Philadelphia Eagles: 5 Position Battles to Keep an Eye on This Summer
The Philadelphia Eagles almost have their starting core intact.
The offensive line was set for the next three or four years—at least until Jason Peters ruptured his Achilles tendon. The linebacker picture started to come in clearer after the Eagles acquired DeMeco Ryans.
The Eagles skill player positions are completely set after they were able to re-sign DeSean Jackson long term. He will line up opposite of Jeremy Maclin, with Brent Celek at tight end, LeSean McCoy in the backfield and Michael Vick under center.
The defense is pretty set as well. They earned their fair share of the blame for what happened last season, but with a more experienced defensive coordinator things should only improve. Ryans will help shore up the run defense at the very least.
A healthy Nate Allen has the potential to have a huge year as well.
Brian Rolle's play last season earned him the weak side linebacker spot for the time being. With Ryans already guaranteed the starting MIKE linebacker position as well, the strong side linebacker spot will be an open competition this season. Kurt Coleman may also get some stiff competition this summer, but most likely only from last year's second-round pick Jaiquawn Jarrett.
A couple of really important depth positions are also wide open.
Dion Lewis showed a lot of promise at running back last season, but hasn't proved enough to be guaranteed to be McCoy's backup. Mike Kafka is almost the exact same story at quarterback. Both players are the favorite to win a backup job this season, but not without some stiff competition.
1. Left Tackle
Jason Peters was a huge loss for the Eagles.
Not only did the Eagles lose their starting left tackle, but they lost what was probably their best player. He might be the best offensive linemen in the league. He got even better in Howard Mudd's blocking scheme. Now we don't know if he will ever get in close to his former self.
Life goes on. One starter goes down, another guy steps in.
The Eagles have plenty of options at left tackle. Todd Herremans can move over to the left side if the coaching staff feels King Dunlap is better suited for the right tackle spot. Evan Mathis can move over to left tackle and Julian Vandervelde can fill in at Mathis' left guard spot. Newly acquired free agent Demetress Bell is the favorite to win the left tackle spot, but nothing is set in stone months before training camp.
Bell has a great deal of potential.
He has 30 starts in his career and was supposed to be the Buffalo Bills starting left tackle last season. He made six starts last season but missed 10 games due to a shoulder injury.
Bell has the size to stand out at left tackle at 6'5", 311 pounds. He also is athletic enough to thrive in Howard Mudd's scheme. The biggest concern with Bell is his ability to stay healthy and adjusting to a new blocking system.
Bell will play in a much more athletic blocking scheme in Philadelphia. He is certainly athletic enough to get the job done, but he will have to adjust quickly.
2. Strong Side Linebacker
Strong side linebacker is absolutely wide open. Akeem Jordan, Moise Fokou and Jamar Chaney all made starts at the position last season and neither player really was able to make their mark. All three players are still on the roster and will be in the mix for the starting job.
I would expect the Eagles to draft another player to add to the competition.
Jamar Chaney is the favorite to win the starting job, but after starting the majority of season at middle linebacker he has to prove he can be a solid outside linebacker in this league. Akeem Jordan played well down the stretch, but has never shown he can be more then a spot starter here and there and a good special teams player.
Moise Fokou has been a decent starter in the past but hasn't taken the next step as an NFL player.
The Eagles will also be looking at several prospects in this month's draft. Travis Lewis and Keenan Robinson are two very likely possibilities.
Lewis was the leader of the Oklahoma Sooners defense. He has added bulk and kept his speed. He should play somewhere around 240 to 245 pounds. He ran a 4.73 40-yard dash at his pro day. He is a textbook tackler and is solid in pass coverage. He is the more polished of the two linebackers.
Keenan Robinson should be the next in line of solid Texas Longhorn defenders able to make the transition to the NFL very quickly. He is a very good overall outside linebacker whose biggest concern drawn from scouts is his inconsistency on film.
Either one of these linebackers would be tough competition to go along with Chaney, Jordan and Fokou.
3. Strong Safety
Strong safety is really a two-man race with one clear front runner.
Kurt Coleman finished the year as the starting strong safety and really played well down the stretch. He doesn't have great speed and size but he makes up for it with a natural knack for being around the football. He should get even better this season with defensive backs coach Todd Bowles helping him in pass coverage.
Jaiquawn Jarrett was the Eagles second-round pick last year. He was the team leader on defense while at Temple and was one of the most sure tacklers coming out of college. He has a chance to be a really good safety in the near future, but has to be a more reliable player in pass coverage. He was robbed with a very short offseason program. More team time with defensive coordinator Juan Castillo and defensive backs coach Todd Bowles this summer should greatly improve this game.
Some people will call for the Eagles to take strong safety Mark Barron in the first round of this year's draft. I don't think he is a good fit for the defense.
Barron isn't a reliable player in pass coverage yet. He is a big hitter who plays the game very physical. The Eagles don't want to draft their third strong safety in three years and their second strong safety in the first two rounds of the draft in as many years.
This will be a huge summer for Jarrett's career. He has much more of a ceiling then Coleman does, but Coleman just seems to be more comfortable as the starter right now.
4. Backup Quarterback
The Eagles second string quarterback spot might be the most coveted non-starting quarterback spot in the NFL. With the way Michael Vick plays and how fragile his 200-pound frame is, you know he will get at least a start or two during the season.
This is why the Eagles spent $6 million on Vince Young last season.
Right now the Eagles have two backup quarterbacks on their roster. Mike Kafka is entering his third season in the NFL. He has a good feel for the Eagles offense right now and will have a leg up on the position. He doesn't have a huge arm, but he gets rid of the ball very quickly and has a very good feel for the blitz for a quarterback who has never made a regular season start.
Trent Edwards is the other Eagles backup quarterback and he has much more starting experience. He has 32 starts under his belt, but has only started the majority of the seasons twice.
However, he hasn't been the full-time starter since 2008. Edwards has been the victim of some really poor offensive lines since his college days at Stanford and during his entire time at Buffalo.
Like Kafka, Edwards doesn't have a rocket for an arm either. Both are accurate quarterbacks who get by with timing and touch. This will be an interesting battle to watch in training camp and preseason. Both players probably have a 50-50 shot at being Vick's backup and probably getting one or two starts in relief for Vick.
5. No. 2 Running Back
LeSean McCoy is the current starting running back for the Eagles. After the Eagles sign him to a long-term deal, he will be the Eagles starting back for the next six or seven years.
That much is clear. What isn't is who will be his backup this season.
Dion Lewis had a really impressive camp and preseason last summer, but he didn't get as many carries during the season as most experts thought he would.
Despite being a shorter back at 5'8", Lewis has a really strong lower body. This allows him to fight for extra yards. He also has really quick feet and good balance. He dropped down on many draft boards last spring after a poor 40-time at the combine, but he proved there is more to his game then just straight line speed.
Lewis will be pushed for the No. 2 running back spot this summer, and as of right now it appears it will come from a rookie. Players like Cyrus Gray, Chris Rainey and Isaiah Pead are prime candidates for the Eagles to draft.
Rainey and Pead are more of speed backs with kick return ability, while Gray is more of an all-around running back. Gray is the one running back the Eagles could draft who would have a realistic shot of pushing Lewis.
Gray is a good inside and outside runner who can catch the ball out of the backfield and is solid in pass protection.
Whoever the Eagles add to their roster at running back, Dion Lewis will have to prove to the coaching staff he is the clear-cut guy who can handle the load should LeSean McCoy go down to injury.