The NFL season is inching closer. Through July, Shutdown Corner will examine three big questions for each NFL team as it heads to training camp.
Report date: July 23 for rookies; July 26 for veterans
1. How does Carson Wentz gel with his new weapons?
The Eagles handed Wentz one of the worst receiving corps in professional football last season. That’s never ideal, but especially not with a rookie signal caller. So the team went out and got the superbly talented Alshon Jeffery as well as deep threat Torrey Smith to join Jordan Matthews in three-wide sets. After several injury-plagued seasons Jeffery is on a one-year “prove it” deal, and if he can stay healthy, he’s an absolute bargain. But training camp isn’t just about getting in football shape and perfecting the playbook. It’s about bonding with teammates on and off the field. Wentz got a head start with Jeffery, Smith, Nelson Agholor and Shelton Gibson in his hometown of Fargo, North Dakota. Wentz showed real promise last year. In 2017, a better receiving corps, if healthy, should help turn that promise into more consistent results.
2. Will the real Alshon Jeffery please stand up?
Jeffery’s health is of utmost importance for this year’s Eagles. His career has been hampered mainly by minor injuries. Last season he missed four games due to a suspension and had a sore hamstring in training camp. Jeffery has the talent, size and speed to fit well in any system. In 2013 and 2014, he played all 32 games and averaged 87 catches for 1377 yard and 8.5 touchdowns per season. In the two years since, he’s played in just 21 games, averaging 53 catches for 814 yards and three scores per season. That’s a major drop. If Jeffery can make it through camp healthy — a big “if” — the Eagles will feel much more comfortable having a true No. 1 wide receiver on the roster. If he can’t, it’s back to the drawing board out wide. How the coaching staff manages his reps and preseason game action is worth watching.
3. What impact can the defensive rookies make?
The Eagles drafted defensive players with each of their first three picks back in April. Defensive end Derek Barnett went in the first round, cornerback Sidney Jones in the second and cornerback Rasul Douglas in the third. Barnett wreaked havoc last year, recording 13 sacks in his junior year at Tennessee and becoming the school’s all-time career leader with 32. He’ll be counted on to be a contributor sooner rather than later. Jones is a different story. One of the truly elite cornerbacks on the college football scene last year, he tore his Achilles at his Pro Day in March. The Eagles would be wise to take it slow with the former Washington Husky. Doctors say recovery should be six months at minimum, putting Jones’s return some time in September. So he could certainly play this year, but he also won’t be participating much in his rookie training camp, putting him squarely behind the eight ball. That leaves Douglas, who has great size at 6’2″ and 210 pounds. If he can hold his own in training camp, he could provide valuable depth. This cornerback group could certainly use that.
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