Training camp is still two months away but there are a number of roster spots, starting positions and roles up for grabs on the Philadelphia Eagles.
Before the rookies arrive at Lehigh University for the start of camp on July 26, let’s take a look at the nine battles to watch heading into Eagles training camp:
DeSean Jackson’s rise to stardom in his rookie season was huge for the ’08 offense.
It also performed a lobotomy on Eagles fans who were overcome with optimism by Philadelphia’s selection of wide receiver Jeremy Maclin in the first round of this year’s draft.
Maclin became the 10th wide receiver selected by the Eagles in the Andy Reid era and second to be selected in the first round. Prior to Jackson’s rookie splash, only 2004 second round selection Reggie Brown (43 receptions, 571 yards, 4 touchdowns) was able to average more than two receptions per game.
That includes 2001 first round selection Freddie Mitchell who started just once in 15 games and grabbed 21 passes for 283 yards and one touchdown.
The scouting reports on Maclin show huge potential. He’s a playmaker who can make defenders miss. Maclin is fast (he ran a 4.48 40-yard dash at the combine), has great leaping ability and is not afraid to go over the middle.
He’s still a rookie though and could run better routes and sometimes thinks ahead which leads to dropped passes. Anyone who watched last year’s Eagles play cringes at that thought.
Maclin is a long-shot to beat out Kevin Curtis or Jackson for one of the top two spots but where he falls in the rotation with Jason Avant, Reggie Brown and Hank Baskett is still uncertain.
One thing that will help Maclin is his return skills.Is that as the third receiver, fourth or fifth receiver and which one of Avant, Brown or Baskett is the odd man out?
Nick Cole is a starting-caliber lineman who will be the first option at any position. Cole might even start if Stacy Andrews is slow to return and could even challenge Jamaal Jackson at center at some point.
After Cole, the picture isn’t so clear.
Mike McGlynn, Mike Gibson, King Dunlap, Paul Funaika, Fenuki Tupou, Max Jean-Giles, Winston Justice, Chris Patrick and Dallas Reynolds will all battle for a spot behind the starters.
Fourth year men guard Max Jean-Giles and tackle Winston Justice are the front-runners. Sophomore guard Mike Gibson and fifth round selection and tackle Fenuki Tupou are the next two in consideration.
It makes sense that Mike Patterson and Brodrick Bunkley will be the starters at defensive tackle when the season opens.
Unless ’08 draft choice Trevor Laws changes that.
Laws is in the mix for a starting job according to the Eagles. To unseat Patterson or Bunkley who started all 16 games last year, Laws will need to become the talent that made him the second round selection in 2008.
Even if Laws falls short in his challenge, a good training camp can earn him more playing time in a three-man rotation at tackle. That would be a win-win for all involved.
Can the younger, larger Abiamiri take away the starting job from Parker at left end?
In his third season, Abiamiri is more of a run stopper than Parker and a bit of a concern health-wise. The Notre Dame alum clogs up the line a bit more when he’s in.
The workman-like Parker notched five sacks last year and brings a lot of energy to the field. Maybe too much. Down the stretch, Parker wasn’t the same player and opened the door for Abiamiri to challenge.
Last year, Gaither was the starter at weak-side inside linebacker until Jordan took that spot away.
This year, Gaither enters the season more prepared. He reportedly dropped 10 pounds in the off-season and that translates into more speed and already has shown the ability to play at SAM also.
Jordan also put in work during the off-season to get stronger and learn the defense better. This one is anybody’s guess.
Brown had another solid year in 2008. Why is his job in jeopardy?
A few reasons actually.
He’s 30 and the Eagles are talent-rich at corner. Then there’s that whole off-season contract dispute that may have landed Brown in the doghouse. (How’d bickering with management impact Lito Sheppard’s playing time in 2008?)
Brown’s dispute didn’t affect his mini-camp attendance where he showed he was ready to defend his turf. Fifth-year man Joselio Hanson and recently acquired Ellis Hobbs should give Brown a run for his money.
Hanson spelled both Asante Samuel and Brown last year and did everything he needed to to earn a shot at Brown’s job.
Hobbs started every game with the Patriots for the past two seasons including their 16-0 perfect regular season in 2007.
Brown is first on the depth chart for now. Will his off-season comments affect the outcome of this battle? Some think Brown need only show a glimpse of losing a step to be unseated. The veteran is definitely in the hot seat.
Is Quintin Demps ready in his second season in the NFL to be the starting free safety?
Under normal circumstances such a step would be tough. In these circumstances, Demps not only has to be the team’s free safety, he also has to replace seven-time Pro Bowler Brian Dawkins.
Demps reportedly put in the time in the off-season. Already impressive physically, he spent the down time working out at the team’s training complex to be more prepared to earn the starting job.
His main competition is Sean Jones. The downside of Jones is that he is more equipped to play strong safety and the Eagles are currently looking at him to possibly challenge Quintin Mikell at that position.
Unlikely to contend for the open position are Rashad Baker, former CFL star Byron Parker and draft choice Macho Harris.
If Demps lacks the maturity to handle the job out of camp, could Jones or one of the three unlikely challengers be the heir to the B-Dawk throne?
Second round draft choice LeSean McCoy is the first choice to replace Correll Buckhalter as the team’s second halfback. That’s 693 yards from scrimmage and four touchdowns gone from the offense in Buckhalter’s absence.
The role is vital to an offense that scored 416 points last year but struggled in the red zone. They were also 14-for-28 on third and one. Is McCoy ready for the NFL?
The naysayers say his size is a concern (he’s 198 lbs.) and his pass blocking is suspect. Plus, the team has not had drafted an impact rookie running back since Buckhalter ran for 568 yards and two touchdowns in 2001.
If not McCoy, who? Lorenzo Booker? The team expected Booker to be a big contributor when they added him last year in a draft day trade. Booker was a bust with 20 carries for 53 yards in 10 games.
There’s also Eldra Buckley who spent the past two seasons on the Chargers practice squad and undrafted rookie free agent Walter Mendenhall.
The story here is McCoy who could ease a lot of concerns with a strong camp. With Buckhalter, the team always felt they had a capable starting running back if Westbrook went down. McCoy doesn’t deliver that kind of confidence, yet.
Not a position you’ll find on the roster sheet. Even without it in writing, everyone knew who the team’s defensive leader was when Brian Dawkins was in an Eagles uniform.
With Dawkins gone to Denver, the leadership role on the field and in the locker room is vacant on the defensive side.
With defensive coordinator Jim Johnson out indefinitely, the ante has been upped for the defense to have a strong leader emerge.
Is it Sheldon Brown who is the longest serving member of the defense but is not happy with Eagles management?
What about Trent Cole who gets a lot of respect from his teammates but is content to let the action on the field speak for itself?
Has Asante Samuel’s one season with the team established him enough with the rest of the defense to make him the emotional leader?
There’s also Brodrick Bunkley, Stewart Bradley and Quintin Mikell. All three wear their emotions on their sleeve and have the respect of their teammates.
This won’t be decided by the coaching staff but someone on the defense will emerge.
The Eagles have seen a number of key defensive components leave over the years but Dawkins was that one constant you could count on for over a decade. Now, who is that guy on defense?