The Best Rookie Storylines at Eagles OTAs
The aura of the NFL draft and the excitement surrounding the graduation of college players to the pros is all centered around potential.
Potential, potential, potential.
It's not a sure thing (just ask the Oakland Raiders how JaMarcus Russell worked out).
But with months to go until the 2013 season kicks off, the level of excitement is still high in OTAs partially because of those rookies.
What will they accomplish with their respective teams? Will these youngsters live up to the hype or will they wilt?
And of course, is there a sleeper no one is talking about who could really pan out?
With that considered, let's take a look at the most talked about rookie storylines for the Philadelphia Eagles so far.
Will Russell Shepard Make an Impact?
He's fast, can catch and has competed at the highest level in college football. What's not to like about Russell Shepard?
While he does possess some weaknesses in his game, the undrafted free-agent signing could be a nice snag by head coach Chip Kelly.
Reminding a lot of people what Trindon Holliday did in Baton Rouge, Shepard did a little bit of everything at LSU. The 6'1'' speedster totaled 733 rushing yards, 565 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns (five rushing, five receiving) throughout his four-year career.
Shepard wasn't a full-time starter at any particular position (just 14 starts in college), but the guy clocked a 4.46-second 40-yard dash at his pro day and can play both sides of the ball.
Most people in Philadelphia know him for the little investigation the NFL conducted into the issue of signing a contract Shepard and the Eagles dealt with following the draft.
But if he can make a positive impression on Kelly and the coaching staff early on, Eagles fans may recognize him for what he does on the field sooner rather than later.
And it's widely known that Kelly loves speedy, versatile players, so Shepard has a shot to contribute knowing just that.
Will Lane Johnson Capture the Starting Role by Week 1?
In regard to the headline question, about 99 percent of voters would emphatically say, "Of course."
However, it's that one percent that's trumping the vast majority at the moment, as Lane Johnson has yet to assume the starting role at tackle for the Eagles.
Nope, in Chip Kelly's first depth chart released, former guard Dennis Kelly was ranked higher on the totem pole than Johnson.
How long that lasts, who knows. But still, something like this bucks the trend of top-five and top-10 picks almost always being handed the starting job.
Eagles offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland said the physical attributes Johnson possesses are there, but a lot of things need to be hashed out technically.
Let's not get jaded here. The Eagles drafted Johnson with the No. 4 pick in the draft, so he should be the expected starter when the regular season rolls around.
But this early depth chart does indicate that Johnson has some developing to do. It's the actual process of that which should be followed closely throughout the offseason.
Will Damion Square Be the Surprise Rookie?
As CSNPhilly.com insider Geoff Mosher points out, each team generally has that one vastly overlooked player who comes out of nowhere to become an instant contributor.
That being said, is Alabama product Damion Square the Eagles' breakout rookie?
Square, who started 26 games his last two years at Alabama, went undrafted despite quietly disrupting SEC backfields for a perennial college football power.
Square, who is expected to compete for a contributor role considering his versatility on defense, played several positions on Alabama's top-notch defense.
His only true question was his stature: At 6'3'', could he make that big of an impact on the outside?
This is what an NFL scout had to say about Square when asked by Mosher:
Only question you’re going to have is, at the end of the day, is he big enough for a two-gap [system]? Is he long enough, athletic enough? Does he have the prototypical height to play in the trenches? No. Does he have the prototype build you want? No. But when you put him on tape, the kid plays his ass off. He has a phenomenal motor. He’s a guy that has really mastered all the technical aspects of the game.
That should sound good to Eagles fans as the guy seems to have quite the potential.
Now let's sit back and see how Philadelphia utilizes him in Chip Kelly's new 3-4 defensive scheme.
How Will Things Shake Out at Tight End for Zach Ertz?
While my opinion on the matter was that Zach Ertz will obtain the starting role in 2013, it's way too early to tell what's going to happen at tight end in Philadelphia.
Ertz, a second-round pick who could have easily gone in the middle to late first round, is just a freak when it comes to making plays in the vertical passing game.
If you didn't hear, ESPN's Sal Paolantonio, via 975TheFanatic.com, called him "the next Rob Gronkowski."
While that might be a little bit of a stretch, the former Stanford Cardinal has shown on tape he's got the ability to shred secondaries.
But with Ertz's participation in OTAs limited by Stanford's graduation, and considering James Casey's knee surgery, there aren't too many guarantees at tight end, especially with the unpredictable Kelly running the show.
There's too many fluid, moving parts right now at that particular position to know for sure what'll happen.
But what we know for sure is that Kelly has seen quite a bit of Ertz in the Pac-12 and obviously liked him enough to take him in the second round (even though the Eagles weren't necessarily in need of a tight end).
That considered, a huge storyline throughout the offseason leading up to the season is the development of the tight end situation and Ertz's role in it.
Will Matt Barkley Make a Start in 2013?
With Nick Foles and Michael Vick splitting reps as they duke it out for the starting quarterback role, USC gunslinger Matt Barkley is waiting.
This year may not be his year to assume a full-time starting role, and it'd be surprising to see him on the field Week 1.
But with two quarterbacks currently ahead of him, will Barkley see decent time in his rookie campaign?
If he gives the Eagles the best chance to win, then yes—plain and simple.
It's been no secret that this Eagles staff have no qualms with playing a rookie.
Despite this, Shurmur told Philadelphia Magazine's Tim McManus that it's the not the easiest thing to tell when a rookie is ready:
You never totally know. But just by watching them function in practice first, all your training sessions and then you get to see them in all your preseason games. And if they’re not a guy who starts in Week 1, there may be a reason why he’s in; the guy ahead of him maybe isn’t playing well. At some point they’re in there. You thought enough of them to draft them, you thought enough of him to put him in there, and it just happens.
Is it likely that Barkley overtakes Foles and Vick for the starting spot early on in 2013? No.
But Barkley possesses a fair amount of potential.
And we all know how tempting it can be for teams to test out potential.