Eagles

2014 Eagles training camp storylines

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2014 Eagles training camp storylines

The offseason is officially over. It’s time for football in Philadelphia.

The Eagles on Friday will report to the NovaCare Complex for the start of Chip Kelly’s second training camp and to start preparing for their NFC East title defense.

The first practice kicks off Saturday morning. Here are some dominant storylines surrounding the team:

Offensive line
One of the strongest units of last year’s team is, suddenly, a source of concern headed into camp with right tackle Lane Johnson suspended for the first four games of the season because of PEDs. Allen Barbre will likely fill the void, ensuring that the Birds won’t have all five linemen start every game.

With Barbre in the starting lineup, the next guy off the bench at guard is Matt Tobin, an undrafted rookie from last season who didn’t play a single game. That’s a scary thought given that three stalwarts — Jason Peters, Evan Mathis and Todd Herremans — are each over 30. The Eagles are one injury away from an offensive line featuring Barbre and Tobin.

Speaking of Mathis, he wants to be paid like an elite guard, not just top 10. He didn’t boycott the spring camps, perhaps hoping the Eagles will reward him for continuing to play at a high level and keeping his professionalism.

Keep an eye on how Barbre performs in his four-game audition. The coaches liked him enough to give him an extension. Herremans, who struggled at the start of last year, should be looking over his shoulder.

Muddled OLB picture
Connor Barwin and first-round pick Marcus Smith are making the team. The others — Trent Cole, Brandon Graham, Bryan Braman, Travis Long — aren’t so secure.

At spring camps, the Eagles sure made it seem like Cole and Barwin would be back to anchor the starting jobs. Those two took all first-team reps. Smith worked mostly on the third string, but a team doesn’t use the 26th overall pick on a guy who’s gonna ride the pine.

If Smith can play, he’ll see playing time, and if he’s seeing playing time, it doesn’t make financial sense for the Eagles to keep both Cole and Graham on the roster at their current salaries.

Long also becomes an X-factor. If the Eagles think he’s good enough to be a fourth (or fifth) outside linebacker, it further clouds the future of either Graham or Cole.

Foles and friends
You know the story. DeSean Jackson, Jason Avant and Bryce Brown are gone. Jeremy Maclin is back. Darren Sproles is here. Chris Polk is ready. The offense will have a different look and different personnel, and the onus is on Nick Foles to make it work as he follows up a brilliant and historic 2013 season.

This will be the first time Foles enters camp as the unquestioned starter, and there’s a big carrot dangling: a potential blockbuster contract extension next offseason that will hinge on his 2014 performance.

Pass rush
Cedric Thornton took up boxing. Vinny Curry gave up red meat. Bennie Logan added weight. Graham dropped weight. Several Eagles went to extremes this offseason to prove they’re capable of hitting quarterbacks at a better rate than last year, when the Birds ranked 31st in sacks per pass attempt.

Outside of drafting Smith, the Eagles didn’t do much else to address their pass rush, so they’re banking on these motivated incumbents to show their offseason work paid off.

The real J-Mac
This is the year we finally get to see if Maclin is a special, game-changing receiver with first-round talent or just a good receiver who ranks somewhere in the top 20.

If he stays healthy.

Maclin has always been on the cusp of a 1,000-yard season, and he really believed last year would be his big breakout before he tore his ACL at training camp. If this offense is perfect for him, as he has suggested, this needs to be the year he’s among the top 10, especially since he gambled on himself and signed a one-year deal in the offseason.

Fairly or not, Maclin’s numbers and production will be measured against Jackson’s season with the Redskins. If Maclin fails to flourish, he’ll be playing elsewhere in 2015.

Barkley vs. Sanchez
For the second time in Kelly’s two training camps, a competition will be waged at quarterback. This time, it’s for the backup job.

Surprisingly, Jets castoff Mark Sanchez took the majority of second-team quarterbacks reps at the spring camps ahead of Matt Barkley, a fourth-round pick in 2014 whom the Eagles traded up to select. And don’t forget about G.J. Kinne, who’s come a long way in his year with the team and looked impressive at the spring camps.

Sanchez lacked the “repetitive accuracy” throughout his Jets tenure that Kelly prefers from quarterbacks, and Barkley struggled with turnovers in his brief cameos last year as a rookie. Kinne lacks NFL real-game experience. The backup situation is much less stable this year than last year.

On the bubble
Besides Cole and Graham, there are other veterans who could become casualties before the cutdown date.

The arrivals of free-agent cornerback Nolan Carroll and fourth-round pick Jaylen Watkins threaten the security of Bradley Fletcher, who’s slated to make nearly $3 million. At kicker, Alex Henery faces competition from rookie free agent Cary “Murderleg” Spear. Wide receivers Brad Smith, Arrelious Benn and Damaris Johnson could get shown the door if the Eagles like what they see in rookie free agent Kadron Boone or an improved Ifeanyi Momah.

Rookie watch
Eyes will be squarely focused at camp on Smith and second-round pick Jordan Matthews, a record-setting SEC receiver out of Vanderbilt who’s been billed as the anti-DeSean. Matthews has the intangibles and work ethic coaches covet, but the 6-foot-3, 215-pound prospect is being asked to play the slot — a different animal at the NFL level.

Kelly hopes the receiver’s big body will be an advantage against small corners, especially against man coverage. But if there’s any slippage from Maclin or Riley Cooper, Matthews could be asked to play a greater role.

5 Minutes with Roob: Josh Andrews still waiting on his chance 4 years later

5 Minutes with Roob: Josh Andrews still waiting on his chance 4 years later

In today's "Five Minutes with Roob," Reuben Frank chats with Eagles guard/center Josh Andrews:

Roob: Let's clear the air first. You're definitely not related to Shawn Andrews?

Josh Andrews: No, I'm not. No relation to Shawn Andrews at all.

Roob: So that's one positive. Do you get that a lot?

Andrews: I've got it a few times now, but no relation.

Roob: Alright well that's good to know. Now, you've got a really interesting story. You've been here four years now. Talk about when you came here in '14, were there a lot of teams trying to sign you out of Oregon State? How did that whole thing go?

Andrews: Went undrafted, about three teams tried to grab me, but felt like the best fit was for the Eagles and I've been here ever since.

Roob: It's really crazy because obviously, they like you. Obviously, Chip (Kelly) liked you. Obviously, Doug (Pederson) likes you. But you haven't had a chance to play. How do you balance being here, preparing like you're gonna play every week and not having gotten that chance yet?

Andrews: Just gotta have that mindset to get ready every week. That's how I've been since I've been here. My time is coming, I just gotta wait and do what's best for this team right now and keep us winning.

Roob: Now there was a really interesting thing on Tuesday, Jim Schwartz, without prompting, I don't know if you heard about this, he mentioned you as far as talking about how guys on the offense help the defense prepare. And he mentioned that you'll go to him and say, 'Hey we're figuring this out in running scout team.' Because you run scout team center or guard, I guess mainly center I would think. That's kind of unusual for a defensive coordinator to mention a scout team offensive lineman. What do you bring to him? What do you see from the first defense that can maybe help?

Andrews: Just blocking schemes you know, the way that they're ran. Say if (Fletcher Cox) needs help with something I'll be like 'I think this is the best way to go.' And it's been working. They've been getting home a lot this season and it's really been paying off for our defense.

Roob: How hard is it to not play?

Andrews: Man, it's tough. It's really tough. But just gotta keep going. I love playing this sport and I will continue as long as I can. 

Roob: I remember there was one game, I think it was 2015, where somebody got hurt and you ran on the field and then they didn't leave the game. 

Andrews: Oh yeah, that was against the Cowboys in 2015. Lane (Johnson) got hurt, pretty sure it was Lane. And I was about to go in and then he came back on the field. I was like, 'Ah man, that was my shot.' But, I gotta keep positive. Gotta keep that positive mindset. That's how I've been ever since I've been here.

Roob: Now you've actually been here longer than most of the team. (Jason) Kelce's a guy who's been here your whole time. What have you learned from being around him, watching him play, watching him practice?

Andrews: He's such a smart guy man. On the field, the way he just commands attention, the way he commands the offensive line is just impressive to see. I try to mimic that every time I step on the field. I've learned so much from him over these past four years and he's just a great player to learn from and be under. 

Roob: Now preseason games I guess are like your Super Bowl now, right? Cause that's your chance to play. What do those games mean to you? You're not playing a lot. A few of them you're playing a lot. But what does it mean to get out there and have a chance to play?

Andrews: It's gold man. That's everything for me right now. When I get a chance to get on that field, I give it all I got. I've done that ever since I've been here. That's just, like you said, my Super Bowl. Every time I go on that field I give it all I got. 

Roob: What's (offensive line) coach (Jeff) Stoutland meant to you? You've been around him a while now. 

Andrews: Great mentor. Great teacher. He's just been wonderful. He's really hard on us and it's for a good reason, to get us better and get us playing at a high level. That's the way he commands the player and I like that. 

Roob: What's special about this team now? You've been on some good teams and some bad teams since you've been here but you guys are rolling, 8-1, seven-game winning streak going into Dallas Sunday night. What do you like about the kind of vibe in this locker room?

Andrews: The vibe is awesome. Everyone's on the same page. Everyone's with each other. It's been really different from the past three teams I've been on. I feel like we're gonna go far with the team we got right now. 

Roob: Alright last question. Chip Kelly, do you think he's going to take the Florida job?

Andrews: Sheesh, I don't know. We'll see. That's a good question.

Carson Wentz's durability is his biggest strength

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Carson Wentz's durability is his biggest strength

Forget for a moment all the record-setting touchdown passes, all the dazzling third-down conversions and the highlight-reel red-zone heroics.

One of Carson Wentz's greatest accomplishments these last two years has just been playing football every Sunday. Being out there for his team without fail every week.

That alone puts him in an elite group.

Look around the league. Tyrod Taylor just got benched in Buffalo with the Bills in the playoff hunt. Trevor Siemian was benched just before the Broncos came to Philly. The 49ers benched Brian Hoyer a few weeks before facing the Eagles

Last we checked, the Browns have already benched DeShone Kizer, Cody Kessler and Kevin Hogan this fall.

Heck, even one-time Super Bowl winner Joe Flacco was benched by Ravens head coach John Harbaugh during a loss to the Jaguars.

We've been through all of that. That quarterback carousel. It never leads anywhere.

Wentz on Sunday night will start his 26th consecutive game. Every game the Eagles have played since opening day last year. He's one of only 12 quarterbacks who's started all his team's games over the last two years.

Elite quarterback play is huge for any football team, but quarterback stability is just as important. And Wentz is finally giving this franchise something it's lacked for much of the last quarter century.

Think about it.

From 1991 through 2015, a 25-year span, the only years an Eagles quarterback started 16 games were Donovan McNabb in 2000, 2001, 2003 and 2008. And McNabb got benched in 2008.

From 2010 through 2015, the six years between McNabb and Wentz, the Eagles used seven different quarterbacks. Not only did the Eagles not win anything during that span, there didn't seem to be much of a future either. 

The Eagles were stuck trying to build a championship team without an elite quarterback. Which is almost impossible to do.

All of which led Howie Roseman to make the franchise-altering decision that the Eagles had to do anything possible, no matter how drastic, no matter how extreme, to get that guy and turn the franchise over to him.

That realization, that organizational decision and the series of trades that landed Wentz in Philadelphia guaranteed that the Eagles would have quarterback stability and a chance for sustained success for the foreseeable future.

Just by starting 25 games in a row, Wentz has done something no Eagles QB had done since McNabb started 31 straight from opening day 2003 through Week 15 of 2004. With the No. 1 seed locked up, he didn't play the last week of the season.

McNabb started 51 straight games from midway through 1999, when he replaced Doug Pederson, through Week 10 of 2002, when he broke his ankle against the Cards (but threw four touchdowns anyway).

And along with those two McNabb streaks and streaks by Ron Jaworski and Randall Cunningham, Wentz's run of 25 starts is already the Eagles' fifth-longest since Norm Van Brocklin started 36 straight from 1958 through 1960.

You've probably already picked up on the fact that the Eagles' greatest periods of success in the NFL's modern era — the 1960 championship and the 1980 and 2004 Super Bowl appearances — just happen to coincide with periods of tremendous quarterback stability.

And maybe very soon we can add another era to that list.

Just by being out there every Sunday, Wentz has separated himself from most quarterbacks in the NFL.

Of the 12 QBs who've started every game since opening day last year, only six have a career winning record. And of those six, only Wentz and Dak Prescott — both 24 — are under 28.

They'll meet for the third time Sunday night in Dallas, and whatever happens, both franchises are in good hands for the foreseeable future.

For the Eagles, these are heady days. Wentz is having an MVP season and Roseman and Joe Douglas have surrounded him with a deep and talented roster.

An entire generation of quarterbacks — Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers, Eli Manning, Drew Brees, Carson Palmer — will be retiring in the next few years. And most of the young QBs lining up to replace them are unproven. Even guys like Kirk Cousins, Matthew Stafford, Cam Newton and Russell Wilson will be in their mid-30s in five years.

How many NFL teams know who their quarterback will be in, let's say, 2023? The Texans with Deshaun Watson, the Rams with Jared Goff, Marcus Mariota in Tennessee and probably Jameis Winston in Tampa. And the Eagles and Cowboys. Anybody else?

Most NFL teams are in a constant search for that elite quarterback. Not around here. Not anymore.

The most important question facing almost every NFL team is one the Eagles won't have to even think about for a decade.