With training camp less than one month away, Chip Kelly and his staff will have their hands full trying to find a winner of various positional battles. On a defense that is still in the rebuilding process, there are plenty of opportunities for rookies and second year players to gain a starting job. With a strong influx of rookies coming into the picture, unproven vets such as Brandon Graham, Nate Allen, and Curtis Marsh could find themselves out of a job come training camp’s end. Those are just a few players who have something on the line this summer.
Let’s focus now on the top three positional battles for your Philadelphia Eagles at Training Camp 2014.
1. Nate Allen
2. Earl Wolff
3. Keelan Johnson
(Don’t rule out Ed Reynolds.)
Strong safety has been a curse for the Eagles in recent memory and that very well may carry into 2014. The strong safety position will provide for a great competition given that Nate Allen has failed to prove himself in years past. Earl Wolff has shown signs of promise yet he has also shown that he has durability issues and Keelan Johnson will most likely be a special teams player if he makes the final 53-man roster. The Eagles failed to address this position in free agency and the draft which shows that Chip Kelly and Billy Davis have confidence in their group of safeties. Look for Ed Reynolds to get some work in at this position during camp, and don’t get too excited about any of these candidates starting. Youth at this position could be a problem waiting to happen. Andy Reid tried to throw younger safeties in and it failed miserably (Quentin Demps and Macho Harris). I expect either Earl Wolff or Ed Reynolds to be the starter here week one because of the fact that Nate Allen has failed to live up to his potential and will do so again. The Eagles need to move in a different direction at strong safety, and I believe that training camp is the time to do so.
1. Lane Johnson (Suspended for 4 games for using PEDs.)
2. Dennis Kelly
3. Michael Bamiro
Based off of the depth chart under Lane Johnson, there is a serious problem at this position through week four. If you expect Dennis Kelly or Michael Bamiro to make an impact during Johnson’s absence, you need to look back at film from the 2012-2013 season. With that being said, Allen Barbre, a seven-year NFL vet whom the Eagles just signed to a three-year extension, will be expected to fill in and make it seem like Lane Johnson never left. Extensions for a backup offensive tackle are rare. The Eagles clearly believe in Barbre which may give him a leg up on the competition. Barbre is very confident in his abilities as well. He has been quoted as saying “I want to start.”. Now obviously everyone wants to start, but Barbre implied that he was confident enough to take the starting right guard spot from veteran Todd Herremans. Barbre is a very versatile lineman who can play at both guard and tackle. As he is not listed on the depth chart at RT at the moment, he will be come the start of the preseason. Expect Barbre to beat out Kelly and Bamiro in my second most intriguing camp positional battle.
Right Outside Linebacker
1. Trent Cole
2. Marcus Smith
3. Brandon Graham
This position might as well be a two-man competition between Cole and Smith. The deciding factor for this spot will be whether or not Trent Cole can be as versatile as Marcus Smith on the edge. Cole is getting older and like all football players, the moment and quickness goes with age. Marcus Smith has been praised as being extremely versatile as a “do-it-all” linebacker. Cole still has some productivity left in him, but he not a 3-down linebacker. Marcus Smith can come in and provide possibly a better pass rush than Cole and better coverage ability. I expect Smith to be the starter week 1, barring any setbacks or learning struggles. All that aside, I still think Trent Cole will see some significant time on the field this season in some “different” defensive packages. We all know how creative this staff can be, and I wouldn’t doubt that Davis and Kelly find a spot for Cole somewhere in a new blitz package.
In 22 days we will see who the main candidates are to win starting jobs in these battles as Eagles training camp kicks off on July 25th at the NovaCare Complex.