Philadelphia Eagles: What to Watch for at OTAs
Organized team activities (OTAs) will offer fans and the media the first glimpse at Chip Kelly’s new Philadelphia Eagles. Kelly has already made his mark known, adding elements such as loud music throughout practice while eliminating Taco Tuesday and Fast Food Friday.
It’s nothing like the practices run by Andy Reid, but hopefully, the results will be different than those from Reid. Reid’s Eagles finished just 8-8 in 2011 and 4-12 in ’12, so Kelly is completely changing the way of the franchise.
Kelly has already brought in a pile of new starters on defense, and his offense could be one of the more explosive units in the league if it runs as smoothly as anticipated. His OTAs won’t reveal everything there is to know about Kelly, but they will offer a glimpse at what to watch for from the 2013 Eagles.
Michael Vick’s Ability to Run the Read-Option Offense
Vick is the only quarterback in NFL history to run for 1,000 yards in a season. Even at age 32 last year, Vick still averaged 5.4 yards per rush, finishing fifth among quarterbacks. He is fully healed (for now) from last year’s concussions and rib injuries. And he’s finally in an offense designed for his unique skills.
Chip Kelly has been heavily utilizing the read-option at practice. This offense worked wonders for Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III. Vick has an All-Pro running back in LeSean McCoy, plus an above-average offensive line. Kelly may not use the read-option more than several times per game, but it could be an effective trick to keep the defense alert.
The Competition at Cornerback
The cornerback positions are in no way set. The Philadelphia Eagles parted ways with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Nnamdi Asomugha in the offseason, signing Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher via free agency.
Williams was a starter on the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens, although he did surrender the fourth-most receiving yards of any corner in the league in ’12, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required). Fletcher was much better, holding opponents to a 55.6 passer rating, although this came largely from the nickel and dime spots.
Those two will compete with last year’s nickel corner, Brandon Boykin, as well as seventh-round draft pick Jordan Poyer for the top spots. Curtis Marsh, Brandon Hughes and Trevard Lindley could be long shots to make an impact.
The Eagles probably won’t lead the NFL in interceptions in 2013 with this current group of cornerbacks. But the competition could be entertaining to watch. At the least, Williams and Fletcher’s starting roles are in no way set in stone.
Offensive Players Playing Defensive Positions
Whether those moves are just camp moves or hopeful position transitions remains to be seen.
Avant doesn’t have the speed to project as a good fit for Kelly’s offense, and Harbor is buried on the depth chart at tight end. Kelly may feel these players are of more use as two-way players, which can be fairly common for that of college coaches.
Then again, Kelly is now in the NFL.
Very rarely do players successfully switch sides of the ball. There have been Troy Brown and Julian Edelman of the New England Patriots, but that’s about it. It will be interesting to see if Avant and Harbor can make any impact, and which other players change positions.
The Impact of Russell Shepard on the Offense
LSU wide receiver Russell Shepard may become a fan favorite with his ability to play multiple positions. Once rated Rivals’ No. 1 quarterback in the nation out of high school—one spot ahead of Matt Barkley—Russell Shepard is a multi-positional tool hoping to make a big impact on the Philadelphia Eagles.
Shepard didn’t put up great stats in four seasons in college, finishing with just 10 total touchdowns via rushing and receiving. He never threw a pass and returned just two kickoffs. But he does have 4.46 speed in the 40-yard dash, per NFL.com, and is the type of player Chip Kelly will enjoy.
The ideal scenario is that Shepard lines up all over the field, seeing action at running back, receiver and even Wildcat quarterback. Shepard will be competing with Damaris Johnson, Riley Cooper and Ifeanyi Momah for the final receiver spot or spots, so camp will be his opportunity to shine.
Utilization of Two- and Three-Tight End Sets
Bill Belichick showed the NFL world how effective two-tight end sets can be with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Chip Kelly is on record as saying he loves two- and three-tight end sets, and he has no problem carrying four on his roster.
Kelly inherited five-year starter Brent Celek and added two pieces already this offseason in James Casey and Zach Ertz. Casey is a fullback/tight end from the Houston Texans who can line up all over the field. Meanwhile, Ertz was the 35th overall selection in the 2013 NFL draft, and he’s a mismatch nightmare for opposing defenses. Ertz has tremendous size and leaping ability, and he may fill the role of the big receiver the Philadelphia Eagles have lacked in recent years.
There’s also Clay Harbor, a former draft pick entering his fourth season with the club. Harbor has played sparingly as a backup, but he’s a reliable player who could push for time. Either way, it will be interesting to see how Kelly chooses to use all of his tight ends.
Imagine one formation with Celek at the traditional tight end spot, Casey in the backfield as a fullback and Ertz in the slot. Add in LeSean McCoy as a running back, DeSean Jackson out wide and Michael Vick at quarterback, and defenses may want to employ seven safeties to stop this group of playmakers.