There's a lot of fun "firsts" once football season starts to roll around. First day of training camp, the first day Madden is released, and, of course, the first Sunday of the season are all popular ones. Today was the less heralded, but still entertaining for football geeks, first draft of the Eagles' depth chart, as the headline would imply.
Of course, a couple of notes before we get into some analysis. First, the depth chart is always UNOFFICIAL. It's compiled largely based on watching who is taking what snaps during practices, not by members of the coaching staff. Also, obviously much can and will change before the regular season gets underway, but it's still interesting to take a peak at what the team is working with up at Lehigh.
So with that in mind, thoughts on a few key positions after the jump.
RT1 - Ryan Harris
This has to be considered the second biggest surprise on the depth chart. The Harris signing was met with little fanfare (we didn't even post on it), and sort of lost in the shuffle after the Birds acquired some guys named Nnamdi, and Cullen, and Ronnie. For now, he is the starting right tackle.
Winston Justice is currently on the Physically Unable to Perform list, but Andy Reid told reporters back in April that the starter of two seasons would compete with King Dunlap for his job. Dunlap, however, is currently third on the chart, even behind 2009 fifth rounder Fenuki Topou, who has yet to appear in an NFL game.
Meanwhile, Harris--who signed a one-year deal for the veteran minimum--is becoming a greater threat to Justice. A third round pick out of Notre Dame in 2007, the 6-5, 300-pounder started 34 games at right tackle in four seasons with the Broncos, and by all accounts he has been very impressive in camp.
We thought the Eagles could target a high priced talent in free agency, and indeed there is at least one report they went after Doug Free, so when they wound up with Harris, it seemed minor. It appears he could really push Justice though, which certainly isn't a bad thing with him coming off an injury and a subpar season protecting Mike Vick's blind side.
LDE2 - Jason Babin; RDT2 - Cullen Jenkins
The first time I read over the list, I actually did not notice two of the three biggest free agent additions on defense weren't listed as starters. It's mildly interesting, but probably means little.
Babin is currently slotted behind Juqua Parker, who seems to be locked in a battle for his starting job every summer. Ultimately, it doesn't matter much who holds the designation as a starter, because the Eagles will rotate their ends. At $6 million/year, Babin will have more than his fair share of chances to rush the quarterback, while a fresher Parker should equal a more productive Parker.
Antonio Dixon is ahead of Jenkins, though again, there will be some kind of rotation here. But assuming Patterson returns (as he intends) and the Birds are playing with a full deck, it is actually possible Dixon's name could stay on top. He was an effective run-stopper last season, which might make him more appropriate on first and second downs, as opposed to Jenkins, who is coming over from a different defensive alignment entirely.
It could be they are just working Jenkins into the system, but it could be he will also see the bulk of his action on third downs and obvious passing situations.
MLB1 - Casey Matthews; SLB1 - Jamar Chaney
Not much the Eagles do shocks me anymore, but Matthews as the starting middle linebacker accomplished precisely that. I figured at the most, Chaney would reprise his role in the middle, and Matthews would compete at one of the outside positions. It appears they may have pegged him as their new MIKE from the very beginning.
Neither Matthews or Chaney are exceptionally big, both standing at 6 feet, so I suppose they aren't losing anything from a size perspective. For that matter, Chaney--last year's seventh round pick--has only been in the league for one season, with three career starts including the playoffs, so they're not exactly losing out on a wealth of experience either.
Only the Eagles could tell you exactly why they went with Matthews over Chaney in the middle, but it may have something to do with the difference in athleticism. Matthews, a fourth round rookie out of Oregon, is measurably slower than Chaney (4.78 to 4.54 in the 40-yard dash). In Jim Johnson's defensive system, the middle linebacker was typically aggressive around the line of scrimmage, while the outside backers more frequently played in space.
If defensive coordinator Juan Castillo is maintaining the principles of JJ's system, then it makes sense to put the faster player in more coverage situations. As for trusting a rookie at such an important area, if it were anybody else, I'd be more concerned. This Matthews kid, on the other hand, has football in his blood.
RCB1 - Nnamdi Asomugha
Nothing really to add here, but it is sort of cool.