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.

NFL Notes: Jordan Reed, Trevor Siemian ruled out for Week 13

NFL Notes: Jordan Reed, Trevor Siemian ruled out for Week 13

ASHBURN, Va. -- Washington Redskins tight end Jordan Reed will miss Sunday's game at the Arizona Cardinals with a sprained left shoulder.

Redskins coach Jay Gruden announced Friday that Reed would sit out. It'll be the third game missed this season by Reed, who leads the Redskins with 59 catches. He has 630 yards receiving and five TDs.

Reed hurt his shoulder in Washington's Thanksgiving Day loss at Dallas, then was sidelined for practice all week.

Gruden said he hopes that with an extra week of treatment, Reed would be available to play at NFC East rival Philadelphia on Dec. 11.

Also out for Washington (6-4-1) against Arizona (4-6-1) is defensive end Anthony Lanier (lower leg).

Starting offensive linemen Brandon Scherff and Ty Nsekhe, cornerback Bashaud Breeland, defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois, running back Chris Thompson and long snapper Nick Sundberg were all listed as questionable for Washington.

Broncos: Trevor Siemian ruled out against Jacksonville
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos ruled out Trevor Siemian for Sunday's game at Jacksonville, meaning rookie Paxton Lynch will make his second start.

Siemian had hoped to return to practice Friday but the training staff put him right back in his walking boot and informed coach Gary Kubiak the second-year pro was a no-go against the Jaguars (2-9).

Lynch lost to Atlanta in Week 5.

The Broncos (7-4) are scrambling for a playoff spot after their loss to Kansas City in which Siemian threw for a career-best 368 yards with three TDs and no interceptions but was sacked six times.

The Broncos also promoted speedy punt returner Kalif Raymond from the practice squad with rookie fullback Andy Janovich going on injured reserve following ankle surgery.

Bills: Sammy Watkins expected to play against Oakland
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills receiver Sammy Watkins is expected to play in his second consecutive game though questions persist about the severity of his left foot injury.

On Thursday, Bills offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn said Watkins still has a broken bone in his left foot. Watkins returned from injured reserve last week after missing two months of action.

Watkins spoke with reporters Friday but was vague when pressed about Lynn's comments. Asked if he still has a broken bone in his foot, Watkins responded: "Not necessarily. You hear a lot of things."

Buffalo's top receiver had surgery in April to repair a stress fracture in the injured foot. It was aggravated in Week 3 when a teammate stepped on Watkins' foot at a walk-through.

Watkins returned against Jacksonville on Sunday and provided a major spark to the league's worst passing attack, catching three passes for 80 yards. He missed Wednesday's practice due to foot soreness but participated on a limited basis on Thursday and Friday.

"Playing the game, you come out a little bit sore being out for eight weeks," Watkins said. "So we expected that, I expected that myself. I'm fine. I got through the game last week, I felt pretty good, didn't have any hiccups, and really just keep doing the things in the training room."

Watkins said the soreness did not come until after the game against the Jaguars, not during. He's expected to again be on a snap count this Sunday at Oakland.

Watkins was also asked about the possibility of a second surgery, along with his status for the rest of the season.

"Right now I'm really just focusing on the Raiders," Watkins said. "After the season, if I need to get that done then we will, and if I don't we'll be fine."

The Bills are depending on Watkins to contribute due to reduced personnel at wide receiver. Robert Woods (knee) and Percy Harvin (illness) are out. Marquise Goodwin is expected to play after suffering a wrist injury in practice Thursday.

Starting cornerback Ronald Darby (concussion) is out. Defensive tackle Marcell Dareus is expected to play after leaving Sunday's win over Jacksonville with an abdominal strain.

Dismissal deal done in Johnny Manziel's domestic case
DALLAS -- Prosecutors say they have an agreement with Johnny Manziel to dismiss a domestic violence charge against the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback.

The Dallas County District Attorney's Office said Friday that Manziel will have to meet certain conditions for a year before the misdemeanor charge will be dismissed. The former Cleveland Browns player was accused of hitting and threatening former girlfriend Colleen Crowley during a night out in January.

Brittany Dunn, a spokeswoman for the prosecutors, said the agreement was filed Friday without Manziel present.

Details of the agreement weren't immediately available. A spokeswoman for the former Texas A&M star didn't immediately return a call seeking comment.

Judge Roberto Canas said at a hearing last month that the sides had reached a tentative deal on a conditional dismissal (see full story).

Jaguars: Ivory, Hurns ruled out; Thomas doubtful vs. Denver
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars will be without two offensive starters Sunday against Denver and maybe a third.

Coach Gus Bradley ruled out running back Chris Ivory (hamstring) and receiver Allen Hurns (hamstring) on Friday. He also listed tight end Julius Thomas (back) as doubtful to play against the defending Super Bowl champion Broncos (7-4).

Receiver Rashad Greene (Achilles tendon) and defensive end Jared Odrick (shoulder) also are out, leaving the Jaguars (2-9) with four healthy receivers heading into the game. Allen Robinson and Marqise Lee will start, with Arrelious Benn and Bryan Walters serving as backups.

Without Ivory, T.J. Yeldon is expected to handle the bulk of the carries. But Yeldon (ankle) was limited in last week's game and again in practice this week.

Doug Pederson won't commit, leaning towards activating Nelson Agholor

Doug Pederson won't commit, leaning towards activating Nelson Agholor

For whatever reason, Doug Pederson refused to commit to it on Friday morning, but it certainly seems like Nelson Agholor is going to be active this Sunday. 

When asked about Agholor, Pederson cited Jordan Matthews’ ankle injury -- Matthews is questionable heading into the game – as a reason he’s “keeping [Agholor] in the mix.”

Does “in the mix” mean active? 

“Yeah, there’s a good chance,” Pederson said. “I have to find out how Jordan does today and see really. Just getting on Nelson, his mind has been great, his attitude has been really good, he’s been working really hard. So right now, nothing says not keeping him up, keeping him out. Everything is leaning toward keeping him active.”

Agholor was a healthy scratch against the Packers on Monday Night Football after a dreadful performance against Seattle, after which he admitted he was in his own head. All last week, Pederson said it was a possibility he’d keep Agholor down and then he did. Agholor watched from the sideline as the Eagles lost, 27-13.  

When pressed on Friday about his failure to commit to playing Agholor, Pederson said he didn’t want to rush into anything, because something unexpected could come up. 

“If I can wait until the last second, I’m going to wait until the last second and just see,” he said.  

On the last question of Friday’s press conference, Pederson seemed to possibly tip his hand. He was asked if there are things he can do as a play-caller, if Agholor plays, to build his confidence, perhaps getting him the ball early in the game. 

“Yeah, there’s always way to do that, obviously, play call, play design, specifically to get him going in the game, could help,” Pederson said. “Get him the ball early. It might just be a screen, just getting him the ball quick, let him get settled into the game. Those are all things I consider, especially putting the openers together, the first 15 (plays), let’s say, focusing on certain guys, wanting to get them touches early. And he’s definitely one of those guys.”

The Eagles have elected to keep just four receivers active on game days all season, while some other teams keep five up. Pederson said the reason for that is special teams. Instead of having a fifth receiver, the Eagles keep up core special teams players like reserve safety Terrence Brooks or reserve corner C.J. Smith. 

With Matthews’ injury and with Agholor’s situation, Pederson might have to consider activating five for the first time this season on Sunday. 

“That’s something, obviously, I have to consider,” Pederson said. “It really depends on today and how well Jordan comes out of today. And see where he’s at. Again, it’s a short week and getting back out there yesterday, (Thursday) was, I don’t want to say it hurt him, it was good to put him out there. The decision could come from how well he does or doesn’t come out of today.”