Good morning. The Eagles practice at 1 p.m. today, their second session leading up to Sunday's game against the Carolina Panthers. Players will meet with reporters after practice. Pay attention to the status of quarterback Carson Wentz, who was limited on Wednesday with a back injury. (It doesn't sound like there's anything to worry about with Wentz.)

This is the Early Birds newsletter, which will arrive in your inbox Monday through Friday for the rest of the season. If your friends haven't subscribed to Early Birds, it's free to sign up here. I want to know what you think, what we should add and what you want to read, so send me feedback by email or on Twitter @ZBerm. Thank you for reading.

— Zach Berman

Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham pressures Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton on Thursday, October 12, 2017 in Charlotte, NC.
YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham pressures Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton on Thursday, October 12, 2017 in Charlotte, NC.

One year later, playing the Panthers is a ‘good test’ with different context

The Eagles went to Carolina in Week 6 last year and earned a signature win with only three days between games, solidifying their status as contenders. The 28-23 victory on national television came in a game in which both teams entered with 4-1 records.

One year later, the Eagles and Panthers meet in Week 7. The Eagles are defending Super Bowl champions and enter the game 3-3. The Panthers, who have reached the postseason in four of the past five years, are 3-2 and do not need this victory to show they're contenders. But it will nonetheless be a measuring stick for both teams who entered the season with legitimate postseason aspirations.

"That was kind of the message last year," coach Doug Pederson said of the significance of last year's victory. "It's going to have to be a complete game if we expect to win. Yeah, it's going to be a really good test for us to see where we are in Week 7."

After the Eagles' win over the Giants last week, tight end Zach Ertz said the Eagles finally had a game they can point to and say it reflected who they are. Pederson said that the Eagles "are now getting their sea legs, so to speak" after so many offseason injuries. The Eagles don't need this win to legitimize their status to the rest of the league, but it will show that the Week 6 win did, in fact, reveal who the Eagles are this season.

Panthers coach Ron Rivera can preach a different message to his team. Last year, the Eagles did not have the cachet of some of the other heavyweights. This year, like the Eagles' other opponents, the Panthers could make a statement by beating the defending champions — even if the Eagles haven't started the season like they wanted.

"That old saying — 'if you want to be the champs, you've got to be able to beat the champs' — that's the truth," Rivera said. "They're a good football team. They're very well coached. … This is a game that can tell you a lot about yourself."

Veterans with injuries

The Eagles have five players age 33 and older: Jason PetersDarren SprolesHaloti NgataCorey Graham, and Chris Long. Sproles, Ngata, and Graham have all missed games this season due to injury. Peters has missed time in games because of injuries.

The Eagles invested in veterans during the offseason and trusted aging players to fill roles on the team. Injuries are not exclusive to older players — the injury report and injured reserve have players who are in their rookie contracts — but it's not a coincidence that some of the older players have nagging injuries. Pederson said the Eagles won't reconsider their approach in the future because of these injuries.

"I think sometimes it's kind of the expectation a little bit," Pederson said. "You kind of know what you're getting with guys. Listen, these guys have all contributed wherever they have been. Obviously, Darren, couple stops he's been at; Jason has been here most his career; Corey, the stops he's been at. These guys have played a lot snaps. It's one of the things where we know if we can just manage and get them through each week and get them ready for game day where they can give us valuable game snaps, that's what you want."

Torrey Smith returns to Philadelphia

Former Eagles wide receiver Torrey Smith will return to Philadelphia this week as an opponent. Smith, who was traded to the Panthers during the offseason, said the Eagles were up front with him before the trade. He wasn't blindsided, and he returns with positive feelings about his time with the Eagles.

"There's only one way to look back on it: We were Super Bowl champions," Smith said. "To be a part of a special team, special unit, it's something I'll never forget and the city will never forget. For me, my family, my in-laws are still up there, I'm still in Philadelphia all the time, so it's pretty special to know the time you pass the Linc or anytime you come in contact with Eagles fans, how much it meant to be a small piece of that."

Smith, who has 12 catches for 110 yards and two touchdowns this season, still keeps in touch with his former teammates. And he's a big fan of Eagles quarterbacks Carson Wentz. So is his son.

"My son still talks about Carson," Smith said. "Every time we're watching TV or he sees him on TV, he's like, 'That's my friend Carson!' I love him to death. I'm so excited to see him on the field and see him get more comfortable and play the game he loves."

Eagles wide receiver Torrey Smith takes a knee after the Eagles beat the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII on Sunday, February 4, 2018 in Minneapolis.
YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Eagles wide receiver Torrey Smith takes a knee after the Eagles beat the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII on Sunday, February 4, 2018 in Minneapolis.

What you need to know about the Eagles

From the mailbag

The Eagles will continue with a committee approach, with Corey ClementWendell Smallwood, and eventually Darren Sproles splitting the work. The Eagles have played two games without Jay Ajayi. In the first game, Clement had 16 carries and Smallwood had 10 carries. In the second game, Smallwood had 18 carries and Clement had 11 carries. My guess is that as Clement continues to get healthier, he'll see more work. But as I've written, the Eagles like Smallwood and he's been productive this season. What's unknown is how Sproles factors into the mix. No matter how it shakes out, there won't be a featured running back. Fantasy football owners might not like it, but the Eagles will split carries and it could depend on game situations, too.