I know that everyone is excited about training camp. It's been a long time coming since the disappointment of 2011 faded and gave way to a strong offseason and the promise of what is ahead.
The Eagles have three-plus weeks of time at Lehigh this year. Camp breaks on August 15. Between now and then. we're going to learn a lot about the Eagles. Here are some of the things I expect to see ...
- Jeremy Maclin will take the next step in his development after last year's illness hampered the early part of his season. Maclin put up decent numbers in 2011 -- 63 catches, 859 yards and 5 touchdowns -- but he's going to blow past those stats in 2012. There were more drops in '11 than Maclin would like, and maybe it took a while to get some confidence back in his hands after missing training camp. Maclin will shine in training camp.
- Nick Foles will come a chargin', but Mike Kafka will remain the team's No. 2 quarterback. The Eagles really like what they've seen from Foles, but they also like Kafka's improved mechanics and the added zing he has on his passes.
- Michael Vick will slide in a practice. It may not be pretty, and it may more resemble a dive than an actual, he's-safe-at-second-base slide, but it's going to be there. Vick is serious about minimizing his contact this season. He wants to stay healthy. He is going to live to play another snap for this football team.
- The best drills to watch are going to be the ones that are most underrated: running backs in pass protection against linebackers. Look for Mychal Kendricks and Brian Rolle against Bryce Brown and Chris Polk. You are going to see some nasty stuff there ...
- The young player who emerges and who makes a real run at a roster spot will be tight end Brett Brackett. He looked terrific in the spring and has worked very hard to get stronger and make the conversion from collegiate wide receiver. Brackett -- and, for that matter, Chase Ford -- will challenge Clay Harbor for the second tight end spot, which will be decided in the preseason games, not in camp.
- Middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans is going to be the darling of training camp. The fans are going to be all over him. It's not going to reach the Terrell Owens level, circa 2004, but it will be reasonably close.
- Brown, the high school star who played one season at Tennessee and who then was injured for a year at Kansas State, will show explosiveness and power, enough to mount a challenge to Dion Lewis for the No. 2 running back job.
- Joselio Hanson will remain, as camp ends, the nickel cornerback. Brandon Boykin is going to challenge, and he will play in all four preseason games, but Hanson is too experienced and seasoned and talented to push out of the job. Not yet, anyway.
- Demetress Bell will lose his fair share of one-on-one battles against the Eagles' talented group of defensive ends, and that won't be seen as a bad thing. Bell has to show he has the athletic ability to seal the edge against the speed rusher and have the strength to cut off the inside route to the quarterback. A deep and talented group of ends will give Bell every look that he needs to prepare for the regular season.
- Rookie Damaris Johnson is going to wow everyone with his speed and his moves and the consistency with which he catches the football, seriously challenging Chad Hall for a roster spot. Fans won't pay too much attention to Hall, who is going to catch everything thrown his way. This roster battle will come down to the fourth preseason game.
- Riley Cooper will be much more explosive and experienced than rookie Marvin McNutt at wide receiver. McNutt is still learning the offense and the world of separation in the NFL. Cooper has a clear-cut advantage for a roster spot. He looked very, very good in the spring.
- Rookie Brandon Washington will emerge as a key figure for depth inside along the offensive line. He has more talent and athletic ability than the more-experienced players bidding for roster spots there.
- Kendricks will not make many friends in camp. I see him as the player most likely to engage in skirmishes during practice. He's a pretty nasty kid on the field.
- Defensive end Brandon Graham will be the most improved player on the roster in training camp. He knows what is at stake. Graham knows he hasn't delivered in his first two seasons. He knows the Eagles can't keep six ends on the roster. It's time to put up or, well, maybe not make this football team.
- A pair of draft picks from 2011, Jaiquawn Jarrett and Curtis Marsh, have to step up to make the 53-man roster. The Eagles went out and signed O.J. Atogwe to a one-year contract in the spring, and while the contract is low-risk, high-reward, it sent a message. Marsh has some talent to beat out, including rookie free agent Cliff Harris, who missed the spring practices as his class at Oregon graduated. Harris is super talented and probably a tad more polished at cornerback than is Marsh, a converted running back.
- Linebacker Casey Matthews is going to figure out a way to earn playing time in a niche role. He's going to get a look on special teams and in a reserve role on defense. Matthews came around as a rookie and now that he knows the defense, he will be a more explosive player. Watch him in the coverage drills in camp. This is where he has a opportunity to stand out.