The 4 Biggest Issues Facing Philadelphia Eagles with OTAs Wrapped
The Philadelphia Eagles have wrapped organized team activities, or OTAs, and are set to hold one final minicamp next week before training camp opens in July. But are they ready?
Obviously, it's way too early to make evaluations, but if we're being honest, there are a number of questions surrounding the Eagles as the 2015 season approaches. In fact, there may be more and bigger issues facing this football team than there were before OTAs ever got underway.
Answers won't come until the Eagles hit the field in pads and at least get a few preseason games under their belts. These are the problems that are in need of solutions.
Offensive Line Interior in Shambles
It was troublesome enough when the Eagles released right guard Todd Herremans this offseason. With the abrupt release of All-Pro left guard Evan Mathis on Thursday following a contract dispute, per CSNPhilly.com's Geoff Mosher (h/t Reuben Frank), the interior of Philadelphia's offensive line has to be considered a major concern heading into 2015.
Journeyman Allen Barbre is penciled in to replace Mathis, and while the coaching staff has repeatedly expressed confidence in the eighth-year veteran, he's played only sparingly during his NFL career. Reserves Andrew Gardner, Dennis Kelly and Matt Tobin are expected to compete for the opening at right guard.
Mathis to Barbre is a clear drop-off, and while Herremans was playing at a replacement level last season, the fact that two backups will be elevated to starting roles is a real shot at the unit's depth. That depth hasn't been very effective when called upon, either.
Further exacerbating the issue is the fact that the Eagles haven't taken an offensive lineman in the draft since selecting Lane Johnson with the fourth overall pick in 2013. It's difficult to argue the offense was fully prepared to make this transition.
The simple fact of the matter is the Eagles have to now. Head coach Chip Kelly's lack of patience with Mathis in particular could prove to be a serious problem, especially given the state of the signal-caller he acquired this offseason.
Sam Bradford's Health
The issues up front are especially concerning considering Sam Bradford's track record of health. The signal-caller has suffered a torn ACL in each of the past two seasons and is still recovering from the most recent injury sustained last August.
The good news is that Bradford is said to be on schedule by Kelly, per Zach Berman of the Philadelphia Inquirer.
"He's got a schedule, and he's worked very hard," Kelly said. "We think he's right on track."
The bad news is that Bradford hasn't been a full participant at practice during OTAs. He has taken some reps with the first-team offense in seven-on-seven drills, and people seem impressed by what they've seen, but until he's 100 percent, the change under center remains worrisome.
Kelly shipped Nick Foles and draft picks to the St. Louis Rams for Bradford—a steep price to pay in many eyes—but the former No. 1 overall draft pick has the potential to be a star in Philly's offense. First, however, he needs to get healthy. And so far, he's not all there.
Configuring the Secondary
At least the Eagles have two starters in the secondary figured out. Newcomer Byron Maxwell solidifies one of the cornerback slots, and Malcolm Jenkins will reprise his role as a starting safety, forming roughly half of the defensive backfield. As for the other two slots and possibly the nickelback, that remains to be seen.
There are ongoing competitions for those other two jobs, and before anybody can definitively call this secondary improved over last season, we'll need to see who winds up playing. At corner, veterans Nolan Carroll and Brandon Boykin are currently battling it out against second-round pick Eric Rowe out of Utah. And at safety, converted corner Walter Thurmond appears to hold the edge over an injured Earl Wolff.
It's not that all these scenarios are bad. It's largely the uncertainty that's so concerning at the moment.
Depth at Outside Linebacker
We can question the secondary, the offensive line and even the quarterback all summer. At least the Eagles have depth at those positions.
If there's one area Philadelphia absolutely can't afford an injury, it's at outside linebacker. Connor Barwin and Brandon Graham may form one of the better pass-rushing tandems in the NFL, but behind them, there is little in the way of established depth.
2014 first-round pick Marcus Smith barely saw the field his rookie season. Bryan Braman is purely a special teams contributor. The team is high on Travis Long, but he's never played a down in the NFL. Undrafted free agent Jordan Dewalt-Ondijo is a long shot to make the roster.
Smith is the only one of the bunch with the combination of size/athleticism and pedigree to make you think he could be an every-down player. Of course, most are quick to label him a bust after he failed to record so much as a single tackle last year.
The fact of the matter is that any extended absence for Barwin or Graham could prove to be devastating for the Eagles. It's arguably the biggest issue facing the team as the season approaches, and it's difficult to see a fix on the way. The only hope might be if Smith, Long or somebody else steps up his game this summer.