Nothing has dominated Eagles talk this offseason as much as the quarterback competition brewing in Philadelphia. Or maybe it’s the one not brewing? Simmering? It depends which Eagles coach you ask.
Whether Sam Bradford will have to fight for the starting job or not, the phrase “come in and compete” might well be the mantra of this summer, and for the moment, quarterback may actually be the most stable position on the offense.
Every other offensive unit should have at least one spot available to go to the player that best earns it in training camp and preseason. Mandatory minicamps starts June 7. The earning is already underway.
Starting where the football does, on the offensive line, all eyes should be on left guard. Jason Peters, Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks and Lane Johnson are well-solidified at the other four spots, though in case of injury, the depth behind them is less so.
Allen Barbre is the presumptive starter at left guard, but he didn’t have the 2015 season Chip Kelly and his teammates predicted he might replacing Evan Mathis. He’ll be challenged by new signee Stefen Wisniewski, who has spent more time in the league at center than guard.
Wisniewski has started all 77 games he has played in in his career, and missed only three. That ability to stay on the field would be cherished on an Eagles front that has been tormented by injuries three of the last four seasons.
The Eagles also spent their second pick in this year’sdraft on Oregon State guard Isaac Seumalo, who could factor into the competition. He displayed impressive versatility in college playing four positions along the line, but the one he didn’t spend time at was left guard.
Matt Tobin and Andrew Gardner are still here as well.
Heading to the backfield, running back is a position where Ryan Mathews’ resume should herald him as a clear-cut starter. Darren Sproles has thrived in a role outside the typical starting running back in the NFL. Mathews has 4,600 career rushing yards, and had the highest yards per carry of his career last season, his first in Philadelphia: 5.1.
His competition, Kenjon Barner and fifth-round draft pick Wendell Smallwood, have a combined total of 131 career rushing yards. The problem is Mathews’ injury history. While it shouldn’t prevent him from winning the starting job as the season begins, whomever slots in behind him on the depth chart may be just as important and see just as much action.
Mathews has played 16 games just once in his six NFL seasons, and reached 200 carries only twice. With the exception of last season, when DeMarco Murray tallied 193 carries, and 2009, when the team fielded an injured Brian Westbrook and rookie LeSean McCoy, the Eagles have had a back tally 200 carries dating back to 2006.
When Jamaal Charles was healthy, Doug Pederson’s (short) history suggests he’s perfectly happy handing the ball off to a single running back. Regardless of his designs, if he runs into the same injury problems in Philadelphia with Mathews, the Eagles backfield in 2016 could feel more similar to 2015 than it does to the previous decade.
Finally we end up at wide receiver, where starting spots have been up for grabs since Kelly first started jettisoning the Pro-Bowlers who held them. Jordan Matthews is clearly the bright spot on a roster mostly filled with young players yet to make their mark on the league.
First among them are Josh Huff and Nelson Agholor. Huff flashed talent with a kickoff return for a touchdown in 2014 and a couple great runs after the catch in 2015. But for all that he has 410 receiving yards over two seasons where he has been on the field for a significant amount of time.
Agholor, 2015’s first round draft pick, came with the phrase “NFL-ready” attached. In a league where first round receivers are now routinely churning out 1,000 yard seasons, his season was a disappointment — there’s no way around that. He finished with 283 yards and never topped three catches in a game. He was unable to distinguish himself from the likes of Huff, Riley Cooper and Miles Austin.
They’ll be competing with new signing Rueben Randle, who tallied up 2,644 yards and 20 touchdowns over the past four years with the New York Giants. Those numbers make him the leader among Eagles wideouts.
Pederson is used to working with what he has at the wide receiver position. Before the Chiefs took Maclin away from the Eagles, the fact that no receivers in Kansas City scored a touchdown in 2014 was widely observed. In 2014, after Dwayne Bowe, the receiver with the second most yards on the team was Albert Wilson with 260.
Ten years ago, it was the common perception that wide receivers needed three years in the league to really adapt and shine. That thinking is gone, but it will be Huff’s and Matthews’ third year, and Agholor’s second. It’s time to shine.