Rounding Up Philadelphia Eagles' Offseason Buzz, Post-Minicamps
The Philadelphia Eagles are now just six weeks away from preseason football games, and the hype surrounding the team is that Chip Kelly can take this group even further than 2013.
The Eagles surprised with a 10-win campaign and playoff berth in Year 1 under Kelly; now Eagles fans will be clamoring for a deep postseason run behind Pro Bowl quarterback Nick Foles. The regime has been intact for a full offseason now, and Kelly has established his brand of football.
DeSean Jackson is gone, but there is still speed everywhere on the offense. The 3-4 defense is intact, and players are being added to fit the system. The NFC East is looking significantly weaker than it was in 2013, and it should be fairly easy for Philly to capture the division if all goes according to plan.
Can Chip Kelly’s Fitness Regime Lead to Another Injury-Free Season?
In 2012 All-Pro left tackle Jason Peters tore his Achilles tendon in the spring and missed the entire season. The following summer, free-agent-to-be wide receiver Jeremy Maclin tore his ACL in training camp and missed all of 2013.
This year, the team has been remarkably healthy so far. There has been barely a blemish out of close to 90 players. Maclin is back to full health and reportedly looking very effective. The Philadelphia Eagles haven’t had any injury concerns yet, and that bodes extremely well.
Last year the Eagles were almost unsustainably healthy. Other than Maclin’s setback, there were almost no injuries. The same offensive line started 85 of a possible 85 games (playoffs included). LeSean McCoy started all 16 games. So did DeSean Jackson. The defense was able to suit up almost week in and week out without injuries.
If that can happen again, Philadelphia should win the division with ease. The talent on this roster is inevitable. The key will be the depth if the starters do get hurt.
Which Long-Term Project Has the Best Chance to Make the Roster?
Chip Kelly has a handful of players on his roster who are considered long-term projects. It’s doubtful any of them make the final 53-man squad, but a strong showing in August could vault one of them onto the team.
Wide receiver Ifeanyi Momah was a camp favorite last year, although he’s buried on the depth chart for now. He is 6’8” and is likely to spend the season on the practice squad unless he can project his size to be a dangerous red-zone threat.
Defensive end Alejandro Villanueva is another long shot. He’s a 6’9”, 277-pound defensive end who would have to stand out as a 5-technique player in the 3-4 scheme. He is behind Fletcher Cox, Cedric Thornton, Vinny Curry and Taylor Hart. Damion Square can play both tackle and end.
In addition, Bennie Logan is locked in as the starting nose tackle, and the team drafted Beau Allen in the seventh round. That doesn’t bode well for Villanueva, who is likely to end up on the practice squad as well. If he can show an ability to bat down passes at the line of scrimmage though, and keep getting Kelly's support, it will vastly increase his chances.
Cornerback Curtis Marsh Jr. can’t really be considered a long-term project anymore, seeing as this will be his fourth season in the league. He was drafted in the third round of the 2011 NFL draft, but he’s struggled to latch on with the Eagles yet. The former collegiate running back will be fighting with Roc Carmichael to be one of the last cornerbacks on the roster.
The best bet to make the 53-man roster may be quarterback G.J. Kinne, who has impressed this spring. Simultaneously, second-year quarterback Matt Barkley has looked awful. The former fourth-round pick has lacked ideal arm strength, per Philly.com’s Jimmy Kempski, and Kinne has the mobility that Barkley doesn’t have.
Alex Henery Has the Significant Edge over Murderleg
Many Philadelphia Eagles fans would probably be happy if the team moved on from fourth-year kicker Alex Henery.
He rated 28th in average distance per kickoff last year, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required). He missed a key field goal in the team’s two-point playoff loss. And he’s entering the final year of his contract, which means he may be in his final campaign with Philadelphia anyway.
Carey “Murderleg” Spear is an undrafted free agent who is attempting to make the roster. The odds of Spear beating out Henery aren’t good, and they’re getting progressively worse.
Murderleg hooks many of his field goal attempts. Just missed 52- and 42-yard attempts wide left.— Jeff McLane (@Jeff_McLane) June 19, 2014
Realistically, veteran NFL kickers don’t typically lose their jobs to undrafted free agents. Henery has also had a solid career, setting the single-season rookie record for accuracy back in 2011. In terms of field-goal percentage, he’s the sixth-most accurate kicker ever. Henery is set to make $751,000, so money won’t be an issue.
It would take an astounding performance by Spear in preseason contests to win the job. Better yet, it may take a Henery injury for Spear to make the 53-man roster.
Is There a Chance Brandon Graham Misses the Final Roster?
Four seasons into his NFL career, Brandon Graham hasn’t yet lived up to expectations. He’s shown flashes of talent, such as 2012 when Pro Football Focus rated him as the second-best overall 4-3 end in the league.
But he has just 11.5 sacks in 48 games. Connor Barwin and Trent Cole are entrenched as the starting 3-4 outside linebackers, and the Philadelphia Eagles just drafted Marcus Smith in the first round.
Factor in that Houston Texans reserve linebacker/special teams ace Bryan Braman was added via free agency, and that doesn’t leave a lot of room for Graham. He will have to beat out Travis Long, who has had a phenomenal camp and doesn’t carry a $3.38 million cap hit.
It’s highly unlikely Graham misses the final roster, because cutting him would actually cost the Eagles more in dead money than if they kept him. But if he is expecting a lot of playing time this season, he may want to push for a trade.
Nate Allen Looks to Be the Other Starting Safety Opposite Malcolm Jenkins
When the Philadelphia Eagles signed free-agent safety Malcolm Jenkins to a three-year deal, it was pretty evident that they expected him to start immediately. Opposite of Jenkins, though, fifth-year safety Nate Allen looks to have the edge over last year’s fifth-round rookie Earl Wolff.
Nate is the incumbent. He has the edge. Big year for Wolff. Needs to step up RT @SteEzedCB: Do you see Nate Allen or Wolff as the starter?— Dave Spadaro (@davespadaro) May 27, 2014
It’s not too surprising because Allen knows the system and has plenty of starting experience under his belt. He was shaky in his first three NFL seasons but came on as at least an average starter in 2013. Pro Football Focus rated him as the 49th best safety out of 86 qualifiers, which puts him in the middle of the pack.
Wolff played fairly well as a rookie. He missed just four tackles in 40 attempts, which gives him a 90 percent success rate. That was one of the better marks in the game.
Allen is back on just a one-year deal. If the Eagles want him back in 2015 and beyond, it’s going to be as a starter, which would likely mean shelling out $3-4 million per season at the minimum. That makes it all the more likely that Wolff will be groomed to be his replacement. He is still on his rookie deal, and seeing as he was a fifth-round pick, he doesn’t count for much against the cap at all.
Look for Jenkins to start at the one spot (unless he totally flames out a la Patrick Chung). Allen will begin the season as the other starter, but Wolff will push for playing time and will probably be starting by midseason.