2023 Season Preview Series: Rookies, Upstarts Looking To Battle For Starting Spots
(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the 12th story in a series by Inside The Birds’ Geoff Mosher and Andrew DiCecco previewing the 2023 Philadelphia Eagles season. In Part 12, they identify the best camp battle on defense to watch in 2023 training camp).
Andrew DiCecco: Safety
Apart from the rare positional uncertainty, Sean Desai inherits a cupboard abundant with ingredients to work with in his first season as Philadelphia’s defensive coordinator.
His pass rush – the ferocious wave that collected a league-leading 70 sacks a season ago – not only returns virtually intact despite the loss of interior pocket-pusher Javon Hargrave but also managed to add a pair of blue-chip prospects via the draft.
Former first-round edge rusher Derek Barnett, who missed all but one game last season after tearing his ACL, also returns.
The veteran cornerback tandem of Darius Slay and James Bradberry reunite for a second season while slot cornerback Avonte Maddox completes the formidable trio sitting atop the depth chart. Bradberry, of course, is coming off his lone All-Pro season.
At the risk of sounding redundant, however, the aforementioned positional uncertainty alludes to the new-look safety tandem sandwiched in between.
Gone are 2022 backend pillars, versatile playmaker C.J. Gardner-Johnson and rock-solid Marcus Epps, as each departed in free agency.
Instead, polarizing veteran Terrell Edmunds, second-year pro Reed Blankenship, and third-round rookie Sydney Brown, are vying to fill the void.
None of the above identify as bonafide coverage specialists, which potentially becomes troubling when factoring a schedule teeming of speed merchants.
Brown – a tough, tenacious, and bright-minded first-year player – has the most to offer and represents long-term upside, but it remains to be seen how quickly he can find his footing and grasp Desai’s scheme.
Edmunds, who has started 75 of the 79 games in which he appeared, is destined for one of the vacancies, providing a proven veteran presence to an inexperienced room, but an Edmunds-Blankenship pairing seems redundant and potentially leaves the backend ripe for exploitation.
The wild card here is Brown, who could alter the positional complexion and mitigate concern with a big summer.
Geoff Mosher: Off-ball Linebacker
The Eagles would like to make 2022 their “new norm” for linebacker play.
After years of accepting carousels, the Eagles stabilized their off-ball linebacker spots last year, getting outstanding play from T.J Edwards and good-enough play from Kyzir White for both to keep their jobs from start to finish. That’s a rare accomplishment for one, let alone both, off-ball linebackers.
Of course, the Eagles being who they are, they didn’t re-sign either and head into a new season with a fresh pair of starters, second-year pro Nakobe Dean and free-agent pickup Nic Morrow.
The competition to watch is between Morrow, a five-year veteran who has played adequately for the Raiders and Bears, and holdover Christian Elliss, last year’s answer to a sagging special teams unit.
Elliss, son of former Lions defensive tackle Luther Elliss, has more size than Morrow, outweighing him by about 10 more pounds. Elliss can run well, too, even with the added pounds.
The job is Morrow’s to lose, but in most years until 2022, an Eagles starting linebacker has struggled to keep his job all year. The Eagles gave Elliss some first-team looks in OTAs.
It’s hardly a clash of titans, but Morrow vs. Elliss should be a catchy camp storyline.
– Geoff Mosher (@geoffpmosher) is co-host of the “Inside the Birds” podcast and Senior staff writer for InsideTheBirds.com. Andrew DiCecco (@AndrewDiCecco) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com.
Follow the whole series:
Part 1: Most impactful rookie
Part 2: Biggest second-year player impact
Part 3: Breakout 2023 performer
Part 4: Most significant free-agent addition, offense
Part 5: Most significant free-agent addition, defense
Part 6: Strong position, offense
Part 7: Strongest position, defense
Part 8: Most poised for decline
Part 9: Biggest individual concern
Part 10: Biggest team concern
Part 11: Best camp battle, offense
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