Philadelphia Eagles training camp will be starting shortly.
The excitement for the season continues to swell with optimism about this finally being the year the Eagles bring home the Lombardi Trophy.
But there are still questions and several key position battles to be determined this training camp and preseason that will go a long way to determine whether or not this will be the year.
Backup quarterback: Trent Edwards vs. Mike Kafka
With Michael Vick often posing as an injury risk this position is one the Eagles want solidified after camp.
The Eagles made a good move signing the veteran Trent Edwards who was once a starter for the Buffalo Bills. He compiled 5,739 passing yards, 59.4 completion percentage and 27 touchdown passes in his four years in Buffalo.
He will challenge Kafka who is a mostly inexperienced player, but showed flashes of his potential in a relief effort last year in Atlanta in a game in which Vick left the game with a concussion.
In this battle I will side with Kafka. Despite having just 107 passing yards in his career, he didn't spend the 2011 season on the couch unlike Edwards and knows the system. Edwards will have rust but in time will be a nice depth guy, with a good arm and decent pocket awareness for the Eagles to have just in case of a Vick injury and if Kafka doesn't work out being the backup.
Slot/No. 3 Receiver: Jason Avant vs. Marvin Mcnutt
Jason Avant is nice complement to the Eagles' dynamic duo in Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson. Avant possesses great hands and route running for a No. 3 receiver and has made some big 3rd down catches for the Eagles in his time here.
Yet when the Eagles drafted Marvin Mcnutt out of Iowa in the 6th round in this past draft, fans knew that the Eagles were getting a big 6-4 receiver who poses as a red zone threat the Eagles need and after a senior season in which he had 1,315 yards receiving and 12 touchdown catches, he provides a huge addition to the Eagles' receiving corps.
In this battle I will lean with Avant. Avant is not as big or faster than Mcnutt, and doesn't pose as a bigger red zone threat. The thing he does have is an edge in experience in knowing the system and how to better run routes, especially on 3rd
down with short comeback routes and 5-yard drag routes.
Mcnutt will be a nice fourth option and if used effectively he will help the Eagles in the red zone. An area that which in big games hurt the Eagles last season.
Starting DT Fletcher Cox vs. Mike Patterson
The Eagles have a tremendous pass rush and the defensive line as a whole is deep and one of the tops in the league. However one thing they did have trouble with at times was consistently stopping the run. One prime example was last year when the Eagles blew a 20-3 lead at halftime vs. the 49ers. The main reason for the comeback was a 2nd half outburst by Frank Gore on the ground.
Mike Patterson is a decent run stuffer, his best ability is the way he puts pressure on the quarterback, which is something the Eagles already do well with Cullen Jenkins, Jason Babin and Trent Cole. One thing that Fletcher Cox provides is a younger, more agile DT who had 14.5 tackles for loss in his final year at Mississippi State.
For the first time I'm actually leaning with the inexperienced player. The main advantage he has will be the fact that Patterson has not lived up to hype the Eagles thought he would when they drafted 31st in 2005. Patterson does have experience and is good at getting to the quarterback, but his tackle numbers haven't been nearly as good as they were in 2009 when he had 55 tackles. Last two seasons he has had (37, 35)
How much will the loss of Jason Peters affect Michael Vick and the offense?
Jason Peters is arguably the one of the top left tackles in the game; he’s very athletic for a big guy and when he wants to, can be one of the more dominant run blocking offensive linemen in the game. In 2011 LeSean McCoy had a lot success on the ground. Will they miss Peters more in run blocking than overall pass blocking?
Only time will tell. Demetress Bell, who replaces Peters after he was traded from Buffalo, will fill the same role again after signing a deal with the Eagles in the offseason. Bell is not as talented as a lineman as Peters but he is less injury-prone. Bell has finished all 28 games in which he has started. The question for Bell is whether or not he will be able to pick up his blocking assignments on run/pass plays in Philly's West Coast system.
Two players to keep an eye on
When the Eagles selected him 13th out of Michigan, they expected big things from him in run support as well as getting to the passer; but a rash of injuries throughout his short career has landed him on the bust list. With a make or break year on the way for Graham, he has spoken about his commitment to staying lean and in shape throughout the offseason and has been working harder to able to get off of blocks from many of the bigger linemen he will face in the league.
He will have a mountain to climb to be able to keep his spot on the roster but expect some really good things from him this training camp and preseason.
For the 22-year-old player, this is big year for him. He has a legitimate shot at being the team’s starting strong safety. After a season last year where safety play was mediocre, the Eagles will be looking for good things from him. Jarrett is a good run-support safety who can make most open field tackles if the front seven can't stop a runner.
Last year at times we saw horrendous tackling by our safeties. After a learning season mostly spent on the sidelines and a full offseason to get better, look for Jarrett not only to have a strong training camp but a strong year for the Eagles.