With the draft and initial burst of free agency behind us, we have a pretty good idea of who the Eagles will be bringing into training camp to fight for spots on the regular-season roster. Here, then, is a look at the top position battles to look forward to as rookie minicamps and offseason practices arrive in May and June and lead up to training camp in July.
Another summer, another new spin on the position that the Eagles can never quite seem to settle. Only this time, you have to feel better about the options. Barring some offseason nightmare, DeMeco Ryans will be the starter at middle linebacker. We still need to see how close he is to the Pro Bowl form he displayed before his 2010 Achilles tendon tear, but if he's even near that level he'll be an upgrade.
The battles, then, will be at outside linebacker. Second-round pick Mychal Kendricks and Jamar Chaney will start off on the strong side, but Kendricks already seems to have the inside track. The Eagles love his ability to rush the passer, which would give the team another look for which quarterbacks would have to prepare.
If Chaney is pushed aside, though, he would probably get a shot on the weak side, along with Brian Rolle and Casey Matthews. Rolle had some solid moments last year, but with his height (he's just 5-foot-10) you don't know if he'll be a long-term answer. The Eagles invested a 2011 fourth-round pick in Matthews and will also give him a shot. He was one of the players Howie Roseman raved about Monday for his offseason work. (I can hear some of you groaning, but let's allow that Matthews was put in a difficult position at the start of last season and showed positive signs when given a second chance.)
Keenan Clayton has intriguing speed but has never been able to carve out a niche for himself. He'd seem to make a nice nickel linebacker, but the Eagles would prefer to find a set of guys who can stay on the field for three downs. Clayton may have one last summer to make a positive impression (Another running criticism: that he shows up much more in games than in practices; that will have to change).
Akeem Jordan and Moise Fokou have had chances to take control of starting jobs, but neither has made a huge impact the last two years. They may face an uphill battle for roster spots. Same with Greg Lloyd and Monte Simmons.
Nate Allen will start at one slot. Of the safeties on the roster, he has shown the most potential.
But what about his partner in the defensive backfield? Roseman doesn't sound inclined to add a veteran safety, at least not now. That gives Jaiquawn Jarrett, Kurt Coleman, and undrafted free agent Phillip Thomas a chance to show what they can do in minicamps and offseason practices, and to learn by getting more reps. If none of them looks up to par, maybe the team examines the position again as training camp nears or when teams cut veterans loose before the season.
For now, it seems clear that the Eagles would love their second-round pick, Jarrett, to grab hold of the job, but Coleman has been the better player so far. Even as a rookie who himself missed much of the offseason because of Ohio State's quarter system, Coleman did far more than Jarrett did in a truncated 2011 season.
Thomas, from Syracuse, seems like an undrafted player who will get a real look in camp. Roseman said the team had him rated higher (of course, it obviously wasn't high enough to use a pick on him).
Tom Nelson didn't stand out last year. Colt Anderson hopes to be ready by the season opener. If he's ready he'll have a job on special teams.
Now we're talking about backup jobs, because most of the starting spots are locked in. But this is the most important one, because odds are the Eagles won't have Michael Vick for 16 regular-season games.
Roseman hinted that the team could keep four quarterbacks this year, but even for Andy Reid that would seem to be an extravagance. It's safe to say the Eagles aren't going to cut Nick Foles after using a third-round pick on him this year. He'll be the No. 3 guy.
Which leaves Mike Kafka and Trent Edwards. You know what you're getting in Edwards. He's played in the league and has been reasonable for a No. 2 QB. No, he won't carry you in the playoffs, but neither will just about any backup quarterback. Kafka has thrown just 16 career passes, but the Eagles say they love his work ethic and smarts. Unlike Edwards, he's still developing and improving. Feels as if Reid is looking for one of these two to show him something at Lehigh.