The road to success in the NFL begins each year with the hard work and wide-open possibilities of training camp. As teams around the league gear up for the 2015 campaign, NFL Media reporters will be checking in from all 32 camps around the league. For our next stop, Conor Orr visits the Philadelphia Eagles.
Where is NFL Media?
Just off Pattison Avenue, in the shadow of Lincoln Financial Field and Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, the Eagles worked their way through a brutally hot two-hour practice with the Baltimore Ravens ahead of Saturday's preseason matchup. But this was not a typical breakneck Chip Kelly practice, as both Kelly and Ravens coach John Harbaugh had to agree on an itinerary before working together. The most notable difference? No music. Kelly's practices are typically accompanied by a cacophony of familiar hip-hop tunes. On this bucolic Wednesday afternoon, a fan could hear Eagles quarterback Sam Bradford calling out signals clear across two fields. One Ravens player in particular, veteran receiver Steve Smith, said the practice was like "apple juice" compared to Baltimore's three-hour practices.
1) The Eagles have two NFL-caliber starting quarterbacks and a quality No. 2 on their roster -- and none of them are named Tim Tebow. It's fascinating to look around the league and see teams like the Bills, Jets and Texans scraping the bottom of the quarterbacking barrel when, oddly enough, all would enjoy having Mark Sanchez on their roster (for a second time, in the case of the Jets or Buffalo coach Rex Ryan). Say what you will about Sanchez, but his comfort in Philadelphia's offense is apparent. He'll always make some of the costly mistakes that have become synonymous with his game, but he's a completely different player in practice and in terms of preparation. He's also clearly not in line to start, despite the facade of an open competition, which brings us to our next point ...
2) Bradford, who was traded to the Eagles this offseason after five seasons with the St. Louis Rams, is incredibly accurate and will be a joy to watch in this offense, now that he has a suitable scheme and dynamic weapons around him. The main difference between Bradford and Sanchez is that Bradford is hyper decisive, or at least he appeared that way Wednesday. Every ball -- for better or worse -- is off with a rhythmic timing that borders on clockwork. Every dropback, bounce and release is identical. Kelly's offense is impressive because it often presents a wide-open receiver on every play. Now, the coach might have the added luxury of a quarterback in Bradford who can thread the occasional show-stopper into double-coverage.
3)The DeMarco Murray situation will be one to watch moving forward. At the moment, the free-agent signee is not sure if he'll play against the Ravens on Saturday, and his practice participation lends no clues. Eagles offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur was cagey at best when asked to compare Murray's workload in practice with that of fellow premier back Ryan Mathews, who actually made an appearance in the preseason opener against the Colts. While Kelly might just be smart (backs don't typically fare well coming off a season of 370 carries or more, and Murray finished with 392 with the Cowboys last season), he might also know something we don't. He's a coach bent on quality repetitions, and it's odd for the organization to tout the "2,000 reps" Murray got in the spring as a reason to hold him out of practice and preseason games. On this particular Wednesday, Murray did some three-quarters-speed work with the first-team offense and was even involved in a few full-speed pass-catching exercises and dynamic stretches, but it was nowhere near the level of a typical, healthy running back. Then again, Kelly doesn't approach practices -- or sports medicine -- like a typical coach.
Tim Tebow, QB: Of course, how long he's with this team remains to be seen. Every time Tebow takes the field, we're initially struck by his ability as an athlete, but we're ultimately left with unshakable doubts about him operating in a pro-style offense. Wednesday's practice backed that up, as did the waning moments of Sunday's matchup with the Colts. Tebow can be an NFL quarterback, but only in a system designed just for him. His struggles in a read-and-react type of system are tough to minimize when looking at the big picture, especially with a quarterback like Matt Barkley growing so significantly from year to year.
Kiko Alonso, LB: Alonso, for all intents and purposes, looks like a beast. Despite missing two weeks with a concussion, the third-year pro, who was acquired from the Bills in exchange for LeSean McCoy this offseason, appeared fast and fluid on Wednesday, excelling in several coverage drills. (He missed the team portion of practice, per his recovery plan.) Of course, Alonso is still being eased in and may not play in Saturday's game. Injury concerns aside, he could be the centerpiece of a very dominant defense. Alonso's acquisition underscores a much deeper secondary and a more explosive defensive line, highlighted by Fletcher Cox. Physicality might not be the typical hallmark of a Chip Kelly team, but it could certainly define coordinator Bill Davis' defense in 2015.
"It's written in pencil."
-- Pat Shurmur,Eagles offensive coordinator, in an answer to several questions on Wednesday, including plans for Murray's workload going forward and potential plans for Tebow to receive more coveted third-string looks against Baltimore this weekend.
» Perhaps this is too obscure for a training-camp preview, but watching kicker Cody Parkey on Wednesday became a priority after he missed an extra point and a shorter field goal in the preseason opener. On Wednesday, he missed three kicks inside the 50-yard mark. Kelly recently said he will not bring in competition for Parkey and dismissed any reasons for concern. "He was [a Pro Bowl] kicker last year. In his first exhibition game, he missed an extra point and a field goal. He's hit three from 40, too." We've seen uneven kicking situations erode at good football teams in the past, but Parkey certainly deserves the benefit of the doubt for now.
» Tight end Trey Burton, who shined on special teams a year ago, flashed early on in Sunday's preseason game. On the opening play, he was more than wide open, 5 yards past the nearest defender. On Wednesday, he followed that up with a stellar one-handed grab in coverage. He's certainly angling for more playing time.