Roster juggling is in full bloom already? How many running backs do the Eagles keep? Will Darren Howard make it along the defensive line? Is Kris Wilson in line to be the third tight end, or is Matt Schobel clearly ahead at that position?
Welcome to the cusp of the start of training camp. In one week's time, the questions will start to gain some answers. For what it's worth, here are my Top Battles To Watch in training camp ...
1. DEFENSIVE LINE
I've got Trent Cole, Chris Clemons, Mike Patterson, Brodrick Bunkley, Trevor Laws, Juqua Parker, Victor Abiamiri and Bryan Smith in as locks. That makes eight players along the line, without a fourth tackle and minus a swing veteran (namely Howard) to play in situations.
Do the Eagles carry nine or 10 linemen? Certainly, if they can find a fourth tackle -- and veterans Kimo von Oelhoffen and Montae Reagor appear to be the leading candidates -- the line would be pretty solid all the way through. With Patterson and Bunkley in as the starters, the Eagles can afford to give Laws a reasonable number of snaps each game and then work in a fourth tackle in situations.
Howard's value is that he can play both tackle and end. But can he be effective as a pass rusher, something he has not done consistently here? Or is a player like Abiamiri ready to expand his role?
In a perfect world, the Eagles get lights-out performances up and down the line and then have a hard time choosing. If that's the case, look for them to keep 10 linemen. Right now, it seems like the team has eight players lined up pretty nicely, with another one or two roster spots up for grabs.
2. WIDE RECEIVER
This another how-many-do-they-keep? position. Kevin Curtis and Reggie Brown are the starters and Jason Avant is the third receiver at this point. But the Eagles also want to see if rookie DeSean Jackson is ready for playing time, so they are going to load him up with as much as he can take in training game. Greg Lewis and Hank Baskett are quality players who help as role players within the offense and on special teams.
Can the Eagles afford to keep all six receivers? If they decided they could only keep five, who would go? Are there any other receivers here -- Bam Childress, Jamal Jones, one of the younger players -- who can wedge his way into the picture?
Is a trade at some point in training camp or even after camp out of the question?
Newsflash: Brian Westbrook is going to make the team. Lorenzo Booker is going to be here. After that, well, I think I can say that Correll Buckhalter and Tony Hunt are going to be in, but I don't really know.
My guess is that the Eagles will keep four halfbacks. But we're deep into numbers here, with all of these defensive linemen, all the wide receivers, and we haven't even talked about the secondary or the offensive line, positions that could be heavy if things fall a certain way.
It's going to be very difficult for Ryan Moats to make this team, but you never know. Could the Eagles keep only three halfbacks? Yeah, they may have to go that way if they can't juggle the rest of the roster. If they keep only three, then, who doesn't make it here?
I'm also going to concentrate on fullback, because a two-man race between Jason Davis and Luke Lawton -- as it appears now -- is going to provide good competition.
This has been discussed before, but as training camp nears, let's refresh: The Eagles generally keep four safeties. Three safeties appear to be pretty solid guesses: Brian Dawkins, Quintin Mikell, Quintin Demps. I guess, in theory, a fourth-round draft pick isn't a sure thing, so maybe it's better to hedge on Demps (the Eagles wasted little time giving up on fifth-round pick C.J. Gaddis last year, after all).
But the Eagles also have Sean Considine, J.R. Reed and Marcus Paschal pushing, so the competition level should be very high at safety. A lot depends on Dawkins returning to his standout form, and maybe the Eagles have to hedge here in case Dawkins isn't healthy leaving training camp.
In any event, the Eagles are going to have to sort through some talent here. Should be fun to watch.
There are going to other battles -- tight end, offensive line, the fifth and sixth linebackers -- so it isn't too early to start calculating the 53-man roster and watching it change just about every day ...
ROOKIE CLASS: STYLE AND BRAINS
At the league's recent Annual Rookie Symposium in San Diego, the Eagles' class represented itself very, very impressively. All 252 rookies were given daily quizzes on the materials from that day's proceedings, and when all the answers were tallied, two draft picks landed among the top six scores. Offensive lineman Mike Gibson was sixth in the total score, while offensive tackle King Dunlap came in second among the rookie point totals.
As a class, the Eagles finished fourth in total points among the 32 NFL rookie classes.
TALKING TRADES: BANNER EXPLAINS
In this month's *Eagles Insider *magazine, Team President Joe Banner answers a question about the team's decisions in the last two drafts to trade out of the first round. The question asks Banner to explain the team's "sense of urgency" when it has dealt down in 2007 and 2008. Banner's response:
"What we've done two years in a row is basically trade one pick to acquire three picks. In 2007, we had a small number of picks going into the draft and traded out of the first round to acquire three selections, players we think have very high ceilings in terms of what they can contribute. Two of those players, linebacker Stewart Bradley and tight end Brent Celek, contributed as rookies and we expect them to continue to make contributions. The other player, quarterback Kevin Kolb, is making outstanding progress in his development. We moved back a very small number of picks and used that first-round pick to select three players. I really don't understand the conclusion that we didn't act with urgency, given that two of draft picks from that trade contributed as rookies, actually, in fact, more than the player Dallas drafted, linebacker Anthony Spencer.
"This year we got two picks in this year's draft plus one in next year's draft, which happens to be a first-round pick. The player we selected first in the second round, defensive tackle Trevor Laws, is someone we had a late first-round grade on. I don't think our moves had anything to do with urgency. We wanted to convert our draft picks into great value – and the definition of great value can depend upon the circumstances – then you are doing well. We think we did well with both deals to move out of the first round. We acquired multiple picks and used those picks to select players we think will turn out to be important contributors to our football team. We didn't, in our estimation, sacrifice the opportunity to select players who could step right in and contribute on the field.
"Last year, when we took our first-round pick and traded to Dallas, I remember doing an interview and saying, 'We got Kevin Kolb, Stewart Bradley and Brent Celek and we think those players will compare favorably to the player Dallas selected, linebacker Anthony Spencer.' In fact, as I said, last year we got more out of those three picks than Dallas got out of its one.
"The question here relates to how quickly a player is going to contribute. That is more a reflection of how ready the player is when he is drafted and what your depth chart looks like when you head into the draft. There are positions on our team where we could have picked a great player and, because of the talent we have already, that player wouldn't play immediately.
"On the other hand, Laws has an excellent chance of being our third defensive tackle, and generally our third tackle plays between 40 and 50 percent of the snaps. We don't know if that is going to happen, but if he plays that much, it will end up being more of a contribution that a vast majority of first-round picks historically make as rookies. And don't forget, the failure rate for first-round picks is 50 percent around the league.
"If we are good talent evaluators, we should be able to look back in two or three years and say we are much better off having made these trades, including in the short run."
Tune in to *Training Camp Live! *on Monday, July 21 (4:30 p.m.) as we bring you Andy Reid's press conference to kick off training camp live from the fields at Lehigh University. We're going to be live every day after a morning practice at Noon, and we plan to show you highlights from on and off the field for two to three hours every day. Please tune in and be part of the best training camp coverage you will find anywhere.