Observations and Practice Notes from Week One at Eagles Training Camp

Observations and Practice Notes from Week One at Eagles Training Camp

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.

Quarterback

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.

Wide Receiver

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.

Tight End

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.

Defensive Line/Linebacker

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.

Secondary

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 andrewkulp@comcast.net or follow him on Twitter.

Sarah Baicker: I don't skate like a man, just a darn good woman

Sarah Baicker: I don't skate like a man, just a darn good woman

In late December, I was invited to play in a pick-up hockey game with some other members of the local sports media community. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that I was one of only two women there that day. Even now, female ice hockey players aren’t exactly common.

After the game, a reporter I’ve known a while — a guy I like a lot — said to me: “Don’t take this the wrong way, but you skate like a man.” I didn’t take it wrong, of course; he meant it as a compliment. The reporter wanted nothing more than to tell me I’d impressed him.

I thought about this exchange a lot in the days that followed. Had someone told me I played hockey like a boy when I was 15, I would have worn that description like a badge. Hell yeah, 15-year-old Sarah would have thought, I do play like a boy. I’m as tough as a boy. I’m as fierce and competitive as any boy on my team. I would have reveled in it, just as I reveled in a similar label I’d received even earlier in my adolescence: tomboy.

Yeah, I was a tomboy. I hung around with the neighborhood boys, riding bikes between each other’s houses or catching salamanders in the creek that ran through town. I loved sports, and my bedroom walls — papered with newspaper clippings and photos of Flyers players — were a far cry from the pink-tinged rooms that belonged to the girls at school. 

As much as I could, I dressed like a boy too, even once cutting the sleeves off of an oversized T-shirt before I went out to rollerblade with our next-door neighbors. My grandmother, who was visiting at the time, pulled me aside to tell me I really ought to dress more appropriately. I rolled my eyes.

I was a tomboy, and I loved the word and everything it stood for. I felt pride in my tomboyishness, believing that the things I liked — the things boys liked — were clearly better than the things stereotypically left to the girls.

I’m almost embarrassed to admit it was a conversation with a 15-year-old that changed my perspective, just a few days after my reporter friend had compared my hockey skills to those of a man. I sat down with Mo’ne Davis, the female Little League pitching phenom, for this very project. I asked her if she identified as a tomboy, and she shrugged. Not really, she said. Maybe other people wanted to define her that way, she suggested, but that wasn’t how she viewed things.

You know that record scratch sound effect they play on TV or in the movies? The one that denotes a sort of “wait … what?!” moment? That’s what happened in my head. Mo’ne Davis, the girl who played on the boys’ team and excelled, didn’t consider herself a tomboy?

Something clicked in my head after that. I’ve long identified as a feminist, and I’ve been a big supporter of girls in sports for as long as I can remember. I coach girls hockey, I’ve spoken at schools and camps about playing and working in sports as a woman. For some reason, though, it took a 15-year-old shrugging her shoulders at the label “tomboy” to take the power out of the word for me. Why does one have to be a tomboy, when one can simply be a girl who kicks ass? How had I never considered this before?

In many ways (and especially in sports) if something is male, it’s considered superior. It goes beyond just the things kids like to do, and it’s all old news. It’s also something I’m ashamed to admit I’ve bought into for practically all of my life. But no longer. How can I help change the narrative if I’m too busy playing along with it?

And if I could do it over, when that reporter approached me after our hockey game to tell me I skated like a man, I would have smiled, shook my head and said: Nah. But I skate like a darn good woman.

Flyers-Capitals 5 things: Washington on ridiculous roll into Wells Fargo Center

Flyers-Capitals 5 things: Washington on ridiculous roll into Wells Fargo Center

Flyers (28-24-7) vs. Capitals (39-12-7)
8 p.m. on NBCSN, CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

After finding some offense to finish up a 1-2-0 road trip, the Flyers return home for a not-so-glorious welcome when they host the NHL-leading Washington Capitals on Wednesday night at the Wells Fargo Center.

We’ll get into that and more with five things to know:

1. Capping things off
What’s the Flyers’ reward for salvaging the final game of a road swing through Canada? A date with the Capitals, who are the NHL’s hottest team since New Year’s Eve, and by a landslide.

Just how dominant has Washington been?

Dating back to Dec. 31, the Capitals are 19-3-2 and have scored an incomprehensible 104 goals in those 24 games. That’s 4.33 goals per game, while yielding only 50 markers over that stretch.

Meanwhile, the Flyers have scored an NHL-low 40 goals since New Year’s Eve and allowed 62 for an Eastern Conference-worst goal differential of minus-22.

Washington, coming off its first back-to-back defeats since Dec. 27-29, has lost three straight games only once this season.

2. A Ghost sighting
On Sunday, for the first time in close to four months, we saw the Shayne Gostisbehere from the Calder Memorial Trophy (top rookie) runner-up season last year.

The sophomore blueliner delivered his first three-point game of his career to ignite the Flyers to a 3-2 win over the Canucks.

Although Gostisbehere has made it clear he’s focused on his defensive game, the Flyers are a different animal when he’s generating offensive chances at 5-on-5 and the power play.

“He had his confidence and a little bit of swagger,” Wayne Simmonds said of Gostisbehere’s performance Sunday.

“Ghost has had his ups and downs this year, but he's a heck of a player and has unbelievable skill. He can be a catalyst offensively for us, that’s for sure.”

3. Good cage match
This one makes for an intriguing goalie matchup between Michal Neuvirth and Braden Holtby, who were once battling for the net in Washington.

Holtby is having another stud season after winning the 2015-16 Vezina Trophy (top goalie). Among all netminders, he is tied for first in goals-against average (2.01) and shutouts (seven), while he hasn’t been beaten in regulation since Dec. 27.

The 27-year-old blanked the Flyers twice in the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs and stopped 149 of 154 shots over the first-round series that the Capitals won in six games.

Neuvirth hasn’t been too shabby himself, starting eight of the Flyers’ last 10 games. Aside from a bad showing in a 6-3 loss to the Oilers, Neuvirth has not surrendered more than two goals in any other outing during that span.

A 2006 second-round pick of Washington, Neuvirth was brilliant last postseason against his former club, making 103 saves on 105 shots faced to get the Flyers two victories.

4. Keep an eye on ...
Flyers: Pierre-Edouard Bellemare can be crucial in these types of games. The fourth-line forward often sees work against the opposition’s top offensive threats and is the Flyers’ most important piece to the penalty kill. Bellemare has played 16-plus minutes in both meetings with the Capitals this season, while the PK is 15 for 17 in February and tied for the NHL’s third-fewest goals against this month.

Capitals: T.J. Oshie is such an underrated asset for Washington. The right winger, who played his college hockey at North Dakota under Flyers coach Dave Hakstol, leads the NHL with a 22.8 shooting percentage, a big reason why the Capitals are scoring 3.34 goals per game, good for second most in hockey. Oshie has 26 points (13 goals, 13 assists) in his past 22 games and is a plus-24 on the season.

5. This and that
• Neuvirth has just two career regular-season matchups against the Capitals, going 1-0-0 with a 2.44 goals-against average and .914 save percentage.

• Holtby is 6-4-7 with a 2.71 goals-against average and .911 save percentage in 18 lifetime matchups with the Flyers.

• The Flyers are three points out of the Eastern Conference’s second wild-card spot, trailing the Panthers, Bruins and Islanders, all of whom have 66 points.

• Simmonds has four goals in his last five games.

• Claude Giroux has two points (one goal, one assist) in his previous 10 games.

• Washington ranks first in the NHL with a plus-69 goal differential.

• Jordan Weal (upper-body injury) is expected to miss his second straight game.