It’s finally time for meaningful football.
Well, sort of.
When quarterbacks, rookies and select veterans report to the NovaCare Complex Monday to begin training camp, the eyes of a contender-hungry city will be on Doug Pederson and the Philadelphia Eagles.
Between July 24 and the Eagles Sept 10 opener, dozens of stories will be written and consumed by NFL-crazy fans. Articles will recount who is up and who is down at camp, pontificate on who may be a dark-horse to make the 53-man roster and detail the goings on in the mid-summer heat in South Philly.
But what should you really be interested in during the 45 days until the NFL season kicks off?
Here are five things to keep an eye on:
1. Health of the team
By and large the biggest measurement a successful training camp is the length of an injury list. If the Eagles can keep injury-prone offensive stars Alshon Jeffery, Zach Ertz and Darren Sproles heathy — among a bevy of others — it will have been a partial success.
Pederson has teased that the Birds will have a little more rigorous schedule and slightly more hitting this camp. Will that impact the team’s overall health?
2. The rookies
Several rookies, like first round pick Derek Barnett and cornerback Rasul Douglas could make an immediate impact on a defense looking for reinforcements after last year.
Other rookies, like wideouts Shelton Gibson and Mack Hollins will be fighting for roster spots. And who will be this summer’s training camp darling from the pool of undrafted free agents?
3. Joint practices with the Dolphins
Toward the midpoint of the preseason slate, the Eagles will welcome Miami to Philadelphia for a handful of joint practices.
With teams fighting amongst themselves tooth and nail in scrimmages, seeing how Carson Wentz fares with his new wide receiving targets against an unfamiliar defense will be a good information gathering tool, as the first team will not play much in the first, second and fourth preseason games.
4. Who makes the team
What will the Birds do with Nelson Agholor, looking to bounce back from a terrible 2016? When will the team cut ties with injured running back Mathews? Will they find a trade suitor for linebacker Mychal Kendricks or will Jim Schwartz figure out a way to get him more involved in the offense this years? The most questions in any area for the Eagles this offseason revolve around how the roster finally takes shape.
It’s likely that reading too intensely into who gets reps with who, when and how often during practices at training camp is just a red herring, but it could also give a good window into how Doug Pederson is planning to use his offensive personnel.
Will LeGarrette Blount be the workhorse in the run game, or will he share carries equally with Wendell Smallwood and some of the younger running backs? What kind of rotation will the Eagles utilize on the defensive line? We’ll have a much better idea come late August.