Eagles observations: Why Josh Sweat could have a breakout year

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Why Sweat could have a breakout year and more in Roob's observations originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

Expectations of Derek Barnett and Josh Sweat, an obscure tight end who’s had a terrific camp and a look back 100 years at the 1921 Phillies, who had a remarkable Eagles connection. 

It’s all here and more in today’s Roob’s 10 Eagles observations! 

1. The Eagles haven’t drafted a defensive end who’s reached double digits in sacks as an Eagle since Trent Cole, a 5th-round pick in 2005. Before that it was Clyde Simmons, a 9th-round pick in 1986. Not a great track record. Can Josh Sweat or Derek Barnett end that drought this fall? I’m not super optimistic about Barnett. He’s got 19 ½ sacks in four seasons and has never had more than 6 ½. I just don’t think he has it in him, although for $10 million he should. Sweat, on the other hand, we’ve seen improve every year. Barely played as a rookie in 2018, had 4.0 sacks in 2019 and 6.0 last year. Sweat has been very impressive this summer, and with the talent the Eagles have on the d-line he’s going to see a lot of single teams. I feel like Sweat is on the brink of having a strong season if he can stay healthy. Heck, B.G. is always a threat to hit 10 sacks as well. He’s had 8.0 or more three of the last four years. But I think Sweat has the best shot out of the group. The 4th-round pick from 2018 has that explosive first step, he looks stronger and faster than last year, and he seems to have expanded his arsenal of moves. My money is on Sweat to join Simmons and Cole in the double-digit sack club.

2. It’s a little concerning that Rodney McLeod hasn’t returned to practice nearly 8 ½ months after suffering a torn ACL. We’ve seen McLeod working with trainers on the side and he’s been very involved in practice from the sideline, but he remains on the PUP list 16 days before opening day. If he gets back to work next week he could still be available for the opener, but he’s running out of time. If McLeod starts the season on PUP, he wouldn’t be available until Week 7 at the earliest. If the Eagles think he’ll be ready significantly sooner, they’ll have to keep him on the 53 when final cuts are made on Tuesday. In the meantime, the Eagles do have a depth issue at safety, especially with K’Von Wallace day-to-day with a groin injury. Marcus Epps has had a decent camp and Andrew Adams has come on of late. One of them will have to start opposite Anthony Harris if McLeod isn’t ready. 

3. With two big-time tight ends, backs that are going to catch a ton of footballs and a couple 1st-round picks at wide receiver, there are a lot of options for Jalen Hurts when he drops back. So Quez Watkins was asked if he’s concerned he won’t see the football enough. You gotta love his answer: “This is a team game. It’s 11 guys on the field, we just got to keep pushing, keep playing every play. Sometimes you’ve got to get your brother open. We’re a family. It doesn’t matter who gets the ball. As long as we’re winning games and moving the ball, that’s all that matters.” Love his attitude. 

4. After watching all the Eagles practices with the Patriots and Jets, I’m sold. The level of competition is significantly higher in joint practices than when the Eagles practice alone. The joint practices give both teams intense, controlled and productive work against players they’re not familiar with, and you can just see everybody raising their level. If I were a coach I’d have as many joint sessions as the schedule allowed. I’m old school. I still don’t think even the most competitive practices are a complete replacement for preseason games. I still think most players need some live reps. But these four days over the last couple weeks were very high level and presented the Eagles with the kind of challenges they just can’t get by themselves.

5. I’ll be very surprised if Smith doesn’t break the Eagles’ franchise rookie receiving record of 912 yards, set by DeSean Jackson in 2008. In a 17-game season, that’s 54 yards per game. If Smith is healthy, that record is gone.

6. Undrafted rookie tight end Jack Stoll has had a terrific under-the-radar camp. For a guy who only caught 61 passes in his entire career at Nebraska, Stoll makes all the routine catches but also has flashed a number of times with more difficult catches, adjusting on balls behind him or too high. I haven’t seen him drop one yet. The Eagles liked Stoll enough to give him $122,500 in guaranteed money – more than they paid any other undrafted rookie. So they really wanted him here for camp, and he’s risen to the challenge. With Tyree Jackson and Jason Croom both hurt and Richard Rodgers not having a particularly notable camp, Stoll has a shot. 

7. Was interesting to hear Nick Sirianni talk the other day about the flexibility he values in wide receivers. He said he doesn’t like to pigeonhole anybody in any one position and said you’ll see endless combinations of guys constantly moving around once the regular season starts:  “I never really like to look at it like, ‘This guy plays X, this guy plays Z, this guy plays slot.’ They're very interchangeable to me, and they've always been in my career. … When you're willing to switch guys around it makes it very difficult for the defense to see what you're doing: ‘What are they doing now? Why is this guy here?’ Every defensive coordinator I've talked to that shares, that's what they always say: ‘It's a nightmare preparing for you guys because you're constantly mixing guys around.’” You won’t see Greg Ward outside much and you won’t see DeVonta Smith inside very much, but beyond that, everything is in play.

8. What was going on in Philly 100 years ago? Two coaching legends, Casey Stengel and Greasy Neale, were teammates on the 1921 Phillies. In 1949, both led teams to world championships - Stengel with the Yankees and Neale with the Eagles. 

9. Jalen Hurts Stat of the Week: Jalen Hurts is the only rookie quarterback in NFL history to rush for at least 250 yards and average 5.0 yards per carry in his first four career starts. Hurts ran for 272 yards in his four starts last year with a 5.9 average. The only rookie QB with more rushing yards in his first four starts is Lamar Jackson, who had 332 but averaged only 4.9 yards per carry.  

10. It was eye-opening spending a couple days this week at the Jets’ spectacular Atlantic Health Training Center in Florham Park, N.J. Seeing a couple thousand fans enjoying each Eagles-Jets practice was really nice after eight summers of Eagles training camp practices with only a handful of randomly selected season ticket holders in attendance. The Jets can handle fans because they have the one thing the Eagles don’t have: Space. The Jets have plenty of room for a grandstand overlooking the fields and for large areas behind the fields for fans to watch from a few feet away behind a small fence. The Eagles just don’t have that kind of room, squeezed between Hartranft Street to the north, Broad Street to the east and Pattison Avenue to the south. Could the Eagles ever expand? There’s one idea, but it’s probably really far-fetched. Just to the west of the NovaCare Complex is a massive city-owned tract of virtually unused land extending out to 20th Street. Most of the 27 acres is occupied by an enormous parking lot that’s rarely (if ever) used, and it’s separated from the Eagles’ property by only a fence. If the Eagles could somehow buy or lease this land, it would generate revenue for the city and give the Eagles the opportunity to double the size of their facility, build a full-size Bubble – the current one is only 60 yards long – and expand their practice fields to allow stands. There are so many roadblocks it’s hard to imagine this ever happening. Who knows what red tape it would take to get the city to sell or lease some of the unused land, and who knows if neighborhood leaders would even allow the Eagles to open up camp to fans. But it’s fun to think about. Especially after spending two days in Florham Park.