Eagles Wake-Up Call: What We’re Watching At OTAs

We will get our eyes on a Chip Kelly practice for the first time today, as the Eagles kick off OTAs at 10:40 a.m.

Rookies who got their first taste of Kelly’s up-tempo style over the weekend couldn’t help but comment on  just how fast-paced it is. You could tell some were caught off guard. Now, with the room still spinning, they’ll be thrown in with the veterans to compete for a roster spot — or in some instances, a starting job.

“I advise you guys not to blink,” said Jeremy Maclin on what to expect today. “It’s going to be fast. It’s going to be a lot of guys flying around. I think you’ll see a bunch of people in different positions. That’s the joy of this offense. I can play every position on the field.”

Here are three specific things we’ll be honing in on, assuming we can make sense of the blur:

Lane Johnson and the offensive line

It is possible that when the Eagles open play a little less than four months from now, Johnson could go from “raw athlete with upside” to “protector of Michael Vick‘s blindside.” The No. 4 overall pick admitted that he has thought about that, but is trying to concentrate on the day-to-day proceedings, believing that if he puts in the work good things will happen. There is much work to be done.

Johnson noted that at Oklahoma, he “got away with just athletic ability.” Now he is studying under former Alabama offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland, who is big on the technical aspect of the position.

“I just think you have to be more refined. You  are going against the best of the best now, you’re not going against any scrubs any more,” said Johnson. “You have to be kind of perfect in what you’re doing or else you’re going to get beat.”

The O-line will not be at full-throttle to start. Evan Mathis will be sidelined following surgery to clean out his ankle. Jason Kelce  (torn MCL, partially torn ACL) was hoping to be ready for OTAs when we talked to him in late March. We’ll see if he takes the field. Todd Herremans (dislocated foot) and Jason Peters (ruptured Achilles) are also coming off injuries but are expected to participate. How will they look? And can this unit overcome all the obstacle to evolve into a stabilizing force?

Quarterback competition

Maclin revealed that Vick is getting most of the reps with the first team, but it’s too early to declare him the victor. This is our first chance to see how fluidly Vick, Nick Foles, Matt Barkley and even Dennis Dixon (who apparently has looked sharp early) operate in Kelly’s system.

I’m particularly curious about the read option element. Just how prevalent is it? Are Barkley and Foles asked to regularly run it, or does the look of the offense change when they are under center? Does one QB look like more of a natural fit than the other? And will Barkley flex his muscles early on?

Secondary shuffle

It’s entirely plausible that the Eagles have four new starters in the secondary this year. This is a pretty unique situation, and it should make for some quality theater over the coming weeks.

What pairing at corner and safety is Kelly favoring in the early going? Does Kenny Phillips look healthy? Is Nate Allen ready to put up a fight? Can rookies Earl Wolff and Jordan Poyer make a push for playing time?

So many unknowns. So much to watch this spring, starting today.

WHAT YOU MISSED

 Maclin helps kids with a Mother’s Day surprise.

Receiver Ifeanyi Momah is confident he can grow in this offense.

Russell Shepard is looking to put his early blunder behind him.

Sheil introduces us to the Eagles’ bad-boy punter. 

Barkley is ready to compete against Vick and Foles.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

Chris Burke of SI.com has a list of position battles to watch. He is interested to see how it plays out between Connor Barwin, Trent Cole and Brandon Graham.

Two of these three guys should start outside in the Eagles’ 3-4 defense. But who’s going to be the odd man out? Cole started 16 games for the Eagles last year, while Graham stepped in and delivered 5.5 sacks after inheriting a starting role late. Despite those numbers, Philadelphia still went out and handed $36 million to Barwin in free agency, a hint that the front office did not want to rely on the Cole-Graham combo.

Jeff McLane believes Barkley has a chance to start this season.

History says fourth-round quarterbacks hardly ever start in the NFL, let alone as rookies. But the NFL is evolving and in certain segments becoming more like the college game than vice versa. And there’s something about the Great Kelly Unknown that suggests anything is possible.

There are some pertinent reasons to support Barkley’s candidacy, among them his decision-making, accuracy, and moxie. There is also his competition, two capable but hardly insurmountable quarterbacks who have yet to put their stamp on the position.

COMING UP 

OTAs kick off  this morning. The coach will address the media afterwards.

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