Training camp and pre-season have come to an end. The Philadelphia Eagles finished the 2021 pre-season with a 0-2-1 record after tying with the New York Jets, 31-31 in Friday night’s game.
To be frank, wins and losses aren’t the focus of pre-season football. It’s more about roster evaluation and the performance of individual players. The main priority is coming out of it healthy with a consensus understanding of the players on your roster and the Eagles have just that. Here are the top 5 takeaways from pre-season and training camp.
1) The Eagles are going into the season relatively healthy for the first time in years.
During the pre-season, the Eagles offensive starters didn’t get a lot of on-field playing time.
Nick Sirianni focused more on 11-on-11s and joint practices for the evaluation of his roster. Nick Sirianni has said he views the joint practices against the Patriots and Jets as extra games. Over two weeks, that’s 6 game like environments against an opponent (including the pre-season action).
Sure, it’s not an actual in-game situation but, it’s an opportunity to compete against another team in a physical, tough environment. Some may consider this to be flawed strategy due to the lack of on-field time for starters, but there are positives. Specifically with the Eagles, health is chief among them.
In the last five years, injuries have crippled the Eagles. They haven’t gone into the regular season this healthy in quite some time.
2) Jalen Hurts is the unquestioned starter.
Jalen Hurts played a total of 10 snaps in the Eagles 2021 pre-season. Combine that with the fact that Hurts took EVERY first team rep in training camp and it becomes clear that the Eagles view him as the starter heading into the 2021 season.
No formal announcement by Nick Sirianni or acquisition of Gardner Minshew will change or affect this.
Listening to how Hurts’ teammates talk about him, it’s clear the locker room is fully behind him as the starter and his performance in training camp reportedly solidified this.
By all accounts Hurts performed well enough over the course of training camp to warrant fans and coaches alike having confidence in him as the starter, despite his lack of pre-season snaps.
In totality, Hurts (stats via Eliot Shorr-Parks of 94WIP) took 468 snaps during training camp. He completed 215/297 passes for 22 touchdowns and 6 interceptions (2 of which bounced off hands of receivers).
Hurts demonstrated a calmer pocket presence and wasn’t a ‘one read and go’ type of QB like he reportedly was in his first training camp a year ago. Hurts also used his legs a ton in practices. RPOs were a frequent topic of discussion.
“You really see how much it benefits your offense because you’re able to read a player instead of blocking a player. That’s a great thing to be able to do … it’s a piece of the puzzle of what we do, and we’re just continuing to grow in it,” Nick Sirianni said on the usage of RPOs with Hurts under center.
3) DeVonta Smith is head and shoulders above the rest.
DeVonta Smith demonstrated elite level releases and route running ability throughout training camp and the limited pre-season action he saw. It was extremely evident that his ability as a receiver makes him, without question, the most talented wideout the Eagles have had in almost 15 years.
Smith’s combination of decisiveness and smoothness as a route runner is rare.
As for the other receivers on the roster, Jalen Reagor and Quez Watkins were the biggest winners of the offseason at the WR position by far. Each player had eye popping catches in multiple training camp practices. And the most important thing, both second year players consistently stacked days in which they performed at a high level.
The depth of the position is where the questions start to arise.
Travis Fulgham, who was thought to be one of the bigger beneficiaries from the offseason staff changes, reportedly didn’t do much to stand out from the rest of the room after Smith, Reagor and Watkins.
Greg Ward will likely be on the roster based off his craftiness and sure handed-ness. If the Eagles had to play a game right now and could only dress four receivers, Ward would be one of the four.
J.J. Arcega-Whiteside and John Hightower had similar off-seasons (quiet), the one distinct difference being, Arcega-Whiteside at least showed something in the preseason finale. Arcega-Whiteside reeled in a 42-yard touchdown late in the second quarter against the Jets.
There’s no guarantee that either will be on the roster after roster cut down day on Tuesday.
4) The Eagles may have solved their linebacker conundrum.
Eric Wilson and Alex Singleton are, without a doubt, the best duo at linebacker the Eagles have had since winning the Super Bowl in 2018. Since that year, the Eagles have trotted out below average players and expected positive results. The results have been anything but.
Wilson and Singleton will be the Eagles respective starters at the MIKE and WILL positions.
In training camp and pre-season action, both displayed rangy, sideline to sideline ability. Singleton racked up 14 tackles over 2 pre-season games and Wilson intercepted a few passes in 11-on-11s and in the joint practices with the Patriots.
The third linebacker spot (SAM) is still up for debate and will likely be decided between Genard Avery and Patrick Johnson. In Jonathan Gannon’s defense the SAM will be more of a hybrid position.
“The MIKE and the WILL are mostly stacked, and the SAM, sometimes he’s stacked, but sometimes he’s on the ball. So, it just presents a little bit different skill set for those guys and what we are asking them to do,” says Defensive Coordinator Jonathan Gannon.
“You know, [pass rushing is] one of the skill sets and that’s why that’s a little bit different than the MIKE and the WILL because they are rushing tackles, tight ends from the edge, so we like that guy to have the ability to win one-on-one around the corner,” Gannon said in an interview with SI.com’s Eagle Maven.
5) Nick Sirianni seems ready to take the bull by its horns.
There seems to be an aura around this Eagles team and it’s started with Nick Sirianni. He’s preached competition from his first day with the team and it seems to have resonated with everyone in the organization.
The coaching staff has reached the players. And the teaching points are resonating with them.
You want an example? Look no further than Jalen Reagor, who was chewed out by Nick Sirianni and passing game coordinator Kevin Patullo and responded by turning his game up a notch, which included this beauty of a catch.
The wide receiver room as a whole can be looked at as a depiction of the development and coaching prowess Nick Sirianni and his staff have forged thus far into his tenure as Eagles head coach. Sirianni’s hands-on approach speaks volumes to his ability as a teacher of the game of football and the nuances within it.
Both Sirianni and his coordinators have preached the same mantra(s): competition and putting their players in advantageous situations. The staff, albeit the youngest in the league, seems primed to lead the Eagles into a new era of football in Philadelphia.
Of course, the regular season is an entirely different animal than joint practices and pre-season football, but the team as a whole appears ready to go from a collective standpoint.
There are of course going to be growing pains with so many new factors, but there is a lot of reason for optimism surrounding the 2021 Philadelphia Eagles as the season opener against the Atlanta Falcons approaches.
53-Man Roster Prediction
- Starter: Jalen Hurts
- QB2: Joe Flacco
- QB3: Gardner Minshew II
- Starter: Miles Sanders
- RB2: Kenneth Gainwell
- RB3: Boston Scott
- RB4: Jordan Howard
- WR1: DeVonta Smith
- WR2: Jalen Reagor
- Slot: Quez Watkins
- WR4: Greg Ward
- WR5: Travis Fulgham
- Starter: Dallas Goedert
- TE2: Zach Ertz
- TE3: Richard Rodgers
- Tyree Jackson – Short term IR (Projected Return Weeks 5-8)
- Jordan Mailata, Andre Dillard, Le’Raven Clark, Issac Seumalo, Jason Kelce, Nate Herbig, Brandon Brooks, Lane Johnson and Jack Driscoll
- Landon Dickerson – PUP List
- Brandon Graham, Javon Hargrave, Fletcher Cox, Derek Barnett, Ryan Kerrigan, Milton Williams, Hassan Ridgeway, Josh Sweat, and Tarron Jackson
- Alex Singleton, Eric Wilson, Genard Avery, Davion Taylor, Shaun Bradley, T.J. Edwards, Patrick Johnson, Jacoby Stevens
- Darius Slay, Steven Nelson, Avonte Maddox, Zech McPhearson, Josiah Scott
- Rodney McLeod, Anthony Harris, K’Von Wallace, Andrew Adams
Special Teams (3):
- Jake Elliot, Arryn Siposs, Rick Lovato
Practice Squad: QB Jamie Newman, RB Elijah Holyfield, WR John Hightower, WR Andre Patton, TE Jack Stoll, OT Brett Toth, OG Kayode Awosika, OG Sua Opeta, C Ross Pierschbacher, DE Matt Leo, DT Marlon Tuipulotu, DT T.Y. McGill, CB Michael Jacquet III, CB Kevon Seymour, CB Craig James, & S Grayland Arnold
- The Eagles elect to go lighter along the OL due to the versatility of players like Jack Driscoll, Nate Herbig, and Le’Raven Clark. Also Landon Dickerson will likely be back before the end of the season but there will be no need to rush him back because of the versatility the Eagles have along the OLine.
- J.J. Arcega-Whiteside’s time has run out. Besides the final pre-season game he didn’t do much to stand out from the rest of the room. Travis Fulgham sticks to the roster due to the on field talent he displayed last season and the belief that there’s at least some legitimacy to what he put on tape.
- Richard Rodgers gives the Eagles a reliable TE3 while Tyree Jackson nurses a broken bone in his back. Once Jackson is healthy enough to go, he automatically takes over as the third tight end on the Eagles roster.
- Jacoby Stevens makes the roster because of what he can provide on special teams as does Josiah Scott (along with his ability to play the nickel corner spot).
Cover Image Credit: Mitchell Leff/Getty Images