Robert Klemko reports from Philadelphia, where Sam Bradford might become the league’s best game manager and free-agent addition DeMarco Murray could be a more efficient back than the departed LeSean McCoy

By Robert Klemko
August 19, 2015

Site: One NovaCare Way, Philadelphia, a stone’s throw from Lincoln Financial Field.

What I saw: A morning practice in shells.

Three things you need to know about the Eagles:

1. The LeSean McCoy–DeMarco Murray swap was an even better deal for Philadelphia than you think. Of course, it wasn’t a pure swap—Murray signed with Chip Kelly’s Eagles in free agency and the Bills swapped McCoy for Kiko Alonso—but it’s all the same. The feeling in Philadelphia, despite Murray’s limited exposure on campus, is that he'll leave far fewer yards on the field and will eliminate the negative yardage plays you get with the shifty McCoy.

2. The additions of Byron Maxwell and Kiko Alonso make this defense significantly better. Maxwell joins a pass defense that finished near the bottom of the league, and his presence should help ease the transition of Walter Thurmond into what is a new position at safety. Maxwell looks good in camp and has expressed eagerness to shed the notion that his success in Seattle was a product of the talent assembled around him.

3. Sam Bradford will not win you any fantasy titles, but he may just dethrone Alex Smith as football’s best game manager. He’s been uber-accurate in camp and has built a nice rapport with first-round rookie wideout Nelson Agholor in camp. Kelly’s offensive identity is more about maintaining tempo and ball security and less about the quarterback taking matters into his own hands, and Bradford seems to be the right man for that job.

What will determine success or failure for the Eagles in 2015… The interior offensive line. That’s the biggest question mark heading into the season, with Kelly listing four first-team left guards this week. Seems to us the battle is between little-used converted tackle Allen Barbe (eight career starts), Matt Tobin (who for all intents and purposes failed his audition at left guard early last season) and John Moffitt, who spent a year out of football before unretiring this offseason. At right guard, Andrew Gardner played ho-hum to finish the season and could very well be replaced by Moffitt or Tobin. The interior line is obviously critical to Murray’s production in Kelly’s inside zone running game. Injuries could devastate this unit, as evidenced by a poor performance from the reserves early this preseason.

Five dot-to-dot observations… I think Tim Tebow is more valuable to the Eagles as a third QB than Matt Barkley, given what he can do at the goal line, and regardless of how he performs in the preseason. New extra point rules will make two-point conversions a factor in the winter in Philadelphia and throughout the northeast and Midwest, and I believe Kelly will keep a roster spot open for a guy who can thrive in the red zone. … The Eagles are already experiencing a spate of injuries, though we get the sense none are serious enough to threaten Week 1 appearances. Among the non-participants when The MMQB rolled into town: Alonso, Murray, Zach Ertz and Mychal Kendricks. … Among the various curiosities of a Chip Kelly practice, one stood out. During one offensive period, quarterbacks took snaps with a full plate of receiving options, but instead of offensive and defensive lines, faced a handful of coaches wearing shoulder pads with black netting rising from the back collar, meant to simulate the outstretched arms of pass rushers. A dozen camps, and that was a first. … The Eagles have a curious setup: Select fans and friends and family of players line the practice field in hospitality tents and are free to observe many drills within about 15 feet of the players. Upon entering the practice field, Eagles players took advantage of an opportunity to shake hands with a dozen or so handicapped visitors lining the indoor and outdoor exits. … There isn’t much idle time for players at a Kelly practice. Often, we see six sessions going on at once, whereas in many other cities on the tour, players stood around for long periods while special teams operated.

Gut feeling as I left camp: Kelly may pull off the increasingly rare feat of winning a division without the best quarterback in said division. 10-6, with a deep playoff run that ends abruptly in Green Bay or Seattle and validates Chip’s flurry of questioned offseason moves.

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