Sunday, August 14, 2022

Eagles training camp 2022: Three battles to keep an eye on, including rookie Nakobe Dean fighting for LB job

Exciting times are ahead for the Philadelphia Eagles, as the franchise enters the season with the highest expectations since 2018 — the year it attempted to defend its Super Bowl championship. 

The Eagles have a young quarterback who is looking to prove he’s the franchise signal-caller in Jalen Hurts, giving him a talented offense that includes wide receivers A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith, tight end Dallas Goedert, and running back Miles Sanders. The Eagles also bolster arguably the best offensive line in football. 

Defensively, the Eagles welcomed with the offseason acquisitions of edge rusher Haason Reddick, cornerback James Bradberry, and linebacker Kyzir White. They also drafted defensive tackle Jordan Davis in the first round and surprisingly landed Nakobe Dean in the third round, giving the unit a fresh look that is expected to be significantly improved in 2022. 

Even though the Eagles have a good roster on paper, there are still a few positions that need to be settled in training camp. All NFL teams have the training camp battles that make the summer months special, as each franchise works to build a Super Bowl champion during the dog days of August. For the Eagles to compete for a Super Bowl, these position battles will play a major role in the direction Philadelphia heads this fall. 

These are the three training camp battles Eagles fans should keep an eye on at the NovaCare Complex and in the preseason games over the next five weeks.

1. Nakobe Dean vs. T.J. Edwards (off-ball LB)

The Eagles are going to have an intriguing competition for the middle linebacker role, but this job will ultimately be determined by how Dean develops. A first-round talent that fell to the third round because of confusion regarding a pectoral muscle injury, Dean was the only player in the nation with at least five sacks (finished with six sacks), two forced fumbles and two interceptions in 2021. 

Dean has been learning the MIKE and WILL positions in minicamp, giving the Eagles options in how they can use him in their defense. He’s also in contention to get the defensive play calls (the green dot on the helmet), which would cement him as one of the leaders on the unit if that comes to fruition. Dean appears ready for a significant role on the Eagles defense. 

So where does that leave Edwards? The Eagles also have White, who can play the WILL in pass situations. If Dean is at the MIKE when White is at the WILL, Edwards is left as a reserve linebacker with Davion Taylor. If Dean plays the WILL, Edwards can slide into the MIKE — which White could also play in run situations. 

Edwards has a role in the Eagles defense and has been productive (he was one of five players with 125 tackles, one interception, and one fumble recovery in 2021). If Edwards doesn’t start, he’ll have a valuable role on this unit as a backup at the MIKE to Dean. He’ll be on this team, but it will be interesting to see how Edwards fits in if the Eagles want Dean on the field as much as possible. 

2. Isaac Seumalo vs. Jack Driscoll/Cam Jurgens (starting RG)

The right guard competition has plenty of worthy candidates, yet Seumalo could be the odd man out due to Landon Dickerson seizing his left guard job last year. Seumalo is a valuable asset on the offensive line, with the ability to play guard, center and tackle (started a game there his rookie year), but injuries over the past few seasons have been a deterrent toward his long-term future with the franchise. 

Seumalo has played just 12 games over the last two seasons and has a cap number of $7.668 million in 2022 — the final year of his deal. The Eagles have a cheaper option in Driscoll, who has played well at right guard over the past couple of seasons. Driscoll has also experienced issues staying healthy, playing just nine games last season due to a high ankle sprain. He also missed games in 2020 due to ankle and knee injuries, despite playing well at guard and tackle. 

Driscoll’s game is better suited for guard at the NFL level, and he’ll be a serious threat for the job if healthy in camp. Jurgens is the wild card in the mix as the heir apparent to Jason Kelce at center, but the Eagles also want him to get snaps at guard as a versatile player on the offensive line. Jurgens allowed just one sack on 1,016 pass-blocking snaps in his college career at Nebraska and also allowed just four quarterback hits and 29 hurries in that span — even if all of those snaps were at center. 

If Jurgens develops as a guard this preseason, don’t rule him out of the mix for the job. Right guard for Jurgens may be the NFL experience he needs before moving over to center whenever Kelce does decide to retire.

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3. Quez Watkins vs. Zach Pascal/Jalen Reagor/Greg Ward/Devon Allen (WR depth)

A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith have the top two wide receiver spots on lock, but which player will be the No. 3 wideout? How will the rest of the depth chart play out?

Watkins and Pascal are locks to make the roster, but where they fit on the depth chart is to be determined. Pascal is a strong route runner and is an ideal fit for the slot with Smith and Brown on the outside. That allows Watkins to emerge as the No. 4 wideout and emerge as a deep threat in an offense with three proven receivers. Watkins can play the slot, too, creating a mismatch with his speed, but the Eagles’ best setup in “11” personnel is probably Smith, Brown and Pascal. 

With the top four settled, how will the Eagles fill the remainder of their depth chart? Given the tight end situation, it’s likely they go with six wide receivers — leaving two spots with a vacancy. Ward has proven he’s a reliable pass catcher when given the opportunity and can return punts, making him a favorite to land a roster spot. 

Allen, who made the final at the World Outdoor Track and Field Championships this month and has the third-fastest 110-meter hurdles time in history, is an intriguing prospect with his speed. The Eagles will use training camp and the preseason to see if the Allen’s speed translates to a role on special teams. 

Then there’s Reagor, who’s had a disappointing start to his career. The former first-round pick has caught just 64 passes for 695 yards and three touchdowns in his two seasons in the league, plagued by inconsistency and the loss of his best friend last year. Reagor could be used better in the Eagles offense, and a fresh start with another team could serve him well. He also could turn things around in Philadelphia.  

The Eagles don’t appear ready to give up on Reagor, even if he might be an afterthought heading into training camp. The speed is still there, and there’s a spot on the depth chart waiting for him. Philadelphia has $7,841,765 reasons in dead money not to cut ties with Reagor. Whether or not Reagor finds his way on the depth chart will be determined by how he performs over the next several weeks. 

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