NFL.com has dispatched several writers to report on the 32 training camps. Daniel Jeremiah details his visit with the Philadelphia Eagles. (Click here for the complete archive of Training Camp Reports.)
WHERE IS NFL.COM?
The Eagles conduct training camp at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa. Every year, thousands of fans make the hour-and-a-half drive from Philadelphia to catch a first glimpse at their new squad. At last year's training camp, following the Eagles' high-profile free-agent binge, there was almost a rock star atmosphere out on the practice field. This year, the crowd was a bit more subdued, but there were still occasional outbursts from a few vocal folks in the stands.
1. The Eagles conduct a VERY physical training camp. For those who suggest the Philadelphia Eagles are a finesse team, I suggest you pay a visit to their training camp. Head coach Andy Reid puts his team through grueling periods of "live" interaction between the offense and the defense. After suffering a smattering of injuries over the first few days of the week, there were only about six official full-contact plays during Thursday's practice. Still, plenty of hitting took place. The battle between Howard Mudd's offensive line and Jim Washburn's defensive line was intense throughout the day, featuring a brief brawl between offensive guard Danny Watkins and defensive tackle Cedric Thornton.
2. Michael Vick looks increasingly comfortable in Andy Reid's offense. Vick wasn't perfect by any stretch, but he is making very good decisions with the ball and seems to have a firm grasp of what Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg would like from him. He is going deeper into his progressions and doing a much better job of taking the easy completions, instead of forcing the ball into traffic.
3. Danny Watkins looks like a different player. Last season was a year of adjustments for the Eagles' 2011 first-round pick. After playing exclusively left tackle at Baylor, he was moved inside to right guard upon arrival in Philly. That is a tough transition to make for any offensive lineman -- it was made even tougher for Watkins because the lockout robbed him of an offseason. He improved throughout the 2011 season, but never got comfortable enough to dominate like he did in college. During Thursday's practice, he had several impressive drive blocks in the nine-on-seven run-game period and showed a consistent anchor when he was bull-rushed in the one-on-one pass-rush period. LeSean McCoy enjoyed a lot of success running on the perimeter last season, but Watkins is going to help create a lot of room for him to run on the inside in 2012.
4. The Eagles have built an extremely deep roster. Despite several injuries, there was plenty of athletic talent still on the practice field. Take the defensive line for example. All four projected starters (Jason Babin, Trent Cole, Cullen Jenkins and Mike Patterson) were held out of practice, but their replacements were far from "backup"-caliber players. They trotted out a front four consisting of No. 12 overall pick Fletcher Cox and 2010 first-rounder Brandon Graham on one side, and proven NFL defenders Derek Landri and Darryl Tapp on the other. The depth didn't end with those guys. There were several impressive plays made by defensive end Phillip Hunt and defensive tackles Cedric Thornton and Antonio Dixon. No need to rush the starters back into action when you have that kind of quality depth.
THE NEW GUYS
Cox: The first-rounder out of Mississippi State is not going to be a good NFL player -- that would be selling his ability short. He is going to be a dominant force at defensive tackle. Cox has rare first-step quickness and his hands are very explosive against both the run and pass. He is going to create a pick-your-poison situation for opposing offensive lines; if they slide help to either of the Eagles' talented defensive ends, Cox will be a very disruptive player on the inside.
DeMeco Ryans: The Eagles acquired Cox in a trade with the Houston Texans to provide a steady veteran presence in the middle of the defense. Ryans will fill that role nicely, but don't expect a lot of "wow" plays from Philly's new middle linebacker. He is very instinctive, but lacks the explosiveness and range of the elite players at his position.
Mychal Kendricks and Brandon Boykin: Both will contribute heavily during their rookie season. Kendricks clearly stands out from the rest of the linebacker group. He has very good instincts, can run sideline to sideline and is an explosive tackler. You can close your eyes and figure out when he's the one making contact with ball carriers -- it just sounds different. Boykin looked very comfortable when he worked in the slot. I would be surprised if he didn't take over the nickel role at some point during the 2012 season. He is also very much in the running to handle the return duties.
While talking to Eagles general manager Howie Roseman during practice, I mentioned how impressed I was with the teams' running back depth. He then brought up the point that McCoy is the oldest runner on the team. He's 24 years old.
- Demetress Bell isn't as physical or powerful as Jason Peters, but he is very athletic and a more-than-capable starting left tackle.
Philadelphia will have a very tough road in the NFC East. The New York Giants are the reigning Super Bowl champs, the Dallas Cowboys believe they have solved their secondary issues and the Washington Redskins are ready to unleash Robert Griffin III. Despite all of that, the Eagles are my early pick to win the division. Their roster is loaded with playmakers on both sides of the ball and their defensive front is going to be tough for any NFL team to handle. As long as Vick can avoid missing a large portion of the season, this team is capable of making a very deep postseason run.