Philadelphia Eagles News

Lawlor: What Do We Know?

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The Eagles have had a couple of weeks of Training Camp. There have been good days and bad. Some players are looking better than ever while others are still trying to get into a rhythm. The coaches are getting a better feel for the team every day. Let's talk about what we've learned about the 2016 Eagles so far.

Quarterback is the most important position in all of sports. I'm sure Donnie Jones would make a compelling case for punter, but I'm sticking with quarterback.

Sam Bradford is fully healthy and the coaches seem very happy with him. He is bigger and stronger than ever. He has limited turnovers in practice. He is throwing the ball well. Bradford has had the best camp of the group and you can see why Doug Pederson wanted him back for this year. Bradford gives the team a talented veteran quarterback, and that gives the Eagles a chance to compete.

Chase Daniel has been what we expected. He knows the offense and that has helped him to look really good at times. He's also flashed athleticism and a strong arm. Daniel hasn't performed as well as Bradford, but he certainly looks like a backup quarterback that you can trust if called upon.

Carson Wentz has shown the talent that got him selected second overall in the draft. At the same time, he's also played like a rookie in certain scenarios. You can live with those mistakes, as long as Wentz learns from them. There really are two keys with rookie quarterbacks. First, you want to see the talent. Wentz has made sensational throws. He has shown a strong, accurate arm. He has made some highlight plays with his feet. There is no denying his raw talent. You also want a rookie to show progress. That means he can take coaching and then translate that into on-field success. Quarterback coach John DeFilippo said that Wentz is not a "repeat offender". When the coaches correct a mistake, Wentz doesn't repeat the mistake the next day. He learns from the situation and listens to what the coaches are teaching him. Wentz may not be ready to play (in real games) yet, but he is everything the Eagles expected and hoped for.

Moving away from quarterback, one position that is loaded is tight end. Brent Celek might be 31, but sports science has helped him to stay in excellent shape. He's continuing to play at a high level. Zach Ertz is hoping to build on a terrific 2015 season. The real test for him will be to see how his blocking is this season. He has done an outstanding job of getting open and catching just about everything that has come his way this summer. The eye-opener has been Trey Burton, who signed as an undrafted free agent in the spring of 2014. Burton made his impact on special teams each of the past two seasons. This year Burton has been a standout on offense to this point in camp. The coaches rave about him. Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz even mentioned Burton in a recent press conference. There is no better compliment for an offensive player than to have a defensive coach talk about how difficult it is to handle you. 

Pederson has talked about wanting to use more three-tight end sets. He has three good tight ends right now and you always want to get your best players on the field. Chip Kelly avoided doing much with personnel groupings because he was obsessed with speed, and that meant keeping the same players on the field as much as possible. Pederson is going to mix and match players to be as creative as possible. He's done that this summer, using all sorts of different looks. Pederson is going to focus more on his players than his personal philosophy. With a trio like Celek, Ertz and Burton, that means a lot of tight ends on the field.

The interior of the offensive line is better off than a year ago. Although it is still a work in progress, the Eagles added bodies and shifted some players around. Brandon Brooks dealt with a nagging injury, but he's now back at right guard. Allen Barbre is in his second year at left guard. The coaches wanted to see him challenged, but Barbre remains with the starters. Matt Tobin played right guard for most of last year. Right now he's the backup at left tackle and Pederson has sung his praises a couple of times. Tobin has always looked better on the left side. That makes a real difference for some players. Speaking of changes, Dennis Kelly is now focused on playing tackle. He was tried at guard the past couple of years, but he is more natural on the outside, where his size is a benefit and not a weakness. Kelly is having a good summer.

Free agent Stefen Wisniewski has opened some eyes with his play. He's been tough and physical, whether playing at guard or center. Wisniewski is talented, but things have not clicked for him in recent years. He is focused and playing his best football in years. We'll have to wait and see if that earns him a starting job. If not, the Eagles have a terrific backup interior lineman. Rookie Isaac Seumalo started slowly after missing OTAs and mini-camp due to NCAA rules, but has been coming on as of late. If he continues to improve, Seumalo could be in the mix at left guard. Last year the Eagles didn't have five linemen they were genuinely happy about. This year there are seven or eight they like.

The defensive line could be one of the best units in the entire league. The question for them was depth. The transition from the 3-4 to the 4-3 meant the team didn't have a ton of extra bodies up front, especially at defensive tackle. Free agent Mike Martin was signed in mid-April, and although he's been scratched as of late with a knee injury, he's had a terrific camp and looks like the number three defensive tackle. He has exceeded expectations. I wasn't sure Beau Allen would be kept around, thinking he might not fit the new scheme, but Schwartz likes having a bigger body up front that can help play the run and Allen has had some good moments in the one-gap attack. Rookie Destiny Vaeao went undrafted, but he has played well and has a real shot to make the team. The coaches love his combination of size and athleticism. He is a terrific fit for the scheme.

Defensive end Steven Means was signed to the roster back in December, but I don't think most fans knew about him until recently. He's made plays every day and really made a compelling case that he should be the fourth end and someone that plays on gameday. We need to see these players play in a game to really know what the Eagles have, but the backups quietly went from being a major question mark to an encouraging group.

Outstanding defenses need to have a pair of outstanding safeties. The 1985 Bears had Gary Fencik and Dave Duerson. Gang Green had Wes Hopkins and Andre Waters. The last Eagles team to feature a top five defense (2008) had Brian Dawkins and Quintin Mikell. This Eagles team has Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod. Both players have been terrific this summer. Free agency is never a sure thing, but the Eagles hit a home run when they signed Jenkins in 2014. McLeod has been a star in Training Camp and everyone is excited to see what he can do this year. The team is still figuring out who the backups are, but the starters might be the best safety duo in the league.

Preseason games will give us more hints about exactly what the 2016 Eagles have. Training Camp can only do so much. Still, it has given us some reasons to feel good about this team. There are some holes, but there are also players rising to the occasion and ready to prove to the world that you better not overlook this team.

 
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