Training Camp is rapidly approaching for the Philadelphia Eagles, and one of the most exciting parts for fans attending open practices, is the sheer competition it brings. A 90-man roster gets condensed to 53 over the course of a few weeks. The mighty sometimes fall, and the underdogs rise to the top. With 19 rookies on the roster, along with plenty of players buried on the depth chart…that chip-on-the-shoulder mentality that saw the likes of Trey Burton, Paul Turner, and Jalen Mills, excel one year ago…may elevate others in similar positions to success. But who are the players we should be watching? Here’s one name to watch at each position:
Quarterback: Dane Evans
Doug Pederson announced at the end of Mandatory Minicamp that he intended to bring in former Tulsa QB, Dane Evans, to sit behind Wentz, Foles, and McGloin for the remainder of the offseason…but the tryout wasn’t signed to a contract after impressing during rookie minicamp. A Minicamp where he battled with the likes of Jerod Evans and Dakota Prukop. However, the Birds parted with ways with wideout Dorial Green-Beckham, opening the doors for a very intriguing undrafted free agent.
This pro-style quarterback ended his career in stunning fashion. Evans completed 59.4% of his passes in 2016, throwing for 3,340 yards, 32 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions. At 6’1, 210 lbs, Evans has nice size for a pocket passer, but has largely been inefficient when scrambling..actually totaling -29 rushing yards last year, fumbling twice. Evans will be competing for an eventual QB3 spot with Matt McGloin..but it will be a tall mountain to climb.
For the Eagles, it becomes a case of whether or not they would prefer a guru quarterback, or an arm whom they can develop into one day taking over the reins Nick Foles has just inherited. Preseason is going to be of extreme interest for this one reason alone…as it’s anything but meaningless for QB’s 3 and 4 on the roster.
Running back: Corey Clement
One of the UDFA darlings of this year’s class was set to be Wisconsin’s Corey Clement..until the arrival of LeGarrette Blount. The 5’11, 220 lbs, back stole the spotlight in his final season as a Badger, despite sharing the backfield with multiple backs. He managed to rush for 1,375 yards and 15 touchdowns, proving his redzone value after a strong campaign in the previous year.
Where Clement really brings interest is in his dominant style of rushing. The Eagles committee backfield is seemingly built on versatility, and an up-the-gut style to compliment. As a result, Pederson may like the idea of having a bigger backup incase Blount went down with injury, meaning that UDFA Corey Clement may, just may, have some slight leverage if he can really stand out when the green flag drops on Training Camp. His main competition will be the likes of Wendell Smallwood, whose role has become uncertain…but even though Clement’s outlook may have taken a knock after the signing of Blount, it might have only upped his chances of forcing his way into a backup role, knowing his skillset compliments the new-look Eagles prototype.
Guard: Darrell Greene
The Eagles have plenty of versatile guards looking to cement their intentions early during Training Camp, but one who has gone completely under the radar, is Darrell Greene. At 6’3, 321 lbs, Greene has size on his side after spending time with the Eagles last year…but there’s one very interesting aspect of his career that has gone completely unnoticed.
Greene is also a graduate of San Diego State, acting as a vital cog in the offensive line for newly drafted running back, Donnel Pumphrey, during a 2015 season that saw him rush for 1,653 yards. Interestingly, the running back depth COULD mean that Greene is once again blocking for his former teammate…potentially opening up his chances of hitting the ground running and demonstrating how an explosive chemical reaction needs two substances. Could Greene be the underrated catalyst for Pumphrey?
Tackle: Victor Salako
After Jerod Evans was waived with injury, the Eagles bought in Oklahoma State’s Victor Salako as an undrafted free agent replacement. While the move itself was considered a minor roster transaction, it could carry some weight.
The 6’6, 335 lbs, left tackle is simply a monster in terms of size. Having size is one thing, using it is another..and it’s something Salako does well. Although his athleticism may be seen as a setback by some, his sheer size alone makes him a thunderous prospect to watch. Named second-team-all-conference in 2016, Salako earned a tryout with the team in which he obviously impressed, with the team going on to sign him to a UDFA contract.
With Blount now the workhorse in the backfield, the Eagles need grunt on the offensive line to push open those holes they simply couldn’t in years-gone-by. Salako may only be an outsider now, but could hold the keys to becoming a prototypical backup in years to come if he shines in Camp.
Center: Tyler Orlosky
This year’s UDFA class has been one of the most exciting in recent memory for the Philadelphia Eagles…but one of their prized acquisitions was forced to miss all of OTA’s due to an MCL injury. Training Camp will be of the upmost importance for Tyler Orlosky, but what can we expect?
Orlosky started 41 games for West Virginia of the 49 he participated in. A finalist for the Rimington Trophy, the 6’3, 298 lbs center simply shined from start to finish as both a leader and an athletic offensive lineman. Entering the draft, many had Orlosky penned as the third ranked center of the class…but for whatever reason, his name would not be called on day 3 of the event hosted in the City he would later sign with.
The Eagles have an unquestioned captain and talent in Tyler Orlosky, who brings much of the same skillset possessed by Jason Kelce, whom the team have been reported to be looking to move on from on several occasions. If they were going to, the Eagles would need some security blankets beyond Wisniewski…and Orlosky could be the cheapest answer. But could he really throw a spanner in the works despite missing OTA’s due to an MCL injury? The Mountain may have gotten taller, but don’t write him off just yet.
Tight End: Trey Burton
It was only year ago that the former Florida Gator was the team’s Training Camp darling. Catching everything thrown his way by Carson Wentz, Burton would go onto build on that chemistry and record 327 yards and his first ever NFL touchdown. Surprisingly, the Eagles didn’t re-sign Burton to a new contract despite the value he showed. The team instead signed him to a one-year tender, making Training Camp even more important for Burton, knowing that he is playing in his second contract year in as many season’s.
With Billy Brown now breathing down his neck and his future uncertain, Burton has to be just as explosive this training camp as he was last year. An underdog once before, Burton will need to strive for excellence as he did one year ago if he is to keep his place in the depth chart and show his value to the team.
Wide receiver: Shelton Gibson
The Eagles strengthened their receiving corps extensively this offseason…and one fresh face just so happens to be West Virginia’s Shelton Gibson. His opening few weeks in Philadelphia were considered bumpy by some as he struggled keeping hold of the ball in individual drills…but with such an intense competition at the position, even the slightest setback could be costly.
The 5’11, 190 lbs, Cleveland, Ohio native, was an issue for opposing defenses at West Virginia, playing in both the slot as well as the outside. The rapid wideout ended his collegiate career with 84 receptions, 1,898 yards and a whopping 17 touchdowns, all while averaging 22.6 yards per reception.
I recently spoke to a source on Gibson and what he brings to the table…and his response excited me.
With the pads now on for the first time, it’s time for Gibson to ball out and prove he CAN be a dominant threat for the Eagles downfield.
Defensive Tackle: Destiny Vaeao
Another often overlooked offseason darling last year, was Destiny Vaeao. After the UDFA beat out Aziz Shittu for a roster spot, Vaeao went on to have a very productive year for the Eagles.
Standing at 6’4 and 300 lbs, the American Samoa native may have only tallied 15 tackles, 2 sacks, and a forced fumble, considering he combined with Beau Allen for over 60% of defensive snaps, that stat line is impressive. Sure, the Eagles have bought in Timmy Jernigan and have a flurry of ruthless talent at DT, including rookie Elijah Qualls, but the consistency Vaeao provided cannot be overlooked.
All attention may be placed on the starters, the rookie, or the returning Beau Allen…but don’t overlook Vaeao. Jim Schwartz is extremely high on the powerful defensive tackle, and another strong camp while unsurprising, could see him move one step higher up the depth chart.
Defensive End: Alex McCalister
An injury cut the cord on McCalister’s rookie season before it had a chance to start, however he did stand out during the early stages of training camp. Now, with Derek Barnett and a flurry of depth, McCalister’s odds of making the roster have lengthened…but so has his frame.
McCalister was often regarded as slim for his position, so after bulking up after recovering from his injury, McCalister brings that same level of explosiveness off the edge, with a slightly thicker base to help push past offensive linemen. It will be interesting to see how the former University of Florida standout performs and whether or not he can turn heads in the same way he did one year ago.
Cornerback: Aaron Grymes
One of last year’s biggest surprises was former Edmonton Eskimo Aaron Grymes. Entering Training Camp with a prowess in press-coverage, Grymes made play-after-play, soaring from an unknown to a legitimate contender for a depth role on the roster. A big interception against the Steelers in Preseason all but cemented his role on the roster…or it would have if not for an AC Joint injury.
Grymes has certainly picked up from where he left off one year ago and now joined by former CFL rival, Mitchell White, the duo look set to cause another Training Camp whirlwind. With every spot at the position there for the taking, it would not be surprising to see Grymes even emerge as a starter either in the nickel (where he earned first team reps during OTA’s), or on the outside during preseason and beyond.
Safety: Terrence Brooks
There is one more underrated battle on the Eagles roster, the fight for the 3rd Safety spot. Jaylen Watkins may have been bought back on a one-year tender, but there’s a former Raven waiting in the wings ready to snatch that opportunity away. A clutch interception against the Giants may have sprung his name into the minds of fans, but players such as Malcolm Jenkins were already avid supporters.
With 19 tackles during the 2014 season for Baltimore, including THAT hit against Delanie Walker, it seemed as though Brooks was developing nicely. But just 11 games into the year, a torn MCL and ACL crushed any hopes of ending on a high…damaging his chances of keeping his spot on the depth chart next year.
The Ravens would later waive Terrence Brooks just one week before the start of the regular season. The Eagles would swipe him off the waiver wire just one day later…and the reasoning was clear.
Brooks was one of the 10 defensive backs drafted by Baltimore between 2008-2015, when Joe Douglas made his name. If anybody knew the ceiling Brooks still may have, it’s the man who has seen every snap he’s played since drafting him back in 2014. Douglas now houses one of the league’s leading sports science programs, making the decision to take a swing even more tempting.
The stage is set, but can Brooks unseat Jaylen Watkins and earn a regular spot on the roster?
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports