Training Camp: 10 Players To Watch

Can ILB Mychal Kendricks make a jump in his second pro season?

Can ILB Mychal Kendricks make a jump in his second pro season?

James Casey – Firstly, I want to find out how healthy Casey is. He was only cleared for training camp on July 20 following a right knee scope, and it’s important for him to put his best foot forward in camp. Casey has a unique skill set, and as Chip Kelly’s first high-profile signing, he clearly is a big part of the Eagles’ offensive strategy. In Houston, he was locked into a fullback and reserve tight end role, but he figures to play more like a slot receiver in Philadelphia. His size could give defensive backs problems, but he may also have a tough time separating from quicker players. He’s an x-factor for the Eagles and is a dark horse candidate to lead the team in receptions.

Nick Foles – Various reports claim that Foles outplayed Vick in minicamps, but I have to see it to believe it. Eagles Gabbers know that I don’t consider Foles to be a starting caliber quarterback. With that being said, plenty of rookies make big improvements heading into their second seasons, and with all things being equal, I would prefer the younger, cheaper quarterback to seize control of the team. Is the Nick Foles hype to be believed? We’ll soon find out.

Brandon Graham – Graham was the Eagles’ best defensive player in 2012, but the Eagles’ new scheme could potentially be a huge obstacle for him going forward. Billy Davis wants to use Graham as a stand up pass rusher and doesn’t give his rushers the freedom that Jim Washburn did. Graham will also have a tough time getting on the field as much as he deserves to with Trent Cole and Connor Barwin in town. Depending on how Graham transitions to the 3-4 outside linebacker position, he could still be a huge asset for the defense.

Damaris Johnson – Johnson’s diminutive size would hold him back in a traditional offense, but he could be a big time weapon for Chip Kelly, who loves to get the ball to his playmakers in space. Johnson is the team’s best return man and his outstanding quickness could help him carve out a meaningful role on offense. He doesn’t have DeSean Jackson’s straight line speed, but he’s not nearly as contact-shy. Don’t be surprised if Johnson steals Jason Avant’s roster spot.

Lane Johnson – Already locked into the starting right tackle job, Johnson won’t have much time to shed his “raw prospect” label. The Eagles know he’s an elite athlete and fits Chip Kelly’s scheme to a T. However, Johnson still has to prove that he can play with the big boys. His performances in one-on-one drills will be very interesting to watch.

Felix Jones – LeSean McCoy and Bryce Brown appear to be locked into the top two running back slots at this point, but Jones could give Brown a real run for his money, especially if Brown’s ball security issues persist. Jones’ injury history forces teams to look at him as damaged goods, but after watching tape on him from last season, he still has talent. If Jones shows up to camp flashing the same burst that made him a first round pick, he could earn some first team reps and potentially win the kick return job.

Jason Kelce – Kelce was blossoming into a high level center before suffering a devastating knee injury 10 months ago. He will provide a huge boost to the offensive line if he has indeed returned to pre-injury form. The offensive line as a whole should transform from a glaring weakness in 2012 to an overwhelming strength in 2013.

Mychal Kendricks – Last year, Kendricks strung together an excellent camp and preseason, leading me to anoint him the team’s best linebacker. During the regular season, he missed far too many tackles and was weak at the point of attack. There’s reason to believe he will improve in year two, though. In college, Kendricks played exclusively in a 3-4 defense and could be much more comfortable in Billy Davis’ new scheme. The Eagles also added a lot of size up front that could better protect Kendricks from blockers. If the Eagles can free up Kendricks to play in a run-and-chase role, he could enjoy a breakout season.

Kenny Phillips – Phillips was one of the game’s premier center field safeties before his knee issues caught up with him. As a result, the Eagles stole a Pro Bowl talent from a division rival at a bargain basement price. If healthy, Phillips makes the Eagles much more sound on the back end. However, his health outlook looks grim. He was held out of minicamp practices as a precautionary measure, and his knee injuries are not completely behind him yet. The Eagles aren’t counting Nate Allen out of the safety competition, so Phillips must not be playing like his old self.

Jordan Poyer – Poyer’s poor straight line speed and abysmal vertical jump make him an unimpressive corner, at least in shorts. When the pads go on, though, his intelligence and competitiveness take over. I think Poyer is one of the top zone corners in his draft class, and he could provide excellent depth at all three main corner spots. Watch him in one-on-ones if you get a chance, though, because I don’t know if he can hold his own against NFL caliber receivers in man coverage.

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