PHILADELPHIA − The Eagles don’t have very many starting jobs available coming off a Super Bowl season.
On offense, the only spots up for grabs are at right guard and running back. On defense, the only openings are at linebacker and safety. The defensive line is more of a rotation, and that really is a matter of sorting out who gets the most snaps as opposed to who starts.
And yet, we’re starting to see some clarity at some positions, even though the regular-season opener is still five weeks away. We also could be seeing some surprises at other positions.
At linebacker, for example, who thought Eagles’ first-round pick Nolan Smith, drafted as an edge rusher, would be seeing first-team snaps as an off-ball linebacker after Nakobe Dean suffered a groin injury? Dean is considered day-to-day. And is Christian Elliss, a special teams standout last season, really a candidate to start over free agent signee Nicholas Morrow?
It’s similar at safety where Terrell Edmunds and Reed Blankenship came into camp as the expected starters. But K’Von Wallace has gotten some first-team snaps, and the Eagles drafted Sydney Brown in the third round.
“It’s early and the guys know that,” Eagles defensive coordinator Sean Desai said. “The competition is going to keep rolling. We’re not in the business of making decisions too early. … Over time, when you let it sort itself out, it sorts itself out. We’re not in any rush.”
Here, then, is a look at the starting positions up for grabs, and who is in line to win those jobs:
Jurgens has taken just about every first-team rep at right guard. The only time that he didn’t came Friday, when he was moved to center − his natural position − to get some work, and to give Jason Kelce a breather. Steen, the Eagles’ third-round pick, went to right guard. But lately, Steen has been used as a left tackle on the second team. He played his last two collegiate seasons at Vanderbilt and Alabama, respectively.
“I’m very happy with what he’s doing,” Eagles offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland said about Jurgens. “But I’m not one to throw sugar all over the place. … We have a lot of work to do, still.”
ALL ABOUT THE BIRDS: 🦅 Sign up for Eye on the Eagles, our new NFL newsletter 🦅
And then Stoutland did “throw sugar all over the place” by adding this about Jurgens:
“Cam is a very smart player. He’s an intelligent player, he asks great questions in meetings, and he conceptualizes concepts very well when I teach them. … A lot of players are afraid to ask (questions) because they don’t want you to look at him like, ‘Hey, he doesn’t know what he’s doing.’ Cam doesn’t care. He’s pretty confident … not only in his knowledge, but in his ability to play.”
The Eagles most likely won’t have a main running back as they did last season with Miles Sanders, who had a career-high 1,269 yards rushing. Sanders left as a free agent, and the Eagles traded for D’Andre Swift and signed Rashaad Penny. Those two figure to get the bulk of the carries, and Swift likely has the edge because he’s an accomplished receiver out of the backfield.
But the Eagles also like Kenny Gainwell, who was getting a bigger role late last season and into the playoffs. And Eagles coach Nick Sirianni often mentions Trey Sermon, who was rarely used last season.
Sirianni wouldn’t commit to anything when it comes to his running backs.
“It can look any way we need it to look,” Sirianni said. “We’ll see as we continue down the road. The good thing is I don’t have to make a decision on how it needs to look quite yet.”
This position could have the most intrigue. Dean, the Eagles’ third-round pick in 2022, was handed one starting spot. The other was expected to go to Morrow, who signed a one-year deal after starting last season for the Chicago Bears.
But Morrow hasn’t stood out much, and perhaps that has opened up a chance for Elliss, who shined during the spring practices with two interceptions. He also has an interception in camp. The Eagles were likely using Smith in place of Dean just to see him in coverage.
“Last year I felt like I was tiptoeing,” Elliss said. “I felt like I was still getting used to being here in the NFL. But every day that goes by … I just get more comfortable.”
Wallace, the Eagles’ fourth-round pick in 2020, has had a strong camp so far. He already has one interception, and he has played well, even in his first-team reps.
Wallace said his NFL career has mirrored his high school and college career, where he had to sit for a few years before getting a chance. He likened it to a flower blooming.
“Watch that flower bloom, man, it looks good,” Wallace said.
Then he added: “I’m prepared and I’m ready. And I’m willing to go out there and scratch and claw for that starting spot.”
Neither Edmunds nor Blankenship will be handed the job. Edmunds signed a low-cost, prove-it deal after spending five seasons as a starter with the Steelers. Blankenship was an undrafted free agent last season who made the 53-man roster, then started five games late in the season when Chauncey Gardner-Johnson was injured.
Brown has mostly been working with the second and third-teamers as he adjusts to the NFL and learns the Eagles’ defense. The Eagles also have veteran Justin Evans.
This position is still very much up for grabs, and don’t rule out Roseman making a late-summer trade as he did last season to get Gardner-Johnson.
So far, it seems like incumbent Arryn Siposs is ahead of Ty Zentner, an undrafted free agent. But Zentner will get every opportunity to punt in games, so there’s still a ways to go.
Contact Martin Frank at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @Mfranknfl.
This article originally appeared on Delaware News Journal: Eagles’ battles for starting jobs heat up for veterans at LB, safety