Philadelphia Eagles: What to Make of Early Reports from OTAs
If there’s one thing NFL fans should know by now, it’s that preseason and training camp don’t make a season. Look no further than last year when Michael Vick beat out Nick Foles to be the starting quarterback; Foles went on to post the third-greatest passer rating in the history of the league.
Still, it’s always interesting to keep up with the latest news from organized training activities, if for no reason other than it signals the season kickoff is nearing.
The Philadelphia Eagles will enter 2014 amid high expectations; Chip Kelly won 10 games and the division title in year one, but now he will need to win a playoff game in his second season as head coach.
Here’s a look at the news and rumors coming out of Eagles’ camp and how much stock we as fans should put into what we hear.
The Jordan Matthews Hype
By the time the NFL season rolls around, the Jordan Matthews hype is going to be bigger than what surrounded DeSean Jackson entering his rookie season.
Matthews has all the physical attributes to be a standout receiver in this league. He’s 6’3”, 215 pounds, ran a 4.46 40-yard dash and led his position group with 23 repetitions on the bench press (results per NFL.com). Matthews is expected to begin the season as the slot receiver and third option behind veterans Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper, but that could easily change.
Maclin is coming off a torn ACL and Cooper will have to prove he wasn’t just a flash-in-the-pan. Both DeSean Jackson and Cooper put up career-best seasons under Chip Kelly, so that bodes well for Matthews.
So far, Matthews has been extremely impressive, per Philly.com’s Jimmy Kempski.
In limited media access to OTAs so far, Jordan Matthews has looked like the best WR on the team, in my opinion, and it hasn't been close.
— Jimmy Kempski (@JimmyKempski) June 10, 2014
Per Alex Smith of the Philadelphia Eagles’ website, Matthews’ work ethic thus far has been superb. He’s obviously learned well from his Hall of Fame uncle, Jerry Rice. He plays with an excellent head coach, a Pro Bowl quarterback and a talented running game.
The hype for Matthews will be off the charts by the time the season rolls around. Back in 2008, DeSean Jackson debuted with a 106-yard receiving performance (including a 47-yarder) and a 60-yard punt return.
Matthews will enter amid similar expectations and he looks to be ready to produce immediately. It’s not unreasonable to expect that Matthews leads all Eagles’ receivers in receiving yards in 2014.
Does Murderleg Have a Shot?
The camp competition between veteran Alex Henery and Carey Spear will be interesting for sure, but don’t expect the man they call “Murderleg” to win the job.
Henery is entering the fourth year of his rookie contract, so his $780,000 cap hit won’t affect the team too much. Henery set a rookie record in field goal percentage (88.9 percent) back in 2011, and his 86.0 success rate would rank fourth all-time if he qualified.
Henery’s problems are well-documented; he doesn’t have exceptional or even adequate leg strength on kickoffs, and his miss in the playoffs last year really hurt the Philadelphia Eagles. But Spear is an undrafted rookie, and the odds aren’t strong that he outperforms Henery.
Everybody loves Carey Spear right now, but keep in mind Alex Henery has been more accurate in the NFL (86.0%) than Spear in college (78.0%).
— Reuben Frank (@RoobCSN) May 11, 2014
Per Jeff McLane of Philly.com, Henery was more accurate on long field goals at Tuesday’s practice, and he also outkicked Spear on kickoffs. With the Eagles in good position to contend this season, it just makes sense to go with the experienced veteran.
Is Matt Barkley’s Spot in Danger?
Chip Kelly’s decision to trade up a few spots and grab Matt Barkley in the fourth round in 2013 was certainly perplexing. Barkley hasn’t done much to make Philadelphia Eagles fans think he can play in this league.
Last year, Barkley threw four interceptions without a single touchdown pass, posting a dreadful 44.6 passer rating on 49 throws. He doesn’t have ideal arm strength. And the signing of Mark Sanchez relegated Barkley to third-string status once again.
It’s even looking now like last year’s practice squad quarterback, G.J. Kinne, may give Barkley a run for his money to be the final quarterback on the roster. Per Jeff McLane of Philly.com, Kinne has been cutting into Barkley’s snaps with the third team.
— Pro Football Spot (@pfspot) June 10, 2014
— Evan Silva (@evansilva) June 10, 2014
It would be surprising to see Barkley released just a year after the team took him in the fourth round. But the Oakland Raiders did release Tyler Wilson last season, and he was a fourth-rounder. If Barkley can’t play, there’s no reason to keep him. This should be an interesting competition as preseason games roll around.
The Return Duties Are Up for Grabs
Many Philadelphia Eagles fans probably assumed Darren Sproles was the obvious choice to be the punt and kick returner for 2014. After all, Sproles has returned kicks his whole career, and he’s had success doing so.
But he’s over 30 years old and his numbers really dropped off in 2013. Sproles would have rated second-last among kick returners (21.3 yards per return) had he qualified. His 6.7 average on punt returns did rank 20th out of 23 players.
And there have been a handful of players vying for returning duties thus far in OTAs.
Per Brandon Lee Gowton of Bleeding Green Nation, the Eagles have utilized a handful of different players as punt returners, including Riley Cooper, Sproles, Damaris Johnson and Jeremy Maclin. Logic would suggest the job goes to either Sproles or Johnson (this may be Johnson’s key to getting onto the team).
Still, it’s obvious Kelly is in no way handing the job to Sproles. It will be interesting to see if rookie Jordan Matthews has a chance too.
Bennie Logan Is More of a Traditional Nose Tackle Now
Last year, the Philadelphia Eagles were comfortable enough with rookie third-round pick Bennie Logan that they traded away veteran Isaac Sopoaga to the New England Patriots. This pushed Logan into a starting job, although he still rotated heavily with fellow rookie Damion Square.
Now, Logan is ready to take onto more of the role of a traditional 0-technique nose tackle. He’s reportedly bulked up to close to 320 pounds, per Zach Berman of The Philadelphia Inquirer.
The Eagles won their first five games when Logan took over as starter in 2013. Logan wasn’t his best in the NFC Wild Card loss, as the New Orleans Saints ran for nearly 200 yards in the narrow victory. It’s difficult to say whether added bulk on Logan would have helped. But the team has enough confidence in him that they bypassed Notre Dame nose tackle Louis Nix III as late as the third round.
If Logan continues to develop, Philly has a pretty solid 3-4 front with Fletcher Cox, Cedric Thornton and Logan.