Eagles Wake-Up Call: On McCoy And Rep Management

Philadelphia Eagles RB LeSean McCoy. The irony was not lost on LeSean McCoy.

For the past four seasons under Andy Reid, the popular argument was that McCoy did not get the ball enough. Now one game into the Chip Kelly era, and the concern is that his workload will be too large.

“Which one is it?” he asked.

You tell us. Were the 31 carries and 32 overall touches too much? Not enough? Just right?

“I didn’t mind it Monday night,” he said. “I think we can do a better job rotating because it’s a long season. I don’t think I need to have the ball 31, 32 times in a game for us to be a successful offense. We have too many different weapons. I think the running backs we have here can definitely play. Bryce Brown showed you last year he’s definitely a talented back. So I think we have to do a better job of monitoring the reps.”

On Monday, Brown had nine carries while Chris Polk had none.

McCoy said that while there are some packages that don’t include him, the majority of the time the coaches give him the option of whether he stays in the game or not. So some of the snap management falls on his shoulders.

“You try to give 100 percent on every play, and there’s times when you get gassed or you get nicked up a time or two and that 100 percent drops a little bit, and I think that’s the time you come out and get the other guy in that’s fresh and get his 100 percent,” he said.

“They just talk about, if you’re tired, come off, because the coach understands that it’s a fast tempo. We train hard and are in good enough shape to run the offense but we’re only human so we’re going to be tired.”

McCoy’s high-water mark for carries came in 2011 when he ran it 273 times (in 15 games). If he keeps up Monday’s pace for a full 16 games, he will have run the ball 496 times. In other words, that average is coming down. Has to.

Safe to say, though, McCoy is going to get his opportunities. There will be no talk of play-calling holding him back this year. Does has he set any new personal goals?

“I don’t really get into yardage and the different type of records,” he said, “that stuff will come. We’ve got to worry about winning. My focus is winning. The last couple years we haven’t been winning. When I got to the Eagles we were a winning team and teams kind of feared to play us. I want to get back to that level before I can start talking about yards and all that other stuff.”

WHAT YOU MISSED

 Zach Ertz hopes that his drop “spell” is now behind him.

Sheil uses the All-22 tape to break down the Eagles’ touchdowns against Washington. Good stuff, as always.

Is Kelly’s offense sustainable? We give our take in the latest Twitter Mailbag.

DeSean Jackson says the Eagles have to keep their foot on the gas.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

New opponent, new defensive approach, writes Phil Sheridan.

“It’s a completely different challenge this week,” [Connor] Barwin said. “It’s that West Coast offense. Their run game is inside the tackles. Last week, their run game was outside the tackles. The quarterback sits in the pocket and gets the ball out on time, which is the opposite. Last week, the quarterback ran. They ran bootlegs and play-action. San Diego is completely different.”

So the Eagles’ defense will look completely different. Or it will look the same and then behave differently. Much of what coordinator Bill Davis has his players do is reliant on their reading the offense and reacting to it.

“The scheme is built to where any member of the defense can be blitzing at any given time,” Davis said. “We have blitzes for every position — corners, safeties, nickels, dimes, Mike ‘backers. Anybody can be a blitzer, either through an active call or a check.”

Fletcher Cox says that a published report alleging that he received improper benefits from a booster while in college will not become a distraction. From Reuben Frank.

Because Cox is not currently in college, the NCAA does not hold subpoena power over him. Of the five players identified by Yahoo!, only Tennessee defensive end Maurice Couch, who is currently on the team, would be bound to speak with NCAA officials.

Cox’s Twitter timeline is full of messages from people asking him about the allegations.

“I don’t worry about those things,” Cox said. “I barely check all of that, and I’ll just go forward when I hear from my agent.”

COMING UP

Preparation for the Chargers continues. We have plenty to get to.

Game Review: Eagles Offense Vs. Redskins Defense

Lane JohnsonBelow is a position-by-position breakdown of how the Eagles performed on offense, after having re-watched the game.

QUARTERBACK

* Michael Vick completed 60 percent of his passes (15-for-25) for 203 yards (8.1 YPA), two touchdowns and no interceptions. He added 54 yards on the ground and turned it over once on the controversial fumble in the first quarter.

* As is usually the case with Vick, there were ups and downs, but overall he played well and let his weapons make plays after the catch. He hit Brent Celek down the seam for 28 yards on the first play and showed good patience on the 25-yard touchdown to DeSean Jackson. As a runner, Vick made rookie safety Bacarri Rambo look silly on his 36-yard gain in the fourth quarter. On his touchdown run, Vick read the defensive tackle and dove into the end zone.

* There were times where he left some plays on the field. Vick was off-target on a few throws early. On the first drive, Vick had Celek open on the corner route, but couldn’t connect. He missed Jason Avant near the left sideline on the Eagles’ second drive and then misfired looking for Zach Ertz on the post. He settled down though, finishing the first half by completing nine of 11 attempts.

* Decision-making was up and down. At times, he was outstanding, like when Vick hit Jackson on a bubble screen for 16 yards, or on the 3-yard touchdown run. But at other times, he was suspect. Vick scrambled to his right on the first drive, and instead of running out of bounds or throwing the ball away, he tried to squeeze a throw in to Riley Cooper and was nearly picked off. On the lateral play that resulted in a Redskins defensive touchdown, it looked like Vick had room to run up the middle. He turned into a blocker for LeSean McCoy on multiple occasions. While fans and teammates can appreciate the effort, that can’t continue going forward. And Vick continues to dive head-first on runs, meaning it’s perfectly legal for defenders to get hits on him when he’s vulnerable on the ground.

* According to Pro Football Focus, Vick was 6-for-12 for 50 yards against the blitz. And he only attempted five passes in the second half. Overall, the offense moved the ball well, and that’s a credit to Vick. But there are obviously areas that still need improvement.

RUNNING BACKS

* LeSean McCoy was the best player on the field, running 31 times for 184 yards and a score. Everyone recognizes the highlight plays, but McCoy got tough yards as well. He picked up 4 on 4th-and-1 in the first and fought for 2 yards in the second, picking up a first on 3rd-and-2 in the red zone. Run blocking was very good, but McCoy broke nine tackles, according to PFF, the most of any running back in Week 1. McCoy’s 91 yards after contact tied Adrian Peterson for a league high. And he is currently the NFL’s leading rusher by 72 yards.

* Bryce Brown was up and down. He broke a tackle near the line of scrimmage and picked up 7 on 3rd-and-2 in the first and later did a nice job of making himself skinny, running up the middle for a 5-yard gain. Overall, better than the numbers (9 carries for 25 yards) indicate. Brown missed a blitz pickup in the first and gave up a hit on Vick. I’d expect him to see him spell McCoy a little bit more going forward.

* According to ESPN Stats and Information, the Eagles gained 245 yards on the ground on zone-read plays, the most of any team in the past five years.

WIDE RECEIVERS

* It was the DeSean Jackson show early. He caught seven balls on nine targets for 104 yards. Jackson took a bubble screen 16 yards on the first drive and had a nice 26-yard catch and run on the second drive. He had 70 yards after the catch, tied for third-most by a wide receiver in Week 1, per PFF. All seven of Jackson’s catches went for first downs, and he had the 25-yard score in the first half. According to PFF, he lined up in the slot on eight of 30 pass plays and was outside for the other 22. No. 10 looks dialed in and is primed for a big year.

* Riley Cooper played every snap and really did a nice job as a blocker. Noticed him specifically on the 16-yard bubble screen to Jackson, the 6-yard screen to Jackson and Vick’s 36-yard run in the fourth. As a receiver, just two catches for 14 yards. I expect his role going forward to be exactly what it was on Monday night.

* Jason Avant had just two catches on three targets for 13 yards. But he too was effective as a blocker. Noticed him specifically on the 16-yard bubble screen to Jackson in the first, McCoy’s 16-yard run in the second and McCoy’s 34-yard TD run. Avant had a fumble in the fourth and couldn’t hang on to the onside kick at the end.

* The Eagles were in 11 personnel (1-RB, 1-TE, 3-WR) 67 of 75 snaps (not counting the two kneel-downs), or 89.3 percent of the time.

TIGHT ENDS

* Brent Celek only had two catches, but he made them count, finishing with 56 yards and a score. He had a 28-yard pickup on the first drive and did a nice job making the catch and breaking a tackle for the TD. Celek was up and down as a blocker. He did a poor job on Brian Orakpo on McCoy’s 7-yard run in the second, was beat again by Orakpo on a McCoy red-zone run and was called for holding (plus a personal foul) while trying to block Orakpo one-on-one in pass protection in the third.

* Zach Ertz had one catch for 11 yards. And James Casey didn’t play until it was kneel-down time.

* The Eagles were in 12 personnel (1-RB, 2-TE) on just eight of 75 snaps, or 10.7 percent of the time. For all the preseason talk about how Kelly loved tight ends, he did not use a lot of multiple TE looks in Week 1. Also worth noting: The Eagles were in the same two personnel groupings (’11′ and ’12′) for the entire game.

OFFENSIVE LINE

* Overall, thought they played well, but as always in Week 1, there’s room for improvement. Let’s start with the rookie. Really liked what I saw from Lane Johnson in the run game. He looks like a seasoned vet in that aspect with a Pro Bowl ceiling. Johnson came off his double team and got to the linebacker on McCoy’s 6-yard run in the first. He moved over to the left side in between Evan Mathis and Jason Peters on several occasions, including once where he made a nice block on a McCoy 13-yard run. Johnson did a great job on McCoy’s 34-yard TD run and also on his 16-yard scamper.

* In pass protection, Johnson had a few issues. He had trouble with Ryan Kerrigan on the first drive as Vick was forced to scramble. Johnson has been blamed for a sack in the first, but I’m not sure it was completely his fault. The way the Eagles’ protection was set up, Johnson was responsible for two defenders on the play. He should have either gotten some help, or Vick should have known there would be a free rusher and gotten rid of the ball. Later, Johnson gave up a pressure that led to Vick getting hit. And on another play, he either failed to pick up a blitzer or expected Celek/McCoy to take the defender. Johnson was also called for a false start in the third. Overall, a strong debut. The mistakes Johnson made appeared to be ones that should be expected from a rookie. The physical tools are all there and he does not look as raw as anticipated.

* Didn’t think Evan Mathis was as consistent as he usually is. He probably could have been called for holding on McCoy’s 4th-and-1 carry in the first and also on the lateral play that resulted in a Redskins touchdown. It looked like Mathis was late picking up a blitzer on Vick’s third-down throw in the second, and he let a defender slip through to drop Brown for a 1-yard loss in the second. Mathis was also called for holding in the second. There were good moments too. Outstanding double-team with Jason Kelce on Brown’s 7-yard run in the first. And Mathis got to the linebacker nicely on McCoy’s 34-yard touchdown run.

* Kelce didn’t show any lingering effects from the ACL injury that ended his season in Week 2 last year. In the first quarter, he pulled and led the way for McCoy on a 16-yard run. Later, he did the same, crushing London Fletcher and putting him on the ground on a 12-yard gain. There were a few issues. He gave up a hit on Vick in the second and was beaten by Barry Cofield, who dropped McCoy for a 3-yard loss in the fourth. Kelce was also called for holding in the fourth. But overall, thought he played really well.

* Jason Peters didn’t quite look like 2011 Jason Peters, but still played well. Again, lots of unbalanced line looks where he set up next to Johnson on the same side (will show more clearly once the All-22 comes out). Peters made several good blocks in the run game, including one where he created a lane for McCoy to pick up 16 yards. I counted two times where he had some trouble with Orakpo in pass protection, but neither led to a QB hit. Orakpo got the better of him on a third-quarter play where Brown was stopped for no gain. It looked like Peters tripped on a McCoy 1-yard run, and he was called for a false start in the first. Overall, though, a solid 2013 debut. He should only get better.

* The Eagles had some protection issues on the right side. Todd Herremans had trouble with Cofield in the red zone on the first drive. In the second, Herremans started a double-team with Kelce and let Ryan Kerrigan burst through untouched for a sack. He was slow to pick up a blitzing linebacker on third down in the second and had some trouble on the Celek touchdown. Herremans was very good in the run game. He executed his blocks on several big runs, including McCoy’s 7-yard scamper in the first and his 16-yarder. I’d expect him and Johnson to work out what seemed like communication issues. Overall, Herremans was OK.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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Bryce Brown Dodges Injury, Talks Ball Security

Bryce BrownBryce Brown heard something pop and he thought he had broken his left ankle.

A lineman stepped on the foot during practice Monday, keeping that leg stationary while the rest of his body carried forward. It twisted.

“I felt it. I heard it. Everything,” he said.

He was assisted off the field by a pair of trainers. Turns out it was just a scare. Brown was able to put pressure on it and after a brief once-over from the medical staff, he had the ankle taped up and was sent back on the field. He needs to be further evaluated, but plans on playing Thursday in New York.

Crisis averted, and onto the next relevant topic — his fumbling tendencies. The 22-year-old had four fumbles (three lost) as a rookie, and gave one up against the Jaguars on Thursday as well.

“I know it’s been an issue here in the past. On that particular play their defensive back put their hat on the football,” said Chip Kelly. “He did have the football tight against his side. It was swinging a little bit earlier in the run but give their guy credit.

“It’s not something that is just Bryce, I think it’s everybody. That’s our responsibility when you get the ball at the beginning of the play to finish the play with the ball. We talk about ball security all the time. We do ball security drills every day and we’ll continue to do that. It’s a fundamental that when the season starts we can’t lose sight of because it’s integral to what we do. The turnover-takeaway battle is huge in this game. You can’t afford to give possessions away.”

Brown says that he has been putting in the time to clean up that area of his game.

“I’ve spent a lot of time on traffic,” he said . “That’s the main thing I have put my emphasis on is really keeping the ball tight in traffic. As far as being out in the open I tend to just run how I run, but I really try to put more emphasis [on securing the ball] when I’m between the tackles, things like that.”

It’s easy to forget that Brown only played a total of 13 games on the collegiate level. He only has 115 rushes on this level (averaging 4.9 yards per carry). There is plenty still to learn. But that learning will be on the job, as there is a big role for Brown in this offense if he can hold onto it.

“I have really been impressed with Bryce as a runner,” said Kelly. “He’s certainly a guy that is a luxury to have when you have a couple guys. Chris [Polk] has played really, really well and obviously we have LeSean [McCoy]. The three of those guys, I would put that group up against anybody.”

Eagles-Jaguars Game Review: The Offense

If you missed the defense, click here.

Below is the position-by-position game review of the offense.

QUARTERBACKS

* It was an uneven performance for Michael Vick. He went 15-for-23 for 184 yards, a touchdown and an interception. He also ran seven times for 53 yards. Vick did a nice job escaping pressure and finding Jason Avant down the sideline for 20 yards on the first play. He threw an absolute laser to Riley Cooper for the 9-yard TD. But he did leave plays on the field, like when he overthrew Brent Celek on the wheel route. And as Derek Sarley pointed out, he was too hesitant when he had receivers open. Vick can make up for breakdowns in protection, and he can hurt teams with his legs. But the number one factor that will determine his success in this offense is decision-making. We’ll find out where he’s at with that aspect when the Eagles take on the Redskins at FedEx Field two weeks from tonight.

* Hard to argue with the numbers for Nick Foles: 10-for-11 for 112 yards. Foles misfired on his first pass, a screen to Damaris Johnson, and then connected on his next 10. Most of them were underneath throws; only one traveled more than 10 yards from the line of scrimmage, per Pro Football Focus. But he averaged 10.2 yards per attempt as guys picked up yards after the catch. Foles moved the team and looked comfortable running the offense against Jacksonville’s backups.

RUNNING BACKS

* LeSean McCoy only played 18 snaps and carried five times for 9 yards. But he had a nice 15-yard run in the first, breaking Jason Babin’s tackle behind the line of scrimmage. He’ll rest now until Week 1.

* Bryce Brown continues to dazzle and frustrate at the same time. Eleven carries for 92 yards and a touchdown, including impressive gains of 7, 11 and 23. But he had the big fumble trying to get into the end zone in the second half.

This will come down to coaching. It’s up to Chip KellyDuce Staley and company to find a way to get Brown to secure the ball better. The talent is there. He’s got a unique blend of size and speed. But opposing defenses will be looking to punch the ball out every time he’s in the game. I still think Brown will get it down at some point. But it’s something to watch every time he’s on the field. As a blocker, Brown did a poor job with his blitz pickup on 3rd-and-8 in the first. Needs to get better in that area.

* The numbers for Chris Polk – six carries for 23 yards – weren’t great, but thought he ran well. He dragged defenders with him on a 4-yard pickup in the third and then gained 12 around the right end. Polk ran over a defensive back at the goal line on his touchdown. Normally reliable in blitz pickup, he whiffed on a play where Vick escaped and picked up 10 yards with his legs.

WIDE RECEIVERS

* DeSean Jackson continues to look comfortable in this offense. He finished with three catches for 48 yards on four targets. Jackson has six catches on nine targets this preseason and is averaging 20.5 yards per catch without a drop. A career year for No. 10 is in play.

* Avant was his usual self, keeping his feet in bounds for a 20-yard completion. He had the amazing one-handed grab on the ball that was tipped at the line of scrimmage. Overall, three catches for 36 yards on four targets. He also showed up as a blocker, doing a nice job on Polk’s runs of 12 and 11 yards, respectively.

* Cooper came down with the touchdown and made nice blocks on a screen to Avant and an 11-yard pickup by Brown. He also did a good job on Brown’s 23-yard run. Cooper figures to play a lot of snaps even if he’s not a big factor in the passing game.

* Johnson fumbled the one return but bounced back with a 61-yarder. As a receiver, he had two catches for 24 yards on three targets. On one play, he went up in traffic between defenders and snagged a 10-yarder from Foles.

* Russell Shepard got more involved, catching two balls for 38 yards. He showed good YAC ability, taking a screen 29 yards. Shepard’s firmly on the roster bubble.

TIGHT ENDS

* Brent Celek had four catches for 54 yards on seven targets, but he could have had an even bigger game. Vick overthrew him on the wheel route and also on another player early on. Celek made a nice grab for 26 yards on third down, ran hard for yards after the catch and blocked well on a bubble screen to Avant in the second.

* Zach Ertz lined up in the slot, found a soft spot in the zone and made a 13-yard grab in the first. He couldn’t hang on for what would have been a tough catch off play-action in the first as a defender delivered a forearm to his head. Up and down as a blocker. Poor job on McCoy’s 4-yard loss in the second. But excellent job on the screen to Shepard.

* James Casey was quiet again with one catch for 3 yards. He set up as a lead blocker, but whiffed on McCoy’s 15-yard run. Good block on the Shepard bubble screen in the fourth.

OFFENSIVE LINE

* Jason Peters looked great in pass protection. For the entire game, with one exception, he did not let his defender get close enough to even breathe on Vick. Even on the one play where he allowed a pressure, Vick held on to the ball for awhile before throwing it away. He was OK in the run game, but not his usual dominant self. Peters was slow to get to the linebacker on a second-quarter run that lost 4 yards. He couldn’t quite get to the linebacker on a Polk 4-yard run. Overall, though, encouraging performance from No. 71.

* Evan Mathis’ performance was shakier than usual. He had trouble with Tyson Alualu on third down during the first series and was later called for holding on 3rd-and-8, negating an 18-yard completion to Celek. Mathis got beat by Jeremy Mincey in the first and then again by Sen’Derrick Marks, who put a big hit on Vick. As we showed earlier in the week, he and Jason Kelce had an issue with a stunt and gave up a sack. Mathis was better in the run game. He threw a defender to the ground on Brown’s 5-yard run in the second. Nothing to panic about, but he did not play particularly well.

* The same goes for Jason Kelce. On the first play play, he had trouble with defensive tackle Roy Miller. On another play, Jason Babin looped inside from the left edge, and Kelce was slow to pick him up. He also had two errant snaps. One was high and ruined the timing of a zone read/bubble packaged play the Eagles had on. Vick had to throw the ball away. The other was low and fumbled by Vick. Kelce was mostly good in the run game, getting to the linebacker on McCoy’s 15-yard run and again on Brown’s 23-yard run. Still think he’ll have a good year, but not a clean performance.

* Todd Herremans has been shaky in two of three preseason games. On the second play, he had trouble with Miller and Vick ended up getting sacked. Herremans did a poor job picking up a blitzing linebacker on 3rd-and-8 in the first. Marks beat him badly on the Vick interception. Herremans, too, was better in the run game. Nice blocks on McCoy’s 15-yard run, Brown’s 7-yard run and Brown’s 23-yarder. We pointed out earlier that he and Johnson had a miscue that resulted in a 5-yard loss for McCoy. Worth keeping an eye on him early in the season, and also worth noting that Herremans was dealing with knee inflammation.

* Lane Johnson had some issues early on with Babin, getting beat on a spin move and then around the edge in the first quarter. But I thought he settled down and eventually played fine. In fact, Babin tried the same spin move in the second, and Johnson stoned him as Vick found Celek for 26 yards. Will get better as the season goes on, but Johnson should be pretty good from the start.

* A couple notes on the backups. Julian Vandervelde continues to take second-team reps at center. If he and Allen Barbre make the team, Danny Watkins could be on the outside looking in. Also, Michael Bamiro has a good chance of sticking.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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Eagles-Jaguars Cheat Sheet: 10 Things To Watch

James CaseyHere are 10 things we’ll be tracking Saturday night when the Eagles take on the Jaguars:

1. Vick, tempo and the first-team offense

Over the past several weeks, we’ve debated just how much of his offense Chip Kelly is really unveiling during the preseason. I’m of the belief that when Week 1 rolls around, and the Eagles take the field against the Redskins, they’re going to be moving at a faster pace than we’ve seen so far.

If Saturday night is treated as a dress rehearsal, we could see Michael Vick and the first-team offense really push tempo for at least one drive. Against New England, the Eagles huddled and slowed it down with Vick. Last week, they went no-huddle and moved a little quicker. Look for the progression to continue against Jacksonville with the first-team offense expected to play at least the first half.

2. No. 71 gets back on the field

The last time Jason Peters played in a game was Jan. 1, 2012. The Eagles were closing out their season against the Redskins, finishing with a 34-10 win and an 8-8 record. Obviously, quite a lot has changed with this franchise since that game over 19 months ago.

Peters suffered a pair of Achilles’ injuries last offseason and dealt with a hamstring strain this summer. But the Eagles’ left tackle appears motivated and determined to prove he still has a few good years left at the age of 31.

Conditioning is a factor to watch with Peters. Because of the hamstring, he was somewhat limited, but still got in cardio work on the bike and the elliptical. Under normal circumstances, he would need some time to get re-adjusted to playing a full game. But that’s even more-so the case with the Eagles moving to an up-tempo offense. Peters said he’ll play three quarters. Kelly said it might be only two. Either way, his conditioning will be something to watch in this one and early in the season.

3. Lane Johnson in pass protection

Through the first two games, Johnson has looked like a beast in the run game and solid in pass protection. But there have been a few issues with the latter.

Against Jacksonville, the rookie will likely get matched up against Jason Babin. If there’s anything we know about the ex-Eagle, it’s that he could not care less about stopping the run and will be focused on getting after the quarterback on every snap. Saturday night will be a good chance to see how Johnson measures up in pass protection.

4. Looking for backup O-Linemen

The Eagles’ starters are set, and Allen Barbre seems to have solidified his hold on a backup spot. Dennis Kelly recently had back surgery, but the guess here is he’ll make the team out of the gate as well.

Beyond that, there are spots up for grabs – anywhere between one and three. Former first-round pick Danny Watkins played against the Patriots, but missed the Panthers game because of a concussion. He is squarely on the roster bubble entering Game 3. The Eagles will need to find a backup center. Julian Vandervelde appears to be the favorite, but he’ll have to hold off Dallas Reynolds and Matt Tennant.

Others looking to make an impression include tackle Michael Bamiro and undrafted free agent Matt Tobin.

5. James Casey in the passing game

The “move” tight end caught 111 balls in one season at Rice. One of the reasons he chose the Eagles as a free agent was because he was looking forward to more opportunities as a receiver.

But in the first two preseason games, Casey has been targeted just twice, coming up with one catch for 7 yards. We’ll see if he gets a couple more chances against Jacksonville.

6. Remembering Bryce Brown

T-Mac and I were talking about some under-the-radar players yesterday, and Brown’s name came up. The second-year running back has had a solid, but quiet, summer. He looked good against New England, but didn’t play against Carolina because of a quad injury. By all accounts, the Eagles are going to run the football a lot, or at least call plays that include a run option. LeSean McCoy is still the man, and Chris Polk has improved, but Brown’s going to be featured quite a bit as the No. 2 guy.

7. Sorting out the D-Line picture

Billy Davis has to settle on who he wants to start with the first-team defensive line alongside Fletcher Cox. So far, it’s been Isaac Sopoaga and Cedric Thornton. But Kelly and Davis have made it clear that the backups are pushing those two.

Bennie Logan has been impressive and has the versatility to play nose tackle or defensive end in a 3-4. Vinny Curry has been the Eagles’ most active defensive lineman. And Damion Square has had some nice moments as well.

Veteran Clifton Geathers has been somewhat quiet and is on the roster bubble.

8. Defining Boykin’s role

Davis has talked constantly about playing his best 11. But the Eagles’ new defensive coordinator sounded hesitant earlier this week when asked about starting Brandon Boykin on the outside and then moving him to the slot in nickel situations. Once again, the second-year player will likely start out as the nickel corner and then play outside with the second unit against the Jaguars.

The likelihood is still that the Eagles start Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher on the outside in Week 1. But Boykin will get one final chance to convince Davis that he deserves an opportunity.

9. Waiting on backup LBs

We know DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks will start on the inside, but the Eagles lack depth behind them. Undrafted free agent Jake Knott was good against New England, but the coaches would like to see more out of the rookie in the event that he has to step in due to injury.

Others like Casey Matthews, Jamar Chaney and Emmanuel Acho are on the bubble. This is another area where the Eagles could add a player or two after other teams make their cuts.

10. Can Allen hold on?

The Eagles seem to have one safety position nailed down with Patrick Chung. The free agent from the Patriots played well against Carolina and already seems to have established himself as the best tackler in the Eagles’ secondary.

But the other spot remains a mystery. This is an area where we likely won’t know who’s going to start until the days leading up to the Redskins game. Nate Allen will run with the first team to begin the game vs. Jacksonville. But Kenny Phillips (if healthy) or Earl Wolff could also rotate in.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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How the Eagles Scored Two TDs On the Same Play

Nick Foles saw five defenders in the box, and so his decision was simple: hand the ball off to Bryce Brown.

Matt Barkley got a 2 vs. 2 matchup he liked on the perimeter, and so he threw the screen outside to Greg Salas.

The play-calls were exactly the same. Yet the quarterbacks made two different decisions, both which resulted in touchdowns.

We talked about run-pass options in this space over the weekend. And Grantland’s Chris Brown explained them further in his terrific piece about Chip Kelly’s offense. After Monday’s practice, we caught up with several players to gain a better understanding of the “packaged play” concept.

Let’s start with the touchdown run to Brown. The Eagles had a first-and-goal from the Patriots’ 8. When Foles got to the line of scrimmage, his eyes focused on how many defenders were in the box to guard against the run.

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“It was a two-safety look, and the inside backers were out,” Foles explained. “So you get a five-man box, you’ve got five guys to block five, you really want to take it. You want to take your O-Linemen on any five any day.”

Foles’ other option on the play was to throw the quick screen to either side. But with two safeties back, the Eagles would have been faced with a 3-on-2 disadvantage on the perimeter.

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Clearly, Foles made the right call, and Brown scampered into the end zone.

But how does the QB communicate his decision to the rest of the players? The answer I got from several Eagles was simple: He doesn’t.

“No matter what, we’re blocking whatever zone play or man scheme, whatever the scheme is for the run blocking, that’s what we’re blocking,” said center Jason Kelce. “Most of the time, I get the running play, and I don’t really know what the quarterback’s doing.

“All the reads for the most part are designed to take advantage of what the defense is giving us, and you never really truly know until after the ball’s snapped. And then guys expose themselves on what gaps they have, what responsibilities they have, and that’s what it’s designed to take advantage of.”

Five blockers against five defenders. That’s a win for the offense.

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Left tackle Allen Barbre has the edge defender. Evan Mathis and Jason Kelce start out with a double-team. Todd Herremans and Lane Johnson get one-on-one blocks.

Mathis then does an excellent job of switching off his double-team, on to the linebacker. Kelce and Herremans open up a gaping hole for Brown.

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Let’s move on to the next play, the Barkley 12-yard screen to Salas.

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The running back is flipped. Otherwise, it’s the exact same look as the first play. But this time, the Patriots have six defenders in the box against five offensive linemen.

Meanwhile, to the top of the screen, the Eagles have two receivers against two Patriots defensive backs.

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That’s just the look Barkley wants to throw the screen to the perimeter.

“It was just a double-screen look with a handoff option,” Salas explained. “So if we have the look that we want on the outside, we can throw it. If it’s light in the box, then they can run it. We had the look for the throw on the outside. He threw it to me, I made a guy miss and scored a touchdown.”

The safety to that side of the field was 8 yards off the line of scrimmage. Executed correctly, Emil Igwenagu blocks the outside shoulder of the cornerback, allowing Salas to get to the sideline where it’s even harder for the safety to get to him. Of course, plays on the field don’t always go according to plan. And in this case, Salas didn’t get much of a block from Igwenagu. But he was able to make three defenders miss on his way to the end zone.

“That’s the preference, two-on-two,” Salas said. “Three, you’re outnumbered. So if you have three out there, the box’ll be light for the run. That’s the way the play’s designed, and it worked well.”

Salas backed what Kelce said above: that the players are never sure what the quarterback’s going to do.

“You just do it, and it’s the quarterback’s decision,” Salas said. “He’s gotta pick the side he wants to throw to or hand off the ball. I just knew I had an opportunity, so you know when to be a little bit more prepared than other times.”

It’s clear why Kelly places an emphasis on all players understanding concepts in his offense. While the quarterback is ultimately the one making the decision, plays are run more smoothly if everyone on the field identifies the numbers and has a good idea of what’s going to happen.

The other factor is tempo. The Salas touchdown was the first play of the fourth quarter, but the Brown score happened just 21 seconds (real time) after the whistle blew ending the previous play. While at its foundation, these plays are based on simple math, the opposition can shift defenders around and try to disguise its look – if given the opportunity.

“Sometimes guys move,” Foles explained. “Guys move at the snap of the ball. There’s blitzers coming in. So you really have to be able to react quickly when the happens. It’s just one of those things where you’re out here in practice, you’re rep’n, you’re rep’n, you’re seeing it. And then when you get in a game, you’ve repped it and you can just react.”

Added Kelce: “It’s particularly hard once you’re doing the tempo when you’re really getting on ‘em and then they don’t have time to get set, notice the situation, the personnel of the offense. It doesn’t give them time to figure all that stuff out. So now all they can do is just get their defensive play and line up where they’re supposed to line up at just before we snap the ball. And doing that repetitively really wears on a defensive player, especially a defensive lineman.”

While the quarterback makes the call, he can have (headset) communication with the coach or offensive coordinator for the first 25 seconds of the play clock. But the onus is placed on the guys on the field.

“When we call a play, we’ve rep’d them numerous times and we trust that everybody on the field makes good decisions,” said offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur. “So when the play goes in, typically when I was calling them, you could give maybe a hint or two to what’s going on. But for the most part, the guys are out there making decisions and running the plays we call.”

Barkley said he’s been running this specific inside run/perimeter screen option play for years.

“You’re looking for numbers,” he explained. “They can’t win because if they put enough guys on the perimeter, then you’re gonna have an advantage if you run the ball. And they had one extra guy in the box so, I mean, that’s a play I’ve run since high school. So you kind of learn to see that and just get the ball out there.

“There should be an answer on every play, and so it’s just your job of making sure that you make the right decision of putting the team in that right play, whether it’s the read on that play or whether it’s an audible where you change into the right play. But there should be a favorable answer on every play.”

Kelce agreed that making the right decisions based on the numbers should make these packaged plays difficult to defend.

“That’s all blocking is, period,” he said. “And that’s all football is really. That’s the whole point of the spread offense, the read offense. It’s all about taking advantage of where the offense has positive numbers. That’s the whole reason pretty much this has come about.”

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Eagles-Patriots Game Review: The Offense

Lane JohnsonWe went over a couple specific offensive concepts on Saturday, and you can click here for a breakdown of the defense.

But below is a position-by-position look at how the offense performed, after having reviewed the game.

QUARTERBACKS

* Michael Vick was sharp on the Eagles’ first two possessions, completing four of five passes for 94 yards and a touchdown. He showed great patience in the pocket, finding Jason Avant for 22 yards over the middle on the first possession, a big-time throw with three defenders closing in. And his 47-yard bomb to DeSean Jackson was a beauty. It’s worth noting that pass came against a blitz from New England. The ball traveled 48 yards in the air and landed right in Jackson’s hands. Later, Vick delivered a strike to Riley Cooper on a rollout to his right. The Eagles slowed things down to start the game, and I don’t recall seeing Vick run a true zone read. But don’t be surprised if we see him go no-huddle next week vs. Carolina.

Nick Foles played well also, although the style of play was different when he was in the game. The Eagles pushed tempo and went with a more controlled attack. While Vick chucked it down the field, none of Foles’ six attempts traveled more than 10 yards from the line of scrimmage. He showed good command in the no-huddle though and completed five of six passes for 43 yards. The Patriots brought a five-man blitz on third down in the second, and Foles got rid of the ball quickly, finding Bryce Brown for 8 yards and a first down. He also did a great job with the play-fake before rolling to his left and finding Avant for a gain of 12. Foles will get the start Thursday vs. Carolina.

* Up-and down performance for Matt Barkley. He underthrew Russell Shepard deep on his first pass attempt and made too many throws that left receivers vulnerable to big hits. There were at least two throws that could have been picked off. Barkley made the right decision on a zone read. The DE crashed inside, and he took off for 8 yards. He seemed to settle down later in the game, finding Clay Harbor for a couple of big gains and leading the Eagles on a touchdown drive.

RUNNING BACKS

* The coaches decided to start Chris Polk since he played well in camp. He carried four times for 7 yards, and none of his attempts picked up more than 4 yards. Polk is the Eagles’ best blocking back, and that showed on the 47-yard touchdown to Jackson. He did an excellent job picking up blitzing linebacker Jerod Mayo.

Chris Polk

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You can see Vick has a clean pocket to deliver.

* I thought Bryce Brown really played well. Five carries for 22 yards and two catches for 19 yards. Brown hasn’t flashed good hands at practice, but he got matched up against a linebacker and had a nice 8-yard catch and run on 3rd-and-5. He picked up 11 on another reception. There were a couple occasions where it looked like he might have missed his blocking assignments. One was when Foles faced an unblocked defender and scrambled for 11 yards. Brown also had the 8-yard touchdown run.

* Felix Jones did not look good. Eight carries for 31 yards. He also had a drop, and it looked like he missed a blitz pickup assignment.

* Matthew Tucker only had 33 yards on 10 carries, but he caught the 2-point conversion. Has a chance to stick if Jones doesn’t improve.

WIDE RECEIVERS

* Not much to add that hasn’t already been mentioned on DeSean Jackson. Vick said he went deep because the Patriots had a single high safety. I’m curious about what his route would have been had the coverage been different.

* Great job by Jason Avant not only going up for the 22-yard catch in between three defenders, but also getting down quickly and avoiding a big hit.

* Riley Cooper got the start opposite Jackson and came down with a 19-yard grab in the second.

* Russell Shepard led the team with six targets, but didn’t get much of a chance to make plays. He had just one grab for 4 yards. Nice effort on the deep ball from Barkley that was underthrown.

* Ifeanyi Momah simply does not look like he’s ready. Poor job as a blocker when Barkley took off on the zone read in the second. Momah then had a false start on the very next play. He got laid out down the right sideline in the third. And Momah was shoved out of bounds by the defender on the next play. Practice squad seems likely for 2013.

* Very nice 62-yard punt return by Damaris Johnson.

* I probably haven’t shown Greg Salas enough love up to this point. I thought Kelly said it best after the game: Salas just keeps showing up. Great individual effort on the touchdown in the fourth. Salas got no blocking on the quick screen, but avoided three defenders and scampered into the end zone. He also made a sensational 35-yard grab on the final drive. He’s got a chance to stick.

TIGHT ENDS

* Per Pro Football Focus, 14 of Zach Ertz’s 22 snaps were pass plays. And Ertz went out into his route on 13 of those 14. He was in the slot on the first two plays from scrimmage. Two catches for 10 yards on three targets. Did not look good as a blocker. Ertz was slow to get to Brandon Spikes on an early Polk run.

Did you see Brent Celek in the backfield on the Eagles’ first play? He fumbled after making a grab in the second. At this point, looks like a much better blocker than Ertz.

* Still not sure if there’s a spot here for Clay Harbor, but he made a couple nice grabs – a 22-yarder and a 20-yarder from Barkley in the second half.

OFFENSIVE LINE

* Really liked what I saw from Lane Johnson as a run-blocker. This was the second play of the game. Johnson is matched up with outside linebacker Rob Ninkovich.

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Couldn’t get a good shot of Johnson taking Ninkovich to the ground, but that’s exactly what he did. And afterwards, Johnson used Ninkovich to prop himself up.

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Later, he showed off his great athleticism, starting off on a double-team with Celek, before peeling off and looking for a defensive back to hit downfield. Johnson had some issues in pass protection, but an encouraging start for the rookie.

* Given his resume, there’s probably no need to panic, but Todd Herremans did not play well. He whiffed on his block, pulling to the left side on a Polk run that picked up just 1 yard. And Herremans got beaten badly by Tommy Kelly on the Foles sack/fumble. The bright spot for Herremans was his block on Brown’s TD run.

* As for the rest of the starters, Jason Kelce looked good, especially on Brown’s TD run. Evan Mathis was solid as usual. And Allen Barbre was up and down. No one’s going to confuse him for Jason Peters, and he had some issues in pass protection, but was OK overall.

* In terms of the backups, Danny Watkins had a few good moments. He did a nice job on Barkley’s deep attempt to Sheppard. And later, he switched off his man against a stunt on a Barkley incompletion. Watkins was called for holding in the third. Matt Kopa had issues. And Julian Vandervelde played center with the second team. He got overpowered at times and was called for holding, but otherwise was OK. Looked better than he did last preseason.

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What They’re Saying About the Eagles

Here’s this week’s roundup of what the national media are saying about the Eagles:

With Jeremy Maclin out, the pressure’s on DeSean Jackson, writes ESPN.com’s Ashley Fox:

With Maclin out, Jackson is going to have to be something he never has been before: a leader. He is an emotional player who in the past has not shown a willingness to fight through adversity. He tuned Reid out. Vick often had to act as a buffer to try to keep Jackson’s head in the game, but now it is not even a lock that Vick will be the starting quarterback.

Bill Barnwell of Grantland weighs in on the Maclin injury:

The Maclin injury is disappointing in a different way. The good news is that Maclin should be able to return from the injury for a second time; he tore his ACL before his freshman year at Missouri in 2006 and redshirted before posting a 1,055-yard season the following year. It’s distressing to see a player suffer the same injury to the same knee, but the previous injury happened seven years ago, so let’s hope that it doesn’t become a more chronic injury.

SI.com’s Peter King offers his thoughts on Maclin:

What’s most hurtful about Maclin’s being lost for the season with a torn ACL after collapsing at practice Saturday is that Eagles coach Chip Kelly needs the quickness and playmaking Maclin surely would have provided the offense. Now Kelly will have to find it in a far less experienced player like Riley Cooper. This increases the pressure on DeSean Jackson to be a home-run hitter. I remember talking to one NFL GM last fall about Kelly’s strengths. The GM said one of the reasons Kelly would be in such high demand in the NFL is because at Oregon he consistently took players other colleges didn’t want and turned them into high-functioning contributors in a fast-paced offense. I wouldn’t count out the Eagles. I just figure Kelly will use the summer to test two or three guys down the depth chart (Greg Salas, Cooper, Arrelious Benn) and find a way to make plays.

Rivers McCown of Football Outsiders/ESPN.com ranks teams based on 25-and-under talent. He’s got the Eagles at No. 23:

About the only two young players who didn’t plateau last season were Brandon Graham and Fletcher Cox. Cox turned in a promising season as a run-stopper, and Graham resurrected his career with 5.5 sacks and 26 hurries in a very limited role off the bench. The Eagles had a lot of other young players surface last season, but most of them didn’t play beyond replacement level. Bryce Brown made a strong run at looking like a promising young back, but he was hit and fumbled it.

Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders has Bryce Brown ranked sixth on his list of breakout players:

It has been a long and winding road to the NFL for Brown, who was the No. 1 running back prospect in the nation in high school but lost most of his college career to transfers and revoked scholarships. He needs to work on fumbling issues — he had four last year on just 115 carries — but we expect Chip Kelly to run the ball a lot in Philadelphia, which means playing time for Brown even if McCoy stays healthy all year.

Mike Tanier of SportsOnEarth.com says Donovan McNabb is a true Philly legend:

McNabb is a true Philly Legend, which is different from being a true legend. Philly Legends flirt with excellence early in their career, bringing the city within a boarding-school reach of a championship. Then they linger in the lineup for epochs as they slowly fade, accumulating the scorn and frustration of decades of sports disappointment like an old slice of wedding cake absorbing onion smells in the freezer. Every 25 years or so, a Philly Legend accidentally wins a championship, but it doesn’t change the narrative much: you aren’t a Philly Legend until the whole Delaware Valley is ready for you to go away. And then you come back.

Pete Prisco of CBSSports.com has the Eagles 25th in his power rankings:

Chip Kelly’s camp will bring a lot of new things. Will it bring a new starting quarterback?

Robert Mays of Grantland names Evan Mathis as one of the 22 most under-appreciated players in the league:

Clearly, Mathis stands to gain from claiming that time at his gym led to the best physical condition of his life — but the results are there. His 2011 season was the best of his career by far. Along with the physical changes, Mathis’s time in Philadelphia came with an offensive-line education that outdid anything he’d gotten in his previous NFL stops. That season was the first in Philadelphia for offensive line coach Howard Mudd, a man who, at the time, had 38 years of experience teaching the art of the block. “I think I was able to make up for all of those lost years earlier in my career just by being able to learn from him,” Mathis says.

And in case you missed it from the Wake-Up Call, Kevin Clark of The Wall Street Journal :

As Kelly mans his first full week of NFL training camp, installing a high-revving Ferrari engine into the Eagles’ offense, league insiders say there are exactly zero indications NFL referees will be willing participants in the Kelly era. The NFL, they say, has a long-standing pace at which they do things between plays and the referees “aren’t going to change just to accommodate someone’s offense,” said Mike Pereira, a former NFL vice president of officiating who is now an analyst for Fox Sports.

“We have to make sure teams understand that they don’t control the tempo, our officials do,” said NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino. “We’re going through our normal ball mechanics, we aren’t going to rush [unless] it’s in the two minute drill.”

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Eagles Wake-Up Call: RB Training Camp Preview

Each day this week, we’ll take a look at a different position group as we count down to training camp.

What’s changed?

Chip Kelly’s Oregon squad totaled 21 running plays of 30+ yards last year, tied for most in the country.

That’s excellent news for LeSean McCoy and Bryce Brown. While the exact identity of the Eagles’ offense has yet to be revealed, all signs point to Kelly leaning on the running game and featuring a healthy dose of his top two backs.

McCoy averaged 4.2 yards per carry and 70 yards per game in 2012 – his lowest numbers since his rookie season. But he was running behind a banged-up offensive line and often had nowhere to go.

Brown, meanwhile, averaged 4.9 yards per carry and showed he has the size/speed to break off big runs. Brown had six gains of 20+ yards on 115 attempts (one every 19.2 carries).

The Eagles also have second-year player Chris Polk, free agent addition Felix Jones and undrafted free agent Matthew Tucker.

The pressing question: Can McCoy bounce back?

The 25-year-old was one of Andy Reid’s biggest supporters, but he should welcome the offseason changes. The key to how quickly the Eagles can pick up Kelly’s offense will be the offensive line. With Todd Herremans moving inside to guard, and Jason Peters and Jason Kelce returning, this group has a chance to be one of the best run-blocking units in the league.

Even last year, McCoy was one of 14 running backs to carry the ball at least 200 times and average 4.2 yards per carry or better. And he still had his elusiveness. According to the Football Outsiders Almanac, McCoy broke 44 tackles on 254 touches. The FOA crew projects McCoy for 1,155 yards, eight touchdowns and a 4.8 YPC average in 2013. Those numbers certainly seem reachable from this perspective.

Don’t be surprised if…

Brown fixes his fumbling issue. That was the problem in Year 1. He fumbled four times on 115 carries (136 touches), but remember that Brown was not your average rookie. He had only carried the ball three times in game situations since the end of the 2009 season. It seems reasonable to think he would need some time to get adjusted to the speed and chaos of the NFL.

The Football Outsiders Almanac cited a few running backs who had similar fumbling rates (percentage of touches with a fumble) to Brown as rookies. Ryan Mathews saw his rate drop from 2.8 to 1.8 in his second season. Toby Gerhart went from 2.9 to 0.8. And Chris Ivory from 2.9 to 0.0.

If history is any indication, Brown, whose fumbling rate was 2.9 last season, should be able to improve his ball security in Year 2.

Roster battles to watch

The only thing to really to keep an eye on here is depth. Polk didn’t play an offensive snap as a rookie, but shed weight this offseason and is looking to get into the mix.

The Eagles took a flier on Jones as a free agent. Last year, Jones was one of only eight players with at least 100 carries to average worse than 3.7 yards per carry. But for his career, he’s one of six active players to average 4.7 yards per carry on at least 500 attempts. It seems like Jones has been around forever, but he’s only 26. The Eagles are hoping he can get provide depth and versatility.

Tucker was a rotational player in college, but Kelly obviously liked his skills and measurables.

There’s a chance the Eagles will go four-deep at running back since they’re not keeping a fullback on the roster, but it’s also possible only one other player joins McCoy and Brown.

WHAT YOU MISSED

DeSean Jackson predicts that Michael Vick will win the starting QB job.

Do we expect to go 46-7 over the next whatever years? No,” says Kelly.

In yesterday’s camp preview, we looked at the offensive line.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

Peters had charges dropped from an arrest for racing last month, per CSN’s Derrick Gunn:

Peters on June 12 was charged with speeding and resisting an officer by flight in Monroe, La.

According to CSN’s Derrick Gunn, via the District Attorney’s office in Monroe, those charges were dismissed on June 20. Instead, he was charged with having improper equipment — an after-market muffler.

Tommy Lawlor of IgglesBlitz.com looks at the Eagles’ offensive line situation:

The Center position will be just fine if Jason Kelce stays healthy. Dallas Reynolds was a mess early last year, but improved as the year went along. He had some snap issues that must be fixed, but he did show that he could be an effective NFL starter. Matt Tennant was strictly a role player in 2012. He would like to win a spot and challenge for time this year. We’ll see how that goes.

COMING UP

We’ll do a national media roundup and more.

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Which Eagles Will Make the Second-Year Leap?

Hang around enough NFL coaches and players in the offseason, and you’re sure to hear about the second-year leap.

The theory goes like this: Rookies need time to adjust to several different factors. The structure and rules associated with a college program are gone. They are on their own, away from friends and family. And they are earning (legal) paychecks.

Add in the speed and talent associated with the pro game, and it’s clear life in the NFL requires an adjustment period.

That’s why the offseason from Year 1 to Year 2 is considered crucial. Initial questions have been answered, and expectations have been set. Second-year players can focus more on just on-field improvement.

“It’s already easier,” said linebacker Mychal Kendricks during mini-camps. “It’s crazy, knowing the formations and knowing the count without even having to look.

“Everything slows down the second year. It’s crazy, I can’t explain it.”

We’ve spent plenty of time talking about the Eagles’ new additions, and Tim covered the rookies a couple days ago. But below is a look at the second-year players and where they stand going into camp.

Fletcher Cox – Everything we saw from him as a rookie suggests he has the potential to go to multiple Pro Bowls. Cox was the Eagles’ best defensive lineman against the run and showed improvement as a pass-rusher, finishing with 5.5 sacks and 24 hurries (according to team stats). When the Eagles drafted him, they liked that Cox had the versatility to play in a 4-3 or a 3-4. He’s the Eagles’ best defensive player and one of the guys they will build around.

Nick Foles – With six starts under his belt, Foles has already accomplished more than most quarterbacks taken after the second round. He had turnover issues (five interceptions, eight fumbles) and struggled to get the ball downfield (6.4 YPA), but at the very least, he looked competent. Foles now finds himself in a new scheme, and Chip Kelly is serious about letting the QB competition play out on the practice field. Foles will have a chance to steal the starting job this summer.

Mychal Kendricks – His athleticism translated well from college to the NFL last season. Kendricks faced some issues getting off of blocks but showed signs that he can be a playmaker against the run. Where his real strength lies, though, is coverage. Kendricks is expected to play alongside DeMeco Ryans as an inside linebacker in the Eagles’ new 3-4 scheme. Look for him to have to deal less with blockers in his face. Kendricks rushed the passer quite a bit in college, and Billy Davis will seek to find ways to take advantage of that versatility.

Brandon Boykin – Given how often teams use three and four wide receivers, Boykin is a valuable piece as the Eagles’ nickel corner. Even as the defense was crumbling around him, Boykin was tremendous during the second half of last season. In the Eagles’ final seven games, he allowed just five completions on 12 targets, per Pro Football Focus  (hat tip to Derek Sarley of Iggles Blog). There’s been some talk of Boykin moving to the outside, but the guess here is that he’ll continue to fill the nickel role.

Bryce Brown – Fumbling issues aside, the Eagles look like they may have gotten a steal with Brown in the seventh round. As a rookie, he ran for 564 yards and averaged 4.9 yards per carry, showing a rare combination of size and speed. Evan Silva of Rotoworld had a good breakdown of Brown and concluded that he bounced too many runs to the outside. Given his lack of college experience (and college coaching), Brown might be poised to make the biggest leap of any player on this list.

Cedric Thornton - He played 37.7 percent of the defensive snaps last year and has the size (6-4, 309) that Kelly covets. Thornton figures to play the 5-technique DE spot in the Eagles’ 3-4. He lined up as a starter for most of the spring, but will have to hold on to that spot this summer.

** Note: As a reader pointed out, Thornton is actually a third-year pro, although he didn’t play a defensive snap in 2011.

Vinny Curry – His role remains a mystery. Curry had a tough time getting on the field as a rookie and now finds himself being asked to play up front in a 3-4. During the spring, Curry ran exclusively with the second team. He’ll need to show the coaches he can be effective in his new role if Curry wants to get more playing time in his second season.

Damaris Johnson – He played 25.4 percent of the Eagles’ offensive snaps and finished with 19 catches for 256 yards. But there is reason to believe Johnson could be a nice fit for Kelly’s offense, considering he averaged a team-best 5.5 yards after the catch in 2012, according to Pro Football Focus. Johnson also showed improvement as the team’s primary punt returner. Beyond DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, no wide receiver is guaranteed a spot. But Johnson has a good chance of sticking.

Dennis Kelly - He was up and down in 10 games as a rookie, gaining experience at both guard and tackle. At times, Kelly showed promise. In other instances, he looked like Demetress Bell. But the new coaching staff seems to like him. Kelly filled in with the starters this spring before Lane Johnson made the jump. Given the team’s lack of offensive line depth, Kelly will likely earn a spot as a swing tackle.

Chris Polk – In this offense, the third running back figures to have added importance. If LeSean McCoy or Brown goes down, the Eagles will need a backup who can play significant snaps. Polk will challenge for that role, along with Felix Jones and undrafted free agent Matthew Tucker. Polk didn’t play a single offensive snap in 2012, but has dropped weight and is motivated to get on the field. He’ll have to earn a roster spot this summer.

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