Saturday, December 20, 2014

Five hot topics at Friday's Eagles practice

The Eagles have two weeks of practice before the preseason opener, but Friday's practice and Sunday's practice will be the two most anticipated. The one that begins in two hours is the first day the whole team is together, so that's exciting in a first-day-of-school way. Sunday is the first day with pads and contact, and that will be a major jump in the evaluations and what they're able to do.

Five hot topics at Friday's Eagles practice

Offensive linemen Nic Purcell, left,  Jason Kelce, center, and Matt<br />Tobin, right, line up during Philadelphia Eagles Training Camp at the<br />NovaCare Complex in Philadelphia on July 24, 2013. ( DAVID MAIALETTI /<br />Staff Photographer )
Offensive linemen Nic Purcell, left, Jason Kelce, center, and Matt Tobin, right, line up during Philadelphia Eagles Training Camp at the NovaCare Complex in Philadelphia on July 24, 2013. ( DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer )

The Eagles have two weeks of practice before the preseason opener, but Friday's practice and Sunday's practice will be the two most anticipated. The one that begins in two hours is the first day the whole team is together, so that's exciting in a first-day-of-school way. Sunday is the first day with pads and contact, and that will be a major jump in the evaluations and what they're able to do.

When practice begins in two hours, this is what I'll be watching:

QUARTERBACK REPS

This is the story of training camp and can be on this list every day. Chip Kelly said Michael Vick and Nick Foles will continue to split first-team reps. I want to see how those reps are distributed in 7-on-7 and 11-on-11, and who throws the ball quicker and sharper. It will also be intriguing to see when, and if, Matt Barkley mixes in with the group.

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No major evaluations will be made after Day 1, so it'll be unfair to the quarterbacks and to the fans who aren't at practice to use Friday as an indication of the competition. But the objective measures -- such as reps, completions, etc. -- can be used to help form the cumulative evaluation.

ERTZ, POYER WITH THE FULL TEAM

Rookie tight end Zach Ertz and cornerback Jordan Poyer weren't able to participate in the spring, so we didn't see how they look and where they stack up in a depth chart that the coaches insist isn't a depth chart. Ertz's pass-catching ability will be a major part of the offense, so the chemistry developed with the quarterbacks begins on Friday. Poyer is a seventh-round pick, but there are spots open at cornerback. If he appears developed as an inside cornerback, he could play in dime situations.

STARTING SECONDARY

This is a wide open, just about every spot. Cary Williams will almost certainly be a starting cornerback, but the other cornerback spots (the nickel is essentially a starting position in the modern NFL) and the safeties will be determined during the next six weeks. How healthy is Kenny Phillips? How improved is Nate Allen? Can Patrick Chung and Bradley Fletcher be consistent? Will Brandon Boykin take a big leap in Year No. 2? These are all questions that require answers for the Eagles. They won't wear pads, but more contact is permitted than during minicamps.

HOW TO USE JAMES CASEY?

Casey missed time in the spring because of a knee injury, so onlookers were unable to see how the Eagles want to use him. Friday's practice will begin to offer a better idea. Casey's versatility cannot be overstated -- he can line up in as an in-line tight end, in the backfield, in the slot, and even out wide. He'll be like a chess piece for Kelly; that's why they targeted him in free agency. 

WHAT UNDER-THE-RADAR PLAYER EMERGES?

There is always a player who surprises during camp, even when the veterans arrive. Some rookies show natural skills in individual work, but struggle when playing improved competition during practice. Last season, Damaris Johnson looked like he belonged. Hank Baskett once fit in this category. I covered the Giants when Victor Cruz emerged. These are all receivers by coincidence, although I know there's excitement among fans (and even internally with the Eagles) about how Ifeanyi Momah will do. Other names among undrafted rookies to watch are likebacker Jake Knott, wide receiver Russell Shepard, and defensive lineman Isaac Remington. Some veteran newcomers who could emerge with bigger roles than expected are defensive lineman Clifton Gaethers and wide receiver Arrelious Benn. Pass-rush linebacker Chris McCoy is another player who can be more than a camp body.

Contact Zach Berman at zberman@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @ZBerm.

Zach Berman Inquirer Staff Writer
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Birds' Eye View is the Inquirer's blog covering all things Philadelphia Eagles and the NFL.

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