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Eyes Open For Big Week Ahead

Posted Jun 16, 2014

They are called training sessions, part of a new language brought to the Eagles by head coach Chip Kelly, and nary is a moment wasted on the field at the NovaCare Complex as the team gears up for this week’s minicamp ...

They are called training sessions, part of a new language brought to the Eagles by head coach Chip Kelly, and nary is a moment wasted on the field at the NovaCare Complex as the team gears up for this week’s minicamp ...

A year ago the training sessions were a point of fascination for observers, who scrambled to publish the playlist of music, who noted the various hardware not before seen on a football field (for example, the shoulder pad “flyswatters” worn by members of the equipment staff at the line of scrimmage to simulate the long arms of defensive linemen) and the general pace of the workouts, which were fast, faster and fastest.

So we’re a year into this now, and watching pract …, er, the training sessions, and some of the stuff out there becomes routine, even though it’s clearly not. We’re just used to seeing it now.

But things are different now for the Eagles than they were a year ago, of course. A full season with Kelly in the lead established the protocol of the way things are to be done around here, starting immediately. The program is vastly different than the one previously in place, and everybody understands that. The tempo is different. Kelly’s energy level is different. It’s all just … so … different.

And it’s fantastic. Ahead of this week’s camp, the Eagles have had a conditioning program in place since April 21, and have had three weeks of Organized Team Activities. The players have been given heaping amounts of information in that time, and have digested it and applied what they know on the field in the form of no-pads, no-contact training sessions. For the rest of the week, the focus is on bringing it all together in the final full-team work before Training Camp begins in late July.

What should we be watching? Everything, naturally. But some things are easier seen than others, so here is my list of Keeping An Eye On pieces to watch in this camp …

            1. Ed Reynolds: Catching Up After Missing OTAs

Fifth-round draft pick Ed Reynolds returned to the NovaCare Complex late last week after missing most of the OTAs as he waited for his Stanford class to graduate. Reynolds was able to communicate with the team via video chatting and so forth, but his absence was a setback.

So, how quickly can he catch up on the X’s and O’s? He will never get back the on-field and in-classroom time, but as tight end Zach Ertz proved, extra work pays off and a rookie season can still be a productive one.

Reynolds is in a mix at safety that includes veterans Malcolm Jenkins and Nate Allen, as well as newcomer Chris Maragos and second-year man Earl Wolff. There are no guarantees for Reynolds. He knows he has a lot of work to do to gain his bearings in the defense and to play fast in the scheme.

            2. Wide Receivers: Youth Meets Experience

The Eagles revamped the wide receiver corps in the offseason, releasing Jason Avant and DeSean Jackson, retaining Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin prior to free agency and adding Jordan Matthews and Josh Huff in the draft.

What does it all mean?

At this point, It means a different look. The Eagles have more youth and more size across the board at wide receiver than they did last year, and the coaches are working to put all the pieces in the right places. Maclin has run very well coming off the ACL injury that shelved him in 2013 and Cooper looks terrific on the field – confident, catching everything, playing fast. Matthews and Huff are making progress on a daily basis and both have exhibited strong skills on the field and excellent work habits learning the offense.

To pencil in a depth chart at this point is not worth much of anything, as every player steps up and gets as many reps as the man next to him, but both Matthews and Huff have had the ball in their hands during OTAs. They’ve both looked like they fit in and know where they are supposed to be and when during the training sessions.

In addition to those four receivers, the Eagles want to see how much competition there will be for depth. Veteran Brad Smith is all caught up with the offense and has looked good in the on-field work. B.J. Cunningham is ready to make his move. Damaris Johnson has the offense down and is trying to find his niche. Jeff Maehl had a taste last year and is looking for a larger role. And so on and so on. Nobody is guaranteed anything, of course, but you figure that Maclin, Cooper, Matthews and Huff have pretty good chances of making this team. Who makes it behind them?

           3. Quarterbacks: Looking For Timing And Accuracy

It’s always difficult to gauge a quarterback when there is no contact and the red shirt he wears means DO NOT TOUCH. Everything changes when the defense can get after it completely. In the case of this group of quarterbacks, the coaches want to see good decision making, accuracy and timing on their throws.

It’s a pretty fascinating group to consider. Nick Foles, in his third season, is coming off a Pro Bowl year and has a total command of the offense and the huddle. Mark Sanchez is the new face after his time with the Jets, and while he’s on a bit of a "pitch count," he says as he continues to work back to 100 percent health after his shoulder injury last year, Sanchez will take a lot of reps. Second-year man Matt Barkley continues to mature as he competes with Sanchez and G.J. Kinne behind Foles.

            4. The Defense And Then Some

They are not permitted to hit or tackle, so the way the coaches look at these sessions is far different than they would in a Training Camp period. The emphasis is on being in the right position to make the play. This is Year 2 for most of the defense, although players like Jenkins and the five draft picks are still picking their way through the playbook.

We’re going to watch No. 1 draft pick Marcus Smith II and evaluate how comfortable he looks after five whole weeks of being an Eagle. We’re going to see if Nolan Carroll II is challenging for extensive playing time at the cornerback position. We’ll see how often the safeties are around the football in these sessions.

Otherwise, we have to wait until, really, the preseason games to see how the pieces are fitting into Bill Davis’ defense. This week is an appetizer as the Eagles take another step toward the 2014 regular season.

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