Behind-the-scenes in Philly part 5

After five days of training camp, 42 player interviews, and a fantastic experience, I’ve finished my week with the Eagles.

We’ll have more content on Sky Sports to share from Philadelphia in the lead up to the season and the team’s International Series game with Jacksonville in October but for now, I’ll use this last daily entry to share what I’ve seen from the Super Bowl champions as they look to defend their title in 2018.

Carson Wentz is on track but Nick Foles is ready

All of the reports coming out of Philadelphia about their star quarterback’s recovery have been positive, and my eyes can confirm them to be true. But the Eagles are taking it easy. On day five – when the team had ‘live’ contact 11-on-11s, Wentz did not take a single rep. In fact, even on Sunday (day four), they eased off him and he wasn’t involved in the 11-on-11s without tackling.

Nick Foles is running the show, for now. The Eagles don’t want to put Wentz at any risk, but also; if Wentz won’t play in the preseason, it seems right to keep Foles in there – both for continuity’s sake and to allow the other players in the offense to play with the same teammates they will in August’s exhibition games.

Expect Wentz to be ready by week one, but it’s not bad having the Super Bowl MVP is your backup, is it?

The defense could be dominant

Last season, despite the recent memory of allowing 505 passing yards and 33 points to Tom Brady in their final outing, the Eagles’ defense was supreme. They ranked fourth in the league in total yards and points against, and first in rushing yards against. However, they were down at 17th in pass yards against and 15th in sacks. Those numbers could improve a lot.

In third-down passing situations, opposing quarterbacks will look across at some combination of Michael Bennett, Chris Long, Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham and second-year sack specialist Derek Barnett. Scary, I know.

The defensive backs were flying to the ball all week, with multiple picks and pass break-ups – and finger-wagging celebrations to top them off. The starting four of Ronald Darby, Jalen Mills, Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod are playing at an extremely high level.

One player to look out for is cornerback Sidney Jones. A second-round pick last year (regarded as a potential top-10 pick before suffering an Achilles injury just weeks before the Draft), Jones enters this season fully healthy and with star potential. The buzz around the building is that he will contribute heavily this season, whether it’s on the outside or in the slot.

New additions and players returning from injury have a point to prove

We’ve all heard about the odds the Eagles had to overcome with injuries last season – Wentz, Jason Peters, Darren Sproles, and Jordan Hicks were all absent for the Super Bowl run. However now, they are back, and hungry for rings of their own.

Even Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Graham – stars last year – have had to sit out the offseason recovering from surgeries. Their returns will provide yet another boost.

The two biggest offseason acquisitions – Mike Wallace and Michael Bennett – have been extremely productive in the league, and they add more Pro Bowl talent to this team. Wallace told me he’s still looking to prove himself, now on his fifth team and entering his 10th season.

He said: “I have never led the league in receiving yards or touchdowns, so I’ve got a long way to go. No matter how long you’ve been in the league, you have to keep working and trying to get better.”

This team has a lot of speed

In one portion of practice, the Eagles lined up with three receivers to the right-hand side of their formation: Wallace, Nelson Agholor and Mack Hollins. That is an insanely speedy trio, and one that will give defenses nightmares.

Zach Ertz has proven himself as one of the top tight ends in the game, but the addition of rookie Dallas Goedert means the Eagles have two dynamic pass-catchers at the position. Behind Jay Ajayi’s power in the backfield, Corey Clement and Sproles can hit a home run on any given play.

The Eagles had the league’s top-scoring offense with Wentz at the helm last season, and might pick up right where they left off.

It’s not just on offense, as alluded to above: this defense is rowdy and energetic. The Eagles had six Pro Bowlers in 2017, and there’s no doubt there’s enough talent here to exceed that number in 2018.

Culture is key

My experience with the Eagles this week has been fantastic, and it’s a large part due to the way I was treated by everyone in the organisation – from the PR team (Zach and Alli) to the staff around the field at practice, the players, and members of the front office. It’s clear the focus from the top down has been to build a top-quality culture within the building.

A big thanks to safety Jeremy Reaves – with whom I earned the nickname ‘London’ – who would talk me through practice every day, and multiple others who were happy to offer their time all week.

Head coach Doug Pederson, Wentz and Foles all stressed the same message in press conferences early in the week: everyone in the building is focusing on one day at a time to become champions again. There’s no room for complacency and everybody has the same goal.

Can the Eagles become the first back-to-back Super Bowl winners since the New England Patriots in the 2003/4 and 2004/5 seasons? They’ll give it their best shot.