2014 Eagles training camp storylines

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2014 Eagles training camp storylines

The offseason is officially over. It’s time for football in Philadelphia.

The Eagles on Friday will report to the NovaCare Complex for the start of Chip Kelly’s second training camp and to start preparing for their NFC East title defense.

The first practice kicks off Saturday morning. Here are some dominant storylines surrounding the team:

Offensive line
One of the strongest units of last year’s team is, suddenly, a source of concern headed into camp with right tackle Lane Johnson suspended for the first four games of the season because of PEDs. Allen Barbre will likely fill the void, ensuring that the Birds won’t have all five linemen start every game.

With Barbre in the starting lineup, the next guy off the bench at guard is Matt Tobin, an undrafted rookie from last season who didn’t play a single game. That’s a scary thought given that three stalwarts — Jason Peters, Evan Mathis and Todd Herremans — are each over 30. The Eagles are one injury away from an offensive line featuring Barbre and Tobin.

Speaking of Mathis, he wants to be paid like an elite guard, not just top 10. He didn’t boycott the spring camps, perhaps hoping the Eagles will reward him for continuing to play at a high level and keeping his professionalism.

Keep an eye on how Barbre performs in his four-game audition. The coaches liked him enough to give him an extension. Herremans, who struggled at the start of last year, should be looking over his shoulder.

Muddled OLB picture
Connor Barwin and first-round pick Marcus Smith are making the team. The others — Trent Cole, Brandon Graham, Bryan Braman, Travis Long — aren’t so secure.

At spring camps, the Eagles sure made it seem like Cole and Barwin would be back to anchor the starting jobs. Those two took all first-team reps. Smith worked mostly on the third string, but a team doesn’t use the 26th overall pick on a guy who’s gonna ride the pine.

If Smith can play, he’ll see playing time, and if he’s seeing playing time, it doesn’t make financial sense for the Eagles to keep both Cole and Graham on the roster at their current salaries.

Long also becomes an X-factor. If the Eagles think he’s good enough to be a fourth (or fifth) outside linebacker, it further clouds the future of either Graham or Cole.

Foles and friends
You know the story. DeSean Jackson, Jason Avant and Bryce Brown are gone. Jeremy Maclin is back. Darren Sproles is here. Chris Polk is ready. The offense will have a different look and different personnel, and the onus is on Nick Foles to make it work as he follows up a brilliant and historic 2013 season.

This will be the first time Foles enters camp as the unquestioned starter, and there’s a big carrot dangling: a potential blockbuster contract extension next offseason that will hinge on his 2014 performance.

Pass rush
Cedric Thornton took up boxing. Vinny Curry gave up red meat. Bennie Logan added weight. Graham dropped weight. Several Eagles went to extremes this offseason to prove they’re capable of hitting quarterbacks at a better rate than last year, when the Birds ranked 31st in sacks per pass attempt.

Outside of drafting Smith, the Eagles didn’t do much else to address their pass rush, so they’re banking on these motivated incumbents to show their offseason work paid off.

The real J-Mac
This is the year we finally get to see if Maclin is a special, game-changing receiver with first-round talent or just a good receiver who ranks somewhere in the top 20.

If he stays healthy.

Maclin has always been on the cusp of a 1,000-yard season, and he really believed last year would be his big breakout before he tore his ACL at training camp. If this offense is perfect for him, as he has suggested, this needs to be the year he’s among the top 10, especially since he gambled on himself and signed a one-year deal in the offseason.

Fairly or not, Maclin’s numbers and production will be measured against Jackson’s season with the Redskins. If Maclin fails to flourish, he’ll be playing elsewhere in 2015.

Barkley vs. Sanchez
For the second time in Kelly’s two training camps, a competition will be waged at quarterback. This time, it’s for the backup job.

Surprisingly, Jets castoff Mark Sanchez took the majority of second-team quarterbacks reps at the spring camps ahead of Matt Barkley, a fourth-round pick in 2014 whom the Eagles traded up to select. And don’t forget about G.J. Kinne, who’s come a long way in his year with the team and looked impressive at the spring camps.

Sanchez lacked the “repetitive accuracy” throughout his Jets tenure that Kelly prefers from quarterbacks, and Barkley struggled with turnovers in his brief cameos last year as a rookie. Kinne lacks NFL real-game experience. The backup situation is much less stable this year than last year.

On the bubble
Besides Cole and Graham, there are other veterans who could become casualties before the cutdown date.

The arrivals of free-agent cornerback Nolan Carroll and fourth-round pick Jaylen Watkins threaten the security of Bradley Fletcher, who’s slated to make nearly $3 million. At kicker, Alex Henery faces competition from rookie free agent Cary “Murderleg” Spear. Wide receivers Brad Smith, Arrelious Benn and Damaris Johnson could get shown the door if the Eagles like what they see in rookie free agent Kadron Boone or an improved Ifeanyi Momah.

Rookie watch
Eyes will be squarely focused at camp on Smith and second-round pick Jordan Matthews, a record-setting SEC receiver out of Vanderbilt who’s been billed as the anti-DeSean. Matthews has the intangibles and work ethic coaches covet, but the 6-foot-3, 215-pound prospect is being asked to play the slot — a different animal at the NFL level.

Kelly hopes the receiver’s big body will be an advantage against small corners, especially against man coverage. But if there’s any slippage from Maclin or Riley Cooper, Matthews could be asked to play a greater role.

Jeff Lurie: Condition of Roseman's promotion was to solidify personnel department

Jeff Lurie: Condition of Roseman's promotion was to solidify personnel department

PHOENIX -- Joe Douglas is a big, imposing man. 

As he's walked around lavish greenery at the Biltmore Hotel in Arizona at the annual league meetings this week, he's towered over most of the other NFL executives, including his boss, Howie Roseman.

Douglas is large in physical stature. His role within the Eagles organization seems to match.

"The hiring of Joe Douglas, I thought, was the pivotal moment of the last year," Eagles owner Jeff Lurie said on Tuesday night, speaking for the first time in over a year. 

Douglas was hired in May to head up the Eagles' personnel department, the result of a months-long search administered by Lurie, Roseman and senior advisor Tom Donahoe. 

Last year, when Lurie gave Roseman the power as the overseer of the entire football operations department, the new job came with one condition: He had to put together a top personnel department. 

That started with hiring Douglas. 

"One of the main things Howie and I discussed when he was going to be in the football operations role was he had to have a top-notch player personnel department," Lurie said. "Or we were going to find somebody that could find a great player personnel department. That was his responsibility."

To fulfill that request, Roseman went out and brought Douglas, who cut his teeth for years under greatly respected general manager Ozzie Newsome in Baltimore. Douglas brought with him Andy Weidl, who is now his second in command. 

While Lurie said he gets plenty of congratulations from general managers around the league about drafting Carson Wentz, he said he gets more about luring Douglas to Philly. And this offseason, the Eagles have seemingly made a concerted effort to put Douglas in the limelight. He sat on the stage dwarfing Roseman at a press conference earlier in March and has been plenty visible this week in Phoenix. 

Speaking for the first time since the Eagles were able to move up and draft Wentz at No. 2 last season, Lurie was effusive in his praise of Roseman. He marveled that Roseman was not only able to move up to draft Wentz, but also that he put together a contract for Sam Bradford that allowed him to be traded and then pulled off a move to get a first-round pick for him. 

But that part of the job has never been a knock on Roseman. 

For years, Roseman has shown himself to be an aggressive general manager and incredibly adept in all salary cap matters. But the big question about Roseman has been about his talent evaluation. Together, with Douglas, the two could potentially combine to be a complete general manager, capable of every aspect of the job. And not just capable, but at the top of the class. 

That’s the plan anyway. 

"The draft is going to be really built by Joe and the final decision will be made by Howie," he said. "But these guys are unbelievably collaborative. I haven’t seen anything like this. We have such trust in Joe that basically when that board's there, unless there's something extraordinary happens, it's going to be set by Joe and then we'll just make the final decision in case of anything. But that’s a great system, I think, and Doug will be very involved. The coaches will be very involved as usual, but there's obvious clarity on the decision-making."

This offseason, the Eagles have been publicly honest about the state of the franchise and Lurie didn't deviate from that on Tuesday night. While Lurie is now 65 and has seen his team in the Super Bowl just once, he understands the need to be patient. 

The Eagles hope they found their franchise quarterback last season. Now it's all about drafting the talent to put around him to make the team successful. That's why the condition that Roseman beef up the personnel department upon his promotion was such an important part of his new job. 

"You have to draft well, you have to have multiple drafts in a row, hopefully, where you surround that quarterback on all sides of the ball and that's the formula. It's not that complicated. It's hard to accomplish, but it's not that complicated," Lurie said. 

"As an owner, I have to be really patient and at the same time, very competitive. We'll make moves that will make us better this year, however, we won't make a move where it's going to cost us flexibility or ability to use resources in future years. Because we're in the mode where we're not one player away. We have lots of holes."

It's up to Douglas and Roseman to fill them.

Owners meetings: Jeff Lurie wants to bring back Kelly green jerseys

Owners meetings: Jeff Lurie wants to bring back Kelly green jerseys

PHOENIX -- Jeff Lurie wants to bring back Kelly green. 

The Eagles owner confirmed on Tuesday evening in Arizona at the annual league meetings that a proposal the Eagles initially submitted last week to allow teams to wear alternate helmets was all about bringing back the fan-favorite jerseys. 

For years, fan feedback to reporters about bringing Kelly green jerseys back has been overwhelming.

"It's overwhelming for me too. I would love to see it," Lurie said. "I love the midnight green, I think it's great. But I also want the Kelly green. I'd love for us to have both and some games have one and some games have the other. I think that would be more fun."

The reason the Eagles aren't yet using their Kelly green jerseys is language in the NFL's on-field policy that prohibits teams from wearing alternate helmets. For now, teams are only permitted to wear their primary helmets. And a midnight green helmet atop a Kelly green jersey would be an obvious clash. 

The resolution the Eagles proposed, but then withdrew before the competition committee met, would strike that language from the rule and  allow teams to wear alternate helmets "in a color to match their third uniform."  

Lurie said before the owners' meetings, the Eagles met with the competition committee, which told them the rule wouldn't pass. That's when they decided to withdraw the proposal this year. 

But Lurie isn't giving up. 

"They are aware that many teams would like to see this," he said. "My hope is that we'll be able to get it done hopefully by next March."

When asked why the league doesn't currently allow alternate helmets to be worn, Lurie declined to get into the specifics, saying it's a "complicated scenario." But he also seemed optimistic that eventually, the Eagles will be back in Kelly green. While Lurie preached patience in football matters, he admitted he's a little more impatient on this topic. 

Lurie's plan is to at first try the Kelly green jerseys as an alternate for two or three games, but didn't rule out the possibility of making a full-time switch back to the fan-favorite color. 

The last time the Eagles wore Kelly green was in 2010, when they faced the Packers in the 50th anniversary of the 1960 NFL championship. 

There would be a way to get around the current rules to wear Kelly green, but Lurie is set on doing it the right way. 

"Decals are an option," Lurie said, shaking his head, "but I want a Kelly green helmet. It looks better."