Early Predictions for Philadelphia Eagles' 2014 Training Camp Battles
Full-team OTAs are underway at the NovaCare Complex, but the many roster battles on the Philadelphia Eagles won’t truly get going until training camp begins. While we wait for that to start, let’s take a look into our crystal ball and predict the winners.
We already went in-depth while projecting the most hotly contested and crucial training camp battles last week. This piece contains another brief synopsis of those, plus goes deeper with a few of the less hyped competitions that will be taking place over the last few roster spots.
If it seems like there aren’t enough competitions, that’s because I don’t anticipate many—not legitimate, anyway. Obviously, anybody can outplay anybody in theory, but at least heading into camp, it seems like few jobs and roster spots are truly open.
Safety: Nate Allen over Earl Wolff
This competition seems like a tossup, but for the first time since his rookie campaign, Nate Allen a) showed gradual improvement and b) looked like a competent NFL safety. By the end of the 2013 season, he really wasn’t a liability at all.
The list of possible reasons is endless. Allen’s recovery from a torn patellar tendon in late 2010 may have been slowed by the ensuing offseason’s lockout, which extended deep into the summer. Defensive coordinator Bill Davis’ scheme puts less responsibility on the safeties, whereas the previous regime’s Wide 9 front was a burden. More reliable personnel at cornerback haven’t hurt, either.
If last season was Allen’s ceiling (1 SK, 1 INT, 1 FF), the Eagles can still do better. Then again, is 2013 fifth-round pick Earl Wolff developing quickly enough to leap past him on the depth chart? Show me the evidence.
Kicker: Carey Spear over Alex Henery
There is no polite way to put this, so let’s quit beating around the bush and just say it: Alex Henery is not an NFL kicker. He’s never finished better than 20th in touchback rate on kickoffs, and two separate Eagles coaching staffs have trusted him to attempt a grand total of five field goals of 50 or more yards in three seasons—17 kickers tried at least that many in 2013 alone.
An undrafted free agent out of Vanderbilt, Carey Spear’s 64.6 percent touchback rate as a college senior would’ve been good for sixth in the NFL last season. If his field-goal accuracy is even comparable to Henery, who was 23rd in that department in ‘13, this shouldn’t be much of a competition.
Backup Quarterback: Mark Sanchez over Matt Barkley
Don’t assume the Eagles are willing to write off Matt Barkley so easily. While it may not have been reflected in the numbers (30/49, 300 YDS, 0 TD, 4 INT), Barkley conducted himself with poise in a pair of difficult relief situations in his rookie season. The 2013 fourth-round pick will be given every opportunity to compete for the No. 2 job.
That being said, Sanchez might be better than people give him credit for. Yes, a career 71.7 passer rating in 62 career starts is, well, it’s awful as long as we’re being blunt. However, it’s not like the New York Jets surrounded him with many great weapons, either. Sanchez has an opportunity to revitalize his career in the event he’s ever called upon to lead the league’s second-ranked offense.
Backup Running Back: Henry Josey over David Fluellen and Matthew Tucker
My guess is Philadelphia will carry four running backs rather than three because Darren Sproles is not equipped to handle a traditional workload in the event of an injury. That leaves undrafted free agents Henry Josey and David Fluellen to battle it out with Matthew Tucker, who spent most of ’13 on the Birds’ practice squad.
Tucker seems like the long shot, as his primary function is special teams, and backup runner Chris Polk already contributes in that area. That leaves Josey and Fluellen, who each posted consecutive 1,000-yard seasons in college. Josey is the more dynamic option of the two, having led the nation with 8.0 yards per carry in 2011 at Missouri.
Then there’s this little nugget: According to Spotrac, the Eagles offered Josey a small guaranteed bonus to sign. It’s not enough to prevent the team from going in a different direction, but it does suggest the potential outcome of this battle.
Reserve Guard: Josh Andrews over Donald Hawkins and Karim Barton
“Dagger. Dagger in the heart.” That’s what general manager Howie Roseman told Tim McManus of Philadelphia Magazine when asked about the Eagles’ failure to draft any offensive linemen. It’s especially an issue at guard, where starters Evan Mathis and Todd Herremans are both in their 30s, and there are few known quantities on the roster behind them.
That leaves three undrafted free agents to compete for a roster spot. Donald Hawkins and Karim Barton are both sliding inside from tackle, and Barton in particular faces a steep rise in level of competition coming from Division I-AA Morgan State. Josh Andrews, on the other hand, was a three-year starter at left guard for Oregon State. He holds the inside track.
Reserve Tackle: Dennis Kelly over Kevin Graf
A fifth-round pick in 2012, Dennis Kelly managed to hold down a roster spot last season, though he was inactive all 16 games. Kevin Graf, an undrafted free agent out of USC, was signed to push Kelly for the role of backup right tackle.
Graf’s NFL.com scouting report indicates right tackle is the only position he’s suited to play, though, while Kelly also has NFL experience at guard. The Eagles place immense value on versatility, so despite any appearance that this coaching staff has no loyalty toward Kelly, Graf is going to have to stand out in order to unseat him for the job.
5th Wide Receiver: Brad Smith over Arrelious Benn and the Field
Not many roster battles are more wide open than the fifth and likely final wide receiver spot on the roster. Brad Smith, Arrelious Benn, Jeff Maehl and Damaris Johnson are all holdovers from last year. Ifeanyi Momah, Will Murphy and B.J. Cunningham all spent time in Eagles training camp last summer and/or on the practice squad. Kadron Boone and Quron Pratt were signed as undrafted free agents.
As players who have had productive NFL seasons in the past, Smith and Benn are the likely front-runners. Of course, the Birds just released then re-signed Benn at a lower price within the past few weeks, so that would suggest the team isn’t necessarily too keen on him, either.
Typically, the final wide receiver spot or spots are reserved for special teams contributors, so unless Benn can stay healthy and regain his 2011 form, he’s an unlikely candidate for a spot. Not only has Smith demonstrated value as both a receiver and Wildcat threat, he also returns kicks and assists on kick-coverage units.
It’s possible the team will carry six receivers, but carrying four running backs and four tight ends would make that difficult.