firstname.lastname@example.org — From the Washington Football Team at Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, January 3rd, 2021 (All-Pro Reels Photography)
School is back in session. The leaves, though not quite changing colors yet, have begun contemplating the notion. One can feel the fall air pushing up against summer’s oppressive presence. This all must mean one thing:
Football is back.
More specifically to our area and bleeding green hearts, Eagles football is back with its endless river of questions. And while there should be no shortage of criticism of this team’s inexperience, very steep decline from championship grace, injury insanity and lack of ability to develop young talent over the past few seasons, this article is going to be an optimistic, but not foolhardy, attempt to assess the Eagles position going into the 2021 NFL season.
The first, and arguably most important, position to assess is the quarterback, which has seen its share of drama over these past four years in Philly. From the ever-present Nick Foles schism to the abrupt collapse of Wentz, this city has had more than its share of quarterback controversy.
Enter Jalen Hurts.
The second round pick from a year ago has stepped into the QB 1 slot and is poised to lead a season which could go either north or very south. Hurts’ physical abilities and intangibles can carry him very far if all goes as planned. Already, his teammates are prepared to go to war with the former Alabama and Oklahoma quarterback and all witnesses see him as having improved on much of his year one flaws throughout this offseason.
Unlike his predecessor, Hurts brings a game-breaking element to the game this city has not seen since Michael Vick. In fact, many have gone so far as to begin whispers of him having a Lamar Jackson-type sophomore season, an MVP year for the Baltimore quarterback. There were definitely flashes last season for Jalen and his mindset seems to be in the right place to have himself a solid year, which will be needed if he wishes to remain the starter here in Philly.
How long Hurts’ leash is under Sirianni, Roseman and Lurie will remain to be seen, but with the ammunition the Eagles front office has to get a premiere pick in next year’s draft, he could be on thin ice. Let there be no mistake, however— all the control is in Jalen’s hands as he fights this uphill battle alongside his teammates to establish a new powerhouse in the NFL.
Speaking of his teammates, Jalen is joined by a far younger and improved roster than last year’s Eagles. His offensive line is back in prime form, with Brandon Brooks and Lane Johnson returning from two injury-riddled seasons. Not even to mention the city hero Jason Kelce shoring up the center position for his tenth season and the seventh round pick former rugby beast of a man, Jordan Mailata, protecting Hurts’ blind side.
The running back room saw a new acquisition in Kenneth “Kenny G” Gainwell out of Memphis who figures to carve a role out in Sirianni’s offense given his receiving ability and strong running style. Gainwell will join Giant-slayer Boston Scott and presumed leading rusher of the team, Miles Sanders. This is an especially big season for Miles, as he must now put his foot down and stake his claim as the new franchise running back, something the birds have not had since LeSean McCoy.
On the receiving end of things, both tight ends Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert return to the field hoping to have a better year than the previous one and, in Goedert’s case, prove he is the future of the position for the Eagles. Ertz’s situation was shaky to say the least going into the year, as many believed his last game had been played in midnight green. However, the Philly-loving legendary tight end has reportedly worked things out with the team and is ready to play under the new coaching staff for at least one more season. It should be noted that Ertz said in a recent interview that he wishes to retire with the team, but that of course depends on many factors such as salary cap restrictions, trade offers, and overall allegiance to each other by Howie and Ertz himself.
Shifting the focus to the wideouts, the team welcomes former Heisman-winning stud wide receiver and former Alabama teammate to Hurts, DeVonta Smith to the room. Smith is one of the rare rookies who is expected to make an immediate, awe-inspiring, and perhaps record-shattering impact upon the league with his debut. His route running is impeccable, his hands and speed are as elite as anyone in the game and his demeanor is one of a humble, but hungry warrior, prepared to feast upon any cornerback and safety who dares line up across from him. I have personally watched much of his offseason film with the birds, and let me just say, he came as advertised.
Smith joins a pair of more young, fast and improving receivers in second year, first-round pick Jalen Reagor and sixth-round burner Quez Watkins. Watkins in particular has had an exceptional camp and preseason after ‘mossing’ defenders on several occasions and outrunning the entire Pittsburgh defense on a 79-yard catch and run for the touchdown. Big things could be in store for this receiving corps.
On the other side of the ball, incoming coordinator Jonathan Gannon looks to instill a new groove to the moderately-performing Eagles defense. While his scheme remains to be seen, all that has been heard out of camp is that the defense seems to have a newfound energy and improved knack at creating turnovers, which would be very refreshing. His roster has also been improved by Howie Roseman, who has had a very underrated offseason in terms of finding a way around the salary cap to acquire elite talent in a rebuilding year.
Highlighting his defensive acquisitions are former interception leader Anthony Harris, cornerback Steven Nelson and linebacker Eric Wilson. Each of these players filled a need in a place where the team had many question marks. Harris and Nelson join a secondary which finally looks good on paper with Rodney McLeod, returning from a torn ACL and Darius Slay, looking to get back to elite form. Wilson joins a new-look linebacking corps with the former sixth-round pick-turned-tackling-machine Alex Singleton and Davion Taylor.
As for the defensive line, well let’s just say that they continue to be the pride and joy of the Eagles defense. Fletcher Cox returns with Javon Hargrave, who looks to build on a solid finish to his first season in Philly on the interior line. Meanwhile, rookie Milton Williams has turned heads with his talent in camp and even drawing Aaron Donald (!!!) comparisons from some analysts. On the edge, Brandon Graham returns following his first-ever pro bowl season alongside Derek Barnett and Josh Sweat, who have both had a good camp. Sweat looks to usurp Barnett for the starring role opposite Graham, but time will tell who is good enough for the position.
There are many reasons to root for the players here in Philly. Many of them are unproven, hardworking underdogs looking to satisfy their hunger for dominance. Time will tell if this team is destined to be the new regime for the long term, but one thing is certain: as Jalen Hurts put it, “the rent is due” and we will see who is able to pay. Fly Eagles Fly.
Joseph Gill is a third-year student majoring in English and minoring in Journalism. JG923276@wcupa.edu