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The Calm Before Camp Fun

Posted Jul 21, 2014

The message is very clear on the sign outside the back door at the NovaCare Complex: FIELDS CLOSED. The stage, then, is set for the start of 2014 Training Camp on Saturday ...

The message is very clear on the sign outside the back door at the NovaCare Complex: FIELDS CLOSED. The stage, then, is set for the start of 2014 Training Camp on Saturday.

There are tents in place and the signage is being assembled and the finishing touches on the NovaCare Complex are being made. The buzz is building. The days can't pass quickly enough. Year 2 under head coach Chip Kelly resumes when the team reports on Friday, with the training sessions opening on Saturday.

What are the biggest camp stories? There are plenty of them, although if you were to ask head coach Chip Kelly he would likely say that the focus is not on one corner of the locker room. Rather, the entire team, and every player, has a job to do, improvements to make.

True enough. But for the purposes of preparation, and for something to do as the time winds away until Saturday, let's discuss some of the key areas on which to focus when Training Camp begins.

1. HOW MUCH DID ROOKIES RETAIN?

All of those spring sessions gave the rookie class an opportunity to feel the tempo and the intensity of the NFL. It also allowed them time to immerse their brains in the playbooks. For those weeks, it was all football, all the time, and the X's and O's became ingrained in their minds.

How much have the rookies retained? Those who hit the books with discipline and diligence since the full-team minicamp ended are the ones who will hit the ground running and have the best chance to move up the depth chart. If any players didn't approach the time away with such relentlessness, the coaches will see it immediately.

We all want to know if any of the first-year players in the league can produce some instant impact. Having the ability to absorb and then retain information is critical to the growth process.

2. WHERE DOES THE DEFENSE STAND?

It's probably fair to say that, for the fans and the media, there are more questions about the defense than the offense here. While Bill Davis did a fine job improving the D last year, the Eagles are looking to make improvements right off the bat in Training Camp. Much of the offseason was spent adding pieces in free agency (Malcolm Jenkins, Nolan Carroll II) and the draft (five of the seven picks play on the defensive side of the ball).

There are significant changes, potentially, to the back four of this defense with Jenkins and Carroll vying for starting spots at safety and cornerback, respectively. The Eagles want to generate more pressure up front to allow the defensive backs to play aggressively, and figuring out where first-round pick Marcus Smith II and the young linemen factor in is worth a long look.

Davis has some pieces and some talent. He said very positive things about the progress made in the spring making sure all of the new faces were on the same page, and now it's time to go to a new level in Training Camp and the preseason. After all, September 7 really isn't that far away, is it?

3. ALL EYES ON QB NICK FOLES

For the first time in his young career, Nick Foles enters a Training Camp as the unquestioned starter at quarterback. So, naturally, he's going to garner a lot of attention from the local media, which he's seen since the spring, and those national reporters who visit Eagles camp. Foles is a calm, cool and collected cat, so it's not likely any of the spotlight will impact him in any way.

Still, it's his first go-around in this position. He's reacted to every phase of his career with the ultimate professionalism and aplomb, spreading the credit to others and accepting any blame. His teammates love him. Foles deserves to be in this position, and his focus is on improving his game, winning football games and that's about it from an Eagles standpoint.

The quarterback position as a whole is really interesting with veteran Mark Sanchez in to compete for a backup job as he looks to resurrect his career. Matt Barkley, in his second season, wants to take a step forward, as does G.J. Kinne, who is going to provide quality competition for a roster spot.

4. JEREMY MACLIN LEADS THE RECEIVER CORPS

Back after missing 2013, Jeremy Maclin had a terrific spring and is ready for full action in camp. He leads the reconfigured wide receiver corps, which also features Riley Cooper and a pair of rookies, Jordan Matthews and Josh Huff. Those four are the leading candidates to top the depth chart, but you know there will be competition and the coaches aren't going to hand anyone a job.

Are Matthews and Huff able to contribute as rookies? Is Maclin ready to thrive in this offense? Can Cooper build on a career season from 2013? Great questions, all. The Eagles have a new look and seriously high expectations at wide receiver.

And beyond that, who makes team as the fifth and, perhaps, sixth receiver? Who steps out of the shadows and vaults up the depth chart to grab a roster spot?

5. NEEDED: DEPTH, DEPTH AND MORE DEPTH

It's the big question in every camp: How deep is this roster? The Eagles have a good mix of young and older players and they have some impressive depth in some areas (running back, cornerback, defensive line, tight end) and some question marks elsewhere. Every player is going to get a lot of reps to show the coaches, and the coaching staff comes into camp hopeful to see players pushing players for roster spots.

The Eagles turned things around last season in large part due to the drafts of 2012 and 2013. Those players contributed big time and are being counted on even more so in 2014.

So as many focus on the front-line players, a story that is just as important is the depth picture. Who emerges that we don't know much about? How do the Eagles brace themselves across the board in case of injury? How deep will the eventual 53-man roster be for a team with high hopes in 2014?

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