When Chip Kelly says the depth chart is written in sand, that every player on the Eagles’ roster must compete for their spot on a daily basis, he’s not kidding. There are few positions where it’s obvious who will be the starter come September 9 in Washington based on practice reps.
LeSean McCoy is the primary running back. The projected offensive line from left to right consists of Jason Peters, Evan Mathis, Jason Kelce, Todd Herremans, and Lane Johnson. The interior linebackers are DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks. Almost everything else is up for grabs, and Chip continues to stress that it’s still early in the evaluation process.
Every single day we're out here looking at them in terms of what they can do, what they can't do, how are they picking up what we are doing. It's an ongoing process. I believe the component of them being in a live situation is a huge part of it.
I feel we're better in practice five than we were in practice one. I think sometimes when you add new things, part of the install, those are the things that guys are making a little bit of mistakes on. It's just a matter of getting reps on those. The things that we added and we continue to repeat, they've done a nice job with. I'm pleased with where we are at this point. Again, we're not even in the month of August yet. We're still in July.
In other words, just because a player hasn’t looked particularly great these first few days, or somebody isn’t taking tons of reps with the first stringers, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re overly far behind. There will be plenty more opportunities to go around for another month here.
There is little if any distance between Mike Vick and Nick Foles for the Eagles’ starting quarterback job so far, but Chip Kelly reiterated it will be difficult to determine who is winning without some preseason work. There’s only so much one can glean from practice.
Again, if you don't put people in live situations, it's tough to see where they really are. I know I made the statement, everybody gets a big kick out of it, but a quarterback is like a tea bag. You don't know what you're going to get until the rush is live. Guys are jogging up, they have a red jersey on them, people can’t tag them. It's a little bit of a different game, especially from the quarterback standpoint. We'll see. We'd like to [name a starting QB] sooner. Again, we can't force it in terms of that.
On the other hand, it’s probably fair to categorize Matt Barkley as being a step behind both of them. That’s not meant as a knock on Barkley. The fourth-round pick is coming along and has been competent in his own right, but naturally he doesn’t look as polished as Vick or Foles. I’m not sure the distance between Barkley and the guys at the top of the food chain is that great – actually it could be erased rather quickly – but he remains the clear No. 3 for now.
Ifeanyi Momah (6-7) is almost a full foot taller than Damaris Johnson (5-8), yet Johnson is the one who has stood out at camp. He’s seemingly open all the time, and frequently in a position to pick up yards after the catch. The fact that he can line up in the slot, outside, or even in the backfield makes him very difficult to gameplan against. Damaris is definitely a player who stands to see his role expanded in the wake of Jeremy Maclin’s injury.
Despite his height and legendary 4.4 speed, Momah hasn’t done anything out of the ordinary by comparison. In terms of big plays, fellow longshot receivers Greg Salas and Russell Shepard have made more. It’s early, but let’s just say Momah isn’t exactly taking over.
Get ready for those three tight-end sets we’ve heard so much about. The Eagles unveiled the look on Monday, with Brent Celek lined up as a traditional tight end, James Casey in the slot, and Zach Ertz split out wide. Not hard to envision how that might create matchup problems for a defense, although Chip did provide a bit of insight after practice.
If we were playing a game today, I would say Brent would be our tight end, our H back type guy would be Casey, and our outside guy would be Zach. That doesn't mean we can’t line up with three tight ends right next to each other and have three on the line of scrimmage. We ran one or two formations with those guys today. It was just an introduction.
Ertz has been the most impressive of the three. He plays faster than his 4.7 40 time suggests, and is as smooth a route-runner as advertised. The coaching staff certainly doesn’t appear to be bringing the second-round pick along slowly at all. He’ll have every opportunity to make an immediate impact.
The Eagles are trying out a bunch of personnel combinations along the defensive line. It looked like Trent Cole took some reps as an end. Fletcher Cox flip-flops sides. 6’8” Clifton Geathers has lined up at nose tackle. It’s clear the coaching staff has no idea what their best configuration is yet. Chip isn’t even sure the defense will ultimately settle on a 3-4 alignment this season for that matter, a decision that will be dependent upon how Cole, Brandon Graham, and Philip Hunt adapt to playing outside linebacker.
It really goes from a wide-9 to a two-gap 3-4, and where we end, I don't really know. We're moving in that direction, but where we go really depends on us making a real thorough evaluation of how those guys at the outside linebacker are playing.
For what it’s worth, Connor Barwin has been excellent. Of course, he already has a grasp of what’s going on coming from a 3-4 defense in Houston, and is a definite starter at one of the outside linebacker spots. Reports on Cole and Graham have been far less favorable though, especially in coverage.
Couple of things to note about that. One drill the converted defensive ends were getting killed over had them covering tight ends one-on-one down the field – a situation that’s unlikely to occur in an actual game. For that matter, they likely would not be asked to drop into coverage nearly as often as they have during this camp. This is a case it seems where Chip is challenging his players so the coaching staff can figure out if they can handle it or not.
I think if you're a good teacher, you don't get frustrated early. If people could pick it up like that, then everybody would do it. It's not. It's a hard transition. We believe it's the best thing for us.
Like Kelly, we really need to see more before coming to any definitive conclusion one way or the other as to whether or not this experiment will work.
Brandon Boykin is having one of the strongest camps out of anybody so far. With Cary Williams nursing a hamstring injury (maybe those OTAs were kind of important after all), Boykin is getting plenty of looks at outside corner, and he’s handled the responsibilities perfectly fine, whether that’s being asked to shadow DeSean Jackson deep down the field or blanket a towering presence like Momah. Boykin has dropped some potential interceptions, but otherwise is playing fantastic football. His head coach is taking notice, too.
Brandon is explosive. I thought he played really, really well yesterday. I haven't seen today's film, but yesterday he did a really nice job in the stadium. He showed up, made a play again, whether it was in special teams or in the team in seven-on-seven situation. I'm pleased with where he is so far.
It will be interesting to see what the Eagles do if in fact Boykin winds up being the best option on the outside – and he honestly could be. Chip did mention Boykin could play inside or out, so maybe he would slide into the slot in nickel formations. Eddie Whitley and Jordan Poyer were also mentioned as slot candidates.
Andrew Kulp is a freelance writer covering Philadelphia sports for The700Level.com. E-mail him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter.