New Coaches, New Players, New Identity for Eagles

Chip Kelly's biggest test for the beginning of training camp for the Eagles is determining who between Michael Vick & Nick Foles will start.The primordial mini camp under first year head coach Chip Kelly began in Philadelphia on June 4th, and already has that ‘new-camp’ smell. Gone are fast food Fridays, closed practices, and that jolly green walrus. Even the pace of practice has changed, as numerous players have commented on the new fast-paced practice scheme. Music blares from PA systems as the Eagles go through daily practices, but these aren’t the only changes permeating Philadelphia’s favorite franchise.

Chip Kelly and Andy Reid are antithetic down to their base philosophies. Where Reid instituted physical practices, and a regular meal off of the value menu, Kelly has noted the importance of mental reps in addition to the physical, which may have been one of the main causes for the debacle that was the Birds’ offensive line a season ago. Kelly also has vitamin rich drinks post-practice, tailored to each specific player’s need. The emphasis in camp has been on rebuilding, not just as a team, but for each individual player as well. While the Eagles finished just 4-12 in the 2012 season, the talent and depth on their roster could make the Birds a contender sooner rather than later.

Mini camps give teams their first in-depth look at their respective rosters as a whole, and smart coaching staffs use this time to develop schemes based on player skills, something the Reid regime failed to do adequately during his time in Philadelphia. While Kelly’s specific schemes and plays remain a mystery, it is no secret that the Eagles will play at a high tempo in a scheme similar to that used by the New England Patriots, and Kelly’s former squad, the Oregon Ducks.

As Kelly himself has said, the depth chart is far from set, and at this point the Eagles are tailoring a scheme to fit their talent pool. The open competition for starting quarterback appears to be in full swing, with Nick Foles and Michael Vick set to battle for the offensive driver seat all summer. Fourth round pick Matt Barkley will likely factor into this mix as well due to his accuracy and football knowledge, though will likely end up as the third stringer, leaving former Oregon Duck Dennis Dixon without a roster spot come September.

The running back stable appears to be in good shape, and no one will question the starter apparent, LeSean Mccoy, about his role with the team. Yet, questions surround Bryce Brown and Felix Jones respective roles with the Eagles. Both men have seen reps as a third down back, and in the kick and punt return games. Versatility appears to be the name of the game for the Eagles runners at the moment, so expect both backs to see their fair share of the field come training camp.

As for the receivers, DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Arreliuos Benn, Jason Avant, and Riley Cooper appear to be the front runners to make the active roster. However, do not sleep on sophomore wide out Damaris Johnson, who has seen reps in the slot and in the return game. Johnson, a product of the Reid era, has excellent hands and blazing speed, a skill set that will flourish in Kelly’s style of offense. If Johnson continues to impress the Eagles’ coaching staff; Riley Cooper, Tim Tebow’s college roommate, will have to say his prayers to remain on the Eagles’ active roster. The most interesting story-line coming from Eagles’ camp is the role of former Eagles’ number one receiver, Desean Jackson. Jackson has been slated as the team’s third option at wide out thus far into mini camp. While many believe this to be a slight to the veteran, for all intents and purposes Jackson is a better fit as a slot receiver than on the outside. Consider Jackson’s blazing speed, shiftiness, and ability to create space in the open field, Jackson fits the prototypical skill set of a pro-bowl quality slot receiver. Furthermore, the man who has taken Jackson’s place on the outside Arrelious Benn, is a 6’7” receiver, whose height gives him great advantage on the outside. Percy Harvin excelled in Minnesota in a slot receiving role, and using Jackson in this way would add yet another weapon to the Eagles’ offense.  Jackson could flourish in his role as a slot receiver, so for now consider him to have 99 problems, but his role with the team is not one.

One of the only things solidified by the Eagles’ coaching staff has been the starting members of the offensive line. Jason Kelce and Evan Mathis are still missing from camp due to injury, but will join Jason Peters, Todd Herremans, and Lane Johnson as the protective cocoon surrounding the Eagles’ backfield.

The talent along the offensive line is only superseded by talent at the tight end position. Second round pick Zach Ertz of Stanford will join Eagles’ veteran Brent Celek as part of a dual pronged aerial attack. Depth here will be mutually beneficial for the Eagles’ rushing and passing attacks, as both men have the ability to run block, and get open down field for passes. Expect Ertz to become a primary target for whomever the Eagles’ starter at quarterback is, due to his tremendous skill set in the receiving game.

Switching across the line of scrimmage, the Eagles’ have virtually an entirely new secondary for the upcoming season. This was the most egregious area for the Eagles’ a season ago, and thus many changes took place during the off-season. Cary Williams will lead the charge at corner-back for the Eagles, but that is about the only sure thing at this point in the off-season. Competing for the second corner position will be third year corner Curtis Marsh, sophomore and last year’s nickel-back Brandon Boykin, as well as former Rams’ defensive back Bradley Fletcher. Boykin has impressed Eagles’ coaches thus far, and was a tremendous value pick for the Eagles a year ago in the fourth round, as his stock fell due to an injury sustained his senior year at Georgia. Boykin and Fletcher appear to be front runners for the starting slot opposite Williams, with Fletcher having the slight edge at the conclusion of mini camp. The wild card in this area of the roster will be this year’s seventh round draft pick, Jordan Poyer of Oregon State. Poyer is an NFL ready talent, and could play a larger role with the team, especially in man-coverage situations.

Another prominent area of need on the defensive side of the ball is the safety position. Former New York Giant Kenny Phillips has all the tools needed to succeed in this league, if he can stay healthy. Phillips is likely to command the free safety starting slot when training camp begins in August, but who will his counter part be? Last season, Nate Allen, Kurt Coleman, and Colt Anderson all played roles within the Eagles’ secondary, but will have to compete with new acquisition Patrick Chung for the remaining starting safety position. Chung and Anderson fit the strong safety position better than Allen, and Coleman appears to be the odd man out at this point, as both Chung and Anderson were signed by the Kelly administration. Expect this to be another position battle that will not be decided until the season begins.

The Eagles front seven appears to be the biggest quandary surrounding the team outside of the various position battles. Billy Davis takes over the reins of a defensive unit that was misused and oft abused a season ago. Pencil in DeMeco Ryans, Fletcher Cox, Mychal Kendricks, Isaac Sopoaga, and Trent Cole as starters, but the rest remains a mystery. Free agent acquisition Connor Barwin is expected to fill an edge rushing role in a 3-4 as well, but where does that leave Vinnie Curry and Brandon Graham? Who will start opposite Cox as the other interior rusher should the Eagles switch to a 3-4? If neither Cole, Curry, or Graham can play inside in a 3-4 scheme, the Eagles will have to scramble to fill that void. Third round pick Bennie Logan signed a four year contract with the team, and could fill the need at defensive end. If Logan can become a dominant force alongside Sopoaga and Cox at the interior of the Eagles defensive set, many other dominoes would fall into place. Should Logan be able to fill a void on the line, expect Graham and Curry to rotate with Barwin and Cole on the outside, adding valuable depth and versatility to an already talented front seven. Logan playing as a defensive end from day one would be the ideal situation for Davis and the Eagles, but only time will tell if this is a feasible reality for Philadelphia.

What is most important to remember about the state of a team during spring workouts, is the fact that much could change before the start of the season. Injuries will occur, players will improve, and schemes will change. Consider this an early guide to your 2013 Philadelphia Eagles, but much will change between now and the season opener in a few months time.

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Benjamin Haley

Ben Haley is the Sports Director for 91.3 FM WVUD. Ben also serves as a sports broadcaster for the University of Delaware. . He is the main Philadelphia Eagles contributor for HighPhive.com! You can follow him on Twitter @BenHaley11.