Eagles hope new faces bring success

In 2017, Eagles player personnel gurus Howie Roseman and Joe Douglas brought in new faces who came together, rose to the occasion and played significant roles in the Birds winning the first Super Bowl in franchise history.

Those players included wide receivers Torrey Smith and Alshon Jeffery, running backs LeGarrette Blount and Corey Clement, defensive back Patrick Robinson, kicker Jake Elliott and quarterback Nick Foles, who was brought back after being shipped out in early 2015 by then-head coach and player personnel director Chip Kelly.

The Eagles can only hope this year’s new faces can have the same success. Some of those newcomers include:

WR DeSean Jackson: Like Foles, Jackson was a Kelly casualty, traded to the Washington Redskins following the 2013 season after posting his best statistics as a pro. The speedster caught 82 passes for 1,332 yards and nine touchdowns that year, helping the Eagles win the NFC East.

Veteran wide receiver DeSean Jackson is a new face – again – with the Eagles offense. Photo by Andy Lewis

Jackson was originally drafted by the Eagles in the second round out of California in 2008. The 5-foot-10, 175-pounder was brought back this season through a trade with Tampa Bay.

The eye test at training camp suggests Jackson, 32, has not lost a step. Tight end Zach Ertz, one of his teammates in 2013, says Jackson’s speed is still there.

“He’s just so fast,” Ertz said. “The first play of the Tampa Bay game last year, he goes 70 yards and we haven’t had that probably since he left.”

Jackson broke the ring finger on his left hand at practice recently and could miss the first two games of the regular season. He may still be one of the most important pieces in this year’s offense.

OT Andre Dillard: Taken in the first round (No. 22 overall) out of Washington State, the 6-5, 315-pounder is insurance against the inevitable injury bug that will hit future Hall of Fame tackle Jason Peters at some point this season.

Offensive lineman Andre Dillard was taken with the No. 22 overall pick in this year’s draft out of Washington State. The Birds hope he can man the left tackle spot should veteran Jason Peters experience health issues. Photo by Andy Lewis.

Dillard has shown flashes of his superior technique that can, if needed, transfer to the guard position.

WR JJ Arcega-Whiteside: The second-round pick out of Stanford showed he can contribute at the NFL level when he hauled in eight passes for 104 yards and a touchdown against the Baltimore Ravens in preseason game No. 3. At 6-2, 225 pounds, Arcega-Whiteside should be a big target this season for Carson Wentz in the red zone.

Rookie wide receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside – a second round pick out of Stanford is showing in camp that he can contribute to the offense right away. Photo by Michael Corsey.

RB Miles Sanders: The second-round pick out of Penn State could end up the starting running back for the Eagles this year. The chiseled 5-11, 211-pound ball carrier has had some minor injury issues during the spring sessions, but appears to be ready for the start of the season. Sanders served as backup to Nittany Lions star Saquon Barkley in 2016 and ‘17. In 2018, Sanders showed his talents, rushing 220 times for 1,274 yards and nine touchdowns. He also caught 24 passes for 139 yards.

Sanders says, for now, he will keep wearing No. 26, the same number Barkley wears with the New York Giants. Look for Sanders to make a name for himself in 2019.

RB Jordan Howard: This grinder nicknamed “The Bulldozer” came to the Eagles though a trade with the Chicago Bears this offseason. Howard was drafted in the fifth round of the 2016 draft out of Indiana. During his first three seasons in Chicago, Howard rushed 778 times for 3,370 yards and 24 touchdowns. He also caught 20 passes for 145 yards and another TD. But the Bears weren’t winning, and new coach Matt Nagy thought Howard did not fit into his offense. So, Howard is now an Eagle.

Just 24 years old, the 6-0, 224-pounder could duplicate the plow-horse role Blount had in 2017. Eagles Nation would be just fine with that.

G/C Nate Herbig: After his sophomore season at Stanford, many college football observers started penciling in the massive guard (6-4, 334) as a first-round draft pick. But an injury-plagued confidence-draining junior season saw Herbig’s stock drop. He was not drafted. The Eagles, in particular offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland, saw Herbig’s potential and offered him the largest signing bonus of all the rookie free agents the Birds brought in.

Rookie free agent Nate Herbig out of Stanford may end up the backup center this season. Photo by Michael Corsey.

The gamble appears to have paid off. Herbig was moved to center – a position he never played before – and excelled in preseason games against Jacksonville and Baltimore. He may unseat Super Bowl starter Stefen Wisniewski in the role of backup guard/backup center on the active roster.

DT Malik Jackson: On March 13, Jackson signed a three-year, $30 million contract with the Eagles. The 6-5, 290-pounder out of Tennessee spent the last three seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars, where he recorded 18 sacks from his tackle position. Drafted in the fifth round of the 2012 NFL draft by the Denver Broncos, the Eagles will need everything they can get out of Jackson while All-Pro defensive tackle Fletcher Cox and defensive end Derek Barnett find their legs after practicing very little this offseason because of lingering injuries incurred last year.

LB Zach Brown: The 29-year-old was signed as a free agent this offseason. Even with solid numbers in 2018 – 96 tackles, 10 for loss, two quarterback hits, a sack and two forced fumbles – Brown and the Redskins decided to part ways. Brown has not had a good camp. The Eagles will need the eight-year veteran to step up and make up for the production lost from the departed Jordan Hicks.

Veteran linebacker Zach Brown, targeted the Eagles as his place of choice when he decided to walk away from the Washington Redskins. Photo by Andy Lewis

DT Hassan Ridgeway: Ridgeway was drafted in the fourth round of the 2016 NFL Draft by the Indianapolis Colts. He played all 16 games with five starts his rookie year, finishing with 21 total tackles (eight solo), five quarterback hits, 1.5 sacks and two tackles for loss. Over the next two seasons, Ridgeway played in just 18 total games (one start) and produced just 20 total tackles, three sacks and four tackles for loss.

On April 27, Ridgeway, 24, was traded to the Eagles for a seventh-round pick in the 2019 draft. The hope is the 6-3, 305-pounder can restart his career while providing much-needed depth on the defensive line.

DE Shareef Miller: The fourth-round pick out of Penn State came to the Birds after three solid seasons in Happy Valley. Miller recorded 31.5 tackles for loss and 14.5 sacks. He helped the Nittany Lions win the Big Ten championship in 2016. Miller, listed at 6-4, 254 pounds, has not had a standout camp but will make the roster. He is a George Washington High School graduate.

QB Josh McCown: With the serious wrist injury to backup quarterback Nate Sudfeld that will keep him sidelined for at least the first month of the regular season, the Birds signed the 17-year veteran to a reported $2 million guaranteed contract. Incentives could bring that number to $5.4 million. Eagles fans hope he never sees the field.

Quarterback Josh McCown, a 17-year veteran who has been with 11 different NFL teams, will be the backup to Carson Wentz this season. McCown was signed on August 17, 2019 after backup Nate Sudfeld broke his non-throwing wrist in the preseason opener. Photo by Michael Corsey.

New players of note: Safeties Andrew Sendejo and Johnathan Cyprien, plus cornerback Orlando Scandrick, are all new to the team and could see playing time. Who will step up and shine remains to be seen. ••