Philadelphia Eagles: Breaking Down the Latest News Heading into Camp
Rookies report to training camp for the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday. This is an exciting time for football fans as it marks the official start of football season, and there's a lot of news heading into the first days of mandatory practices.
With the season opener against the Cleveland Browns on the horizon, the "Birds" have a few major question marks on paper.
This is a sneak peek at some of the more intriguing headlines to keep an eye on throughout the rest of the summer.
Here's a firsthand look at some of the most important news and stories heading into the most pivotal days of training camp.
Second Year of Juan Castillo's Defense
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Defensive coordinator Juan Castillo is heading into his second year as the leader of the Eagles defense. The hiring of Castillo came as a surprise to many and was heavily scrutinized.
Castillo was under even more scrutiny as the season progressed in 2011. The Eagles defense struggled up front, and the secondary also struggled at times.
Throughout the controversy, the Eagles defense wasn't that bad in 2011. Philadelphia finished eighth in total defense last season.
The issues of the past should be resolved, in theory.
Castillo hasn't been under the increased pressure of a lockout-shortened offseason this year, as he was in his first.
The Eagles also appear to have solved their issues up front and in the secondary. The team traded Asante Samuel to the Atlanta Falcons to help make Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie more comfortable in the defense.
The Eagles had a very solid draft this offseason, as well. Fletcher Cox, Mychal Kendricks, Vinny Curry and Brandon Boykin should all be expected to contribute to this defense in 2012.
The pieces are in place, and there are no excuses. Juan Castillo's defense must be better in 2012 if the Eagles are going to be contenders.
It will be interesting to see how the defense looks at the beginning of camp.
Will the Eagles Really Limit McCoy's Touches?
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It's been a very busy offseason for Eagles running back LeSean "Shady" McCoy. It started with him signing a five-year contract extension.
McCoy's new deal has led to a multitude of speculation regarding the Eagles' star halfback. Chad Graff of Philly.com raised an interesting point in an article he wrote this past Monday.
With millions of dollars invested in him, could the Eagles actually be looking to limit McCoy's touches in the early parts of 2012?
While many NFL running backs can handle that load, it may be smarter for the Eagles to limit McCoy as much as they can early in the season to save his legs. In McCoy's last five games last season, he averaged 3.4 yards per carry. In his first 10 games, he averaged 5.4.
It's an interesting thought and definitely one to keep an eye on throughout the rest of the summer. The Eagles need McCoy fresh throughout the entire season if they're going to make a postseason push.
Importance of Vick's Health
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The importance of Michael Vick's health cannot be stressed enough. In order to keep "7" healthy, it's going to take a combined effort from the entire team.
It begins with Vick, who needs to make a conscious effort to play smart football in 2012. In a recent interview with Mike Missanelli on 97.5 The Fanatic, Vick made a promise to his fans.
I want to make a promise to all my fans that I'm going to make a conscious effort, a cognitive effort, to make sure that I protect myself. And you know my motto has been this for the last six months, and I repeatedly said to myself: Get the next yard on the next play. You know, whether I'm running the football or scrambling or trying to do something improvising. Get the next yard on the next play. That's why you have second down and third down, and possibly fourth down. So you can give yourself opportunity.
If you're not on the field, then you don't have that chance. So I just want to give myself ample opportunity. Praying to God that I can play 16 games. I know that's the key to the season. I know deep down in my heart. And even though I believe in the players behind me, the players around me, I know what I can do, and I know what I can bring to the table each and every Sunday, so I know it's paramount that I'm out on the field.
The Eagles need to help Vick, though. He is fragile, and his style of play leads to a plethora of nagging injuries. By using maximum-protection blocking schemes, it will help give Vick an extra blocker on passing plays.
The "Birds" could also help Vick by having a better special teams unit. If they can give him better field position to start with, there's a much better chance of him staying healthy. The addition of Boykin and a happy DeSean Jackson should certainly help.
The defense can also help the cause by forcing more turnovers in 2012. There is no better friend to a quarterback than turnovers recovered by his defense. With the improved secondary and front seven, it is very possible that this could occur. The Eagles have a dominant defensive line.
This isn't the first time we've heard Vick say he's going to try to play smarter. This is the year he needs to actually go out and do it. If we witness a few slide attempts at Lehigh this summer, we might know if he's actually being serious this time around.
Grooming of Demetress Bell
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The Eagles were dealt a serious blow this offseason when All-Pro left tackle Jason Peters tore his Achilles tendon—ending his season before it began.
The Eagles made the best out of a bad situation by signing free agent Demetress Bell—the best remaining tackle on the market.
The positive is that the left side of the offensive line isn't Vick's blind side. The negative is that the Eagles and McCoy love running the ball to the left.
There is a lot to like about Bell. He is big, strong and athletic—all good attributes in Howard Mudd's zone-blocking scheme.
Bell will have to stay healthy and adjust to Mudd's system if he's going to be an adequate replacement for Peters.
Backup tackle King Dunlap intends on making the starting left tackle spot a legitimate competition throughout camp.
Dunlap spoke with Columnist Reuben Frank of CSNPhilly.com recently. He told Frank:
I’m definitely going in with the mindset of competing and trying to take somebody’s spot, whether it’s Demetress or somebody else up front. Them bringing him in, yeah, it was frustrating, but it didn’t change my mindset at all. I’m still going into training camp to compete, to earn a starting spot and do what I can to get on the field and help this team.
It will be an interesting battle during camp, although it seems unlikely that Dunlap would win a starting job. He is 6'9" and not athletic enough to fit in Mudd's system. Mudd likes quick, smaller offensive linemen generally.
Early Impact from Rookies
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That is all well and good, but these guys still have to go out and make an impact on the field. Talented teams on paper don't necessarily equate into regular-season wins. See the Eagles' 2011 season record.
This offseason was normal—rookies actually had minicamps and OTAs. These team practices are important for developing young players early.
Rookie outside linebacker Mychal Kendricks is already close to cracking the starting rotation, which is a positive for a unit that struggled often in 2011.
Defensive lineman Fletcher Cox is seemingly ready to gain a lot of playing time early. He may not start, but he will definitely be a integral part of the rotation. Second-rounder Vinny Curry will likely see some snaps in the rotation, as well.
Cornerback Brandon Boykin will likely see some time in nickel packages as well as special teams. He has a chance to become the team's primary returner.
These rookies need to perform if the Eagles are going to win a lot of football games in 2012. Hopefully, the progression they have made will be noticeable next week when they report to Lehigh Valley.