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Eagles OTAs: 5 roster battles that begin today

Eliot Shorr-Parks
April 15, 2019 - 8:52 am

One thing head coach Doug Pederson loves to stress is competition. He tries especially hard to create it during OTAs, putting together various competitions and prizes for the players that do attend. 

Underneath that manufactured competition, however, is a clear message — OTAs matter, and how a player performs during them could dictate how much he plays in training camp or during the regular season. 

Although a good majority of the Eagles’ starting spots are locked up by veteran and returning players, there are a few key jobs still open, with the spot going to the best player during this offseason. 

Nickel Cornerback: The biggest competition the Eagles had last offseason was at nickel cornerback, and that figures to be the case yet again this offseason. Who the main participants will be is still unclear, but one name it will definitely feature is Cre’von LeBlanc. LeBlanc had an excellent ending to the season last year at nickel, with Pro Football Focus naming him one of the best cornerbacks in the postseason. LeBlanc is very similar to Jalen Mills in his attitude and style of play, making him a favorite of the coaching staff. LeBlanc could be competing against Sidney Jones, who won the nickel job last season. It is possible the Eagles put Avonte Maddox back at nickel, but with injuries on the outside, Maddox could start the season there. 

Starting Cornerback: The Eagles have five cornerbacks that could end up starting in Week 1 in either of the two outside cornerback spots — Jalen Mills, Ronald Darby, Sidney Jones, Rasul Douglas or Maddox. If Mills and Darby are healthy, they will almost certainly be starting. The competition could heat top quickly if either is sidelined, however. Douglas and Jones both feel they should be starting, and if only one spot is open, the battle between those two should be a heated one. As with nickel cornerback, if the Eagles view Maddox as an outside cornerback, he will likely be handed a job. Either way, of all the positions on the Eagles, outsider cornerback is the biggest question mark heading into OTAs. 

Backup Running back: Jordan Howard will almost certainly be starting in Week 1 behind Carson Wentz. The question is how will be behind Howard. As of now the top candidate is likely Corey Clement, but an unimpressive showing last season combined with a season-ending injury could open the door for another player to steal his spot. Josh Adams looked like the best running back on the team last season for stretches at a time, and the coaches have way more faith in Wendell Smallwood than the fans do. A rookie should be added to the mix as well. The key quality the Eagles will be looking for in a No. 2 running back? The ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. 

Second Linebacker spot: Linebacker Nigel Bradham will likely be starting at middle linebacker and playing almost 100% of the Eagles’ defensive snaps next season. The question is who will be beside him. Kamu Grugier-Hill likely steps into OTAs as the top candidate for the No. 2 linebacker spot, but the Eagles seem to be big fans of L.J. Fort, making him a priority free agent and likely promising him a chance to play. Nate Gerry is also entering his third season and had an interception in Week 17. The Eagles will rotate linebackers in-and-out throughout the season, but the starting spot next to Bradham is very much up for grabs. 

Backup Left Tackle: Every fan’s favorite prospect, Jordan Mailata, will come to Eagles’ OTAs this season with a much different goal than he did last year. Last season, his job was to learn how to play football. This year he will be competing for a job. Mailata’s top competition for the backup tackle spot behind Jason Peters will be Halapoulivaati Vaitai, who has held the job for the last two seasons. The Eagles will want Mailata to win it, but him coming to camp and doing so is no guarantee. OTAs will be huge for him. 

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