Eagles Will Limp Into Cleveland
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - Doug Pederson need not worry about one of his superstitions.
"Maybe I’m being superstitious, but I really don’t like being 4-0 in the preseason,” the Super Bowl-winning coach said on Tuesday.
Since he's already 0-2 in August, my top-tier math skills tell me a perfect preseason is not in the cards for the Eagles this time around but Pederson also mentioned the importance of starting fast in today's NFL along with the need to see his top players execute better during the all-important, dress-rehearsal game in Cleveland on Thursday.
But that's not easy when so many projected starters will remain sidelined against the Browns, most notably quarterback Carson Wentz, who still has not been cleared for contact after his ACL/LCL surgery, receivers Alshon Jeffery, who remains on the PUP list after offseason shoulder surgery, and Nelson Agholor (lower-body), running back Jay Ajayi (lower-body), left tackle Jason Peters (rest) and defensive end Brandon Graham (ankle).
Wentz returned to team drills on Sunday and continues to wait for the all clear from the doctors.
“He’s doing well,” Pederson said when discussing Wentz. “He’s moving well. He’s making good decisions, throwing the ball extremely well. We talked about his arm the other day being live and fresh. He’s doing the right things with his rehab. We’ve been excited.”
Many other contributors will also not see any action, including all three members of the team's projected running back-by-committee setup, Ajayi, Corey Clement (ankle) and Darren Sproles (rest), as well as promising rookie Josh Adams (lower-body), leaving only two bodies to carry the load at the position in Cleveland: Wendell Smallwood and Matt Jones.
"It's a great opportunity for both of them," Pederson said when discussing the RB situation. "They're both veteran players who have played a lot of football in this league and it's one of those battles that we've been keeping our eye on this training camp and it's great for both of them."
Adams was, however, able to return to practice on Tuesday so there is at least a possibility he could be in play for Thursday.
The starters who are available are set to play at least a half, a group that will include QB Nick Foles, who suffered a minor shoulder injury against the Pats but never missed a practice.
“Typically this game I’d like to see them at least get through the first half and hopefully situations in games like this you want to see maybe a two-minute drive either offensively or defensively,” Pederson said. “We can simulate that in practice, but to do it in a real game would be great. So hopefully they can get to that point.”
The coach is also looking for a better performance from the Super Bowl MVP, who struggled mightily against the Patriots before leaving with the injury.
“You guys saw a couple throws early in the game were just not Nick Foles type throws as far as accuracy goes," Pederson said. "So, just making those routine type plays and just overall executi on. I would love to see a touchdown drive or two, obviously, or points out of the first unit."
PRE-DRESS REHEARSAL 53-MAN ROSTER PREDICTION:
QUARTERBACKS (3): Carson Wentz, Nick Foles, Nate Sudfeld
No changes here from my pre-training camp edition but the Eagles are giving Christian Hackenberg the practice-squad audition with an eye on 2019.
RUNNING BACKS (4): Jay Ajayi, Corey Clement, Darren Sproles, Wendell Smallwood
Smallwood has stealthily taken lead for the No. 4 job because of his value on special teams.
WIDE RECEIVERS (5): Alshon Jeffery, Mike Wallace, Nelson Agholor, Shelton Gibson, Mack Hollins
Injuries have decimated the competition for the potential No. 6 spot and Richard Rodgers' knee injury looks significant enough to where the Eagles will need another body at tight end early in the season.
TIGHT ENDS (4): Zach Ertz, Dallas Goedert, Richard Rodgers, Joshua Perkins
Spotted Rodgers walking out of the NovaCare Complex with a very bulky brace on his right leg and Sept. 6 is closing rapidly. Unless the Eagles are comfortable using Isaac Seumalo as the third TE for a few weeks and limiting their 13 personnel packages, Joshua Perkins, who has had a solid summer as a receiver, could be the placeholder early in the season.
OFFENSIVE LINE (9): Jason Peters, Stefen Wisniewski, Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks, Lane Johnson, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Isaac Seumalo, Matt Pryor, Chance Warmack
Sorry, Jordan Mailata fans, it's the practice squad or IR for the long-term project to start and Warmack gets the final roster spot in the battle between Jeff Stoutland favorites.
DEFENSIVE LINE (10): Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox, Haloti Ngata, Michael Bennett, Derek Barnett, Chris Long, Destiny Vaeao, Bruce Hector, Steven Means, Josh Sweat, Tim Jernigan (NFI)
One change from my pre-camp roster prediction is Hector, the undrafted free agent, beating out Elijah Qualls for the Tim Jernigan spot. It's a six-of-one, half-dozen-of-the-other decision because the other will be on the practice squad but I think there is value in rewarding an undrafted guy who has had a better camp than the former draft pick.
LINEBACKERS (5): Jordan Hicks, Nathan Gerry, Kamu Grugier-Hill, LaRoy Reynolds, Joe Walker, Nigel Bradham (Suspended List)
Nigel Bradham is suspended for Week 1 so he won’t count against the Week 1 roster. This remains the biggest question mark on the team with Gerry taking over as the weak-side LB and Grugier-Hill and Reynolds being counted on as the special-teams stalwarts. Walker has outplayed Corey Nelson and he's the only Mike option behind the oft-injured Jordan Hicks.
CORNERBACKS (6): Ronald Darby, Jalen Mills, Sidney Jones, Avonte Maddox, Rasul Douglas, De’Vante Bausby
The issue isn't who's on the team, it's where they are going to play. When Corey Undlin was going through some combination coverages during individual drills at practice this week, it was Jones back in the slot. Bausby also needs to finish strongly to lock down his roster spot as he's taken a step back or two during preseason action.
SAFETIES (4): Malcolm Jenkins, Rodney McLeod, Corey Graham, Tre Sullivan, Chris Maragos (PUP)
With Chris Maragos still not ready to go, that opens the door for Tre Sullivan, who has easily held off undrafted rookies Jeremy Reaves and Stephen Roberts.
Specialists (3): K: Jake Elliott, P: Cameron Johnston, LS Rick Lovato
Pretty easy to predict when there is no competition. There has been some hand-wringing over Johnson and directional punting but the Eagles love him and working on stuff like that is what training camp and the preseason are for.
PRACTICE SQUAD (10):
QB Christian Hackenberg, RB Josh Adams, WR Greg Ward, WR Rashard Davis, TE Billy Brown, OT Jordan Mailata, DE Joe Ostman, DT Elijah Qualls, CB D.J. Killings, S Jeremy Reaves
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen