Offensive line could be early focus in Eagles camp

The Eagles’ offensive line was arguably among the best in the NFL last season, but it could also be an early focus for the team when Philadelphia opens training camp Friday.

Health wasn’t an issue for the unit in 2013 and two starters, perennial Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters and fourth-year center Jason Kelce, were rewarded with new contracts this offseason. Even so, Peters is one of three first-team linemen over the age of 31, so age could be a factor for the group moving forward.

Additionally, second-year right tackle Lane Johnson, the fourth overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, will miss the first four games of the season because of a league suspension announced Wednesday. Johnson started all 16 games for the Eagles as a rookie, but by his own claims, “mistakenly and foolishly” used a prescription drug before clearing it with the team or the NFL.

Johnson is still eligible to partake in training camp, so his practice time in Philadelphia could be invaluable to his in-season return following Week 4. In the meantime, all eyes could be on veteran reserve Allen Barbre, who figures to take on starting RT duties after spending most of last season backing up Peters en route to a three-year contract extension.

Behind Barbre, the Eagles’ offensive line depth could also be an area of interest early in camp. Kelce may very well be the only center retained on the final roster, so much of the competition for backup spots could be between rookie free agents like Karim Barton, Josh Andrews, Donald Hawkins, Andrew Gardner and Kevin Graf. Second-year tackle Matt Tobin and former fifth-round draft pick Dennis Kelly could also be in the mix.

Keelan Johnson arrested as camp nears

Less than a week remains until the Eagles kick off training camp, and one player could now be facing more of an uphill battle to make the team after a recent arrest.

Backup safety Keelan Johnson, signed to the Eagles practice squad last September, was arrested after an altercation with police officers in Arizona this week, according to KTAR.com.

According to the report, Johnson was ordered to step back from a fight involving an acquaintance of his, then engaged in a brief scuffle with officers. He was charged with assaulting a police officer, passively resisting arrest and disorderly conduct.

The Eagles have since commented on the incident, acknowledging their disappointment of the situation but only stating they are “still trying to learn all of the facts that led to” Johnson’s arrest.

Johnson, who had one tackle in 2013 after being promoted to the active roster in December, is expected to compete for a reserve role behind the likes of Malcolm Jenkins, Nate Allen and Earl Wolff. An undrafted free agent signing of the Dolphins before joining the Eagles, he figures to compete with veteran addition Chris Maragos and rookies Ed Reynolds, Davon Morgan and Daytawion Lowe.

Eagles reveal 2014 training camp schedule

The Eagles announced their 2014 training camp schedule Wednesday, revealing the dates and locations of their final practices before the new season gets underway.

According to PhiladelphiaEagles.com, the team will report to the NovaCare Complex, its home practice facility, on July 25 to kick off camp. This summer’s tour also features a three-day session of joint practices with the Patriots leading up to Philadelphia’s second preseason game against New England, as well as practices open to the public at both Lincoln Financial Field and Franklin Field, the latter of which served as the Eagles’ home from 1958-1970.

The Eagles welcomed the Patriots to Philadelphia for several joint practices last summer, so the team’s decision to again partner with New England is unsurprising. As for the team’s own practices, the Eagles are slated to begin activities at 11:45 a.m. each morning, although the three days open to the public are tentatively scheduled to begin at 12:15 p.m.

Philadelphia is scheduled to wrap up training camp on August 27, the day before the Eagles’ preseason finale against the New York Jets.

In other Eagles news, quarterback Nick Foles and running back LeSean McCoy have been nominated for ESPY Awards. The former is among the nominees for the Best Breakthrough Athlete honor of 2013, while McCoy is up against the likes of Peyton Manning, Russell Wilson, Jamaal Charles and Luke Kuechly for the award of Best NFL Player after setting the Eagles single-season franchise record for rushing yards last year.

Kelly emphasizes team focus as minicamp concludes

The Eagles are about a month removed from training camp, and head coach Chip Kelly’s emphasis on a unified team focus is in full force.

Now finished with a slew of practices, from Organized Team Activities to minicamp, Philadelphia is one step closer to kicking off the 2014 season, and Kelly made a point to uphold his culture when addressing the media Thursday.

“Everybody has the same amount of time during the day, and you can either spend your time or invest your time and that’s what we are trying to get our players to understand,” Kelly said, per PhiladelphiaEagles.com.

“It’s how you allocate your time,” he said. “We all have 24 hours in the same day and it’s what you want to do. If you want to go play video games and watch TV and do all those other things, you’re going to get beat out by the guy that is doing the little things that are going to make the difference between making the team and not making the team.”

Kelly also went on to detail the team’s improvement from last offseason, both in the way it practices under his staff and the increasingly selfless attitude of the roster–an attitude that was exemplified in quarterback Nick Foles’ recent comments regarding the potential for a new contract.

7 Eagles storylines for 2014

Training camp is right around the corner, and with summer practices comes more anticipation for the NFL season ahead. The Eagles are only in Year Two of the Chip Kelly era, but there are no shortage of headlines surrounding the team this season. Here are NUMBER Philadelphia storylines to keep an eye on for 2014:

1. The Rise of Foles: Nick Foles was much more than a serviceable quarterback after taking over for Michael Vick in 2013, earning his first Pro Bowl appearance with 27 touchdown passes compared to just two interceptions. Now, the challenge for the former third-round draft pick is maintaining success as an uncontested starter. It’s probably far-fetched to bank on Foles leading the NFL in passer rating once again, but the Eagles shouldn’t need him to. What’s important is Foles showing that he truly is on the rise as Philly’s unquestioned QB of the future.

2. The Jordan Matthews (and Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper) Project: No one seems to know the full story behind DeSean Jackson’s sudden departure, but the outspoken play-maker hasn’t been an Eagle since March, so that’s that. The wide receiver corps is now headed by returning vets, but rookie Jordan Matthews is the guy in the spotlight. It’d be wrong to pin the workload of the post-DeSean WR group solely on Matthews, but his evident football smarts make him a candidate to have early success. Maclin and Cooper have question marks, but also have proven track records of production. Jackson was a big piece of the Eagles offense when he was in town, but one position that doesn’t seem to be in trouble is wide receiver.

3. The Search for Sacks: Connor Barwin seemed right at home in the 3-4 defense last season and longtime defensive end Trent Cole notched eight sacks in his first year standing up. Even so, the Eagles pass rush lacked a dominant presence at times. The team took a chance on Louisville linebacker Marcus Smith in the first round of this year’s draft, and the hope is that he can add some life to the OLB unit. Former first-rounder Brandon Graham and under-the-radar guys like Najee Goode could also be pivotal to the Eagles’ rotation.

4. A Backfield of Explosion: There might not be anything scarier (at least for opposing teams) than seeing LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles in the same backfield. The latter isn’t as young as he used to be (did you really think otherwise?), but he’s still fresh off an explosive tenure in New Orleans and figures to be a dangerous change-of-pace option behind McCoy. As long as the Eagles’ running backs are healthy, the ground game should continue to be a major strength for Philadelphia. Don’t forget that Chris Polk could also see more playing time now that Bryce Brown is elsewhere.

5. Safety in the Secondary: Familiarity could be the biggest strength of the Eagles secondary in 2014, as the projected top three cornerbacks (Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher and Brandon Boykin) are back. The safety spots are where fans’ eyes figure to be glued, though, with free agent addition Maclolm Jenkins sliding in as a starter and looking to erase memories of the countless veteran fill-ins of recent years. Rookie Jaylen Watkins could be a dark horse play-maker in the defensive backfield, while either Earl Wolff or Nate Allen is likely to man the strong safety job.

6. Backing Up Nick: With Michael Vick no longer on the roster, the Eagles are prepared to have either Matt Barkley or Mark Sanchez hold the No. 2 QB duties behind Foles. Both backups have had illustrious journeys to/in the NFL and the competition between them could last through training camp. Barkley was prone to turnovers in limited action last year, but also knows Kelly’s offense more than Sanchez, the former Jets starter. In the end, all that matters is whether Barkley or Sanchez can be counted on in the event Foles goes down with an injury.

7. Rebooted Special Teams: Barring a tremendous training camp by undrafted rookie Carey Spear, Alex Henery figures to retain his job as the Eagles’ kicker. Donnie Jones is also back as the punter after a top-flight 2013 performance. Even so, the Eagles addressed their special teams unit by adding new pieces like Chris Maragos and Bryan Braman. Rookie safety Ed Reynolds could also chip in on kickoff coverage. Arguably the most impacting addition to the special teams unit is that of Sproles, who is likely to handle kick returns.

Honorable Mention: Roster battle at wide receiver, the expected emergence of tight end Zach Ertz, the contributions of the rest of the rookie class, and the health of the veteran offensive linemen.

Money talks: Smith signs contract; Foles not worried about deal

Money was a hot topic in Philadelphia this week, as first-round draft pick Marcus Smith became the final 2014 Eagles draft pick to sign a contract and quarterback Nick Foles sought to erase concerns of a future deal.

The 26th overall selection in May’s draft, Smith participated in the team’s Organized Team Activities and is now officially under contract with a four-year deal that, per OverTheCap.com, is worth about $7.8 million. He figures to compete for playing time in the Eagles’ pass rushing corps behind Trent Cole and Connor Barwin at outside linebacker.

Foles, meanwhile, is under contract through the 2015 season but could be a candidate for a long-term extension if he continues his Pro Bowl-caliber run as the Eagles’ starting quarterback. Young signal-callers like the 49ers’ Colin Kaepernick have set the bar for top QB money with recent deals, but Foles emphasized his preference for building his team over earning a new contract.

“I’m happy for those guys who do well, but my most important thing is being successful with my teammates,” Foles said, according to CSN Philly. “When I’m playing out there, there’s no dollar sign on me when I’m throwing a ball.”