Philadelphia Eagles Training Camp Battles: Can Olamide Zaccheaus Overtake Quez Watkins in the Slot?

    What are the Eagles' primary training camp competitions? Philly needs to decide on its slot receiver, but that's not the only battle scheduled to take place.

    After narrowly losing to the Chiefs in Super Bowl 57, the Philadelphia Eagles are ready to compete with the NFL’s best again in 2023. While many of the Eagles’ key pieces — including the newly extended Jalen Hurts — will return next season, the realities of NFL free agency means that some of the club’s roster has been turned over.

    Which positional battles will the Eagles need to address when training camp begins in late July? Let’s run through the top competitions on Philadelphia’s elite roster.

    Philadelphia Eagles Training Camp Battles To Watch in 2023

    Slot Receiver | Olamide Zaccheaus vs. Quez Watkins

    Quez Watkins was the Eagles’ No. 2 wide receiver behind DeVonta Smith during the 2021 season, but he fell to third on the depth chart after Philadelphia acquired A.J. Brown last offseason. Watkins struggled in 2022 and suffered a Grade 2 shoulder strain in Week 13, eventually limping to a disappointing 33-354-3 line.

    The Eagles signed former Falcons wideout Olamide Zaccheaus to compete with Watkins in the slot, but he only commanded a veteran minimum deal worth $1.2 million. Zaccheaus is coming off a career-best season in which he posted 40 receptions for 533 yards and ranked 53rd in ESPN’s wide receiver scores, which credits players for getting open, making the catch, and producing yardage after the catch.

    The Eagles’ decision-makers are still fond of Watkins, and his blazing speed could allow him to move away from slot-only duties.

    “Nobody is down on Quez Watkins in this building,” general manager Howie Roseman said earlier this year. “We’re excited about him and the skill set that he has. I’m not saying this to be combative in any way, but at the end of the day, he’s also played outside. A lot of the guys that we have, and you’ve talked about this with our staff when we’re talking about it, guys can multi-align. Guys can play inside and out. I think that’s one of the benefits of the group that we have.”

    Whichever receiver wins the slot battle will likely be a distant fourth for targets behind Brown, Smith, and tight end Dallas Goedert. But with Watkins and Zaccheaus scheduled to hit the open market in 2024, next season will be critical for both pass catchers.

    Right Guard | Cam Jurgens vs. Tyler Steen

    After losing veteran right guard Isaac Seumalo to the Steelers in free agency, the Eagles will attempt to fill their offensive line vacancy with players who have barely set foot at guard.

    Cam Jurgens was drafted in 2022 as Jason Kelce’s heir at center, but Kelce hasn’t decided to hang up his cleats just yet. While Jurgens worked at guard last offseason, he didn’t play guard in college and saw only a single guard snap during the preseason and regular season.

    Meanwhile, third-round rookie Tyler Steen never played guard during his time at Vanderbilt or Alabama. Initially a right tackle, Steen shifted to the blindside for his three final collegiate seasons.

    Jurgens probably has the leg up thanks to his year of experience in Philadelphia’s blocking scheme, but the Eagles are unlikely to hand him a starting job. He’ll need to become stronger and bulkier as a guard than he was as a center.

    Even without Seumalo, the Eagles still have the best offensive line in the NFL. Whichever player wins the right guard job will get to play between Kelce and Lane Johnson (arguably the top players at their respective positions), so Jurgens or Steen will be set up to succeed.

    Safety | Terrell Edmunds vs. Sydney Brown vs. Reed Blankenship

    The Eagles were forced to skimp in some areas this offseason, and given that their front office has never placed much value on safeties, the defensive backfield was an obvious place to start.

    C.J. Gardner-Johnson and Marcus Epps played more than 2,000 combined snaps for Philadelphia last season, but both left in free agency. Now, Philadelphia is staging a three-way competition between holdover Reed Blankenship, free agent signing Terrell Edmunds, and third-round pick Sydney Brown.

    Blankenship started four games down the stretch after Gardner-Johnson suffered an injury and retained a subpackage role after CJGJ returned. Although he was a rookie undrafted free agent, Blankenship exhibited sound technique in his opportunity as a starter and picked off Aaron Rodgers in Week 11.

    At just 5’9″, Brown doesn’t have prototypical safety size. But he’s an incredibly explosive athlete with a 9.68 Relative Athletic Score. Brown, who played over 3,000 defensive snaps at Illinois, probably projects best as a free safety rather than a box player.

    Edmunds has never quite lived up to his first-round pedigree, but he has 75 NFL starts under his belt. That experience likely makes him a favorite to start, at least at the beginning of the season.

    Edmunds and Brown may see most of the Eagle’s safety snaps at the outset of the 2023 campaign before Brown is slowly worked into the mix as the year progresses.

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