Eagles training camp preview
TRAINING CAMP GOALS
1. Determine the identity of their No. 2 quarterback. Michael Vick will head into the season as the team's starter. But Vick has missed three games in each of the last two seasons, and his reckless style of play and body type -- he's a hair under 6-0 and weighs just 210 pounds -- makes it unlikely he'll make it to the starting line for 16 games this season. Last year, with Vince Young as Vick's backup, the Eagles were 1-4 in the games he got hurt and the three he missed. So it's important they find someone who can step in and hold the fort if he gets hurt. Right now, that appears to be third-year man Mike Kafka. Kafka knows coach Andy Reid's offense forward and backward. But he's got a questionable arm and very little experience (16 career pass attempts). The other possibility is veteran Trent Edwards, who was out of the league last year. The Eagles selected Nick Foles in the third round of the April draft, but he's too raw to be the backup for a team that expects to contend for the Super Bowl.
2. Get new left tackle Demetress Bell acclimated to offensive line coach Howard Mudd's blocking technique. The March Achilles injury to All-Pro left tackle Jason Peters was a big blow to a line that was playing as well as any in the league at the end of last season. How big will be determined by how quickly Bell, who was signed as a free agent, can pick up Mudd's technique. Bell has the athleticism to play for Mudd, but Mudd's technique will take time for him to get adjusted to. Bell also has to stay healthy, something he hasn't been able to do during his time in Buffalo.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Defensive end Brandon Graham. The Eagles selected Graham in the first round of the 2010 draft, taking him ahead of the Giants' Jason Pierre-Paul. But Graham tore his ACL late in his rookie season and needed microfracture surgery to repair all of the damage to his knee. He played in just three games last season and had just four tackles and no sacks. Graham has worked hard to get back to where he was before his injury. If he can be the player the Eagles thought they drafted, one of the league's best pass rushes will get even better and make life miserable for opposing quarterbacks.
ON THE HOT SEAT
Quarterback Michael Vick. In a quarterback-driven league, the Eagles will only go as far as Vick takes them this season. He is coming off a disappointing year. He finished 23rd in interception percentage, had six red-zone turnovers and finished 26th in third-down passing. He was 7-6 as a starter last year. He had 12 touchdown passes and just four interceptions in the seven wins, and just six touchdowns and 10 interceptions in the six losses. Reid has made it clear that Vick needs to take fewer risks, both with the football and his body.
Reid likes Vick's offseason work ethic
--Coach Andy Reid was very impressed with quarterback Michael Vick in the team's spring OTAs and minicamp. Vick, who is coming off a disappointing season, is one of the keys to the Eagles' success this year.
"Michael knows what he needs to do and he's worked like crazy," Reid said. "One of the reasons that we had the attendance (at OTAs) that we had and one of the reasons we've had energy is Michael Vick. He's the one who's out here motivating that energy and making the players around him be here."
--It's not clear yet who will be the team's backup center behind starter Jason Kelce this season. One option is second-year man Julian Vandervelde, who played guard in college, but took some snaps at center in the team's final minicamp. Vandervelde was a fifth-round pick in 2011. He played in just one game last season.
--The Eagles announced a long-term partnership with Coca-Cola Refreshments. Coca-Cola products such as Coke, Diet Coke, Coke Zero, Sprite and Dasani bottled water will be sold at Lincoln Financial Field this season.
"This is an exciting partnership for the Eagles on a variety of levels," Eagles president Don Smolenski said. "We'll be providing a great product for our fans and we have found a partner whose core values align with ours."
--At 36, Howie Roseman is one of the youngest general managers in the NFL. Much of his scouting staff is even younger than he is. But Roseman has proven in recent weeks that he understands the value of experienced eyes. Earlier this month, he hired former Buffalo Bills general manager Tom Donahoe as a senior advisor, and this week added 29-year NFL scouting veteran Greg Gabriel as a senior college scout. Gabriel was the Chicago Bears' director of college scouting from 2001 to 2010 before being let go. Prior to that, he spent 16 years in the New York Giants' scouting department.
--The Eagles signed the last of their nine draft picks June 19, agreeing to terms with first-round defensive tackle Fletcher Cox. That means all of the team's rookies will be present and accounted for on July 22 when first-year players are scheduled to report to training camp at Lehigh University. The Eagles traded up from No. 15 to 12 to select Cox, who is expected to be part of the team's four-man defensive tackle rotation along with Cullen Jenkins, Mike Patterson and either Antonio Dixon or Derek Landri.
--The Eagles continued to solidify their roster, signing veteran free-agent safety Oshiomogho Atogwe to a one-year contract. Atogwe, who has 520 tackles and 25 interceptions in seven NFL seasons, was released by the Washington Redskins after the season. He will be given an opportunity to compete for the starting strong safety job with incumbent Kurt Coleman and second-year man Jaiquawn Jarrett.
"O.J. will bring us veteran, quality depth at the safety position," general manager Howie Roseman said. "We feel good about the young safeties on our roster, but our goal is to have the most competition possible at all of our positions as we head into training camp."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I always have fun. I don't always show you that I'm having fun, but I'm having fun. I love every day that I have a chance to do this, even this right here (talking to the media)." -- Eagles coach Andy Reid on his kinder, gentler personality this spring.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
MEDICAL WATCH: No updates.
QUARTERBACKS: Starter -- Michael Vick. Backups -- Mike Kafka, Trent Edwards, Nick Foles.
Vick is the biggest key to the Eagles' success this season. He needs to stay healthy and he needs to play much better than he did in 2012, when he finished 14th in the league in passing, 23rd in interception percentage, 26th in third-down passing, 25th in fourth-quarter passing and committed six turnovers in the red zone. At 32, he still is the league's most elusive quarterback. But he needs to be more patient behind his line and make better decisions than he did a year ago. Vick's reckless style of play makes it unlikely he'll answer the bell for 16 games, which makes having an effective backup critical. Kafka will enter training camp as the clear No. 2. But he's got very little regular-season experience and his arm is suspect. Edwards has some experience as a starter, but was out of the league last year. Foles is raw and will spend his rookie season as the No. 3 quarterback.
RUNNING BACKS: Starters -- LeSean McCoy, FB Stanley Havili. Backups -- Deon Lewis, Bryce Brown, Chris Polk, FB Emil Igwenagu.
McCoy established himself as one of the league's top running backs last season, rushing for 1,309 yards and scoring a league-best 20 touchdowns. He's got Barry Sanders-like moves, but has more power than Sanders did. He's also an effective pass-catching weapon, particularly on screens. He's got 126 receptions the last two years. McCoy had 321 touches last season. The Eagles would like to reduce that this season to keep him fresh for December and January and prolong his career. Lewis is the most likely candidate to spell McCoy, but he got just 23 carries as a rookie, and 10 of them came in Week 17. He needs to improve his blocking before coach Andy Reid will increase his playing time. The Eagles also like the potential of rookies Brown and Polk. It's still unclear whether the Eagles will carry a fullback. Last year's starter, Owen Schmitt, played less than 200 snaps and wasn't re-signed. If they do keep one on the roster, it likely will be Havili.
TIGHT ENDS: Starter -- Brent Celek. Backups -- Clay Harbor, Brett Brackett, Chase Ford.
Celek is one of the league's better all-around tight ends. He has averaged 60 catches a season over the last three years, led all NFL tight ends in yards after the catch last season, was the league's most effective red-zone receiver and has developed into a reliable blocker. The Eagles used more two-tight end sets last season than they ever have in the Andy Reid era, with Harbor as the other tight end. Harbor is an athletic player with 4.5 speed, who likely will be used more as a receiver this year than last, when he caught just 13 passes. Brackett had a solid spring and could make the team if the Eagles opt to go with three tight ends and no fullback.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin. Backups -- Jason Avant, Riley Cooper, Marvin McNutt, Damaris Johnson, Mardy Gilyard, Chad Hall.
Jackson is one of the league's most dangerous vertical threats, but is coming off his poorest pro season. He spent most of 2011 pouting over his contract situation and had just four touchdown catches. His yards-per-catch average nose-dived from a league-best 22.5 in 2010 to 16.6 last year. But Jackson is in a much better mood heading into this season after signing a new deal with the Eagles in March. Maclin can't stretch a defense quite like Jackson, but is a productive receiver with excellent speed and sure hands. He led the team in receptions last season. Avant has established himself as one of the league's top slot receivers. He had a career-high 52 catches last season. McNutt, a 6-2, 216-pound sixth-round rookie, will battle Cooper for the No. 4 job, though the 5-8, 170-pound Johnson, an undrafted free agent, was impressive in spring camps and OTAs and could earn a roster spot, particularly if he can contribute as a returner.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LT Demetress Bell, LG Evan Mathis, C Jason Kelce, RG Danny Watkins, RT Todd Herremans. Backups -- T King Dunlap, G/C Mike Gibson, G/C Dallas Reynolds, T Dennis Kelly, G/C Steve Vallos, G Julian Vandervelde, G Brandon Washington, T D.J. Jones, T Thomas Welch.
This unit suffered a major blow in March when All-Pro left tackle Jason Peters ruptured his Achilles tendon, then reinjured it a few weeks later. He is lost for the season. The Eagles acted quickly after Peters got hurt and signed the best free-agent tackle available -- Bell. He has the athleticism to be a good fit for Howard Mudd's blocking technique. But durability is an issue. He's missed 17 games the last two seasons with injuries. The rest of the line is solid. Herremans made a smooth transition from left guard to right tackle last year. Kelce stepped in and started 16 games as a rookie. Mathis and 2011 first-round pick Watkins both are athletic guards who can get to the second level. But Bell is the key. If he steps in and plays well, this unit shouldn't miss a beat. If he doesn't, then Mudd likely will have to move some parts around.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LDE Jason Babin, LDT Mike Patterson, RDT Cullen Jenkins, RDE Trent Cole. Backups -- DT Fletcher Cox, DT Derek Landri, DT Antonio Dixon, DE Phillip Hunt, DE Vinny Curry, DE Brandon Graham, DE Darryl Tapp, DT Cedric Thornton.
The Eagles led the league with 50 sacks last season, and figure to have at least as many this season considering the quality depth at coach Jim Washburn's disposal. Washburn likes to regularly rotate four players at both end and tackle and has plenty of talent to do that. Babin and Cole both are Pro Bowlers. Former first-rounder Graham is healthy again two years after having microfracture surgery. And the Eagles got a steal in the second round in Curry, a quick-twitch edge rusher. The Eagles traded up in the first round to get Cox, and feel he and Jenkins will give the team the strongest interior pass rush they've ever had. Cox, who runs a 4.7 despite weighing almost 300 pounds, also can move outside. Patterson is a technically sound run defender who had brain surgery in January and might not be ready for the start of training camp.
LINEBACKERS: Starters -- SLB Mychal Kendricks, MLB DeMeco Ryans, WLB Brian Rolle. Backups -- Jamar Chaney, Keenan Clayton, Moise Fokou, Akeem Jordan, Greg Lloyd, Casey Matthews, Monte Simmons.
A good portion of the Eagles' offseason focus was on strengthening this unit. Ryans, a two-time Pro Bowler acquired in a March trade with the Houston Texans, gives them the kind of difference-making three-down player they haven't had at MIKE since Jeremiah Trotter was in his prime. Even though he's a bit undersized at 5-11, the Eagles feel Kendricks, a second-round rookie, gives them someone who can cover tight ends and blitz off the strong side. Rolle started 13 games as a rookie, but is only 5-9, and will battle Chaney, last year's starting middle linebacker, for the WILL job. The problem with starting both Rolle and Kendricks, though, is it would mean having two sub-six-foot linebackers on the field at the same time. Clayton is a linebacker-safety 'tweener who can be used in some specialty packages.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- LCB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, RCB Nnamdi Asomugha, FS Nate Allen, SS Kurt Coleman. Backups -- S Jaiquawn Jarrett, S Oshiomogho Atogwe, CB Joselio Hanson, CB Brandon Boykin, CB Curtis Marsh, CB Brandon Hughes, S Colt Anderson, S D.J. Johnson, CB Cliff Harris, S Phillip Thomas, S Tom Nelson, CB Trevard Lindley, S Wade Bonner.
Despite a pass rush that collected a league-high 50 sacks last season, the Eagles gave up a disturbing 27 touchdown passes. They consider the offseason trade of Pro Bowl corner Asante Samuel to be addition by subtraction, since it will allow Rodgers-Cromartie to move outside after a frustrating year trying to learn how to play inside. Samuel was an off-corner who is one of the league's top ball hawks. But his style didn't mesh very well with Asomugha and Rodgers-Cromartie, who both are press corners. Hanson has been one of the league's better nickel corners for several years. But he's 31 and will be pushed by highly-thought-of fourth-rounder Brandon Boykin. Curtis Marsh, a 2011 third-rounder, will back up Asomugha and Rodgers-Cromartie on the outside. Allen struggled early last season as he came back from a patella tendon injury. But he played well down the stretch and gives the Eagles a solid cover safety. They need better play out of the strong safety position this season, though. Coleman, a 2010 seventh-rounder, was up and down and is an inconsistent tackler. They drafted Jarrett in the second round last year expecting him to take the starting job. But he was a disappointment as a rookie and didn't look much better in spring camps. They bolstered the position in May by signing the veteran Atogwe.
SPECIAL TEAMS: PK Alex Henery, P Chas Henry, LS Jon Dorenbos, KR Deon Lewis, Chad Hall, PR DeSean Jackson, Brandon Boykin, Chad Hall.
With the exception of two costly misses in a Week 4 loss to the 49ers, Henery had a solid rookie season, nailing 24 of 27 field-goal attempts and being consistently long with his kickoffs. Henry needs to develop consistency with his punts. He finished 25th in the league in both gross and net average as a rookie. The Eagles' return units weren't very productive at all last season. Jackson is a home-run threat, but the Eagles would prefer not to use him on a regular basis. Boykin was an outstanding punt returner at Georgia. Lewis averaged just 21.6 yards per kickoff return last year.
Delivered to your inbox
|Best of Yardbarker||NFL News||MLB News||NBA News||NHL News|
Today's Best Stuff