What are we going to learn during these three days at the NovaCare Complex? The players won't wear pads and there won't be tackling. The pace, while fast, won't be game speed. Depth charts are set, then changed, and then turned upside down when training camp begins.
So, what is so important about the camp?
Consider these practices, along with the previous Organized Team Activities, a foundation for the players. It is mental repetition for those who are new to the NFL, or new to the system. A veteran like Cullen Jenkins, for example, uses these practices for conditioning and for improving his technique. A player like Fletcher Cox uses them to gain more insight into what Jim Washburn wants from his defensive linemen. You get the picture.
What do the positions look like midway through June? Here is a look ...
Michael Vick has been very sharp and it's clear that footwork, mechanics and timing are high on his list to improve. Vick said last week that he wants to be a more accurate quarterback and he has thrown the ball very well this spring. Mike Kafka looks good in shorts throwing the football as the No. 2 quarterback, and rookie Nick Foles is better than the team anticipated early in his process of becoming an NFL quarterback.
Trent Edwards has made strides from a tough start when it appeared he was not throwing the ball well because of an injured shoulder.
I think the Eagles have a great situation here. LeSean McCoy, of course, is one of the best in the business. He is an all-around great football player. But the Eagles need to know that they are well stocked here, and so far they certainly feel that way. Second-year man Dion Lewis looks explosive and very sure of himself backing up McCoy. Lewis runs with great acceleration. He has a chance to be an extremely productive player in the NFL.
Instead of signing a veteran to add depth, the Eagles drafted Bryce Brown in Round 7 and then signed Chris Polk after the draft. Both have been learning the offense at a good pace and both have a lot of talent.
As with every position, and more than most, we will know about these young running backs when the pads go on. That's money time for proving yourself worthy of making an NFL roster.
Stanley Havili is the starter and he is a big, strong young player who has to show that he can be physical and can block at the point of attack. Can he catch the football? Sure looks like it based on his play this spring? Can he pick up a blitzing linebacker? Check back in August.
Meanwhile, free-agent rookie Emil Igwenagu is pushing Havili and is going to be right there at Lehigh University. Jeremy Stewart from Stanford is another contender for the job.
All of a sudden the Eagles have athletes, big time, at the tight end position. Brent Celek and Clay Harbor both do what the Eagles want -- they can move around the formation and they can get down the field in the passing game. They both work hard at their in-line blocking. They both create favorable matchups for the offense. At the same time, Harbor is facing competition from two players -- Brett Brackett, a former wide receiver from Penn State, and Chase Ford, a rookie from Miami (Fla.). Both are big kids who run well and have caught the ball well so far.
The Eagles aren't going to emulate the Patriots and make the tight ends the focal point in the passing game, but they certainly have some options. Look for Celek to be a huge part of the offense this season from start to finish.
I can't mention every wide receiver here -- the Eagles have 12 on the roster at the moment -- but there is plenty of competition. DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant and Riley Cooper are probably the top four on the depth chart. Chad Hall is probably fifth because of his versatility. Mardy Gilyard is going to be a factor in training camp both as a receiver and a return man. Marvin McNutt is a sixth-round draft pick who is going to be a much-improved receiver when the pads go on. Damaris Johnson is a smallish receiver who has tremendous speed and quickness in and out of his routes.
How many receivers do the Eagles keep? Five? Six?
The starters are set with Demetress Bell at left tackle, Evan Mathis at left guard, Jason Kelce at center, Danny Watkins at right guard and Todd Herremans at right tackle. Then the fun starts as the Eagles look for some excellent competition to push the starters and to provide solid depth. Veterans like Mike Gibson and Steve Vallos, along with King Dunlap, lead the way. But right tackle D.J. Jones and swing tackle Thomas Welch are two younger players who Howard Mudd wants to see a lot of in training camp.
The Eagles used draft picks on guard Brandon Washington and tackle Dennis Kelly, both of whom will need to develop quickly to earn roster spots for 2012.
Losing Jason Peters can't possibly be dismissed casually. That the Eagles were able to add Bell so swiftly makes Peters' loss more bearable. The line has a chance to be outstanding, really, really good. Chemistry and continuity are keys, as is building some depth here.
We've been through this many times. The Eagles have numbers, they have talent and they are going to go at it in a big way during training camp. Can the Eagles keep 10 defensive linemen? Can they possibly keep 11 players? There are, at least, six quality defensive ends here. There are five and maybe six good defensive tackles on the roster. If the young players develop -- specifically Cox, Vinny Curry, Brandon Graham, Phillip Hunt and even Cedric Thornton -- then the Eagles could be scary-good up front.
All of this makes Washburn's mouth water. He can't wait to get things going at training camp. First, more foundation is needed with three more days of mini-camp at the NovaCare Complex.
The facelift here is one of the central themes of the offseason. DeMeco Ryans has had a terrific spring working his way into the defense. He looks great on the field and very comfortable in his role as a leader in the locker room. Ryans is the face of the defense.
Rookie Mychal Kendricks is worth being excited about. He has lived up to the billing through the spring and he is one of those players who should get better and better when the pads go on. He is starting on the strong side and is playing very good football.
Second-year man Brian Rolle starts on the weak side, with Jamar Chaney pushing. Casey Matthews, Akeem Jordan, Moise Fokou, Greg Lloyd, Jr. and Monte Simmons are in the mix as well. Keenan Clayton is sidelined with a sports hernia and is going to have to have a huge training camp to make this team.
The starting four seems pretty much set: At cornerback the Eagles are going with Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and at safety the Eagles are starting Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman. There is some depth at cornerback with Joselio Hanson, Curtis Marsh, Brandon Hughes and Brandon Boykin, in no particular order. Jaiquawn Jarrett is pushing Coleman at safety.
The rest of the secondary is largely lumped together, with the exception of special-teams star Colt Anderson. We'll see how it sorts out when the action is live.
One note: Rookie free-agent cornerback Cliff Harris won't be at this week's camp. Per NCAA rules, Harris can't participate in team practices until Oregon graduates on June 18. Talk about a dumb rule ...
Overall, the Eagles are very athletic in their back four defensively. New cornerbacks coach Todd Bowles wants his guys to be physical and technically sound. The Eagles want to mix up their coverages, and maybe play more press coverage. The battle between Hanson and Boykin at the nickel spot, is going to be very interesting to watch.
Alex Henery has had a very strong spring and is locked into the placekicker's job. Chas Henry is leading the way at punter, although the Eagles reportedly worked out veteran Brad Maynard on Monday. Does that mean the Eagles want to see more from Henry? Or that Ryan Tydlacka isn't pushing Henry the way the Eagles want?
Henry also holds, which is extremely important.
Jon Dorenbos is clearly in the lead as the long snapper as the Eagles hope to keep the Dorenbos-Henry-Henery team in place on field goals.
In the return game, you can count on just about anybody with speed to get a chance to handle kickoffs and punts.