Kelly On Watkins: ‘It’s Going To Be A Battle’

The preseason is a wrap, all of the evidence is in and now the coaches must decide who to keep and who to let go. The roster must be down to 53 players by 6 p.m. Saturday. Will Danny Watkins make the cut?

By the sounds of it, there are no guarantees that he is on this team at the end of the weekend.

“Danny is competing like the rest of those guys up front. There is always some really good out of Danny, but there is also some mistakes out of Danny,” said Chip Kelly when asked how the lineman has progressed this summer. “It’s going to be a battle. When you feel good about your five but then where are we going to be and how many are we going to carry I think is what it’s going to come down to.”

With the projected starters getting the night off, Watkins got the nod at right guard Thursday against the Jets. Kelly did not sound pleased with the unit’s performance overall, saying that the Eagles  were “very shoddy in protection early.” Nick Foles ended up on his back quite a bit.

“I don’t think we protected him very well. A lot of times it was a four-man rush, it was in his face and he didn’t have a chance to set his feet,” said Kelly. “We had some protection issues with the second o-line.”

There is probably plenty of blame to go around across that front.

The coaches will evaluate the tape and then make their final decisions. As Kelly mentioned, it becomes a numbers game. Jason Peters, Evan Mathis, Jason Kelce, Todd Herremans and Lane Johnson are your starters. Allen Barbre appears to be a primary backup both at guard and tackle. Dennis Kelly, assuming he can come back sooner than later from a back injury, would likely occupy another spot. Then there is a grouping of linemen that includes Watkins, Julian Vandervelde, Matt Tennant, Matt Tobin, Michael Bamiro, Dallas Reynolds and Matt Kopa that the Eagles must choose from. How many do they keep? And who?

Kelly has made clear that he values versatile players. Where several of these backup linemen have played at multiple spots this preseason, Watkins has worked exclusively at guard. You wonder if that hurts his chances.

There is a financial number to consider: Watkins’ $1.1 million base salary for the season is guaranteed. Would that be enough to influence the team’s decision?

The answers will present themselves shortly.

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Eagles Wake-Up Call: Whither the 2011 Draft Class?

Philadelphia Eagles right guard Danny Watkins.Look closely at Thursday’s game against the Jets, and you will see the 2011 Eagles draft class fighting for its life.

Five of the 11 draftees — Jaiquawn Jarrett, Dion Lewis, Brian Rolle, Greg Lloyd and Stanley Havili — are no longer with the team. Jarrett will be on the field Thursday as a member of the  Jets, as the Temple product tries to breathe life back into his career.

Two of the six remaining members — fourth-round pick Alex Henery and sixth-rounder Jason Kelce — are safe. The rest, not as much. Casey Matthews and Julian Vandervelde are on the fringe. Third-round pick Curtis Marsh is in murky waters after breaking his hand.

And then there is Danny Watkins. The former No. 23 overall selection is trying to claim a reserve role. Maybe he’ll make the 53-man, maybe he won’t. It’s really not about whether Watkins survives the final cut. The story is that his status is in question to begin with.

On the day the Eagles drafted the then 26-year old, Andy Reid called Watkins “as good of a football player as there was in the draft.” Said that he received glowing reviews from just about everyone in the building, including Howie Roseman.

“Howie had this guy, right from the get-go, at the top. This was a guy that he really wanted and liked,” said Reid. [This, by the way, seems to run counter to Jeffrey Lurie‘s claim that “The mistakes that were made in the 2011 draft have little or nothing to do with Howie’s evaluations.”]

“And so, when I looked at him I said, ‘This guy is as fine of a football player on the offensive line that you have in this draft.’ And then Howard [Mudd] came back and he said the same thing…He’s one of those guys that you can’t help but like when you look at him. He knows how to play the game. It’s not going to take a Rhodes  Scholar.”

Two seasons later, Watkins is on the bubble. He is the symbol of a draft gone largely wrong.

In an attempt to make Eagles fans weep, Bill Barnwell of Grantland just penned a piece  that contends that the 2011 draft class  is shaping up to be the best defensive group  in modern NFL history. The Eagles have zero projected starters on defense from that crop. [They went Jarrett, Marsh, Matthews in Rounds 2-4.]

The good news is that the 2012 class has the early looks of a winner. Fletcher Cox,  Mychal Kendricks, Vinny Curry, Nick Foles, Brandon Boykin, Bryce Brown and Dennis Kelly could all have roles on this team. Some of them starring roles, even. It’s way too early to judge the ’13 group, but that, too, has potential. There are some building blocks.

You can argue that 10 players from the past two drafts (Lane Johnson, Zach Ertz, Bennie Logan, Earl Wolff, Cox, Kendricks, Curry, Foles, Boykin, Brown) have a legitimate chance of contributing in a meaningful way this season. Throw in Kelly for 11 if you want. Either way, it’s a healthy representation.

The ’11 class, meanwhile, is just trying to survive.

WHAT YOU MISSED

Sheil identifies 10 players that are on the roster bubble. 

Chip Kelly may be hands off to some degree when it comes to defense, but it is still being built in his vision.

Last call to be an intern for Birds 24/7.

Matt Barkley doesn’t want his rookie season to “slip away.”

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

DeMeco Ryans is high on Kendricks. From Reuben Frank:

“He’s communicating more, he’s understanding the game better, he’s seeing things a lot better. I’m just proud of the way he’s grown from Year 1 to now. I can just see that maturity in him, and the knowledge in his game is just picking up.

“I’m really proud of the steps that he’s made. The kid has unbelievable talent, and I just want to see him reach his full potential. The sky’s the limit for him because he has ability that a lot of people don’t have. He’s just gifted. Just God-given talent, and I want to see him able to maximize it.”

Phil Sheridan predicts that the Eagles go 8-8.

Picking a .500 record seems like a cop-out, but there is precious little to go on as Chip Kelly takes over for Andy Reid in Philadelphia. Will Kelly’s go-go offensive approach work in the NFL? Can Michael Vick thrive again after two years marred by injuries and turnovers? Is the read option a growing trend or have defensive coordinators solved it? Can the Eagles’ defense regain respectability even as coordinator Bill Davis shifts from a 4-3 to a 3-4 with mismatched personnel?

That’s way too many big questions to consider the Eagles a likely playoff team. They are, after all, coming off a 4-12 season. But Kelly’s system, facilitated by LT Jason Peters and a healthy offensive line, should be able to put points on the board. One thing is for sure: The Eagles’ offensive players are very excited about their potential.

COMING UP

Game day. We’ll both be in New York. Kapadia will see some snaps at  quarterback for the Jets in the fourth quarter.

Ten Eagles On the Roster Bubble

Danny WatkinsBy 6 p.m. Saturday, the Eagles have to cut 22 players and get their roster down to 53. Many of the bubble guys will get a chance to make one final impression Thursday night, as Chip Kelly acknowledged there’s still “a lot up in the air.”

New offensive scheme, new defensive scheme, new coaching staff and new personnel. Kelly’s moves this weekend will tell us a lot about his roster-building philosophy. Keeping that in mind, here are 10 players whose future with the franchise hangs in the balance as we approach cut-down day.

1. Danny Watkins, OG – The 2011 first-round pick got a fresh start with new offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland, but it doesn’t seem like he’s made a strong impression. Watkins is currently a backup guard and has been passed on the depth chart by veteran Allen Barbre. Kelly wants versatility in his backups, but so far, Watkins has only played guard. As T-Mac reported yesterday, Watkins is due $1.1M in guaranteed money. But with Barbre looking like a keeper and the team needing a backup center, Watkins, who turns 29 in November, could still be out of a spot.

2. Michael Bamiro, OT – The Eagles had to compete with other teams to sign Bamiro earlier this summer. Some reports suggested he would have been a mid-round pick had he entered the draft. The question the Birds have to weigh is whether or not they’d be safe stashing Bamiro on the practice squad. The Eagles have some tackle depth. Barbre can play out there, and Todd Herremans could slide over in a pinch. The team also expects Dennis Kelly to return from back surgery at some point. Bamiro might be a nice option for the bottom of the roster. He would likely be a weekly inactive, but has plenty of upside for down the road.

3. Julian Vandervelde, G/C – It’s been a bumpy journey for the 2011 fifth-round pick. He spent his rookie season on the active roster, was cut last summer, spent a couple days with the Tampa Bay Bucs and then returned to the Eagles. He entered the league as a guard, but has been learning the center position the past two years. If the preseason is any indication, he has a good shot of sticking around as Jason Kelce’s backup. The Eagles’ other options for that spot are Dallas Reynolds and Matt Tennant.

4. Greg Salas, WR - The Eagles didn’t make any moves to add receivers after Jeremy Maclin and Arrelious Benn went down with season-ending ACL injuries. Salas had an excellent camp and flashed during the first two preseason games. He could be competing with Russell Shepard for the fifth receiver spot. Or the Eagles could decide to keep them both.

5. Russell Shepard, WR – He showed some good YAC ability during last week’s game, catching two balls for 38 yards. With Shepard, there is once again the practice squad question. There’s no doubt that the Eagles like his talent, but he went undrafted and could probably use some seasoning before he’s ready to contribute. Special teams is a factor here too. Shepard looks like a willing contributor and made a nice tackle in coverage against Carolina.

6. Clay Harbor, TE/WR - Kelly has been trying to find a spot for the fourth-year tight end. He’s been getting reps at wide receiver and has played there each of the last two preseason games. The truth is, when then Eagles spread it out in Kelly’s offense, there’s often not much of a difference between a wide receiver and a tight end. Kelly prides himself on being prepared for every situation. Harbor’s versatility could be enough to make him stick.

7. Chris McCoy, OLB – The CFL product started off the preseason well, but was not good last week against the Jaguars. The Eagles are somewhat thin at the position. Kelly said ideally, the team would keep four outside linebackers. They’ve got Connor Barwin, Trent Cole and Brandon Graham as virtual locks. This one will likely come down to who else is available. McCoy could be an initial keeper, but if the Eagles see an outside linebacker they like cut from another team, he could be released.

8. Casey Matthews, ILB – Kelly said he’d like to keep four inside linebackers also. The starters are in place with DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks. Matthews, Jake Knott and Emmanuel Acho are competing for spots. Knott is probably the favorite among that group. What we wrote about McCoy could apply here too. The Eagles could add an inside linebacker from another team’s cut list. But Matthews’ special-teams production (14 tackles last year) could help him earn a spot.

9. Clifton Geathers/Damion Square, DL – I cheated a bit here and included these two together. And really, they could both end up making it. The plan for the Eagles on gamedays seems to be to rotate six players on the defensive line. Right now, the five most likely are: Fletcher Cox, Isaac Sopoaga, Cedric Thornton, Bennie Logan and Vinny Curry. The sixth could be either Geathers or Square, with the other as a potential inactive. Square drew praise early in the preseason, but did not play well last week. Geathers had his best performance against Jacksonville. Both have played nose tackle, along with defensive end.

10. Kurt Coleman, S – The fourth-year player’s chances of making the roster increased when the Eagles released Kenny Phillips. But he’s still no lock to make it. Coleman hasn’t rotated in with the starters much, and the decision on whether to keep him or not will likely depend on if Kelly is comfortable keeping five safeties. Patrick Chung, Nate Allen and rookie Earl Wolff seem like locks. Colt Anderson has an excellent shot of sticking because of his special-teams ability. That means Coleman could be the odd man out.

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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Eagles Wake-Up Call: 5 Players To Focus On

0V3J7988The third and most important preseason game is almost upon us. Saturday’s game in Jacksonville will be the final tune-up for the starting units before the season opener against the Redskins. It also represents some players’ last chance to impress the coaches before the roster gets trimmed to 75 on Tuesday. (The number goes all the way down to 53 by Aug. 31.)

Here are five Eagles that we’ll be paying close attention to:

Kenny Phillips

Phillips took part in the team walkthrough on Thursday and said he “likes his chances” of playing Saturday in Jacksonville. The veteran safety has been slowed by a quad strain recently. The bigger issue for him is his history of knee issues.

“At the end of the day they kind of leave it in my hands,” said Phillips. “As much as I want to go out there and play I have to be smart. We still have one more preseason game left (beyond Saturday) so if I don’t have a chance to play this week I definitely have next week.

“The biggest thing is they want me to be healthy so when I am out there I can put some good things on tape. I’m definitely pressing the issue because I definitely want to get out there and show them exactly what I [can] do.”

Given the state of the safety position, the Eagles would love Phillips to show them something. But it has to happen soon.

Trent Cole/Brandon Graham

The Eagles are lacking experience at the outside linebacker position in a pretty big way. Connor Barwin has played the position but the two other key contributors — Cole and Graham — are green. The other potential option at OLB — Chris McCoy — has not played a regular-season snap at this level.

Can they get by with what they have, or do they need to go onto the open market?

“You know, they’re learning,” said Chip Kelly. “I think Connor Barwin has great experience at that position because he’s played here before and I’ve been really impressed with Trent and Brandon as they come along, but you always want more depth no matter what position you’re at.  You’d like to have another guy or two there that you can count on.  But there’s want‑to‑haves and need‑to‑haves, and again, it depends on what’s available.”

Danny Watkins

Watkins has returned to action following a concussion and is expected to play against the Jaguars. In the preseason opener versus the Patriots, he played right guard with the second team.

Todd Herremans missed some time this week with knee inflammation. Allen Barbre apparently worked with the first unit in his absence instead of Watkins, and could get the start against the Jags if Herremans can’t go.

Is Watkins in the team’s plans? The guess here is that he makes it, but I don’t know that it’s a sure thing. Curious to see how he looks Saturday.

Russell Shepard

Shepard enjoyed a strong camp (particularly early) but only has one grab for four yards (on six targets) in preseason play. He might be right on the bubble. Do the Eagles carry both Greg Salas and Shepard? Just one? If so, can Shepard win the job?

Perhaps Saturday’s game will help influence management’s decision.

WHAT YOU MISSED

Kelly says time of possession “is how much time can the other team waste.”

Vick ranked No. 1 in the team’s offseason program.

Another great play breakdown by Sheil, this one on the Eagles’ latest triple option. 

Vick says he “will be a threat” to run in the Eagles’ offense.

Jason Peters is bullish on this offense.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

ESPN.com has DeSean Jackson ranked as the 16th best player in the NFC East.

When he has the ball in his hands, he’s a threat to go the distance from anywhere on the field. The issue with Jackson the past few years has been an inability to consistently get open, and it’s fair to assume the inconsistent quarterback play the Eagles have had in recent seasons has factored in as well. Jackson hasn’t had a 60-catch season since 2009 or a 1,000-yard season since 2010, and he’s only scored six touchdowns, total, the past two years. But the ability is clearly there to do big things. And if Kelly can find a way to get Jackson the ball, there’s still a chance to see that potential translate into a big-numbers wide receiver year the likes of which we’ve been anticipating from Jackson since he arrived in the league.

Les Bowen notes that Lane Johnson hasn’t looked very “raw” despite having that label coming out of college.

“If he was, he’s not anymore,” left guard Evan Mathis said yesterday…

Johnson heard all the “raw” talk, and was acutely aware that he lacked an extensive offensive-line background.

“You’re going into a new environment, there’s going to be new tests, but once you get into the fire, it’s not as bad as what it seems,” he said.

COMING UP

Travel day for the Eagles. We’ll be checking in live from Jacksonville.

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

polk2

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.

johnson1

johnson2

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.

johnson3

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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Eagles Wake-Up Call: OL 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?

Howard Mudd is out, and Jeff Stoutland is in. The new offensive line coach is hoping this group can avoid the injuries that helped turn 2012 into a disaster.

According to Football Outsiders’ Adjusted Games Lost metric, no offensive line in the NFL over the last 11 years suffered more devastating injuries than last year’s Eagles. Jason Peters was lost in the spring, while Jason Kelce and Todd Herremans also went down with season-ending injuries in Weeks 2 and 9, respectively.

Peters and Herremans were full participants during OTAs and mini-camp. Kelce is on track to be full-go for training camp.

With the pieces around him going down week after week, Evan Mathis turned in what was probably his best season as a pro in 2012 and has been the Eagles’ most consistent/durable offensive lineman during the past two seasons.

And finally, the Birds added Lane Johnson with the No. 4 overall pick to take over at right tackle.

The pressing question: How good will Johnson be as a rookie?

The words Chip Kelly used when talking about Johnson back in April were raw and upside.

Historically, those terms haven’t described players ready to step in and contribute right away at a high level.

Johnson has been playing football his whole life, but he was a quarterback for a long time, before getting a shot at tight end and defensive end at Oklahoma. In all, he has two full seasons of offensive line play under his belt – one at right tackle, one at left tackle.

There would seem to be a decent chance that Johnson might struggle as a rookie, before eventually turning into a really good player. But if something clicks right away, and Stoutland figures out how to take advantage of his athleticism, the Eagles have a chance to field one of the best offensive lines in the NFL.

Don’t be surprised if…

Danny Watkins fails to start a game all season. The 2011 first-round pick started six games in 2012 before suffering a “chronic” ankle injury. Even when he was healthy, he lost his spot to journeyman Jake Scott.

The Eagles don’t have a lot of line depth, and Watkins should make the team, but he’s unlikely to play a prominent role. Herremans has slid from right tackle to right guard, and Mathis has the left guard spot locked down. In a recent interview with Mike Kaye of Bleeding Green Nation, Mathis was asked for an under-the-radar lineman to keep an eye on.

Allen Barbre is, at the very least, a starting caliber offensive guard,” he said. “If we were to lose a guard to injury, I’d be totally confident with him filling in.”

Barbre saw some first-team reps during the spring, and clearly, he’s made an impression with teammates. If the coaches prefer Barbre to Watkins, the 2011 first-round pick could be a healthy scratch on gamedays to start the season.

Roster battles to watch

If everyone’s healthy, the starters are pretty much set: Peters (LT), Mathis (LG), Kelce (C), Herremans (RG), Johnson (RT).

But like last year, depth is a major question. At tackle, Dennis Kelly is on track to be the first backup, and with Herremans always an option to move back outside, the Eagles have some flexibility there. Beyond Kelly, there are a bunch of unknowns: Matt Kopa, Ed Wang, Nic Purcell and Matt Tobin. The newest Eagle, Michael Bamiro, will have a chance to land one of the last spots on the roster.

At guard, Watkins and Barbre seem like the favorites to land backup jobs. But others like Nate Menkin, Matt Tennant and Julian Vandervelde have a chance to compete for spots.

At backup center, the options are Tennant, Dallas Reynolds and Kyle Quinn.

WHAT YOU MISSED

I offered five thoughts on the Eagles’ QB situation.

Here’s our linebacker training camp preview.

And more on Bamiro, the 6-8 offensive tackle the team is expected to sign today.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

In an Allentown Morning Call piece, Jimmy Kempski says he thinks Nick Foles has the edge over Michael Vick:

The issue for Michael Vick, however, is that he is coming off two turnover-filled seasons. Not helping matters is that he was outplayed by Nick Foles in OTAs and minicamp. Foles got the ball out quicker than Vick, was generally more accurate, and is putting receivers in a better position to get yards after the catch.

Tra Thomas talked to the Daily News’ Les Bowen about Bamiro:

“I think he’s a solid athlete, someone that kind of fell through the cracks,” Thomas said Tuesday. “He has large hands, he bends well. We worked on both right and left stances; he’s coachable.”

COMING UP

More Kelly leftovers coming up.

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Projected Depth Chart: Eagles’ Offense

We went over the defense yesterday.

Here is the projected depth chart for the Eagles’ offense, based on what we saw during spring practices. Explanations below.

 
First Team
Second Team
Third Team
QBMichael Vick/Nick FolesMichael Vick/Nick FolesMatt Barkley
RBLeSean McCoyBryce BrownChris Polk
LTJason PetersDennis KellyEd Wang
LGEvan MathisDanny WatkinsNate Menkin
CJason KelceDallas ReynoldsMatt Tennant
RGTodd HerremansAllen BarbreMatt Kopa
RTLane JohnsonDennis KellyMatt Tobin
TEBrent CelekZach ErtzJames Casey
WRDeSean JacksonDamaris JohnsonGreg Salas
WRJeremy MaclinRiley CooperIfeanyi Momah
WRJason AvantArrelious BennRussell Shepard

Quarterback: You can view it as a cop-out, but really this is the most accurate way to rank them. Vick and Foles split first-team reps at every practice I attended. I know some people charted overall reps, but that can be a bit deceiving. For example, if a quarterback throws a 50-yard touchdown on the first play of a drill, he generally comes off. That’s only one rep, but it’s a successful one. The same thing happens if the quarterback throws an interception.

Expect Vick and Foles to continue the back-and-forth well into the preseason. Chip Kelly wants to see how each guy responds when faced with the possibility of getting crushed by an opposing defensive player. He has plenty of tape to go off of, but Kelly needs to see how each quarterback handles the new concepts he and his coaching staff have implemented.

Barkley appears to be a clear No. 3 at this point, but I’m not ready to rule anything out.

Kelly has said consistently that the competition will play itself out on the field, and the best performer will be named the starter. His track record at Oregon suggests that’s one of his core beliefs and not just lip service.

Settle in. I wouldn’t expect a winner to be announced until close to that Week 1 matchup against the Redskins.

Running back: McCoy and Brown both figure to see plenty of action in this offense.

Behind them, Polk, Felix Jones and undrafted free agent Matthew Tucker will be competing for roster spots. Polk has dropped weight from a year ago and seemed to be ahead of the other two during spring practices.

Jones provides versatility and could have a leg up if he can be effective as a returner and stay healthy.

Since the Eagles don’t have a fullback on the roster, they could potentially keep four running backs.

Wide receiver: This was a tough one. You’ll notice that the depth chart I’m using features “11” personnel, or one running back, one tight end and three wide receivers.

Avant is a difficult player to evaluate in this scheme. He doesn’t have exceptional size or speed, but he catches anything near him and is the toughest receiver on the roster. Avant is also someone who can set an example for younger players. He’s already taken Sheppard under his wing this offseason.

Benn is not exclusively a slot receiver, even though I put him behind Avant. He was a disappointment in Tampa, but has a versatile skill set. Benn’s chance to prove himself will come in the summer when the pads are on. He’s probably the best blocker among this group.

Cooper and Johnson return from last year’s squad and will have to earn spots. Johnson improved throughout the course of his rookie season and showed the ability to make plays after the catch. He’s also in the mix as a return man. Cooper didn’t do much when given the opportunity to start last year, but he has good measurables and is only 25.

Sheppard looked good during the spring, and Momah’s size (6-foot-7) is intriguing.

This is a crowded position with players with different skill sets. We’ll find out a lot about what Kelly is looking for from his wide receivers after the roster is trimmed down to 53.

Tight end: The depth chart here is a bit misleading. By all accounts, the Eagles are expected to use a lot of two tight-end sets under Kelly. I still think Celek will play the most snaps this season, but he could be on the field with Ertz or Casey quite a bit.

Ertz missed spring practices because of the NCAA graduation rule. And Casey spent several practices on the bike, following arthroscopic knee surgery .

Left tackle/right tackle: Peters has drawn glowing reviews from coaches and teammates, and Johnson has taken over as the starting right tackle.

Kelly looks to be the favorite to be the first backup at both spots (which is why he’s listed twice). He doesn’t appear to have a lot of competition.

Left guard/right guard: Mathis missed time with an ankle injury, but returned last week. Herremans makes the switch to right guard from right tackle.

In terms of depth, Barbre and Watkins are vying for the first backup guard spot.

Center: Kelly has praised Kelce for being in the building rehabbing all offseason. The third-year center is coming off of ACL surgery, but participated in team drills for the first time last week. He’s expected to be fully cleared by training camp.

The backup spot is up for grabs. Reynolds and Tennant are both in the mix.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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Eagles Wake-Up Call: What We’re Watching At Mini-Camp

The Eagles take the field today for the start of a three-day mandatory mini-camp at the NovaCare Complex. We’ll have it all covered with practice observations, interviews with players and more.

The session begins today at 12:40, but in the meantime, here are three things we’ll be watching.

1. What does the O-Line look like?

It’s been a rotating cast of characters during the last two months. Most notably, Jason Peters is expected back after missing time with a personal issue. We may hear more details from Peters, and we’ll also see where his return leaves Lane Johnson. The rookie stepped in at right tackle last week, and Dennis Kelly replaced Peters at left tackle.

But will Johnson stick with the first team now that Peters is back? And how is he picking up the offense overall?

At guard, Evan Mathis is out until training camp as he recovers from an ankle injury. The coaching staff has had positive things to say about Danny Watkins, but last week, Allen Barbre saw some time with the ones ahead of Watkins.

As we mentioned yesterday, there are depth spots up for grabs on the Eagles’ offensive line. Jobs will be won or lost in the summer when the pads come on, but we’ll continue to monitor where guys line up over the next three days.

2. Where’s Cary Williams?

The free agent cornerback has missed several sessions this spring for a variety of reasons. Last Friday, he was attending a recital for his daughter.

When Williams was on the field, he was relegated to the second team, despite having signed a three-year, $17 million deal this offseason. Curtis Marsh and Bradley Fletcher have been the first-team cornerbacks all spring.

Chances are, Williams will continue to run with the second team this week, but will eventually land in the starting lineup in the summer. But he’ll likely get questions today about his absences this offseason.

3. What adjustments has Kelly made?

Michael Vick said recently that Chip Kelly had to slow things down a little bit with the players. The head coach came into the league with plenty of ideas – from smoothies to sleep monitors to the up-tempo practices. But this is his first time coaching NFL players in a professional environment.

What’s working? And what’s not? Are players buying in? These are the last practices until training camp. When players return to the facility, they’ll be about six weeks away from the opener. We’ll try to gauge what the feeling is right now around the building.

Note: The team announced that all players are present for mini-camp except for Isaac Sopoaga (death in the family) and Zach Ertz and Jordan Poyer (graduation rules).

WHAT YOU MISSED

The latest depth chart outlook post looks at the Eagles’ offensive line.

Running back Chris Polk has lost 15 pounds and has one goal for 2013: to play.

“I never carried the football correctly,” says Vick.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

Tommy Lawlor of IgglesBlitz.com takes a look at the Eagles’ safety situation:

The expectations are more realistic for the DBs in the new system. That should help in a big way. Confidence plays a huge part in whether a DB is a good player. Nate Allen has NFL talent, but his confidence has eroded in a major way since his rookie year of 2010. Kurt Coleman doesn’t have the same confidence issues. He’s simply got physical limitations. The new system should allow both players to function better.

Defensive backs coach John Lovett says it will benefit the defense to go up against the Eagles’ offense in practice. From Chris McPherson of PhiladelphiaEagles.com:

“It’s the best because if they can sort it all out and get started and finish the play like they’re supposed to, when somebody starts huddling up it’s going to be easier,” Lovett said. “I think the stress that is put on them by this system is really good.”

COMING UP

We’ll have practice covered, along with some other goodies.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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Eagles Depth Chart Outlook: Offensive Line

This is the eighth in a series. Click here for the earlier depth chart posts.

Football Outsiders uses a metric call Adjusted Games Lost to measure injuries.

Here’s their definition:

Measurement of the cost of injuries, both in terms of missed games and games where players were not able to play to their full potential. Estimates a number of games based on whether players are listed as Probable, Questionable, Doubtful, or Out.

They break it down by position and recently found that no offensive line in the last 11 years (that’s as long as they’ve tracked the metric) suffered more devastating injuries than the Eagles last season.

The unit that was a strength in 2011 turned out to be a disaster in 2012, after injuries to Jason Peters, Jason Kelce and Todd Herremans, along with a lack of depth.

Peters has looked good during spring practices, and Herremans has been a full participant. Kelce has been a partial participant, but is expected to be full-go for training camp. And Evan Mathis suffered an ankle injury, but should also be fine for training camp.

The Eagles didn’t make any major free agent moves with this group, but they used the No. 4 overall pick on Lane Johnson.

If everyone is healthy, the starting lineup will likely look like this: Johnson (RT), Herremans (RG), Kelce (C), Mathis (LG) and Peters (LT). But there are depth spots up for grabs.

Here’s a look at all of the offensive linemen:

 
Height
Weight
Age
Years/Starts
Allen Barbre6-4310285/7
Todd Herremans6-6321308/100
Lane Johnson6-6310230/0
Jason Kelce6-3295252/18
Dennis Kelly6-8321231/10
Matt Kopa6-6310262/0
Evan Mathis6-5302318/53
Nate Menkin6-5300241/0
Jason Peters6-4328319/97
Nic Purcell6-6305270/0
Kyle Quinn6-3290230/0
Dallas Reynolds6-4320292/14
Matt Tennant6-4300263/0
Matt Tobin6-6290220/0
Julian Vandervelde6-2300252/0
Ed Wang6-5315261/0
Danny Watkins6-3310282/18

Pencil ‘em in: Peters, Mathis, Kelce, Herremans, Johnson.

The question for Peters is the Achilles’, which he injured and then re-injured last offseason. But the five-time Pro Bowler indicated that he could have played at the end of the 2012 season if the Eagles were in the hunt for a playoff berth. Instead, he’s had extra time for rest and rehab. Offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland said recently that you’d never know Peters had an injury with the way he’s practiced.

Peters missed the most recent OTAs because of a personal matter, but is expected to be in attendance at this week’s mini-camp.

Mathis was the last man standing on last year’s offensive line. Some thought he might get exposed without Peters by his side, but that wasn’t the case at all. Mathis’ 2012 campaign was probably better than his 2011 run. Assuming his ankle is healthy, Mathis should be a consistent performer at left guard.

Chip Kelly has spoken glowingly about the work Kelce has put in this offseason to get back from an ACL injury. The third-year center has the athleticism to thrive in Kelly’s system.

After two years at right tackle, Herremans moves back inside to guard, where he played from 2006 to 2010. Herremans played well at tackle in 2011, but he’s admitted that last year was a different story. The veteran struggled through the first eight games before suffering a season-ending foot injury. Herremans is 30 and will once again be asked to make a position switch, but he’s shown his versatility in the past and should be fine.

It’ll be interesting to see this week whether Johnson is running with the first team at right tackle. He got the nod there last week, but that was in part because Peters was missing. Kelly described the Eagles’ first-round pick as “raw” but in all likelihood, he’ll be a starter when the season begins against the Redskins.

Fighting for a spot: Kelly, Watkins, Reynolds, Barbre, Kopa, Menkin, Purcell, Quinn, Tennant, Tobin, Vandervelde and Wang.

If the Eagles keep eight or nine linemen on the 53-man roster, that means three or four players from this group will make the team.

Two of the favorites are Kelly and Watkins. Kelly gained some valuable experience last year, starting three games at guard and seven at tackle. He had some moments early on where he impressed, but towards the end of the season, he turned in some completely disastrous performances.

Having said that, the new coaching staff has given him plenty of reps at right tackle with the first team in place of Johnson and at left tackle with Peters out. The swing tackle position is an important one, and Kelly doesn’t seem to have much competition right now. It seems reasonable to expect him to improve in his second season and earn a roster spot.

We’ve written plenty about Watkins in this space. He’s shown very little in his first two seasons, but believes the coaching change could help him reach his potential. The truth is, barring injury, there’s not a starting spot open for him. Watkins’ job this offseason will be to prove to Kelly and Stoutland that he’s the best backup option at guard.

There are a lot of unknowns with the rest of the group. Barbre was a fourth-round pick by the Steelers in 2007, but he was suspended last offseason for the use of performance-enhancing substances, and the Seahawks ended up releasing him. Barbre has been getting some first-team looks though and could compete for a backup job.

The Eagles will also have to come up with a plan for a backup center. Reynolds was the man last year and has a chance to win the job again. Quinn and Tennant are the other centers on the roster. Vandervelde has been getting some looks there. And don’t forget that Mathis had to learn the job last year.

Kopa, Tennant, Tobin and Wang have all seen time with the second team.

As I mentioned, plenty of spots up for grabs. And if the Eagles decide they don’t like the talent on the roster, they could always look to make additions to address depth in the coming months.

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