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Projecting the Philadelphia Eagles Offensive Starters Post-OTAs

Organized Team Activities (OTAs) are over, and due to the Michael Vick and Cary Williams soap operas, a lot of interesting, noteworthy performances flew under the radar. Now that the smoke has cleared and the Philadelphia Eagles are off as a team for over a month, let’s look at where the team stands offensively.

Quarterback: Nick Foles

Vick (left) and Foles (right) have split reps 50-50 thus far this offseason (via USAToday).

In actuality, nothing is set in stone with this position. As many of you know, Nick Foles and Michael Vick split first-team reps 50-50 at OTAs, which means Head Coach Chip Kelly is sticking to his word that his quarterbacks will engage in what will ostensibly be dubbed a “competition.”

Coming into OTAs, many believed Michael Vick had the job locked up; it made sense that the Eagles would bring him back on a one-year, $10 million deal (with $3.5 million guaranteed) to be nothing less than the team’s starting quarterback. In addition, Vick’s mobility made it seem obvious that he would be the one best suited to run Chip Kelly’s high-paced offense, which everyone assumed would be heavily dependent on the read-option. Fortunately for Eagles fans, Chip Kelly is giving his 3rd-round sophomore a chance to prove he can run Kelly’s true offense, which is not centered around the read-option, but a versatile scheme that includes two-tight end sets, a lot of running plays, wide-receiver screens that utilize speed at the position, and yes, the read-option.

All reports out of OTAs suggest that Foles has fared slightly better than Vick. In drills using fly swatters designed to imitate 6’5″ defensive linemen, Vick’s height issues became apparent as he would either fire right into the outstretched “arms” of the linemen or sail a pass due to his inability to see over the defenders. He did play somewhat well overall, however. Foles has been the most accurate passer thus far, and a notable play for him was a 60-yard touchdown pass to DeSean Jackson last Thursday. Accuracy is key for a Chip Kelly passer, and when all is said and done, I do not think Vick has learned enough from the past two years of failure to beat out the confident, more comfortable Foles for the job.

Backups: Michael Vick, Matt Barkley, Dennis Dixon

Running Back: LeSean McCoy

This one is easy enough. No running back on the Eagles roster can do anything to beat out 2011 All-Pro and FedEx Ground Player of the Year LeSean McCoy. It’s just not happening.

The more interesting story line, however, is the increased role second-stringer Bryce Brown will be taking in the offense. Filling in for McCoy on several occasions last season, Brown, a 7th-round rookie out of Kansas State, compiled 564 yards (4.9 yards per carry) and four touchdowns, including two straight 160-plus-yard games against Carolina and Dallas. In OTAs Brown saw 20-25% of the first-team reps; he will be used a lot as a change of pace back to not only keep Shady fresh but to keep defenses off balance; trying to stop McCoy (more agile, quicker) and Brown (bigger, more physical) in the same sequence of downs will be a tough task for even the strongest of linebacking corps.

Backups: Bryce Brown, Chris Polk, Felix Jones

Tight End: Brent Celek

2nd-round pick, TE Zach Ertz (via Philadelphia Eagles).

The “starter” at this position under Chip Kelly really doesn’t mean much. Kelly is the one who helped Bill Belichick solidify the two-tight end system up in New England, and there is no doubt that he’ll be using a lot of 2-TE sets here in Philadelphia. Signing James Casey from Houston and drafting Zach Ertz (2nd round, Stanford) attests to that.

With Ertz missing Spring practices to earn his Bachelor’s Degree from Stanford and Casey still recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery several weeks ago, Celek was the only tight end on show at OTAs. He played pretty well, but OTAs did not tell us much about the position. It is likely he will see a “majority” of the snaps, meaning he’ll be on the field the most, but expect to see plenty of Ertz and Casey as well as Kelly revolutionizes how the tight end position is used in Philadelphia.

“Backups”: Zach Ertz, James Casey

Wide Receiver #1: DeSean Jackson

Wide receiver is a position the Eagles have a lot of depth at, but at the top of the depth chart there isn’t much to see. DeSean Jackson, signed to a big deal last offseason, is here to stay. Jackson was present at nearly every one of the Eagles OTA practices (rumored to be 30 out of 32) and despite initial frustration seemed to warm to Kelly’s system and make some big plays. It will be exciting to see what Jackson can do in Kelly’s up-tempo system, which will feature more wide receiver screens, which Andy Reid pretty much refused to run.

Backups: Damaris Johnson, Ifeanyi Momah

Wide Receiver #2: Jeremy Maclin

Like Jackson, Jeremy Maclin is a set-in-stone starting wide receiver. He played pretty well last season despite constant turmoil at the QB position, reeling in 69 catches for 857 yards and seven touchdowns.

Behind Maclin sit end zone threat Riley Cooper and impressive rookie Russell Shepard. Cooper was decent in spot starts last season, but not enough to guarantee him anything going into training camp. Shepard, who has excelled under the tutelage of Jason Avant, is still on the outside looking in but continued strong play in training camp could earn him a practice squad or even 5th-string spot with the Eagles.

Backups: Riley Cooper, Russell Shepard

Slot Receiver: Jason Avant

Pencil Avant in as the team’s No. 3 wideout (via philly.com).

Early in OTAs, many, unfortunately myself included, believed Jason Avant’s tenure as an Eagle was coming to an end. We were sorely mistaken. Avant may not be a physical specimen, therefore making it seem like he doesn’t fit in the system, but he has the best hands on the team and will be a role model for younger players (like Shepard). His close relationship with offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur and his strong start to Spring/Summer practices make it seem like he will retain his job as the team’s safety valve (a.k.a slot receiver).

Arrelious Benn may challenge him for the job, but unless he shows that his struggles in Tampa Bay were just a fluke, it is still uncertain whether he’ll do enough to make the 53-man roster, much less win the starting slot receiver position.

Backup(s): Arrelious Benn

Left Tackle: Jason Peters

Jason Peters has come back from his Achilles tear strong, earning “glowing remarks” (via Birds 24/7’s Sheil Kapadia) from the coaching staff. The 5-time Pro Bowler and 4-time All-Pro offensive tackle engaged in several shoving matches with Eagles’ defensive linemen at OTAs and held is own, showing that his anchor leg is once again stable. Look for him to return to All-Pro form this season leading a rejuvenated Eagles offensive line.

Backups: Dennis Kelly, Ed Wang, Allen Barbre

Left Guard: Evan Mathis

Mathis, the team’s best player last year (via EaglesGab).

Another no-brainer, Evan Mathis was the only Eagle who played at a Pro Bowl level last season. Unfortunately his team’s 4-12 record dissuaded voters from giving him the recognition he deserves, but with one Pro Bowl and All-Pro selection already under his belt from two years ago, Mathis will be the team’s only starter along the offensive line who remained healthy of all last season. Look for him to make the guys around him better for another 16 weeks as he chases more league-wide accolades.

Backups: Matt Kopa, Nate Menkin

Center: Jason Kelce

Jason Kelce was an underrated part of the Eagles offensive line last year; he was not only responsible for picking up free blitzers up the middle but was also going to make pre-snap calls for Vick. A dual ACL-MCL tear in Week 2 allowed that plan to go up in smoke. Replacement Dallas Reynolds struggled a fair amount which only accentuated the impact Kelce had on the O-Line.

This year, however, Kelce is healthy and will likely be taking over pre-snap responsibilities from his QB once again. A mobile lineman, he will fit perfectly into Chip Kelly’s scheme and will revel in the new hurry-up sets Kelly will go to from time to time.

Backup(s): Dallas Reynolds

Right Guard: Todd Herremans

CSNPhilly’s Ray Didinger told me earlier this year that the Philadelphia Eagles would NOT move Todd Herremans to right guard, and while he may have ended up being wrong, his reasoning was sound: they paid him like a tackle, so he would play tackle. The Eagles, however, clearly value the guard position highly enough to have two of its well-paid players, Herremans and Evan Mathis, occupy that position.

Herremans was a serviceable right tackle, but he always looked a little out of sorts. More comfortable at right guard, I am excited to see what Herremans can do in the 2013-2014 season and if he can return to his 2010-2011 form. With the spot locked up, training camp will be more of a warm up than a “show me what you got” for Todd Herremans.

Watch for Danny “The Fireman” Watkins to back up both guard spots throughout the year.

Backups: Danny Watkins, Allen Barbre

Right Tackle: Lane Johnson

Johnson will be the team’s starting RT (via Delaware Online).

Although Dennis Kelly started OTAs taking most of the first-team reps at right tackle, that was only temporary; it stemmed from the fact that he started a fair amount of games last season with both Herremans and Peters hurt, and understands the Eagles’ offensive line better than most despite a new system. With more reps, however, Lane Johnson, the Eagles 1st-round pick from this year, has taken over as the team’s starting right tackle. His athleticism and penchant for cutting off upfield rushers will make him a great addition to Chip Kelly’s offensive line, and I expect big things from the Oklahoma product starting week one of training camp.

Kelly will be backing up both tackle positions like he did last season.

Backups: Dennis Kelly, Matt Tobin

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Categories: Eagles, Editorial

Author:Manav Khandelwal

I am the founder of Khandyman Sports, and follow all Philadelphia pro sports teams religiously. I also write for the Hoop76, covering the Sixers for ESPN, and am a credentialed Flyers reporter for Main Line Media News.

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