This is a great time of the year. Training Camp is upon us and optimism is high. The players are excited and ready to go. The coaches can't wait to get going because they love practice more than anything. Fans and the media are just ready to see some football.
The Organized Team Activities and minimcamp are football-lite. Players aren't wearing full pads and there is no hitting. Heck, there is minimal contact. Training Camp is a different story. The pads go on and players will hit. Linemen battle every day. There isn't much in the way of tackling to the ground, but the practices feature plenty of contact.
Spring football is when coaches lay the foundation for the season. Training Camp allows the coaches to build on that. This is a daily grind that will go on for several weeks. Players are going to be tested physically, mentally and emotionally. Anyone who has seen Hard Knocks on HBO knows what I'm talking about. Some players will break down physically. Some will struggle mentally (knowing the playbook, assignments, etc.). Other players will struggle emotionally. The pressure of Training Camp can be overwhelming. Players are fighting for starting jobs, or maybe just a roster spot. A few bad performances can put a player into a bad frame of mind and not all of them handle that well.
The players who handle Training Camp well are then ready for the upcoming season.
The big news coming out of the weekend is that Allen Barbre will get the first opportunity to start at right tackle while Lane Johnson is serving his suspension. Chip Kelly said that Barbre will work with the starters during camp so that he can get ready for the season. It takes time to get into the flow of things. Barbre will also need the reps to build chemistry with right guard Todd Herremans.
Johnson will work with the backup offensive line this summer. He started all 16 games last season and spent much of last summer working with the starters. There isn't as much need for him to get the reps with the starters this summer. Don't get me wrong. Johnson is a young player and you would prefer him working with the starters as much as possible, but under the circumstances the coaches are making the right move. The sliver lining to this unfortunate situation is the timing. Barbre gets all of Training Camp and the preseason games to get ready. If Johnson was suspended in the middle of the season, Barbre would be getting thrown into the frying pan with only a matter of days to get ready.
Barbre can handle the right tackle spot. He only has seven career starts, but this is his seventh NFL season. He won't be overwhelmed by the moment like a young player might be. Barbre is a good athlete and should be a solid pass blocker. He is a physical player who can be a good run blocker.
Barbre isn't the only player with a huge opportunity. Let's take a look at some other players who have a lot to gain 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.
• It seems like Mark Sanchez has been around for a while, but he is only 27 years old. Sanchez had early success with the Jets, but things fell apart the last couple of years. He didn't get good coaching and had very little talent around him. Sanchez comes to the Eagles, where there is a great offensive staff and one of the most dynamic sets of skill players in the league. He needs to play well this summer, so he can win the backup job. Sanchez isn't just thinking about 2014. He wants to rehab his image and to grow as a player. He will be a free agent next March and would love to go find a starting job. He needs to show the other 31 teams what he can do every chance he's on the field, whether at camp, in preseason games or in regular season games. Sanchez is young enough that he can still have a second act to his career, but that won't happen if he doesn't shine this summer.
• Matt Barkley followed Sanchez to USC and they have been friends for a while, but Barkley would like nothing more than to win the backup quarterback job over Sanchez. Barkley started throughout high school and college so sitting on the bench is killing him. He wants to get on the field. If he can't be the starter, he at least wants to be the backup. He needs to play well this summer in order to keep the Eagles optimistic about him short- and long-term.
• Nolan Carroll II was an under-the-radar signing by the Eagles, but he got everyone's attention in the OTAs. Carroll played really well and the question now goes from "Who is that guy?" to whether he can steal a job from either Cary Williams or Bradley Fletcher. The Eagles' cornerbacks were inconsistent last year and that was part of the reason the team struggled against the pass. Williams and Fletcher played better as the year went along, but they were never pushed for playing time. That will change this year with Jaylen Watkins and Carroll. Watkins is a rookie and has a lot to learn, but Carroll could have a strong summer and win a starting job.
• Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper are the projected starters at receiver. Things are wide open beyond that. The Eagles drafted Jordan Matthews and Josh Huff to come in and try to win the slot role right away. Veteran Brad Smith is the slot receiver who is working with the first-team offense for now and you can bet that Smith will do everything he can to keep that job. His best years came when he played with Sanchez in New York, but Smith has never had a chance to be on a good passing team. Smith would love the chance to play a lot on a team with a strong offense.
• Matthews and Huff are going to do everything they can to get the slot spot from Smith. Matthews is off to a great start. Matthews looked terrific in the OTAs and impressed local and national media with how well he played. His bandwagon is filling up. He combines size, speed and skill, and is a great fit for what the Eagles want in a slot receiver.
• This summer provides a big chance for some offensive linemen. With Barbre now a starter, the Eagles need another backup to stand out. If one of the starters were to get hurt, the team needs someone they can plug into the lineup. This could be a young player like Matt Tobin or Dennis Kelly. This could be a veteran like Andrew Gardner. Or maybe even one of the undrafted rookies could emerge. The team needs someone to show they can play. The Eagles have versatile enough players that they can move guys around, but some player needs to show that he's capable of getting on the field with the starters and getting the job done. Tobin spent time at guard and tackle in college and last summer. You want backups to be versatile. He impressed me in the preseason games last year. Keep an eye on Tobin this summer.
• Beyond Malcolm Jenkins, safety is an open position. Earl Wolff and Nate Allen are expected to battle for the other starting position, but the coaches are open to anyone winning the competition. Chris Maragos was signed primarily for his special teams ability, but the Eagles will give him every chance to show what he can do on defense. Rookie Ed Reynolds isn't going to shy away from any challenge. He'll do what he can to win a job. Keelan Johnson is dealing with an off-field matter, but when he returns he will be in the mix. Davon Morgan is a player the Eagles signed off the street. He can play corner or safety. Morgan opened some eyes in the OTAs and he could be a player to watch.
The coaches will tell you that they don't care if you are a first-round pick or the 90th man signed to the roster. Training Camp is all about competition. The 53 best players will make the roster. The 22 best players will get starting jobs. Everyone has a chance. It is up to each player to make the most of every rep and build up a strong body of work. You want the coaches to see 60 players worth keeping. Make life hard on them.