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22 Jul 2016

The Birds battling DNC and looming 2016 season

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July 22, 2016 Category: Sports Posted by:

ABOVE PHOTO: Philadelphia Eagles’ Vinny Curry (75), Connor Barwin (98), and Fletcher Cox (91) run a drill during practice at the team’s NFL football training facility in Philadelphia, Tuesday, June 7, 2016. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday

With the Democratic National Convention taking place at the Wells Fargo Center the same week the Eagles open their 2016 Training Camp at the team’s NovaCare practice facility, it’s probably going to be a logistical nightmare in terms of traffic for fans attending both events.

What Eagles fans are really hoping is that they won’t have a nightmare of a 2016 season. Coming into training camp, the Birds have their share of issues of on both sides of the football that they have to settle before the team’s season opener against the Cleveland Browns on Sept. 11. 

The Eagles were 7-9 last season because their defense finished at the bottom of the league.  They were 30th overall, 28th in passing yardage allowed and 32nd in rushing yardage allowed.

On the defensive side of the football, the Eagles will be strong in the front seven on paper, but the secondary is an uncertainty at this point.  The Birds, under defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, will be running a 4-3 defense, which means they will have solid front seven with a lot of defensive ends like Connor Barwin and Brandon Graham, who were outside linebackers in the 3-4 scheme.  Let’s not forget Vinny Curry, who signed a five-year contract earlier this year.

In the interior line, Fletcher Cox, who’s coming off a Pro Bowl year, and Benny Logan will anchor the middle of the line and bring the pass rush up the middle.

At the linebacker position, it’s up to Mychal Kendricks to anchor the middle of the defense. Last year, he struggled with consistency and wasn’t the best tackler at times last season. But anchoring the middle of Schwartz’s 4-3 scheme which relies on the front four to power the pass rush, is probably a better fit for Kendricks’ instinctive rush to the ball skills.

The Eagles also brought in outside linebacker Nigel Bradham, who played under Schwartz’s tutelage in Buffalo and is familiar with his scheme. On paper that’s a good thing, but will he be effective for the Birds when the lights come on. In 2014, Bradham had 104 tackles, 2.5 sacks, one interception, and six pass breakups as an outside linebacker in Schwartz’s defense.

Big things are expected from linebacker Jordan Hicks, who had 50 tackles, one sack, two interceptions, a forced fumble and three fumble recoveries and a touchdown in just seven games before a torn pectoral muscle put an abrupt end to what should have been a stellar rookie season.     

In a division that includes New York Giants wideout Odell Beckham, Dallas’s Dez Bryant, and Washington’s DeSean Jackson whom they will see twice, the Birds need their secondary to be much better than it was last season.

How the secondary takes shape will be one of the most interesting things that come out of training camp this season. The presumptive starters at the cornerback position are Leodis McKeldin and Ron Brooks.  But Nolan Carroll, who’s coming off an ankle injury, and Eric Rowe, who played for Carroll, aren’t going down without a fight.

Rookie Jalen Mills, who played both safety and corner at LSU, impressed Eagles coaches during minicamp and could see time as a slot corner.  JaCorey Shepherd, who impressed last year’s coaching staff before sustaining an ACL injury, wants to prove he belongs in the mix as well. 

At the safety position, Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod might be among the best pairs in the league. Because they’ve both spent some time at cornerback, they are theoretically able to cover athletic tight ends like Washington’s Jordan Reed, who will occasionally line up on the outside like a wide receiver.   

After a rough 2015, this group has nowhere to go but up. If not, it’s going to be another long year.

Meanwhile, if you were to look at the Eagles offense, you have to ask yourself, who on this scares the daylights out of an opposing defense?  If your answer was no one really, you’re probably right. 

At the quarterback position, Sam Bradford, the starter until rookie Carson Wentz is ready, is still trying to prove that he can be a more than reliable starter in head coach Doug Pederson’s version of the West Coast offense.

Another question is who among this receiver group is going to have opposing secondarys shaking in their boots? Jordan Matthews is a good move-the-chains possession wide receiver, but not a guy who can flip field position or score a touchdown on just one play.

Newcomers Rueben Randle, who was Beckham’s sidekick in New York, and Chris Givens are trying to prove they can be better than No. 2 receivers. Meanwhile, second-year rookie Nelson Agholor is looking to have a breakout year as the Eagles deep threat after a disappointing rookie year.  Where does Josh Huff fit into the grand scheme of things?

At the running back position, veteran Ryan Mathews going to be challenged by rookie Wendell Smallwood, who seems to be the ideal back who can run it and catch it out of the backfield. Whoever becomes the lead back in this offense will probably the guy who can block in the passing game.

Speaking of blocking, the Eagles added depth to the offensive line in both the draft and free agency. The Birds had nowhere to up after former head coach Chip Kelly inexplicably neglected the position last year.

Former Houston Texans guard Brandon Brooks will start at right guard along with right tackle Lane Johnson.  Meanwhile, left tackle Jason Peters at 34-years-old comes into camp with a chip on his shoulder after several reports said his decline was imminent.  At the left guard spot, Allen Barbre will be challenged by former Oakland Raiders guard Stefan Wisniewski and rookie Isaac Seumalo.

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