Thursday, December 25, 2014

What to watch at OTAs

The full Eagles roster (or least the vast majority of it) is expected in town Tuesday for offseason training activities, giving us the first chance to get a glimpse of what all those offseason work outs and roster moves have wrought.

What to watch at OTAs

Brandon Graham may face a make-or-break season in 2012 for the Eagles. (Alex Brandon/AP)
Brandon Graham may face a make-or-break season in 2012 for the Eagles. (Alex Brandon/AP)

The full Eagles roster (or least the vast majority of it) is expected in town Tuesday for offseason training activities, giving us the first chance to get a glimpse of what all those offseason work outs and roster moves have wrought.

The practices are voluntary, but most veterans are expected to be there. The camp mostly focuses on passing and falls well short of the grueling training camp work Andy Reid puts his squad through. But it’s our first chance to get an impression of new players, guys returning from injury and the young players who have yet to have a full offseason (meaning 2010 and 2011 draft picks). We can gauge how they are moving and who has gotten bigger or slimmer and get a very initial glance at the depth chart.

These practices are only a quick look at the team and there are no firm conclusions to draw in May, (which we will repeat over and over and over) but here are a few areas we may look to for clues:

-- Brandon Graham: Word around NovaCare is that Graham has worked himself into top shape for what is a make-or-break season for the 2010 first round pick. He’s reportedly cut down on fat and added muscled. Publicly and privately key people within the team say they still believe in Graham and his potential. But they also acknowledge that by year three you really find out what you’ve got in a draft pick. In other words, if Graham is ever going to live up to his draft status, this is the year to do it. We get a first glimpse of Graham this week, and since he’ll probably be with the defensive second team, he’ll likely be going up against starters on the O-line, giving us a decent way to measure at least his pass rushing (there’s little running in OTAs).

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-- Safety: The position that probably represents the biggest question mark on the roster. Nate Allen will start at one spot and many eyes will be on Jaiquawn Jarrett to see if he moves with any more confidence after a year in the league. It will be hard to gauge Jarrett's progress, given that the Eagles want to see him hit and there won’t be any of that at OTAs, but we’ll at least be looking for him to find his way to the ball more often than he did as a rookie. Kurt Coleman begins the offseason as the starter, but you have to believe the Eagles would like their 2011 second round pick to emerge and win the job. Coleman, with sound instincts and intelligence, has done well in training camp each of the past two years and is also in his first set of OTAs. He missed them his rookie year because of Ohio State’s class schedule and the lockout last season.

-- Mike Kafka: Nick Foles fades back to the background as Mike Vick and Kafka take center stage. We know Vick’s story – he has to cut down on turnovers and injuries, neither of which we’ll get much of a feel for in camp. The backup job is Kafka’s to lose and while OTAs won’t tell us definitively if he’s ready, the practices can raise red flags if he’s not. With Kafka as the number two QB, we’ll probably see more of him than ever before, and we’ll get to see him facing off against the number one defense. The questions are not about his knowledge, but his arm strength.

-- Rookies: As you might expect, Fletcher Cox, Mychal Kendricks, Vinny Curry and Brandon Boykin all looked impressive in rookie camp. They should have – these were top picks going up against undrafted players and try outs. Now we’ll see them facing much stiffer competition and continuing to try to learn their playbooks. This will be a better look at how they’re doing at this early stage in the offseason.

-- DeMeco Ryans: He’s one player we’ll be looking at strictly to see how he’s moving and for his presence in the huddle. The Eagles are hoping he's all the way back from his torn Achilles in 2010 and that he’ll be that defensive field general the team lacked last year. Speed, agility and command will be what to watch for.

-- Linebackers: Ryans will be in the middle and Kendricks on the strong side, for OTAs at least. At weak side, though, there is a stiff competition brewing. Casey Matthews has supposedly bulked up and worked on getting off blocks – a big weakness his rookie year – can he challenge Brian Rolle? How has Rolle used the offseason to improve? Can the Eagles find a defined role for Keenan Clayton? Can either Akeem Jordan (among the more versatile of the LBs) or Moise Fokou (among the more physical) make a strong impression? Coaches would like to see more from Clayton, in particular, in practices.

-- Demetress Bell: The Eagles have an array of pass rushers, so Bell will have some tough early tests, whether he’s matched against the first team or second team. (Usually in practices the 1s play against the 2s, but on occasion the starters face off). No, it’s not live and the quarterback can’t actually be hit, but we’ll at least get to see if he can move quickly enough to stay in front of Jim Washburn’s hard-charging linemen.

-- What about Mike Vick?: It has been said a million times and will be often repeated between now and the start of the season: the most important improvement the team needs is having Vick can take care of the ball and himself. But unless he’s throwing directly at defenders, there probably won’t be much to take away from Vick’s showing in OTAs. He’ll still be interviewed and will probably talk about doing things right and fixing errors, but we’ve heard it before. For a player who has been a starter for two years now and has already shown some of his best and worst traits on the field, hints in May don’t mean much. For Vick, it’s all about September and – the Eagles hope – January.

Out:
Brent Celek will likely be limited in OTAs after offseason surgery to repair a torn labrum in his hip and a sports hernia, so he doesn’t factor in quite yet. If tight end Brett Brackett wants to push Clay Harbor for the number two job, this is a good opportunity.

Colt Anderson (ACL) and Mike Patterson (brain surgery) will be out as will Jamar Chaney (herniated disc). Assuming he is back for training camp, Chaney may have something to say about the linebacker competition before the season arrives.

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

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