5 Biggest Takeaways from the Philadelphia Eagles OTAs
While we breathlessly await even the minutest of details at Philadelphia Eagles OTAs, the reality is there is only so much to glean from players practicing in shorts and T-shirts. There’s no contact allowed during this phase of the offseason program, so roster battles won’t truly begin to play out until training camp and the preseason are underway.
However, that’s not suggest we’ve learned nothing from the news emanating out of the NovaCare Complex these days. Obviously, this an important period as the team indoctrinates new players and, as a whole, makes its preparations for the journey ahead, so there are definitely some tidbits to take away from all of this.
Ahead, we examine five storylines that have already begun to play out at OTAs. We go beyond whose stock is on the rise and rookie progress reports, because in all honesty, those things really don’t matter quite yet. These are the stories of substance.
Complete Confidence in Nick Foles
Many fans and analysts are still under the illusion the Eagles are not committed to Nick Foles as a franchise quarterback. While that may be true of the organization—maybe—Foles’ teammates would probably argue otherwise.
If there is a player inside of that locker room who doesn’t have complete confidence the third-year signal-caller can get the job done, he has yet to open his mouth. To the contrary, all we’ve heard from teammates at OTAs are glowing endorsements of Foles.
Take Jeremy Maclin for instance, Philly’s No. 1 receiver entering 2014. As Maclin tells CBS Philly, whether Foles can duplicate last season’s historic numbers is irrelevant. He’s the man now, and people within the organization believe in his development.
It’s a confidence thing. Obviously he played tremendous last year, but just knowing that the organization is going with you and there’s no question about it. It makes you feel good about yourself, so I think from that standpoint, from a personal thing on Nick’s behalf I’m pretty sure it’s a confidence thing.
I think he’ll put up great numbers as well. And I think what people can’t get caught up in is number of touchdowns and number of interceptions. I think Nick has already gotten better as a quarterback. Throwing two interceptions [last year], that’s unheard of.
This time last year, players were fielding questions about a competition between Foles and veteran Michael Vick for the starting quarterback job. Some in the locker room—namely NFL rushing champion LeSean McCoy and departed Pro Bowl wide receiver DeSean Jackson—even seemed to take Vick’s side.
There’s no controversy now, though, and if there are any nonbelievers left at the NovaCare Complex, they’re keeping their mouths shut.
Comfort Level in Year 2 Under Chip Kelly
What’s the biggest difference at Eagles OTAs right now compared to a year ago? Other than knowing who the starting quarterback is, it’s clearly the pace at which the offense is practicing.
As Zach Berman for The Philadelphia Inquirer observed, the Birds are moving much faster than they might have at this point a year ago. That’s not a result of some genius plan to continue speeding up the offense. As Chip Kelly explained during a press conference, transcribed by PhiladelphiaEagles.com, it’s simply a byproduct of the players having familiarity in the system.
It's light years. I think for all of our guys they understand what we're doing. Every year, every day last year was a new insertion and it was a new play and it was the first time in the red zone, first time coming out, first time in two minute. ...
We're getting more reps off, more plays off because the guys have a better understanding of the mechanics of it. But the basic structure of how we're doing things is the same.
The fact that everybody is more comfortable with what they are doing can only help down the road. For starters, more reps is important, particularly for young, developing players on the roster. Every rep is a chance to learn and get themselves on the field, which can be vital for the guys scrapping to make the team.
Of course, it also means the league’s No. 2 offense is going to be better prepared on game day, which should be a scary thought for opposing defenses. Is it something that can make a big difference in the wins column? Maybe or maybe not. But even just the idea of this group being ahead of where it was a year ago sounds optimistic.
Veterans Starting on Top Throughout the Depth Chart
There are very few battles being waged for jobs toward the top of the depth chart or for many primary backup positions. The few areas where roles are up for grabs, though, we are noticing a trend.
When Kelly was asked who would run with the first-team defense at safety opposite Malcolm Jenkins, the head coach revealed it was Nate Allen over Earl Wolff for now. When it was time for the second-string offense to take the field during practice, Mark Sanchez got the nod ahead of Matt Barkley under center.
As far as we know, there are open competitions at those positions. In both cases, though, the established veteran is getting the first crack at proving himself.
Furthermore, it seems as a general rule, rookies are being forced to earn their place on the depth chart rather than having it awarded based on draft status.
Second-round pick Jordan Matthews is expected to be the starting slot receiver on opening day, but Jeff McLane for The Philadelphia Inquirer reports he’s currently working behind Brad Smith.
Ed Kracz for the Burlington County Times observed third-round selection Josh Huff hasn’t even been working with the third-team offense at wide receiver.
Even first-round pick Marcus Smith has been relegated to third string while he learns the defense, according to Matt Allibone for CSNPhilly.com.
Quite a few of these high draft picks who are all but guaranteed to make the team are practicing in slots on the depth chart that will not exist when the team trims down to a 53-man roster in August.
Of course, the depth chart is always subject to change, and most of these players will have carved out their niche by the time the regular season is underway. For the time being, however, it’s experience over talent and promise in almost every case.
There’s a Lot Riding on Jeremy Maclin
So far, the Eagles have held just two full-squad practices in front of the media, and we’ve already experienced our first major injury scare of the season. For a few tense moments, Twitter was in mass hysteria as reporters observed Maclin clutching his knee following an inadvertent collision, according to Josh Alper of Pro Football Talk.
Maclin eventually made it to his feet and walked off the field to a collective sigh of relief that could’ve rustled the leaves on the trees surrounding the team’s practice facility. Per Jeff McClane of The Philadelphia Inquirer, he would later say he was "OK."
The concern surrounding Maclin made me realize, though, just how much is riding on the wide receiver entering his sixth NFL season. With DeSean Jackson out of the picture, the former first-round pick is finally the No. 1 target after spending years in the three-time Pro Bowler’s shadow.
That being said, Maclin has never produced so much as a 1,000-yard season, whereas Jackson is coming off of a campaign during which he posted the second-highest receiving yardage total in franchise history. Plus, Maclin missed all of ‘13 with a torn ACL, so nobody is quite sure what to expect from him moving forward.
Maclin never eclipsing the 1,000-yard milestone is vastly overblown—he had 964 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2010—especially considering virtually every offensive skill player enjoyed career years under Kelly. His overall health, on the other hand, is a legitimate question mark.
If Maclin were to sustain another injury, that would leave the Eagles with Riley Cooper and a pair of rookies as the best remaining options on the depth chart. Needless to say, losing Maclin for any extended period of time would be a massive blow to the offense.
Everybody Has Bought in
One of the biggest obstacles Kelly was believed to face when he arrived in the NFL from the University of Oregon was getting professionals to buy into his way of doing things. A year later, that sounds like the absolute last thing Kelly has to worry about.
The Eagles can boast perfect attendance at these voluntary OTAs, which wasn’t always the case this time one year ago. Cary Williams in particular became notorious for missing workouts for seemingly trivial reasons. Now, the veteran cornerback tells Kevin Rossi for CSNPhilly.com that attendance is a sign the club is headed in the right direction.
I just think that everybody is hungry. I think we left a bad taste in our mouth losing at home -- we lost a lot of games at home. Those are the things we want to right this season. Being at practice is important, especially for establishing relationships with guys, establishing a camaraderie.
It starts here in OTAs. We just have to continue to work and doing what we’ve been doing, and hopefully everything will run right for us this season.
Looking up and down the roster, plenty of players could find excuses to skip the voluntary portion of the program.
All-Pro left guard Evan Mathis was said to want his contract renegotiated, but he’s there. Outside linebacker and 2010 first-round pick Brandon Graham is clearly bothered by his minimal role on defense, but he’s there. Just married during the offseason, franchise quarterback Nick Foles is there.
The fact that everybody on the roster, from No. 1 to No. 99, is on the same page can only be a positive for the Eagles. Kelly wanted to establish a culture when he arrived, and it’s safe to say, in only a year’s time, the head coach accomplished that goal.
Whether it translates to success on the football field remains to be seen—but it can’t hurt.