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Fan-Demonium: Training Camp Preview

Posted Jul 21, 2013


Training Camp is finally here. This has been a long, strange offseason, with a legendary coach leaving and the excitement of Chip Kelly and his innovative ideas taking the NFL by storm. From smoothies to loud music during practices to sleep monitors, football has had a very different feel under Kelly. We finally get to see the action. 

Here is what I'll be focusing on in the next few weeks:

Chip Kelly - The right coach can make all the difference in the world. Just look at the impact Jim Harbaugh had in San Francisco. That roster had some good pieces in place. He took over and they started winning. I think the Eagles have some talented pieces in place. Can Kelly have a significant impact here and turn this team around quickly? 

It will be hard to judge Kelly from the outside, but there will be hints about his impact. What he and the players say to the media will give us some hints. Does the team look crisp in practice? How much confusion is there out on the field? Are the players showing progress from last year? We don't want to see the players making the same mistakes from last season. 

The NFL is all about the coach these days. Just look at the Saints with and without Sean Payton. That was like two different teams. And they still had Drew Brees running that offense. You must have the right coach to become a top-flight team. We won't know anything for sure this summer, but it will be fun to follow Kelly and see how he does. 

Quarterback Competition - Everyone is obviously looking forward to seeing Michael Vick and Nick Foles battle for the starting job. Matt Barkley is only a rookie, but don't tell him that. He's started for the past eight seasons and doesn't intend to bow down to the others just because of his youth. Dennis Dixon and G.J. Kinne will do what they can. Each guy would certainly like to make his case for playing time, but just showing they belong on an NFL roster will be the first challenge for them. 

Trying to follow the competition will be tricky. You can bet people will keep track of completion percentages, number of reps taken and the success of the offense in team drills. This will paint us part of the picture. There is more to the battle than that, though. 

Think about passes for a minute. If Vick throws a perfect slant pass, but someone drops it, that won't count against Vick. His job is to make the read and throw the pass. The coaches will keep track of that. I'm not sure fans and the media will. The Eagles are going to use option routes this year for the first time in a while (maybe ever). You might see Foles throw a pass that isn't within 5 yards of a player. If he made the right read and threw a pass to a spot, anticipating the receiver would also make that read, Foles will have done the right thing. Outsiders have no way to judge that. The coaches will know. 

How do you judge Barkley? He might lead the No. 3 offense on regular touchdown drives. That's great, but he's only facing the No. 3 defense. This is another situation where the coaches will need to study the practice tapes and see just how well Barkley is performing. You can make the argument that he's only working with the No. 3 offense so he should get full credit. The Eagles happen to be deeper and more talented on offense right now so that works in his favor. He could be handing the ball to Felix Jones or throwing to Clay Harbor or Riley Cooper

The other X-factor here is that quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor remarked to Dave Spadaro a while back that the quarterbacks would be judged on everything they do. He even commented about how they walk down the halls. On the surface that sounds crazy. It isn't. Lazor's point is that the coaches are looking for the player who gets the big picture and will do everything in his power to win the job. That doesn't just happen between the while lines. A true franchise quarterback has the right mindset all the time. Being "the man" for three hours on Sunday isn't enough. Greatness only happens when there is commitment 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 

Look back at some familiar faces. Randall Cunningham was a spectacular talent on the field, but he wasn't a workaholic off it. He enjoyed being a celebrity and wanted to have fun. Vick was even worse than that as a Falcon. He was a warrior on the field, but lived a completely different lifestyle away from the game. Both players were great at times, but ended up as disappointments. Both players went on to a new team and played the best football of their careers, Cunningham with the Vikings in 1998 and Vick with the Eagles in 2010. Talent isn't enough. Attitude and focus are a big part of the situation. 

Everyone can see the quarterbacks perform on the field, but only the coaches will know how they do in the classroom, team meetings and just life in general. The coaches will judge the quarterbacks based on all of this. To put this a simple way, any quarterback that settles for good enough, isn't a guy you want running your team. 


Tommy Lawlor, goeagles99 on the Discussion Boards, is an amateur football scout and devoted Eagles fan. He is the Editor of and was a contributor to the Eagles Almanac.

Crowd at Wide Receiver - The deepest part of the team right now just might be receiver. DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin are proven starters. Jason Avant is one of the better slot receivers in the league. Riley Cooper has been a starter for the Eagles. Arrelious Benn started 24 games for Tampa. Damaris Johnson is a promising second-year player that the team is high on. The Eagles aggressively went after free agent Ifeanyi Momah, who has freakish size at 6-7, 239. B.J. Cunningham was on the practice squad last year and has the potential to be a NFL receiver. Greg Salas was a mid-round pick by the Rams in 2011 and has 27 career catches. Russell Shepard went undrafted, but has the athleticism and elusiveness to be a good slot receiver. 

That is a lot of guys, likely competing for five or six spots. There are a mixture of backgrounds, sizes and skill sets. Some are big. Some are fast. Some are quick. There is room for different types of players in Kelly's offense. He isn't looking for just one type of receiver. This is going to be a highly competitive situation. 

Kelly is putting mental and physical pressure on the receivers. He teaches his wideouts that they must block in order to play for him. Some wide receivers are looked at as soft. Kelly will push his guys to be tough and physical. They will block or they won't get on the field. Simple as that. As for the mental side of things, there is no more just learning one spot. Jackson has been the Z-receiver in his time with the Eagles. He now must learn the X-spot, the slot roles and everything else that is part of the offense. Kelly wants flexibility, not defined roles. Option routes will also force receivers to read the defense and adjust accordingly. The players who embrace the challenges will rise to the top. Others will struggle. 

New-Look Defensive Line - Whether the Eagles run the 3-4 or 4-3 under, things are going to look different than they did in the Reid era. The line will be bigger. The emphasis on speed is gone. 

There are also some new and some young faces to check out. Isaac Sopoaga is going to be the nose tackle, whether the team runs a three- or four-man line. His job is to eat up blocks and keep the linebackers clean. Antonio Dixon is back and in good shape. He would like to be the backup nose tackle. Heck, Dixon would love to win the starting job. He showed great flashes in 2010. Was that the anomaly or can Dixon get back to that level? 

Fletcher Cox has a chance to be a special player. Can he take the next step and do that? Cedric Thornton made great strides last year. If he's able to build on that, he could be a force this year. Those players will be pushed by Clifton Geathers, Vinny Curry and rookies Bennie Logan, Joe Kruger and David King. There are some undrafted guys who will challenge for spots. 

While there are lots of bodies here, there is also a lot of uncertainty. Geathers has been a role player who bounced around the league. He played his best football down the stretch in 2012, but the Colts still were willing to trade him. Curry is making the move from a speedy 265-pound defensive end to a rugged 280-pound defensive end. The Eagles liked Logan in part because he can play end or the nose. Does that mean he's versatile or simply fails to stand out at either spot? He has to prove himself this summer. The Eagles believed enough in Logan to use a third-round pick on him. I'm excited to see what he can do. Kruger has excellent potential, but he is young and still has growing to do, physically and in terms of football. 

I think people are underrating the Eagles defensive line. This group does have a lot of questions, but some of the answers could really surprise people. 

The Rookies - We all know Lane Johnson is a great athlete. The question is when he'll start to look like a stud offensive tackle. He will have his rookie moments, but I think Johnson will have a solid year. He showed a real mean streak in college. He'll need that in the NFL. You can't expect to win every battle with athleticism at this level. Kelly made Johnson work his way up the depth chart in the spring so nothing will be given to him. He will only start if he's earned the job. 

No one has seen Zach Ertz do anything since the one rookie camp he attended. I loved him coming out of Stanford so I'm excited to see how quickly he can get up to speed and make his presence felt. The Eagles spent an early second-round pick on Ertz so expectations are high. He will get a chance to play a lot this year, if he shows he can handle it. 

I already covered Logan and Barkley. The Eagles are very high on both guys. It is up to them to show if they deserve time this year or not. 

Earl Wolff got some reps with the starters in the spring. Kelly says not to read too much into that, but it isn't a bad sign for Wolff. The safety position isn't set in stone. Wolff can win a job if he plays lights out. Wolff can also fight for a backup role. Kurt Coleman isn't going to just move over for Wolff. There will be competition. 

The Eagles spent seventh-round picks on Kruger, King and Jordan Poyer. Kruger and King are fighting for roster spots, as well as playing time. Poyer faces less competition in his bid for a roster spot. There are some who think he could challenge Brandon Boykin for the role of nickel corner. Poyer missed much of the spring due to archaic rules (about school graduation) so he is a bit behind schedule. That might be too much for some to overcome, but Poyer is confident and experienced. He fully expects to compete for playing time, even as a rookie. You love that attitude. 

There is plenty more to watch, but you can't focus on everything all at once. These are the areas I'll be most interested in during Training Camp.

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