Philadelphia Eagles' Training Camp To-Do List
It’s back to work for the Philadelphia Eagles on Friday, July 25. That’s the date the full 90-man roster is scheduled to report to the NovaCare Complex for training camp.
Once in camp, it’s right to work for the Eagles, who are hoping to improve on last season’s 10-6 record and first-round playoff exit. In order to do just that, they’ll first have to run down a checklist and solve a few lingering issues from the offseason.
The Eagles’ to-do list might be shorter than a lot of teams’, as there aren’t many major competitions anticipated this summer. However, there are plenty of details left to tend to before the regular season kicks off in September.
Integrate Marcus Smith into the Defense
For the time being, Marcus Smith appears to be buried on the depth chart. Based on reports out of spring practices, the Eagles’ first-round pick was serving as the backup to outside linebacker Connor Barwin, who lined up for 94 percent of the defensive snaps in 2013, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
That being said, it would behoove the Birds to find a role for Smith. Philadelphia’s defense ranked 29th overall and dead last against the pass this past season. Clearly, the unit could use all the help it can get.
That goes double for the pass rush, which is still anchored by Trent Cole. Cole, who turns 32 in October, handled a transition from defensive end to outside linebacker better than anticipated in ’13, ultimately registering eight sacks to lead the club. That wasn’t quite enough, though, as the Eagles finished the year just six sacks out of last place.
Smith was chosen, at least in part, because of his ability to get after the passer. The Louisville product was named AAC Defensive Player of the Year with 14.5 sacks as a senior. A converted quarterback, Smith is probably raw for a full-time role as a rookie, but he could bring some athleticism to the table in a situational role.
Of course, that athleticism can come into play elsewhere. According to NFL.com, Smith clocked in at 4.68 seconds in the 40-yard dash at 6’3”, 251 pounds with 34-inch arms. A niche as a nickel linebacker spending a good portion of his time dropping into coverage isn’t out of the question, either.
Hey, defensive coordinator Bill Davis did vow to Reuben Frank of CSNPhilly.com to reduce interior linebacker DeMeco Ryans’ playing time. Smith played all over the place in Louisville’s scheme, so it may not be as big a stretch as it probably sounds.
Whatever the case, the Eagles need to find ways to get Smith involved. Generally speaking, a first-round pick should be able to contribute as a rookie, if for no other reason than to hasten his development.
Figure out the Contingency Plan at Right Tackle
Three weeks have passed since Paul Domowitch of the Philadelphia Daily News first reported Lane Johnson was facing a four-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs. As of this writing, the league office has yet to confirm a ban for the right tackle, but if and when news is handed down, the Eagles will be in need of a plan.
The first question is who starts in Johnson’s place? It’s widely assumed journeyman Allen Barbre is the front-runner being that he was the first man off the bench in 2013. The Eagles were obviously happy with Barbre’s performance, because they inked him to a three-year extension in June.
It might not be as simple as choosing a replacement, though. If Johnson is going to miss as many as four games at the beginning of the season, does that alter the depth chart at all during training camp? I mean, if Barbre or somebody else is going to be in the starting lineup, it stands to reason he should take some first-team reps in practice and preseason games, no?
Finally, the Eagles probably should consider their course of action in the event another member of the offensive line were absent for any reason. Would Barbre jump out to left tackle or kick inside to guard instead? If he did, would that mean Dennis Kelly takes over for Johnson, or would Todd Herremans slide back outside from right guard?
As you can see, a suspension for Johnson could have a ripple effect down the entire offensive line. The Eagles must be prepared.
Choose Kick and Punt Returners
If an opposing team kicked off to the Eagles tomorrow, as of now there would be no one back deep to catch the ball. Of course, in all honesty, that wouldn’t be a huge step down from last season.
Philadelphia finished 26th in the NFL in 2013 with an average of 21.4 yards per kick return. For that matter, it feels like the franchise has lacked a legit return man since Brian Mitchell from 2000-02. In the 11 years since Mitchell, the Eagles have just one kick return for a touchdown.
By the same token, the Birds haven’t had much success on punt returns lately, either. DeSean Jackson seemed to lose interest in the role, posting a pitiful 5.6 average with zero touchdowns over the past three seasons, and now is in Washington. As a team, Philly ranked 27th with 6.6 yards per return last year.
Reuben Frank of CSNPhilly.com reports the Eagles have plenty of options at both spots, but the competition is wide open at this point. Nolan Carroll, Josh Huff, Damaris Johnson, Jeremy Maclin, Chris Polk, Brad Smith and Darren Sproles are all trying their hand on kicks, while Riley Cooper, Jordan Matthews, Maclin and Sproles are trying out on punts.
The Eagles have 11 practices before their first preseason game in August, at which time hopefully the field has been narrowed down a bit.
Find a Kicker
Sticking with special teams, one of the few areas where the top of the depth chart is not set heading into training camp is at kicker. Alex Henery will battle undrafted rookie Carey Spear for the job.
So far at, the competition sounds like it’s been underwhelming to say the least. Jeff McLane of The Philadelphia Inquirer went so far as to refer to the battle as a “facade” during spring practices, backing up multiple reports that Henery was winning with ease.
That’s not exactly great news for the Eagles. Everybody knows what Henery is—or, more appropriately, is not—capable of. The coaching staff can’t trust him on field goals approaching 50 yards or more, nor does he consistently boom kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks.
Spear should be an improvement on kickoff distance. His 64 percent touchback rate as a senior at Vanderbilt would’ve been good for sixth in the NFL in 2013. However, McLane and others noted he looked shaky on field goal tries during OTAs, to put it mildly.
It will be a bit of a sore spot if Henery has to return after badly missing a 48-yard field goal that could’ve been the difference in their playoff loss to the New Orleans Saints last year. Whether it’s Henery or Spear or even somebody else from off the street, though, the Eagles have to identify a kicker.
Appoint a Backup Quarterback
The Eagles are Nick Foles’ team now. No disputing that. But what happens if Foles is unavailable for any reason?
No, really. Who would take over under center?
It’s widely assumed Mark Sanchez will serve as Foles’ understudy. In all honesty, that does seem likely. While Sanchez’s career numbers are lacking, he’s started 68 games including playoffs over five NFL seasons with the New York Jets, compiling a 37-31 record. As backups go, Philadelphia could do worse.
On the other hand, it’s far from a given that Sanchez beats out Matt Barkley for the job. Taken in the fourth round in ‘13, the Eagles would be thrilled if Barkley would come into his own in year two and earn the job behind Foles.
Whether it’s going to be Sanchez or Barkley, the sooner the Eagles figure it out the better. The last thing you want is to get into a situation in the regular season where Foles exits, and it takes a game or two to figure out the wrong guy relieved him. Can’t afford it.
It’s not as simple as merely naming Sanchez or Barley the guy. A legitimate competition absolutely is necessary this summer. One way or the other during this training camp, though, the Eagles must get the backup quarterback situation settled.