With the Jets (backups) and Eagles (backups) set to face off to conclude their respective preseasons, I asked Brandon Lee Gowton of Bleeding Green Nation a few questions on the state of the reigning Super Bowl champions.
1) Let’s just start off by talking about what this Super Bowl has meant to Philly and the Eagles fans. Their history and reputation is very reminiscent of the Jets’. The Eagles have had a lot of great teams and players - but could just never escape the wrath of the championship drought, as they and their fans never got respect from other fanbases (especially their NFC East rivals). But, they finally got it done. What did the title mean to you, Philadelphia, and the entire nation of Eagles fans?
First of all, I appreciate you giving me another opportunity to talk about how THE EAGLES WON THE SUPER BOWL.
The answer is that it means everything. The pain and suffering since 1960 (Philadelphia’s last championship victory) is no more. The taunts of “empty trophy case” and “no ringz” are over. We don’t have to go our entire lives wondering if we’ll ever even get to see the Eagles win the whole dang thing. It’s like a weight has been lifted. We can die happy now.
Everyone was always incredibly petty about how the Eagles had never won a Super Bowl. Now Eagles fans can finally enjoy being incredibly pretty about their favorite team’s Super Bowl victory.
2) So, the elephant in the room is Carson Wentz. How has he been progressing and is he going to be good to go Week 1? If he isn’t ready, is Nick Foles capable of repeating his playoff success, or is he due to fall towards the mean?
Wentz has been progressing well. He was looking pretty awesome early in training camp before the team decided to back him off from 11-on-11. The company line was that the Eagles saw enough positive signs from Wentz to not further risk re-injury in practice. Some were skeptical, but I didn’t see reason to doubt the team. Wentz returned to 11-on-11 on August 19 and has been splitting first team reps with Foles in practice since then. I’ve believed all along that Wentz is going to play in Week 1 and nothing I’ve seen or heard has made me come off that stance.
If Wentz somehow isn’t ready, Foles certainly gives the Eagles a chance to be competitive. But you never know with him. He’s the definition of a high variance quarterback. Sometimes he plays out of his mind and ends up becoming the Super Bowl MVP. Other times it’s painful to watch him miss easy throws and just generally look terrible. The hope is that Good Foles would show up for Week 1, of course, but there’s no guarantee. Bad Foles is the guy who has been present for the Eagles’ preseason games.
3) Jay Ajayi played very well after coming over to Philly via trade, as he averaged 5.8 yards per carry in the regular season and 4.4 per carry in the playoffs. However, since he was sharing work with LeGarrette Blount, he only averaged about 11 carries per game as an Eagle. Is the loss of Blount an important one, and will Ajayi be seeing a bigger role this season?
Losing Blount hurts more from a locker room perspective than it does an on-field one, and that’s meant as no disrespect to LG. I loved his time with the Eagles. He was obviously an important contributor in the Super Bowl with 14 carries for 90 yards (6.4 average) and one touchdown.
But there were also signs of ineffectiveness from the 31-year-old. From Week 12 through the NFC Championship Game, Blount only gained 148 yards on 51 carries (2.9 average).
The Eagles made the right decision to move forward with Jay Ajayi as their new “lead back.” I put that in quotes because the Eagles will certainly still get Darren Sproles and Corey Clement involved in their offense. But Philadelphia has every reason to give Ajayi a lot of work. He’s going to be a free agent after this season and bringing him back isn’t necessarily realistic given the Eagles’ tight cap situation. Not to mention how Howie Roseman (de)values running backs.
So, to answer your question, I can see Ajayi’s role increasing from last year. I do see more than 11 carries per game … but I don’t think he’s suddenly a 20 per game guy. I’ll split the difference and say around 15. I expect him to have a strong season.
4) How has the rookie class looked so far, in particular, Dallas Goedert? How are the roles of the class projecting?
Dallas “Philly” Goedert has looked flat out unstoppable in the red zone this offseason. He should be able to offer some level of instant impact for the Eagles. I don’t think he’ll post crazy big volume numbers, especially with Zach Ertz ahead of him, but he will be scoring some touchdowns. The combination of him and Ertz on the field at the same time could prove pretty tough for defenses to stop.
The rest of the class isn’t likely to offer as much immediate impact. The Eagles didn’t have a first-round pick after trading back. They also didn’t pick in the third due to last year’s Ronald Darby deal. That leaves the following four players: Avonte Maddox (fourth), Josh Sweat (fourth), Matt Pryor (sixth), and Jordan Mailata (seventh).
Maddox has been competing for the starting nickel cornerback spot with Sidney Jones. Jones seems to be ahead of him so Maddox could be the backup there. The Pittsburgh alumnus has had a nice summer overall.
Sweat figures to be a deep reserve for the Eagles since he’s behind Brandon Graham, Michael Bennett, Chris Long, Derek Barnett, and Steven Means. Philly is pretty loaded at defensive end.
Pryor was getting some nice buzz in camp but he’s struggled a little in the preseason games. He’ll likely make the team as a backup guard.
Mailata, an Australian native, has an incredible story. The 21-year-old rookie measures in at 6-8, 350 pounds and hadn’t even played in a football game until earlier this month on August 9. It would be fair to expect him to look completely lost, then, but he hasn’t. His rapid development has been drawing rave reviews from former NFL offensive linemen. Mailata still has a long way to go before becoming a polished player but there’s no denying his raw talent and ability.
5) Which roster battles still need to be settled going into this game? Is there any unheralded fringe player who has been lighting it up so far?
The Eagles’ most interesting roster battles aren’t very interesting. It’s mainly: nickel corner (which Jones has probably won), weak side linebacker, fourth running back, and sixth wide receiver.
When it comes to running back, all eyes will be on undrafted rookie Josh Adams. He’s the fan-favorite to make the team. Keep an eye out for No. 33.
DeAndre Carter is another player to watch. No one really expected him to be more than a camp body when the Eagles signed him early in training camp. He’s been a productive receiver for the Eagles in the slot when his number has been called, though. He could give the Jets’ defense some problems.