10 observations before Eagles minicamp begins

10 observations before Eagles minicamp begins
June 16, 2014, 10:30 am
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Geoff Mosher cautions comparisons between rookie Jordan Matthews and Terrell Owens are a bit overblown at this point. (USA Today Images)

Voluntary OTAs ended last week. Mandatory minicamp starts Tuesday. Training camp is around the corner.

What have we learned so far about the Eagles in Year 2 under Chip Kelly? Here’s my very first “10 Observations.”

Without further ado:

1. There’s been too much made about the supposed struggles of Mark Sanchez and Matt Barkley during OTAs. First off, struggling is an entirely subjective concept. If a QB throws a pick in 7-on-7s or 11-on-11s, it’s not always his fault. Maybe the receiver ran the wrong route. Maybe they weren’t on the same page. People watching OTAs who aren’t coaches or players have no idea what specific play call is being executed, or the reads and progressions. In some cases, you have quarterbacks throwing to receivers and running backs whom they first met just a few weeks ago.

2. If you look at the big picture, Sanchez spent the 2013 season on the sideline, is coming off shoulder surgery, is learning an entirely new playbook and running the offense at a pace he’s never ran before, with teammates he’s never played with before. Given all those variables, it’s hard to knock the guy because all of his passes haven’t been perfectly placed spirals.

3. Let’s remember 2012, when Trent Edwards couldn’t complete a basic 10-yard out to a receiver in a warmup drill with no defense on the field. The guy looked like he had never played the position in his life. A few months later, he completed 68 percent of his passes in the preseason and compiled a 100.5 passer rating to beat out Mike Kafka for the No. 3 job. So let’s just wait until training camp starts before we start fretting about the QB depth.

4. In the same vein, comparisons between Jordan Matthews and T.O. -- or any top-flight wideout -- are a wee bit overboard. Matthews is doing a nice job catching passes and seems like a hardworking, determined guy, but I’d be real careful about sky-high expectations for the kid in Year 1. Two AFC scouts told me Matthews struggled at the Senior Bowl against press coverage, which isn’t a big deal since he wasn’t among the first seven receivers drafted and wasn’t a first-round pick. But it should reinforce the adage that judgments begin when the pads come out, not in shorts.

5. Given that Matthews and Josh Huff are both rookies, it wouldn’t surprise me if Chip Kelly showcased more 12 personnel -- two tight ends, two receivers -- early in the season to lean more heavily on experienced veterans than rookies. I think Kelly would feel more comfortable playing an early regular-season game with an offense that featured Riley Cooper, Jeremy Maclin, Brent Celek and Zach Ertz than one that put Matthews and/or Huff on the field ahead of Celek.

6. Last year, Kelly played way more 11 personnel (three wide, one tight end) at the start of the season, using the more experienced Jason Avant to occupy the slot than Ertz, who was still learning the offense and improving his blocking. Not until November did Kelly tinker with more two tight-end formations.

7.  I don’t think first-round pick Marcus Smith is working on Connor Barwin’s side merely because the all-encompassing “Jack” position presents an opportunity for Smith to learn everything about the position. If Smith can play the “Jack,” Barwin can occasionally slide over to “Predator” (Trent Cole’s spot) and get more chances to rush the passer. Barwin played a similar role in 2012, when he racked up 11 sacks as a second-year pro with the Texans. At the very least, if Billy Davis can get Barwin and Smith on the field at the same time, it creates more guesswork for the offense than when Cole and Barwin are both on the field. Teams will have a harder time figuring out which one’s rushing and which one’s dropping.

8. Outside of kicker, there aren’t many real job battles going on this spring and summer. Maybe at right cornerback between Bradley Fletcher and Nolan Carroll and at safety between Nate Allen and Earl Wolff, but that’s it for the starters. Instead of thinking about job competition, think instead about playing time competition. Can Vinny Curry see more snaps in the rotation? Can Brandon Graham prove that he deserves a more prominent role in the pass rush? Can Matthews (Jordan, not Casey… obviously) make enough plays to win Kelly’s confidence right from the start?

9. Curry and Cedric Thornton each changed agents in the offseason. Thornton fired Jimmy Sexton of CAA and is now represented by Joby Branion of Athletes First. Curry fired Kevin Conner and hired… Jimmy Sexton. Thornton emerged as arguably the NFL’s top run-stopping 3-4 defensive end last year, but the Eagles were obliged to sign him to only a one-year exclusive rights free-agent deal that will pay him the veteran minimum. It was either a good business move by the Eagles or a sign that Thornton isn’t in the team’s long-terms plans. Thornton needs to stay healthy this year and improve his pass rush to get that long-term deal. Curry will be eligible for an extension next offseason, but it’s hard to get a new contract when you’re not a starter. I have no clue if he fits Kelly’s long-term vision, but eight sacks this year would probably help Curry’s case to stay or make him a very tradeable commodity.

10. This year will be my 10th season covering the Eagles, third for CSN Philly. Hard to believe a decade has passed since I started doing this, not to mention all the surreal news events that happened in between. One of my first Eagles assignments at the Wilmington News Journal was the infamous “next question” press conference staged by Drew Rosenhaus at T.O.’s mansion in Moorestown. Seems like yesterday. I probably think about that day once a week. If there’s one thing that’s stayed consistent throughout the years, it’s the Eagles' keeping reporters on their toes. I’m thankful for that.

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