Eagles Wake-Up Call: 5 Players With the Most To Lose

Nick FolesLet’s face it, there are a ton of guys on this roster that will be fighting for something on Thursday night. New coach, new schemes, no favorites. Depth chart written in sand, etc. That’s part of what makes this Eagles preseason so interesting.

Some have more riding on tonight’s tilt against the Panthers than others. Here are the five with the most to gain/lose, in one man’s humble opinion:

Nick Foles

Both quarterbacks played well against the Patriots, though you would have to give Round 1 to Michael Vick. Foles will start against Carolina and has the opportunity to turn the heat up in this quarterback competition.

Chip Kelly will not rush his decision, but there is an advantage to having a starting quarterback named prior to the third preseason game. That is the dress rehearsal; it can only benefit the first unit if the leader is in place for it.

If Vick outshines Foles against the Panthers, there is a chance that Kelly makes up his mind sooner rather than later.

Clay Harbor

The first three tight end slots are spoken for. If Kelly chooses to only keep three, Harbor doesn’t have a real chance of beating out Brent Celek, James Casey or Zach Ertz. Fortunately for the former fourth-round pick, the new head coach is tight-end centric. That means Harbor still has a shot to make it. But it’s no lock. The Missouri State grad had three grabs for 47 yards against the Pats. Another showing like that, and he may convince Kelly to carry four tight ends. (And no, I don’t think he makes it as a receiver.)

Russell Shepard

Shepard, aka Sheil’s camp crush, had a real strong start to the summer. He has cooled of late. Meanwhile, Greg Salas has really come on. He led the Eagles with three catches for 54 yards and a touchdown against New England and has had a strong showing on the NovaCare practice fields as well. Right now DeSean Jackson, Riley Cooper, Jason Avant and Damaris Johnson are the top four receivers. If the Eagles decide to keep six , Shepard and Salas can both make it. If they go with five, they need to choose one, and Salas appears to be ahead.

Clifton Geathers

The 6-8, 340-pound d-lineman seems to have the coaching staff intrigued, but intrigue will only take you so far. With the likes of Bennie Logan, Damion Square and Vinny Curry coming on strong, defensive line spots will be at a premium. Geathers needs to prove he belongs.

Earl Wolff

The rookie safety ran with ones some this week. Defensive coordinator Billy Davis would not be opposed if Wolff rose up and snatched one of the starting safety jobs. This is his chance to prove that he deserves legitimate consideration.

WHAT YOU MISSED

Vick, through the eyes of his brother Marcus.

Kapadia, after a thorough defeat last year, attempts to predict the 53-man roster.

Kelly is expecting Jason Kelce to lead the offensive line.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

Kent Babb of the Washington Post wonders how successful Kelly’s up-tempo approach will be without an elite QB.

It was successful in New England, which had 92 offensive snaps in a December 2012 game, because Tom Brady is the league’s best quarterback. Without an elite passer, can Kelly lead a proper revolution?

When the league watches, deciding whether to copy the trend, coaches and executives will look first at the quarterbacks. After all, this is what these innovations are meant for: A way into the postseason for teams without one of the NFL’s best dozen passers. Kelly has a quarterback problem — Vick is 33 and injury prone, Nick Foles lacks mobility, and Matt Barkley is a rookie — so the spotlight will be on how teachable his offense can be.

The Eagles  are the seventh most valuable team in the NFL at $1.3 billion, according to Forbes. The top 6? Cowboys (2.3), Patriots (1.8), Redskins (1.7), Giants (1.55), Texans (1.45) and the Jets (1.38).

The NFL’s 32 teams are worth, on average, $1.17 billion, 5% more than last year. The Cleveland Browns, a lousy team for years in a midsize market, sold for almost $1 billion last year.

In contrast, the world’s top 20 soccer teams have a mean value of $968 million. The average worth of Major League Baseball’s 30 teams is $744 million. And average values for the National Basketball Association and National Hockey League, also each with 30 teams, are $509 million and $282 million, respectively.

COMING UP

Game day. Eagles-Panthers, 7:30 from the Linc. We’ll get you ready.

Eagles Wake-Up Call: Davis Breaks Down the Breakdown

The Eagles’ defense tried its new 3-4 scheme on for size Friday evening, and learned that it’s not yet ready for prime time. That was evident on the first play from scrimmage — a 62-yard run up the gut from New England’s Stevan Ridley. 

On the play, Fletcher Cox was steamrolled by Nate Solder and found himself watching the play unfold from his back. DeMeco Ryans  over-pursued and was sealed off by Logan Mankins, giving Ridley a gigantic hole to scamper through. Nate Allen, the last line of defense between the Patriots and a big play, took a bad angle. Ridley was off to the races.

When the dust settled, the Patriots had racked up 248 yards on the ground on 31 rushes (8 yards/carry).

“We went in there knowing that whatever it was, however we played defensively was going to be a true indicator of where we are today at this point in time,” said defensive coordinator Billy Davis. ” We would have hoped that it would look better than it looked.  I was hoping to be further along at this point, but the film is the truth.  The game tells you everything you need to know about where we are.”

Where they are is in the middle of a major transition. Several members of this defense, drafted to play in the 4-3, are learning a new scheme on the fly. And while they have been showing signs of progress in a more controlled setting, things changed on game day.

“Our practices are looking pretty solid and the techniques used.  When the speed and the bright lights come on, sometimes we take a step back, and I believe that’s what happened the other night,” said Davis.  “It’s about the guys being able to execute the defense they’re trying.  And they’ve been practicing it well.  In the game, they reverted back a little bit.  And some of the break downs happened from those, and we’re all over it right now.  In practice, we’ll tighten it back, peel it back, if we have to.  We’ll play as many defenses as we can play well, and I’ll throw the rest out.”

Patience will be a virtue when it comes to this group, which has a ways to go in its journey towards self-discovery.

Friday’s outing did provide promise in some respects. The young defensive linemen — Vinny Curry, Bennie Logan, Damion Square — stood out. Davis found that this group was able to play the techniques that were asked of them. That has to be encouraging.

And Davis was positive when talking about Brandon Graham and Trent Cole, who are making the switch from defensive end to outside linebacker.

“They’re doing good, they really are,” he said. “They’re two grown men going forward, and their drops were pretty solid the other night. It was a good night for them. There wasn’t anything where they dropped in coverage and it was a liability.”

And so the experimenting continues. Davis will try out this look and that as he attempts to understand his group’s strengths and limitations. Meanwhile, the calendar tells us we’re less than a month away from the opener. Tick-tock goes the clock.

“I have a lot left to figure out about the car I’m driving here and how it fits, what it does well and what it doesn’t.  I’ve got some learning to do with the personnel and we’re growing it in the right direction,” said Davis. “It wasn’t the start we were looking for, but we’ve got another chance Thursday night to take a step forward.”

WHAT YOU MISSED

Chip Kelly trades for one of his former Oregon receivers.

The sights and sounds of camp in Sheil’s latest running diary.

Earl Wolff ran with the ones at Monday’s practice.

Kelly knew what he was getting in Cary Williams.

Lane Johnson draws high marks from Kelly.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

Chris Brown of Grantland provides a very detailed look at Kelly’s first preseason game in the NFL. His conclusion?

While there were clear differences from what Kelly’s system looked like at Oregon, his Eagles offense looked a lot more like the Ducks offense than I ever anticipated.

…Michael Vick may have said the Eagles only used about “a third” of their total scheme, but what Philadelphia did was show a lot about how Kelly and his staff will approach bringing his offense to the NFL. More than anything else, Kelly showed that he’s not leaving behind what worked for him at Oregon.

Good read.

Peter King catches up with a revitalized Andy Reid in Kansas City.

 For one thing, though he won’t say it, it’s clear that he’s happy to have a GM like John Dorsey in his corner, because he clearly was tired of refereeing the front-office skirmishes that quietly characterized the last two or three years in Philadelphia. He just wanted to coach. And here, he’s basically just handed all personnel decisions to Dorsey. You know how most coaches are dying to buy the groceries? Well, after a few personnel debacles in Philadelphia (the Dream Team fiasco, mostly) and the front-office in-fighting between what used to be a tight band of brothers, Reid’s happy to be a personnel consultant and leave the heavy lifting to Dorsey.

“When I got into coaching a long time ago,” he said, sitting on the RA’s couch in the Spartan room an hour north of Kansas City, “I got into it to coach. That’s the fun part of the game to me. Now I’m able to do it again—all of it. The hands-on coaching at practice, the install [installation of plays and the gameplan], and to call the plays.”

COMING UP

Practice at NovaCare begins at 12:30. We’ll have it covered for you.

Eagles Wake-Up Call: Johnson Draws High Marks From Kelly

Lane Johnson has spent the past three-plus months fine-tuning his technique and preparing for life as an NFL offensive tackle.

Friday night was the first chance to see how he measured up. And the Eagles’ No. 4 pick produced impressive results.

“I thought Lane did a real nice job, especially in a first game,” Chip Kelly said. “Very consistent. He may have been our most consistent offensive lineman, the way Coach [Jeff] Stoutland graded it out. Knew exactly what he was doing, didn’t have any mental errors, plays with great effort. He’s always trying to make the extra play and play until the whistle.”

According to Pro Football Focus, Johnson played 21 snaps: 13 in pass protection, eight as a run-blocker. The key with him in Year 1 is getting the elite athleticism to show up on the field.

For example, take a look at this Chris Polk 4-yard run in the first. Johnson starts off double-teaming a defender with Brent Celek:

johnson2a

But he then peels off and looks for a defensive back to hit.

johnson2b

And even though Polk is being brought down behind him, Johnson shows off his athleticism, getting his hands on a defensive back at the next level.

johnson2c

Not bad for the 23-year-old.

“His first game, he didn’t really stick out like a rookie – in a good way,” Kelly said. “Sometimes I think they stick out as rookies in a poor way where they’re going in the wrong direction or they’re kind of caught up in it. But I don’t think he was by any stretch…”

Johnson missed Sunday’s practice to be with his family, following the birth of his son. But according to Adam Caplan, he’ll fly back to Philadelphia today and start preparation for Thursday night’s matchup against the Panthers.

It’s only one preseason game. But so far, so good for the Eagles’ first-round pick.

WHAT YOU MISSED

Cary Williams doesn’t seem to agree with all of Kelly’s methods, saying the Patriots played dirty during practice last week and adding that he’s trying to bring some “nasty” to the Eagles’ defense. T-Mac has the full rundown.

Sunday’s practice notes and observations include Clay Harbor making the switch to wide receiver.

A position-by-position game review of the Eagles’ offense.

And the defense as well.

Matt Barkley’s play picked up with the pace, writes McManus.

The Eagles’ offense includes “packaged plays” that have run/pass options. We show what we mean with the TV tape.

At least one Eagles defender thinks the team could benefit from more tackling at practice.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

Rich Hofmann of the Daily News says this is Michael Vick’s job to lose:

The difference? Some of this can be measured with a stopwatch but a lot of it is just a feel, an impression. And the sense you get is that when Vick is in the game, he supplies most of the offensive dynamism while, when Foles is in the game, he seems to be more of a facilitator and it is the offense itself that supplies the dynamism. That is one night’s take. Whether or not Chip Kelly shares it is unknown, as is what it all might mean over time. But in the here and now, this is Michael Vick’s job to lose.

Tommy Lawlor of Iggles Blitz always does a thorough job with his game reviews. Here are his thoughts on left tackle Allen Barbre:

Looked more natural as run blocker than pass blocker. Did a solid job on initial 3rd down, but still gave more ground than you would like. Must engage defenders and control them. Doesn’t have great feet, but used his hands well at times. Got beaten on 3rd/11 by RDE using a spin move on him to the inside. Made a poor block attempt on the pass play where Foles had the ball knocked out of his hand. Never got his hands cleanly on the DE.

COMING UP

Practice back at the NovaCare Complex. We’ll have you covered.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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Eagles Wake-Up Call: Matt Barkley Gets His Chance

Matt Barkley 1Chip Kelly suggested at the beginning of training camp that Matt Barkley would have an opportunity to win the starting job. To this point, though, it sure has looked like a two-man race, with all of the first-team reps going to Nick Foles and Michael Vick.

“Camp’s not over,” Kelly said. “You’ll see a lot of him on Friday night [against the Patriots].  Camp is not over.”

The carrot, then, still dangles in front of the rookie signal-caller.

Vick and Foles will alternate series in the first quarter. The plan is to then hand it over to Barkley for the second and third quarters. He’ll have more snaps on tape than any of his competitors by the end of the night.

“I think it will be an exciting time. I think it will be electric there in that stadium,” said Barkley. “It’s an opportunity. And I think it’s how you handle that, what you do with that opportunity — whether you take advantage or you flush it down the drain.”

Do you think you’ll learn a lot about yourself in this first game?

“Hopefully I don’t learn a lot about myself. I know who I am, I know what I am capable of. I don’t think there will be any surprises.”

The Eagles seem generally pleased with Barkley’s performance in camp to date. He appears to have a good grasp of the offense. The 22-year-old hasn’t had many “wow” moments, but that can partly be because he is not throwing to many “wow” receivers. Barkley has acknowledged that working with lesser talent can be a challenge when his competition is blessed with more skilled players.

The USC grad was asked if he feels he is every bit as good as Vick and Foles.

“I feel like I can complete the ball and move the ball and put this team in scoring positions,” he said. “I think you are just waiting for that opportunity.”

He gets one tonight.

WHAT YOU MISSED

Biggest surprises and disappointments of camp? I give my take in the latest Twitter Mailbag.

Sheil examines the state of the Eagles’ offense.

Vick will start Friday, but he’ll be splitting first-team reps.

Three things we’ve learned at camp, from Mr. Kapadia.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

Brandon Boykin is hoping to find a permanent home on the outside. From Reuben Frank.

“Outside corner, that’s where the big plays are made,” he said after practice Thursday. “The interceptions, the deep balls, stuff like that. That’s where you want to be.”…

“In college, I never came off the field, and that’s what I kind of what I wanted to carry over into the league, and I think this is a good first step to that.

“A guy like me really always wants to be on the field every play, so if I can prove myself outside maybe I can do both.”

Rob Maaddi says NFL teams are trending towards no tackling at camp, and gets some former Eagles to chime in on Kelly’s decision to limit the hitting. Sounds like Andy Reid is keeping his physical camps alive in Kansas City.

“You have to be a good tackling team,” Reid said. “Normally, good tackling teams end up playing late in the year — or I guess, early in the year.”

That philosophy didn’t work for Reid last year when the Eagles finished 4-12 and had one of the worst tackling defenses in recent history. But Reid’s teams went to the playoffs nine times and he usually had them playing their best football late in the season.

“It’s football, so you’re going to get hit,” Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles said. “I think we need to get hit as early as possible. We don’t need to wait until the last minute to get hit. I think it’s good.”

COMING UP

How about some football? Eagles-Patriots from the Linc at 7:30. We’ll be there.

Eagles Wake-Up Call: Three Things We’ve Learned At Camp

Chris PolkThe Eagles will have a walk-through today with the Patriots, but for all intents and purposes, the first wave of training camp is over.

Eleven full-squad practices, each running a little more than two hours. That means plenty of film for the coaches to evaluate as they prepare for Friday night’s preseason game.

Keeping that in mind, here are three things we’ve learned so far on the practice fields:

1. Chris Polk is in the mix for the No. 2 RB job.

Going into camp, I thought the first two spots were accounted for with LeSean McCoy and Bryce Brown. I also thought Polk would be on the roster bubble, fighting for a job.

But the second-year running back has been impressive. Back in June, Polk said he shed 15 pounds and was down to 215. And it’s shown. He’s reeled off big runs on a daily basis, can catch the ball out of the backfield and is the Eagles’ best blocking back.

Granted, there has been no tackling to the ground, and Polk will need to prove himself in games, but clearly, Chip Kelly and the coaches have taken notice. Kelly called Polk the most improved back on the roster earlier this week, and on Wednesday, with McCoy sidelined, Polk took the bulk of the first-team reps.

With the expectation being that the Eagles are going to rely on a heavy dose of the run game, Polk has a chance to steal carries away from Brown if he outplays him in the coming weeks.

2. The secondary is a giant question mark.

This might not really be something we “learned” since we knew it in the spring. But there was some thought that we’d get a clearer picture of what the defensive backfield might look like by this point in camp. That hasn’t happened.

Cary Williams didn’t show up for much of the spring. He was pulled on Tuesday after getting into a scuffle. And he has also been dealing with a hamstring injury that has kept him off the field. Bradley Fletcher, meanwhile, has not shown any consistency whatsoever. And Curtis Marsh got abused by the Patriots during Wednesday’s practice.

Brandon Boykin has been easily the Eagles’ best corner at camp. It looks like he’ll get a legitimate shot to start on the outside.

Safety might be the biggest mystery on the team. Patrick Chung will likely start at one spot, but even that’s no lock. Nate Allen, Kurt Coleman, Kenny Phillips, Earl Wolff, Colt Anderson and David Sims are all competing for playing time. But there’s been no clear separation from the pack during camp.

The faces are different, and so is the scheme. But there’s no guarantee that the results will be different for the Eagles’ defensive backs.

3. There’s no defined plan for Brandon Graham.

He was the Eagles’ best pass-rusher a year ago, but Graham’s role is very much a mystery. Most of his reps have come at left outside linebacker with the second team behind Connor Barwin. If there’s a way to get Barwin, Graham and Trent Cole on the field together, defensive coordinator Billy Davis has yet to unveil it.

Davis has maintained that he needs pads and live tackling to properly evaluate his players. But Graham has not looked comfortable dropping back into coverage.

Will Graham get a chance to consistently rush the passer? Will he play a prominent role in 2013? Those are questions that still need answers in the coming weeks.

WHAT YOU MISSED

Here is your running diary of practice observations from Wednesday’s session.

The secondary, minus Cary Williams, got lit up by Tom Brady.

A roundup of what the national media are saying about the Eagles.

T-Mac takes a look at the Eagles’ wide receiver options in free agency.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

Dick Vermeil weighs in on the QB situation, via Les Bowen of the Daily News:

Of course, Vermeil is 76 now and he isn’t coaching the Eagles, hasn’t in three decades. But he was watching Chip Kelly’s training camp practice with the Patriots Wednesday, and it was an obvious question to ask him. “It doesn’t make any difference what I think. I don’t see ‘em every day,” Vermeil said by way of disclaimer. “I’ve seen Michael Vick play a lot over the years, and I just kind of believe when it all boils down … if I were going to bet on it, I would bet on him.”

Tommy Lawlor of IgglesBlitz.com offers thoughts on Mychal Kendricks:

He can be a playmaking ILB. If you want to run a good 3-4, you need that. Brian Cushing, Houston. Lawrence Timmons, Pittsburgh. Both guys in SF. And so on. I think we all remember what a wrecking crew Daryl Washington was all by himself last September.

COMING UP

A light joint practice at 10:25. We’ll be there.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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Eagles Wake-Up Call: Free-Agent Wide Receiver Options

Arrelious BennThe Eagles are getting thin at wide receiver.

First, Jeremy Maclin goes down for the season with a torn ACL, then on Tuesday Arrelious Benn suffers the exact same fate.

As it stands, DeSean Jackson will be relying on Riley Cooper (assuming he is accepted back into the locker room), Jason Avant and Damaris Johnson to help him carry the load. The rest of the group — Nick Miller, Ifeanyi Momah, Will Murphy, Greg Salas and Russell Shepard — have a total of 31 NFL receptions between them. Salas has 27 of them.

When Maclin got hurt, the plan was to search in-house for answers. But the Eagles are running out of options, and will have to take a harder look at the wide receiver market.

“We went through a whole bunch of lists; got boards up,” said Tom Gamble last week. “You’re checking medical, you’re checking background, you’re doing your tape work, you’re making sure multiple people have seen guys. You kind of have that, you see what’s here, and we’re ready to go.

“Most of the guys that are out there have played at a high level, usually there’s a problem, an issue, a medical, something out there that you have to kind of work through.”

A look at the top 10 receivers on the market, per Adam Caplan, and the possible “issues” that the Eagles are working through with them. (Warning: This list isn’t terribly impressive.)

Brandon Lloyd
Age: 32
Height/Weight: 6-0, 200
Lowdown:  The 10-year vet had 74 catches for 911 yards and four touchdowns in New England last season. There are some character concerns. The Patriots reportedly got tired of his behavior in the locker room and the practice field last season.

Laurent Robinson
Age: 28
Height/Weight: 6-2, 205
Lowdown:  Recently had workouts with the Niners and Saints, per reports. Missed nine games with the Jaguars last season because of concussions. Had 54 grabs and scored 11 touchdowns for Dallas in 2011.

Donald Jones
Age: 25
Height/Weight: 6-0, 205
Lowdown: Released by the Patriots on July 19. Has reportedly worked out for a couple teams since being let go but has yet to sign. Had 41 catches for 443 yards and four scores for the Bills last season.

Randy Moss
Age: 36
Height/Weight: 6-4, 210
Lowdown: Had 28 catches and three touchdowns for the Niners last year. Little reason to believe he’ll end up here.

Deion Branch
Age: 34
Height/Weight: 5-9, 195
Lowdown: Had 16 catches in 10 games for New England last season.

Brandon Stokley
Age: 37
Height/Weight: 6-0, 194
Lowdown: Peyton Manning was pushing for the Broncos to re-sign Stokley back in April, but that didn’t happen. Had 45 grabs and scored five times for Denver last season.

Chad Johnson
Age: 35
Height/Weight: 6-1, 192
Lowdown: Has had some legal troubles of late and hasn’t seen regular-season action since 2011.

Jabar Gaffney
Age: 32
Height/Weight: 6-2, 200
Lowdown: Appeared in just three games for Miami last season. He battled some injuries and was also suspended by the NFL for two games.

Roscoe Parrish
Age: 31
Height/Weight: 5-9, 175
Lowdown: Served as a kick and punt returner for Tampa last season. Had no catches.

Brandon Banks
Age: 25
Height/Weight: 5-7, 155
Lowdown: Spent the last three years in Washington. Has 11 career receptions. Also a kick/punt returner.

WHAT YOU MISSED

Great practice observations from Sheil, as always.

More details on Benn’s injury.

Cary Williams mixed it up with a Patriots receiver, and was promptly benched.

Teammates react to Cooper’s return. The receiver hopes he is here to stay.

Some depth chart analysis, courtesy of Mr. Kapadia.

The regular season will be here soon. Arm yourself with the Eagles Almanac.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

Ashley Fox gives her thoughts on Cooper’s return.

It was risky for Chip Kelly to decide to bring Cooper back, and ultimately, in time, after the inevitable adversity of the regular season hits, it could prove to be foolish. The players can say what they want now, about how they forgive and can move on for the greater good of the team, but wait and see how they feel in October if the team comes off a three-game road trip and is looking at a 1-5 record. Some players can be happy that Cooper caught a “touchdown” pass in a joint practice with the New England Patriots on Tuesday, but what happens if he shrinks in the spotlight of a regular-season game in a starting role he has never been able to earn and has been given only after the man in front him (Jeremy Maclin) went down with an injury?

Then we’ll know. Then the real feelings will come out. That time is bound to come, and then we’ll know for sure how black players really feel about a white teammate calling another black man the N-word when he thought no one except his white friends was looking.

Bill Belichick sings the praises of Kelly. From Reuben Frank.

“I have so much respect for Chip [Kelly] and what he’s done,” Belichick said. “We’ve been friends for a while and I know he does a great job with this football team and the program that he’s run in Oregon.

“He’s a very innovative, creative guy. He’s got a great mind, he’s smart, and I think he’ll take advantage of whatever resources he can. We’ll see what that is. I’m sure he’ll give us plenty of trouble.”

Former Eagles owner Jerry Wolman has died.

COMING UP

Another practice with the Patriots at 12:30. I think today’s the day Kapadia gets up the courage to shake Tom Brady’s hand.

Eagles Wake-Up Call: Answering 3 Popular Questions

We have been receiving lots of questions about the goings-on at training camp. Some questions we get more than others. Here is our best attempt to answer three that seem to pop up the most:

WHO IS WINNING THE QUARTERBACK BATTLE?

I would give a slight edge to Michael Vick.

Truth is, no quarterback has truly separated himself. Oftentimes Vick looks good one day, Nick Foles the next.

“When you go through it and you’re going as many times and as many evaluations, there is an up day and a down day, an up day and a down day,” said Chip Kelly. “So who consistently over the time has played at the highest level?”

At least from this vantage point, Vick has been a little more consistent ever since the pads came on (and the windows got tighter) last week. He had arguably his best day on Sunday, even if he did hit those fly-swatter contraptions twice during 7-on-7’s.  But Foles has had his moments as well. It’s close.

Vick has a few things going for him if a tiebreaker is needed. For one, he is a running threat. Kelly doesn’t need to run the read-option but, judging by the amount the team practices it on a given day, he sure wouldn’t mind it. Second, Vick is a team leader. That’s obviously a big part of the position. And third, he has a wealth of experience. If Kelly is only concerned with winning and winning now (and all signs suggest that is the case) he has reason enough to go with Vick.

But this competition remains open, and preseason performance is going to weigh heavily into Kelly’s final decision.

HOW DOES IFEANYI MOMAH LOOK?

My God, do Philadelphians love them a tall wide receiver. I have been asked about Momah more than just about anyone on the roster. He is a favorite of the fans at practice as well.

“Man, look at 80! I hope he makes it. That’s what we need.”

Hard not to be impressed with his measurables (6-7, 4.39 40) but they only matter if he uses that size and plays fast. So far, that hasn’t been the case.

“I think with all young players or with all players when they’re thinking too much…I don’t think they’re running as fast.  So if their head is moving and they’re a little confused then their feet don’t move as fast,” said Kelly. “When Mo knows exactly what he’s doing, he can cut it loose a little bit.”

Momah hasn’t played competitive ball since 2011, so it’s understandable if he’s feeling his way through all this early on. He hasn’t been able to separate from defenders much and overall hasn’t really flashed. He had his best practice on Friday, as Sheil pointed out, so maybe he is starting to get more comfortable. He’ll need to impress in these preseason games if he wants to solidify a roster spot.

WHO’S GOING TO BE THE NO. 3 RUNNING BACK?

This position is tough to evaluate in a tackle-free environment, but I will say that Chris Polk has stood out. He looks quick and explosive.

Felix Jones has blended into the scenery for me. Matthew Tucker looks like he has decent agility but I’d imagine he’s facing some pretty long odds, especially after failing his pre-camp conditioning test.

Right now I would give it to Polk. But let’s see how each of the backs look in the preseason games.

WHAT YOU MISSED

Kapadia may or may not have been threatened by a large defensive lineman. Details in his practice diary.

How the Atlanta Braves helped Kelly with his special teams.

Dan Reeves says “Mike Vick can handle any situation or any system mentally or physically.”

Sheil takes a look at the state of the wide receiver position.

WHAT  THEY’RE SAYING

Sam Farmer has a good piece on Matt Barkley, who definitely isn’t used to the position he is in.

“There is kind of an unspoken depth chart that hasn’t moved yet,” Barkley said after a recent practice. “It’s kind of rough battling that.”

Although it’s not unusual for a rookie to start at the bottom rung, especially a fourth-round draft pick, Barkley isn’t accustomed to anything but the first team. He started all four years at Mater Dei High, then did the same at USC. So this is a new experience, getting accustomed to the NFL, to first-year Eagles Coach Chip Kelly and to waiting in line.

“With Pete [Carroll, then USC’s coach], it wasn’t like it was given to me,” he said. “He throws you in with the 1s. ‘Let’s see what you can do.’ So I was kind of thinking that would be the same here, at least to get a shot just to see what you could do. But that hasn’t been the case yet, so hopefully that will come soon. It’s just different.”

Peter King was at practice Sunday. He seems pretty high on Vick and the Birds.

COMING UP

Practice at the Linc today. A 12:30 start time.

Eagles Wake-Up Call: Matt Barkley Faces New Challenges

Matt Barkley conceded that Wednesday’s outing was “a little rough.” There were some obvious growing pains as Chip Kelly had the offense working on the two-minute drill and red-zone situations.

More Barkley passes seem to be hitting the ground now compared to earlier in the camp when the team was still in shorts.

The fourth-round pick is working uphill as he fights for the starting job against Nick Foles and Michael Vick. Even more so perhaps because he is working with less talented skill position players overall.

Barkley was asked: Is it difficult to show your best if you don’t get a chance to run with the top dogs in practice?

“I think at times it is,” Barkley said. “But I’m not looking at numbers. I’m not looking at the results. I’m focusing on accuracy and ball placement on drills, and the overall running of the offense — making sure guys are lined up and that we’re running the right plays. Sometimes matchups aren’t going to be what you want,  as opposed to throwing it to DeSean [Jackson] down the sideline, but I think it makes it more of a challenge for me when I’m out there because the windows are tighter and you have to kind of put the ball more in a precise place with those receivers. So hopefully if I do get the chance to get with the ones and those guys it will be beneficial.”

Will he get that opportunity to run with the first team at some point?

“I haven’t heard anything,” he said before the question was fully out.

“I wake up every day just planning on doing my best wherever they put me. You don’t want to be that kid whining about reps.”

This is all new for Barkley, who started all four years both at the high school and collegiate level. He is used to being with the ones; accustomed to being the man. Now, he faces the possibility of being as low as third on the depth chart.

“I don’t know what it would be like — I couldn’t tell you,” he said.  “I’ll just have to deal with it if it happens and learn.”

Barkley’s confidence remains intact, and the goal for him is still to capture the Week 1 starting job. That is a bit of a longshot, though the coaching staff remains bullish on the USC grad.

 “He eats the game up.  He lives it and breathes it.  He’s in here early.  He’s always wanting to watch film, always wanting to get better,” said Kelly.

 “I think to have a young guy that has that type of experience and also match that with an insatiable taste for the game, I think it’s a great combination.  He’s been outstanding so far.”

WHAT YOU MISSED

Vick says that the team has forgiven Riley Cooper.

Observations from Wednesday’s practice, courtesy of Mr. Kapadia.

Kelly says the team will play by the NFL’s up-tempo rules. 

Jason Peters left practice early with a hamstring strain.

Jason Kelce says that sports science played a big part in his recovery from a serious knee injury.

Kelly, Bill Belichick sketch out a plan for practice.

Cooper is fined for his racist remarks at a Kenny Chesney concert.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

Chesney himself reacted to the Cooper video. From ESPN:

“I’m as shocked as anyone to see the video of Riley Cooper that’s started circulating on the internet. I don’t believe in discrimination in any form, and I think using language like that is not only unacceptable, it is hateful beyond words,” Chesney told Granderson.

“I don’t know everything about every player who comes to our shows. We invite the teams in the places where we play, and I’ve found the guys from the NFL are some of the most inspiring people I meet all year. They give back to their communities, work with children, hospitals and various charities, as well as raising awesome families.

“To judge an entire audience by one loud mouth isn’t fair … not to the NFL, not to the city of Philadelphia and that awesome crowd, not to my band and crew and certainly not to me, who believes music is about bringing people together for friendship and forgetting about the things in life that bring you down.

Phil Sheridan believes a harsher punishment from the Eagles is in order.

A suspension would have been more appropriate. Releasing Cooper from the team would have been within reason. The message would be clear, that racism simply is not tolerated by the Eagles or the NFL. Now the message is that racism will cost you a few bucks.

That’s not good enough, and it won’t be good enough for the waves of angry fans and media commentators who are about to crash down on this franchise. It shouldn’t be good enough.

COMING UP

Never a dull moment, right? Practice at 12:30. We’ll have you covered all day.

Eagles Wake-Up Call: Cooper Gets His Shot

Riley Cooper finds himself in a difficult spot that is all too familiar to NFL players.

On one hand, he just witnessed his good friend Jeremy Maclin go down with a torn ACL, ending his season. Cooper said he “almost shed a tear” for his fellow wide receiver on the practice field Saturday.

But as is always the case in football, it’s next man up. And that means Cooper, entering his fourth NFL season, will get a chance to earn significant playing time in Maclin’s place.

“Last year I started the last four or five games,” Cooper said Sunday. “I just want to start where I left off last year. I feel like I had my best year yet.

“I got targeted 3-for-3 in the red zone, three touchdowns. It felt like I had a pretty good end of the year, so I’m gonna play that way for hopefully the whole season.”

Cooper got a chance for significant playing time last year. As we mentioned over the weekend, he played at least 70 percent of the snaps in each of the Eagles’ final seven games. During that stretch, Cooper produced 19 catches for 206 yards. Over the course of a 16-game season, that projects to a pedestrian 43 catches and 471 yards.

He had a catch rate (receptions divided targets) of 49 percent, per Football Outsiders and only averaged 10.8 yards per catch. But the one area where Cooper did have success, as he pointed out, was the red zone. Cooper had four catches (three touchdowns) inside the opponents’ 20. DeSean Jackson, Jason Avant and Damaris Johnson combined for three catches and one touchdown.

Cooper now is hoping the change in offensive scheme will fit his skill set.

“It’s just a totally different style of play, as you can see,” he said. “All y’all were out there. You saw the tempo. You saw our routes. Our routes are different than a typical West Coast system. Everything’s just different.”

Part of the difference is an added emphasis on blocking, both in the run game and on screens.

“That’s perfect for me,” Cooper said. “I love that. 6-4, 230, you better be able to block. So that’s one of my strengths and I love doing it.”

During Sunday’s practice, Cooper saw a lot of time with the first team opposite Jackson. Damaris Johnson, Arrelious Benn and perhaps others will be in the mix too. But Cooper has a chance in the coming weeks to earn a bigger role than he’s had in his first three seasons.

WHAT YOU MISSED

Here’s the running diary of Eagles practice observations from Sunday.

T-Mac has camp notes, which include Jeremy Maclin revisiting the moment he got injured.

Howie Roseman indicated that the Eagles would fill the Maclin void internally.

A full rundown of the candidates available to replace Maclin.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

Jimmy Kempski has his practice notes posted on Philly.com:

It’s time to start paying attention to OLB Chris McCoy. He had a PBU today and looks a lot more comfortable in coverage than Trent Cole and Brandon Graham. McCoy looks like a legitimate threat to grab a roster spot.

Dan Graziano of ESPN.com takes a look at the impact of the Maclin injury:

But this is not a problem the Eagles are likely to be able to solve with volume — or with Cooper. Maclin is more proven than any of the guys on that list. He has high-end, first-round-pick talent. He was entering 2013 with contract-season motivation. There is no one on the current roster who can seamlessly step in and replace what the Eagles believed Maclin could contribute and expected him to contribute. For that reason, no matter how you want to rationalize this, it just got more difficult for the Eagles to win games this season.

COMING UP

We’ll hear from Donovan McNabb at 10 and have another practice session at 12:30.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
Become a fan of Birds 24/7 on Facebook.

Eagles Wake-Up Call: Gunning For A ‘Dominant’ Run Game

LeSean McCoy has a simple goal for the 2013 season.

“I want to be more dominant,” said McCoy on Thursday upon arriving at camp. “The last few years I’ve had good years but I also have to be dominant, especially in this offense with the ability to run the ball more, where I can kind of take over a game. There have been flashes of it in the past but I have the ability to do it day in and day out, game in and game out. I think it’s a different story. Chip has shown that he runs the ball tons.

“Kind of getting back to that old stage where I’m used to taking over a game. I think with all the talent and the supporting cast around me, that should be easy.”

Maybe not easy, but the ingredients are there.

Kelly did run the ball “tons” at Oregon, as McCoy suggested. Last season, the Ducks averaged 53 rushing attempts per game compared to 29 pass attempts.  Kelly boasted a 60-40 run-to-pass ratio in four seasons with the Ducks. That ratio will almost certainly come down some on this level, but Kelly has every reason to lean on the run this season  in particular. This group of backs could very well be one of the team’s greatest strengths. Meanwhile, the quarterback situation is unsettled. Why not pound it to ease the strain?

The talent is there, the commitment to the run should be there. The last piece to the puzzle is a healthy offensive line. There are no guarantees on that front, though new O-line Jeff Stoutland provided an encouraging report Thursday morning.

“In the OTAs and minicamp you would never know Jason Peters was hurt,” said  Stoutland. “That’s the truth. [Jason] Kelce we had to limit. He’s 100 percent right now the way he’s moving out there. And Todd [Herremans], I didn’t even know Todd was hurt to be honest with you.”

A long way to go before we can declare that this O-line will operate without restriction. If it can, McCoy has a good chance of achieving his goal.

“I think that our running game,” said Herremans, “should probably be second to none.”

WHAT YOU MISSED

Jeremy Maclin is definitely aware of the deals other receivers are getting around the league.

DeSean Jackson talks QBs, rap and more.

Ted Williams says this offense will look like Oregon’s.

Nick Foles versus the legend of Michael Vick. 

Stoutland and the “fellowship of the miserable.”

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

Dan Graziano makes a prediction on the total number of Eagles wins.

If nothing else, Kelly should be able to keep the players more interested and invested in the second half of the season than a lame-duck Andy Reid was in 2012. I expect growing pains, especially on defense, and I don’t expect this team to contend right away. But I’d be surprised if the Eagles were picking fourth in the draft again next spring. Reserving the right to change my mind as we get closer to the season, right now I’ll say they win six.

Chris Brown of Grantland wrote a good piece exploring the sudden popularity of the read-option in the NFL, and the league’s mad scramble to solve it.

Requiring safeties and other typically pass-first defenders to spend so much time focused on the running game is dangerous in the pass-heavy NFL. Last season did prove, though, that keeping safeties deep and being repeatedly gashed by the run is not much of an answer, either. “The zone read is something I learned throughout … the year that I think really helped us. It’s the least pass rush I’ve ever seen as a coordinator. Guys just sitting there just scared to death just watching everyone else not moving,” said Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan recently. “I go crazy thinking about blitzes every week, how we’re going to pick all this stuff up. About halfway through the year I’m starting to realize that we’re not getting any of these blitzes that I used to see.”

But that doesn’t mean NFL defenses won’t blitz much this season. I fully expect defensive coaches to be far more aggressive against the read-option this fall, although — unlike many of their schemes last season — those blitzes must be “option sound” and have defenders schooled in the proper techniques assigned to each potential runner. The read-option doesn’t eliminate blitzing, but it does eliminate some of the crazier blitzes — five defenders to one side or three defenders in the same gap — that had caused problems for traditional attacks.

COMING UP

First full-squad practice of training camp comes your way at 12:30. We’ll have it covered for you.

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