The Philadelphia Eagles will take their first steps towards the 2012 NFL Season as they will hold their first full squad OTA session post the draft. All eyes at the mini-camp are sure to be on quarterback Michael Vick as he enters a “Make or Break” season
(Philadelphia, Pa) — As Taking It to the House contributors Matt Lombardo and Lloyd Vance head over to the palatial Philadelphia Eagles NovaCare Complex for this week’s mini-camp, there are a bunch of questions surrounding a team that is coming off an inconsistent 8-8 season. We all know it is extremely early as the 2012 season doesn’t “officially” kick-off until September.
And sure many non-diehard fans can’t wait until the regular season and perticularly don’t care much for “mini-camps”, especially when it is players running around in jerseys and shorts. But mini-camps and organized training activities (OTA’s) are essential in building the foundation of a cohesive football team. Many times during the playoffs, both head coaches and players who are putting it all on the line in the postseason like to talk about how OTA’s and training camp were key factors in their development into a successful cohesive team.
The first full squad post-draft mini-camp is always of particular interest in all 32 NFL cities and here in Philly it is no different. There are veterans coming back to the complex for the first time in a while plus several fresh-faced drafted and undrafted rookies getting their first taste of being a professional. Regardless if someone is a first-round pick, 10-year veteran, or 2nd year guy coming from the practice squad, they all know this is their first opportunity to “get on the same page”. The main beneficiaries of these sessions are the coaches and front office as they finally get the opportunity to see “What They Have or Don’t Have” as there still is plenty of work to be done before training camp starts at Lehigh University on July 22.
There are still many moves to be made before training camp, so there is still a good chance of us seeing Andy Reid and GM Howie Roseman huddling to get someone in to fill a particular need. And there are still a variety of methods left at their disposal including trades, waivers, street free agents, and other avenues to explore in filling out the new league-mandated huge training camp roster of 90 players.
Here are our Top 5 questions for 2012 Eagles’ Mini-Camp
1) Is QB Michael Vick ready to return to his 2010 form? — 2010 was the season of MV7, but unfortunately 2011 was not even close. Vick was constantly banged-up – only started 13 games and missed large portions of others – and also struggled with ball security (14 INTs and a league-leading 10 fumbles). We have been told that the Eagles’ 100-Million Dollar Man has been working hard this off-season at getting into the best shape possible while immersing himself in the team’s playbook with offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. Hopefully that is the case as there is a large contingent of fans wondering if No. 7 can take this talented team deep into the playoffs. This is a “Make or Break” season for Vick and Reid so the veteran starter has to be on the field and must also do a better job with his sight-adjustments and it all starts this weekend.
2) Will RB LeSean McCoy show-up and has there been any movement on his contract? – The Eagles Pro Bowl running back surprised many by showing up at a recent voluntary camp, but we have a feeling that “NFL Holdout Hardball” maybe soon be starting with Shady. McCoy (273 rushes for 1309 yards, 20 total TDs and a healthy 4.8 ypc) clearly has out-performed his current contract – slotted to make $615,000 on his four-year rookie deal from 2009 — and there is talk that a training camp holdout maybe in the works – remember Joe Banner’s favorite agent, Drew Rosenhaus will be involved in these negotiations. With other “franchised” running backs Ray Rice (Ravens) and Matt Forte (Bears) talking hold-out, McCoy maybe right behind them. Unfortunately running backs are viewed as a short-term investment, which causes teams to not pay them due to the physical pounding – see Vikings RB Adrian Peterson (7-yr, $100M w/ $36M in gurantees) returning from an ACL injury. We all know the Eagles are not obligated to do anything, however something needs to be done to get the 24-year old in the neighborhood of at least Houston Texans running back Arian Foster (five-year, $43.5 million contract, including $20.75 million guaranteeds). The good news is that the Eagles earlier this off-season gave new deals to veterans WR DeSean Jackson (Rosenhaus client too), OG Evan Mathis, OT Todd Herramins, and DE Trent Cole
3) Will Demetress Bell be able to replace Jason Peters at Left Tackle? – When the news spread earlier this off-season that All-Pro left tackle Jason Peters, arguably the Eagles best player, would be lost for the entire season due to a rupture of his right Achilles tendon, there were immediate questions about this huge blow to the Birds’ O-line – allowed 32 sacks in 2011. The Eagles think they have addressed the former hole left by Peters’ injury with former Bills free agent tackle Demetress Bell. The spotlight through mini-camps and OTA’s will surely be on the former 7th round pick from NW Lousiana State (2008). Bell, a former 30-game starter in three NFL seasons, will need to come in and help an O-line that they pushed RB LeSean McCoy well over 1,200 rushing yards and allowed QB Micheal Vick to finish the season after some earlier injury setbacks. Some good news for the young tackle is that he will be able to lean on veteran O-line coach Howard Mudd and four of the team’s five starters from the end of the 2011 season (RT Todd Herramins, RG Evan Mathis, C Jason Kelce, and LG Danny Watkins). Others to watch on the O-line are veteran back-up King Dunlap and rookie Dennis Kelly (5th rounder from Purdue)
4) Will there be first signs of the Eagles new defense coming together? — Everyone knows from their 2011 season that the Birds defense was their number one priority this off-season. Yes, rookie Defensive Coordinator Juan Castillo’s defense led the NFL with 50 sacks. But often they were pushed around at the end of games by teams running the ball, which led to them losing five 4th quarter leads in their first 12 games of 2011. Not even a late season “Fool’s Gold” push – won 4 straight to end the season – could stop the Eagles brass from addressing a defense that finished ranked 24th in passing touchdowns allowed with 27. The first piece brought in by the team was former Dolphins interim head coach Todd Boles – veteran Bill Parcells disciple – to help mentor Castillo and serve as defensive backs coach. Then during the start of free agency, the Eagles made the shrewd trade of picks (3rd and 4th rounders) for former Pro Bowl MLB DeMeco Ryans. Next came a defensive-heavy draft class led by first-rounder DT Fletcher Cox (Miss. St) and LB Mychal Kendricks. It will be interesting to see if a full off-season will allow Castillo and his unit to have more of an impact than in 2011 and it starts in OTA’s.
5) How will the free agents signed and rookies fit in? — We all know that an NFL lockerroom is a tight knit area, so any new “outsiders”, especially rookies, will have an adjustment period. By our last count there were at least 30 new faces on the Eagles’ roster including 9 recent draft picks. With most of the rookies being selected to compete there should be some interesting training camp battles brewing (see below). I will also be interested in seeing what abilities free agent pick-ups bring to the table as all of them are considered quality veterans who are coming from winning organizations.
Position Battles to Keep an Eye on
Defensive Tackle – 1st rounder Fletcher Cox vs. Mike Patterson
Nickel Corner – Joselio Hanson vs. rookie Brandon Boykin and Curtis Marsh
Receiver – Jason Avant vs. rookie Marvin McNutt, Riley Cooper, and UDFA Darnell Williams
Strongside LB – 2nd rounder Mychal “Angry Bird” Kendricks vs. Akeem Jordan and Moises Fokou
Back-up QB – Mike Kafka vs. Trent Edwards and rookie Nick Foles
Back-up RB – Dion Lewis vs. rookies Bryce Brown and UDFA Chris Polk
Also watch for the competition at the Eagles two safety positions as the team has struggled to replace veteran Brian Dawkins for over 3 years. Veterans Nate Allen, Kurt Coleman, Jaiqwan Jarrett, Tom Nelson, and Colt McCoy (ACL) along with highly-regarded undrafted rookie free agent Phillip Thomas (Syracuse) will be in the mix for probably 4 to 5 roster spots.