The story of the Eagles’offseason has been new faces arriving in (and familiar faces departing from) Philadelphia.Finding replacements for several of the departed players will fall to competitions between returning backups and some of the less heralded free agent signings.
One of the biggest position battles will be for cornerback opposite marquee signing Byron Maxwell. New arrival Walter Thurmond will compete with Nolan Carroll and Brandon Boykin.
Thurmond comes to the Eagles after a lost season with the Giants.He tore a pectoral muscle in the second game of the season after signing a one year deal.Before that, he played primarily as the nickel cornerback for Seattle.
Thurmond has signed another one year deal with the Eagles.Like many of the team’s acquisitions this off-season, staying healthy will be one of the biggest hurdles for Thurmond.Since entering the league he has yet to play a full season.
Carroll started 12 games for the Dolphins in 2013 and contributed two sacks and three interceptions. In 2014, he was unable to wrest one of the starting spots from Cary Williams or Bradley Fletcher.He still played in every game, often in dime packages.
Boykin has played nickel corner since being drafted in 2012.Despite performing well there, he was not used as an alternative when the starters’ effectiveness fell off a cliff last season.
There is speculation that reluctance to start Boykin is due to his height (5-foot-9.)It may put him at a disadvantage in a battle with Thurmond (5-foot-11) and Carroll (6-foot-1.)
Chip Kelly denied that the team only sees Boykin as a nickel corner when speaking last week at the NFL owner’s meetings in Arizona, saying, “Brandon plays outside every day in practice.”
Jaylen Watkins is a wildcard at cornerback and Nate Allen’s vacated safety position. As a rookie Watkins only appeared in four games.He saw extended action in the season finale.
Earl Wolff is another contender at safety.Wolff battled injuries in 2014 after a promising rookie year in 2013.
The competition to replace Jeremy Maclin at wide receiver has well known contestants.What is less easy to see is any receiver replacing Maclin’s 1,318 yards all on their own.
It is more likely that opportunities in the passing game will be spread among the returning receivers and increasingly among the team’s tight ends and running backs.
It seems safe to say the Eagles expect a big step this year from second year receiver Josh Huff.Huff only caught eight passes as a rookie but his kickoff return touchdown showed his ability to make defenders miss after the catch.
Darren Sproles could see more receptions now that Demarco Murray and Ryan Matthews have arrived.
Last year options were limited by reliance on Sproles as the backup running back. Kelly has called Sproles a Swiss-army knife and said “We need to get him on the field more.”
Allen Barbre, injured in 2014, is the early favorite to replace Todd Herremans at right guard.