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A Season of Uncertainty Just About to Begin

Will the Eagles have the early upper hand since they are a team that has been mostly stable as opposed to the rest of the NFC East, or won't it matter, with COVID-19 changing much of the landscape?

PHILADELPHIA — Much was made about how continuity will be a big advantage for the Eagles in the 2020 season when compared to the rest of the NFC East where every other team is set to break in a new coach in a virtual offseason, scaled back training camps, and no preseason games due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

That thesis will be tested on Sunday when Philadelphia visits the newly-minted Washington Football Team, an organization that has been engulfed in issues that reach far past the pandemic, namely the name change, a host of Washington Post reports taking aim at owner Daniel Snyder for the culture he's fostered, and the health of new coach Ron Rivera, who was recently diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma and missed practice on Tuesday to start cancer treatments.

In many ways, the Eagles' first opponent could have been placed on a tee and created more obstacles than the mess that is the WFT.

None of that means it's been smooth sailing for the Eagles, however. While head coach Doug Pederson is back, there have been significant changes to the offensive coaching staff and no dry runs to test the game-day communication.

"Like any season, I have communications with my coaches," said Pederson when asked about the change which involved replacing an offensive coordinator he didn't want to fire in Mike Groh with a cast of thousands.

"I lay out their job descriptions, not only from a game-planning standpoint but also on game day and walk through who the guys are going to be on the sideline, who the guys are going to be in the box and their responsibilities there."

That had to be tweaked as well from any original plan thanks to COVID-19.

"Obviously with COVID and with the new protocols and things, there are some limitations to who's upstairs and who's downstairs, but I've had all that covered throughout training camp," the coach said.

Then there is the injury situation, particularly on the offensive line.

Since the day Andy Reid arrived in 1999, the Eagles have stressed building on both sides of the line of scrimmage and the team has already lost Andre Dillard to a season-ending torn biceps and Brandon Brooks to a likely season-ending torn Achilles'.

Add in the musical chairs of Jason Peters and Matt Pryor during training camp, the realization that Lane Johnson may not be ready for Week 1 with an ankle injury, and all of a sudden you're facing a talented Washington front that has added Chase Young with names like Pryor, Nate Herbig or Jack Driscoll, rather than the All-Pros.

"Lane is a valuable piece to our offensive line," said Pederson. "But yet we've got to prepare everybody if Lane is not available, and we've got to get our young guys ready to go. This is why when we select offensive linemen we look for guys that can play both left and right side, can play inside and outside. We've got some young players there that we'll have ready."

The uncertainty of traveling for the first time under stricter protocols, albeit the short trip to the Beltway, no fans in the stadium potentially affecting the energy level with piped-in noise that could reach 70 decibels per NFL rules, and the landscape looks much different than ever before.

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"This is why we did our scrimmage at the Linc (Lincoln Financial Field) a week or so ago to try the crowd noise," said Pederson. "... what you heard in (the) stadium is about the level of the noise. We did hear that potentially a little bit less than that, but I was on the field and really had no issues hearing the communication.

"We still have to be smart with our cadences. We don't want to - we've got to mix things up, obviously, communication. A lot of nonverbal, probably even more so, having more nonverbal communication just because of having the lack of crowd noise so that teams don't pick up on things that we're trying to do offensively and defensively."

Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie was proud of his organization's embrace of the uncertainty, as was GM Howie Roseman and now Pederson, not exactly the easiest thing for a profession based on structure.

It's manifested itself on the field and off. 

On Wednesday, Pro Bowl tight end Zach Ertz was holding for kicker Jake Elliott and previously starting linebacker Nate Gerry went back to his high-school roots to sharpen his emergency long-snapping skills,

Off the field, the latest protocols have joined in the next-man-up mentality.

"Our players are resilient that way. It's no different if a player gets hurt, we've got to coach the next guy," said Pederson. "It's no different if a protocol changes, we've just got to coach up the next protocol in the line of protocols."

Flexibility is key.

"It's like I tell the players all the time, you've got to remain flexible," Pederson said. "You've got to understand that things can change, and obviously this approach started back when we left the building back on like March 13. When we had to exit the building due to the pandemic and start working from home, we knew at that particular time that things were going to be different for this not only the off-season but training camp and into the regular season.

"A lot of the scheduling and a lot of things that I've had to do, I just know that things can change, and you have to adapt."

On Sunday, everyone gets tested twice - for COVID-19 and how they've handled it.

"You've got to stay flexible," said Pederson. "You've got to have a little bit of a sense of humor with all this, have fun with it, and make sure that everything is well thought out and well planned out."

John McMullen contributes Eagles coverage for SI.com's EagleMaven and is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media. You can listen to John every Monday and Friday on SIRIUSXM and every Tuesday and Thursday with Eytan Shander on SBNation Radio. You can reach him at jmcmullen44@gmail.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen

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