Not much has changed for the Eagles after their defeat of the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII.
They’re still the team to beat in the NFL. And they’re still not healthy.
The Eagles are almost as beat up as they were when five key players didn’t suit up for the title game, including regular season MVP candidate Carson Wentz. Right now, he’s the least of the injury concerns, the left knee awaiting only the acid test of game action.
The rest of the medical news is borderline grim.
Rewind to the Super Bowl and the defensive play of the game came from Brandon Graham, who was playing with a strained hamstring and a high ankle sprain. Graham’s strip-sack of Tom Brady, the GOAT, was recovered by Derek Barnett, and it set up the insurance points in a 41-33 win over the Patriots.
Graham still is hurt. And Barnett, among others who underwent offseason surgery, isn’t all the way back from a sports hernia. There are whispers defensive tackle Tim Jernigan could miss a chunk of, if not the entire season due to surgery for a mysterious back injury.
The injury report was lengthy enough at minicamp that head coach Doug Pederson almost whiffed when asked if his largely intact roster is better than the one that won it all last February in Minneapolis.
“You could say that on paper, possibly,” Pederson conceded during an exclusive availability. “But I don’t want to speculate right now. It’s hard to say. We haven’t had everybody out there yet. … So, you know, there’s a lot of things where it’s just hard to say if we’re going to be that type of team again. You hope to. You want to. But yeah, ask me in a couple months.”
Wentz is the healthiest of the guys sidelined last season, the knee he shredded in the 13th game looking a lot like it’s ready for pure, unadulterated contact. If it isn’t, there’s always best-selling author Nick Foles, the Super Bowl MVP. Foles is healthier than he was last year at this time, when he had a nasty elbow strain.
The great news is the group that made an MVP out of Foles and carried the Eagles to their first Super Bowl championship returns intact, and then some, if offensive tackle Jason Peters is healthy. Also lost in the duel between Foles and Brady is the play of the Philly offensive line, which toyed with the stunts and shifts Bill Belichick threw at them.
When Eagles offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland reviewed the game, he almost stood up and applauded.
“It was like watching synchronized swimming,” Stoutland said. “They were just in such sync, the sets and the players. When you teach a concept you’re always looking for the perfect play. You want to save that and show it to other players. There were so many of those plays in that game that I’ve been able to save. It was really special.”
The Eagles torched Belichick’s defense for 538 yards. They did it without Peters, the 36-year-old veteran, who tore an ACL.
The Eagles will have to score points without big back LeGarrette Blount, who showed up every week, and veteran wide receiver Torrey Smith, who, despite the drops, created issues with his speed. It’s early but Mike Williams, whose best days were with the Steelers, could be the speed receiver and Jay Ajayi the workhorse back, providing his knee holds up.
On paper the offense is among the most potent in the conference.
The injuries on the defensive side are the big concern for the Eagles.
The Eagles gave up 613 yards, 29 first downs and 33 points in the Super Bowl. Had it not been for Graham, who recorded the only sack of the contest, the ending could have been different.
Graham, who led the Eagles in sacks last season and Jernigan, who complements Fletcher Cox, are essential to what defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz wants to do. Cox was the only one in the group to participate in offseason activities and minicamp.
Graham indicated he’s a reach to play in the preseason after undergoing surgery on his ankle. He left for the summer on crutches, conceding he’s shooting for the start of the 2018 season.
Jernigan is coming off a career season and a contract extension. There are whispers he might not ever be right after the back injury he says he cannot talk about, but vows to overcome.
“You’ll see when I come back,” Jernigan said. “I’m going to be mad, too.”
Signing 34-year-old Haloti Ngata, a part-time defensive tackle, and trading for accomplished defensive end Michael Bennett, who also can play inside, might not be enough for the Eagles to stave off the loss of Jernigan and tackle Beau Allen, who exited in free agency. It starts up front for Schwartz.
The linebacker situation is a mess. Playmaker Jordan Hicks isn’t all the way back from a torn Achilles’ tendon, his second significant injury in three years. Mychal Kendricks was traded. Veteran Nigel Bradham was re-signed but is suspended for the opener after violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy. Offseason addition Paul Worrilow tore an ACL.
Though Schwartz prefers playing safeties and cornerbacks to linebackers, he got his come-uppance in the SB. Brady scorched the scheme for a Super Bowl record 505 passing yards. The Patriots worked the seams, threw underneath and generally made the Eagles tackle Rob Gronkowski and the running backs. The league is on to Schwartz.
The Eagles have other injury issues. Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery did virtually nothing throughout the offseason, as he’s not all the way back from rotator cuff surgery. Of course, he had one of his best seasons playing through the rotator cuff.
Running back Darren Sproles (broken arm, ACL) and special teams standout Chris Maragos (knee) did very little in the offseason program.
It’s early, but the Eagles begin training camp next week in midseason form. That is to say, with a handful of injured key players and an offensive line looking like it could be the best in the league, if not the finest in the history of the franchise.
“That Dallas offensive line is still pretty good,” center Jason Kelce said. “If they’re not the best, they’re right up there with us. We’re better in our own way. We’re better at what we do, they’re better at what they do.”
Contact Bob Grotz at email@example.com; follow him on Twitter @bobgrotz.