What to Expect from Each Philadelphia Eagles Starter in 2013-2014
Three preseason games are in the books, and the Philadelphia Eagles are slowly approaching the start of the 2013-2014 season.
Despite some fans' hopes for a playoff year, the expectations for Chip Kelly in his first year as the Eagles' head coach aren't set in stone.
Team projections have quite a bit of wiggle room because of the obvious questions surrounding Philly, such as the state of the Eagles defense and how Kelly's offense will translate.
While those will be answered in a few weeks, it's clear who is and isn't ready for the season to begin based on preseason games and training camp thus far.
With that, let's delve into the Eagles' starters and see what can be reasonably expected in 2013-2014.
QB: Michael Vick
The quarterback question has been quelled, and it's Michael Vick standing alone as the Eagles' No. 1 option under center.
Even though he did fumble once and tossed an interception against the Jaguars on Saturday, that should be of no concern to Eagles fans.
What people should notice is that he ran the ball seven times, indicating that he's still willing to escape the pocket and pick up yardage with his feet (even in the preseason).
If he can stay healthy, which has been tough for Vick, the potential isn't even quantifiable.
In his bold projections, ESPN fantasy expert Matthew Berry tabbed Vick as a top-five fantasy quarterback if healthy.
To add on to that, this is what Vick had to say to ESPN about his outlook for this season in Kelly's offense:
"I will be a threat." ... "I'm going to have my opportunities to do the things I like to do within this offense and to run the football. That's exciting."
Exciting for both Vick and fans of the Eagles entering the season.
RB: LeSean McCoy
Unlike the quarterback position, there was no question about the state of running back as LeSean McCoy is the obvious starter there.
Kelly's offense is unpredictable at this point, so it's unknown just how many times "Shady" will touch the ball on a game-by-game basis.
But, considering his preseason, the chances of McCoy being featured in this offense are pretty likely.
Let's revisit McCoy's preseason debut against the Panthers.
The four-year veteran garnered 11 touches and made defenders look silly with the run above.
That's the kind of play McCoy is capable of every time he has the rock based on his sheer intuition and athleticism.
That said, "Shady" will rush the ball way more than he did under Andy Reid, allowing him more opportunities to break off huge gainers and, thus, compile a monster year.
FB: James Casey
One catch for a whopping three yards.
That's all James Casey has amassed as a receiving option for the Eagles through three preseason games.
Casey signed with the Eagles for a sizable sum this offseason (three years, $14.5 million) but hasn't had much to show for it.
It's still unknown how the fullback position will be dealt with under Kelly. But, whatever the role is, Casey is capable of filling it. He showed it during his time in Houston.
Casey can contribute whether it's capitalizing in the short-to-intermediate passing game or just providing an extra blocker.
It's just a matter of finding a groove within the offense.
And when he does, expect a jack-of-all-trades weapon Kelly can utilize at his whim.
WR: DeSean Jackson
Put simply, DeSean Jackson loves making plays, and naturally, that has been his focus this offseason.
Trying to bounce back from a disappointing 2012 campaign, Jackson has immersed himself in Kelly's offense and seems revitalized, according to Paul Domowitch of the Philadelphia Daily News.
He's watching film, studying with Vick and, both mentally and physically, has bettered himself this offseason.
So what's to be expected from Jackson this year following a down season of sorts?
Anticipate Jackson to thrive in the vertical passing game but also to capitalize on advantageous intermediate routes with a high yards-after-catch rate.
WR: Riley Cooper
Riley Cooper has undergone quite a tumultuous offseason, and it's no one's fault but his own.
But if the Eagles offense is going to click this year, contributions out of the former Florida Gator are a must.
As the Eagles' wide receiving corps stands, Jackson is the clear No. 1 target, and Jason Avant provides a dependable ball-snatcher in the slot.
That's always good to have, but Cooper needs to follow up on his responsibilities for this receiving group to come full circle.
Cooper's height (6'3'') is a usable weapon in the red zone, and deceptive deep-field speed should be let loose.
But because he's never truly stayed consistent at the NFL level, his productivity could fluctuate.
Expect Cooper to be a reliable blocker but a hit-or-miss pass-catcher for the Eagles in the vertical passing game.
TE: Brent Celek
Brent Celek entered camp with something to prove.
After the Eagles acquired Casey and drafted Zach Ertz, Celek's relativity in the offense became a legitimate question.
But as reports and his play indicate, Celek will supply quite a bit to the Eagles in 2013.
The Philadelphia Daily News reported that Celek will play a "big part" in Philly's aerial attack this year and for good reason.
Celek, despite dipping slightly in terms of statistics last year, still carries defenders with him for extra yards after the catch and should be a trustworthy security option for Vick in 2013-14.
Left Tackle: Jason Peters
After fully recovering from devastating knee injuries, Jason Peters is healthy and ready for some meaningful football.
Peters suffered a twice-ruptured Achilles tendon and sat out the entire 2012 season, but the offensive lineman has been upbeat recently, says The Philadelphia Inquirer's Zach Berman.
Without a doubt, Peters was the most dominant left tackle in football prior to his injury, and if he's able to recreate that, then Kelly and Eagles fans will be smiling.
And not just about the running game, but also Philly's quick-hit passing game.
So much of the Eagles' success with running back and wide receiver screens is predicated on the performance of the tackles' capability to get out of their stances, get downfield and block.
With Peters healthy, the Eagles should have no problem with any of Kelly's short, deceptive passes or McCoy's dynamic rushing.
Left Guard: Evan Mathis
The collapse that occurred with the Eagles' offensive line last year was remarkable.
Injuries encompassed almost the entire line, but what stood out even more was the play of Evan Mathis through all the change.
Mathis was signed to the Eagles in 2011 as a backup and has since found himself in a secure starting role at left guard.
Mathis is quietly one of the best all-around linemen in the league, should bring a bulldozing body in the running game and will reaffirm himself as a top-tier pass-blocking guard in the league by season's end.
Center: Jason Kelce
Left tackle might traditionally be the heftiest paid offensive lineman on a team, but center is where it all begins.
Eagles center Jason Kelce, who sustained a torn ACL in Week 2 of the 2012 season, is ready to fill that leadership role on the line for 2013-14.
And according to Sheil Kapadia of PhillyMag.com, Kelce has earned praise from Kelly all offseason for his dedication exhibited throughout camp.
Kelce is quick on his feet, can read defensive linemen well and should serve the Eagles with a commanding presence at center in the season ahead.
Right Guard: Todd Herremans
Todd Herremans didn't have an ideal 2012 season.
Missing four out of 12 games hindered by a right foot injury, Herremans wasn't too productive in his final season under Andy Reid.
But with a new coach comes (another) new position for Herremans, as he has made the transition to right guard.
That means he's played every offensive line position (minus center, plus tight end) since his ascent to the NFL.
Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Bob Brookover pointed out that Herremans actually forgot his natural position.
But according to the report, Herremans has taken the changes "in stride."
Expect him to perhaps struggle a bit early on getting fully adjusted to the position but for him to be a serviceable member of the line by season's end.
Right Tackle: Lane Johnson
It's understandable that Lane Johnson has endured some hardship this offseason.
The ebb and flow of developing as a rookie normally takes some time.
But for Johnson, he's a rookie tackle tasked with blocking the blind side of a fragile, injury-prone quarterback.
That's a pretty hefty task, but Kelly wouldn't have him there if he didn't trust the first-year starter.
The Philadelphia Inquirer's Jeff McLane reported Johnson has gotten off to a "promising" start, but his duties have now become more difficult.
"I think it puts more pressure on you to pass protect a little bit better because [Vick] can't see," Johnson told McLane. "But the good thing about Mike is he's pretty mobile and he does a good job of getting himself out of certain situations."
Johnson has the physical attributes and technique to hold his own, but understand that he's not perfect and that a Pro Bowl lineman doesn't sprout overnight.
Left Defensive End: Cedric Thornton
With Trent Cole and Brandon Graham transitioning to outside linebacker in the Eagles' newly implemented 3-4 defense, questions were left at defensive end.
It was clear that Fletcher Cox had the athleticism and physical build to play end at a high level, but who would come up and snatch the starting job opposite him?
That man is Cedric Thornton, and he has been tearing it up this offseason.
Holding off Clifton Geathers and Vinny Curry for the starting role, Thornton has stood out from the pack in his defense of the run.
But that's what he already knows how to do. What's intriguing about Thornton is how and at what speed he improves in the pass rush—an element crucial to the success of a defensive end in a 3-4 defense.
Thornton told the Daily News' John Murrow that he has focused heavily on gaining an edge in the pass rush heading into the season.
Expect Thornton to make strides and be ready to impact the opposition immediately in 2013-14.
Nose Tackle: Isaac Sopoaga
According to Martin Frank of the Daily Record, nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga has quite an arm.
In the report, Sopoaga is said to have enough arm strength to sling balls 75 yards.
How does that translate to him having success on the defensive line?
It doesn't, but it does show the kind of player he is: a laid-back veteran who has fun but also mentors the younger defensive linemen.
Sopoaga, who started for the NFC champion San Francisco 49ers last season, knows what an imposing defense looks like and thinks the Eagles have the pieces to succeed.
And on the defensive line, that fruition starts with Sopoaga.
Expect Sopoaga to follow through and provide guidance for a relatively young defensive line.
Right Defensive End: Fletcher Cox
Fletcher Cox has a steep hill to climb this upcoming season.
He has already had a progressive rookie season. But now he not only has to continue that prosperity but also take his game to the next level.
And he'll need to do it at a new position.
Cox tallied 5.5 sacks last year as a rookie defensive tackle but now, in a 3-4 defense, will have more responsibility at end.
It should be interesting to see how Eagles defensive coordinator Billy Davis makes use of Cox's prowess rushing the trenches.
But like other players working out the kinks of a position, don't think Cox will come out of the gates a top-billed player.
However, he has the talent to prosper at end, and around the Eagles' bye week, he should have a solid grasp on the position.
Left Outside Linebacker: Connor Barwin
Connor Barwin isn't a coach, but he is providing an experienced mind to those transitioning to outside linebacker (Trent Cole and Brandon Graham).
Barwin, who signed a six-year deal with the Eagles this offseason, is here to help.
The former Texan hasn't coached up Cole or Graham on the field, but instead, in the film room.
Barwin's presence will not only better the surrounding linebackers but also the defense as a unit.
As for Barwin's own game, expect him to thrive in Philly and fit comfortably in Davis' 3-4 defense.
Left Inside Linebacker: DeMeco Ryans
Through three preseason games, opposing teams have averaged 174.7 rushing yards against the Eagles defense.
The safety situation doesn't provide a reliable last line of defense, but the linebackers' decision-making when it comes to gap responsibility must improve.
And while it doesn't all fall on linebacker DeMeco Ryans, he was far and away Philly's best run-stopper last year, and that's not easy to tell by his preseason showings.
Ryans has looked pretty bad, whether it's being out of position or straight up missing tackles.
Plus, the brief stint in a 3-4 defense with Houston earlier in his career didn't bode well for him.
However, this isn't a giant reason to panic.
Ryans had a terrible preseason in 2012 as well and ended up with a prolific season in terms of taking down ball-carriers.
Expect the inside 'backer to rebound accordingly and excel in 2013-14.
Right Inside Linebacker: Mychal Kendricks
Mychal Kendricks simply has a nose for the football.
It's apparent this preseason. It was easy to see last year in his rookie campaign. Heck, it was fun to watch when he dominated the West Coast at Cal.
And after a rookie season that saw Kendricks compile 58 tackles and 17 assists, the 22-year-old is ready to be a featured member of Philly's defense.
That starts on the blitz—something a 3-4 middle linebacker needs to thrive at, and Kendricks does.
Despite difficulty getting away from offensive linemen trying to seal him out of running plays, Kendricks' revved motor should put up numbers and create chaos in opposing backfields next season.
Right Outside Linebacker: Trent Cole
The switch to outside linebacker wasn't the easiest for Trent Cole.
After playing nine seasons at the NFL level at defensive end, Cole is entering uncharted territories in Billy Davis' 3-4 defense.
Regardless of initial struggles, Cole said the position is coming more natural to him now that he's had time to adjust.
"[Dropping into coverage is] coming natural now," Cole told PhillyMag.com's Tim McManus. "I've dropped in previous years, but dropping all the time now it's becoming natural." ... "I got things down now. I'm out there comfortable. Watch the game — I'm relaxed out there, just ready to play ball."
That sounds like a man poised for a rejuvenated year, and that's what fans should expect.
Cole didn't generate much noise last year with just three sacks, and that category might not skyrocket for the new linebacker in 2013-14.
But a more refined and capable all-around player should be the product of Cole's determination this offseason.
Cornerback: Cary Williams
Cam Newton dropped back to pass, stared down the left side of the field and fired a throw well past the 10-yard first-down marker to Brandon LaFell to open the Panthers' preseason game against Philadelphia.
He made it look it easy, and it was, in large part, because of Cary Williams' relaxed coverage.
That particular example—along with a few easy completions on the outside to Steve Smith—didn't show the Williams that Philadelphia fans thought they were getting.
Granted, he was dealing with a hamstring issue and it is the preseason, so it's not any real reason to slam the panic button.
On top of that, Williams expressed that he's up to the task of marking No. 1 wideouts in the regular season, according to the Delco Times' Bob Grotz.
Williams is truly a wild card for the Eagles at this point: He has the experience necessary (starter for Super Bowl champion Ravens) to succeed as a go-to corner but remains inconsistent.
Don't be surprised if Williams pieces together an up-and-down, frustrating season at corner.
Cornerback: Bradley Fletcher
The signing of Cary Williams and his comments throughout the offseason have been well-documented.
Bradley Fletcher—the corner starting opposite Williams—has kept a relatively low profile, indicating the type of player and signing he could turn out to be.
Fletcher, who was signed along with Williams this past offseason, isn't a flashy player by any stretch of the imagination. Instead, he simply gets the job done.
A gritty, in-your-face corner, Fletcher gives the Eagles secondary a much-needed, reliable tackling presence.
Fletcher had a superb 2010 season (91 total tackles, four picks) but has struggled with injuries since.
But Fletcher is now healthy, and he's ready to contribute his hard-working attitude to an Eagles defense that could use some toughness in the secondary.
Safety: Nate Allen
Forever known as the "McNabb pick," Nate Allen hasn't lived up to his hype coming out of the 2010 draft.
In terms of coverage, Allen has been a serviceable safety, as breaking up passes is something he's done particularly well.
One thing he hasn't done particularly well? Tackling.
And the problem with that is Philadelphia's secondary has lacked a sure-tackling presence for quite some time.
As it stands, Allen is a starting safety for the Eagles, but competition lurks in the form of rookie Earl Wolff.
Wolff did take a bad angle in the last preseason game against Jacksonville, but he's a rookie, so he deserves a pass.
Allen, on the other hand, is a fourth-year veteran who shouldn't be making those types of mistakes anymore.
With that said, Allen is the starter for now, but there's a strong possibility he loses his starting role by the end of the season.
Safety: Patrick Chung
While Allen still needs to fend off Wolff for one starting spot, the other safety position has been all but locked up by Patrick Chung.
Chung, a former New England Patriot, didn't have the best start to the preseason when he was torn up by former teammate Tom Brady in scrimmages and the first preseason game.
However, Chung rebounded, looked solid against the Panthers and has resembled a resolute, reliable safety ever since.
Chung, whether it was in New England or in college at Oregon, has always had a knack for making stops around the line of scrimmage—an aspect of his game that has carried over to the Eagles.
Chung presents the ability to stuff runs in the backfield, sniff out screens and react to coverage over the top.
He has his weaknesses, but Chung has been the standout of the Eagles secondary this offseason.
Expect this kind of play to spill over to the regular season, and enjoy (once again) a safety who can hit somebody.