Philadelphia Eagles: 7 Things We Learned from Training Camp so Far
If one thing can be taken away from training camp, it’s that July and August football shouldn’t be taken too seriously. Players that look spectacular in 7-on-7 drills in pads and shorts don’t always carry that success over to the start of the regular season.
But given that this is the first taste of football under Chip Kelly, training camp is essential to determining what the Philadelphia Eagles will look like in 2013. The much-publicized quarterback battle will span the duration of camp, and it’s doubtful Kelly picks a quarterback much before the first game against the Washington Redskins.
Kelly has open competition amongst most of the players on the roster, and he has a month left to cut his roster from 90 to the mandated 53 during the season. No one knows which players will make it, but the following things are becoming more clear during training camp.
Riley Cooper Is a Distraction, Whether the Eagles Admit It or Not
Riley Cooper really blew it. Following Jeremy Maclin’s season-ending ACL injury, Cooper was in a prominent position to take over Maclin’s role on the outside opposite DeSean Jackson.
And then video surfaced of Cooper making racist remarks at a Kenny Chesney concert, one that went viral on YouTube. The Philadelphia Eagles fined Cooper an undisclosed amount, and reports are rampant that Cooper’s comments have divided the locker room.
Chip Kelly has said he will not cut Cooper for his remarks, but if Cooper continues to be a distraction over the next several weeks, Kelly will have no choice. The team has already sent Cooper to undergo counseling for his behavior, and a leave of absence means he’s missing valuable time with the team to learn the new offense.
It’s not as if Cooper is a four-time Pro Bowler either; he’s averaged 15 receptions for 226 yards and two touchdowns in his three-year NFL career. That’s production the Eagles could easily find from many other receivers around the league, even those that are unsigned, or possibly Ifeanyi Momah or Arrelious Benn on the team right now.
Jeremy Maclin Will Be Tough to Replace
Losing Jeremy Maclin for the season was a debilitating blow for the Philadelphia Eagles. He’s been a model of consistency since being drafted in 2009, and while he hasn’t yet achieved his breakout season, he’s still a top-25 or 30 receiver in the league.
Maclin was poised for a breakout campaign in ’13, and the Eagles will be relying much more on DeSean Jackson in his absence.
There has been some speculation of the team acquiring a free-agent receiver (Brandon Lloyd comes to mind), but GM Howie Roseman says the organization will try to fill Maclin’s role from within, per CSNPhilly’s Reuben Frank.
Riley Cooper was the logical choice to attempt to fill Maclin’s shoes, but he’s since been excused from the team following his ill-advised comments. The Eagles will have to shuffle in a mix of Arrelious Benn, Damaris Johnson, Russell Shepard, and Ifeanyi Momah to see if any can come close to producing what the team would have gotten from Maclin.
Nick Foles Will Probably Beat out Michael Vick for the Starting QB Job
Chip Kelly has made no attempt to disclose who his starting quarterback will be for the 2013 season, citing an open camp battle. The competition seems to be between Michael Vick and Nick Foles, with Matt Barkley an unlikely long shot to win the job.
Jordan Raanan of NJ.com reports Foles has had the edge on Vick in recent camp practices.
On The Mike Missanelli Show, ESPN’s Sal Paolantonio has suggested Vick may be cut if the Eagles go with Foles, given that Vick would need a $3.5 million bonus to make the roster. Foles has looked sharp and precise with his passing, and he has a much better command of the offense.
Preseason contests will weigh much heavier than training camp practices, but it’s looking as if Vick will have to significantly outperform Foles to win the job.
Chris Polk Has the Edge on Felix Jones for the No. 3 Running Back Spot
In his first season with the Philadelphia Eagles, Chris Polk made no impact on offense. He went undrafted, signed as a rookie free agent, and didn’t receive a single carry.
This year though, Polk has been a shining star in training camp. CSNPhilly’s Geoff Mosher reports Polk has stood out so far in camp, even outplaying new free-agent addition Felix Jones. Jones is a former first-round pick of the Dallas Cowboys, and he was expected to win the third job behind LeSean McCoy and Bryce Brown.
Chip Kelly will likely keep four running backs, so there should be room for both Polk and Jones. Kelly also utilized an extremely heavy run-pass balance last year at the University of Oregon, so if Polk does make the roster, he will certainly see his fair share of touches.
DeSean Jackson Has Thoroughly Impressed at Camp
With Jeremy Maclin out for the season thanks to a torn ACL, the Philadelphia Eagles will really need the presence of No. 1 receiver DeSean Jackson. If Riley Cooper is suspended or released from the team, that’s even more reason the Eagles need Jackson to play like the $51 million receiver they’re paying him to be.
So far, Jackson has looked terrific in camp. Per CSNPhilly’s Reuben Frank, Jackson has been arguably the standout player thus far.
Jackson has the speed to beat defensive backs deep, and he’s proven in the past that he is capable of big-play production. In 2009 and 2010, he was a Pro Bowler, frequently putting up 40, 50 and 60-yard touchdown receptions. If the Eagles want to have a passing game this year, they’re going to need Jackson to recapture that form.
Jason Peters Looks Like an All-Pro Again
The 2012 Philadelphia Eagles were decimated with injuries, namely the offensive line. Jason Peters was the biggest blow, as the All-Pro tore his Achilles tendon in the spring and missed the entire campaign.
It’s a difficult injury to come back from, especially for a man weighing well over 300 pounds. But Peters is a special player, and his coaches have been extremely impressed with his performance thus far in training camp.
CSNPhilly’s Zach Berman reports Kelly has been amazed thus far with Peters’ ability to bounce back, saying he’s like a 350-pound tight end. Peters will be counted on to be a big part of the offensive line, given that he’s a tremendous blocker in the running game and efficient at protecting quarterbacks.
The Eagles Won’t Tackle to the Ground in Camp
It’s interesting that the Philadelphia Eagles were one of the league’s worst tackling teams a year ago, but they won’t be tackling to the ground under new head coach Chip Kelly.
Per CSNPhilly’s Geoff Mosher, Kelly won’t have his players conduct any live tackling during practices, choosing to save that for the four preseason contests.
It could be that Kelly doesn’t want any more injuries, having already lost Jeremy Maclin and Jason Phillips for the season. Or it could just be that he feels it isn’t necessary since the team can still practice fundamental tackling in drills.
Referees Shouldn’t Have Difficulty Keeping Up with Chip Kelly’s Offense
Chip Kelly runs one of the fastest offenses to hit the sport in years, and it’s expected that his Philadelphia Eagles will lead the league in offensive plays per game.
Referee Scott Green was at one of the Eagles’ practices recently and said he doesn’t expect the Eagles’ offense to cause any problems in terms of game speed.
It will be interesting to see if the offensive linemen on his own offense can keep up with what Kelly plans to do. If the answer is a yes, this will be one tough offense to stop.