PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia Eagles opened 2021 NFL training camp on Tuesday at NovaCare Complex. Here's a closer look at a few storylines:
Is Jalen Hurts the answer at quarterback?
The direction of the franchise hinges on this question. Teammates often describe Hurts as a "natural leader," and responded positively when he took the reins for the final quarter of the 2020 season in place of Carson Wentz. He had some very good moments amid trying circumstances, highlighted by his performance in an upset Week 14 win against the New Orleans Saints in his first professional start. Management felt good enough about his ability to part with Wentz and set him up as the QB1 for this season.
But with upwards of three first-round picks in the 2022 NFL draft, the Eagles are hedging their bets. If Hurts doesn't bump up his passing numbers (52% completion rate, 6 TDs, 4 INT) and provide sufficient evidence he is the guy, Philadelphia is in position to use those picks to either trade for a veteran QB or move up and take one in next year's draft. If Hurts has a strong campaign, they can use those resources to further support him. In some ways, it is already make or break time for Hurts in Year 2.
Is coach Nick Sirianni ready for prime time? Will canceling mandatory minicamp hurt the learning curve?
Sirianni has never been a head coach at any level, and is now the front man for a major-market team that was a serious mess last season with a record of 4-11-1. He has assembled the youngest staff in the NFL. Making matters trickier, the Eagles decided to cancel mandatory minicamp and eliminate 7-on-7 and team drills during the offseason training activities after talking with their veteran players. While that allowed Sirianni and his staff to focus on teaching and fundamentals, they're coming in a step behind many teams from an evaluation and training perspective.
With a challenging first-half schedule featuring both representatives from Super Bowl LV in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Kansas City Chiefs, Sirianni is working against the clock to get his offense installed and the operation running smoothly.
Smith, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner out of Alabama, impressed during the spring despite the team's practice restrictions, showing the soft hands, sharp route running and crazy body control that helped him dominate the SEC last year en route to being the No. 10 overall pick in April's NFL draft. He and Reagor, the team's first-round pick in 2019, lined up consistently as the starters in the portion of organized team activities open to the media.
The Eagles' wide receivers are full of talent but short on experience. There is nobody in the receiver room older than 25, and Greg Ward leads the way in career starts with 13. There will be plenty of learning on the job for this group. While that could be good for the long-term outlook of the position, expect a few bumps to start.
Is the Eagles' defense good enough?
This is Jonathan Gannon's first stint at being an NFL defensive coordinator, making him a bit of a wild card. He served as assistant defensive backs coach with the Minnesota Vikings for three years before becoming the cornerbacks coach for the Indianapolis Colts in 2018, and is expected to pull from Mike Zimmer's system as he builds out his own defense. There will be more pre-snap disguise and a heavier emphasis on generating takeaways than we saw under former coordinator Jim Schwartz.
Safety Anthony Harris was added in NFL free agency and cornerback Steven Nelson was added this month to help with that mission, and the Eagles bolstered their defensive line by signing veteran end Ryan Kerrigan, but the core group is nearing the end of its prime. A key will be whether Gannon can get a high level of play out of cornerback Darius Slay and D-linemen Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham, who are all 30 or older.