5 biggest training camp battles facing Eagles following spring OTAs
The Eagles have finished up their spring practices, and by all accounts, the players got a good introduction into the offensive and defensive systems under new head coach Nick Sirianni.
But there really wasn't much of the competition that Sirianni stressed will be held at every position on the field.
Off the field, there was plenty, such as the 3-point shooting contests in basketball (Sirianni said he was upset that wide receiver Greg Ward beat him); ping pong matches (Sirianni raved about kicker Jake Elliott, saying "he's phenomenal at everything").
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But Sirianni did try to make the individual and positional drills as competitive as possible, even without the 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 team drills. Not having the team drills was a condition for most of the players to attend the spring practices, which are voluntary.
So the wide receivers practiced receiving drills with a football tethered to a string that was coming at them rapidly; the defensive backs went against each other in back-pedaling races; and so on.
"If you practice competing, you're going to get better at competing," Sirianni said. "(The defensive backs) had to do the drill with precision, great fundamentals and intensity – great speed, like the game is going to be."
All of that, of course, was a prelude for the competition at training camp, which begins July 27.
Then, the competition will be real, and Sirianni said every position is up for grabs, although that's probably not really the case at quarterback with Jalen Hurts as well as some of the other spots occupied by veterans like right tackle Lane Johnson, center Jason Kelce and cornerback Darius Slay, to name a few.
Here, then, are the five biggest battles heading into training camp:
1. Left tackle
Andre Dillard vs. Jordan Mailata
This will easily be the most watched because of the ramifications it could have on the Eagles' season.
Dillard was the Eagles' first-round pick in 2019. After sitting behind Jason Peters as a rookie, Dillard was set to take over last season when a torn biceps muscle ended his season before it started in late August.
Peters, who was 38 last season, couldn't stay healthy, or effective. Eventually, Mailata stepped in and played admirably. The 6-foot-8, 346-pound Mailata was a former rugby player and had never played organized football before the Eagles drafted him in the seventh round in 2018.
Mailata said he and Dillard rotated with the first unit during the spring practices. But it's possible that the Eagles could be more interested in seeing if Mailata can handle the job, thus enabling them to explore trades for Dillard.
After all, it would be hard for the Eagles to justify keeping Dillard as a backup, especially when they signed veteran Le'Raven Clark a few weeks ago to serve as a backup swing tackle.
Either way, Dillard said he will be ready, and that he's actually stronger than he was at this point last year.
"I welcome all competition," Dillard said. "I never shy away from it. I’m glad it’s happening, and it makes sense that it’s happening. Jordan came in and filled in last year, played most of the season, and did really well. So it only makes sense for the coaches to give it a little competition, not just give somebody a spot when I come back from an injury."
Avonte Maddox vs. Zech McPhearson vs. TBD
It's still quite possible that the Eagles' starting cornerback opposite Slay isn't on the roster yet.
Eagles GM Howie Roseman alluded to that possibility after the draft, when he referenced the trade for cornerback Ronald Darby in August 2017. The Eagles didn't add a starting caliber outside cornerback in free agency, and they didn't draft one until Zech McPhearson in the fourth round.
Maybe McPhearson is a fast learner, and is ready to start by Week 1. But that seems unlikely. Maddox, meanwhile, had the chance to start last year, but he was both injured and ineffective. And at 5-9, it's believed that he's better suited for nickel corner.
But it's possible that Maddox could win the job. After all, he's healthy and he has worked hard to improve on his weaknesses. Maddox said his main one was "eyes. Eyes, eyes, eyes, eyes."
That's in reference to falling for various fakes and not training his eyes on the receiver as much as he should.
3. Backup running back
Kerryon Johnson vs. Jordan Howard vs. Boston Scott vs. Kenneth Gainwell
Miles Sanders is another one of those players whose job seems secured, but Sirianni's history indicates that he likes using multiple backs. That could cut into Sanders' carries, but at the very least, there should be plenty of touches for a second back and possibly a third.
Boston Scott has held that job for most of the last two seasons. But Johnson is a 2018 second-round pick of the Lions who is trying to resuscitate his career after knee issues his first two seasons.
Gainwell was the Eagles' fifth-round pick this season, while Howard is a veteran who's trying to show he has something left.
If the Eagles keep four, it's possible that Howard could be the odd man out. Scott, for one, said proving himself is nothing new. He was a former sixth-round pick by the Saints who was released, then signed to Eagles' practice squad and worked his way up.
"Whether it was a new staff or old staff, that’s how I’ve always carried myself," Scott said. "You gotta go out and earn it each year. That’s just the way I take that. I think I’m starting from ground zero."
4. Wide receiver
Greg Ward vs. Travis Fulgham
This is sort of an indirect competition based on how Jalen Reagor, the Eagles' first-round pick in 2020, plays as the slot receiver, a position Ward has held the last two seasons.
Reagor admitted that he has lined up as the slot receiver at times during spring drills. It's also expected that rookie DeVonta Smith, the Eagles' first-round pick this spring, could get some work in the slot as well.
And how much either Reagor and/or Smith play in the slot could have much to do with Fulgham. Last season, Fulgham, a castoff from the Lions, had 435 yards receiving in his first five games, which led all NFL receivers during that run.
But Fulgham couldn't sustain that the rest of the season, getting just 104 yards in the final eight games.
If Fulgham can rediscover his form from early last season, that would afford the Eagles the chance for Reagor and/or Smith to play more in the slot, and thus cut into Ward's playing time.
If not, Reagor and Smith both might have to spend most of their time on the outside, thus cutting into Fulgham's.
Then again, if either Ward or Fulgham stand out, then that can help the Eagles make their decision on where to play Smith and Reagor.
Davion Taylor vs. T.J. Edwards
The signing of Eric Wilson gives the Eagles a bona fide starter. That leaves Alex Singleton, the Eagles' leading tackler last season at one spot on the inside. The other spot could go to either Edwards, an undrafted free agent in 2019 who started there last season, and Taylor, the Eagles' third-round pick in 2020 who played just 32 snaps last season.
By all accounts, Taylor, who had limited experience in football until his final two years of college, is much more advanced heading into training camp than he was last year.
Ideally, the Eagles would love to see Taylor win that job. But Edwards will have something to say about that.
Contact Martin Frank at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @Mfranknfl.