Breaking Down Philadelphia Eagles' 5 Biggest Training Camp Projects
In many aspects, the 2014 Philadelphia Eagles will be very similar to the club that won 10 games and the NFC East title a year ago.
Chip Kelly’s offense is intact with quarterback Nick Foles, running back LeSean McCoy and an offensive line that is nearly the same as 2013 (minus the four-game suspension to right tackle Lane Johnson). Wide receiver DeSean Jackson was released, but the Eagles added a slew of potential replacements via both the draft (Jordan Matthews and Josh Huff) and by re-signing their own players (Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper).
The defense was at best an average unit in coordinator Billy Davis’ 3-4 scheme, relying more on a bend-but-don’t-break strategy than dominance from any one player. This looks to be the same philosophy heading into ’14, especially since it looks like 10 of 11 starters from last year will be back for this season.
Getting contributions from under-the-radar players may be key. The following five are not all being counted on for big roles immediately, and the term "project" may be accurate to describe their status with the team. Keep a close eye on these players during training camp to see if they can contribute extensively in 2014.
The reason Maclin could be considered a project for now is his health—Maclin is coming off a torn ACL that kept him on injured reserve for all of 2013. This was his second such major knee injury in five seasons, and he’s playing on a one-year deal before he will get to test the free-agent market.
Now that the Philadelphia Eagles have moved on from Jackson, Maclin is being counted on to be the No. 1 receiver in a high-powered offense. Maclin has never lived up to his status as a former first-round pick, although he’s still managed to be a productive player. For his first four seasons in the league, he averaged 855 receiving yards and six touchdowns.
Per Geoff Mosher of CSNPhilly.com, Maclin is 100 percent healthy. That’s good news for Eagles fans who need the receiver to put up big numbers. Fortunately, Kelly’s offense has brought out the best in both Jackson and Cooper, so there’s reason to believe the same can be done for Maclin.
The Philadelphia Eagles traded back in the first round to get Louisville pass-rushing outside linebacker Marcus Smith, a player many thought was better suited to go in the second or even third round.
Smith is a former high school quarterback who moved to tight end and then eventually defensive end and outside linebacker in college. That being said, he’s clearly an athlete, and both Kelly and Davis will love his versatility.
Smith won’t likely start as a rookie, seeing as Trent Cole and Connor Barwin appear to be locked in as the starting 3-4 outside linebackers. Each of those veterans played very well in 2013, but their high cap hits for the ’15 season suggest they may be entering their final season with the Eagles.
If Smith can spend much of this season learning, he can be ready for a prime role the following year. Smith will likely contribute extensively as a pass-rusher on third downs, and he will have to ward off Brandon Graham for snaps.
Rookie pass-rushers often underwhelm in the sack category, and Smith could be no exception. Dion Jordan had just two sacks. Jarvis Jones had one. Bjoern Werner had only 2.5. Smith may be in for a rough season because he’s still new at the position and will have to refine his pass-rushing skills to include more than just a simple bull rush.
Don’t expect Matt Barkley to play in 2014. Nick Foles is the unquestioned starter, and he’s coming off a record-breaking Pro Bowl campaign. Veteran quarterback Mark Sanchez was brought over to be the backup behind Foles, and he’s a solid player for the role considering the starting experience he has.
Barkley should easily win the No. 3 job. After all, the team spent a fourth-round pick on him just a year ago; in fact, trading up to acquire the former USC superstar. Barkley had a rough time in his rookie season, turning the ball over nearly every time he touched it.
Recent reports indicate Barkley may not even hold off last year’s undrafted rookie, G.J. Kinne, for the final quarterback spot.
Barkley’s arm strength has been questioned, per Jimmy Kempski of Philly.com.
It’s unclear what Kelly’s thought process was initially when he drafted Barkley. He already had Foles, although I don’t think either Kelly or Foles thought 2013 would turn out quite the way it did. Did he think Barkley could be a long-term developmental project, a la what the New England Patriots have tried with Brian Hoyer and now Ryan Mallett?
There’s still a chance that could happen. Barkley was a highly successful collegiate quarterback, and he has plenty of starting experience. His draft stock fell because of a disappointing senior season and a lingering shoulder injury. But Kelly has worked wonders with every quarterback he’s touched.
It’s highly unlikely he will release Barkley. Barkley has a much greater upside than Kinne. Kinne would be best suited on the practice squad, while Barkley can spend another season as the No. 3 quarterback on the depth chart.
Until several weeks ago, it looked as if the Philadelphia Eagles would put forth the exact same offensive line as they did last year.
Left to right, that would be Pro Bowlers Jason Peters and Evan Mathis, Jason Kelce, Todd Herremans and Johnson. That unit graded by Pro Football Focus (subscription required) as far and above the most efficient run-blocking line last year, which played a major impact in the performance of McCoy.
Then news emerged that Johnson, last year’s first-round pick, was suspended for four games for violating the NFL’s drug policy. That will thrust backup Allen Barbre into a starting role.
Fortunately, the Eagles think highly of Barbre; he was given a three-year contract extension this offseason, which doesn’t typically happen for backup linemen. Barbre did fill in for Peters several times last season, and he rated well by the PFF analysts, allowing zero hurries in 89 snaps.
Barbre is extremely athletic, having previously held the scouting combine record for offensive linemen with a 4.84 time in the 40-yard dash. That record ironically was broken in 2013 by Johnson, who ran a 4.72.
Barbre is an ideal fit for Kelly’s offense, as he’s athletic and versatile enough to play both tackle and guard. He should be able to hold his own when Johnson is suspended, although he will have the next six weeks to prepare himself as a Week 1 starter.
Last year, rookie third-round nose tackle Bennie Logan played well enough that the Philadelphia Eagles traded away veteran Isaac Sopoaga to the New England Patriots. Logan still only saw action in fewer than half of the defensive snaps, with undrafted Alabama rookie Damion Square serving as the primary backup.
Square was exposed when he did play, rating well below average as both a run-stopper and pass-rusher. The Eagles took a flier on massive nose tackle Beau Allen, spending a seventh-round pick on the 330-pound player. Allen is a classic 0-technqiue nose tackle who can clog the middle.
The ideal scenario is that Allen provides solid depth as an interior lineman. He’s a perfect goal-line player, assuming he has the lateral quickness to move from gap to gap. There’s still no guarantee that Allen even makes the 53-man roster.
He was a seventh-round pick, which means he could have a tough camp battle with Square and other defensive linemen like Taylor Hart and Joe Kruger for a final roster spot. He’s probably not being counted on as a future starter, but if he can become an integral part of the rotation on the defensive line, that’s a successful draft pick.