Camp Nears End: Positional Analysis
It’s going to be rare for me to delve too far into personal opinion here on ITI, but with training camp winding down, it’s an appropriate time to take a look at the Eagles roster position by position. Below is a look at where they’ve gone up, held the same, or gone down in comparison to expectations headed into camp.
Quarterbacks: Steady. Kevin Kolb remained inconsistent in practice through much of camp, but had a mostly strong start against the Jaguars in the first preseason game. Unfortunately for Kolb, he did make a few bad decisions that caused him to attempt risky throws. He got away with them then, but that’s an area that needs to improve. Michael Vick didn’t do anything in my mind to stand out as highly improved. He’s faster than last year and knows the system better, but as he demonstrated against Jacksonville, turnovers are still a major concern. Mike Kafka performed almost exactly as expected in my mind, he was accurate on short passes and had a great deal of difficulty throwing deep. Coaches rave about his smarts, and think he holds a ton of potential.
Running Backs: Down, but only a little. LeSean McCoy hasn’t looked bad, but he hasn’t made you say wow too often either. To be honest, he doesn’t really need to this time of year and he’s only slightly to blame for the down rating. Nagging injuries to Mike Bell could be the issue going forward, and Eldra Buckley is the only back who has been steady and healthy behind McCoy. Bell is the change of pace that would be ideal, and has a much better skillset than Buckley. Charles Scott needs to improve his hands and seems destined for the practice squad, while J.J. Arrington needs to get healthy and impress in a hurry if he wants to make this team. At fullback, Leonard Weaver is still Leonard Weaver, so the Eagles will be fine there.
Wide Receivers: Steady. Ignore the injuries to DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, as they don’t seem to be anything to worry about moving forward. Other than that, it would have been hard for this group to move up or down. They’re already as good as it gets, and they all performed well in camp. Jason Avant at one point caught more than 80 passes in a row without a drop, and Riley Cooper and Hank Baskett provide good depth. Chad Hall has a shot at the roster as well, in more of a special teams role.
Tight Ends: Down. Again only a slight drop, but Brent Celek had a key drop in the preseason game and hasn’t been dominant in practices. It’s not anything to worry about, but since he is a Pro Bowl caliber tight end, anything less indicates a drop. Look for Celek to have a big game in Cincinnati. The rating also takes into account the fact that Cornelius Ingram hasn’t done as much in camp as many had hoped, sitting third on the depth chart behind Clay Harbor.
Offensive Line: Down, Up, Down, Steady, Up. It’s been a roller coaster ride in camp for the offensive line. First Todd Herremans was surprisingly placed on the PUP list, then Nick Cole and Mike McGlynn struggled at center while Max Jean-Gilles took over the left guard spot for Herremans. Throw in a minor knee injury to Nick Cole and things took a turn for the worse, until Mike McGlynn looked impressive in the preseason opener. The return of Herremans and top center Jamaal Jackson to practice leave the Birds climbing a peak on the metaphorical roller coaster, but hoping the bottom doesn’t fall out from under either of them. Herremans is projected to be ready for the season opener, but no time table has been given for Jackson.
Defensive Line: Up, up and away. It’s got to be the strongpoint of the defensive side of the ball, with tremendous depth and a lot of guys who can line up in different places and rush the passer. Rookie defensive end Brandon Graham isn’t starting (yet), but he’s definitely going to be seeing a lot of playing time across from Trent Cole. Trevor Laws turned a lot of heads in camp with his ability to collapse the pocket from the defensive tackle position, and coaches loved Daniel Te’o Nesheim on the inside on passing downs as well. The defensive line was in the backfield a ton during practice and that translated into the Jaguars game as well. At this point, expectations have gone up and the defensive line could be a huge key to an improved defense.
Linebackers: Up. Stewart Bradley looks healthy and quick, which will help this unit take leaps and bounds over last year. Ernie Sims also appears to be the real deal, playing with a ton of aggression (too much at times in practice). Akeem Jordan is still the question mark on this unit, but nothing has really changed there to make you more or less concerned since camp began. That leaves this unit as a net gain.
Secondary: Up. You already know what you’ve got in Asante Samuel and Quintin Mikell, and that hasn’t changed. Ellis Hobbs and Nate Allen were your two question marks going into the season. Eagles fans didn’t know what they had in Hobbs due to his neck injury last year, but he looks great in training camp and has good coverage skills. Nate Allen will still likely make a few rookie mistakes, but the talent and maturity he’s shown in camp probably mean that there will be fewer mistakes. The biggest concern remaining here is who will wind up as the Nickel corner. Joselio Hanson is the incumbent on the roster, but this battle just may be heating up with a healthy Macho Harris and Dimitri Patterson in the mix.
Kicking and Punting: Steady. David Akers and Sav Rocca have looked like themselves and appear to be ready to go as the season looms a few weeks away.
Return Game: Steady. It’s hard to rate this until Andy Reid announces whether DeSean Jackson and Ellis Hobbs will still handle return duties. If they do, it holds steady. If not, it has to drop off as they both bring a lot to the return game.
Overall: The defense has definitely improved more than the offense so far, but I think the entire team has exceeded expectations a bit and perhaps raised the bar for this season. Before camp, when asked to project a record for the Eagles in 2010 my answer was always that I wouldn’t be surprised if they went 6-10 or 10-6. At this point, I’d be surprised if the Birds did any worse than 7-9 and view them as a fringe playoff team at 9-7.