As OTAs begin, many fans want a glimpse of what this year’s new players will look like donning the midnight green for the first time. The Philadelphia Eagles were very active this offseason with a long list of eye-opening moves. Now with all the new faces roaming throughout the NovaCare Complex, it is time to see how the newest Eagles will fit in their new roles.
The biggest question mark bouncing around fans’ frontal lobes is the depth chart, which is not set in stone and has a number of positions up for grabs. Offensively, there shouldn’t be any changes as of now. Aside from rookie Jordan Matthews likely playing the slot receiver position, the offense looks like a lock.
On the contrary, the defense has a number of asterisks on it heading into OTAs. The defensive line will likely consist of Cedric Thornton and Fletcher Cox as the ends, with Bennie Logan at the nose. Rookie Taylor Hart may see some time, as he fits the 3-4 system perfectly. Also, according to ESPN’s Andy Jasner, general manager Howie Roseman gave Hart a third-round grade in their analysis of him. Hart also may see the field since he was coached by Chip Kelly at Oregon. Go figure.
The battle everyone is eager to see is first-round pick Marcus Smith competing with Trent Cole for the starting “Jack” linebacker position. Whoever wins this battle will be the team’s hybrid linebacker who will rush the quarterback on passing downs.
However, Connor Barwin may be competing for his job as well. Smith can play on either side of the defense and is underrated in pass coverage. Barwin told ESPN.com that he has taken the youngster under his wing, and that despite having only a month of exposure to the schemes, Barwin believes that “he seems to be picking up the defense.”
Either way, Smith and Hart will see a fair amount of snaps. Kelly loves to cycle a number of different lineups in the box and mix and match his personnel. Smith will likely see the most time of the rookies. Not only is he the most versatile of the group, it is counter-intuitive for a first-round pick to watch from the sidelines when he fills a position of such importance.
Though I don’t see Smith usurping either Barwin or Cole, I see him playing a big role in the defensive rotation in what should be an indoctrination of a year into the rugged NFC East.
The front seven won’t be the only tentative section of the defense. The entire secondary is up in the air after surrendering the most yards and passing touchdowns in the NFL in 2013. The group began to season as a unit as the year went on, but was still painfully inconsistent.
Despite the abysmal numbers, the staff still sees raw potential in the group. Expect Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher to enter OTAs as the starting corners, with Brandon Boykin as the nickel. However, don’t be surprised if offseason addition Nolan Carroll supplants one of the three, as he brings much-needed size to a secondary that was notoriously inferior against larger receivers last year.
The two safeties patrolling the middle of the field will likely be Malcolm Jenkins and Nate Allen, but don’t be surprised to see Earl Wolff crack the starting lineup. The the rookie from North Carolina State flourished in his role last year before his season was curtailed by knee injuries. Also, keep an eye out for current rookie Jaylen Watkins to see first-team reps, as he played corner and safety during his tenure at Florida. In Bill Davis‘ system, the safeties are the last bastion against long passes, and the birds have struggled immensely in finding a stable group over the past few years.
Although OTAs will likely be a tease of what will happen during training camp, fans will get a glimpse of a new group of hybrid, multi-role players who will get their first exposure to a very dynamic playbook.