Monday July 25th will be the start of a new era for Philadelphia football. I’s the first day of training camp for the Philadelphia Eagles under new head coach Doug Pederson. Thishis is set to be an extremely important training camp, as the team transitions away from the mess that was the Chip Kelly era.
Plenty of eyes will be on the NovaCare Complex in Philadelphia. This season has the potential to be the start of a true turn around for the Eagles, but it also has potential to turn in to a complete disaster. There are plenty of players on the roster that have big time potential, but need to show it. The team needs results, and cannot rest on the fact that is has talent. Every team has talent. Now the Eagles need to use theirs, and show the world they are not going to be a dumpster fire this season.
In order for that to happen, there are five players in particular that are going to have to step up. These players are the ones Eagles fans should closely monitor during camp, as they could very well be the ones that determine which direction this season goes. So let us get right down to it. Here are the five Philadelphia Eagles’ players to watch during training camp.
Eric Rowe, Corner
The strength of the secondary is at safety. Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod are set to form a formidable duo at the position. But at corner, there are plenty of questions. With the off-season trade of Byron Maxwell, the battle for the starting positions is open. The early favorites are Nolan Carroll and Leodis McKelvin. But there are other competitors as well.
One of the competitors is Eric Rowe. Rowe is extremely talented, and will be entering his second season in the NFL, after being drafted in the second round of the 2015 draft. In his rookie season, Rowe had some highs, and some really low lows. There is no doubting his talent, but it is a matter of consistency. He cannot get burned for three touchdowns in a game, like he did this past Thanksgiving, if he wants to remain on the field.
But after that game against Detroit last season he did improve to end the year. He showed the upside he has, and he can certainly make a difference in the secondary. He will have to win over the new coaching staff however.
There have been reports that he has already fallen out of favor of the new coaches. This could lead to him getting buried on the depth chart. Hence his performance during training camp will be extra important, and why he is worth monitoring. Another possibility is he could get traded as well to help out another position of need. While I do not think it would be wise to deal a young guy with potential at a weak position, it makes his situation even more interesting. He is certainly a player that needs to watched closely.
Jason Peters, Offensive lineman
The offensive line is going to have to step up this season. Recent performance has been sub-par at best, and that cannot continue if this team is going to succeed. This off-season the Eagles have made an effort to sure things up with the big men, bringing in several pieces, including former Texan Brandon Brooks. But there is one player on the line that needs to truly step things up, and that is Jason Peters.
Peters was brought in a few seasons ago to be the anchor of the offensive line. During his tenure as an Eagle, he has battled injures and under performance. That needs to change this season. After dealing with a back issue throughout last season, Peters is said to be fully healthy entering training camp this season. His health is a key factor to watch during training camp, as if his back issue pops back up, or any other sort of nagging injury, his performance will likely suffer like it has.
At 34, Peters is past his prime, but that does not mean he still cannot be a dominating force on the line. A fully healthy Peters would be an above average player to go along with the newly formed line. Lane Johnson and Brooks will likely become the two lead forces, but Peters would not be too far behind if he can play to his potential. Keep an eye on him during the preseason games. If he is getting beat often, there could be a secret injury going on, or he is simply on a fast decline. This is why he needs to be monitored in training camp. If he is under-performing, he will be a liability to the team, and the Eagles simply cannot afford for that to be the case. They need a healthy Peters.
Nelson Agholor, Wide receiver
Nelson Agholor was the hot name last year after being a first round pick out of USC. But things quickly turned south. The rookie struggled with inconsistent play, dropped passes and overall misuse by Chip Kelly. I believe all of these factors played into one another, and it led to a highly disappointing rookie campaign for Agholor. But Kelly is now gone and Agholor has a chance to re-prove himself.
And he is going to be thrust right into the spotlight, as he is set to be a starting wide receiver, along with Jordan Matthews. So Agholor should see plenty of looks and playing time, as long as he does not shoot himself in the foot during training camp. Agholor needs to move past his issues with dropped passes, as catching the ball is his most important task. That is the thing that will get any receiver benched faster than you can say “Football”. So Agholor just needs to come out in camp and show he can be more consistent.
I am also very interested to see how Pederson uses the second year receiver. It will be a West Coast Style offense, and Agholor certainly has the profile to fit in nicely. But where will he slot in the pecking order. With guys like Matthews, Zach Ertz, Darren Sproles on the team, Agholor may be option number four on most plays. But he can jump up that ladder if he proves himself early.
That is why training camp is so important to Agholor. It will determine if he is going to be a focal point, or an afterthought. His performance during training camp will be the most pivotal of all the receivers. Time for Agholor to step up and fly like an Eagle.
Wendell Smallwood, Running back
Wendell Smallwood is a rookie running back who was selected in the fifth round of this years draft out of West Virginia. Currently he sits third on the depth chart, but there is some serious potential he will get some important touches this season.
Ryan Matthews, the team’s lead back is one of the most injury-prone players in the entire league. He goes down with injury every season, meaning his backups will certainly get some playing time. The backup running back is Darren Sproles and he is 33. Not only is he an older back on the down-slope of his career, but he is more of a pass catching back. He is not going to be used much as an every down back, meaning he will need a compliment.
Now Smallwood is a smaller back as well who is quick, has good vision and can catch passes. He is not a prototypical every-down back either. He profiles very similar to Lamar Miller, who signed a free agent deal with the Houston Texans. But given he is set to see some playing time, whether it be because Matthews gets hurt or Sproles is ineffective, he should see touches.
But training camp he needs to show his potential in order to prove he is worthy of those touches. If he is out shined by another back in camp, those touches could slip away. That is why he should be monitored during camp, as he needs to perform so he can see time when it counts. As long as he performs during camp, look for Smallwood to be a fantasy sleeper this season as well.
Sam Bradford, Quarterback
Sam Bradford is the key to the entire season. Most fans are already calling for Carson Wentz to start over Bradford, and I simply ask, why? Sure Bradford is no Pro Bowler, but there is a new offensive system in place that is should help cut down on turnovers, and Wentz is a raw rookie from a small college.
Bradford is a former first overall pick, so we know he has talent. He may not have shown it much over the course of his career, but it is still there. The West Coast Style offense will lead to more short passes and dump offs, meaning they will be safer passes. Add in the beefed up offensive line, and Bradford needs to be afforded one more chance to prove himself.
While I am not a huge Bradford fan, starting Wentz in his rookie season would be a huge mistake. Coming out of North Dakota State, Wentz is still very raw. He has simply not gone against NFL level defenses yet in his career. He needs a season of training camp and a full season of practice to learn the ins and outs of the NFL. Give him time to learn how to read a pro-style defense. Simply put, do not rush the kid.
That is why Bradford becomes so important. He needs to step up and not worry about looking over his shoulder for when Wentz is going to take over. Bradford needs to keep his focus on the field, as he will determine is this season is a success or a miserable failure. He has more talent than Alex Smith, who helped the Chiefs get to the playoffs when Pederson was their offensive coordinator. So if Bradford can just play to an Alex Smith type of level, this team can make the playoffs, especially considering the division they play in.
So keep a close eye on Bradford during training camp and the preseason. If he looks terrible, Wentz is going to be in there before you know it, and things are not going to end well for the Eagles. If Bradford plays decent, he should be able to hold the job and the team will have a shot at the playoffs. As long as he performs, the fans should have no reason to be calling for Wentz. So to all the Eagles fans out there, give Bradford a chance.
The Eagles have plenty of questions. A good amount of those questions can be answered by the performance of these five players. The quarterback spot is key, and Sam Bradford needs to prove he can be an average starting quarterback. If he gives the fans and coaches any reason to call for Carson Wentz, things will not end well. Jason Peters needs to stay healthy and anchor the line to help keep Bradford upright. Eric Rowe needs to take a step forward and prove he is an NFL-worthy starting corner to help solidify the secondary. Nelson Agholor simply needs to put last season behind him and move forward. And Wendell Smallwood could be the surprise of the season for Philly, as Ryan Matthews is going to get hurt at some point.
So when training camp opens, there will be plenty of intrigue around the City of Brotherly Love. Make sure you keep an eye on these five players, and give Bradford a chance to prove himself in the new look offense before passing judgement.