8 key Ea­gles could be iffy, but Ped­er­son in­sists he’s un­fazed be­fore opener

The Morning Call - - FRONT PAGE - By Nick Fierro

PHILADEL­PHIA — Cor­ner­backs Jalen Mills and Cre’Von Le­Blanc are out un­til Novem­ber at the ear­li­est. Line­backer Kamu Grugier-Hill still doesn’t have a timetable for his come­back from an MCL in­jury suf­fered early in train­ing camp. De­fen­sive tackle Fletcher Cox (foot), de­fen­sive end Derek Bar­nett (shoul­der) and line­backer Nigel Brad­ham (foot) didn’t see any pre­sea­son ac­tion. Safety Rodney McLeod (knee) and cor­ner­back Ron­ald Darby (knee) were only re­cently cleared for full con­tact com­ing off in­juries from last sea­son.

Ladies and gen­tle­men, that’s eight key pieces of the Philadel­phia Ea­gles’ de­fense who have ques­tion marks hov­er­ing over their heads head­ing in their sea­son-open­ing game at home on Sun­day (1 p.m., FOX) against the Washington Redskins.

But not to worry, in­sists coach Doug Ped­er­son, who ex­pects big things from Cox, Bar­nett, Brad­ham, McLeod and Darby right away and an im­prove­ment over what the in­juryin­duced squad did last year.

Ped­er­son even went on to say that he feels par­tic­u­larly good about

“I put in the time, done the con­di­tion­ing and I’m go­ing to be back to my nor­mal self [on Sun­day].” — Ea­gles line­backer Nigel Brad­ham

Bar­nett, who nev­er­the­less showed up on the team’s first in­jury re­port as a lim­ited par­tic­i­pant with that same shoul­der in­jury that first started both­er­ing him last Oc­to­ber, even­tu­ally land­ing him on the in­jured re­serve list.

Bar­nett en­ters his third sea­son with just 7.5 ca­reer sacks as a re­sult.

“I feel re­ally, re­ally good about Derek,” Ped­er­son said. “He’s been prob­a­bly the one that’s been prac­tic­ing the most dur­ing train­ing camp with get­ting more reps each and ev­ery week. So he’s in a re­ally good spot, so I have no is­sues with him not play­ing or be­ing there.”

Cox not only didn’t prac­tice un­til Wed­nes­day, but when he did, he had a new starter along­side him in Ma­lik Jack­son. Like Ped­er­son, he didn’t view it as a po­ten­tial prob­lem.

“Me and him have to at­tack and we have to play off of each other,” Cox said. “For to­day to be the first day of me prac­tic­ing with him, we did some re­ally good things in prac­tice. It’s still go­ing to take time. But we could be re­ally spe­cial.

“… It’s a long sea­son. I just had to be smart about my in­jury, post-surgery, and we had a re­ally good plan with the med­i­cal staff and the coaches un­der­stood. And now I am where I am and ready to roll.”

What’s more, there should be no rust, ac­cord­ing to Cox.

“It’s like rid­ing a bike,” he said. “You do it for so long when you’re a kid, you never for­get how to ride a bike.”

Then there’s the lineback­ers, who fea­ture three new­com­ers (Zach Brown, T.J. Ed­wards and L.J. Fort) and will have to make due with­out Grugier-Hill in­def­i­nitely. But at least Brad­ham was a full par­tic­i­pant on Wed­nes­day.

“I haven’t tack­led no­body yet, though,” Brad­ham said. “So this week will be the first.

“… Ev­ery­thing has paid off, man. I put in the time, done the con­di­tion­ing and I’m go­ing to be back to my nor­mal self [on Sun­day].”

The sec­ondary will fea­ture some new looks as well. Af­ter a strong off­sea­son, Sid­ney Jones ap­pears to be a starter on the out­side now along with Ron­ald Darby. Both are com­ing back from in­juries last sea­son. Avonte Mad­dox, their top choice for the slot po­si­tion, and Ra­sul Dou­glas also will be in the mix.

Al­though start­ing safeties Mal­colm Jenk­ins and Rodney McLeod re­turn, McLeod missed most of camp com­ing off a ma­jor knee in­jury that landed him on IR last year as well.

Their third safety, vet­eran An­drew Sen­dejo, is new, hav­ing come over from Min­nesota, though he has been praised for pick­ing up the de­fense al­most in­stan­ta­neously.

With so many new­com­ers and play­ers who haven’t prac­ticed, though, the Ea­gles’ de­fense gives its fans ev­ery rea­son to be con­cerned about its ef­fec­tive­ness, es­pe­cially against an op­po­nent that will try to punch them in the face with a ball-con­trol of­fense.

So when it comes to Sun­day, for­get what the coaches and play­ers have said and just trust your anx­ious eyes.

“I just had to be smart about my in­jury, post­surgery, and we had a re­ally good plan with the med­i­cal staff and the coaches un­der­stood. And now I am where I am and ready to roll.”

— Ea­gles de­fen­sive tackle Fletcher Cox


Ea­gles line­backer Nigel Brad­ham, cel­e­brat­ing af­ter a sack last sea­son, in­sists he’ll be back to his old self Sun­day de­spite miss­ing train­ing camp and the pre­sea­son.


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