The Philadelphia Eagles organization and fan base found themselves in a unique position as their team opened training camp at noon on July 26. For the first time in team history, they were the defending Super Bowl champions, and that is a much bigger deal in Philly than people elsewhere likely realize. The last time before this past February that the Eagles won the NFL Championship, the term “Super Bowl” did not exist except, perhaps, in some three-year-old’s vocabulary. Maybe the kid used it to refer to a big bowl of cereal.
Questions the Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles Must Answer
To understand Philadelphia’s embrace of their NFL team, you should find Jason Kelce’s speech at their Super Bowl parade on YouTube and play it at a high volume, or else watch the film Invincible, which starred Mark Wahlberg as ancient Eagles walk-on Vince Papale.
If you didn’t go do that, you’ll just have to rest assured that Philadelphians take the defense of their Lombardi Trophy seriously.
Here are five questions they will be contemplating – some have been incorrectly formulated on sports talk radio and in casual discussion:
Who Will Replace Patrick Robinson at Slot Cornerback?
This is often simply given as, who will play in the slot? Patrick Robinson’s name belongs in the sentence, however, even though he has moved to the New Orleans Saints. This is because Robinson wildly outplayed everyone’s expectations in 2017. Coming to the Eagles, Robinson literally got so little respect the team gave him a jersey reading “DANGERFIELD.”
As the kids say in the schoolyard, “He showed them.” Bob Ford points out he played 866 snaps, counting special teams; Paul Domowitch strongly implies that, largely because of Robinson, the Eagles held opponents to a 66.4 third-down passer rating. Anyone who saw last season’s NFC championship game against the Vikings can tell you Robinson’s pick-six turned the tide in the game. He also led the team in interceptions during the regular season.
So, it’s not just a matter of throwing a guy in there to replace him. Some figure Sidney Jones will go to the slot; some figure Jones, who missed most of last season with an Achilles injury recovery, will go outside, and Jalen Mills will move inside. It’s important to figure that out early. Last season the coaches figured out Robinson would play the slot only two weeks before the season started. That was fine.
Is Offensive Tackle Jason Peters Still Himself?
This is a question that isn’t even put as a question currently. In Philadelphia, it’s usually “Jason Peters is back!” The big guy is a likely Hall of Fame player, and he was the Godfather among a crew of Eagles who worked hard on their injury rehabs this off-season. He is also 36. He tore the ACL and MCL in his right knee last year. Enough said.
What Does Darren Sproles Have Left for His Farewell Season?
This is the fun question, and the Eagles get one because they’re the champions. Can Darren Sproles make an impact in his final season in Philly? Some years ago Sports Illustrated documented Sproles’ insane strength. He has squat-lifted 818 pounds, but is so small you can’t even see him behind the Eagles’ allegedly undersized center, Kelce. What happens after you can’t see him is that he runs right by you because he’s fast as well. But he too is aging and coming off a broken forearm and torn-up knee on the same play last season. So, it is actually a good thing the Eagles are all right at running back without him, but Sproles could make things a lot of fun this year.
Can Nelson Agholor Build Upon His Breakout Season?
Has Nelson Agholor turned a corner and left that corner far behind him, or was 2017 an outlier year? As with Peters, it is a tempting to assume that Agholor is a foundational block for the team this season. On opening day last season in Washington, a switch seemed to flip for the player who had been a bust for his previous two years with the Eagles. He caught six passes, including the first Eagles touchdown of the season, a 58-yard pass following a Carson Wentz scramble.
Becoming a slot receiver did the trick. Agholor’s quickness off the line made a huge difference in that spot, and over the course of the season, he established career highs for passes caught and touchdowns, more than doubling the total of his figures for the previous two seasons combined. Most important, he stopped dropping passes. It is vital to the team he keeps this up.
Will Carson Wentz Be Ready for Week One?
The top question between now and the Eagles opener against Atlanta on September 6 will involve the great matter: Will Wentz take the first snap under center or will the Eagles have to depend on Super Bowl LII MVP Nick Foles? Put that way, this hardly seems like a problem as such, but it is understood that Wentz is the immediate future of the franchise and that Foles is the unlikely hero who played well over his head at the end of last season and into the playoffs.
If the Eagles had planned to put Wentz on the physically-unable-to-perform list, they had to do it by July 26. No one expected that to happen, and it didn’t. Instead Wentz is shown on the sports section cover of the print Philadelphia Inquirer July 27 sprinting out of the team’s practice facility to participate in his first 11-on-11 drills since his injury.
Much hand-wringing will occur about this question before the season opens, particularly once the MVP-caliber quarterback is cleared for contact.
If there is a setback, the fact is that Foles seems to function better as an Eagle than as a member of any other team. He can start the season if need be and very possibly pick up where he left off in the Super Bowl since he would be surrounded by a team that, if healthy, is probably better than the Eagles of February 4, 2018.