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.

Nelson Agholor: 'I fell short of my mission' to represent Eagles, family

Nelson Agholor: 'I fell short of my mission' to represent Eagles, family

When the allegations were first made public on June 10, Eagles wide receiver Nelson Agholor feared for his football career.

“To be honest with you,” he said, “there were points I thought an opportunity that was given to me to play for this organization and to have the life I have could have been taken from me.”

Agholor last month was accused by an exotic dancer of sexual assault during a visit Agholor made to a gentleman’s club in South Philadelphia in early June.

It wasn’t until about a month later — July 18 — that Agholor was cleared when the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office announced that no charges would be filed against the 23-year-old second-year pro.

On Thursday, after his first practice of training camp, Agholor spoke for the first time about the allegations.

“I put myself in a poor situation, and the most important thing for me was to realize that no matter what’s going on, if I make the right decision, I won’t be there,” he said after an afternoon practice in the Eagles’ indoor bubble.

“I put myself in that position going there, and to be honest with you, as I look at it, at the end of the day, it’s either neutral or negative consequences being in a place like that. So I made the wrong decision being there. …

“It definitely puts me in a position where I truly have to re-center my focus and remind myself who I am. You know? Being associated with anything like that is not who I am as a man. Falling short and even being associated with that, you’ve got to make sure you find yourself again and be yourself. Truly be yourself. And that’s what I’m going to do from here on out.”

Agholor declined to talk specifically about what happened at the strip club that day in June, but he did say the first few days, especially after the allegations came out, were very difficult for him and his family.

“Tough. Tough,” he said. “For a few days I sat back and I was in shock. But after a while I had to realize, I put myself in that position and all I can do is grow and find ways to get closer to my family and get closer to the people that had my back and just continue to grow and also train because I couldn’t let it defeat me twice.

“If I had just sat around moping, I wouldn’t be prepared to perform today. So I continued to train, stay with my family and get myself ready.”

Agholor said after the allegations came out, he returned home to Tampa to reconnect with his family and start the process of deciding exactly what kind of changes he had to make in his life to be the person he wanted to be.

“My parents were disappointed,” he said. “But they also understand that the best I could do is respond the right way. The actions were the actions. But what was I going to do after that from here on out?

“[Becoming] closer to my younger brother, taking care of my little sister, being there every day, being there for my family, making the right decisions. And they were proud of the way I responded.”

Agholor, the 20th pick in last year’s draft, had a disappointing rookie year, with just 23 catches for 283 yards and one touchdown.

So even before these allegations were made public, a lot of Eagles fans were disappointed in Agholor.

Now he has more to overcome to win the fans back. Because even though there won’t be any charges against Agholor, his reputation has definitely taken a major hit.

“At the end of the day, what I did gives everybody enough to say, ‘Hey, man, you did something wrong,’” he said. “At the end of the day, they have every right to do that.

“But as a man, I’ve got to do stuff from here on out to show who I am as a person and the type of man I’ll be.

“You never wish for negative things to happen to you, but they say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. And I swear I feel way stronger. I do.”

It’s hard to imagine anybody coming across more genuine in such circumstances than Agholor Thursday.

His voice shook as he spoke of the faith that Chip Kelly, Doug Pederson, Howie Roseman and Jeff Lurie had in him and how he let them down.

“I fell short of my mission and I understand I should have done a better job,” he said. “From here on out, I have an obligation to do the right thing and to be the right person for this organization.

“What’s going to change? Understanding that every day I have an opportunity to take care of the life I have and to be a good person.

“I made a [poor] decision. I wish I didn’t. But at the end of the day, I have to make a conscious effort every day when I wake up to feed myself the right stuff and be around the right people and make the right decisions and hold myself accountable. So that’s what I’m going to do.”

Nigel Bradham expects name to be cleared, apologizes for distraction

Nigel Bradham expects name to be cleared, apologizes for distraction

Eagles linebacker Nigel Bradham, who was recently arrested for his involvement in an assault of a Miami hotel worker, was back on the practice field for the team's first full-squad practice of training camp on Thursday afternoon in the bubble.

The 26-year-old declined to give his side of the story, citing the ongoing police investigation, but said several times that he “most definitely” expects his name to be cleared.

“I can’t really speak on that part because it’s ongoing,” Bradham said when asked if he made a mistake, “but I am confident my name will be cleared.”

The alleged assault on the Miami beach reportedly stemmed from the length of time it took 50-year-old hotel worker Jean Courtois to bring Bradham’s group of six an umbrella for which they had already paid.

The arrest report obtained by NBC claims Bradham punched Courtois without being provoked. Several reports, meanwhile, have claimed Courtois provoked the attack by hitting Bradham’s girlfriend. Courtois told NJ.com the attack was unprovoked

Bradham disagreed on Thursday: “How many times you’ve heard my name, going around doing something to somebody? That makes no sense.”

Bradham also declined to say whether or not he’ll be filing counter-charges against Courtois.

On Tuesday night, the day before reporting to his first training camp with the Eagles, Bradham had a conversation with head coach Doug Pederson. Pederson said the conversation was “great” and said he didn’t foresee a scenario where Bradham will be cut from the team because of this. Bradham, on Thursday, admitted he was and is worried about discipline that might stem from the incident.

“I just pretty much told [Pederson] what happened,” Bradham said. “Like I said, I can’t really put it out in the public yet because it’s still an ongoing investigation. But we had a heart-to-heart conversation about everything and we’re pretty much on the same page about what things I need to do. And I also apologized for being a distraction to the team and everything like that.”

Bradham said this is the first time he has ever been arrested – he was charged with marijuana possession in 2013. While he continually declined to disclose the specifics of this incident, he did express remorse that anything like this happened at all.

“Most definitely,” Bradham said. “You don’t want that to be part of your legacy at any time throughout your career and it’s my first year here. I just started and I definitely didn’t want to start out with that being in the news and everything.”

The Eagles signed Bradham to a two-year, $7 million ($4.5M guaranteed) deal this offseason and plugged him in as the team’s starting strongside linebacker. It was a natural fit because he had his best season playing under Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz in 2014.

Now, before he has even played a game for the Eagles, his name has been at least somewhat tarnished.

“Your first impression is everything, especially to the fans,” he said. “It’s just unfortunate for me that I didn’t get the chance to play, at least let them see me play before they get an opinion about me.”

With realistic shot at 53-man roster, undrafted Myke Tavarres feels he fits Eagles' scheme well

With realistic shot at 53-man roster, undrafted Myke Tavarres feels he fits Eagles' scheme well

Some scouts and draftniks were surprised Myke Tavarres' name had not been called after the dust settled and all seven rounds were complete in May's NFL draft. At that point, the Eagles weren't about to let a potential diamond in the rough show up on another club's 90-man roster.

The Eagles reportedly gave Tavarres $95,000 in guaranteed money to sign, one of the highest sums awarded to an undrafted free agent in the NFL in 2016, and it wasn't difficult to understand why. Linebacker is a position of need for one thing, so much so there's an excellent chance a lesser-known prospect out of an FCS program like the University of Incarnate Word has an excellent shot at making the team.

Yet Tavarres is an impressive individual as well, both as an athlete and a person. You can learn a lot about his character based alone on the mantra he has tattooed on his arm.

"In high school I used to wrestle, and my coach before every big match, he would read me this quote, and this quote has gotten me through everything," Tavarres said at training camp this week. "It says, 'If you do not try, then you do not do, and if you do not do, then why are you here?' Pretty self explanatory."

And while Tavarres is serious about playing football, it's clear he has his priorities straight. While he declined to get into why exactly he transferred from Arkansas to Incarnate Word after one season, it certainly wasn't because he worried about being drafted or a career in the NFL at the time. It was what he felt was best for him.

"I actually had a close friend that played corner out there," Tavarres said, "and he said, 'You'd love it out here, the coaches are pretty relaxed. It'll be a good opportunity for you to go out there and just have fun and play the game.' So after that I decided to go there.

"Honestly, I wasn't even worried about the NFL when I got to Incarnate Word. I was more focused on getting my degree, finishing school. Then toward the middle of the season, they were like, 'Hey, you've got a pretty good shot to play in the NFL.' After that, I was like, 'Alright, let's go ahead and go for it.'"

It's also telling of his personality what Tavarres' attitude is toward going undrafted.

"I'm not too upset and I wasn't really that worried," he said. "I knew I was going to get an opportunity somewhere, and that's all I ever asked for was an opportunity."

As impressive as his determination is, you can learn a lot about Tavarres' physical ability just from looking at the numbers, too. As a senior — his only season with the program — he posted 110 tackles, 22½ tackles for loss and 8½ sacks. He was so versatile, he even saw a limited number of touches as a running back and kickoff returner.

Listed at 6-foot-1, 230 pounds, Tavarres also mentions he actually came into camp up to 240, not to mention he might be even faster than people think. At least he claims a trick of the stopwatch may have caused a sizable discrepancy in his 40-yard dash time compared to what is on the books from his pro day.

"It was a 4.7, but," Tavarress said, "realistically I found out after I was running, I moved my hand before I started running, and what my trainer and my agent had was a 4.4."

Not that he ascribes too much importance to the actual time anyway.

"People spend so much time worrying about 40-this, 40-that," he said. "If you can play ball, you can play ball."

The challenge now for Tavarres is picking up a defense he's never played in before. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he also says that's part of what attracted him to the Eagles. While he was used primarily as a pass-rusher in college, Tavarres believes his skillset is better suited for playing linebacker in a 4-3.

So far, Tavarres feels the most comfortable at strongside, where his speed and strength are valuable attributes for covering tight ends.

"It's been a lot harder for me than it would be for most guys because they've all played in a 4-3 scheme," Tavarres said. "I played in a 3-2, which is pretty much just a standard defensive end rushing the passer, so it's all been relatively new to me, but I'm adjusting and acclimating as much as I can.

"For a linebacker like me, I can play side-to-side, so that would be really good for me. That was really the most reason why I decided to come here."

The Eagles' lack of depth at linebacker didn't hurt either. Mychal Kendricks, Jordan Hicks and Nigel Bradham seem set as the starters, but the only backups with NFL experience currently on the roster are Najee Goode and Deonate Skinner. That leaves seventh-round pick Joe Walker, Tavarres and fellow undrafted rookies Quentin Guase and Don Cherry likely competing for at least one, possibly two spots.

All Tavarres wanted was an opportunity, and he has one here. He's also confident he knows what he has to do to take advantage of what's in front of him and make the 53-man roster.

"Hard work. Dedication. Special teams," Tavarres said, with the latter being what he hopes will help set him apart.

"My goal on every single special teams play is to be the first one down there and not just to get down there, but make the play, make the tackle."

Obviously, special teams will be a huge factor in the Eagles' decision, although the organization may have tipped its hand a bit with the nice bonus it paid Tavarres as far as what it thinks of his chances. Undeniably a bit raw, he has the talent and right attitude to play at the next level, which makes for one intriguing prospect to watch this summer.