The Eagles open training camp on Friday missing familiar faces Michael Vick and DeSean Jackson for the first time in years.
But the man in chafe, head coach Chip Kelly, will be back for his second season — and with expectations of improving on a first-round playoff exit from a year ago.
We look at five storylines for the Eagles as camp opens.
1. Can Chip Kelly repeat his success in year No. 2?
Finishing 10-6 and winning the NFC East would be a dream scenario for the Eagles in year No. 2 for head coach Chip Kelly. But unfortunately that doesn’t seem likely with the team’s schedule this year. With away games against the Colts, Niners, Cardinals and Packers as well as six games against a better NFC East, they’ll be lucky to finish 8-8.
In the latter half of the season they’ll face the Panthers, Packers, Seahawks and Cowboys twice in the span of six weeks. Philadelphia will know what the team is capable of following this stretch.
2. Can Jeremy Maclin replace DeSean Jackson’s production?
Jackson’s departure has been the biggest focus of both the fans and media since the Eagles cut the Pro Bowl receiver in March. Jackson had been coming off his best season in an Eagles uniform, registering 82 catches for 1,332 yards and nine touchdowns.
The team now looks to Jeremy Maclin, who’s making his return from an ACL injury last summer that kept him out for the entire 2013 NFL season.
Maclin can have a big impact on the team when healthy. He’s averaged 65 catches for 863 yards and seven touchdowns over his four-year career, mostly as the team’s No. 2 receiver. Given the opportunity to serve as quarterback Nick Foles’ No. 1 target, he should be able to produce close to the level of Jackson as long as he can stay on the field.
The rest of the load will be placed on Riley Cooper and the Eagles’ 2014 second-round pick Jordan Matthews. Alongside Jackson, Cooper emerged as a big target for Foles. He grabbed 47 catches for 835 yards and eight touchdowns, with three games over 100 yards receiving. Matthews will be looked upon to simply fill the void left by the loss of Jason Avant. If the Eagles’ organized team activities last month are any indication, the rookie from Vanderbilt will have quite a year. He was widely viewed by those in attendance as the best receiver on the field and even drew some comparisons to Terrell Owens. He’ll be someone to keep an eye on throughout training camp.
3. What does Darren Sproles have left in the tank?
The most notable Eagles signing in the offseason was also one of the most unique talents in the NFL: running back Darren Sproles. At just 5-foot-6 and 190 pounds, Sproles has relied mostly on speed throughout his eight-year career and has frustrated defenses in the process. In 2011, he led the league in all-purpose yards with 2,696 and has hauled in over 70 receptions per season for the past three years with the Saints. The offensive-minded Kelly will surely look to use Sproles’ receiving ability to spread out the Eagles’ offense even further.
In an interview this month with NFL Network’s Rich Eisen, Eagles running back LeSean McCoy lauded Sproles’ ability to make plays.
“Sproles has the quickest feet I’ve ever seen out of any player,” McCoy said. “He’ll help us out tremendously. … You talk about losing DeSean [Jackson], but I think [general manager] Howie [Roseman] and Chip did a great job of bringing another playmaker to our team.”
He’ll be a great complement to McCoy next season and a strong veteran leader in the locker room.
4. Will Nick Foles repeat his success?
Foles finished atop the NFL last season in passer rating at 119.2. He threw for 2,891 yards, 27 touchdowns and just two interceptions. He made his first Pro Bowl and was considered at one point in the season to be in the running for league MVP. Not bad for a guy in his second season who wasn’t even the team’s starter to open the season.
With all of training camp and preseason to work with the first team, expect Foles to continue his success through the air. The loss of DeSean Jackson will impact his numbers until he gains a better rapport with receivers Jeremy Maclin and Jordan Matthews, but there shouldn’t be a dropoff in production as long as everyone stays healthy.
He also has an emerging Zach Ertz and reliable Brent Celek at the tight end spots and LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles in the backfield. Needless to say, Foles will have a ton of weapons at his disposal.
5. Will Lane Johnson’s suspension hurt the Eagles?
Having a hole in your offensive front can cause a domino effect on a team’s pass protection and run-blocking ability. According to Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Jeff McLane, Eagles starting right tackle Lane Johnson is expected to be handed a four-game suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs in the offseason. In his place will likely be lineman Allen Barbe, who filled in admirably for an injured Jason Peters in Green Bay last season.
While he doesn’t have as much power as Johnson in the trenches, he looked good in pass protection. This is all the Eagles can ask of him in his first four games, as protecting Foles and opening up the passing game is the first priority. McCoy will find space in the running game even if the blocking in front of him isn’t at its best.