Philadelphia Eagles Training Camp: Week 1 Stock Report
Only three practices are in the books at Philadelphia Eagles training camp, but already select players are beginning to distinguish themselves. Whose stock is on the rise and whose is plummeting after the early proceedings?
Granted, not enough time has passed for the talent to separate out at every position. The Eagles don’t tackle to the ground during live team drills, which means they’re not truly playing football yet, while the first preseason game is over a week away. Heck, we’re still four weeks out from the deadline for teams to trim down their rosters from 90 men to 75.
That means there is plenty of camp remaining for players to turn their fortunes. Then again, it never hurts to make a good first impression. As we’re about to explore, some have managed to do just that, and others have not.
Stock Up: Mark Sanchez
Be honest. You were probably wondering what the Eagles were doing when they signed Mark Sanchez in April. Still are, I bet. Sanchez, a career 55 percent passer who’s hurled more interceptions than touchdowns during the regular season, is Philadelphia’s likely backup quarterback?
Yes, he is—and so far, he’s looking very sharp at training camp, too. In fact, Sanchez has been one of the standouts through three practices so far, and virtually everybody is talking about it, from Jimmy Kempski for Philly.com to Eliot Shorr-Parks for NJ.com.
Don’t rule out Sanchez becoming a viable No. 2 to Nick Foles. The New York Jets used the fifth overall pick of the ’09 draft on Sanchez, then never bothered to surround him with much talent on offense. It’s possible, perhaps event likely, that the signal-caller’s development and numbers were stunted by the lack of weapons.
Sanchez still managed to compile a 37-31 record over four seasons as a starter in New York, including playoffs. Give a big assist to the defense—regardless, he has experience winning games in the NFL, something none of the other wannabe backups vying for the backup gig possess.
Nobody is suggesting Sanchez is going to revive his career based off a few practices, but it wouldn’t be remotely surprising if he improved in the league’s No. 2 offense. If what we’ve seen so far at camp is any indication, there’s reason to believe the Eagles might be OK for a game or two should the need arise for Sanchez to come off the bench.
Stock Down: Matt Barkley
On one hand, Matt Barkley looks better than he did at any point in 2013. Barkley’s arm strength seems far superior to last year, when he was still recovering from a broken collarbone, and as the second-year signal-caller tells Reuben Frank for CSNPhilly.com, he’s more comfortable in the offense.
Then again, there is a growing belief Barkley ought to be looking over his shoulder. With Sanchez owning a distinct advantage in the competition for the No. 2 role, that leaves the 2013 fourth-round pick relegated to third string. And that, apparently, is if he can beat out G.J. Kinne for a roster spot.
Hey, I didn’t say it. Reuben Frank did, while similar whispers could be overheard by other members of the media in attendance.
As far-fetched as that might sound, Kinne has actually worked ahead of Barkley during several drills in practice. That doesn’t necessarily mean a lot, but it probably doesn’t mean nothing at all, either.
Ultimately, I expect Barkley to beat out Kinne rather easily. Barkley has made some of the most impressive throws I’ve seen any of the Eagles’ quarterbacks make this summer, including Foles. Plus, he seems to have far more upside than Kinne, who has been bouncing around between the practice squad to the unemployment line when he wasn’t busy playing in the UFL or Arena League.
Of course, Barkley’s stock being down seems to have less to do with Kinne than it does perceptions about Barkley. As long as he continues playing as he has the past couple of days, though, the conversation on Barkley should turn around quickly.
Stock Up: Allen Barbre
Few Eagles entered training camp riding as much or more momentum than Allen Barbre.
The journeyman offensive lineman parlayed the 89 snaps he played for Philadelphia in 2013, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), into a three-year contract extension last month. Then, just prior to the first practice of training camp, head coach Chip Kelly announced Barbre would start at right tackle, while Lane Johnson is serving a four-game suspension.
As if that weren’t enough, Kelly left the door open for Barbre to retain the gig even after Johnson is eligible to return.
At this point, Barbre controls his own destiny. The eighth-year veteran is running with the first-team offense in practice, and as long as he performs in games, there’s no way Kelly will risk messing with the continuity along the offensive line a quarter of the way through the season.
Personally, I don’t see it playing out that way. There’s a reason Barbre spent time with four different teams before landing with the Birds last year, while suspension or not, Johnson is one of the franchise’s building blocks for the future. As of right now, though, right tackle is Barbre’s job to lose.
Stock Down: Keelan Johnson
Things may not be looking so good for Lane Johnson in terms of the immediate future, but at least he’s at camp. The same cannot be said for safety Keelan Johnson.
Reuben Frank for CSNPhilly.com reports Johnson has been excused from camp for the time being. The absence stems from criminal charges for allegedly assaulting a police officer, passively resisting arrest and disorderly conduct.
It’s interesting the Eagles decided to excuse Johnson rather than flat-out release him. The undrafted free agent out of Arizona State was already considered a long shot to make the roster this year as a member of a suddenly crowded field at safety.
Johnson spent most of last season on Philly’s practice squad after failing to make the Miami Dolphins’ roster and would later wind up on the Birds’ 53-man roster late in the season. However, the Eagles have since retained Nate Allen on a one-year deal, signed Malcolm Jenkins during free agency and used a fifth-round pick on Ed Reynolds out of Stanford. Second-year defensive back Earl Wolff also remains.
Every day Johnson is missing makes it that much more unlikely he’ll have an opportunity to distinguish himself. Considering his odds weren’t very good to begin with, you have to wonder why the Eagles even bothered to keep him around.
Stock Up: Vinny Curry
Vinny Curry has been faced with a steeper uphill climb than most second-round picks in the NFL. The Marshall product spent the first 10 games of his career on the Eagles’ inactive list in 2012, blocked by a laundry list of talented pass-rushers headlined by Trent Cole and Jason Babin. Then last season, Curry didn’t dress for two more games at the outset amid the defense’s transition to a 3-4 alignment.
According to the game charters at Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Curry wound up playing on just shy of 30 percent of the defensive snaps in ’13.
He finished with 4.0 sacks on the season, while PFF’s metrics rated him second only to 2012 Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans among 3-4 defensive ends in pass-rush productivity—a formula that combines sacks, hits and hurries per pass-rush attempt.
Finally, it appears the Eagles might be prepared to give Curry a larger role in the defense. As Chris McPherson and Bo Wulf for PhiladelphiaEagles.com observed at Monday’s practice, Curry was replacing Cedric Thornton at left defensive end in nickel situations.
This is a tandem I’ve been hoping the coaching staff would consider all offseason long. Curry mostly lined up on the right side in place of Fletcher Cox last season. Having Curry sub in on the left instead makes far more sense, though, given Thornton offers next to nothing in the way of a pass rush, which happens to be Curry’s specialty.
Curry’s skill set is probably better suited to play end in a 4-3 alignment, but he can clearly rush the passer in any scheme, while Thornton is dominant against the run. Rotating the two of them based on the situation not only plays to their strengths, but it should mean more opportunities for Curry to stand out this year as well.
All observations from Eagles training camp were witnessed firsthand by the author, except where otherwise attributed.