Since Chip got to Philadelphia in 2013, the Eagles offense has taken off. However, despite back to back 10 win seasons, Chip felt the need to mix things up drastically. So let’s take a position by position look at the changes Chip has made and how it affects the Eagles 2015 training camp.
Center: Not too much competition here going for the starter spot, as Jason Kelce has become one of the best centers in the league. In fact, he had the 6th highest run blocking score among all centers in the league according to Pro Football Focus. However, backup center is very important and it could be a battle between David Molk and Julian Vandervelde. Both have seen some time in previous years and will be fighting for a roster spot.
Guards: Two big holes to fill on the Eagles offensive line are the guard spots after the team let both Todd Herremans and Evan Mathis (two of the top guards in the league) walk in free agency. Allen Barbre has played sporadically the past two seasons filling in at both spots, and he won’t be as good as Herremans or Mathis were, but practicing with the 1’s for a full camp should help solidify him in that left guard spot. The other spot appeared to be up for grabs between Matt Tobin and Andrew Gardner, but with the addition of John Moffitt, an experienced veteran, there will be even more competition. Tobin filled in last year at left guard, but I give the edge to Moffitt right now. Expect a brutal battle for that remaining spot as well as the two backup spots. If anything, these preseason battles will benefit the Eagles down the road this season if any of these linemen go down with injuries.
Tackles: The starting tackle spots are locked up with Jason Peters manning the left side and Lane Johnson on the right. Peters has consistently been one of the best offensive tackles in the league, even despite his affinity for false starts. Johnson was suspended for the first four games last year and it took him a few more to really get his feet under him, but I expect big things from him this year. Even missing 4 games last year, Johnson, as well as Peters were Pro Football Focus All-Pro first teamers. The backup tackle spot is interesting. The Eagles had the aforementioned Barbre fill in there last year for Lane Johnson, so if one of the tackles goes down you could see the Eagles sliding Barbre out and then inserting Tobin, Gardner or Moffitt at guard, depending on who wins the other spot. They currently have Josh Andrews and Kevin Graf as their tackles on their second line. With generally 9 roster slots reserved for linemen, there may only be one spot for the two of them, so watch that battle as camp wears on as well.
Running Back: Perhaps the Eagles’ most loaded offensive position is the Running back position. Notably this off-season, the Eagles unloaded their franchise’s all time leading rusher in Lesean McCoy and signed the NFL’s leading rusher from last year in Demarco Murray. I loved McCoy, but in Chip’s offense, Murray makes more sense. The focus of Chip’s offense is on players moving north to south, and not east to west. McCoy can say what he wants, but at the end of the day, his elusive style did not mesh with Chip’s game plan. Chip wants a downhill runner who can hit the hole, make one cut and be gone. That is what Murray is, and he may be the best at it in the league. According to Football Outsiders Murrary’s success rate as a runner last year, which measures running backs perfomances on a down to down basis based on the down and distance, rates Murray at 54% compared to McCoy’s 45%. That means when each runner needed a certain amount of yards, Murray was 9% better at it than McCoy this past season, which should be a massive increase if he can keep that rate up this year. I see Murray leading this team down the field drive after drive eating teams apart 4-5 yards at a time, something that McCoy struggled with in the past. Murray had a massive workload last season, carrying the ball 392 times, with an addition 57 receptions, so having a secondary back to keep him fresh will be key this season.
Which leads us to former San Diego Charger Ryan Matthews. Matthews is a very talented runner himself, another guy who is more north to south, as opposed to east to west. At times with San Diego, he looked like he could be dominant, but injuries held him back. Matthews has averaged 4.5 yards per carry for his career, which if he continues, makes him an exceptional backup. If he and Murray are splitting reps in some capacity, it will be a deadly combination as well as one that should keep each guy fresh and healthy. Finally, Darren Sproles tops it all off. What’s that? You are ready for the downhill, beater running backs? Well then there’s Sproles catching a screen pass and galloping 70 yards for a touchdown. The Eagles may not have the best running back in the league, but I can say with 100% certainty that this is the best 3 man running back rotation in the league. With Chip Kelly at the helm, this should be a very fun rushing attack to watch.
Fullback: I’m saddened to report that in Chip Kelly’s offense there is no fullback. I love ya Chip, but give me a big fullback to have some fun with! Or so I can at least add a jersey to my extensive fullback jersey collection!
Wide Receivers: This is a very interesting positional battle for Philly. They had a very productive rookie last year in Jordan Matthews (67 Catches for 872 yards and 8 TD’s), who, in my opinion, they should move from slot to outside receiver. The team also loves last year’s rookie Josh Huff, despite his lack of production in grabbing just 8 catches for 98 yards this past year. However, I have extremely high hopes for Huff this year as well, as he showed some flashes of his potential last year. His biggest moments were explosive (and mainly on special teams), but his lows were in key moments like when he lost a fumble against Arizona to cost the team a victory. But if Huff can put it all together and stay healthy, I believe he will be an asset to this offense. Then there is this years top draft pick Nelson Agholor, who racked up 104 receptions for 1,313 yards and 12 touchdowns at USC last year. Reporters noted that Agholor has been one of the hardest working people on the team since draft day, which is great to see from a rookie. I admittedly didn’t watch much USC football last year, but have seen his highlights. He’s got tremendous hands and I think he should be a starter for this team right away. I haven’t forgotten about Riley Cooper; he’s not a bad receiver by any means (55 catches for 577 and 3 TD’s), but I think the Eagles are going to slowly reduce or cut out his role completely. With the young guys pushing him, he will have his hands full this training camp. He has the experience factor, but his skill set may be worse than all three of the younger guys. The last spot figures to go to veteran Miles Austin. He still has some gas left in the tank and should set a good example for some of the younger guys on the roster. It will be tough for any other wideout to make the roster, unless there’s an injury or special teams need. My ideal lineup is Agholor and Matthews outside with Huff in the slot.
Tight End: TE is definitely a battle to watch this camp. Brent Celek is a very talented all around tight end, with loads of experience. Despite this, many people were surprised last year that Zach Ertz “so good” didn’t overtake Celek. Part of this is undoubtedly because of Celek’s ability as a blocker. He has been a sound blocking TE throughout his career and if Ertz hasn’t improved enough in that aspect, he may again find himself looking up to Celek on the depth chart. Regardless, Ertz is still a very talented pass catcher and will play a role in this offense. In fact, this past season, despite seeing fewer snaps, Ertz still managed to tally 58 catches for 702 yards and 3 touchdowns compared to Celek’s 32 catches for 340 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Quarterback: Finally, we have the most talked about position on the Eagles. At one point in time, if I told you Sam Bradford, Tim Tebow, Mark Sanchez and Matt Barkley were on the same NFL roster, you would have called me crazy. However, the circumstances have brought them all to Philly. So let’s start with the expected opening day starter, Sam Bradford. Bradford, proved at times that he could be a very good quarterback in the NFL. Sure, his career 58.6 completion percentage is lower than Foles 61.6, but that’s not always an accurate assessment of accuracy. Stats are almost out the window when comparing a Chip Kelly coached QB to any other in the league. No quarterback can do it himself, and Bradford has never had the help he needs. None of his receivers have ever been able to get open on a consistent basis and when they did there was no guarantee they would catch the ball. Just watch this video of all Bradford’s passes over 15 yards during his 2012 campaign and you will understand. Poor receiver play was more common than not. Injuries have plagued the one time first overall pick, and now he may be getting his last chance. I’m a firm believer that Chip Kelly can cover for many quarterback’s flaws, but at the end of the day, you need a quarterback you can trust if you want to win a Super Bowl. You can make the playoffs with below average quarterback play, but you won’t get much further than that. I think Bradford has a chance to shine here with Philly. He has far more weapons than he ever had in St.Louis. His RB’s should provide him a nice security blanket, his receiving core is solid and he should get protected well up front. IF he stays healthy, there is not a doubt in my mind he will be a massive upgrade over Foles and Sanchez. He makes far better decisions with the football and can put it on a dime.
If Bradford is not able to go, it’s likely we will see the Sanchize once again. I love Sanchez as a backup, but I hate him as a starter. There’s an old saying that goes, an ideal backup is someone who can step in for 4 games and go 3-1, but if he has to play 8 games, he’ll be 4-4. That is the epitome of Sanchez to me. When surrounded by the players Philly has, I have confidence that he could go .500 if he played the whole season, but he’s just not good enough to be a full time starter. He played well at times last year, completing 64.1% of his passes for 14 TD’s over 8.5 games, but he had his fair share of rough patches with 11 interceptions and 3 fumbles. I was in the stands the night the Eagles lost to the Cowboys on Sunday Night Football, and even though the defense was atrocious, Sanchez could have won that game. His accuracy was just too off and on. Watching Chip’s offense in person is a must see, because you can see all the receivers running wide open down the field every play. That night, I saw that and watched Sanchez repeatedly miss open targets. I made my mind up that night that Sanchez would not be the answer.
Finally there is the Tebow-Barkley battle. By all accounts, Tebow was terrible during OTA’s and other team activities. It will be tough for him to make the team, but if Chip sees something in him then he won’t hesitate to keep him around. Especially after having now seen Barkley for 2 years. Quarterback will be one of the biggest preseason and regular season storylines for the Birds.
Despite the massive turnover at QB, RB and Guard, I still think this Eagles offense will be one of the top in the league. They may lack a star receiver in a league that’s dead set on passing, but their bread and butter will be running the football. Four yards and a cloud of dust will be their mott. Chip has enough weapons and his scheme is prove through two years in the leage that there should not be a significant drop off from last year to this year.
Click here for my preview of the defense.
By Peter Gumas