The Eagles just wrapped up their first week of Training Camp. It is too early to know much about the team overall, but we can make some judgments on specific parts of the team.
Malcolm Jenkins looks like the real deal. There is no question that the safety had to be addressed after last year. The team moved aggressively in free agency and landed Malcolm Jenkins. They felt he fit the team on the field and had the kind of leadership skills that could help as well. Jenkins is having a terrific camp so far. He's made plays in the passing game when the ball is thrown his way. He has covered well, both in man and zone coverage. Jenkins looks like he's been in this defense for several years instead of just several months. He has been everything the coaches hoped.
Jenkins is also helping as a leader. He is a good influence on both Earl Wolff and Nate Allen. Jenkins is helping Wolff to figure things out. Young players need guidance since safety is a position where knowledge is so critical. You must see the right things and make the right decisions. Instantly. Being able to learn from a successful veteran can really help. Allen doesn't need help with that side of things. Jenkins is pushing him to play more aggressively. We won't know how that is going until we see Allen in a preseason game with full hitting and tackling.
I know a lot of fans wanted the Eagles to go after T.J. Ward or Jairus Byrd in free agency. It sure looks like the Eagles made the right call. Byrd had offseason back surgery and is working his way into the lineup. Ward was arrested this spring for misdemeanor assault and has had to deal with that situation. Those guys are very talented players, but Kelly wants more than that. He wants the right guys. Jenkins has been a perfect fit in the locker room and there is value to that.
The backup quarterbacks are much improved this summer. Mark Sanchez was new to the team and scheme in the OTAs and I think that affected his performance quite a bit. He now has a better feel for the offense and looks much more comfortable. Sanchez has played quite well and looks like he can be a solid backup for the Eagles. Matt Barkley is throwing the ball well and will look to beat out Sanchez for the backup spot in the preseason.
Marcus Smith II is the most athletic outside linebacker the Eagles have. The rookie is working with the second-team defense, but he has opened the eyes of his teammates with his athleticism. You can see his potential as a pass rusher, but also in pass coverage. That's why the Eagles liked him so much. Smith can do it all, which is something that helps the 3-4 quite a lot. You want to be able to rush or drop both linebackers. Last year, Connor Barwin dropped a lot more than Trent Cole. The offense had an idea who was going to do what. The 3-4 is at its best when the offense doesn't know who is dropping and who is covering. Don't expect Smith to win a starting job this year, but if he continues to impress his coaches they may find ways to use him in certain defensive packages.
Nolan Carroll II might be having the best Training Camp of any Eagle. He has been terrific. No one has the official stats, but based on the media reports, Carroll has broken up more passes than any other defender this summer. Carroll is disappointed. He wants those break-ups to turn into interceptions. Carroll just might play his way into the starting lineup. He's been nothing short of outstanding this summer.
Tommy Lawlor, goeagles99 on the Discussion Boards, is an amateur football scout and devoted Eagles fan. He is the Editor of IgglesBlitz.com and was a contributor to the Eagles Almanac.
Jeremy Maclin hasn't shown any ill effects from last year's ACL tear. The Eagles are counting on him to be a key player this year. There were some who questioned if the team should rely on a player coming off a serious knee injury. So far, so good. Maclin is having a strong camp and looks as athletic as ever. The real test for him will come in a preseason game when he takes serious contact on his legs. The injury was non-contact last summer, but players coming off an injury sometimes get very nervous when they get hit down low.
The receiver getting the most attention this summer is rookie Jordan Matthews. He is mostly playing in the slot, which is where the Eagles want to use him this year. Matthews and Sanchez have been a deadly duo for the second-team offense. Matthews is getting open, catching everything that comes his way and showing good run-after-the-catch ability. Right now, Brad Smith is running with the starters as the slot receiver and having a good camp of his own, but Matthews is pushing to end up in that role sooner or later.
There is a lot of hype with Matthews right now. And this isn't just Eagles fans wanting him to be good. The national media members who stop by to watch practice all come away very impressed with the rookie. I can't wait to see Matthews in the preseason games. Just as impressive as his on-field play is his overall maturity. Watch the interviews with Matthews and you won't believe that is a rookie talking.
Another player generating a lot of buzz is running back Darren Sproles. There is no mystery with the highly productive veteran. Everyone has seen him make big plays throughout his career. Because the Saints let Sproles go, there was some question about just how productive Sproles could still be. Sproles is absolutely electric with his quickness and elusiveness.
Wide receiver Ifeanyi Momah struggled in a big way last year. He had been out of football for almost two full seasons and you could see just how rusty he was. This year, Momah looks very different. He's more confident. He's more aggressive. Momah still has an uphill battle to challenge for a roster spot, but he's made a couple of impressive catches and has shown that he does have some pro potential.
Unfortunately, there isn't too much to say about the offensive linemen. The Eagles love their starting five, but the backups are somewhat unknown. The spotlight will be on guys like Dennis Kelly, Matt Tobin and Andrew Gardner when the team plays their first preseason game on Friday.
Probably the best news from Training Camp is that there haven't been any major injuries. Several players are dealing with minor issues, but nothing major has happened so far. Keep your fingers crossed on that note.
All of the national analysts who have stopped by to watch practice have been blown away by the speed and efficiency of the Eagles. Chip Kelly had things moving quickly last year, but because the players were learning everything on the fly, there were some limitations. The team is practicing even faster this year. The returning players know the scheme and can help the new ones to keep things moving at a brisk pace.
Optimism is high right now. The team is healthy and looks good on the practice field. The Eagles brought back plenty of good players from a successful 2013 season and the offseason additions have fit in nicely so far. Training Camp is off to a great start.