The Eagles open their 2015 training camp on Sunday, and in more than 30 years of covering this team I can’t remember more intriguing storylines, subplots and question marks to start a season.
There have been notable Eagles camps in the past, of course. Blustery Buddy Ryan generated lots of headlines when he arrived in 1986 and there was plenty of hoopla for the first training camps of running back Ricky Watters and wide receiver Terrell Owens, perhaps the two best players to suit up for the Eagles in the last 20 years. And, of course, any Eagles fan vividly remembers Owens’ controversial and contentious arrival at camp in 2005, when he was unhappy with his contract and was eventually suspended during the season.
And then there was Chip Kelly’s arrival in 2013, when everyone was intrigued by what the trend-setting coach would do with all the great athletes the Eagles had on their roster, including quarterback Michael Vick, running back LeSean McCoy and wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin.
Well, none of those players are here anymore and that is the main reason this camp will be so fascinating to watch or at least read about, since only a few of the camp practices (excuse me, “training sessions”) will be open to the public.
Anyhow, here are our six most intriguing storylines going into training camp:
- The quarterback. This is the NFL, which stands for Not For Long if you don’t have a franchise quarterback. Kelly didn’t feel he had one in Nick Foles, and whether Kelly traded for Sam Bradford as a potential trading chip to move up in the draft for Oregon QB Marcus Mariota or he really wanted Bradford as his No. 1 guy is moot now. If Bradford isn’t ready for the start of the season or gets hurt again, then the Eagles’ fate will be in the inconsistent hands of Mark Sanchez. So, every move Bradford makes (or doesn’t make) during camp will be scrutinized by the media and dominate talk radio.
- The running backs. Kelly has pulled off some stunning moves, but none more so than his trade of McCoy to Buffalo for linebacker Kiko Alonzo, a trade that, on the surface, is lopsided in the Bills’ favor. But Kelly also had free agent DeMarco Murray, last year’s rushing leader, fall into his lap because the former Cowboys star is a close friend of Bradford’s. But there is concern that Murray’s league-leading 392 carries last season – which were 90 more than McCoy, the No. 2 man on that list — will slow him down this year, so it will also be interesting to see how many carries back-up Ryan Matthews gets in relief. But we’re more intrigued with how Kelly will use versatile Darren Sproles, the Eagles’ most dynamic player on offense. Kelly said he needs to find new ways to use Sproles and it will be fun seeing how that plays out.
- The wide receivers. Two of the Eagles’ three starters at this position will definitely be second-year man Jordan Matthews and probably rookie Nelson Agholor, the first-round pick from Southern Cal. The Eagles have also journeyman Riley Cooper, veteran free agent Miles Austin and second-year man Josh Huff in the mix, but it’s the play of the two kids — Matthews and Agholor — that will determine what kind of passing the game the Eagles will have in 2015. Plus it will be interesting to see if Cooper bounces back from his so-so season in 2014 and if Austin can reclaim the form that made him a Pro Bowl player for Dallas.
- The guards. The Eagles got rid of both of last year’s starters, Todd Herremans and Evan Mathis, and between them they had started 104 games over the last four years. That experience is hard to replace and the Eagles will be counting on Allen Barbre – who missed all of last season with a high ankle sprain – to man one of the spots. Right now, the other starting job will be won in camp by Matt Tobin or Dennis Kelly or some other no-name. Of course, there’s also a good chance that one of the guards who will start the 2015 opener, and maybe even both guards, aren’t on the roster yet. The Eagles will keep a close eye on the waiver wire and investigate trades to see if they can upgrade this position.
- The secondary. Plenty of turnover and possible turmoil here. Only one starter returns from last season, safety Malcolm Jenkins, and one cornerback spot is set with veteran Byron Maxwell, the Eagles’ prize free agent acquisition. But the other two spots are up for grabs and we should find out quickly who has grabbed them. Free agent Walter Thurmond seems to be the key here – he’s basically a cornerback, but he could be moved to safety, which could open up a corner spot for rookie Eric Rowe or veteran Nolan Carroll III. And even though Rowe lined up mostly at cornerback in the offseason workouts, the second-round pick did play safety for three of his four seasons at Utah. How all of these pieces fit together is another matter, of course, but first let’s find out who’s on first, so to speak.
- The inside linebackers. There’s plenty of depth – in fact, maybe too much of it. The first thing the Eagles have to find out is whether DeMeco Ryans is back 100 percent after missing the final eight games last season with his second torn Achilles tendon. Kiko Alonzo, acquired in the trade with Buffalo for LeSean McCoy, has one starting spot guaranteed. If Ryans has become a two-down player that would open the door for more playing time for Najee Goode (who impressed the coaches in camp last year before missing the season with a torn pectoral), Emmanuel Acho (who started two games in 2014 and was a regular part of the rotation) and Jordan Hicks (a third-round pick from Texas). The big question mark is Mychal Kendricks, the former second-round pick who missed four games last year with a calf injury and seems to have fallen out of favor with the boss. It wouldn’t surprise anyone if Kelly tries to trade Kendricks for some help on the offensive line or at safety.