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Summary from the Final Week of Camp
Jalen Hurts ended the preseason with only ten snaps under center, which wasn’t the plan but a stomach illness in Week 2 led to the truncated game exposure. Head coach Nick Sirianni was comfortable sitting his starters, including Hurts, in Week 3 after several intense days of joint practices against the Jets. “The way we played that practice was a game, and we treated the post-practice just as we would a game,” Sirianni said. “We came in, and we evaluated. We did the whole film session, and the charts that we look at just like a postgame.” Hurts was erratic during training camp but showed well in team drills, particularly once his full complement of skill players were on the field. Joe Flacco’s hold on the No. 2 role looked unassailable until this week when Howie Roseman acquired Gardner Minshew from the Jaguars. Minshew is only 23 years old and has 20 NFL starts; he could displace Flacco as he gets comfortable with the playbook.
Miles Sanders disappointed last year, particularly as a receiver and in protecting the football. Those problems combined with a new coaching staff led many to wonder if Sanders would be pushed into a full-fledged committee. As the preseason ends, it’s clear those fears were overdone. Sanders had momentary lapses as a receiver during training camp but finished strong. More importantly, coach Sirianni kept Sanders out of the preseason games because he already knew what Sanders could do as the lead back. Presumptive No. 2 Boston Scott didn’t have a bad summer and likely enters the season as the backup, but his hold on the role isn’t assured. Rookie Kenneth Gainwell got a ton of playing time in the preseason and flashed an explosiveness Scott doesn’t possess. The only question on the roster was whether Jordan Howard or Jason Huntley did enough to make the 53-man roster as the No. 4, but the team released both backs opting for a 3-man backfield.
No team has gotten less from its wide receivers over the last two years than Philadelphia, but that should change this year, barring significant injuries. Rookie DeVonta Smith missed some time in camp but asserted himself as the No. 1 upon returning to practice. He’s the team’s top pass catcher and will be a Week 1 starter. Jalen Reagor was inconsistent during camp and looked lost at times but finished strong enough for fans to hope he can still live up to his potential as a first-round draft pick. The surprise of the summer was Quez Watkins’ dominance. Thought to be on the bubble entering camp, he was arguably the most impressive offensive player at any position this summer and earned a starting role. He’ll be on the field in 3WR situations, at worst, but could also split time with Reagor, given the formation.
Do the Eagles have a late-summer trade lined up for Zach Ertz? While it cannot be ruled out, for now, it looks like Ertz will not only stick with the team but he should be heavily involved. The veteran enjoyed a healthy summer and outperformed Dallas Goedert handily, although Goedert has a history of being a “gamer” who shines on Sundays more than in practice. Barring the trade, expect Ertz and Goedert to play a lot in 12-personnel groupings. The third tight end spot is up for grabs. Still, most observers expect converted quarterback Tyree Jackson to stick on the 53-man roster initially only to be placed on Injured Reserve in Week 1, so he can return later in the year; he’s out at least 8-10 weeks with a back injury.
The defensive line is jam-packed with talent, and there will be Eagles linemen signed as priority free agents once 53-man roster cuts are finalized. Fletcher Cox is healthy and excited by his new running mate, Javon Hargrave. Hargrave was a big free-agent signing last year but got hurt, but he was dominant this summer. Both Brandon Graham and rookie Milton Williams can play both end and tackle, depending on the game script. Finally, Derek Barnett, Josh Sweat, and Ryan Kerrigan provide more than enough conventional pass rush. The linebacking corps isn’t quite set in stone, but free agent Eric Wilson took hold of the No. 1 job and will be the defense’s quarterback. Returning starters Alex Singleton and T.J. Edwards are the favorites to start alongside Wilson but won’t play as much given DC Jonathan Gannon’s propensity for nickel and dime formations. The secondary is the Achilles heel because neither Zech McPherson nor Avonte Maddox invokes confidence at cornerback.
Jason Huntley impressed as a kickoff returner but failed in his bid to make the roster. Kickoffs will likely fall to Boston Scott while veteran punt returner Greg Ward is a good bet to keep the job, though the team has also looked at rookie DeVonte Smith.
Summary from Week 3 of Camp
Jalen Hurts was supposed to start against the Patriots but ended up in the hospital with a stomach illness. It was thankfully nothing serious, and he was back at practice on Sunday. Although the second-year starter didn’t play as planned, he had his best week of practices leading up to the game, looking better than either Cam Newton or Mac Jones during joint sessions with New England. The Athletic’s Bo Wulf rated Hurts as one of the five best stories coming out of the preseason. He explains: “Hurts started the summer slowly and steadily improved over the course of camp. His deep balls have been a thing of beauty, his willingness to throw the ball over the middle of the field has jumped from last season, and his interceptions have been rare. We’ve only seen two series of live-action with him at the helm, but Hurts has done enough to make Eagles fans excited about what he’ll look like in Week 1.” Joe Flacco has been erratic, but he’s more experienced than most NFL starters and should be fine as a game manager, at least for a game or two.
Last week, head coach Nick Sirianni kept Sanders out of the preseason lineup because the back had nothing to prove. This week, Sanders played four snaps to open the game but was quickly sat because, again, he has nothing to prove, and the coaches want him healthy for a heavy workload in Week 1. Rumors of Jordan Howard’s demise were greatly exaggerated as some beat writers projected him cut on final roster cutdowns just two weeks ago. Since then, Howard has pushed his way back into the rotation, including running with the starters against New England after Sanders sat. Boston Scott – considered the obvious No. 2 at the start of the preseason – has been quiet in recent weeks; his role is up in the air. Rookie Kenneth Gainwell will make the team, too, but he won’t have a significant role unless injuries force Sirianni’s hand.