It's not always sunny in Philadelphia, particularly as training camp opened. But the weather couldn't slow down the efficiency of Chip Kelly and the Eagles
When you walk onto Chip Kelly’s practice field, you enter one of the most unique experiences in football anywhere. So as a football junkie, I was excited. And it lived up to the billing, not only because of the fast pace but it was also a multi-sensory experience with non-stop music. But something was missing (again, just like the Ravens): the real fans. Sure, there were some sponsors and youth outreach groups on hand, but the general public has only three opportunities to watch practice this summer—and none of them are at the NovaCare Facility (two sessions at Lincoln Financial Field; another at Franklin Field). I’m sure there are logistical reasons at play, but for a team that trained in the open at Lehigh for so long, it’s tough to see.
One vivid memory from watching practice
LeSean McCoy is a freak of nature. It’s one thing to watch the reigning NFL rushing champion shake, shimy and cut on a dime during a game. But to see him do it up close, in a meaningless non-padded practice at training camp is something else. I mean, it’s just unnatural, and he does it with such ease, total body control and his vision of the field never wanes. He’s like a great NBA point guard who not only can break ankles with a killer crossover, but is in total command of the floor at the same time.
How this team can go 12–4
In order: 1) Former Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins solidifies the deep middle of the field and has great chemistry with either Nate Allen or Earl Wolff, whoever is at the other spot; 2) They find a more consistent pass rush between the defensive line and outside linebackers; 3) RB LeSean McCoy continues to be great and healthy; 4) Nick Foles comes close to replicating his 27 TD, 2-INT season of a year ago and stays healthy; 5) The combination of WRs Jordan Matthews, Brad Smith and Josh Huff, along with RB Darren Sproles and TE Zach Ertz make DeSean Jackson’s departure a distant memory.
How this team can go 4–12
The only way this talented team goes 4-12 is if Foles and McCoy are injured for most of the season.
Now, from fantasyland …
Watch this amazingly easy catch courtesy of @Mark_Sanchez @theMMQB http://t.co/mqT1bIvJHu
— John De Petro (@John_DePetro) July 26, 2014
1. Former Saints running back Darren Sproles will be lined up all over the field—even with McCoy on the field at the same time—and will definitely get a lot of touches. Sproles, 31, has lost some of the explosiveness that allowed him to run away from defenders, but he’s still quick in a box.
2. Former Jets and Bills receiver Brad Smith was running as the slot receiver on the first day of camp, but it’s only a matter of time before it’s the job of second-round pick Jordan Matthews. The Eagles love him.
3. One of the best emergency fantasy quarterbacks this season could be, yup, former Jets whipping boy Mark Sanchez. He’s clearly ahead of Matt Barkley (who reminds me of Matt Flynn in that his arm will never allow him to be more than a good backup) and looks more comfortable in Kelly’s scheme, which takes a lot of the mental work out of the passing game for quarterbacks. Sanchez’s arm, after labrum surgery, was about 90 percent in offseason practices, but his ball had considerable heat at the start of camp. If Foles goes down, because of how prolific this scheme is, fantasy owners shouldn’t hesitate to pick Sanchez up.
How I project the lineup, with competitive spots in bold:
|RT||Allen Barbre (Lane Johnson*)|
|3rdWR||Brad Smith/Jordan Matthews|
|K||Alex Henery/Carey Spears|
|SS||Nate Allen/Earl Wolff|
Barbre will start during Johnson’s four-game suspension. The last time Barbre started at right tackle to being a season, with the Packers in 2009, it was an unmitigated disaster. But it’s five years later, and the Eagles were buoyed by his 52-snap performance at left tackle against Green Bay in Week 10 last season ... It won’t be long before Matthews is the third receiver … Henery needs to be better than he was last season, so competition is good … Looks like Nate Allen has the edge as strong safety.
Best new player in camp
Malcolm Jenkins, safety. Purely because of what they had last year at the position. You can definitely argue that his former Saints teammate Sproles showed the best, but Jenkins is a huge upgrade on what the Eagles have put on the field at safety for years now. They need him to be very, very good. Not sure if he’s that good, but we’ll see.
Strong opinion that I may regret by November
Nobody will be pining for DeSean Jackson once the season starts. Yes, some fans were up in arms when the Eagles released the popular playmaker, who then signed with rival Washington. But when you combine Kelly’s scheme, which is designed to create space, and the weapons around Foles, the Eagles will be more than fine.
Something I’ve never seen before
Kelly runs, by far, the most efficient practice in all of football. There is no wasted time on the field. I mean, why have guys standing around and watching when you do team drills side by side on the same field? And he’s also just smart. At one point, the offensive starters lined up against the entire defensive unit. At every defensive position, the four-deep roster was lined up, one behind the other at each position. As the offense was shifting and motioning, the defensive players went through their checks and calls. Each side of the ball only took a few steps into the play, but that’s the most important split second. By having the four-deep defense on the field, the less experienced players could mirror and learn from the players in front of them. That’s just smart. And it’s so simple. That’s the genius of Chip Kelly.
What I thought when I walked out of camp
They're a definite contender because of the improvement on the defensive side of the ball during the second half of last season, but are they good enough to compete with the NFC’s elite? I have serious questions about that. I think the Eagles are a peg below Seattle, San Francisco, Green Bay and New Orleans, but after seeing Washington on Thursday, there’s no doubt the Eagles are the class of the NFC East. To do better than that, Philadelphia needs to show they can match the physicality of the elite. Not sure they’re ready to do that quite yet.