Eagles Roster Thoughts – Offense Edition

Pre-season games are right around the corner so I wanted to take a quick look at the Eagles roster by position and give my thoughts on the make-up of the roster and what I’ve read about and seen from training camp.  Obviously, the way players play in the games will be a big factor to who makes the team (and hopefully, to a lesser extent, injuries).  This is merely a look at who has the talent.

Quarterback:

Everyone knows the deal here; Michael Vick and Nick Foles are competing for the starting job, and Matt Barkley will probably be the backup.  I would love for Foles to outplay Vick and earn the job.  In that case, Vick most likely gets cut, Barkley is the #2 and Dennis Dixon stays around as qb3.  If Vick earns the job, there is always the possibility of going back to the well for a quarterback in next year’s draft and there looks like there will be a lot of good options with guys like Teddy Bridgewater, Tajh Boyd, AJ McCarron, David Fales, Derek Carr, and Aaron Murray likely to be available.  I think the Eagles need to find out right now if Foles (or Barkley) is the future of the team or merely a strong backup, because this coming draft class may be the strongest at quarterback in quite a while.

Running Back:

Lesean McCoy should be a perennial Pro-Bowler under Chip Kelley and Bryce Brown could end up being the best back-up running back in the league.  Behind them are Felix Jones, Chris Polk and Matthew Tucker.  I loved Felix in college and he could bring a lot of positive attributes as a 3rd running back and kick returner.  Polk, by all accounts, has looked great in camp and I took notice of him several times the day I attended.  I do believe he lacks any ‘home-run’ speed to break off big plays, but he certainly is showing the talent to make the roster.  Matthew Tucker looks like Bryce Brown part 2 physically, and could have the same skill set, but he is probably going to be the odd man out (I expect they keep 4 backs), especially after failing his initial fitness test, unless he lights it up in the live games.  I would love for Felix to be a one year player and for Tucker to stick around on the practice squad or IR, and replace him next year.  Regardless, the Eagles will have a deep and talented group.

Tight Ends:

All of the tight ends are having problems with drops in camp, but Brent Celek, Zach Ertz and James Casey make up a very dynamic trio.  I haven’t heard or seen anything about Clay Harbor yet and Derek Carrier has been finding ways to get open in camp.  Emil Igwenagu and Will Shaw are both still in the mix as well.  The Eagles will most likely keep 4 tight ends and no fullback, so that 4th spot will come down to who plays the best in live games and what part of their game Chip Kelly and company decide they need most (IE blocking, receiving, kick coverage).

Wide Receivers:

Losing Jeremy Maclin hurts.  In his contract year, coming off of a sub-par season, Maclin needed to show he could produce in Chip Kelly’s system.  He won’t have that opportunity now, and as a result, could be done as an Eagle if Chip hasn’t seen enough to believe in him.  On the plus side, if gives the younger guys more of a chance to show what they can do, and he could end up coming at a big discount as a free agent next year too, so perhaps its a blessing in disguise for the salary cap.  Desean Jackson could have a huge impact this year as it seems he has bought in to the new system 100%.  Riley Cooper and Arrelious Benn could provide 2 big, athletic receivers who are capable of blocking downfield in the running game, but Benn needs to show he can stay healthy and Cooper needs to show he can consistently stay in the game and not disappear between the flashes of great play.  Damaris Johnson will absolutely have a role on the team as well, the question becomes how big of one.  Jason Avant has great hands and runs great routes out of the slot, but he really doesn’t provide much else, so if the Eagles can find trade value I would like to see them move him and work to get younger, but if not he will be on the team.  I love the idea of Ifeanyi Momah, but I feel like he needs a year to develop.  I just hope he doesn’t get snatched up from the practice squad.  Russell Shepard might have the kind of versatile athleticism that Chip Kelly likes with his goal to be able to be multiple, and is putting in the time and showing that he can play right now and can make the team.  Greg Salas has played really well so far in camp, but I get the feeling he will be like Mardy Gilyard last year (both former 4th round draft picks from the St. Louis Rams).  Salas will make some plays in camp and in the pre-season, but probably still get cut.  David Ball, Nick Miller, Will Murphy and BJ Cunningham are all depth type guys that would have to go on an absolute tear to have a chance at making the team, but at least one of them should stick on the practice squad.

Offensive Line:

The starters are set, barring any injuries.  Jason Peters, Evan Mathis, Jason Kelce, Todd Herremans and Lane Johnson would give the Eagles a talented and athletic group on the offensive line.  Dennis Kelly seems to be the top backup, and with Peters and Kelly out today, Matt Tobin was the one who got to run with the starters at left tackle.  Michael Bamiro is also in the mix for a backup tackle spot with Ed Wang and Matt Kopa as depth guys.  Nic Purcell might make an interesting practice squad guy.  On the inside, Allen Barbre and Danny Watkins should be the top backups at guard with Nate Menkin and Julian Vandervelde as the other guys competing for a spot.  Dallas Reynolds and Matt Tennant are fighting to be the backup center, but hopefully neither will have to play this season.  The team might consider keeping 9 offensive linemen with the recent injury issues of the starters, so I expect to see Kelly, Barbre, Watkins and Reynolds/Tennant for sure unless one struggles.

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Training Camp Experience

I received my first chance to attend Eagles training camp on Sunday (thanks to Joy Mokwa for thinking of me when some extra tickets came her way!), and it was quite the occasion to go for my first time.  Not only was it the first day that Chip Kelly’s camp was open to the public, but it was the first training camp held at Lincoln Financial Field, and it was Eagles Alumni day with many former greats in attendance.  Among everything that went on that day, the thing that stood out the most was how organized and regimented the practice was, as every single player was constantly moving, constantly involved with some type of drill and some group of coaches for the entire 2+ hours.  They day started with punters and kickers on the field warming up.  When the rest of the team joined them, they split into positional groups to do some position-specific warm-up drills.  After a short time, the entire team joined together to do a team warm-up before splitting back up for individual drills.  One of the coolest things to watch in the drills was the quarterbacks because, rather than having 1 quarterback throw to 1 receiver, all 5 quarterbacks would drop back simultaneously and throw to 5 different receivers at the same time.

All 5 quarterbacks throwing at once

All 5 quarterbacks throwing at once

 

From the individual drills the team advanced from 1 on 1s with receivers and defenders up to 7 on 7’s and 11 on 11’s (without tackling though).  A timer continuously ticked down throughout the day and the loud speaker would prompt the players to change stations or drills and the Jumbotron screens would let the fans know what drills were occurring and their purpose, while always showing some of the action up close and providing miscellaneous information about the player on screen.  Time was spent with quarterbacks working on specific types of handoffs to the running backs, for receivers to work on catching the ball in the traffic of several tackling dummies or even for defensive linemen to work on attacking specific gaps, using an offensive line made up of trash cans.  Special teams plays were mixed in between different sets as the team would suddenly run together to one spot on the field and run, for example, a fake field goal pass play (which was incredibly ugly by the way).

 

Overall the entire day was incredibly crisp and everyone always had a specific task at the specific time.  Even in 7 on 7’s and 11 on 11’s, the quarterbacks would rotate out after 2-4 plays and the receivers were constantly switching in and out and lining up in various formations.  There really is a lot of information to take in at one of these practices because at any given time, at least 3 different groups of players were doing something substantial.  Anyone reading day to day write ups of what happens in training camp needs to know that these guys do an amazing job at absorbing everything that is going on and taking notes.  It is hard enough to see the play and think ‘nice throw’, much less to be able to see it and say, for example, that play number 1 was Nick Foles with the starters, this linemen was out and this guy took his place.  The defense was in a 3-4 base with these guys lined up as the starters and it was a nice throw to this receiver but broken up by this defender.  Guys like Jimmy Kempski (@JimmyKempski) and Brandon Lee Gowton (@BrandonLeeSBN) do an amazing job in their coverage of the Eagles Training camp and I was actually lucky enough to help Jimmy out with something for one of his posts!  With the way Chip Kelly ran this first public practice, I can only imagine how strictly regimented he keeps each and every practice and would love to be there to see what a Kelly-Belichick joint practice will look like.