Let battles begin as Eagles write their depth chart

Trent Cole (left) isn't assured of a linebacker slot, and Phillip Hunt will be trying to make the roster.
Trent Cole (left) isn't assured of a linebacker slot, and Phillip Hunt will be trying to make the roster. (YONG KIM / Staff)
Posted: July 23, 2013

If you're to believe Chip Kelly, every job on the Eagles is for the taking.

Kelly's refusal to name even his starting quarterback heading into his first NFL training camp suggests, most important, that he believes it himself.

Sure, the new Eagles coach had a template in the spring for his starting offense and defense that reflected the conventional wisdom at most of the positions. But Kelly knows as well as anyone that practice in pads and games against actual opponents ultimately will separate the able from the incapable.

The other great unknown in the equation, at least to outside observers, is Kelly and his evaluations. It's safe to presume he wants athletic, tough, and smart football players. But only he knows how he wants each player to fit in a 53-piece puzzle.

Some spots are more obvious than others. Jason Peters will start at left tackle and Fletcher Cox somewhere along the defensive line. But there are a host of positions, both starting and further down the depth charts that are up for grabs.

Aside from the quarterback competition, here are five battles to watch as training camp begins:

1. Outside linebacker

Connor Barwin is the only linebacker on the roster to play on the outside in an NFL 3-4 front. So he will start on one side. Trent Cole took most of the first-team repetitions at the other spot, but the veteran former defensive end isn't assured of anything. Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis said that his outside linebackers played simply on either the left or right during the spring. But that should change once he fine-tunes his scheme. If Barwin plays on the strong-side - opposite the tight end - then the weak-side linebacker could be asked to drop only minimally. In that case, Cole could suffice. Brandon Graham should be part of any rotation, and could supplant Cole based on his strong 2012 season.

Phillip Hunt, Chris McCoy, and Everette Brown likely will be fighting for roster spots.

2. Safety

Patrick Chung seems like a sure bet to start at one spot, especially considering the financial commitment the Eagles made when they signed the free agent. Davis said that his safeties will have interchangeable roles, so the other opening will go to the best player who can both cover and help against the run. Nate Allen was partnered with Chung in the spring. The Eagles would like to see their 2010 second-round draft pick win the job, but he was benched late last season for his many inconsistencies.

Kenny Phillips would be a serious candidate if there were two years ago. But knee injuries have set the veteran back significantly. He sat out a few practices in May, and when he did participate he ran with a slight hitch. Kurt Coleman is still around. Colt Anderson’s special team abilities should guarantee him a roster spot. And rookie Earl Wolff could be a wild card.

3. Defensive tackle

All of the linemen played multiple spots in the spring, but veteran Isaac Sopoaga appears to have a hold on the nose-tackle position. A more fit Antonio Dixon could push Sopoaga and play on run downs. Cox could develop into a killer three-technique tackle. Cedric Thornton should get the first crack at the other tackle spot. There are a large number of candidates after Thornton. Vinny Curry added close to 20 pounds as the former edge rusher moved inside. The 6-foot-8 Clifton Geathers is an intriguing prospect, but he is a journeyman for a reason. Bennie Logan was drafted in the third round and may be more suited to play nose. Rookies Joe Kruger and David King are long and fit the Kelly mold for linemen, but they are young.

4. Right tackle

The Eagles avoided their top draft pick's missing time when they signed Lane Johnson to a four-year contract on Saturday night. Two years ago, Danny Watkins held out for more than a week and never seemed to recover even though the Eagles tabbed him as the starting right guard almost immediately. Watkins' struggles ended up having more to do with ability, but the Eagles couldn't risk having Johnson, who has played tackle for only two seasons, absent from any instruction. He ended the spring with the first team, and every effort will be made to have him start in the season opener. But what if he isn't remotely ready and has to protect Michael Vick's blindside? Kelly still may have to throw him to the wolves. But moving Todd Herremans from right guard back to tackle or calling on Dennis Kelly, now in his second season, are options.

5. Cornerback

As long as Cary Williams has his sconces picked out, he should start at cornerback. No other corner on the roster has anywhere near the 28-year-old's experience. Bradley Fletcher appears to have the edge on the other side but isn't a guarantee.

Curtis Marsh filled in for the OTA-hating Williams in May. The clock is running out on the Eagles’ 2011 third-round pick. Brandon Boykin has been lobbying for one of the outside spots, but he may be too valuable as the slot corner. Rookie Jordan Poyer missed most of the spring because he was still enrolled at Oregon State. The Eagles think they got a steal in the seventh round.

Others. Some of the more interesting competitions will be waged down on the depth chart. If Kelly chooses to keep only five wide receivers, Riley Cooper and Arrelious Benn could win the spot based on their special-teams play. DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks are penciled in as the starting inside linebackers, and Jason Phillips likely has a role on special teams. Jamar Chaney and Casey Matthews could be the odd men out if undrafted rookie Jake Knott shows something. Jason Kelce is back from his knee injury, but the Eagles still haven’t solved their backup center problem. Dallas Reynolds may have the edge because of last season’s experience. Matt Tennant will compete. And guard Julian Vandervelde took snaps – with varying degrees of success – in the spring. The second running back spot, after LeSean McCoy, should be Bryce Brown’s. But if his fumbling problems persist then Felix Jones could leapfrog him.

Contact Jeff McLane at jmclane@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @Jeff_McLane.

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