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Lawlor: The Top Storylines For 2018
April 16, 2018 01:49 AM | Tommy Lawlor
Eagles players report to the NovaCare Complex on Monday for the start of the offseason conditioning program. Believe it or not, this is where the chase for another Super Bowl begins. We tend to think of minicamps, Training Camp, or maybe the preseason, but this is the real start.

With that in mind, let's look at the top storylines for the Eagles as they begin work for the 2018 season.

1. Carson Wentz's Recovery

Everyone's primary focus will be on the health of Carson Wentz. He had an amazing sophomore campaign, setting the franchise record for touchdown passes in a season. The Eagles had the top offense in football with him at the helm. Wentz tore his ACL in a December game against the Rams. Amazingly, that injury didn't hurt the team in 2017. The question now is how it will affect the 2018 season.

Wentz is working as hard as he can to get back, but he's not expected to hit the practice field for a while. The Eagles don't want to rush him back, especially not with a proven player like Nick Foles ready to handle things until Wentz is completely healthy.

Donovan McNabb tore his ACL in November 2006. He came back in 2007, played in the preseason, and was healthy for the start of the season. McNabb wasn't the same player, though. He was sacked more often than any other time in his career as a starter. The offense, which had been sixth in the league in scoring in 2006, fell down to 17th.

Coming back from an ACL is a challenge both mentally and physically. The player has to learn to trust his knee. That can happen very quickly for some, but can take quite a while for others. Wentz is a young, confident player. He's dealt with injuries in the past and has come back better than ever.

Still, an ACL injury is a whole other level. Wentz is special in part because of his athleticism. It will be interesting to see if playing on a repaired knee makes him more hesitant to run or if makes him less effective as a runner.

All eyes will be on Wentz starting on Monday.

2. How Will The Eagles Handle Success?

Not all teams handle success well. The Eagles should be outstanding this year, but some teams do suffer from a Super Bowl hangover. Winning can change players and coaches.

The Eagles are going to hear a lot about being the defending Super Bowl champs. I don't think Pederson will have that message. If he's smart, Pederson will focus on the fact this is going to be a different team and they need to pursue their own Super Bowl title.

The worst thing a successful team can do is live in the past. You have to focus on what is in front of you. The best way to do that is to avoid thinking about defending a title and instead to focus on pursuing another one.

Patrick Robinson, Brent Celek, Vinny Curry, LeGarrette Blount, Torrey Smith, Trey Burton, and Beau Allen are all gone from last year. Those guys were key players. They will be replaced by some young players on the rise and some outside additions. There will be enough change that this will feel like a different team.

That's a good thing, as it will help Pederson sell his message of going after another title. Having new faces can also help you avoid complacency. Mike Wallace, Richard Rodgers, and Paul Worrilow have never won a Super Bowl. They will be hungry for a taste of success.

Players like Haloti Ngata and Michael Bennett have won titles in the past, but it has been a few years. They want one more, especially with a new team. They are older players and know they don't have a ton of time left so they will be very driven.

Pederson is a smart coach. I think he'll know what buttons to push. The Eagles also have very good veteran leaders. I think they will keep this team grounded and focused.

3. Who Emerges As The Slot Cornerback?

Patrick Robinson had a career year in 2017 and was one of the best slot corners in the entire NFL. He's gone back to the Saints as a free agent and the Eagles have a big hole to fill.

A lot of people think Jalen Mills could handle that role. It is possible Sidney Jones could get a shot to play in the slot. The Eagles could also spend a draft pick, or even two, looking for someone who can play inside. Not all corners can.

Third-down defense was a huge part of the Eagles' success in 2017 and Robinson's play in the slot was a huge part of the defense being so good on third down. The Eagles need to find the right guy to handle this spot.

4. Other Comebacks To Watch

Wentz is the headliner when it comes to rehabbing injuries, but he isn't alone. Jason Peters is coming back from a season-ending injury. He loved seeing the Eagles win it all last year, but you know Peters has a chip on his shoulder. He's never won a playoff game in his career. He will do everything he can to change that this year.

Jordan Hicks missed most of the year in 2017. He's itching to get back on the field so he can help his teammates win. Hicks is also in the final year of his contract so he needs to stay healthy and play well to help his value.

Sidney Jones could become a top-flight cornerback. He fell to the Eagles in the second round because of an Achilles injury from his pro day. Jones practiced late in the year and then played in the regular-season finale, showing good potential. As you saw in the Super Bowl, the pass defense still needs work. Jones could be a big part of that. He is completely healthy now and ready to show the NFL just how good he can be.

5. How Will The New Players Fit In?

Michael Bennett is a highly disruptive pass rusher. It will be interesting to see how the Eagles use him. They could have him start at right end or come off the bench to back up Derek Barnett. Bennett might not play a lot at end. The Eagles might have him focus on being an inside rusher in the nickel and dime packages.

Mike Wallace averages 60 receptions per season for his career. He's replacing a player who caught 36 passes last year. Wallace is the better player, but it still isn't likely he'll catch 60 passes. Will that be OK with him? Eagles skill players focused on winning and not stats last year. Wallace has to buy in to that same mentality.

Can guys like Worrilow and Rodgers thrive as role players? They have all started or been featured players in the past. Barring injuries, that won't be the case in 2018. Those guys can still be important to the team. Role players played a big hand in the Eagles' success in 2017.

6. Which Second-Year Players Will Step Up?

Tight end Billy Brown has a huge opportunity with Celek and Burton gone. Brown showed good potential last summer. He needs to build on that and take a big step forward. He could play a key role for this team or find himself right back on the practice squad.

Shelton Gibson has big-time speed. We didn't see much of that in 2017, but he's got it. Gibson has to make his presence known this year, whether as a wide receiver or on special teams. He could be a returner or stand out while covering kicks. A player with his speed and athleticism needs to make plays.

Donnel Pumphrey spent his rookie year on Injured Reserve. He looked terrific last spring, but then struggled in the summer. This is a huge year for him. If things go right, Pumphrey could be a role player on offense and the key returner for both punts and kickoffs. Pumphrey could find himself in danger of losing his roster spot if he struggles in a big way.

Tommy Lawlor, goeagles99 on the Eagles Message Boards, is an amateur football scout and devoted Eagles fan. He is the editor of IgglesBlitz.com.

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