It has been five long months, but football season is here!
Though almost all of the NFL teams report to camp next weekend, the Philadelphia Eagles will be the first to arrive at their respective camp in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania on July 22nd.
The Eagles enter training camp with many of their starters from last returning, but there are numerous question marks across the roster. Fortunately, the Eagles added some strong talent in the offseason that should be able to fill most of the glaring voids they have on their team.
Players like Michael Vick, LeSean McCoy, Nnamdi Asomugha and Jason Babin may have their spots all locked up, but there are still spots that will need deciding. As a result, there will be stiff competition throughout training camp for those roster spots on the Eagles.
Here is a look at five position battles to watch as the Eagles enter camp.
The Eagles have had linebacker troubles for quite some time now, but it appears that with the addition of middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans and a strong rookie campaign from Brian Rolle in 2011, the strongside linebacker position may be the only uncertainty entering training camp.
With the position easily being one of the team’s biggest needs, the Eagles selected California’s Mychal Kendricks in the second round.
Kendricks is an athletically-gifted tackle machine who was tabbed as a potential first-round sleeper. Despite his height (he stands just 5’11”), Kendricks does not struggle in coverage.
During the 2011 season, the Eagles cycled through Jamar Chaney, Moise Fokou and Akeem Jordan, but none were overwhelmingly impressive.
As a result, all four men will be vying for the starting role and despite the experience of the veteran players in this battle, Kendricks could be the favorite heading into camp on talent and potential alone.
Perhaps a greater weakness than the strongside lineback position is the Eagles safeties spots. Both free safety and strong safety were sources of struggle and saw opposing quarterbacks attack the safeties quite often as a result.
Third-year player Nate Allen should have the starting free safety spot locked down to start the 2012 season, but strong safety is not quite as certain.
The potential candidates—Kurt Coleman and Jaiquawn Jarrett—were not the most impressive players for the Eagles last season. In fact, they were two of the worst safeties in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus
Both Coleman and Jarrett struggled in coverage against even the most average of pass-catchers. They have shown nothing to indicate they will improve in 2012, but little else to offer on the roster, the Eagles are hoping one of these two young players can show them something of value.
This is likely a make-or-break year for both players, and this is possibly a make-or-break positional concern for the Eagles that they could hinge their entire season on.
Michael Vick is a certainty to start at quarterback for the Eagles in 2012, however, there is no guarantee how long he will last before he gets injured again. For that reason, the backup quarterback position battle in training camp is a must-watch.
Trent Edwards or Mike Kafka? The answer to that question could very well hold the Eagles’ season in their hands.
One man has not played in an NFL game since 2010 and the other has thrown just 16 pass attempts in his young professional career.
Edwards has struggled to maintain an NFL career marred by underperformance and missed opportunities. Much like Vick, Edwards has seen his fair share of injuries and could never make a full season during his time as the starter in Buffalo.
Head coach Andy Reid values experience from his backups, though, and that could give Edwards the nod over Kafka. Kafka is a 2011 fourth-round draft pick still blossoming into a capable passer at the NFL level.
Ultimately, it will come down to preference for Reid. Edwards has experience, but he lacks any consistent success in the NFL. Kafka, though inexperienced, has shown in small instances for the Eagles that he can fill in for Vick when he goes down.
Whether either man can step up for an outstanding length of time is yet to be seen, but should the opportunity arise, one man will earn his chance to be that guy in the coming weeks of training camp.
With Asante Samuel out, the Eagles cornerbacks may have actually gotten better. Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie will hold down both sides of the field, but with the slot receiver developing into a bigger role in the passing game, so too does the slot cornerback become a key component on defense.
Fourth-round draft selection Brandon Boykin should get a big shot at the spot in training camp. He does not appear to have the talent to be a top flight corner in the NFL, but his abilities are well-suited for the slot corner spot.
Boykin will have some stiff competition, though.
Joselio Hanson is the incumbent slot corner and has been with the Eagles since 2006. Hanson has battled every season for playing time and has always been dependable in Philadelphia.
Heading into training camp, Hanson has to have the upper hand on experience and acceptable play alone, but Boykin has the talent and the opportunity to show the Eagles something. If he can, he could snatch the slot cornerback position up for himself in 2012.
Backup Running Back
Dion Lewis is not good enough and the backs behind him are greener than the Eagles’ kelly green alternates, but someone will need to fill the role by the time training camp is over.
Rookies Chris Polk and Bryce Bown both have substantial question marks surrounding them and it is unknown how much or how soon those question marks will arise as they vie for the No. 2 running back role.
Polk was a first-round prospect heading into the 2012 NFL draft before health concerns knocked his stock so far down he went undrafted. Brown, meanwhile, has worrisome character issues that the Eagles honestly have no space in the locker room for.
However, Brown’s unpleasant collegiate career leaves questions unanswered about his talent and a boatload of potential untapped. He carried the ball 104 times at Tennessee and Kansas State, and just three times in the last two years.
Lewis, meanwhile, was the No. 2 back in 2011, but does not appear to be the back the Eagles are looking for to take some carries from LeSean McCoy. Polk and Brown are much better-suited as a change-of-pace to McCoy, both being heavy hitters with the ability to break tackles at will.
Polk’s ability—having been a projected first-round draft pick—appears to be the best option assuming he is physically ability to fill the role. He had three straight seasons of 1,000 yards rushing in Washington and also excels as a receiver out of the backfield while also being able to drop the shoulder and lay down the big hit on an unprepared defender.
As McCoy keeps opposing defenses running all day, Polk makes a perfect match to wear them down with his punishing, physical running style. This combo should open the doors for the passing game, enabling Michael Vick to successfully pick apart opposing secondaries with pleasure.