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Pre-Season Slumber

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Will Sam Bradford stay injury-free next season?

Despite its desire to fill the entire calendar with real and contrived events designed to keep fans thinking NFL football year-round, the league has one yawning gap in its efforts: the period between mini-camps/OTAs and training camp. For more than six long weeks, we are forced to consider baseball, soccer and our families, rather than the country’s official sporting religion.

While we count the days until the Eagles commence training camp July 25, it is instructive to consider whether the team that will start the season Sept. 11 at the Linc against the Cleveland Browns has a chance to be a contender, or whether it’s destined for a lackluster year that might result in nine wins but is more likely to produce six or seven.   

It’s difficult to judge a team’s potential based on workouts in helmets and shoulder pads, especially when everyone involved is trying to learn new ways of playing offense and defense. But there are a few things that are extremely obvious about the Eagles as they head into the summer hiatus.

The first and most serious is a roster-wide dearth of playmakers. There are no breakaway backs, deep-threat receivers, sack-happy defensive ends or flypaper cornerbacks. Capable, but certainly not thrilling, players populate each of those positions. In the NFL, teams win championships with standouts at key positions. Quarterback leads that list, but the other spots must include top-shelf performers capable of making big impacts during important games. The Eagles lack those types of individuals (Fletcher Cox and Malcolm Jenkins are exceptions) and therefore enter the season without the ability to dazzle rivals with bursts of magic.

Second, the quarterback situation ought to be a strength, thanks to Sam Bradford’s return from self-imposed exile, Chase Daniel’s familiarity with head coach Doug Pederson’s offensive predilections and rookie Carson Wentz’s substantial potential. If the brittle Bradford can stay healthy, he should thrive, especially since he’ll be playing in a professional offense that has strange things like varied snap counts, audibles and a gameplans that attack opponents’ weaknesses rather than attempt to dazzle them with tempo. If he doesn’t, it’s up to Daniel, who must hope his facility for Pederson’s style overcomes his lack of experience. Should Wentz find himself in the starting lineup for a prolonged stretch, it’s time to start looking forward to the 2017 season.

Finally, the Eagles look to be vulnerable defensively, even though new coordinator Jim Schwartz actually approaches that side of the ball as if it mattered. The return of the once-reviled wide-nine defensive alignment shouldn’t exactly fill fans with confidence—not after the Jim Washburn debacle at the end of Andy Reid’s tenure. And since the defense isn’t exactly teeming with proven standouts, it’s unlikely it will be able to throttle the better teams on its schedule.

The upshot? It looks like this is an 8-8 team, with a game or two of movement on either side. It may well be enough to win the NFC East, since the Giants are likely to be shaky, Dallas’ fortunes rest on fragile QB Tony Romo, and it’s impossible to imagine Little Danny Snyder’s Washington franchise enjoying success two years in a row. It’s unlikely the Eagles will be more than seven-point favorites or underdogs in any game this year—with the possible exception of the opener against the execrable Clowns—so they won’t be getting blasted by, or blasting, too many people.

Nobody has any real idea whether Pederson can be a successful head coach, but a look at the roster overhaul executed by the rehabilitated Howie Roseman indicates that the long summer wait could be merely a prelude to a desultory 2016 season.

Still, it beats just about anything else that’s going to happen before late July.

EL HOMBRE SEZ: Hats off to Conestoga’s girls’ lax team, which overcame the El Hombre Jinx back when it was undefeated to win the state title. Springfield’s boys club gets major kudos also for its PIAA championship. … How about the Phillies’ luck? They get the top pick in the draft and there’s no bona fide star waiting to be chosen. Mickey Moniak may be a standout some day, but it’s going to take a while.

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