With only three months remaining before the start of the 2018 NFL season, team OTA’s are beginning to wrap up and minicamps will soon be taking shape around the league. While OTA’s provided no shortage of headlines, attention will now shift toward teams looking to fill out their rosters and depth charts as they prepare for the season opener.
Perhaps the team with the biggest spotlight on them however, are the defending Super Bowl Champions: The Philadelphia Eagles.
The Eagles have come into the offseason with most of the starters from their championship season still on the team. However, the addition of veteran players and coaches in new positions make their upcoming season more anticipated than perhaps any other in franchise history.
Here are the top five storylines to watch for in the 2018 Philadelphia Eagles season.
- Several key starters will all return from injury.
Despite winning it all last season, the Philadelphia Eagles were certainly not immune to the injury bug in 2017. Various starters such as running back Darren Sproles, middle linebacker Jordan Hicks and left tackle Jason Peters had their seasons cut short. However, the most notable injury for the Eagles came in week 14, when franchise quarterback and league MVP candidate Carson Wentz went down with a torn ACL. Wentz was forced to watch from the sidelines as backup Nick Foles lead the Eagles through the playoffs and on their way to a championship.
However, with 2017 in the rear-view mirror, Wentz looks like he is on pace to reclaim his starting role for the team’s week one matchup against the Atlanta Falcons. While the Eagles as will have more pressure on them then ever before, the return on several of their team leaders in 2018 means all eyes will be on them to see if they can pick back up where they left off.
- Who will be the starting nickel cornerback?
While the Eagles were able to retain most of their players from last season, they did suffer some casualties in this year’s free agency. Perhaps their biggest loss came when cornerback Patrick Robinson left to sign back with his former team the New Orleans Saints. After having arguably, the best season of his career thus far, Robinson’s departure leaves a major whole in the Eagles 2018 depth chart at their starting nickel cornerback position.
Going into training camp, the Eagles have around 10 defensive backs on their roster. Veterans Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills are almost guaranteed to start on the outsides, leaving the rest of the field in fierce competition to make the team and hopefully a starting position. Second-year players Rasul Douglas and Sidney Jones are positioned to be the favorites to win the job, however both De’Vante Bausby and rookie Avonte Maddox will look to do all they can to challenge them for that spot. Douglas showed flashes of brilliance during his limited playing time last season, and had it not been for an injury, Jones would most likely have been a much higher draft pick than he was last year. However, during OTA’s both corners as well as Bausby were given reps with the first-team. The battle, while unpredictable, is certainly one that everyone will be watching very closely.
- A new offense under Coach Mike Groh.
Perhaps the biggest change the Eagles will face this upcoming season comes on their coaching staff. The team lost both their former quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator this offseason, but were able to replace both by promoting from within. Former wide receivers coach Mike Groh was named as the new offensive coordinator after former coordinator Frank Reich left to become the new head coach of the Indianapolis Colts. While Groh inherits one of the top offenses in football, head coach Doug Pederson will still be calling plays. It will be interesting to see how different the offensive scheme looks, or if it changes at all.
- Which running back will be able to separate themselves from the pack?
While cornerback is the position in which competition may be the heaviest, the running back room may have the most talent. Through a trade with the Miami Dolphins, the Eagles were able to acquire Jay Ajayi who goes into this season as the unquestioned starter. However, with a ton of talent behind him it will be interesting to see who emerges as his complementary back. We saw Corey Clement take on a major role last year, and all signs point to him increasing his touches in 2018. However, a returning Darren Sproles and others such as Donnel Pumphrey, Wendell Smallwood, and undrafted free agent Josh Adams means there may not be enough snaps or roster spots for everyone.
- Can the Eagles win back to back Super Bowl Championships?
With their first championship in franchise history in the rear-view mirror, focus completely shifts to defending their crown. As defending Super Bowl Champions, the Eagles have the biggest target on their backs. They additionally have an incredibly hard regular season schedule, and with their division only getting better, a repeat will very much be an uphill battle. The good news is that with most of the team from last year still under contract, the Eagles still have one of the best rosters in the NFL.