There is a lot to look for in these OTAs, the first time the full roster is in place and on the field and the coaches can look at the players and the rotations and start to work the depth chart with purpose.
Nobody is going to rush to judgment, we know that, but the OTAs allow the coaches a chance to see how players react to the myriad mental responsibilities and tempo challenges.
In short, it's as good as it gets in late May. Eagles football, at the NovaCare Complex, is coming your way!
So what are we really going to watch? Everything is the answer, although some things are going to demand more attention than others. Let's make a list ...
It struck me watching the NBA playoffs: The teams that kept the most continuity during the offseason have handled the lockout season the best. Doesn't that make sense? Those teams that stayed together and kept the roster intact are still alive in the playoffs.
The Eagles made it a point to keep the roster together after the 2011 campaign. They not only did that, but they also added a true leader in middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans and an on-paper terrific draft class.
It's fair, then, to anticipate a high level of execution in these practices. The Eagles should come out smoking and play at a high tempo with minimal mental mistakes.
From a leadership standpoint, Ryans has been around since he became an Eagle and the locker room has rallied around him. Everyone on the roster from last year remembers the four wins to finish 2011, and the ultimate disappointment of not making the playoffs. The mood at the practices should be spirited, to say the least. Everyone wants to get this season started.
And for the first time, there are no real contract issues (No. 1 pick Fletcher Cox is the lone unsigned draft selection) and the locker room is as happy as it has ever been.
WHAT DEPTH-CHART CHANGES CAN WE EXPECT?
There won't be many of them. Ryans starts at middle linebacker and rookie Mychal Kendricks is likely to start at SAM linebacker, especially with Jamar Chaney sidelined as he recovers from his neck injury. Is Brian Rolle still the starter on the weak side, or will Casey Matthews made a push? Demetress Bell is the left offensive tackle, and Stanley Havili is the starter at fullback.
Who is the first-team kickoff return man? Don't know. How about nickel cornerback? It's probably Joselio Hanson, but you can bet that rookie Brandon Boykin will offer a challenge.
Behind the starters, of course, the depth chart will change constantly. Mike Kafka is the No. 2 quarterback and he will get some quality reps in these practices. Trent Edwards will get a long look. The young players are going to get tons of reps.
Prepare for an extremely competitive situation. That's exactly what the coaches want.
WHO ARE THE STARTING SAFETIES?
Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman are likely to be the starters, assuming that Coleman is good to go after his offseason rehab from a biceps injury, but the Eagles want to work in second-year man Jaiquawn Jarrett and see how much his hard work in the offseason has improved his game.
The Eagles have done so much in the last two offseasons to make the defense more robust, tougher and dominating. The questions at the safety spots loom, though. Allen is completely healthy after his patellar tendon injury two seasons ago, and Coleman and Jarrett are expected to step up and provide consistent play.
A few veterans came and went on the free-agent radar, but the Eagles weren't in buying mode. They are going to let their young talent develop. So, we'll get a feel for where the kids are in this camp. There isn't any tackling, but the coaches want to see that the safeties are in the right spots at the right time.
WHICH YOUNG PLAYERS ARE READY TO TAKE NEXT STEP?
There are plenty of candidates as the Eagles look to their most recent three draft classes to benefit from an entire offseason of work at the NovaCare Complex. So who makes the move? It is going to be Matthews, who has packed on some muscle in the offseason? How about Brandon Graham, the 2010 first-round draft pick who is in great shape and hungry to blossom in his third NFL season? Havili spent last season on the Injured Reserve list and has a chance to claim a starting spot. Kafka has his big opportunity at quarterback.
Much of the Eagles' belief in the strength of this roster is their confidence in the young players here. We will get a sense of where those players are in their development over the course of the next couple of weeks.
WHAT IS DIFFERENT ABOUT THE COACHING STAFF?
Todd Bowles takes over the cornerbacks and he brings a no-nonsense approach. He wants more physical play from his group, and while we won't see that in this camp, the attitude will be instilled. Juan Castillo is in his second year as the defensive coordinator and has a lot of talent at his disposal.
The offensive coaching staff is stressing ball security and good decision making, so how do they get that message to the players, to really make it stick?
Get ready for some football. It's as good as it can get in late May, as the Eagles, all of them, get on the field and build for September for the first time together.