Philadelphia Eagles Training Camp: 5 Key Position Battles and Likely Winners

Manav Khandelwal@@KhandymanSportsAnalyst IIJune 9, 2012

Philadelphia Eagles Training Camp: 5 Key Position Battles and Likely Winners

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    With Organized Team Activities (OTAs) ending yesterday and training camp coming up in about a month, all eyes are on the Philadelphia Eagles to see whether they can rebound from last season's humiliation. The "Dream Team" wasn't supposed to go 8-8.

    Now, however, it seems as though the team has turned over a new leaf with an exciting front office shakeup, the most productive draft in years, and offseason signings and trades that have fans raring to go.

    There were a lot of interesting story lines from OTAs, whether it be regarding the incredible play of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie or the chemistry developing between starting safeties Kurt Coleman and Nate Allen.

    There is still a lot to be decided, however, and here are five important position battles that won't be decided until training camp, the preseason, or early in the regular season.

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Slot Corner: Joselio Hanson vs Brandon Boykin

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    When the Eagles drafted Brandon Boykin in the fourth round, the assumption was that he would return kicks and replace Joselio Hanson at the nickel spot.

    Hanson, however, had other plans.

    Both corners looked fantastic in OTAs according to a variety of reports, and it seems possible that both will keep their roster spots thanks to the need for good corners in today's pass-heavy game.

    Even so, the battle between these two guys will be important in determining who gets more playing time at the slot and whether this is Hanson's last year as an Eagle.

    Boykin definitely has the speed and age advantage, while Hanson's experience and technique give him an advantage as well. Hanson was originally thought to be the third favorite, behind Boykin and Brandon Hughes, but Hughes' poor play coupled with Hanson's stellar efforts on the Eagles wideouts have completely changed that complexion.

    Who wins this job might not be decided until the fourth week of preseason, and it will be interesting to see how each performs against New England, Pittsburgh, and Cleveland in weeks 1-3.

    My guess is that Boykin will be given every opportunity to succeed, and Hanson will have to really outperform him to win the job.

    Likely Outcome: Hanson will start early in the season, but as Boykin progresses you'll see him taking more of the reps at No. 3. Look for Boykin to fully win this job by Week 5 or 6. 

Weakside Linebacker: Brian Rolle vs Jamar Chaney

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    When Sigmund Bloom reported that Mychal Kendricks had outright won the strong-side job in OTAs, one thing became clear: the weak-side position was the only linebacker spot up for grabs, and it would come down to Brian Rolle versus Jamar Chaney.

    Both are young, in their second and third years respectively. Rolle recorded 54 tackles splitting time between starting and coming in as a linebacker specialist in 2011, while Chaney accumulated 92 tackles and three interceptions playing middle linebacker.

    Those positions changed with the trade for DeMeco Ryans, and thanks to Kendricks' excellent showing at minicamp and OTAs, it is one or the other for a starting job.

    Rolle has been called a "pinball" by many an expert due to his big-hit ability and tenacity. He sometimes over-commits because of that trait, which has gotten him into trouble.

    Chaney, on the other hand, isn't as tenacious as Rolle but has better speed, agility and awareness on the field. He was able to really sharpen his skills playing middle linebacker in 2011 and seems to be in better shape than Rolle heading into training camp.

    Jamar said this of his chances to win the job against Rolle:

    "I think I'm pretty good in space. I've got the speed to do it; I don't think that will be a problem. I'm going to do everything I can to be the best at that position. May the best man win if it's just me and him battling it out."

    May he win indeed.

    Likely Outcome: Jamar Chaney wins outright in the middle of training camp, and Rolle spends much of 2012 playing as the fourth linebacker.

Slot Receiver: Jason Avant vs Marvin McNutt

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    Jason Avant has been a productive slot receiver his entire career in Philadelphia, but when the Eagles drafted Iowa standout Marvin McNutt in the sixth round of last April's draft, his job was in jeopardy.

    McNutt was a bright spot in a dull Hawkeyes offense during his senior season, recording 1315 yards and 12 touchdowns. Avant also had an above-average year, however, getting career highs in receptions (52), yards (679) and first downs (33). Unfortunately, he also had a couple of bonehead fumbles that cost his team games.

    The Eagles have been searching for a legitimate red zone threat for years, and I think they finally found one in McNutt. Not only does he run great routes, but he has good enough hands and a tall enough body that he can catch anything within a two-foot radius of his chest.

    Reports from OTAs are that the rookie is thriving, easily beating out veteran Riley Cooper and even taking first-team reps with Michael Vick at the helm. Avant has been pretty good as well, but it seems that Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Morhinwheg aren't giving the six-year veteran any advantages heading into training camp.

    In short, it's going to be a battle the whole way through.

    Likely Outcome: Avant keeps his job through training camp, but as preseason comes and goes and the regular season gets underway, the offensive coaching staff looks to give more and more reps to the younger McNutt. By the end of the season, McNutt is the No.3 guy and Avant is out of a job.

Left Defensive Tackle: Mike Patterson vs Fletcher Cox

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    Here is yet another rookie versus veteran battle, but in this case the vet—Mike Patterson—is facing quite the uphill battle.

    Patterson has had a decent career as an Eagle since being drafted 31st overall in 2005. He's been on the decline since 2007, his best season, and only recorded 35 tackles with 2.5 sacks in Jim Washburn's new scheme.

    Cox had an excellent career at Mississippi State, recording 56 tackles, 5.0 sacks, and 14.5 tackles for loss in only 12 games his senior season. He has great athleticism, pops and disengages quickly, and has the ability to pursue runners deep in the backfield and side-to-side.

    All reports from OTAs show that Cox is taking his first NFL offseason by the horns. He's worked on his technique rigorously with defensive line coach Jim Washburn on his way to earning a lot of first-team reps. Patterson, meanwhile, has been sidelined as he tries to recover from brain surgery he got earlier in the year.

    While vets Anthony Dixon and Derek Landri might make moves at the job, the player who'll line up opposite Cullen Jenkins will mostly come down to these two guys. Cox, the highly-touted rookie, or Patterson, the long-time Eagle.

    Likely Outcome: Cox gets the nod early in preseason and keeps his job through the year. Patterson or Landri is released at the end of the season, depending on who plays worse.

Backup QB: Nick Foles vs Mike Kafka vs Trent Edwards

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    As sexy as starting jobs are in today's NFL, the role of the backup quarterback is extremely important to these Philadelphia Eagles.

    Why? Because the starting quarterback is the oft-injured Michael Vick.

    The Eagles made sure to increase the competition for Mike Kafka this year by bringing in Trent Edwards and drafting Nick Foles. Both of those were good moves.

    While Edwards' rust has moved him to the No. 4 spot, the race between Foles and Kafka is just heating up as they share second-team reps and show off their arms.

    Foles and Kafka are both young, which means age won't mean much as they compete for the spot. What can, however, affect things is their past performance.

    In limited time last season Kafka was okay, completing an impressive 11-16 passes for 107 yards but throwing two interceptions and zero touchdowns. He single-handedly lost the first game against New York with those two picks, and wasn't able to hold off the Falcons in Week 2 either.

    The one thing he has going, though, is that he knows the offense better than any of the three candidates.

    Foles, on the other hand, is coming off of a pretty good senior season at Arizona where he completed 69.1 percent of his passes for 4329 yards, 28 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. His accuracy left a little to be desired, especially on deep balls over the middle.

    His arm strength and game awareness were above average, however, and that's most likely what got Andy Reid interested in him as a possible project to replace Vick.

    Both have their strengths, both have their weaknesses, and of any job out there this one is sure to be the most interesting. 

    Likely Outcome: Nick Foles gets the No.2 spot, Kafka is relegated to the No.3 job, and Edwards is released after one or two preseason games.