With training camp only a few short days away, it’s time to start drawing your attention from the diamond and back onto the gridiron. After an offseason filled with blockbuster deals in 2011, the Philadelphia Eagles failed to live up to their Superbowl expectations, going 8-8 and barely missing the playoffs.
This year, instead of laying in the sun picking up all the big-named free agents, the Eagles did the smart move by staying in the shadows and upgrading only where needed. Alas, a good offseason has them in a position to finally prove their worth, so let’s see five Eagles to watch in training camp.
After a contract year in which DeSean Jackson failed to prove he was worthy of being paid, Jackson eventually received his big pay-day. This year, I expect much more from him and he clearly has no excuses.
He is in the prime of his career, freakishly athletic with his lightning speed, and is Michael Vick’s favorite receiver. He can’t even be doubled covered because that will leave someone like Jeremy Maclin, LeSean McCoy, or Brent Celek open. Will the Eagles’ investment in him be worth it? We can only wait.
With Vince Young out and Nick Foles in, it seems Mike Kafka is the inevitable backup to the injury-prone Michael Vick. However, in the many eyes of Eagles fans, there is skepticism whether Kafka can step up to the challenge.
Whether it is because he’s only attempted 16 passes in his 3 year career or something else, he has not earned the respect of the common Eagle fan and for good reason. Fortunately, he has all of training camp to prove himself. Andy Reid has a knack of grooming quarterbacks, and with Kafka entering his third year with Philadelphia, he will be sure surprise many with his improved awareness and arm strength.
With another big name signing, Eagles fans are pining their 2012 playoff hopes on DeMeco Ryans. Obviously, he will be an immediate upgrade at middle linebacker, but even the most optimistic fans will be surprised by the way Ryans can play and lead. He was a vocal leader in Houston, almost leading them to the AFC Championship game over the Baltimore Ravens.
He is what the Eagles defense needed ever since Brian Dawkins left for Denver. What impression Ryans makes at training camp could have a large effect on the rest of the season for Juan Castillo’s defense.
After his past injury-riddled year with Washington, many expect at best that O.J. Atogwe will offer a little improvement at safety. This veteran, however, could be in store for so much more.
Even at an ‘old’ age of 32, Atogwe still has enough skill and mental prowess to be an upgrade over Nate Allen at free safety. Training camp would be a perfect time to prove he’s still got enough gas in the tank. His veteran presence at safety in camp will even motivate Allen to play better, and even if he doesn’t win the job he’ll be a perfect mentor for a young, developing defensive back.
No one is expecting Casey Matthews to make a push for the starting job at middle linebacker, but he is expected to be the primary backup to Ryans should anything happen to him. With an impressive training camp, he could restore the idea that he can be like his older brother Clay, a solid NFL linebacker.
He has added a lot of muscle this offseason, which will allow him to shed blocks easier and get to the ball faster, two problem spots for him last year. If given the chance, Matthews could be a bright spot with an already exciting linebacker unit.