Eagles training camp is finally here! It's been quite the offseason, and the pre-season has been no different, we already had hot takes after just the first day. We'll get to that in a bit, but first let's address the other elephants in the room, because we've got a herd of them.
Besides the obvious, stay healthy, what are your expectations for Sam Bradford in the pre-season?
James Keane: My expectations are pretty low. Obviously, Bradford hasn't played football since 'Nam. His play will be ugly at times with flashes of promise and brilliance, and he will progress. But this means takes about a QB competition will continue, with Sanchez showing better, more consistent play from the start. Ultimately, I expect Bradford to improve during training camp and the preseason. His play will plateau at the right time and he will be ready to start Week 1.
Patrick Wall: At this point I’m not sure if it’s too much to ask, but more than anything I’d like to see Bradford separate himself from the rest of the pack. Sure, Bradford isn’t going to be handed the starting job, but that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t win it easily. I’d like to see Bradford have a nice camp and show that he deserves to be the starter – and if he can do it by clearly being the best quarterback on the team, even better.
Matt Harkenreader: I don't think he needs to set the world on fire right out of the gate. But it would be very encouraging to see him, at the very least, take care of the football. No careless fumbles, no "gimme" interceptions. Beyond that, he'd really only need to show good poise and pocket presence. The worst thing would be if he appeared skittish in the pocket because of his injuries, because that leads to dumb mistakes. I'm not too worried about actual completions and accuracy yet - there will be some growing pains as he learns the system and forms chemistry with his receivers. That will come with time.
Dave: I'd like to see him show that he is willing and able to throw deep. Only Alex Smith has thrown fewer deep passes than Bradford. I'm willing to believe that his hesitation with the deep ball was a combination of poor receivers and play calling, but seeing is believing. In this offense he has no excuses.
There are a few starting jobs up for grabs, WR, RG, CB, ILB.... which position battle most interests you?
Patrick: The two guard jobs are the ones I’m keeping my eye on. Continuity along the offensive line takes time, so this is a position battle I’m hoping is resolved sooner than later. So far it seems like Matt Tobin and Allen Barbre are the favorites to win the jobs, but if someone like John Moffitt can come in and push for playing time, that’d be nice, too. This battle could be a tough one, because while having the best players playing is the most important thing, you hope those best players are able to show themselves to be superior before long.
Matt: Right guard, all day. I feel like with the other positions the competitions are there because of an excess of talent (although cornerback is questionable). With guard, it's all about who will step up and make this unit dominant. Kelly can want to pound the rock and take advantage of mismatches in the passing game all he wants, but if the offensive line falters it will all fall apart. Not to mention that the line plays a big part in keeping the quarterback upright.
James: With Boykin's trade to Pittsburgh, the CB battle is, now, even more exciting and interesting than it promised to be. There are so many potential outcomes. JaCorey Shepherd seems in line to be Boykin's successor in the slot. Or Shepherd could show why his selection in the sixth round of the draft was justified (hamstring issues notwithstanding). E.J. Biggers played some slot in Washington, so the experienced vet could be in the mix. While unlikely, a poor slot competition may also dictate whether Walter Thurmond moves from safety to his more familiar role. Second Round pick Eric Rowe has experience at safety, so he could potentially play opposite Malcolm Jenkins. Or, things can play out as expected in the slot and Rowe could push Nolan Carroll for time on the outside, opposite Byron Maxwell. Earl Wolff, Jaylen Watkins, and Randall Evans will all have an impact on what ultimately happens. And, who knows, the deciding factor may be how effective players are on special teams.
Dave: I'm most interested in what they're going to do with the inside linebackers. They can, and will, easily put all three on the field at once in certain situations, but for the most part there's going to have to be some kind of rotation. DeMeco Ryans is the play caller there, among incumbents but on passing downs you'd rather have Mychal Kendricks and Kiko Alonso. On running downs you'd prefer to have Ryans, but then who sits? I think by the end of the season Kendricks is the odd man out, but for now it's anyone's guess.
Give me a training camp breakout player, and why. Doesn't have to be an unheard of, "Na Brown Award" type.
Matt: I'm going to go with JaCorey Shepherd. He's already impressed at OTAs and will get more chances to prove himself with Boykin shipped off to Pittsburgh. Now, by "breakout," I'm not insinuating that he will be the next Darrelle Revis, but if a sixth-round pick winds up as the starting nickle corner come Week 1, that is a camp breakout player in my book.
Patrick: I think Taylor Hart could have himself a nice preseason. He was drafted in the fifth round and plays a pretty unsexy position, but I can easily see him having the kind of camp that makes fans say "oh yeah, this guy’s pretty good". The depth along the defensive line is already pretty good, but a strong summer from Hart would make it great.
James: Really tempted to say Tebow here, but I'll go with Zach Ertz. There is a lot of anticipation with Ertz to break out and be the next high impact tight end. If this happens, then he needs to demonstrate it in camp and the pre-season. He's put in the offseason work and says all the right things, so I'm hopeful he will. I look forward to all of those "another great play by Ertz" reports.
Dave: I'll go with Josh Huff. There are starting jobs up for grabs at wide receiver, so the opportunities will be there. And WR is a position where it's common for even top picks to take a year to adjust to the NFL, so we could really see a lot of improvement from him. Last year he complained a bit about playing time, well, now's your chance to earn it.
And finally, Brandon Boykin made it clear that he thinks Chip Kelly has difficulty connecting to some of his players. Is this is a serious issue or just another case of sour grapes?
James: Sour grapes. Having a head coach that "connects" will with players is more of a philosophy, or maybe even a luxury, in the NFL. Chip has made it pretty clear that he is more interested in establishing a certain type of culture, one that does not require a high level of personal interaction with players. Kelly is a corporate CEO with a small cabinet of direct reports, who in turn have direct reports of their own. If Eagles players want to connect with coaches on a personal level, then they will need to turn to their position coaches. Kelly is a big picture thinker and doer. Or, he just doesn't care about the defense. That's Bill Davis' job.
Matt: *Yawn.* I like Boykin but I think he might have taken things a little too personally. If Kelly really had these problems, you wouldn't have such outspoken leaders defending him in the locker room. All these ex-players heaping harsh words at Chip are simply "me-first" players in their own way, and that's not what Kelly wants for his roster. Other coaches with a "my way or the highway" attitude, like Belichick or Holmgren, never got scrutinized the way Kelly does, but that's probably because he hasn't won a Super Bowl (yet). And even if there was a problem, Kelly would be smart enough to sense it, and probably would reach out to his network of psychologists in order to handle it. Either way, I don't see this snowballing into something bigger than a few disgruntled ex-players.
Patrick: I think it’s a little of Column A and a little of Column B. It seems like every notable jettisoned released within the past two seasons has done a fair amount of chirping on their way out the door, which is a departure from what we saw under Andy Reid. While I don’t think it’s fair to simply brush aside these concerns, I have to wonder if this is really about coaching styles.
All three of the players who have either insinuated or outright declared that Chip has a hard time relating to his players were drafted under the Reid regime. So maybe this is less about Chip being unable to relate to his players, and more about Andy being a strong player-friendly coach. If these younger guys are used to things being done (and being done well) under Reid, I could see a scenario in which Chip’s methods and personality can be misconstrued and possibly misinterpreted. As we saw in the recent Washington Post article, Chip’s personality can come across as aloof or abrasive, and maybe his quirks are magnified when compared to a guy like Andy.
Dave: Boykin wasn't happy with his role last year, it was inevitable that he would not be singing Kelly's praises. That said, I don't think his comments were completely wrong, just that they're largely irrelevant. Bill Parcell's players hated him so much they started the Gatorade shower celebration out of anger towards him. Plenty of his players said they couldn't stand him when they played for him but looking back they have nothing but respect for him. Bill Walsh said he had a lot of trouble connecting with his players early in his head coaching career, but that didn't stop him from winning championships. Connecting with your employees is not a requirement for success, and I don't think Chip cares that much about it.
I think this whole thing is as simple as Chip Kelly is one of those people who has no time for things that don't concern him or help him accomplish whatever goal he has, whether it be winning football games or just living his boring life. We all know someone like that, and they can very easily come across as aloof, abrasive or cold. It doesn't make them a bad person. LeSean McCoy, Tra Thomas and Boykin see that as not being able to relate to or disliking black culture, but they're misguided. Personality clash is one of the reasons that Evan Mathis was cut, but everyone conveniently forgets about him, and for every black player that has criticized Kelly the person, there's been a black player who has stood up for him above and beyond just toeing the company line.
I'm sure we'll, unfortunately, be revisiting this topic at some point this season.