The Eagles report to training camp in just five days. Can you believe it?
This offseason has been a crazy one to say the least, but finally getting this team back on the field together will naturally rile up some excitement in this city, regardless of your overall thoughts on the state of the franchise.
Last week, we broke down all the training camp battles expected to take place on the offensive side of the ball. This week, we look at the defense.
Here’s a full breakdown of each defensive training camp battle to keep an eye once the Eagles report to the NovaCare Complex.
Easily the most anticipated camp battle taking place on the defensive side of the ball, defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon will have his work cut out for him at the second cornerback spot.
We know that Darius Slay will man the CB1 position, with Avonte Maddox presumably manning the nickel corner spot. Outside of those two, the rest of the Eagles cornerback room are unknowns.
The team has several names to choose from at cornerback. Craig James, Zech McPhearson, Michael Jacquet, Grayland Arnold, Josiah Scott, Nate Meadors, Lavert Hill, and Kevon Seymour are all expected to get a crack at that second cornerback position.
This battle could have been avoided if the front office went out and acquired a suitable veteran corner to play opposite of Slay. While that’s still a possibility, it seems like the coaching staff is going to wait and see what they have during camp before making any additional roster moves.
Despite there being several players vying for the second corner spot, there are three that stand out above the rest. Craig James, Michael Jacquet, and Zech McPhearson are the three to pay close attention to during camp. I’d imagine the starting job will go to one of those three.
If we want to narrow it down even more, Jacquet and McPhearson feel like the two top choices. Jacquet played quite a bit at the end of last year. And while he did struggle, he had some bright moments and clearly has the physical ability to be a quality NFL corner.
McPhearson, the team’s fourth round pick in this year’s NFL Draft, may be thrusted into action sooner than expected, but he has the tools to be successful. During his final year at Texas Tech, he recording 4 interceptions and 6 pass breakups in 10 games, all while facing some of the most explosive receivers in the nation in the Big 12.
It’s never ideal starting a rookie cornerback, especially one that was drafted in the fourth round, but this is no ordinary cornerback situation the Eagles find themselves in. They’re desperate for play making, and if McPhearson is the one who can provide that, he should get the nod.
Remember, the team did turn to Jalen Mills to start at corner during his rookie campaign in 2016 and he was a seventh round pick. He didn’t start every game, but he was called upon when the team needed him. It’s not that far fetched to assume McPhearson gets playing time this year. To be honest, it would be naïve to think he won’t see the field in 2021.
This is the camp battle everyone’s waiting for on the Eagles defense. It’ll certainly be a fun one to watch.
The coaching staff may already have an idea of who they want starting at linebacker in their base nickel package this year, but nothing is set in stone just yet.
The three backers most fans expect to see the bulk of the playing time are Alex Singleton, Eric Wilson, and T.J. Edwards. Gannon won’t have these three on the field at the same time very often, so it’ll be up to him to find a nice balance of skills whenever he has at least two on the field.
Each of these linebackers are good at something. Edwards is a great run stuffer, Wilson is great against the pass, and Singleton is a quality blitzing linebacker. The problem is, none of them are well rounded. Edwards and Singleton aren’t very good against the pass, while Wilson is pretty abysmal stopping the run.
Whomever displays the best all around skill set during camp will likely see the field the most this upcoming year (duh). That means that someone like Wilson could see limited playing time due to his terrible run stuffing ability, and the same goes for both Singleton and Edwards on the pass coverage front.
Not many fans would call this a “camp battle,” but since the starting group isn’t set in stone yet, I see it as a camp battle. I’m anxious to see which of these linebackers steps up during practice.
The starting duo of Rodney McLeod and Anthony Harris on the backend of the Eagles defense is already set, but the third safety spot is still up for grabs.
It’s still unclear just how much Gannon will utilize three safeties in his defense, but it’s safe to assume he’ll go to it more often this year, especially if the second cornerback spot is a question mark all year. Ideally, second year safety K’Von Wallace steps into that role seamlessly.
His skill set fits that of a third safety. Physical at the point of attack, good ball skills, and a solid tackler, Wallace should be able to thrive in the third safety position. If he’s unable to adequately fill that role for Gannon’s defense, they may have to turn to Marcus Epps. Epps started five games last season for the Eagles, recording 2 interceptions and 5 pass breakups.
He’s a nice depth piece and serviceable in limited playing time, but he gets exposed whenever he’s on the field for too long.
Wallace was a fan favorite last season, despite only playing 18 percent of the defensive snaps. If he cements himself as a quality starter, the Eagles could have their safety of the future.