Training camp is rapidly approaching for the Philadelphia Eagles and the excitement levels are through the roof. With plenty of new faces both on and off the field, this season is set to be an unpredictable thrill-ride for the birds. However, a new direction and a new vision have left some players on the roster in an unenviable position as they head into Training camp. Some are even competing to secure their long-term future in the NFL, be it in or away from Philadelphia. Here are the five Eagles with the most to prove in 2016:
5 JaCorey Shepherd, CB:
Last year’s Sixth-round pick JaCorey Shepherd was regarded as a potential steal by many..until he tore his ACL during a training camp tackle on Darren Sproles. Shepherd lost out on his rookie season and the Eagles missed some much needed depth and talent at the cornerback position. A year later however, his future is anything but secure.
There are a total of eleven defensive backs on the roster that will be competing for what could be just five or six spots on the final roster. Shepherd no longer has this cushion of being a Chip Kelly draft pick in a Defense that lacked depth to fall back on. Under a new Head Coach and Defensive Coordinator, Shepherd is going to have to push even harder than he did in his rookie year to prove he can transpose his skill set over to the scheme Schwartz is implementing.
The problem is that he’s already missing valuable time. Shepherd has still been recovering from the torn ACL that kept him sidelined in 2015 and as a result has missed OTA’s and most of Mandatory Minicamp.
Not only that, but with the bye-week coming as early as week 4, there are doubts about his durability. A hamstring injury prior to the draft saw his stock plummet and a torn ACL deprived him of his rookie season. With the likes of Jalen Mills, Blake Countess and Denzel Rice all competing for what could be the same roster spot..the pressure is well and truly on in 2016 for the former Jayhawk. If Shepherd does make the final 53-man roster, he will face even stiffer competition. With Nolan Carroll and Eric Rowe splitting starting reps during OTA’s with Leodis McKelvin and Ron Brooks, the cornerback conundrum is one that fans will be wanting to pay close attention to as training camp progresses.
4: Kenjon Barner, RB
The Eagles appear destined to head for a committee backfield in 2016 but with doubts over the durability of Mathews and the age of Darren Sproles..it’s now or never for Kenjon Barner.
Barner started the year strong with some impressive displays during OTA’s and Mandatory Minicamp but if he wants to earn a bigger role on the Offense, he needs to have an incredibly strong training camp to prove that he can be as elusive as he is durable and provide value to Doug Pederson.
I published an all-22 not too long ago on Kenjon Barner, highlighting reasons why he should absolutely prove to be a valuable asset to Doug Pederson in his west-coast hybrid and why he was so overlooked in 2015 and if he’s bulking up as reports suggest, then he intends on becoming just that.
With Wendell Smallwood catching the spotlight and the experience of Mathews and Sproles ahead of him, Barner certainly has his work cut out for him..especially when you throw Byron Marshall into the mix.
With Mathews missing parts of the off-season training program and Darren Sproles choosing to miss the voluntary workouts, Barner assumed the starting reps ahead of Smallwood..it’s a nice edge to have as he heads into training camp, but it won’t be enough on it’s own to secure his future.
Barner is entering his final contracted year with the Eagles which means if he isn’t utilized this season, it could well be his last in Philadelphia. The pressure is on for Barner to not only turn heads and shine at training camp..but to retain his role on the Offense and become a more prominent factor moving forward.
3: Josh Huff, WR
The former Oregon Duck has been waiting for his time to shine since his arrival in Philadelphia. After glimpses of brilliance in both of his seasons under former college coach Chip Kelly were shrouded by drops and inconsistencies, Huff now finds himself in a sticky situation.
With the additions of Reuben Randle and Chris Givens among others, Huff is by no means a lock on the Eagles roster, let alone a lock to sit higher up the depth chart than the two names aforementioned.
Huff’s production surged in 2015..but so did his reps. For a player seeing 46% of offensive snaps, Huff simply didn’t make as much of an impact as was expected. For instance, both Alshon Jeffery and Brian Hartline played a very similar amount of snaps and had considerably better seasons.
The Eagles receiving corps was plagued with issues last year and will be looking to leave them in 2015. Josh Huff has been less than impressive throughout OTA’s and Mandatory Minicamp and if that continues deep into training camp, there’s no reason why someone like Hunter Sharp or T.J Graham could beat him to a roster spot.
2: Stefen Wisniewski, OL
Signed as a free agent during the offseason, Wisniewski is adamant that he wants a starting role in 2016. If he wants one, he’s going to have to work for it..and work hard.
Pederson named Allen Barbre as his “guy” at LG..and while outperforming Barbre during training camp is entirely plausible, earning the starting role isn’t quite as simple as that.
The Eagles drafted Isaac Seumalo in the third round of this year’s draft..and after he missed OTA’s and Mandatory Minicamp through no fault of his own, it would hardly be surprising to see him taking slightly more reps than the other players at his position in order to catch up.
Wisniewski may have experience at left guard, but he has much more experience at center after starting all 16 games for the Jaguars at the position in 2015. In essence, he was signed to a “one-year” deal with a similar motives to the reason’s Bradford was signed a year ago. Short term, no strings attached and if he plays well..fantastic. That and Wisniewski was very familiar with Greg Olson’s system.
Jason Kelce was uncharacteristically inconsistent at center last year for the Eagles and while he is widely expected to bounce back, depth behind him is minimal. It would hardly be surprising to see “Wiz” take a back seat behind Kelce and wait in the wings as a versatile backup who can help in numerous capacities. With the bye-week coming in week 4 as mentioned earlier, it wouldn’t be the silliest idea in the world.
Wisniewski is now on his second consecutive “prove-it” deal..after the Jags cut their ties with him in order to upgrade the position. Wisniewski has competition wherever he ends up on the line..but if he wants to start all 16 games as he did in Jacksonville, he really will have to prove it.
1: Marcus Smith, DE
Marcus Smith is a name that sends chills down the spine of the die hard Eagles fans. A player with so much potential who was drafted in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft but is yet to show any signs of living up to the hype. In his two NFL seasons, Smith has 1.5 sacks and 7 tackles.
But, there could be a saving grace. Touted as a dominant pass rusher coming out of college, the schematic change to a 4-3 could work wonders for Smith who will now compete as a Defensive end. If anyone can find the mean streak in Smith, it’s Defensive Coordinator Jim Schwartz.
Behind Barwin, Curry and Graham however..things are murky. Smith will be competing with the ruthless Bryan Braman who could finally get the defensive snaps he deserves in 2016, former Titan Mike Martin and seventh-round pick/ physical monster, Alex McCalister. The competition is stiff..and Marcus Smith will need to pick up where he left off in OTA’s if he is to guarantee himself a future beyond training camp with the Philadelphia Eagles.
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