The 2010 NFL Draft is over, the first rookie mini-camps are over, and the Spring Meeting is on the horizon.
So that means the NFL landscape should be kind of quiet for the next couple months, right?
Maybe so, but with OTAs in full swing and the newcomers working hard to learn their surroundings, the off-season ain’t what it used to be (so to speak).
Training camp begins in roughly 10 weeks for the Philadelphia Eagles, but while the process of whittling down what is now an 86-man roster to the final 53 doesn’t begin in earnest until then, that doesn’t mean positional battles aren’t already looming.
In the first of this two-part series, we’ll take a look at the Birds’ current offense and see how those early battles shape up.
Current Two-Deep: Kevin Kolb (S), Michael Vick (2)
Also in the Mix: Joey Elliott, Mike Kafka
The Skinny: If anything, this is the one spot that won’t change much if at all.
Kolb is now solidly entrenched as the starter after the trade of Donovan McNabb, and if the poise and prowess he showed in limited action last season (64.6 completion percentage, 744 yards and four TD in five games, with two starts) is in line with what he’ll do, the Birds think they’ll be fine.
No. 4 doesn’t have a “great” arm, but he has the accuracy and poise to do well if the Eagles do indeed install a more “classic” version of the West Coast offense as rumored.
His backup, Vick, is in a weird place. He knows he’s likely to see most of his time in Wildcat formations, but with free agency looming for him, the soon-to-be-30-year-old will be looking to impress if Kolb falters or goes down.
Vick showed touches of brilliance last season, and with a full year (and NFL slate) under his belt, he should be back in true “game shape” in 2010.
As for the third slot, that is a toss-up.
Kafka, the Birds’ third of four fourth-round picks in the 2010 Draft, had a great senior season at Northwestern (65% completions, 3430 yards, 16 TD) but played sparingly before this year and is more of a project.
His current competition, Elliott, was an undrafted rookie free agent who was in a similar position to Kafka at Purdue and put up somewhat similar numbers.
Projection: Kolb starts, Vick backs up, and if it’s not Kafka at No.3, it’s because the Birds signed a veteran to take that spot and mentor both Kolb and practice squad-bound Kafka. Jeff Garcia has been rumored to be returning and both Mark Brunell and Todd Collins are available, so it’s a very real possibility.
Current Two-Deep: LeSean McCoy (S), Mike Bell (2)
Also in the Mix: Eldra Buckley, Keithon Flemming, Martell Mallett, Charles Scott
The Skinny: Again, like quarterback, running back is set at the top.
McCoy, the all-time leading rookie rusher in franchise history, is entrenched as the starter after a solid (if unspectacular) 2009 season, while free agent signee Bell will complement him as the inside/short-yardage guy.
Beyond that, it may come down to special teams prowess.
Buckley was the third RB last year and saw most of his time on special teams. Of his 15 carries and 44 yards, eight and 33 of it came in the Birds’ Week 13 blowout of Atlanta where the starters didn’t play at all in the fourth quarter.
Scott, the team’s sixth-round pick, is a bowling ball (5’11”, 238 lbs. according to the Eagles’ website) who played well in a rotational back system at LSU but had an injury-plagued senior season.
Mallett was the CFL Rookie of the Year last season after finishing fourth in the league in rushing. Similar size-wise to McCoy, Mallett also proved to be a valuable receiver out of the backfield, snagging 43 balls in Canada last season.
Last but not least, Flemming is an RFA from West Texas A&M who also served as a triple threat (rushing, receiving and returning) for the Lone Star Conference Champions in 2009.
Projection: Buckley has the inside track for the final spot(s?), as he was a capable player that beat out Lorenzo Booker last year, but Scott’s size and Mallett’s receiving ability could help them push Buckley aside or push their way onto the roster.
The Eagles are likely to carry nine WR/RB, so if they keep Buckley, it could be Scott or Mallett battling a sixth wideout for the final spot (assuming, of course, they carry only one fullback).
In that case, I’d go with Scott; assuming he’s healthy, Scott can step in as an occasional RB and would be more of a force on coverage teams than either of the smaller guys.
Current Two-Deep: Leonard Weaver
Also in the Mix: Dwayne Wright, Chris Zardas
The Skinny: This isn’t a real “Two-Deep,” as the Eagles haven’t kept two true fullbacks in…uh, ever, really. Hell, they haven’t even had one at some points.
Weaver is the guy, fresh off his impressive 2009 season that saw him finish second on the team in rushing and earn a three-year, $11m deal that makes him the highest paid FB in the NFL.
Wright (fourth-round pick by Buffalo in 2007) and Zardas (RFA from UMass) are decent players, but unless Weaver suffers a major injury, they have no shot.
Even if he does, fourth-round pick Clay Harbor would probably slot into an FB/H-Back role anyway.
So yeah, the less time spent here, the better.
Current Two-Deep: DeSean Jackson (SE), Jeremy Maclin (FL), Jason Avant (3)
Also in the Mix: Hank Baskett, Dobson Collins, Blue Cooper, Riley Cooper,
Chad Hall, Kevin Jurovich, Jordan Norwood, Pat Simonds
The Skinny: Yes, the Eagles have 11 receivers on the roster right now.
They’ll keep five, six if the running back crop doesn’t impress or someone pulls a Brandon Gibson.
Jackson and Maclin are entrenched as the starters, and Avant seemingly morphed into one of the best slot/third-down No. 3 guys in the league last year.
So it’s really eight guys jockeying for two or three spots.
Baskett is back after a year in Indianapolis where he did little besides helping Kendra Wilkinson deliver their first child. He’ll get a challenge as the “size guy” from fifth-round pick Riley Cooper and RFA Pat Simonds from Colgate.
Cooper isn’t the fastest guy, but at 6’3” he runs good routes, has great hands
and always seems to get open. Simonds, meanwhile, was only one of three FCS players to be invited to the East-West Shrine Game but only exacerbated the stigma that he’s not very quick. Still, if he can play special teams, he has a shot.
In the other spot you have a handful of guys who are all roughly the same size and speed. The inside track seems to be held by Collins and Norwood, both of whom spent time on the practice squad last year (with Norwood playing in one game).
Hall and Blue Cooper are likely practice depth, as Cooper had a rather disappointing senior year at UTC (the alma mater of one Mr. Terrell Owens) and Hall is more of a hybrid back/receiver who finished third in the nation in all-purpose yards…in 2007, which was his senior season at Air Force (he’s been in the service ever since).
Jurovich, however, is a good route runner with great hands, and Gerry Cobb likened him to the aforementioned Brandon Gibson. He also played safety at San Jose State, which can help him in a special teams battle and put him ahead of the pack.
Projection: The top three are locks, and you’d think Baskett will be too—although Riley Cooper, Jurovich and Norwood could all be very useful.
I think the Eagles will end up keeping six, as Leonard Weaver’s rushing ability will allow them to only keep three true running backs. Baskett and Norwood will make it as the top “backups” to each set of receivers (Maclin/Jackson and Avant), and whoever impresses most between Cooper and Jurovich will be No. 6 and relegate the other to the practice squad.
Current Two-Deep: Brent Celek (S), Cornelius Ingram (2)
Also in the Mix: Clay Harbor, Martin Rucker
Celek (he of the huge contract) is “the guy.”
But to borrow a phrase from Swingers, who is the guy behind the guy (and maybe the guy behind the guy behind the guy)?
Ingram, the de facto No. 2, was a fifth-round pick last year but missed the entire season due to a torn ACL—his second in two years. Last year’s No. 3, Rucker, is a great receiver as well, and fourth-round pick Harbor is a hybrid TE/FB/H-Back who flourished in a spread offense at Missouri State.
All three offer very similar skill sets, and could seemingly be interchangeable behind Celek. But can all three make the roster?
Even though the Birds only had two for most of last season, the answer is still “maybe.”
The Eagles did it last year, juggling seven receivers because Brandon Gibson was too impressive to get rid of. The team likes Rucker a lot, and considering Harbor can play multiple positions, he could steal a slot away from a guy like Eldra Buckley or one of the receivers in camp.
It all, of course, depends on Ingram’s health—if he’s still too hurt to go, he’ll likely start the season on the PUP list and the other three will make it.
Current Two-Deep: Jason Peters (LT), Winston Justice (RT), King Dunlap (3)
Also in the mix: Austin Howard, Jeraill McCuller, Fenuki Tupou
The Skinny: Peters is Peters, and after a solid season replacing the now-released Shawn Andrews, Winston Justice is the entrenched starter on the right side.
So what does that leave us?
With both starting guards (Stacy Andrews and Todd Herremans) and Mike McGlynn all able to swing out to tackle, the question is whether the Eagles’ ninth lineman will be a fourth true tackle or a swingman.
Dunlap was the backup last year and played fairly well at both spots, the Birds’ entire line struggles against Oakland notwithstanding. Tupou, meanwhile, was a late-round pick who spent the year “redshirting” on IR.
Howard and McCuller are both undrafted RFAs, but each has one huge pro: Howard is a physical beast at 6’8”, 330 lbs., while McCuller has great coordination off the edge—a major advantage in a division that features some of the best pass rushers in the NFL.
Projection: Dunlap will definitely make the team if they carry four tackles, and is the likeliest candidate to be the third if they don’t; the team still isn’t happy with Tupou’s blocking ability, and one of the RFAs could get that “redshirt” year on IR this season.
If they keep four, Howard might be the most logical choice; he’s a house with decent blocking skills and a little more upside than McCuller.
Current Two-Deep: Todd Herremans (LG), Stacy Andrews (RG), Nick Cole/Max-Jean Gilles (3)
Also in the Mix: Zipp Duncan, Greg Isdaner, Mike McGlynn, Dallas Reynolds
The Skinny: Herremans and Andrews are, and have been, the starters.
Herremans has been entrenched since his first day in Philly, and Andrews has improved his attitude, aptitude, and contract status enough to firmly be the right guard for this team.
But the lynchpin to the backup situation is Nick Cole.
Cole started all 16 games last year, 15 at one guard spot and the final one at center in Jamaal Jackson’s absence. He’s a lock to make the team, but whether he is the starting center (while Jackson recovers from his torn ACL) or the third guard remains to be seen.
That leaves Jean-Gillis and the four “also in the mix” vying for one (or two) spots.
McGlynn’s versatility gives him the inside track; he was a right tackle at Pitt, moved to guard in the NFL and was the next in line to fill in at center late last season behind Cole.
Jean-Gilles has started 18 games for the Birds, but he’s the prototypical “never really caught on” guy that ends up being a career backup. Isdaner and Reynolds also have Philly experience, as both spent time on the practice squad in 2009. Duncan, meanwhile, is a little undersized (despite being 6’5”) and is ostensibly little more than pre-season fodder.
Projection: Cole and McGlynn will likely determine whether Jean-Gilles makes the team.
Andy Reid likes versatile linemen, so if he decides that Cole and McGlynn can handle center (and take less reps elsewhere), Max will be back and Reynolds (who has also played all three line positions) will likely slide in as the fourth guard with a challenge from Isdaner.
If not, it will be between Max and Reynolds for the final spot—and Dallas’ versatility will likely land him the role over the one-dimensional Jean-Gilles.
Current Two-Deep: Jamaal Jackson (S; Injured), AQ Shipley (2)
Also in the mix: Cole, McGlynn, Reynolds
The Skinny: Jackson’s torn ACL will keep him out for at least the beginning of the season.
But will he be the starter when he returns? And who will be while he’s out?
Here’s what we know: Last season, Cole handled the job in the final two games, McGlynn was his backup, and Reynolds was the emergency guy. The Birds shored up the position a bit by signing Shipley, who spent 2009 on the Steelers’ practice squad, in January.
From there, it’s chaos.
Jackson could be back as soon as Week 2 or 3, but as he well knows, all it takes is someone to step up when you get hurt to get you sent out of town. That’s how Jackson took over for Hank Fraley, who was two years younger than Jamaal is now when he was traded to Cleveland.
Shipley’s not bad, but given all the versatility he has on his line, Andy Reid might be hesitant to keep a true center knowing/thinking he’s going to be cut eventually if Jackson is healthy.
It’s enough to make your head spin, really.
Projection: If it’s me, I say Jackson gets PUPped and the Cole/McGlynn tandem holds down center, with Reynolds filling in as the third guard.
These days, is seems that ACL injuries take a good 8-10 months to be close to 100%, and the later part of that projection puts Jackson out until late-October—coincidentally, the time he would be eligible to practice if he starts out on the PUP list.
But once he’s back, you’d have a guy in Shipley who would (ideally) never play clogging up roster space, while a multi-faceted player like Reynolds or McGlynn would likely lose a job.
Unless Shipley really impresses in the pre-season or Jackson suffers a huge setback, I can see Reid going with what he had to start and re-inserting Jackson (who he loves, and who has been great in the middle) as the anchor once he’s good to go.