The Philadelphia Eagles released their first “official” depth chart Tuesday night, but it comes with a caveat. It was arranged by their media relations team, not the coaching staff.
That means it has injured players like linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill and right guard Brandon Brooks slated to start. Both remain questionable to go in Week 1, especially Grugier-Hill. The linebacker will likely miss multiple games as he recovers from a sprained MCL. The Eagles also have Zach Brown penciled in as one of the starting outside linebackers despite a shaky camp. He teams with Grugier-Hill on the outside, with Nigel Bradham holding down the middle linebacker.
Perhaps the biggest surprises on the initial depth chart include the starting outside cornerbacks: Ronald Darby and Avonte Maddox. The presumptive two starters — Darby and Jalen Mills — haven’t participated in 11-on-11 team drills. Meanwhile, Maddox, Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas have looked like breakout stars in camp. On the preliminary chart, Douglas gets the nod as the starting nickel corner.
Jordan Howard was named the starting running back, with rookie Miles Sanders and Darren Sproles behind him. It’s important to note that Sanders was listed as the kick returner. However, Sproles was named as the punt returner.
Head coach Doug Pederson revealed Halapoulivaati Vaitai would get the start at right guard in Thursday’s preseason opener as Brooks continues to rehab. It also sounded very likely that Jason Peters and Carson Wentz might get the night off, allowing first-team reps for Andre Dillard at left tackle and Nate Sudfeld at quarterback. Anyone healing up from a major injury will not play.
“Our starters, they get most of the reps in practice. I’ve got to look at all that and that’s why I haven’t really made a decision yet,” Pederson said. “Outside of the guys that are nicked and hurt and won’t play. But there’s a fine line between how much rest and how much push, and so that’s the thing we’re working through right now. But I’m taking all that into consideration going into this first game.”
Yes, it’s a lot to digest. Take a look at the chart.
Eagles’ First Defensive Depth Chart
Right Cornerback: Ronald Darby, Sidney Jones, Cre’Von LeBlanc, Jeremiah McKinnon, Jay Liggins
Left Cornerback: Avonte Maddox, Rasul Douglas, Orlando Scandrick, Josh Hawkins, Ajene Harris, Jalen Mills
With Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby nursing injuries, it was Rasul Douglas and Avonte Maddox taking the first-team reps at the outside cornerback slots at the Eagles’ very first practice. Sidney Jones played in the nickel package. However, the team has done a good job rotating everyone around and the results have been eye-opening.
Jones has started to come into his own, especially when guarding receivers on the outside. It’s more than likely that Douglas and Jones start on the outside Thursday night against Tennessee, with Maddox playing nickel.
Strong Safety: Malcolm Jenkins, Tre Sulivan, Blake Countess, Deiondre Hall
Free Safety: Rodney McLeod, Andrew Sendejo, Johnathan Cyprien, Trae Elston
Jenkins is the heart and soul of the secondary, arguably the entire defense. The Eagles have been easing McLeod back into things at camp, but every indication has been he’ll be ready for Week 1. They’ll be extra cautious with their starting free safety who is coming off season-ending knee surgery.
McLeod finally participated in 11-on-11 team drills Tuesday — albeit in a non-contact setting — and looked sharp after intercepting Carson Wentz. Even if McLeod starts against the Titans, the Eagles will be looking long and hard at veterans Andrew Sendejo and Johnathan Cyprien as they are fighting for the last two safety spots.
Left Defensive Tackle: Fletcher Cox, Hassan Ridgeway, Bruce Hector
Right Defensive Tackle: Malik Jackson, Tim Jernigan, Treyvon Hester, Kevin Wilkins
Fletcher Cox will be the starter on the left side once he’s fully healed up from offseason foot surgery. For now, Tim Jernigan will get the first-team snaps — not the worst idea for a guy fighting back from a nagging back injury. Malik Jackson can also benefit from additional snaps as he builds chemistry with his new linemates after coming over from Indianapolis.
The biggest camp battle has involved Hassan Ridgeway and Treyvon Hester, and it appears Ridgeway has climbed ahead of the guy who famously made the “Double Doink” a part of the lexicon.
Right Outside Linebacker: Kamu Grugier-Hill, Nathan Gerry, Asantay Brown
Middle Linebacker: Nigel Bradham, Paul Worrilow, T.J. Edwards
Left Outside Linebacker: Zach Brown, L.J. Fort, Alex Singleton
Zach Brown was brought in on a one-year contract to solidify the linebackers group. He’ll get his first chance to show why he was Washington’s second-leading tackler in 2018 with 96 tackles. The Eagles are being cautious with starter Nigel Bradham who broke his thumb in three places last year.
Nate Gerry, a fifth-round pick in 2017, has been manning the middle and turning some heads in camp. He bulked up in the offseason and has earned the trust of defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz to make the verbal calls. However, the position is crowded with untapped potential. Guys like Paul Worrilow, L.J. Fort and T.J. Edwards have proven they belong.
Left Defensive End: Brandon Graham, Josh Sweat, Daeshon Hall
Right Defensive End: Derek Barnett, Vinny Curry, Shareef Miller, Kasim Edebali
Joe Ostman was placed on injured reserve, so the highly-regarded second-year player won’t make the team. Meanwhile, Derek Barnett hasn’t been participating in 11-on-11 team drills as he rehabs his bum shoulder. He won’t play Thursday night against Tennessee. Brandon Graham won’t either, not due to injury. He has nothing left to prove.
That means plenty of snaps for Shareef Miller and Josh Sweat. They are in a heated battle to win the job as the team’s fourth edge rusher. Sweat has been a revelation in camp and clearly has the upper hand over Miller. But keep an eye on Kasim Edebali who was just signed off the street.
Eagles’ First Offensive Depth Chart
Quarterback: Carson Wentz, Nate Sudfeld, Cody Kessler, Clayton Thorson
Carson Wentz continues to impress with his rocket arm and pinpoint accuracy. He has been airing it out consistently on highlight-reel plays to DeSean Jackson throughout camp. He admitted that if he could chuck it deep to Jackson on every play, he would. Nate Sudfeld is the clear-cut backup and finally appears to be hitting his stride. Sudfeld was extremely impressive on red-zone drills last Thursday where he connected with Carlton Agudosi on three straight touchdowns.
Cody Kessler has quietly been stealing the third-string spot away from Clayton Thorson. His experience and soft touch make him a more polished option. But would the Eagles cut ties with their fifth-round pick? They might have no choice. Look for Sudfeld to start Thursday, with Kessler and Thorson sharing the second half.
Running Back: Jordan Howard, Miles Sanders, Darren Sproles, Corey Clement, Wendall Smallwood, Josh Adams, Boston Scott, Donnel Pumphrey
Jordan Howard is entrenched as the bellcow, but everyone knows Miles Sanders is waiting in the wings. That jump cut Sanders made near the goal line at Sunday’s open practice drew unfair comparisons to LeSean McCoy. He’ll be the starter before the season is over, barring a major injury. Darren Sproles has been seeing ample first-team reps in practice as well. The 36-year-old still looks lightning quick.
Corey Clement sat out the first half of camp but finally returned last week for 7-on-7 drills. He probably won’t play much on Thursday. All four of those guys will make the final 53. The first preseason game will be a chance for Wendall Smallwood, Josh Adams, Boston Scott and Donnel Pumphrey to state their cases. From the looks of things, it’s definitely Smallwood’s job to lose. Especially with Scott nursing an ankle injury.
Split End: Alshon Jeffery, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, Shelton Gibson, Carlton Agudosi
Flanker: DeSean Jackson, Mack Hollins, Charles Johnson, Braxton Miller
Wide Receiver: Nelson Agholor, Marken Michel, Greg Ward, DeAndre Thompkins
Pay no attention to the categories listed, merely football terms for wide receiver. Remember, the Eagles plan on using a lot of 12 personnel this season. That means Nelson Agholor will start in the slot, opposite DeSean Jackson and Alshon Jeffery on the outside. Jackson and Agholor have been off-the-charts good at camp. While Jeffery has had a relatively quiet one, he’s going to have a monster season. Call it a gut feeling from this writer.
Immensely talented rookie J.J. Arcega-Whiteside remains the fourth receiver — and Mack Hollins might be losing his hold on the fifth and presumably the last spot on the roster since he can’t stay healthy. This time it appears to be a hamstring issue. Shelton Gibson is also fighting through an ankle ailment.
Marken Michel, Charles Johnson and Greg Ward have made some big plays in camp and could easily snake a spot on the 53. Johnson was running with the first-team offense and looked comfortable there. Expect all three guys to see extended burn Thursday night against Tennessee. Michel brings added value as a return man, too.
Tight End: Zach Ertz, Dallas Goedert, Richard Rodgers, Joshua Perkins, Will Tye, Alex Ellis
Ertz is arguably the best tight end in football and isn’t going anywhere. Or at least until Dallas Goedert backs up his big talk. The second-year tight end recently claimed he was the fourth-best tight end in the NFL. And he might be. Could he make Ertz expendable someday? That’s a debate for another day.
Richard Rodgers is a reliable veteran who used to catch passes from Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay. He has proven to be an invaluable safety valve for Cody Kessler and Clayton Thorson. He’ll make the team. It’s a bit unfortunate for Joshua Perkins, Will Tye and Alex Ellis. Tye has been particularly impressive in camp and could latch on with another team if he has a strong showing in the preseason.
Left Tackle: Jason Peters, Andre Dillard, Ryan Bates
Left Guard: Isaac Seumalo, Stefen Wisniewski, Sua Opeta, Anthony Fabiano
Center: Jason Kelce, Stefen Wisniewski, Keegan Render
Right Guard: Brandon Brooks, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Matt Pryor, Nate Herbig
Right Tackle: Lane Johnson, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Jordan Mailata
Halapoulivaati “Big V” Vaitai is the most intriguing player on the Eagles’ offensive line. He will start at right guard Thursday with Brandon Brooks still out, plus he has proven in live-action that he can play a serviceable right tackle. Big V gives the team depth and options, and a lot to like there. As stated above, Jason Peters will most likely be held out against the Titans so the Eagles can better evaluate rookie first-rounder Andre Dillard. He has earned a ton of praise in camp from the veterans, including Peters. Stefen Wisniewski was brought back as insurance should Jason Kelce down. He’s a known entity.
Meanwhile, the biggest question marks are Jordan Mailata and Matt Pryor. What do they bring to the table? They are behemoths — Mailata, at 6-foot-8; Pryor, at 6-foot-7 — and tough projects to give up on. But the Eagles may have to move on from both players if they don’t perform well under the bright lights. Their final journey begins on Thursday night.
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