If it seems like forever since the Eagles suited up and played some football, it pretty much is in terms of our level of anticipation for what is ahead in 2016. The wait is nearly over, though, as the team opens Training Camp on July 24 for rookies, selected veterans and quarterbacks.
On that night in South Philadelphia at the NovaCare Complex the Eagles will meet with the coaches and prepare for three days of practice, a refresher course, if you will, of the team's X's and O's in preparation for the first full-team, 90-player workout on July 28.
So, we're nearly there. And we're licking our chops in anticipation. What to expect? There is a lot going on with this team ...
- Head coach Doug Pederson believes in a more physical camp than the ones Chip Kelly conducted the previous three summers. There will be some live hitting periods in camp and there will be times when the defense tackles the ball carrier, although not the quarterbacks, who are off-limits wearing their red jerseys. The brunt of the hitting happens in the first few days of full-team practices, as was the case when Andy Reid was the head coach. In fact, the script from those practices is pretty much the script Pederson employs: 10-12 sessions each period focused on a variety of drills and situations. While Kelly raced through his "training sessions" with approximately 25 shorter periods, Pederson's practices will be fast-paced and more consistent with longer periods. Yes, there will be music, although at times the music will be turned down.
- The team's mandatory post-draft minicamp ended on Thursday, June 9 and most of the players scattered immediately thereafter. However, the rookies stayed around for a week of training and also took part in the team's Rookie Symposium throughout the following week. For a player like offensive lineman Isaac Seumalo, that period of time was invaluable to get some workouts in and become re-acquainted with his teammates. Seumalo, the third-round draft pick from Oregon State, participated in the post-draft rookie camp and then, due to NCAA rules, missed the Organized Team Activities and the mandatory camp while his class in college graduated. Seumalo worked with offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland each night via Skype and Stoutland gave him diagrams and mental reps. "He's going to be fine mentally with what we're doing," Stoutland said. "He's a very smart young man and he's got that part. He can't replace the physical part of things, though, so he has to catch up and that's always a tough thing for a young player, for any player, who misses time on the field." Seumalo is expected to challenge Allen Barbre at left guard, but Barbre has the clear advantage heading into Training Camp.
- How many starting spots are in what we would term "open competition" as Camp nears? In theory, isn't every position open as the team prepares to practice in pads with full contact and tempo for the first time? Yes, but ... The real positions to watch are at cornerback, where Leodis McKelvin and Ron Brooks took most of the first-team reps in the spring, at defensive end, where the Eagles have Connor Barwin, Vinny Curry and Brandon Graham in the mix, and at wide receiver, where Jordan Matthews, Josh Huff, Nelson Agholor, Rueben Randle and Chris Givens are pushing each other for playing time.
- From a depth standpoint, the Eagles feel like they've got some promising situations across the board. The busy offseason bolstered the quarterback position, the cornerback spots and the offensive line. The defensive line was already deep. Safety is better with Rodney McLeod as a starter and rookie Blake Countess competing for a roster spot and some time. Areas to watch? How about middle linebacker, where seventh-round draft pick Joe Walker took reps behind starter Jordan Hicks in the spring? Can Najee Goode back up in the middle and at both outside linebacker spots? Can rookie Wendell Smallwood be counted on at running back, where Ryan Mathews, Darren Sproles and Kenjon Barner have veteran experience?
- It may not be the sexiest battle, but perhaps the most "pure" competition in Training Camp and throughout the preseason will come at placekicker. Cody Parkey is healthy after missing much of last season and Caleb Sturgis returns after replacing Parkey and having a strong performance after some early wobbles. Both have strong legs and icy demeanors. The kicker who performs best in the summer wins the job. It seems pretty cut and dried at this point at that position.
- There are two open-to-the-public practices at Lincoln Financial Field this summer. Join the Eagles on Sunday, July 31 at 10 a.m. and then have some fun under the lights on Sunday, August 14 at 7 p.m. Both practices are free of charge and offer a great way to bring the family and have some fun and football at Lincoln Financial Field.
- Also on those two days, enhance your Eagles experience by attending our Spotlight Forums. First, alumni Harold Carmichael and Vince Papale join me on July 31 at 8:30 AM to discuss being longshots in Training Camp and the paths they took to make it in the NFL. Papale, of course, was the subject of the wildly popular Invincible movie and his story is fascinating. On August 14, former Eagles defensive standouts linebacker William Thomas and defensive tackle Darwin Walker are the panelists as we discuss the evolution of defense in the NFL and the challenges playing on that side of the ball in today's NFL. There are autograph and photo opportunities and much, much more. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit here.