Eagles depth chart: Which spots up for grabs?

Eagles depth chart: Which spots up for grabs?
May 28, 2014, 12:15 pm
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Earl Wolff (left) and Zach Ertz (right) will battle for starting spots in their second years. Mark Sanchez will fight for the backup QB job. (AP)

Here’s our version of the Eagles' 2014 depth chart with spring camps underway and less than two months to go before the start of Chip Kelly’s second overall training camp and first as an NFC East champion coach.

WR: Jeremy Maclin, Jordan Matthews, Brad Smith
LT: Jason Peters, Allen Barbre, Matt Tobin
LG: Evan Mathis, Allen Barbre, Matt Tobin 
C: Jason Kelce, Julian Vandervelde, David Molk
RG: Todd Herremans, Matt Tobin, Michael Bamiro
RT: Lane Johnson, Dennis Kelly, Michael Bamiro
TE1: Brent Celek, James Casey
TE2: Zach Ertz, Emil Igwenagu
QB: Nick Foles, Matt Barkley, Mark Sanchez
RB: LeSean McCoy, Chris Polk, Darren Sproles
WR: Riley Cooper, Josh Huff, Arrelious Benn

No major surprises here. Nick Foles is the unquestioned starting quarterback going into camp for the first time in his career. The major battle here is for the top backup spot between Matt Barkley and Mark Sanchez. Barkley gets the nod for now, since he’s home-grown and handpicked by Kelly.

LeSean McCoy will attempt to defend his league rushing title. With Bryce Brown now in Buffalo, Chris Polk will be the primary ball carrier behind McCoy. Darren Sproles will get some carries but probably be used more in the passing game.

If Jeremy Maclin can stay healthy, he should have a breakout season. Riley Cooper feasted off the attention commanded by DeSean Jackson. If Maclin can also command extra defenders, Cooper can build off his breakout 2013 and continue to be a playmaker downfield and in the red zone.

Tight end Zach Ertz’s maturation could prompt Kelly to lean heavier on two-tight end formations while rookie wideouts Jordan Matthews and Josh Huff are groomed. The question is whether Ertz has supplanted veteran Brent Celek as the No. 1 tight end. This is probably Celek’s last go-round with the team.

The entire starting offensive line comes back. Right tackle Lane Johnson needs to be more consistent in Year 2. This is also probably the last season for right guard Todd Herremans. Swing guard/tackle Allen Barbre is the top backup for now, but he’ll be pushed by second-year pro Matt Tobin. Dennis Kelly is an interesting name. He didn’t play last year after undergoing back surgery during training camp and missing the first few weeks. He lost ground to Barbre and Tobin but can earn his way back to top reserve at tackle with a good round of camps.

If he can stay healthy, wide receiver Arrelious Benn has the potential to carve his niche in the offense, but that’s a big “if.” Right now, Brad Smith is ahead of Damaris Johnson, who is squarely on the bubble after two disappointing seasons. Even a good showing in spring and summer camps by Johnson might not save his roster spot. Tight end Emil Igwenagu, who finished last year on the practice squad, will duke it out with rookie free agent Tre Burton to convince Kelly to keep a fourth tight end.

RDE: Cedric Thornton, Vinny Curry, Joe Kruger
NT: Bennie Logan, Damion Square, Beau Allen
LDE: Fletcher Cox, Taylor Hart, Damion Square
ROLB: Trent Cole, Marcus Smith, Bryan Braman
ILB: DeMeco Ryans, Najee Goode, Casey Matthews
ILB: Mychal Kendricks, Jake Knott, Emmanuel Acho
LOLB: Connor Barwin, Brandon Graham, Travis Long
RCB: Cary Williams, Nolan Carroll, Jaylen Watkins
LCB: Bradley Fletcher, Brandon Boykin, Roc Carmichael
S: Malcolm Jenkins, Nate Allen, Chris Maragos
S: Earl Wolff, Ed Reynolds, Keelan Johnson

If there’s a job competition on the starting defense, it’s between safeties Earl Wolff and Nate Allen. Doesn’t that sound familiar? Last year, the coaches pretended to jockey Allen and the rookie Wolff all spring and summer but they never intended to start Wolff by the season opener. Now that Wolff has some playing time under his belt, he’s the lead man to start opposite Malcolm Jenkins, but Wolff needs to stay healthy and prove he deserves the nod.

Nolan Carroll was signed to push Bradley Fletcher at left cornerback. That should be another competition worth watching in the camps. Fletcher is slated to make $2.9 million this year. If the coaches are satisfied with Carroll and rookie Jaylen Watkins, Fletcher could become trade material or a cap casualty.

At outside linebacker, first-round pick Marcus Smith will get plenty of opportunities to show he deserves to start over Trent Cole, but the Eagles don’t seem to be in a hurry to push Cole out the door just yet. Strangely enough, Brandon Graham is still here. He’s excited about the progress he made this offseason in his development as a 3-4 outside linebacker and expects to push for more playing time. The coaches have pumped up Travis Long, who spent last year on the practice squad. He’ll get a chance to push for the fourth or fifth spot.

On the inside, Jake Knott will miss the first four games to serve a suspension for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy, which could open the door for Emmanuel Acho to earn another roster spot.

Not much change on the defensive line. Cedric Thornton and Fletcher Cox will start at defensive end, with Bennie Logan manning the nose. Vinny Curry will push to get more snaps and not just in specific pass rush schemes. Damion Square will be the backup nose and see some snaps at defensive end, with rookie seventh-rounder Beau Allen also battling for snaps the nose. Rookie fifth-rounder Taylor Hart will battle with Joe Kruger, last year’s seventh-rounder who spent his rookie year on IR, for snaps in the rotation. Hart’s familiarity with Kelly’s scheme should help him get a leg up and quickly integrate into the rotation.

Special teams
K: Alex Henery, Carey Spear
P: Donnie Jones
LS: Jon Dorenbos
KR: Darren Sproles, Josh Huff, Brandon Boykin
PR: Josh Huff, Darren Sproles, Damaris Johnson

There’s just one competition, but it’s a good one: Alex Henery vs. Murderleg. If rookie free agent Carey Spear’s leg is as lethal as his nickname insinuates, Spear can knock Henery out of a job. Spear wasn’t brought here just to be an extra camp leg.

Among the returners, Sproles' numbers were down last year, so don’t be shocked if Kelly tries to get the rookie Huff involved in both return units.

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