NFC East: Philadelphia Eagles

Eagles Camp Report: Day 3

July, 28, 2014
Jul 28
PHILADELPHIA – A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Philadelphia Eagles training camp:

  • The Eagles drew just under 15,000 fans for the first of three open training camp practices this summer. It was the first chance for fans to see the changes to Lincoln Financial Field. It was also Military Appreciation Day, and dozens of active service people were in attendance. “It’s awesome, man,” cornerback Cary Williams said. “You’ve got some people who can’t afford to come to a regular game. This is their opportunity to sit in these green seats and enjoy what we put out every day.”
  • The Eagles wore full pads for the first time, but there wasn’t significantly more hitting than there was in the first two days. Coach Chip Kelly has made it clear he sees practices as teaching and training opportunities and really puts a lot of weight on preseason games for evaluating player performance.
  • Several players did stand out. None of the four quarterbacks has thrown a single interception during the first three days of practice. LeSean McCoy looked impressive running the ball as well as catching it. He made it very tough on linebackers, especially Mychal Kendricks, who were called upon to cover him. Rookie wide receiver Jordan Matthews got open in the middle of the field for two consecutive catches from backup quarterback Mark Sanchez.
  • The 6-foot-3, 212-pound Matthews plays primarily in the slot. Kelly likes the kind of matchup issues that can create. “Obviously, a lot of the corners who play slot corner in this league are a little smaller,” Kelly said. “You can create some mismatches from that standpoint. If you’re going to leave a linebacker in the game, obviously there’s some athletic mismatches we can exploit there. Also, in the run game, our slot receivers have to block. That’s one thing Jason Avant was outstanding at last year.”
  • Unlike his predecessor, Andy Reid, who opened every news conference with a list of injured players, Kelly seldom brings up injuries. He isn’t especially forthcoming when asked, either. His approach is basically that he’s coaching the players who are healthy and the trainers are working with those who aren’t. Four Eagles were limited or out of Monday’s practice: nose tackle Bennie Logan (hamstring), wide receiver Riley Cooper, running back Chris Polk and center Julian Vandervelde. None of the injuries appeared serious. The Eagles are off on Wednesday.
PHILADELPHIA -- Chip Kelly expanded a bit on comments he made to Sports Illustrated's Peter King over the weekend. The Philadelphia Eagles' coach raised some eyebrows by saying the "hype" surrounding the NFL draft "is insane. Totally insane."

"(King) just asked me if there was one thing about the NFL that surprised me," Kelly said Monday, "and I just told him the hype, in general, with the draft. I think the draft is integral, obviously, in terms of putting together your team. But literally from the day the Super Bowl ends until the draft ... that's all everybody talks about.

"I felt the same way in college. You devote everything to the signing day. Well, how many guys from the signing day are actually going to contribute? You may have one or two rookies who have an impact on your team. The rest of them, it's just having them develop. The fact that people would watch the combine -- there's times at the combine where I fall asleep. They're running 40-yard dashes."

Kelly is more concerned with how all of this affects the players coming into the league.

"You guys are in the newspaper business," Kelly said. "If someone is a rookie coming into the newspaper thing, I don't think you're all applauding and saying, 'Oh, my God, the savior is here! Our paper is saved because we just signed a kid out of Northwestern that has really good prose.' In football, it seems to be the biggest thing in the world. And if a guy isn't an all-pro in his first year, but he was drafted in the first five picks, then he's a bust. And I don't think that's the case."

That perspective is interesting when you watch how Kelly approaches his rookies. Last year, first-round pick Lane Johnson was a starter from the very beginning. But defensive tackle Bennie Logan was eased into the starting lineup, eventually replacing veteran Isaac Sopoaga. Tight end Zach Ertz and safety Earl Wolff were brought along slowly.

This year? Same thing. First-round pick Marcus Smith opened camp as the third-team left outside linebacker. Smith runs with the second team at times, but there is clearly no pressure from Kelly's staff on the rookie. Second-round pick Jordan Matthews, who made two flashy catches Monday, is still behind veteran slot receiver Brad Smith on the depth chart.

It doesn't matter to Kelly what the expectations from the outside are. And once players are here, they are judged on merit, not on where they were drafted.
PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia Eagles' defense is a little ahead of coordinator Bill Davis' schedule.

"The personality of this group will show itself when we play games in the preseason and as we play games on Sunday," Davis said the other day.

[+] EnlargeJeremy Maclin
Matt Rourke/AP PhotoReceiver Jeremy Maclin (pictured) and teammate Bradley Fletcher got into an on-field scuffle during Monday's training camp practice.
During the Eagles' next two practices, fights broke out. On Sunday, it was linebacker Trent Cole and running back LeSean McCoy. On Monday afternoon, during an open practice at Lincoln Financial Field, the combatants were wide receiver Jeremy Maclin and cornerback Bradley Fletcher.

"I'm glad, to be honest with you," cornerback Cary Williams said. "When you come out here to camp, there's no friends. You try to look out for your brother. You're fighting for jobs, you're fighting for opportunities. When those situations arise, especially defenders, we're going to let them know we're not having that. We're going to be the most physical defense we possibly can."

Last summer, Williams got into a scuffle with one of the New England Patriots during a joint practice. Both players were held out for the rest of the practice, as per an agreement between Chip Kelly and Patriots coach Bill Belichick.

Kelly hasn't been that strict when it's a bout between two of his own players.

"Those things happen," Kelly said. "Their emotions got the better part of them. It's no different than little kids sometimes don't get along and throw Tonka trucks at each other."

While the coach understands the dynamic and tolerates the occasional melee, Williams is downright in favor of it.

"If it was up to me," Williams said, "I think that's normal. I don't think you're supposed to go through camp with no fights, in my opinion. Those are supposed to happen. Guys get frustrated. You're out here these long hours, guys get frustrated. You're fighting to survive another down. Sometimes guys get the best of you and you may be frustrated. That's a part of camp, man."

Aside from the scuffle with the Patriots, Williams got into a camp fight last summer with wide receiver Riley Cooper. That one drew even more attention because it occurred a couple weeks after the appearance of an Internet video of Cooper using a racial slur during a concert.

So it was somewhat surprising that two fights have broken out and Williams was not involved.

"Mine is coming," he said. "It's all in good fun. You're going to have those things. It's practice. Maclin wasn't going to back down, either. What's done out here stays out here. We're family, at the end of the day. You're not swinging to hurt the guy. They've got on helmets. It's more of a faking situation. If you break your hand in a fight, you're a complete idiot."
PHILADELPHIA -- LeSean McCoy is the NFL’s defending rushing champion, so he takes it more than a little personally when people say running backs aren’t as important as they used to be.

“When people say the position is decreasing, or that people don’t value us as much, I don’t believe that,” McCoy said Sunday. “The top guys, who make good money and are productive, aren’t just running backs. They’re play makers. Compare the top guys to any other players, and they hold their own.”

[+] EnlargeLeSean McCoy
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsLeSean McCoy thinks running backs are still as important as ever to NFL teams.
McCoy said he has kept an eye on the other backs making news around the league. He texted congratulations to Kansas City’s Jamaal Charles when he signed his new contract. And he said he hopes Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch gets a big deal to improve the market for other running backs.

As for himself, McCoy’s 2012 contract runs through the 2017 season. He will make $7.65 million this season and $9.75 million in 2015.

“I’m here,” McCoy said. “I’m under contract. I’m friends with those [other backs].”

McCoy has gotten into a public give-and-take with Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson over which is the better back. When he clinched the rushing title during the season-ending game in Dallas last year, McCoy displayed a championship belt. Clearly, he takes pride in being at the top of his profession, but also in his profession itself.

“Jamaal Charles led his team in receiving yards,” McCoy said. “I led the league in yards from scrimmage. Adrian Peterson had tons of big plays. You look at any big wide receiver and you could put us right there with them. We’ll make big plays.”

Someone told McCoy that former teammate Michael Vick, now with the Jets, said he wouldn’t race Chris Johnson but he would be happy to come back and race McCoy.

“That’s just Mike,” McCoy said. “If you ask him who’s the best back, he’ll tell you me.”
With training camp now under way, here's a look at how the Eagles' final 53-man roster could pan out:


A year ago, Foles competed for the starting job with Michael Vick. Now the competition is between Sanchez and Barkley for the No. 2 spot. Put your money on Sanchez. The Eagles wouldn’t have signed him to be the third quarterback.


It won’t be surprising if the Eagles go with only three backs here, as Chip Kelly has been talking Sproles up as a running back since signing him. But if Sproles slides around the field as Kelly finds interesting matchups for him as a receiver, the Eagles may need depth behind McCoy. Rookie Henry Josey belongs in the picture, too.


This is a confusing position because of all the offseason churn. DeSean Jackson and Jason Avant are gone. Cooper is more established. Maclin is returning from injury. Matthews could develop into the best of the bunch. Ifeanyi Momah and Jeff Maehl are in the mix, too.


Ertz should continue his ascent to the No. 1 slot here, but Celek’s completeness as a blocker and receiver make him tough to write off. It wouldn’t be shocking if somebody (Emil Igwenagu?) persuaded Kelly to move on from Casey, who probably wonders why he signed in Philadelphia last year.


Lane Johnson will be on the Eagles' roster this year, just not for the first four weeks due to his PED suspension. Pencil in Andrew Gardner, a free agent formerly with the Texans, instead. Gardner opened camp as the second-team left tackle.


This is actually a tough group to project. Kruger spent his rookie year on IR, so he’s kind of a wild card. The coaches seemed high on Hart, who played for Kelly and line coach Jerry Azzinaro at Oregon. Allen is a draft pick. All three could make the team, but then, so could Damion Square.


The big issue here is how long it takes first-round pick Smith to progress to a point where he could start ahead of Cole. It might take the whole season. And then there is the idea of giving Ryans some downtime, which could get Goode on the field quite a bit. Phillips and Braman are mostly special-teams guys.


That seems like a lot of safeties, but Maragos was signed for special teams, and the coaches like Reynolds enough to carry the fifth-round pick as he develops. Johnson could be the odd man out.


In Year 2 of a total redo at this position, the Eagles will let merit sort things out with this group. Williams and Fletcher were adequate last year but now have Carroll pushing them both. Boykin established himself as a solid nickel corner. The coaches are high on Watkins, a rookie from Florida. Roc Carmichael could force his way onto the roster, as well.


These three mainstays all figure to be back. Henery is working on kickoffs, which would help the coverage unit immensely. Jones had a solid season punting the ball, and Dorenbos remains automatic at long-snapping.

Eagles Camp Report: Day 2

July, 27, 2014
Jul 27
PHILADELPHIA -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Philadelphia Eagles training camp:
  • It isn't always easy to make sense of a fast-paced Chip Kelly practice in real time. But there were some interesting things going on Sunday afternoon. Matt Barkley, who is supposed to be competing with Mark Sanchez for the No. 2 quarterback job, may actually be competing with G.J. Kinne for the No. 3 slot. Kinne, who has been throwing the ball well, was third throughout most of Sunday's session. Last year, Kinne was cut during training camp but he finished the season on the Eagles' practice squad. Barkley has an advantage as a fourth-round pick from last year, but Kelly always says there is open competition for every job.
  • Kelly's practices are broken up by intermittent teaching periods. On Sunday, those mostly turned into water breaks. Weather forecasts had called for a cooler day with rain throughout the morning and afternoon. But it was sunny and reached 90 degrees, with high humidity. The players didn't have pads on, but they were feeling the heat.
  • The best evidence of the heat was the first scuffle of camp. Linebacker Trent Cole took a little shot at running back LeSean McCoy, knocking McCoy down. McCoy, who felt the defense has been a bit liberal in the amount of contact dished out, came back at Cole. The two wrestled before teammates got involved and separated them. Cole and McCoy were joking about the whole thing by the end of practice.
  • Kelly confirmed Saturday that the Eagles will not tackle to the ground during practice sessions. Defensive coordinator Bill Davis said that's typical, "because of the way you expose too many people to injury on a daily basis." But it is Davis' job to teach sound tackling technique despite those limitations. "A lot of that is body placement," Davis said. "If you can continually work on putting your head in front of the ball carrier, as opposed to behind -- I think one of the biggest problems we had last year when I broke down the tackling issues was our head placement was always behind the ball carrier, leaving all arm tackles." Davis said the Eagles improved their technique during the season "and we have to build on where we left off at the end of the season."
  • First-round pick Marcus Smith continues to run with the third team at left outside linebacker -- the Jack linebacker position -- behind Connor Barwin and Bryan Braman. "They come at their own pace," Davis said. "We give them every opportunity to teach and grow them. … Marcus is a very hard worker and a very intelligent guy and very athletic. So you have a bunch of characteristics you look for in all Eagles players. He cares a lot about the game. One of the biggest things that attracted us to him was that Louisville and (coach) Charlie Strong's defense is a lot like ours, and the way they used him is a lot the way we use our Jack position."
PHILADELPHIA -- If Allen Barbre is catching an opportunity because of Lane Johnson's suspension, that’s probably fitting.
Barbre lined up with the first team at right tackle as the Philadelphia Eagles opened training camp Saturday. The 30-year-old will get every chance to start in Johnson’s spot during the first quarter of the season.

Two years ago, while he was with the Seattle Seahawks, Barbre received the same letter from the league office that Johnson got in May. He had violated the NFL policy on performance-enhancing drugs and would be suspended for four games. The Seahawks, Barbre’s third NFL team, simply released him. He was out of football for the 2012 season.

“I felt like I could still play football,” Barbre said. “It was just getting the opportunity.”

And that is just a bit harder with a PED suspension on your permanent record.

“I had a workout here [with the Eagles],” Barbre said. “That’s the only workout I had after I was released. It just looks bad."

The Eagles did sign Barbre in January of 2013, shortly before hiring Chip Kelly as their new head coach. Kelly viewed Barbre as just another of the players he inherited.

“We’ve seen Allen every day here,” Kelly said. “We feel like he’s a talented football player. He was really going to be pushing, even if Lane wasn’t out, all those other guys for playing time. When he’s had the opportunity to perform, he’s done a great job. He did a great job in the offseason program.”

One of the possibilities for Kelly would be moving right guard Todd Herremans to tackle, where he has played in the past. But Kelly’s comment suggests that Herremans might have been in danger of losing his guard spot to Barbre before Johnson was suspended. So it makes sense that Kelly would just plug Barbre into Johnson’s spot.

It will still be up to Barbre to hang on to the job. But he is clearly, in Kelly’s view, one of the five or six best offensive linemen on the roster.

“I just want to come out here and do well,” Barbre said. “That’s my plan, just to come out and work hard every day.”

The Eagles signed Barbre to a three-year contract extension early in June. By then, they knew Johnson would be out for four games. But the contract talks predated all that. Barbre had established himself as the primary backup at four of the five offensive line spots.

“For them to show confidence in me to sign me, that shows that they trust me,” Barbre said. “Whether I’m a backup or I’m a starter, I want my team to trust me.”

He said he is most comfortable on the left side, where he played in relief of Jason Peters last season. But he will have the advantage of focusing on the right tackle spot from the very start of training camp.
“I think there’d be something wrong with you if you didn’t want to start,” Barbre said. “That seems like it’s the only option.”
PHILADELPHIA -- Nick Foles, the Philadelphia Eagles' quarterback, couldn't get to sleep Thursday night.

"I'm so excited," Foles said. "I couldn't wait to get up this morning and get everything going. You reminisce on everything last year and the offseason. It's actually here. I know all of us are giddy and seeing each other in the locker room, we're all ready to go."

A year ago, Foles was the underdog in a training camp competition with Michael Vick for the starting quarterback job. This time around, Foles is the unquestioned No. 1 quarterback as training camp opens.

"I feel really good," Foles said. "I felt great last year. But it's another year under my belt in the NFL. Obviously, a lot of things happened last year that we were able to grow on and expand on as a team. It's definitely a huge difference from last year until now."

Last summer, Vick outperformed Foles in practices and preseason games to win the job. This year, instead of trying to compete, Foles can simply focus on things he wants to improve in his own game.

"Getting any rep is huge," Foles said. "If you get the majority of the reps, it helps a lot because you're going to go against the defense and you can rep with your guys. I think the biggest thing, it's the same coaching staff as last year. So we're able to grow as an offensive unit. We're not learning new stuff, we're able to compound on what we already learned.

"When I play, I want to better. I don't want to be the same, I want to keep progressing. When I went to college, I didn't think about what I did in high school. When I had a good year in college, I didn't think about that. I just kept going. It's the same in the NFL."

Last year, all five offensive linemen started all 16 regular-season games as well as the playoff game against New Orleans. Already, the Eagles know they will be without suspended right tackle Lane Johnson for the first four games of the season.

Foles benefited from that continuity last year. He said he has confidence that Allen Barbre, the likely replacement for Johnson, will maintain order on that side.

"Allen's awesome," Foles said. "He's a tremendous player. He works hard every day. He's almost like a caveman out there. Big, strong, physical guy. He's very smart. Great teammate. Our line as a whole, if you talk to any of them, you see what kind of people they are. On the field, they all give it all they have. No matter who steps up, I feel comfortable in there."
PHILADELPHIA -- Guard Evan Mathis was one of 89 Philadelphia Eagles to report Friday to the NovaCare Complex. That's considered newsworthy, because the 32-year-old guard was considered a candidate for holding out.

"It was easy to sit there and think about it a month ago," Mathis said Friday. "But when it was getting down closer to the wire, it's not something I could see myself doing, really. For multiple reasons."

Mathis has three seasons remaining on his contract. His salary cap hit for 2014 is $6.15 million. In the final year of the deal, Mathis' cap hit is $7 million.
Mathis went to the Pro Bowl after the 2013 season. He was among New England's Logan Mankins ($10.5 million cap number) New Orleans' Jahri Evans ($11 million) and Ben Grubbs ($9.1 million), and Baltimore's Marshal Yanda ($8.45 million).
So Mathis could make a good argument that he is underpaid.

"I'm not here to make that argument right now," Mathis said.

He will attempt to make it on the field, as well as in conversations between his agent and the Eagles' front office. But Mathis decided not to seize whatever leverage he could by holding out. His position would have been even stronger because of the four-game suspension of right tackle Lane Johnson. The Eagles really wouldn't benefit from having 40 percent of their offensive line missing.

"That's not the course of action I took," Mathis said. "I'm not trying to strong-arm the team. I'm not trying to put them in a bad situation to get what I want. I'm trying to do the right thing. I'm not really worried about it. Hopefully, it works out. If not, I'm still going to be the same football player."

Mathis said he finally decided a holdout would hurt his teammates too much.

"I wasn't scared of the fines," Mathis said. "But what I'd be doing to my teammates and coaches, that's the ultimate reason. I would feel wrong putting my team in that kind of situation."
PHILADELPHIA -- Lane Johnson saw the signs, posted all around the NovaCare Complex. They remind players to check with the Philadelphia Eagles' training staff before taking any prescriptions medications.

That medication prescribed by your hometown family physician might be on the NFL's list of banned substances. The doctor wouldn't know, but the Eagles' trainers would.

[+] EnlargeLane Johnson
AP PhotoOffensive tackle Lane Johnson will miss the first four weeks of the Philadelphia Eagles' 2014 season.
"I wasn't here," Johnson said. "That's not an excuse. Usually, if you take any supplementary thing, you're supposed to talk to the head trainer. It was my mistake and I'm paying the price for it."

Johnson would not disclose the substance that earned him a four-week suspension at the beginning of the season.

"It sucks," Johnson said. "The toughest part about it is I won't be around here to battle. I was expecting to come out here and get a good start, Week 1. That's something I can't do now. It's all my fault. I have nobody to blame but myself. It's all on me."

Johnson, the Eagles' first-round draft pick last year, started all of last season at right tackle. He said he was using the prescription medication in April. He received a letter from the NFL notifying him of the suspension early in May. He immediately informed general manager Howie Roseman so the Eagles could plan for his four-game absence.

"The biggest part is I let the team down," Johnson said. "I let the fans down. That's the toughest part."

Johnson reported for training camp Friday along with his teammates. He is able to practice throughout camp and participate in all four preseason games. However, he also knows coach Chip Kelly has to prepare someone else to start the season at right tackle. That's likely to be Allen Barbre, whom the Eagles signed to a contract extension in early June -- after they knew about Johnson's pending suspension.

Johnson said he wasn't sure how Kelly would handle his workload during camp.

"I'll know more tomorrow when we start," Johnson said. "I'm not quite sure how it's going to go. I'm sure the guys will fill my shoes really well."

Meanwhile, Johnson will have four weeks in September that he will have to use to prepare for his return in Week 5.

"That's the thing I'm going to figure out closer to Week 1, someplace I can go to try and keep in football shape, maybe do some one-on-ones with somebody," Johnson said. "That's going to be the toughest part, not being around here playing. It's hard to come and play in a game when you're not able to practice."

Johnson said he knows people will speculate about what he did and how it might have helped him add weight and strength during the offseason. He said there's nothing he can do about it.

"That's the rule," Johnson said. "I got what I deserved. Players have done this before, they've been in my shoes. As a professional, you're supposed to be aware of what you put in your body and take precautions. It's something I didn't do and now I'm paying the price."
PHILADELPHIA -- Chip Kelly might have earned a laurel, winning the NFC East title in his rookie season as head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles. That doesn't mean Kelly will be resting on it.

[+] EnlargeNick Foles and Chip Kelly
Drew Hallowell/Philadelphia Eagles/Getty ImagesChip Kelly's first NFL season took off with Nick Foles under center, but nevertheless the Eagles head coach is seeking ways to improve.
"We can impove," Kelly said. "We were 10-7. We were just OK."

Kelly's Philadelphia Eagles started off the 2013 season 1-4. They went through turmoil as the quarterback situation sorted itself out. Once Nick Foles was established as the starter, though, the Eagles went 7-1 in the second half. Their seventh loss was in the playoff game against New Orleans.

That's a pretty good first season for a head coach, but Kelly wasn't grading himself on a curve.

"I was 10-7, too," Kelly said. "I wasn't 12-6, or 12-4. I don't have a better record than the team, so we're all kind of judged on the same thing, but I think everybody can work on their individual aspect and how they contribute to the success or failure of what we're doing."

That seems to be the theme as the Eagles open camp this weekend. Players report Friday to the NovaCare Complex. The first practice is Saturday. The feeling you got from talking with coaches and players throughout June was that last season ended in disappointment, so it was disappointing.

"I think if you're content with 10 wins and winning the division, you're probably shortchanging yourself and the team," Kelly said. "We did that. What's the next step? How can we improve upon that? We're trying to get a bunch of guys that are never complacent in terms of, 'All right, we've arrived.' We haven't arrived. We're looking to work and strive to get better and better and better. That's part of the deal, so I think that's the thing we're always trying to emphasize with these guys."

The message seems to have gotten through. During minicamps, defensive players talked about being last in the NFL in passing yards allowed, not about how they held opponents to 22 or fewer points nine times in their last 10 regular-season games. Quarterback Nick Foles talked all spring about forgetting his breakout 2013 performance and focusing instead on the little things he must do to improve.

"How do you get to that next level?" Kelly said. "Some guys are content -- you've got to make sure that they're not content -- being where they are. Just like some guys' goal's just to play in the NFL. All right, you're playing. Now what? That's a legitimate question. 'My goal is just to be a starter in the NFL.' So you're starting. Now what? I think that's the one thing you're always trying to strive -- you look at it as an individual, how do you continue to improve?"

Eagles say sacks will be key in 2014

July, 24, 2014
Jul 24
It’s a very basic principle.

Successful NFL teams are able to sack the opposing quarterback multiple times per game while protecting their own starting quarterback at the same time.

If the likes of Trent Cole, Connor Barwin and Fletcher Cox, among others, can get to the opposing quarterback and the Eagles’ offensive line can protect Nick Foles, wins are likely to be the result.

“I think we're going to focus on pass protection and try to tighten things up,” guard Todd Herremans told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “There were a couple of different factors that went into the 46 sacks, but not everyone sees all of that. We play offensive football, so when we get sacked, the whole offense gets sacked.”

The Inquirer noted that 22 of the sacks allowed by the Eagles came in their six losses last season. The other 24 sacks occurred in the 10 victories, which was good enough to capture the NFC East title.

On the opposite side, Cole paced the Eagles with eight sacks, all in the second half of the season.

“Our pass rush has to get better. Dead last, it goes without saying, but it's all facets -- the pass rush, the blitz, the play calling, the coverages,” defensive coordinator Bill Davis told the Inquirer. “Our defense wasn't great last season, by any statistical category, but if we can start this season the way we finished last season, we'll keep climbing.”

The process began in OTAs and will continue when players report to training camp on Friday.

“Everybody wants it to be a revolution, but it's an evolution,” defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro said.
PHILADELPHIA – Obviously, the Philadelphia Eagles would rather not have their starting right tackle suspended for the start of the 2014 season.

But if Lane Johnson had to be suspended for four games, things really couldn’t have gone much better for the Eagles than they have. The news was broken by the Philadelphia Daily News after Johnson and his teammates scattered at the end of June practices. By Wednesday afternoon, when the NFL finally announced the suspension, it felt like old news. Meanwhile, the news was made official two days before Johnson and his teammates report to training camp.

The Eagles couldn’t have minimized the distraction any more if they had control of the entire operation.

As for Johnson, he is out $116,000 – his salary for the four games he will miss. But that $12.8 million he received upon signing his rookie contract last year? That’s safely in the bank.

So except for a little embarrassment and annoyance at having to face some questions Friday, Johnson and the Eagles will emerge from this incident with minimal damage. As for the football issues raised, the Eagles seem pretty well prepared to deal with those, as well.

In early June, they handed backup lineman Allen Barbre a three-year contract extension. Barbre has started eight NFL games at right tackle, and he is the leading candidate to start in place of Johnson. He played well in spot duty at left tackle last season, so the Eagles feel pretty comfortable with Barbre. If someone – Dennis Kelly, Matt Tobin, Michael Bamiro – outperforms Barbre in training camp, well, that’s just another positive development.

The biggest problem, really, is what happens if there are injuries along the line while Johnson is suspended. Barbre is the Eagles' primary backup at four of five spots, with center as the only exception.

If Jason Peters or one of the guards goes down, the Eagles will officially be in crisis mode. Considering all five linemen started all 17 games, including the playoff game, last year, that would represent a challenge for Chip Kelly and his staff.

Two years ago, only left guard Evan Mathis was able to play in all 16 games. Eight other players started games at the other four line positions. Peters missed the entire season. Center Jason Kelce played two games. Todd Herremans was available for only eight games.

The Eagles went 4-12 that season.

It’s a long way from having one player suspended for four games to that kind of chaos. But that chaos has to start with the loss of just one player. The Eagles are hoping that’s not what Johnson’s suspension turns out to be.
PHILADELPHIA -- Tempo is important to Chip Kelly, but that doesn't mean the Philadelphia Eagles coach is obsessed with going fast all the time.

The image of Kelly as a mad scientist bringing radical new ideas into the NFL was hard to shake. When the Eagles ran rampant all over Washington in their Monday night season-opener, that image became indelible.

Is it accurate? No less an authority than Kelly says no.

"That's never been a goal," Kelly said. "Our goal is to win on Sundays. Part of our goal is to be a really good four-minute offense like we were against Green Bay. I think that's where there is a misconception. They say, well they didn't run X amount of plays so they're not running the offense they want to run. I don't care if we run 50 plays to win a game or does it take 100 plays to win a game?"

In Green Bay last November, the Eagles had a 27-13 lead when they got the ball with 9 minutes, 32 seconds left in the fourth quarter. The Eagles ran off the rest of the time remaining in a 15-play drive that was a long way from uptempo.

"Part of winning the game is managing the lead when you're in the second half of the game and you have a three touchdown lead," Kelly said. "You don't want to run plays at 15 seconds a clip because you're putting their offense back on the field. That's the point I've always tried to make and I don't know why it doesn't resonate -- (Oregon) never led the country in offensive plays nor did I ever care to lead the country in offensive plays.

"We never even looked at that statistic. We're always, how many points per possession, how many points can we score in a game and is it enough?"

The Eagles ran 58 plays in Green Bay that day. The Packers ran 75. The next week, against Washington at Lincoln Financial Field, the Eagles ran 62 plays. Washington ran 77. The Eagles had a 24-0 lead after three quarters, but were unable to control the ball the way they had in Green Bay. Washington closed to within 24-16 before the game was over.

For the season, the Eagles ran 1,054 offensive plays. Their opponents ran 1,150 offensive plays. The Eagles won 10 games and lost six.

Kelly would like to do better when it comes to wins and losses. He's not nearly as concerned about running more plays than the other guys do.

"It's not as important as I think people make it out to be," Kelly said. "That's what I'm saying. I think it's just a tool in the toolbox."

The other reason for the image is the way Kelly practices. There, he really is trying to run more plays than the average coach. That allows him to create more reps in the allotted practice time, which means players get more work and coaches get more tape to evaluate.

"That's what we stand for from a practice standpoint," Kelly said. "Games are different because sometimes you don't control what goes on in a game. But I think if someone watched us go out on the practice field, I think you're going to say we practice pretty fast.

"That's part of what we do. And if you ask our players if we practice hard, yeah, we practice hard. And we emphasize and coach constantly off of tape on the finishing aspect of things. That part hasn't changed, our vision of how the game is supposed to be played."
Foles-KellyDrew Hallowell/Philadelphia Eagles/Getty ImagesNick Foles and Chip Kelly will rely on each other to push the Eagles to the 2014 playoffs.
PHILADELPHIA -- In Chip Kelly and Nick Foles, the Philadelphia Eagles have a coach/quarterback duo in the enviable position of having some success to build on. With that success, though, comes the sometimes crushing pressure to take the team farther than it has gone since 1960.

The last coach/QB duo to try that here came achingly close but ultimately fell short. From the start, Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb were a joint entry. Reid was hired in January 1999, and he took McNabb with the second overall pick in that year's draft. That pair got to five NFC title games and one Super Bowl together but never quite reached the top of the mountain.

Reid tried to move on from McNabb, signing Michael Vick after he got out of prison, in hopes of finishing the task of winning a Super Bowl. The whole enterprise failed, and the Eagles never so much as won a playoff game during Reid's final four seasons with the Eagles.

That long, slow slide into misery led to the hiring of Kelly. The new coach gave Vick every chance for a late-career rebirth, but injuries forced Kelly to go with Foles. That led to an arranged marriage between the coach and his quarterback. Foles will never be the anointed savior of the franchise -- he was a third-round pick under a different head coach -- but that doesn't mean he can't deliver where previous Eagles quarterbacks have failed.

In some ways, the situation most resembles 1998, when Bobby Hoying was entering the season as the No. 1 quarterback. Hoying had some things in common with Foles. He was a third-round draft pick. He got a midseason opportunity to start during the 1997 season and showed some promise. Hoying went 2-3-1 in those final six games, including a showy 44-42 victory over Cincinnati.

There were some major differences between Hoying then and Foles now. Offensive coordinator Jon Gruden left after 1997 to become the head coach of the Oakland Raiders. Ray Rhodes, a defensive coach by trade, hired Dana Bible and then undermined the new coordinator by claiming, even to players, that the hire was forced on Rhodes. Foles got in on the ground floor of what Kelly is building in Philadelphia.

It was fascinating when this year's draft rolled around. Johnny Manziel was still on the board when the Eagles' 22nd overall pick came up. Kelly could have claimed his franchise savior right there. Instead, the Eagles traded the pick to Cleveland, who snapped up the Texas A&M quarterback. The Eagles took Marcus Smith, an outside linebacker from Louisville with about 0.3 percent of Manziel's star power.

At that moment, Kelly and Foles became a new joint entry in Eagles history. Their fates are now intertwined, coach and quarterback.

Foles did more than Hoying to earn his opportunity. His numbers -- a league-high 119.2 passer rating, 27 touchdowns, just two interceptions, 8-2 record in 10 starts -- was much more impressive than Hoying's back in 1997. And he has benefits that Hoying did not, No. 1 among them an offensive innovator as a head coach. Kelly saw enough to believe in Foles, but also enough to believe Foles can be even better.

[+] EnlargeNick Foles
AP Photo/Matt Rourke"I might not ever reach those statistics again. ... If we don't reach it again, I hope that we're winning more games," said Nick Foles of his 2013 season.
"I'm not being sarcastic," Kelly said, "but I think he can improve on everything, and I think he'll be the first to tell you that, too. But I think all the great ones feel the same way, that there's every aspect of their game that they can constantly improve, and I think that's what makes Nick really special -- that he's never really content with where he is."

Kelly said he has seen that same trait in Foles during the spring.

"I just go to work every day and just try to get a little bit better, and I try to push myself as hard as I can," Foles said. "Even on days I don't feel the best, when I'm worn out, I just try to push as hard as I can and really focus in. Because I know my teammates are looking at me.

"And I think the thing that I will always work on is attention to detail in the drills. 'OK, we're not just doing this drill to go through the motions.' Why are we doing it? I need to do this to the best of my ability because when the game time comes, I can just do it naturally."

Foles completely bought into Kelly's approach from the very beginning. He wasn't able to translate that onto the field fast enough to beat out the mobile Vick in one training camp, but Foles was able to run Kelly's offense efficiently after Vick pulled a hamstring in Week 5 against the Giants.

Foles made his mark with his seven-touchdown performance in Oakland a few weeks later. He had played poorly before being concussed against the Dallas Cowboys on Oct. 20. After missing a game, Foles went to Oakland and played a nearly perfect game.

"Going into that game," Foles said, "it was just one of those weeks where you're coming off the concussion, you're just really paying attention to every single detail, you're trying to really focus in even more, because you remember your last play was a concussion. 'All right, can I still do this? Can I still react like I need to?' You really don't know until the game starts. But after the first drive of the Oakland game, I knew that my reactions and everything were there."

Foles' equipment from that day was sent to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. It was the first in a series of unusual moments that marked Foles' breakout season. The last was being named MVP of the Pro Bowl.

"I know I say it over and over again, but all those throws that happened last year, the TDs, whatever, it does absolutely nothing," Foles said. "It probably hurts me more now than it did last year because I did it, so now you've got to do it even better. In my mind, I want to do even better.

"But I know in reality, some things can happen. There could be a game where I throw two INTs. I threw two INTs all last season and it's like, 'Oh gosh.' But that happens. I've thrown multiple interceptions in a game in college, but then the next week, I came out and threw four touchdowns. It's that short memory and just really having amnesia and forgetting stuff."

Taking that next step -- toward consistent excellence -- isn't easy. It is what Foles as a quarterback and Kelly as a coach are attempting to do together.

"I think he's a lot more comfortable in what we're doing offensively, just because it is Year 2," Kelly said. "So you just see the little things, whether it's the footwork or the proper technique or looking off a guy -- he knows he's throwing to No. 1 [in his progression], but can he keep the free safety in the middle of the field a little bit longer so that the run after the catch is a little bit better?"

That synchronicity between Foles and his coaches is the main reason Foles is in better position than Hoying was in 1998. It is a very good reason to believe Kelly and Foles have a chance, at least, to be the kind of coach/QB combination that excels in the NFL.

"Our team isn't measured by my 27 [touchdowns] and two [interceptions] or whatever," Foles said. "If we win and I throw 25 touchdowns and 20 interceptions -- well, hopefully I don't do that. I don't want to do that. ... I might not ever reach those statistics again. ... If we don't reach it again, I hope that we're winning more games. Because that's the big thing."