DeMeco Ryans stood on the 35-yard line at Lincoln Financial Field after Monday's public practice and offered a defensive perspective that sums up the way the Eagles feel these days: "We expect big things, and we're pushing ourselves to reach those goals."
That's the kind of optimism the Eagles have these days after winning the NFC East last season and aggressively executing the offseason plan to bolster the roster. The result is a team that conducts its practices at a high tempo with good competition and, obviously, a lot of spirit.
So, what can we take from the first few days of Training Camp, with one practice conducted in pads? It's a process, of course, but things are shaping up a bit. Here are some of the observations I've made ...
- A question I hear: How can the players get in shape if they don't tackle in practice and then only have one real practice each day? Here's how: Chip Kelly runs his training sessions at an extremely high rate and he challenges conditioning by using players in successful handfuls of reps. For example, running back Darren Sproles was given three handoffs in the span of about 45 seconds on Monday, and he ran each play to the end, sprinted back to the huddle and took another handoff. That's exhausting, and that's just one minute of a two-hour practice. This way works. The players are constantly on the go.
- There has been a lot of attention focused on second-round draft pick Jordan Matthews for his camp performance, and it's certainly justified. Kelly knows he has a piece in Matthews that can be a very tough matchup for defenses. Using Matthews in the slot means a defense has to line up a cornerback or a safety against him, and Matthews is a huge body to handle for a smaller, inside cornerback. If defenses try a linebacker inside, Matthews will run away on a crossing route. The kid had worked hard, caught the ball well and he seems to be in the right place at the right time. I'm not sure he plays anywhere but the slot this season. He can be a valuable weapon.
- Every time I see Darren Sproles catch a pass I think, "How is a defense going to cover and then stop Sproles from catching a pass in space and converting a third-and-4 play?" I want to keep an eye on the number of third downs Sproles converts this season.
- I like this group of cornerbacks a lot. Good size. Some tenacity here. Good athletes. Jaylen Watkins is improving a lot, and he's going to add to a competitive and pretty darn complete set of corners.
- It's going to be tough for him to make the 53-man roster, but wide receiver Ifeanyi Momah has come a long way since last year. He was so raw after missing a couple of seasons because of a knee injury, but Momah has clearly worked hard to improve in the last 12 months. He's better off the line of scrimmage and he's catching the ball well.
- Keeping an eye on the right tackle spot, where Allen Barbre is taking reps with the first-team offense. Barbre has good feet and he looks good on the edge. He's going to take a lot of reps in the four preseason games. Lane Johnson, suspended for the opening four games, is running with the second team.
- Hard to give a progress report on first-round draft pick Marcus Smith II, given that the defense hasn't tackled. But he's now taking reps with the No. 2's and he's working hard and he certainly looks good out on the field with his build, his long arms and his athletic ability. It would be such a plus if Smith can contribute some quality snaps this season.
- Any younger offensive linemen stepping up? Keep an eye on Matt Tobin, Kevin Graf, Michael Bamiro and Josh Andrews in the preseason games. And second-year man David Molk, a center, has a chance to win the job behind Jason Kelce.
- I still say that Alex Henery is the leader in the clubhouse for the placekicker job, but Carey Spear has a big, big leg. Henery's distance was solid from 55 yards and in during the work at Lincoln Financial Field on Monday. He's being pushed and Henery is responding.
- Someone who has really caught my eye: running back Matthew Tucker. He looks more fluid and no doubt more confident. Can't wait to see him get some touches in the preseason. Tucker is a nice prospect.