Five Position Battles Take Front and Center with Training Camp on Horizon

Everyone knows the most obvious fight will be waged at left tackle, but here are four more that should keep your attention through August
Author:
Publish date:

You can see it on the horizon now, shimmering in the humidity.

That would be the Eagles training camp.

Much will be written and talked about between now and when the first summer camp under new head coach Nick Sirianni and his mostly brand-new staff is expected to open on July 27.

Sirianni sent his players into their summer vacations on June 4, much earlier than most NFL teams, which had mandatory minicamps, something the coach and his players decided to skip.

Competition has been the mantra ever since Sirianni took over earlier this year, so with that in mind, here are five position battles to watch.

Jordan Mailata vs. Andre Dillard

The most obvious of all the camp battles, because the players themselves, Sirianni, and O-line coach Jeff Stoutland all said that the starter’s position is up in the air.

Here’s where it gets tricky: what will GM Howie Roseman’s role be?

Roseman traded up in the first round to draft Dillard in 2019. Mailata is a seventh-round pick from 2018.

Will Roseman ultimately decide who starts and lean toward the player he spent more draft capital on to bring in Dillard?

Andre Dillard

Andre Dillard

Stoutland made it sound like the best player for the job will win, no matter where he is drafted, though Stoutland seemed to indicate that may not be quite accurate.

“Whoever’s the most productive and whoever does the best, who has the best value will be the starter,” he said.

There’s the caveat: "who has the best value." 

Well, Dillard is pretty much a left tackle and a left tackle only. Mailata can play both tackle spots, though he is better, at the moment, on the left side. 

Still, the former rugby star could bring greater value as a swing tackle in case of injury to Dillard or Lane Johnson.

RELATED: Philadelphia Eagles OT Jordan Mailata focused on ...

“If that’s what happens, if I step on that field, that’s a blessing of its own,” said Mailata. “It’s what I can do for this team that matters and I’m trying to win a championship. If me being that sixth man and playing left, right, whatever it is and we get there, I’ll do it.”

Avonte Maddox vs. Michael Jacquet/Zech McPhearson

The battle for the second cornerback role is expected to be just as fierce as the left tackle fight. Maddox is the incumbent, but the new staff may have other ideas.

An undrafted free agent in 2020, Jacquet has the size at 6-2, 200, but found the going difficult in two late-season starts last year, giving up 17 completions in 21 passes thrown his way during losses to Arizona and Dallas.

McPhearson is a fourth-round pick so how much anyone outside the coaching staff can expect from him as a rookie in September remains to be seen, but if he shines in August, well, he has a shot to be the starter.

RELATED: Philadelphia Eagles CB Zech McPhearson could be answer to ...

Shakial Taylor and Josiah Scott are two others who could factor into the battle.

J.J. Arcega-Whiteside vs. John Hightower vs. Quez Watkins

The Eagles appear to have four wide receivers assured of making the roster with DeVonta Smith, Jalen Reagor, Greg Ward, and Travis Fulgham. That leaves three players vying for one or perhaps two spots.

Arcega-Whiteside needs to show up in preseason games to have any kind of shot. He has looked good in previous camps, but that has yet to translate into regular-season success. 

Nick Sirianni gets hands on with WR Quez Watkins

Quez Watkins

Hightower and Watkins were two late-round picks in 2020 and of the two, it’s a matter of who shows the most upside.

The difference between the two of them is too close to call based on last year.

Hightower had 10 catches for 167 yards and had some nice completions deep, including from 50 yards against the Ravens followed the next week by a 59-yard catch against the Giants. Watkins had seven receptions for 106 yards, but his catch-and-run TD that covered 32 yards against Arizona required some nifty jukes and accelerations to throw a pass just off the line of scrimmage into a big play.

Kerryon Johnson vs. Jordan Howard

It doesn’t feel like both running backs make the roster since they are both very similar, including a bit of an injury history, except in one area. 

Johnson has proven to be a better pass-catcher out of the backfield. That could be the difference as the Eagles seem set with three spots virtually assured in Miles Sanders, Boston Scott, and Kenny Gainwell.

Scott, though, was a favorite of the previous coaching regime. August will tell just how the new staff feels about him.

RELATED: Philadelphia Eagles RB Boston Scott aiming to be No. 2 on ...

Richard Rodgers vs. a field of 5

Zach Ertz isn’t counted in the battle to be tight end number two behind Dallas Goedert even though he remains on the roster.

As for Rodgers, can the veteran play his way into the hearts and minds of the new staff? 

He was a late-in-the-offseason signing so there is no guarantee of a roster spot, though his 2020 production of 24 catches for 345 yards and two touchdowns in 14 games with four starts certainly warrants him being the favorite to be TE2.

RELATED: Examining the NFC East: The Tight Ends - Sports Illustrated ...

The five battling to be at least TE3, assuming the Eagles keep three are, or and who could potentially unseat Rodgers, in my handicapping order:

Jack Stoll, an undrafted free agent, Caleb Wilson, Hakeem Butler, Jason Croom, and Tyree Jackson.

Ed Kracz is the publisher of SI.com’s Eagle Maven and co-host of the Eagles Unfiltered Podcast. Check out the latest Eagles news at www.SI.com/NFL/Eagles and please follow him on Twitter: @kracze.