The Tampa Bay Buccaneers play the Philadelphia Eagles tomorrow in their first preseason game of 2016. Football is back, kind of! This also means your traditional Q&As with opposing team bloggers are back. Today we chatted with Brandon Lee Gowton of Bleeding Green Nation about Carson Wentz, the Eagles’ depth issues, their strongest and weakest position and much more. Read his answers below!
1) Okay, what is up with Carson Wentz and Sam Bradford? Why did the Eagles draft a quarterback second overall to deactivate him all season? Did they find out something they didn't like during the offseason, or was this the plan all along?
I do think this was the plan all along. Back when the Eagles re-signed Sam Bradford, which was shortly before the start of free agency, they weren’t necessarily sure they’d be able to move up to get Wentz. The Eagles signed Bradford to what’s essentially a one-year deal. Philadelphia can easily cut or trade him after this season, so it’s not like they ever showed serious long-term commitment to him. In the short-term, though, the Eagles feel like Bradford can help the team be competitive in a relatively weak NFC East.
The Eagles want to be patient with Wentz. It’s hard to blame them. He’s coming from a lower level of college competition (Division I FCS) and the coaching staff is re-working his mechanics. This has been evident during offseason practices. Wentz is still adjusting to NFL and learning the playbook.
There’s no doubt Wentz will be deactivated early on in the season. The Eagles like Bradford as their starter and Chase Daniel as the backup. But the injury-prone Bradford will be on a short leash if he struggles. And at some point if the season appears to be lost, it’ll be hard not to put Wentz in. Might as well get him some playing time before he takes over as the full-time starter in 2017.
2) How do fans feel about firing Chip Kelly and replacing him with Doug Pederson?
At the time of the firing, I think more Eagles fans approved of the move than not. As time has gone on, I think fans aren’t really missing Kelly a lot. He led the Eagles to some success during his tenure, yes, but things seemed to be trending the wrong way. A number of players had issues with him. At times last season, such as the Buccaneers game, it was hard to say the players were giving it their all to make sure he wasn’t going to get fired.
The Pederson hiring wasn’t exciting. A lot of people questioned the move at the time, and some still do. I’m admittedly skeptical. Fans are willing to give him a shot to prove himself, but expectations aren’t very high.
It’s a weird thing because Pederson is an Andy Reid disciple. There’s a part of me that thinks it could be smart to go back to what used to work for you, and the Eagles obviously had a lot of success under Reid. On the other hand, maybe going back to the well is too simple and shows a lack of creativity.
3) The Eagles traded a lot of picks and players to move up for Carson Wentz, and they turned over the roster heavily to move on from Chip Kelly's players -- at least at some position. How has that affected team depth? Is the regime worried about future quality and depth, given the assets they've given up?
The Eagles have depth issues all over the roster. The offense is especially worrisome because the starters aren’t all that amazing. The tricky thing about upgrading depth in the future, as you pointed out, is that the Eagles lack some draft picks due to the Wentz trade. They also spent the most guaranteed money of any team this offseason and it’s not even close. The flip side to all that money being spent is the Eagles have built what they believe is a core unit to move forward with. If Wentz turns out to be the real deal and the Eagles’ core delivers on their promise, the depth issue might work itself out.
4) What is the strongest position on the team? What about the weakest?
Defensive tackle is the strongest position. Fletcher Cox is a star and he just got paid like one. At only 25 years old, he’s an extremely disruptive player in the middle of the defensive line. Cox could have had bigger sack numbers if he hadn’t been playing in a two-gap 3-4 defense over the past three seasons. He should excel in a big way playing in Jim Schwartz’s attacking 4-3 defensive scheme. Cox isn’t the only good defensive tackle. Bennie Logan is a beast as well. He’s primarily been a run-stuffing nose tackle to this point in his career because he has the skill to get after the passer as well. The combination of Cox and Logan will be a pain for opposing offensive lines to have to do deal with.
The weakest position comes down to running back or receiver. I’ll say receiver for now because Jordan Matthews is dealing with a knee injury that could cause him to miss the entire preseason. The Birds can’t afford to miss Matthews when the real games start because he’s easily their best receiver. Outside of Matthews, the Eagles’ receiving corps isn’t very inspiring. Nelson Agholor and Josh Huff are young but they’ve struggled more often than they’ve flashed. Veterans Rueben Randle and Chris Givens are trying to make an impression after signing one-year contracts with Philadelphia in free agency.
5) Can you name an under-the-radar player on offense and on defense we should watch out for on Thursday?
Offense - Trey Burton. Philadelphia’s third string tight end has had a tremendous training camp. He’s caught everything thrown his way. He makes good catches on a daily basis during practice. He’s also a special teams stud.
Defense - Jalen Mills. The Eagles drafted Mills in the seventh round of the 2016 NFL Draft, which some thought was a steal. Mel Kiper Jr. had Mills as high as a second round pick. The LSU cornerback has been impressive during offseason practices. He’s made a lot of plays on the ball.