Eagles (Abbreviated) Practice Observations

Today was the Eagles’ first training camp practice, but the session included only rookies and selected veterans.

In all, 28 players participated, after running back Matthew Tucker and punter Brad Wing failed their conditioning tests.

Here’s a photo from a TV monitor in the cafeteria of what the players’ schedule looked like:

* As for the on-the-field session, undrafted free agent Jake Knott gave new meaning to the term “one-on-one instruction.” He’s the only linebacker here, so when players split up by position, it was just him and inside linebackers coach Rick Minter. As we mentioned earlier this week, backup linebacker jobs are up for grabs, so the extra time can only help a player like Knott.

* The wide receivers ran through some interesting drills. The first image shows them making catches behind a contraption that presumably simulates a defender.

Update: Thanks to the commenter for pointing out the purpose of this drill is for wide receivers to focus on catching the ball with their hands.

And they also worked on ball security:

* One nice part about these practices is you can get up close to the field and actually listen to the coaches. For example, I spent some time around Jeff Stoutland and the offensive line. There were only five players in attendance – Lane Johnson, Jason Kelce, Michael Bamiro, Nic Purcell and Matt Tobin. On one rep, Johnson held an orange blocking pad and was supposed to simulate a 3-technique defensive tackle.

But when the ball was snapped, Johnson didn’t go where Stoutland wanted him to go, so he blew the whistle and stopped the drill. Remember Chip Kelly’s philosophy of teaching in the classroom, not on the field? That doesn’t apply to these practices. Stoutland explained how the 3-technique could either attack the gap or the offensive tackle.

Next, the five offensive linemen went up against grey and yellow trash cans. Bamiro was just signed last week, but Stoutland wasn’t about to take it easy on his newest pupil. “I taught you this already,” he told the 6-8, 339-pounder.

Stoutland then used an analogy of pushing a car uphill. “Are you going to push it from behind or from the side?” he asked, after knocking over a trash can. On this specific run play, the point was the offensive tackle needed to take a couple steps to his right before squaring up on the defender.

* It’ll be just the rookies and selected vets again Wednesday. Veterans check in Thursday. And then the real fun begins with the first full-squad practice on Friday.

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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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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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Stoutland’s Message To OL: ‘Make Your Opponent Feel You’

INDIANAPOLIS — D.J. Fluker couldn’t stand still.

The Alabama offensive lineman bounced from side to side, talking fast, but providing insightful responses as beads of sweat formed on his forehead.

“I’m always like this,” Fluker said. “I’m the high-energy guy on that team.”

What do you do to relax?

“There’s no time to relax. Every day to me is a work day. I want to be the Ray Lewis of my offensive line.”

Alabama’s offensive line has a strong presence at the NFL Combine. Guard Chance Warmack is unanimously considered a first-round pick. Fluker, who played right tackle last year, but is also getting a look at guard, is considered a first- or second-rounder. And versatile interior lineman Barrett Jones is projected to go off the board in the first round rounds.

All three, of course, were coached by Jeff Stoutland, now the Eagles’ offensive line coach.

“He taught me a lot as far as reading safeties, reading coverages, that’s our job,” Fluker said. “Being more aggressive at the point of attack. Drive people off the ball. Finish them. Make them feel you. That’s the main thing. Make your opponent feel you. Let them know early. Set the tone early, that’s the main thing.”

How is Stoutland different from other coaches?

“Couch Stoutland was one of those guys that, he wanted your effort,” Fluker added. “He wanted your best every time at practice. He finds guys, calls them catfish – the guy that’s going to jump out the water and give you everything they’ve got on every play. He looks for those type of guys.”

Fluker measured in at 6-5, 339 pounds on Friday and has long arms (36 3/4 inches). Asked what the most fun thing to do on a football field is, he responded, “Knocking the defensive end down. Dominate them every single play. Let them know this ball’s coming right behind me.”

During his interview, Fluker said he’s spent time watching and studying Jason Peters and Anthony Munoz.

Known as a player who never stops talking, Fluker was asked what he says to opposing defensive ends.

“I’m saying to you, ‘Hey, I’m coming to take your lunch money,'” he responded.

“When I’ve got them on skates, I finish ‘em. Kind of like Mortal Kombat.”

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