Philadelphia Eagles training camp 2014 is fast approaching. Coaches and players report as soon as Friday, July 25th. The entire Eagles training camp schedule, including information on practices open to the public, can be found by clicking here.
Trent Cole, Connor Barwin, Marcus Smith II, Brandon Graham, Bryan Braman, Travis Long, Josh Kaddu
Trent Cole, one of the two longest tenured members on the Eagles roster, is entering his 10th training camp with the team. It's only Cole's second year as an 3-4 outside linebacker, however. The position change for Cole, 31, appeared to be tough at first on the former defensive end. Cole didn't record a sack until Week 9 of the 2013 season but he finished stronger with 8 sacks in the final 8 weeks. The question now is: can Cole carry over his play from the second half of the season? The Eagles, who lacked a strong pass rush last year, sure do hope that Cole will be more comfortable and effective in his role this year. The only problem is that age may be working against this tireless veteran.
When Connor Barwin isn't too busy being a cool guy off the field, he's on the field doing a number of things. He's not quite the dominant pass rusher that the Eagles need but he's a glue guy in the sense he does just about everything well enough. Along with rushing at times he also drops back into coverage often and can set the edge against the run. Barwin will be a key piece to the Eagles defense yet again.
Marcus Smith II (yes, he has Smith II on his jersey so that's what I'll be calling him) comes in as the Eagles first round draft pick with a lot to prove. Smith II had his fair share of doubters when the Eagles traded down and used the No. 26 overall pick on him in the 2014 NFL Draft. Smith II has the luxury of not being counted on a starter right away so his development doesn't need to be rushed. He'll likely come in off the bench in a rotational role with either/both Cole or Barwin coming off the field. Smith II has reportedly been exclusively learning the JACK position up to this point. That could change over the summer and it'll be something to watch in training camp.
Brandon Graham is still a bit of a mystery. Almost everyone thought he would be traded this offseason but that hasn't been the case. He's still on the Eagles roster and there's no indication he's leaving any time soon. While Graham isn't the prototypical 3-4 outside linebacker he can still contribute off the bench as a pass rusher. Considering the Eagles lacked a strong pass rush last season, maybe the team feels he's worth keeping around in a rotational role despite the less than ideal fit.
Bryan Braman was one of the priority Eagles free agent targets this offseason which sounds funny because he's "only" a special teams contributor. Head coach Chip Kelly really puts an emphasis on special teams so Braman is a valued contributor. Not to mention he probably offers better depth than what the Eagles had last season where converted ILB Casey Matthews was the fourth OLB behind Cole, Barwin, and Graham.
Travis Long is the sleeper candidate everyone should be watching. Long joined the Eagles during training camp last summer as a rookie undrafted free agent. He spent the entire 2013 season on the practice squad. Long seems more in the mold of a Barwin than a Cole: he can be used in coverage most often. It'll be interesting to see if the sleeper hype is justified for Long.
Josh Kaddu was signed to a futures contract shortly after the Eagles season ended. As a former Oregon player, he'll have the benefit of knowing what Kelly expects out of him in practice. Perhaps Kaddu could earn a spot on the practice squad with a good summer.
How will it play out?
The OLB picture is a little unclear to me. Cole and Barwin are the starters and Smith II will make the team. Braman seems locked in as a special teams contributor and depth player. I think Graham will make the team and play in a rotational role, but I'm not very sure on that one. Long is an intriguing player with potential but he has to prove he earns a spot first.
The Eagles might have six OLBs worth keeping: Cole, Barwin, Smith II, Graham, Braman, Long. But last year they only kept 4, and one of those was Casey Matthews. Cole, Barwin, and Smith II all seem like locks. Braman signed with the team this offseason but he's was only given $1 million in guaranteed money so he's hardly not able to be cut. I think Braman makes the team, though. I could definitely see the Eagles cutting Graham but then again why wouldn't they just try to trade him if they knew they were going to release him? Then again, t's very possible no other team is making offers. Long could be a surprise cut because I'm expecting him to have a strong summer. It's just a matter of finding the space on the roster to fit him in.