to bring in Zaccheaus, with Jalen Hurts saying the burner from Southern Miss “uses everything as fuel.” Words are great but actions speak louder.

Watkins will have to prove his drop in the Super Bowl was a mere blip on the radar to keep his job atop the depth chart. And he’s going to have to hold off a guy coming off a career year. Zaccheaus caught 93 percent of catchable balls in the slot, according to Pro Football Focus.

CHICAGO, IL – AUGUST 21: Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Sean Desai looks on during a preseason game between the Chicago Bears and the Buffalo Bills on August 21, 2021 at Soldier Field in Chicago, IL. (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire)

2. Building a Defensive Identity: Jonathan is Gannon is out and Sean Desai is in. The new defensive coordinator has crowed about installing an aggressive defense — one that plays so violently that fans can feel it in their living rooms — and his players (see: Reed Blankenship) talked the talk at OTAs. But it’s time to prove it.

While Desai’s scheme will be a bit hidden at camp practices (for fear of showing it to the rest of the league), the identity of his defense should be apparent in every move they make and every rep they take. They can’t hit Jalen Hurts at practice but they can make him squirm. Remember, the Chicago Bears led the NFL in sacks per pass attempt (10.3%) when Desai was in charge.

LANDOVER, MD – JANUARY 02: Eagles cornerback Darius Slay (2) waits for the game to start during the Philadelphia Eagles versus Washington Football Team National Football League game at FedEx Field on January 2, 2022 in Landover, MD. (Photo by Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire)

3. Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing: Jalen Hurts’ favorite catchphrase applies as much to the mental aspect of the game as it does to the physical one. Players and coaches have to get along and block out the headache of the Super Bowl hangover. Easier said than done, especially since the Eagles inserted what could be a potential controversy into the mix: Matt Patricia vs. Darius Slay.

The two men claim the hatchet has been buried — dead and gone. Okay. But, what happens when Slay gets beat badly on a deep route by A.J. Brown? Does Patricia put the clip up on the video board and embarrass him? It’s a situation worth monitoring.

PHILADELPHIA, PA – JULY 30: Philadelphia Eagles running back Kenneth Gainwell (14) during Philadelphia Eagles training camp on July 30, 2021 at Novacare Complex in Philadelphia, PA (Photo by John Jones/Icon Sportswire)

4. Splitting the RB Reps: The Eagles let Miles Sanders leave in free agency without much of a fight. It could be argued they held the door open for him on the way out. Their vision was to load up the running backs room on cheap contracts. They traded for D’Andre Swift and signed Rashaad Penny while bringing back Boston Scott and Kenny Gainwell. It looks like a genius strategy with everything going on at that position.

Still, it’ll be interesting to see how the reps are split at camp between Swift and Penny. Is it 50/50? Or 40/60? There are plenty of rumblings about Swift being the presumed starter — the coaching staff has long been enthralled with his explosiveness as a receiver — but it would be stupid for them to not test what Penny can do behind that vaunted offensive line. This has all the makings of a Ford vs. Ferrari movie.

Howie Roseman eagles
PHILADELPHIA, PA – OCTOBER 14: Eagles General Manager Howie Roseman is pictured prior to the game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Philadelphia Eagles on October 14, 2021 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by John Jones/Icon Sportswire)

5. Watch Out for a Trade: Howie Roseman has popped the cork on trades in consecutive summers as a ceremonial way to close out camp. He grabbed Gardner Minshew in 2021, then made the bold move for C.J. Gardner-Johnson in 2022. It’s safe to say he’s going to be watching a few individual position battles — mainly at safety and linebacker — to see if he needs to make an upgrade. Budda Baker is one name that won’t go away. Ditto for Patrick Queen. It also wouldn’t be totally shocking to see him bring in another free agent at receiver. Jarvis Landry remains an intriguing option out there.

Other (way more obvious) storylines include the following position battles:

Starting Safety: Reed Blankenship vs. Terrell Edmunds vs. Sydney Brown: Barring a trade, it looks like these three guys are competing for two starting spots after Brown wowed at OTAs. Justin Evans and K’Von Wallace round out the depth chart behind the rookie third-rounder.

Starting Linebacker: Nicholas Morrow vs. Christian Elliss: Pencil in Nakobe Dean as one starter but his partner may yet be undecided. Morrow is the presumed weak-side linebacker, but Elliss raised his stock considerably at OTAs. Was it a smoke screen? Maybe, although there are reports that the organization is very high on Elliss. Shaun Bradley and Davion Taylor offer depth there.

Third-string Quarterback: Tanner McKee vs. Ian Book: Personally, this might be the most intriguing battle since the loser likely hits the waiver wire. Book never got a chance to get in a game in 2022, but the Eagles liked him enough to steal him off the Saints’ practice squad. Then, not surprisingly, they went out and drafted McKee in the sixth round. The Stanford product is an old-school pocket passer who … wait for it … kind of reminds me of Nick Foles.

Starting Right Guard: Cam Jurgens vs. Tyler Steen: This is by far the most important position battle as one of these guys looks to replace a borderline Pro Bowler in Isaac Seumalo. Jurgens would seem to have the inside track after red-shirting last year behind Jason Kelce. But, what if the Eagles don’t want to confuse him by converting him from center to right guard? They could choose to hand the job to their 321-pound rookie out of Alabama.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke