It’s Doug Pederson’s job to lay the groundwork for contention after the Eagles cleared house of all things Chip Kelly.
Owner Jeffrey Lurie and general manager Howie Roseman didn’t so much scrub the visible remnants of Chip Kelly’s tenure as they did napalm them and blowtorch the remains. Gone are Kiko Alonso, Byron Maxwell and DeMarco Murray, three of Kelly’s hallmark acquisitions, as well as the hype that surrounded Kelly’s ballyhooed arrival before the 2013 season. The new guy in charge is former Eagles backup QB Doug Pederson, who served as Andy Reid’s offensive coordinator in Kansas City. Currently, the starting quarterback (Sam Bradford) is returning from a failed holdout, the future quarterback (Carson Wentz) has already been told he’ll be third-string, and the starting running back (Ryan Mathews) is one of the game’s known injury risks.
Even if the fan base was happy with Kelly’s ouster (the reaction was mixed, but mostly in favor), the Eagles are littered with question marks entering training camp. There is little depth at linebacker, they are gambling on Buffalo exile Leodis McKelvin to shore up their perpetual problems at cornerback, and Mathews, who has sustained one full season entering his seventh campaign, is expected to be the starting running back. The Eagles are a preseason team to watch because, frankly, nobody knows if they’re rebuilding or trying to win now.
The Rookie: Since Pederson has declared No. 2 pick Carson Wentz won’t sniff the starting job, let’s focus on undrafted linebacker Quentin Gause, a tackling machine who spent last year on an otherwise bad Rutgers team. Gause is a step slow, which is probably why he wasn’t drafted, but he is a sure tackler who impressed the coaching staff during OTAs. The Eagles’ linebackers lack depth and proven commodities outside of Mychal Kendricks (who had a forgettable 2015 season), and each of the starting backers (Kendricks, Nigel Bradham and Jordan Hicks) lost parts of last season to injury. Gause should see plenty of reps in the preseason, and he could play his way into a backup role.
Position Battle Spoilers: The Eagles don’t have a left guard. Pederson said that 2015 starter Allen Barbre is “my guy” and still has a lock on this position despite struggling last year. The competition will come from Stefan Wisniewski and rookie Isaac Seumalo. The staff will likely want to let Seumalo develop, so he’s a long shot. Wisniewski has put plenty of miles on his body over his five-year career (he has accrued 77 starts in that time), but he might be the more trusty option. Whoever loses out between Barbre and Wisniewski (I’d bet the former) won’t have a job out of training camp.
The Stat: 134.6, the average rushing total the Eagles surrendered last season, good for last place in the NFL. New defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz is aggressive to the point of recklessness, but stopping the run remains a glaring concern.
Preseason Watchability Guide: Remember that leaky run defense we just discussed? It gets two staunch first-quarter tests during the first two preseason games against the Buccaneers (Doug Martin) and Steelers (Le’Veon Bell).