Notes: The New-Look Offensive Line

Photo by: Jeff Fusco.

Photo by: Jeff Fusco.

Pat Shurmur didn’t want to reveal who would be starting at left guard and right tackle this week in place of the injured Evan Mathis and Allen Barbre, but the early portion of practice Wednesday seemed to paint the picture.

Dennis Kelly was working at left guard with the first unit and Andrew Gardner was at right tackle.

“I think we’re better here than in most places I’ve been because we get so many reps in practice, in our training sessions, that the guys that are going to fill in — just like the guys that did on Sunday — have a better opportunity to do so,” said Shurmur. “Everybody deals with it. It’s rare when you have to put two new guys in a game, we’ve all dealt with having to put in one, but the guys that went in did a great job and I think it’s a function of our culture and our practice that they were able to do it so well.” Read more »

Roster Analysis: Sizing Up the Offense

Photo by: Jeff Fusco.

Photo by: Jeff Fusco.

The Eagles made cuts today, trimming the roster down to 53 players in advance of the 4 p.m. deadline. Here’s a position-by-position look at what the squad looks like on offense. We’ll do the defense next.

Quarterbacks (3): Nick Foles, Mark Sanchez, Matt Barkley.

No surprises here. Those are your top three guys, with G.J. Kinne let go.

What’s interesting though is that the Eagles might not be totally done at quarterback. According to Jimmy Kempski of Philly.com, they seem to be fielding trade offers on Barkley. I’m not sure that the Eagles will get any suitors, but there could be a team or two that liked Barkley when he was coming out of USC and thinks about taking a flier on him.

Remember, the Eagles reportedly worked out former Bills and Browns QB Thad Lewis earlier this week.

Obviously, the top two spots will go to Foles and Sanchez. Read more »

Eagles Depth Chart: Offense

Photo by: Jeff Fusco.

Photo by: Jeff Fusco.

Chip Kelly likes to say that the Eagles only have a seating chart, not a depth chart, this time of year.

Luckily, here at Birds 24/7, we don’t have to abide by the same rules. So now that we’ve seen all of the spring practices and have our eyes on the start of training camp (July 25), here’s our stab at what the offensive depth chart looks like (we’ll do the defense tomorrow). I tried to make this as useful as possible, so there are explanations below. Read more »

Bradley Fletcher Ruled Out For Sunday’s Game

Bradley FletcherEagles starting cornerback Bradley Fletcher has been ruled out for Sunday’s game against the Chargers.

The 27-year-old sustained a concussion late in the game against Washington. He had yet to pass the ImPACT test as of Thursday afternoon.

The Eagles’ depth in the secondary will be tested. Brandon Boykin is expected to start on the outside in Fletcher’s absence, though he could  very well move into the slot in certain packages as well. Brandon Hughes, who is recovering from a fractured hand, is a logical candidate to play on the outside when Boykin does move inside.

Jordan Poyer could also factor into the equation, though the rookie appeared to struggle a bit in limited action against Washington. Safety Patrick Chung saw some time in the slot this preseason, likely in preparation for an emergency scenario.

Fletcher was targeted six times on Monday night and yielded three catches for 33 yards, per Pro Football Focus. He finished with four tackles.

Dennis Kelly (back) has also been ruled out for the Chargers game. He was a limited participant in practice this week and appears to be recovering well from back surgery. He is set to meet with his doctor on Sunday and expects to be cleared for all football activity at that time. The tackle said that he is targeting the Denver game for his return.

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Kelly: No Favoritism Towards Ex-Oregon Players

0V3J8539Of the 61 spots on the Eagles’ roster (practice squad included), five are occupied by guys who played their college ball at Oregon.

Today, Chip Kelly was asked if his familiarity with the former Ducks can help him build his program with the Eagles.

“If we were gonna sing the Oregon fight song, it would,” Kelly joked.

“Besides that, I’m familiar with them and I know what they do, what Jeff [Maehl] can do as a special-teams player. I know what Casey [Matthews] can do as a special-teams player. I was with Pat [Chung] for a year. Isaac Remington’s a kid that we brought in. We moved him to the offensive line just before we released him. The other guys that we released on the offensive line are not practice-squad eligible. So we think he’s got an upside as an offensive lineman. We’re gonna take a look and see what he can do.”

Maehl, Matthews and Chung are all on the 53-man roster. Remington and defensive lineman Brandon Bair were added to the practice squad.

Maehl was acquired from the Texans and made the squad over undrafted free agent Russell Shepard and veteran Greg Salas. Matthews made the team in favor of Emmanuel Acho.

Asked specifically what role his familiarity with Maehl and Matthews had on his decisions, Kelly said: “None. It’s about special teams. Every backup player on this team, and we’ve said it since Day One, there’s three ways to make this football team: special teams, special teams, special teams. So it’s where did they contribute from a special-teams factor.

“If you’re gonna be the fourth or fifth receiver, and right now that’s Damaris [Johnson] and Jeff [Maehl], it’s the value that they have to Coach [Dave] Fipp and our special teams. And it’s the same thing: Why did we keep three [backup] inside linebackers as opposed to one backup outside linebacker? It’s how those three players contribute on special teams, and that’s kind of where it was. That’s why we made the move to get [Najee] Goode from Tampa Bay. It’s the same thing.”

Kelly had an interesting comment when explaining why he kept five inside linebackers instead of OLB Chris McCoy.

“Right now, at our outside linebacker spot, we had a lot of rush guys, not a lot of drop guys,” he said. “The one drop guy we had was Connor Barwin, so to keep a third rush guy… we kept Vinny [Curry]. We kind of look at Vinny, could play in that spot for us if possible. But to keep another rush guy that’s not contributing on teams just wasn’t gonna help us.”

Of course, Trent Cole and Brandon Graham have been practicing as rush/drop guys all preseason long. Perhaps Kelly’s response suggests they’re not going to be in coverage much once the regular season begins.

ALLEN TO START AT SAFETY

Nate Allen will start opposite Chung at safety Monday night.

Asked how he came to that decision, Kelly said: “Film evaluation, games played, production so far for the preseason camp and OTAs.”

But he also added that rookie Earl Wolff is “pushing” Allen and will see playing time Monday night. Whether he and Allen will rotate is unclear.

“We’ve just got to get him in the game,” Kelly said.

INJURY UPDATE

Offensive tackle Dennis Kelly (back) is officially out for Monday. Cornerback Brandon Hughes (hand) is likely out, although that’s not final. And tight end James Casey (hamstring) is practicing with the team today.

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Dennis Kelly Still Has A Ways To Go Before Return

The last time we spoke with Dennis Kelly, he said that he hoped to be back on the practice field around the start of the regular season and was “very confident” that he would avoid being placed on injured reserve.

On Tuesday he said he was “pretty confident” that the IR is not in his future. And it looks like his return date is still a ways off.

Kelly, who had back surgery to repair an L2 disc earlier this month, said he will be re-checked by doctors on September 16. He could be cleared to return to football-related activities then.

Currently the 6-8, 321-pound tackle is able to do some cardio and a little bit of agility work. The big thing will be regaining strength and getting back into football shape. Even if there are no setbacks, that could take some time.

Chip Kelly was asked about the injury factor when it comes to piecing the 53-man roster together.

“Big,” he said. “When can they come back?  There will be a consultation with our doctors.  When can we expect them?  Is it back Week Three, is it back Week Eight?  All of that has to go into the final decisions of who is playing 53.”

Beyond Kelly, the backup tackles currently vying for roster spots include Allen Barbre, rookie Michael Bamiro, Matt Kopa and Matt Tobin. Certainly they wouldn’t mind having Kelly in the mix. It’s just a matter of when they think he can get back and contribute in a meaningful way.

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Camp Notes: Foles Trying To Bounce Back

Nick FolesIf there is a positive spin to put on Nick Foles‘ two preseason turnovers, it’s that both were promptly followed by touchdown drives.

In the opener against the Patriots, Foles was hit from behind as he was trying to pass on his second play from scrimmage and coughed up the football. His next time up he engineered a 10-play, 62-yard drive that Bryce Brown capped with an eight-yard burst up the middle for the score.

Thursday against Carolina, Foles was interecepted by Josh Thomas in the back of the end zone on the opening possession. On the next series he scrambled for the seven-yard touchdown run.

“In both instances in two weeks in a row which I learned from Nick, he can bounce back from an adverse situation.  Not that you ever want to be in one but at least you kind of know how he’ll be,” said Chip Kelly.

Mistakes are magnified in a tight quarterback competition, especially when you have so few snaps to go off. Michael Vick has been sharper in his two preseason appearances and looks to have the inside track to win the job. Turnovers, like the one Foles surrendered on Thursday, can cost you.

“It’s definitely tough when it happens, but you just sort of know that your teammates are looking to you because you’re gonna go back in there,.” said Foles. “The first thought in my mind when I got to the sidelines was I can’t wait until we get the ball back. I cannot wait to go in and get that ball in the end zone. So there’s a fire right there. You never want that to happen. It does. And you’ve just got to bounce back from it.”

Foles said that he and Vick split first-team reps Sunday. Only the first half-hour of practice is open to the media now, so we don’t know if it was a 50-50 share or not. On Saturday, Vick got the bulk of the work with the first team.

Does Foles still have a chance to be the starter?

“My mindset is I’m gonna work as hard as I can. My ultimate goal always is to play,” he said. “That’s my ultimate goal. I’m gonna work towards that. I’m not changing anything.”

Dennis Kelly update

I caught up with offensive tackle Dennis Kelly outside of the NovaCare Complex Sunday. He is still walking gingerly following surgery earlier this month to repair the L2 disc in his back . He said he is “very confident” that he will not be placed on injured reserve. And while he acknowledged that being ready for the opener is a long shot, he is thinking that he might be back on the practice field around then.

That seems like a pretty quick turnaround following back surgery. Kelly, though, says modern technology has cut down the recovery time.

New Role For Remington

Isaac Remington  turned his white No. 61 jersey in for a green 52 on Sunday, as the former Oregon defensive lineman worked with the O-line at practice. The undrafted free agent is probably a long shot to make the 53-man roster.

Injuries

Curtis Marsh (broken hand), Felix Jones (oblique), Danny Watkins (concusion), Emil Igwenagu (concussion),   Kenny Phillips (quad) and Casey Matthews (knee) sat out practice once again Sunday.

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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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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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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.

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