Chip Kelly’s inaugural Philadelphia Eagles training camp is set to begin on Monday, July 22nd when rookies and selected veterans report in south Philly. The full team reports on July 25th and then the real fun begins.
For the first time since 1999, the Eagles are entering a training camp with a new coaching regime that gets to finally see the players up close and personal with the pads on. Player evaluation will have a new set of eyes and judging them on how they perform rather than how large their contract is.
Yes, true competition is what this camp will be all about. Roster spots and starting jobs will be won and lost over the course of the next six to seven weeks.
There are certainly “favorites” and certain players who are expected to maintain their starting roles, but make no mistake…if they don’t perform or have a prima-donna attitude, that won’t fly with Kelly.
With that said, it’s also true that Kelly has inherited a relatively talented roster. It’s not as if the cupboard is bare and he has to completely restock the shelves. He just has to reorganize and then add in some new groceries as needed.
The competition that will dominate the headlines will be the quarterback drama.
Who’s it gonna be: Mike Vick, the only one who can feasibly run a read-option offense? Nick Foles, the guy that may be better at reading defenses and making smarter decisions with the football? Or Matt Barkley, the guy Kelly drafted and has the natural charisma of a team leader?
I’ve already gone on record as saying Vick will be the starter come opening day. However, my prediction also was that he wouldn’t be the guy who finishes the season. I won’t be surprised if Kelly decides to roll with Foles from the get-go, but I’d be extremely surprised if Barkley was somehow under center in September.
Besides the QB competition, there are several other intriguing competitions that will play out in the heat of the summer.
After DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, who will round-out the wide receiver corps? The presumed number of receivers Kelly keeps is five. That means there are at least three receiver spots open for the taking.
Some folks see Jason Avant as a lock for the roster, but I am not one of them. I have nothing against him as he’s been a reliable player during his career here. He just doesn’t bring anything special to the table.
Right now, I see him as a guy that will really need to play well this summer and hope other guys falter.
Riley Cooper is another guy who needs to play well to secure a roster spot. He has the size Kelly likes and does bring a physical red zone presence, but he’ll need a good showing.
Damaris Johnson and Arrelious Benn will be two players to watch and are probably the odds-on favorites for two of the three roster spots at this position. Both players have the versatility that Kelly covets so unless they bomb, I expect them to win jobs.
The final spot (if they keep only five) will most likely be between Cooper, Avant and my favorite sleeper to make the roster, Ifeanyi Momah. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if newcomers B.J. Cunningham and Russell Shepard performed well enough to earn serious consideration as well.
Keep an eye on Momah, he’ll be everyone’s favorite underdog this summer.
After the presumed starting five linemen of Peters, Mathis, Kelce, Herremans and Johnson, all of the backup jobs are up for grabs. The question here is how many will Kelly keep? The safe guess is nine.
The competition for the top four backup jobs are Dennis Kelly, Danny Watkins, Kyle Quinn, Matt Tennant, Dallas Reynolds, Nate Menkin, Nic Purcell, Ed Wang, Julian Vandervelde, Allen Barbre, Matt Kopa, Matt Tobin and the newly signed large OT Michael Bamiro.
After the barrage of injuries to this unit last season, it will be interesting to see how they choose their backups. They certainly need to keep at least one tackle and one center where those are the players’ primary position.
Kelly loves versatility so the more positions these guys can play, the better their chances of sticking. Dennis Kelly is the early favorite to secure the top backup job at tackle, but after that it’s a jumbled mess that needs to be sorted out on the field.
If I had to guess, the four backups will be Kelly, Watkins, Quinn and Menkin. Kelly would be the top backup at tackle, Quinn at center, Watkins at right and left guard and Menkin at tackle and guard.
The competition here shouldn’t be much. The question is how many Kelly will keep. McCoy and Brown are definites and Felix Jones is likely to stick. The only real competition will be if they keep four, which will put Chris Polk and UDFA Mathew Tucker in a battle for the fourth spot.
Not much to see here unless there is an injury or Brown literally fumbles his job away.
Pretty much the same situation here as with the running backs. Celek, Ertz and Casey are locks. If they keep four, Clay Harbor will have to battle with the likes of Derek Carrier and Will Shaw for the final spot.
The only real intrigue regarding this position is if the Eagles and Patriots decide to work out a deal for someone like Celek or Harbor. Celek would be the surprise and would impact the offense, but Harbor not so much.
Just something to keep in the back of your mind for now.
On the defensive side of the ball is where things will get really interesting. There is much less certainty with this unit as compared to the offense. We know that the Eagles are leaning towards a base 3-4 defense, but ultimately it will be a hybrid.
For the sake of confusion, I’m grouping all DL and OLB together in terms of competition.
Defensive Line and Outside Linebacker
In a scheme transition year such as 2013, this will be the most muddled of areas. Will guys like Trent Cole and Brandon Graham excel as OLBs or will they have to be utilized more as traditional 4-3 defensive ends?
If versatility is the name of the game here, I’m not so sure how versatile those two guys really are. And what do we make of guys like Phillip Hunt, Everette Brown, Chris McCoy and Vinny Curry?
Curry could be in the mix more as a 3-4 DE so he’ll likely get a shot in both areas. Hunt has shown flashes as a rotational 4-3 DE with speed but has no experience in coverage. Brown faces the longest of odds to earn a roster spot.
Out of all the players considered to be a 3-4 OLB, Connor Barwin is the only one that has real experience in a 3-4 alignment.
Fletcher Cox is a lock at 3-4 DE and Isaac Sopoaga is a lock at NT. Third round pick Bennie Logan is a lock as a DE/NT/DT hybrid. Beyond those three guys along with Barwin, Cole and Graham, the rest of the positions are completely up for grabs.
Again, the key question here is how many players they keep here. My initial thought is about 12 (a mix of linemen and OLBs). If we say Cox, Sopoaga, Logan, Barwin, Cole and Graham are locks, that leaves potentially six open spots.
The main competitors for these spots will be Chris McCoy, Joe Kruger, Phillip Hunt, Clifton Geathers, David King, Antonio Dixon, Cedric Thornton, Isaac Remington and Vinny Curry.
When they drafted Kruger, most people saw him as a 3-4 DE due to his size. However, the Eagles actually list him as a DE/LB on their web site. If he proves versatile enough to play some OLB, that could secure him a roster spot instead of being a practice squad candidate.
Ditto for Chris McCoy, although he would be more of a 4-3 DE/OLB combination in the mold of Cole and Graham. For McCoy, much will depend on his ability to drop into coverage and perform better than guys like Curry, Hunt and Brown.
The early word on Curry is that he may be looked at as more of a 3-4 DE, but he lacks ideal size for that position. I like Curry, but I’m concerned he could be a victim of scheme incompatibility.
Geathers looks like a strong possibility as a 3-4 DE and Thornton appears to be the front-runner to start opposite Cox as the other 3-4 DE. Size-wise, Dixon is the best fit as a backup nose tackle but the early rumblings back in May were that he could be on the outside looking in.
Remington and King are young, intriguing prospects with good size and are projected as 3-4 DE types. However, both are extremely raw.
After my six locks, this about as open of a competition as there is on the rest of the roster. I don’t see anyone who really sticks out above the others as of right now. This will be one of the hottest position battles this summer and I can’t wait to see who can separate themselves from the pack.
The starters here should be set with DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks. The rest of the competitors are Jason Phillips, Casey Matthews, Jake Knott, Emmanuel Acho and Jamar Chaney.
I anticipate them keeping at least two backups here, maybe three depending on how the competition at OLB shakes out and who shows the most versatility. We also cannot forget the special teams prowess of any of these players (including those from the OLB list).
Backups at any linebacker position must be willing to embrace playing special teams as this is the most common position group to pull from for that area.
During mini camp, it was Chaney and Phillips who were running with the second team defense at ILB. However, that could easily change once the pads come on.
The team is said to be high on UDFA Jake Knott, and with a strong showing on special teams he could be a leading candidate for a spot. Phillips was a free agent signee this offseason who was a backup linebacker for Carolina.
Acho is the guy the Eagles acquired when they traded Dion Lewis to Cleveland. He spent his rookie season last year on injured reserve with a knee injury. Bill Davis was his position coach there and Pat Shurmur was the guy who drafted him, so Acho has some “ins”.
Matthews played for Kelly at Oregon but hasn’t had a good showing in the pros yet. It will be interesting to see if Kelly keeps him around as another guy to help promote the “Kelly way”, although that in itself is not enough to keep him around.
This should be another good area of competition. Phillips, Matthews and Chaney have a head start because they have actual NFL experience whereas Acho and Knott do not. All of them will need to have a good showing as there are no clear cut favorites here.
But, in the early going, look for Knott, Chaney and Phillips to be the front-runners to win spots.
The Eagles signed free agents Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher to be the starters on the outside. Brandon Boykin seems to be safe in keeping his role as the slot corner. That leaves potentially two roster spots open for competition.
The main competitors here are Brandon Hughes, Trevard Lindley, Curtis Marsh and Jordan Poyer.
Lindley is the longest shot here as he never seems to survive the cut. Marsh is a former third-round “reach” by Reid who played running back until his last two years in college. Hughes has shown flashes but nothing consistent.
Poyer was drafted by Kelly, but not until the seventh round…which doesn’t guarantee you a spot.
It would be nice to see Marsh finally emerge as a corner because he has nice size at 6′ 1″, 197 lbs. Though Poyer was drafted late, many people had him rated anywhere from a third to fifth-rounder so some potential is there.
Initially, that’s who I’m betting on…Marsh and Poyer to win the fourth and fifth CB spots.
This will be another interesting area of competition. The Eagles signed Kenny Phillips and Patrick Chung as the presumed starters. Phillips is the best of the bunch right now at this position and if his health holds up as expected, he will be a starter.
The bigger questions come after Phillips.
Will Nate Allen hold off Chung for the right to start next to Phillips? How will promising rookie Earl Wolff look? Is Kurt Coleman still legitimately in the mix? Do you keep Colt Anderson because he’s a special teams ace? Is David Sims a factor here?
Going by the past, the Eagles usually keep four safeties on the roster. I can’t see them cutting Chung or risk trying to get Wolff to the practice squad. That could leave just one spot for Allen, Coleman, Anderson and Sims to battle for.
That will be a tough choice. The easy one to say is Allen, because he’s the best safety of that group. But, we can’t discount special teams play and that’s where Anderson shines. It will come down to one of those two.
Coleman and Sims are goners.
Jon Dorenbos and Alex Henery are locks with no competition. The only battle here is the one between punters Donnie Jones and UDFA Brad Wing.
Based on talent, Wing was considered the best punter in the 2013 draft and averaged 44.8 yards per punt for LSU last year. However, he comes with a reputation of being a “problem child” due to his attitude (personality) and an arrest in 2011 for fighting.
Jones is a journeyman heading into his 10th season in the NFL. Last season he had a 46.5 yards per punt average, a net average of 40.1 and landed 32 inside the 20. All of that ranked in the top half of the league.
Should be an interesting battle…well, as interesting as a punting battle can be anyway.