FANATIC BLOG: Five Burning Questions Facing the Philadelphia Eagles as Training Camp Opens by Matt Lombardo
7/22/2013 12:01:00 PM
Five Burning Questions Facing the Philadelphia Eagles as Training Camp Opens by Matt Lombardo
1. Who's the quarterback?
Easily the biggest question facing the Philadelphia Eagles as the season approaches is: Who will be under center when the team takes the field against the Washington Redskins on September 9th? Michael Vick restructured his contract for one more season with the Eagles and has already been paid $3.5 million, and is guaranteed another $3.5 million if he is on the roster on opening night. Certainly the allure of his athletic ability is a major reason why Vick is still here, but after throwing ten touchdowns yet also pairing them with 13 total turnovers (ten interceptions, three fumbles lost) in ten games a year ago, the 33-year old veteran could face an uphill battle for the starting job and maybe even for a roster spot.
Meanwhile, Nick Foles, the Eagles third-round draft choice last year out of the University of Arizona finished last season in elite and exclusive company as an NFL rookie. As a starter, Foles completed 60.8% of his passes which is the sixth highest all-time among NFL rookies. Foles’ 243 yards per game average is third all-time behind only Andrew Luck and Cam Newton, and he is the only rookie quarterback in NFL history to average 240 yards per game and complete over 60 percent of his passes.
There’s also Matt Barkley who Kelly hand-picked in the fourth round of April's draft out of USC. Barkley excels as a pocket passer, especially in short and intermediate routes and finished his senior season passing for 3,273 yards, 36 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. With the talent in place on offense, a quarterback with accuracy who protects the football could be very appealing to Kelly. Judging by Kelly's track record at the University of Oregon, it wouldn't be shocking to see this battle last all the way until the season opener.
2. How much of an impact will Lane Johnson have?
In a draft that featured three offensive tackles taken in the first four picks and five chosen in the first round, the Eagles scooped up perhaps the most versatile of them all in Oklahoma's Lane Johnson. On Saturday night Johnson cashed in agreeing to a four-year contract worth a reported $20 million along with a $13 million signing bonus that has already been paid in full as first reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer. Johnson has lined up at tight end, defensive end and even at quarterback in his lifetime, before moving to tackle for the last two seasons with the Sooners. In Philadelphia Johnson will be asked to anchor the right tackle spot on an offensive line featuring Todd Herremans, Jason Kelce, Evan Mathis and Jason Peters that when healthy could prove to be one of the better lines in the league. If Vick is named the starting quarterback, the pressure will be even heavier for the rookie because he'd be asked to protect Vick's blindside.
3. Can Brandon Graham and Trent Cole thrive in new roles?
Last season as a defensive end Brandon Graham finally showed flashes of why the Eagles made him the 13th overall pick in the 2010 draft when he led the team with 5.5 sacks. This year Graham will likely be asked to pick his hand off the ground in certain situations in a 3-4 alignment as an outside linebacker, something he has not done since his days at the University of Michigan. Likewise, nine-year veteran Trent Cole will see time at linebacker in those same situations. Whether or not Cole and Graham can thrive in those roles will go a long way towards just how successful this defense will be in year one. After posting just three sacks a year ago and with young players such as Vinny Curry, Cedric Thornton and Clifton Geathers in the mix at defensive end, Cole could stand with the most to lose. If he does not flourish during training camp, Cole could wind up looking for a new home by the start of the season.
4. What happens if Chip Kelly falters early?
There certainly is no shortage of hype nor pomp and circumstance around Camp Kelly and the Good Ship Eagles after a spring that saw players as giddy as can be expected about wearing sleep monitors to bed every night, having music blaring during practice that has little down time and competition at virtually every position on the field. All indications are outside of Michael Vick wishing a starting quarterback would have been named by now and DeSean Jackson being miffed by running with the second and third team during OTA's, the veterans by and large have bought in. Likewise, the fan base at large seems to be giving Kelly the benefit of the doubt. But, this is Philadelphia after all, and one has to wonder if this team struggles out of the gate how will the players react to the initial failures of the sports science implementations and Kelly’s new-age way of running a football team.
5. Will the Eagles be 'Born to Run'?
For 14 seasons Eagles fans have been screaming from the rooftops for a more balanced offensive attack. Finally it appears the running game will be touching down at Lincoln Financial Field. In 2012 the Oregon Ducks passed the ball 373 times and ran it a total of 685 times. Now there probably is a good chance the Eagles don't run the ball 65 percent of the time this season but it certainly isn't out of the question to see the offense predicated on keeping the ball on the ground 20-25 plays per game with regularity. If that's the case, LeSean McCoy could take aim at the franchise single season rushing record of 1,512 yards set by Wilbert Montgomery in 1979.