Reid On Vick, Dunlap, LB Competition

Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Jamar Chaney.Michael Vick raised some eyebrows yesterday when he told USA Today that he was “trying” to get healthy for the Sept. 9 opener against the Browns.

Andy Reid was asked today if he had any doubts that the quarterback would be ready in Week 1.

“I don’t think so,” he said. “I think he’s going to be fine for the first game.”

Reid added that Vick threw today in Philadelphia with Mike Kafka, who is recovering from a fractured left hand.

“I think he feels better to where he can throw today so I think that’s a plus,” he said. “I’ll talk to him tomorrow and we’ll see how he’s doing. We have Flight Night coming up on Sunday… he’ll get an opportunity to maybe throw the ball around a little bit.”

Kafka, meanwhile, felt pretty good, according to Reid, but he said he’ll talk to head athletic trainer Rick Burkholder tomorrow about what the quarterback’s status is.

KING STILL IN FRONT

King Dunlap started at left tackle tonight, but Demetress Bell rotated in.

“I would probably tell you King’s a little bit ahead, but Bell’s doing a good job,” Reid said. “He’s getting everything together, and I’m glad we have him.”

At this point, it sure seems like it’s Dunlap’s job to lose, and he’s the favorite to start in Week 1.

COMPETITION OPEN AT LB

While DeMeco Ryans has the middle linebacker job locked down, and Mychal Kendricks will man the SAM Position, Reid said competition is still open at the WILL spot.

Brian Rolle has been playing there, but Jamar Chaney has been dealing with a hamstring injury. Rolle led the Eagles with four tackles (three solo), but also had two offsides penalties on the opening drive.

“Initially, he was in competition with Chaney for that job,” Reid said. “Chaney got some good snaps in today. I didn’t want him to re-injure that thing, and it was getting tight on him, so I took him out. But I still think there’s a competition there.”

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.

Eagles Make First LB Shuffle

Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Jamar Chaney.Jamar Chaney didn’t find out until he got to the practice field Thursday morning for the Eagles’ walk-through.

But when Juan Castillo asked for the first-team nickel defense, Chaney was the man called on to go in alongside DeMeco Ryans.

Up until today, Brian Rolle had been occupying that spot at Lehigh. And in the spring, it was rookie Mychal Kendricks.

“I don’t know what’s going on,” Chaney said, when I asked him if he expected to be part of that package for the next few days. “I just do what they tell me to do. Whether I’m out there with the twos or the ones, I just go out there and do my best. My job is just to make the decision hard on them.”

While a lot of the focus is often on the starters, the Eagles were in nickel for nearly half their defensive snaps in 2011. And for much of last season (the first 13 weeks), Chaney was a three-down linebacker. But he only played about 47 percent of the defensive snaps in Weeks 14-16, according to Pro Football Focus.

One area where the Eagles struggled was in coverage against opposing running backs, where they ranked 29th, according to Football Outsiders.

“We’re going against LeSean McCoy and Dion Lewis. There ain’t too many receiving running backs that can get out in routes and can move like they can when they know it’s man-to-man coverage out there on a linebacker,” Chaney said. “So getting that work against those two guys right there is really good for us at training camp.”

Right now, Ryans appears to be the only linebacker staying on the field for all three downs. The Eagles’ base defense has Ryans in the middle, Rolle on the weak side and Kendricks at the SAM. Of course, there could very well be more shake-ups in the coming weeks.

And there’s also the possibility that Castillo will choose to play four or five linebackers during the course of a game in specific packages.

“As a linebacker, you don’t like that, but you just do what you can to help the team win,” Chaney said. “You’d rather be out there if you can stay in that groove and stay in the flow of the game.”

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.

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Linebacker Watch

How’s this for a tone-setter:

DeMeco Ryans, during the first full-squad morning practice of training camp, began asserting his authority.

“He’s very demanding, I’ll tell you that,” said Brian Rolle. “He’s not afraid to speak his mind. If he wants it one way, it’s going to be
that way.

“Today he said something to me and [Mychal] Kendricks about a certain way to play something, and the coaches didn’t have anything to say about it. Because you have a guy – a Pro-Bowl guy, a Rookie of the Year guy – if he says something, he knows, he’s been through it. And we’re going to do it just like that…It’s something that we need.”

I can feel Eagles fans rejoicing.

“Guys listen to what I have to say,” said Ryans. “I don’t have to say much because everybody wants to be great so everyone is doing all those little extra things to make this a better team.”

As Sheil noted in his practice observations, the Eagles are using several different looks at the linebacker position to start. Rolle is being prominently featured, though. He is running with the first team on the weakside, and confirmed today that he is playing  alongside Ryans in the nickel as well.

“I guess they want me out there on the field,” said Rolle. “I’m going to take full responsibility and help DeMeco out as best I can, and help this defense move forward.”

Jamar Chaney, who played WILL in college and was originally drafted for that spot, will try and challenge Rolle for a starting gig. He came up with a nice interception in Thursday’s practice, which Andy Reid took notice of.

“I think [weakside] is a more natural position for him,” said Reid.

If it is Rolle that gets the nod, much will be made of the height factor. He is 5-10 and Kendricks is 5-11. It has already been suggested that having two starting linebackers that size can create some matchup headaches.

“I think those are people who don’t play the game, or didn’t,” said Rolle. “I feel like as long as you want to you can get the job done on the field, regardless of what size you are or how big or how tall. You can be exposed regardless of who you are.”

Eagles Practice Observations

Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Juan Castillo talks to cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha.One of the biggest criticisms Juan Castillo faced last year was that he completely misused Nnamdi Asomugha.

Asomugha earned the reputation of being one of the best man corners in the league while in Oakland. But when he arrived last summer, Castillo talked about using him in more of a Charles Woodson-type role. Covering tight ends, playing inside and outside, maybe even back as a safety on a given play or two.

While Castillo tweaked the defense as last season went on, one thing stayed the same: He used Asomugha in a variety of ways.

And based on the first full-squad practice at Lehigh, that’s going to happen in 2012 also.

On one of the first plays today, Asomugha lined up inside against backup tight end Chase Ford. Last year, playing Asmougha inside was simple because the Eagles had Asante Samuel and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie on the outside. But Samuel’s gone, and the new wrinkle today was that Curtis Marsh lined up outside at right cornerback.

Marsh, a third-round pick in 2011, played only 13 defensive snaps as a rookie. But with Samuel gone, he’s looking to fill a bigger role in his second season.

“We rotate. We have different guys that do different things well. It’s by gameplan,” Marsh said.

Last year, Asomugha was effective against opposing tight ends. He was matched up against Jason Witten quite a bit, and the Cowboys tight end totaled just 52 yards receiving in two games against the Eagles.

“If you play a team with a really good tight end, we can virtually take that tight end out of the game, so that’s another advantage,” Marsh said.

Of course, this was only the first glimpse of the Eagles’ defense this summer, so there could be plenty of changes ahead.

Some other practice observations…

* Samuel, generally the most vocal player at training camp, is in Atlanta. And it looks like Darryl Tapp will assume the role of Eagle most likely to be heard during practice. “If you want to know who the energy source of our group is at practice, it’s Darryl,” Jim Washburn said earlier this week. Tapp is entering his seventh season, and Cullen Jenkins is entering his ninth, yet they were as enthusiastic as anyone in the 96-degree heat.

* You should take all depth chart notes with a grain of salt, but Derek Landri saw a lot of time with the first-team, alongside Jenkins, in Mike Patterson’s place. Landri played nearly 71 percent of the defensive snaps with the Panthers back in 2010, but many believed he would benefit from fewer snaps with the Eagles. And that turned out to be the case. Landri was an effective rotational player, and his playing time increased towards the end of the season (more than 50 percent of the team’s snaps in each of the last five games).

But if Patterson’s not ready to go when the Eagles play the Browns in Week 1, my money’s still on rookie Fletcher Cox to start alongside Jenkins.

* It looks like Dion Lewis will open camp as the No. 2 running back behind LeSean McCoy.

* The linebackers were lined up as you’d expect: DeMeco Ryans in the middle, Brian Rolle at the WILL and Mychal Kendricks at the SAM. There were quite a few different combinations in nickel: Ryans and Kendricks, Ryans and Rolle, Kendricks and Jamar Chaney. As linebackers coach Mike Caldwell pointed out earlier this week, there will likely be different nickel packages, based on down and distance. So seeing those different combinations is not surprising.

* Casey Matthews was in the middle with the second team. Chaney and Jordan were on the outside.

* Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman were the first-team safeties with Oshiomogho Atogwe and Jaiquawn Jarrett running with the second team.

* The second defensive line foursome featured Brandon Graham, Cox, Antonio Dixon and Tapp.

* I didn’t see rookie Brandon Boykin get any reps with the first-team nickel. Aside from the Asomugha/Marsh/Rodgers-Cromartie combination, Joselio Hanson mixed in to his usual spot. The second-team corners were Marsh and Brandon Hughes on the outside, with Boykin in the slot.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.

Eagles training camp preview: Linebackers

Eagles veterans are scheduled to report to training camp by Wednesday evening. Between now and then, we’ll preview what to look for at each position during the next few weeks.

Save ‘em a spot: DeMeco Ryans, Mychal Kendricks, Brian Rolle, Jamar Chaney, Casey Matthews.

Ryans arrives with high expectations after the Eagles have continually failed in recent years to find an adequate middle linebacker. Barring injury, he is a lock to start in the middle when the Eagles open the season against the Browns. But can he be good enough in coverage to stay on the field for all three downs?

The Eagles were in nickel about 46 percent of the time last year, according to Football Outsiders (you’re going to see me cite that stat quite a bit). In Houston, Ryans earned the reputation of being a great leader and a great teammate. But it’ll be hard to lead if he’s replaced in sub packages and on the sidelines nearly half the time.

The SAM job is Kendricks’ to lose, and he’ll likely stay on the field in nickel packages too.

As for WILL, Rolle, Chaney and Matthews will battle it out. Rolle produced mixed results as a rookie, leading all Eagles linebackers with six tackles for loss, but he missed his share too. Chaney started last season out at SAM, played poorly and was not very good when he returned to the middle either.

And then there’s Matthews. Talk about a strange rookie season. He was thrown into the middle to start the year, couldn’t get the job done, was moved to WILL in Week 3 and then barely saw the field again until Week 14. But in the final four games, Matthews played a lot (about 61 percent of the snaps) and played pretty well.  He should get a shot to win the WILL spot, and even if that doesn’t happen, Matthews could very well snatch one of the nickel positions, considering coverage was one of his strengths at the end of last season. In the spring, he said he bulked up to 250 pounds, and we’ll see in the next few weeks if that’s affected his speed.

Fighting for a job: Keenan Clayton, Moise Fokou, Akeem Jordan, Greg Lloyd, Ryan Rau, Monte Simmons.

Unless I’m wrong about someone in the first section (and I will reluctantly admit that’s possible), the six players in this group will be fighting for one spot.

Most likely, it’ll be either Clayton, Fokou or Jordan who makes the cut. Remember, special teams is a key here, and Jordan led the team with 14 special teams tackles last year. Fokou had 10, and Clayton had nine.

Clayton has been an enigma since the Eagles drafted him in the fourth round of the 2010 draft. He never seems to impress coaches in practice, but he saw significant action in the final month of last season. With the increasing need for linebackers to cover, Clayton has a chance to work himself into the mix.

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