Updating Philadelphia Eagles' Key Position Battles Halfway Through Camp
There is still one month remaining in training camp, but the Philadelphia Eagles’ first preseason contest provided an update on the key position battles.
The world finally got to see Chip Kelly’s offense at game level, with quarterbacks Michael Vick and Nick Foles both looking impressive. The defense really struggled to contain the New England Patriots, and it’s likely this is a season-long battle. That means essentially all of the position battles could be open.
The following shows an update on the top six position battles as they stand in mid-August.
Quarterback: Michael Vick vs. Nick Foles vs. Matt Barkley
The much-anticipated quarterback battle finally saw the two players step onto the field on Friday, albeit just in a preseason game.
Michael Vick got the edge for his slightly better performance. While both quarterbacks led the Philadelphia Eagles to a touchdown drive, Vick did so by virtue of a tremendous 47-yard touchdown pass to DeSean Jackson against top corner Aqib Talib. Foles was precise in the two-minute drill but he did lose a fumble on one of his drives.
Matt Barkley started poorly, then played much better as the game went on, but he didn’t gain any ground. He’s still the third quarterback and it would be shocking to see him come back to win the starting job at this point.
Vick and Foles still have three more preseason contests to duke it out. Either could gain a lot of ground still, but Vick does have the definite edge.
Backup Running Back: Bryce Brown vs. Chris Polk vs. Felix Jones
The Philadelphia Eagles entered training camp expecting to see a three-man competition between Bryce Brown, Chris Polk and Felix Jones for the backup running back position. Brown was the favorite, seeing as he had held the position in 2012. But Jones, a former first-round pick who is still just 26 years old, was expected to push Brown for playing time.
Such hasn't been the case. Jones has really struggled in camp, and he's all but been relegated to the fourth spot behind Polk. Polk was one of the surprises of camp, and it seemed likely he would be Brown's main competitor for the second spot.
Friday's preseason game made the picture much clearer, though. Polk collected just seven yards on four carries, looking passive when he did run. Meanwhile, Brown rushed for 22 yards and a touchdown on five carries.
Perhaps the best part of Brown's running was that he actually stayed between the tackles, a problem that plagued his rookie season.
Jones was just mediocre when he did play, and it’s likely his best bet is to make the roster as the fourth running back.
Final Receiver Spots: Russell Shepard vs. Ifeanyi Momah vs. Greg Salas
If Chip Kelly goes with six receivers, two of the above three will make it. If Kelly keeps just five receivers, the top three are battling it out for one spot.
Russell Shepard has had the best camp of the bunch, having played everywhere from slot receiver to the outside in place of Maclin. Shepard is just an undrafted rookie free agent, but he seems very likely to make the roster and make an impact.
Ifeanyi Momah was the other undrafted free agent, and he’s extremely talented, although raw. Momah is 6’7” and runs a 4.4 40-yard dash, although he hasn’t played football in nearly two months. He was initially seen as a long shot, although the injuries have greatly increased his odds.
What didn’t help Momah though was his performance in the first preseason game. He was targeted twice, didn’t catch any passes, was manhandled by cornerback Logan Ryan and was flagged for a false start. According to Pro Football Focus’s preseason ratings, Momah’s performance rated 160th-best among 163 wide receivers (subscription required).
Greg Salas may steal Momah’s roster spot. Salas does have NFL experience, catching 27 passes for the 2011 St. Louis Rams that made him a fourth-round pick. He made a terrific catch in the preseason game and also snagged a touchdown. That may give him the edge over Momah, as he’s a sensational possession receiver.
Left Defensive End: Cedric Thornton vs. Vinny Curry
Fletcher Cox has the one 3-4 defensive end spot locked up, considering he played extremely well as a rookie last year.
The other spot is likely between Cedric Thornton and Vinny Curry. Thornton was just part of the defensive line rotation last year, spelling the other defensive tackles. Curry has gained weight to move to 3-4 end, and he’s played solidly all camp. He was a second-round pick a year ago, and the competition at the position is thin.
Other candidates include Clifton Geathers, Joe Kruger and Dave King, but all would be a long shot to start. Bennie Logan was a third-round pick, but he will likely play more 0-tecnique nose tackle than 5-technique end.
Starting Cornerback: Cary Williams vs. Bradley Fletcher vs. Brandon Boykin
The Philadelphia Eagles completely overhauled their cornerbacks in the offseason, bidding farewell to disappointing veterans Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. The team brought in free agents Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher. Williams’ three-year, $18 million contract should suggest he’s expected to start immediately.
What’s interesting is that last year’s nickel back, Brandon Boykin, has worked his way into the competition. Boykin has had a phenomenal camp thus far, reportedly turning heads in the Eagles’ organization. Boykin can play outside and in the slot, although his size (5’9”) would suggest he may be better suited in the slot.
Williams has done his part to distance himself from the fans, in fact turning in a training camp to forget. He began by skipping OTAs and saying he doesn’t care how the fans feel about it. He’s missed time thus far with a hamstring injury, he started a fight with the New England Patriots in their joint practice and he called the Eagles defense soft.
All that won’t cost Williams his starting job if he can play. As it stands now, Williams and Boykin are probably the starters, with Fletcher being moved to the slot. But there are still three more preseason games for changes to occur.
Starting Safety: Nate Allen vs. Kenny Phillips vs. Patrick Chung vs. Earl Wolff
Safety will be one of the more intriguing camp battles. Kenny Phillips and Patrick Chung were signed as free agents to be the starters, but Phillips has really struggled to return from his knee injuries.
He’s actually listed behind Nate Allen on the depth chart. Allen is a four-year veteran who has shown glimpses of brilliance during his brief career. Earl Wolff hasn’t impressed so far in camp, but he is still a fifth-round rookie and will likely push for time from Phillips.
No one particularly stood out in the preseason game. The defense was torched all game, giving up 31 points and over 450 passing yards. Against Tom Brady and the first-team offense, the secondary was lost. It will take the remaining three games to see if any safety can step up.