NFC East: Philadelphia Eagles
PHILADELPHIA -- The bottom-of-the-roster training camp tweaking has begun.
This is one instance where big people don't beat little people. Davis was considered a longshot candidate to make the Eagles' roster because he is 6-foot-3, 220 pounds. After just three days of training camp practices, Davis is gone.
The Eagles' wide receiver picture is fairly clear. Cooper, Huff, Jordan Matthews, first-round pick Nelson Agholor, Miles Austin and Seyi Ajirotutu are all very likely to make the team. Jeff Maehl could sneak onto the roster again as a backup and special teams regular.
Undrafted rookie John Harris had a good day at camp Tuesday. He showed the ability to get open and make plays on the ball. But he is still a longshot to make the team.
So was Davis and, now, so is Reese.
PHILADELPHIA -- Travis Long wants to play football again. That’s what he told Eagles coach Chip Kelly after tearing an ACL in his knee for the third consecutive season.
“I think he knew it when it happened,” Kelly said, “just because it’s happened to him before.”
Last year, Long said he wondered whether he wanted to go through the rehab process again in order to return to football. This time around, Long may do what it takes to play again. But that will still keep him sidelined for the entire 2015 season.
Long appeared well positioned to make the Eagles’ 53-man roster as a backup outside linebacker. With Long out of the picture, 2014 first-round draft pick Marcus Smith becomes the leading candidate for that role.
“Losing a guy like that is really devastating to the outside ‘backer room,” Smith said after Tuesday’s practice session at Lincoln Financial Field. “We wanted him to be here. For now, we’ve just got to keep him in our prayers.”
Smith said he felt “no pressure” by the change in his circumstances.
“I still want to play, still want to do the same things,” Smith said. “It’s no pressure on me. I’m just going to come out here every day and just keep playing.”
Smith was credited with exactly one tackle during his rookie season. He was on the field for 68 defensive plays, or 6 percent of the total defensive plays. Smith was inactive for two games and did not play at all for the last five games of the season.
He came back this year determined to turn things around. Smith is eating healthier and has added more weight and strength. On Tuesday, for the first time, he was able to put the pads on and play something resembling football.
“That was the best thing that could ever happen,” Smith said. “Getting the pads on, being able to hit. I got to show that I can stop the run, I can pass rush, I can jump into coverage. That’s what I did today.”
Kelly said that Brandon Hepburn and Brad Jones will move from inside linebacker to play on the outside. Jones, signed as a free agent after six seasons in Green Bay, has the most experience of those competing for a job.
Having played on a Super Bowl champion, Jones said he has been impressed with the atmosphere around the Eagles.
“The team cohesion is better, honestly,” Jones said. “It’s the same if not better. Guys really like each other. I think guys are just focused on one goal. That’s what it takes, the cohesion to get together and say, 'Let’s go win a championship.'”
PHILADELPHIA -- The mystery of DeMarco Murray's absence from Sunday’s first training camp practice was explained Tuesday by coach Chip Kelly.
Two words: sports science.
“That was our decision,” Kelly said. “We do a hydration status test and he was a little bit high. When we see guys that are high from a hydration standpoint, then you kind of pull them back a little bit because that’s when they’re susceptible from an injury standpoint.”
By testing “high,” Murray appeared at risk for dehydration on a sunny day when temperatures were in the 90s.
“We monitor guys in a lot of different ways and there’s a reason we do it,” Kelly said. “If a guy isn’t hydrated enough, which puts him in a more susceptible situation for injury, that’s what we’re trying to do. That’s what our sports science thing is; trying to prevent injuries.
“Instead of saying afterwards, 'Joe Jones just pulled his hamstring, he was really dehydrated.’ Well, why didn’t we know that before he went on the field? That’s why we do what we do, so you can prevent things. Once it happens, you can’t really get that back.”
Murray said he felt “great” Sunday and seemed unclear why he was held out of full-team drills. He said he didn’t ask for an explanation.
“I just do what I’m told,” Murray said.
Murray was a full participant in Monday and Tuesday’s practices.
ESPN’s Ed Werder reported Tuesday that the Eagles were discussing a short-term contract with Bradford, something that would keep Bradford with the team beyond 2015. As of now, Bradford is going into the final season of the rookie contract he signed with the St. Louis Rams in 2010. That contract calls for Bradford to make $12.95 million this season.
There are two main problems. Two torn ACLs have kept Bradford from playing more than seven games over the past two seasons. The uncertainty around Bradford’s reliability is bound to limit the Eagles’ willingness to pay him too much money until they are convinced he can remain healthy.
Meanwhile, Bradford has made too much money during his career to settle for anything less than a fair-market contract. He is in the opposite situation as quarterbacks like Nick Foles and Seattle’s Russell Wilson.
Wilson was a third-round pick in 2012. In his first three seasons, he made a total of $2.2 million while leading the Seahawks to two Super Bowls and a championship. Foles, drafted later in the 2012 third round, earned just over $2 million in his first three seasons. He is scheduled to make $1.5 million in St. Louis this season.
Compare that to Bradford, who has banked $65 million over his first five seasons. His career earning will be about $78 million after the 2015 season.
With the risk of injury, players like Foles and Wilson were vulnerable to having their careers end at any time before they achieved full financial security. Wilson’s new deal with Seattle, which started with $31 million in bonus money, made the risk pay off. Foles is still waiting for that kind of payday.
Kelly said back in March that the Eagles would be interested in negotiating a new contract for Bradford. In July, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported that Bradford would play out the 2015 season on his original contract.
Werder’s report Tuesday said that talks had resumed on a new deal.
“I never discuss contracts publicly,” Kelly said. “There was a report last week that we weren’t doing it. So believe what you want to believe.”
Bradford has been a full participant through the first three days of training camp. He has been running the first-team offense and is not wearing the brace on his left knee that he wore during spring practices.
Former Eagles president Joe Banner, a salary-cap expert who negotiated many contracts during his tenure, said on Twitter that Bradford would have to be “crazy” to agree to a new contract at this point. “Needs huge guarantee even if short term,” Banner added.
For the Eagles, a huge guarantee would transfer the risk of Bradford reinjuring himself onto the team. If they let Bradford play the season for $12.95 million and if he remains healthy and has a good year, the Eagles could use the franchise tag to retain Bradford.
That would likely mean paying Bradford close to $20 million for one season, which is close to the annual average on quarterback contracts around the league. The team could use the franchise tag as leverage to negotiate a new long-term deal with Bradford after the season.
The injury has implications for Long, most of all, but also for a couple of the Eagles' high-profile recent acquisitions. Last year's first-round draft choice, Marcus Smith, now moves up a notch. If Smith can't fill the backup outside linebacker role Long was poised to take over, his career in Philadelphia will likely be very short.
And then there is Sam Bradford. Coach Chip Kelly said recently that his research showed that Bradford's twice-torn left ACL had a 10-to-12 percent chance of tearing again. That research didn't include Long's new tale of woe. Ultimately, Long's latest injury makes one wonder about the usefulness of the Eagles' sports science when it comes to freak accidents.
Long tore his right ACL during his senior season in college, an injury that kept him from being drafted. The Eagles signed Long as an undrafted free agent in 2013, and he spent that season on their practice squad.
Last summer, Long was poised to earn a spot on the Eagles' 53-man roster when he tore the left ACL. That makes him different from Bradford, who tore the left ACL twice, but it underscores the sheer unpredictability of such injuries.
In other words, Long was going through the same thing this year as Bradford, albeit with not nearly as much attention focused on him.
The Eagles linebackers were doing a drill that involved rushing an orange dummy with a football in its artificial arm. The idea was to rush the ersatz quarterback and swipe at the football. It was the kind of mundane activity in which Long tore his ACL last season.
In the fourth quarter of the fourth preseason game, Long was running. Without any contact, he went down with a knee injury. At the time, he said, he wondered if it was time to give up on football.
"It was really tough," Long said earlier this year. "Initially, I was like, do I really want to do this again? But that subsided really quick. I knew I wanted to play football still. I still haven't been out there on a Sunday yet. I still have that desire. I've got to do that."
And maybe he will someday. But for now, Sundays are still out of reach for Long. And that means Marcus Smith needs to step up and Sam Bradford needs to step carefully.
PHILADELPHIA -- At this time last year, the Philadelphia Eagles were talking about how they had put 2013 behind them. Their porous pass defense was a thing of the past and they were determined to play much better in 2014.
Then 2014 happened.
The defense was good in some areas. With 49 sacks, the Eagles were tied for second in the NFL. Against the run, the Eagles were ranked 17th in yards allowed -- not great, but not that bad, either.
But their pass defense was just as bad, or worse, than it was in 2013. The Eagles allowed the second most passing yards in the NFL. They allowed the fourth most passing touchdowns. They allowed more passing plays of 20-plus yards than any other team.
So this year, the Eagles are talking about how they have put 2014 behind them. They are determined to be much better against the pass in 2015.
But at least this time, there has been change in the defensive secondary. There is a new coach, Cory Undlin. There are new players, most notably Byron Maxwell. There is a new commitment to better technique.
Undlin likes to play press man coverage, so his defensive backs have to jam receivers at the line of scrimmage, disrupt their route running, and then get back into solid coverage.
"We played a lot of press last year," safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "That’s always been what we wanted to do. I just think we’re better at it right now. Offense is all about spacing and timing, and press throws off spacing and timing."
Last season, the Eagles would fail to jam receivers at the line and then fail to recover and get back into coverage in time. It was a bad combination.
"We don’t want to be impostors," Jenkins said, "where we go to the line of scrimmage and then let you have a free run. We want to move up, we want to put our hands on you and disrupt you at the line of scrimmage. Last year, we tried to play a lot of press, but with bad technique, we just had guys running down the sideline."
Even with the trade of Brandon Boykin on Saturday, the Eagles believe they have enough defensive backs to compete more successfully in press coverage.
Maxwell thrived on that technique when he was in Seattle. Walter Thurmond III, who is moving from cornerback to safety, also came up in the Seahawks’ system. Rookies Eric Rowe and JaCorey Shepherd are comfortable playing that way. Nolan Carroll II, who is starting at cornerback right now, probably should have been playing ahead of Bradley Fletcher by the end of last season.
"That’s on me," defensive coordinator Bill Davis said. "Nolan has the skill set to start. He had one of the best offseasons I’ve ever been around. I didn’t get him in there enough. We have all the confidence in Nolan.”
From the outside, it appears the Eagles parted with Boykin, Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher and Nate Allen but didn’t add enough players to complete an upgrade. But if Carroll can play a significant role, then Maxwell and Thurmond join Jenkins as three-quarters of an improved secondary.
That allows Rowe, Shepherd and Randall Evans to develop into regulars at their own speed. And maybe, just maybe, all that talk of improving the secondary will be proven true this time around.
PHILADELPHIA -- The first day of training camp always is revealing. Players line up where the coaches have decided to get their initial evaluations on them.
That doesn’t mean it is where they will line up when the regular season begins, but it is a snapshot of where things stand.
It was telling that Sam Bradford took the Eagles' first-team reps at quarterback. Mark Sanchez did so during OTAs and minicamp, when Bradford was not yet cleared for 11-on-11 drills. Now that Bradford is cleared medically, he’s the No. 1 quarterback.
That may change day to day, but it was significant nonetheless.
The first-team offense around Bradford included Allen Barbre at left guard, Matt Tobin at right guard and Josh Huff at wide receiver. Tobin will have to fend off challenges from John Moffitt, Andrew Gardner and others, but he is getting the first opportunity to claim Todd Herremans’ old job.
It seems likely Huff is a place-holder for first-round pick Nelson Agholor. This way, Huff runs with the first team while Matthews remains in his slot position. When Agholor is ready to move into the lineup, he would replace Huff.
On the defensive side, rookie JaCorey Shepherd got the first chances to fill Brandon Boykin’s nickel cornerback position. The sixth-round pick seems to be ahead of fellow rookies Randall Evans and undrafted Denzel Rice.
“We’re really, really impressed with (Shepherd),” Chip Kelly said. “I think he probably slipped a little bit in the draft because he was hurt. He had a hamstring, kind of a lingering thing.
“He didn’t work out probably as well as people expected. When you turn the tape on, he’s a legitimate football player. What we saw on tape is what we saw during OTAs. We’re excited about his development.”
Second-round pick Eric Rowe is focusing on playing on the outside. Rowe is a candidate to win the starting job from Nolan Carroll, who is running with the first team as camp begins.
Kendricks is undersized for his position. He was taken in the same draft as Boykin. And he was the subject of trade rumors throughout the offseason, especially near the NFL draft.
But on the first day of training camp, Kendricks was out on the field with an Eagles helmet on. And coach Chip Kelly said that’s where you can expect to find him for the foreseeable future.
“Mike Kendricks is not going anywhere,” Kelly said before Sunday’s practice. “I can tell you that right now. Write that down in ink.”
During practice, Kelly was seen speaking with Kendricks on the field.
“He told me,” Kendricks said afterward, “I’m here, man.”
During practice, Kendricks lined up with DeMeco Ryans as the first-team inside linebackers. Kiko Alonso, obtained in the trade that sent LeSean McCoy to Buffalo, was alongside Najee Goode on the second team. But those pairings are not final. Kelly doesn’t consider the depth chart particularly meaningful at this point in camp.
“We’re just rotating,” Kendricks said. “I don’t even know if there is a one, two or three. I’m with the rookies, they’re with the rookies. We’re all rotating.”
Kendricks said he wasn’t worried after hearing about the Boykin trade.
“We’re two different players, two different positions, two different people,” Kendricks said. “This is a business. The craziest stuff happens in this business, and it’s not a surprise when it happens. We’re all renting space.”
Like Boykin, Kendricks is going into the final year of his original rookie contract. He said the Eagles had not approached him about extending his contract beyond this season.
“That doesn’t even matter,” Kendricks said. “We’re here to play ball and do the best that we can do while we’re here. After the season is after the season. We’ll worry about that then.”
PHILADELPHIA -- The new offensive star from Oklahoma didn’t take part in most of the drills on the first day of Eagles training camp.
The running back took part in the early part of practice, which is devoted to individual drills. Murray ran through an obstacle course with the other backs. He pulled against a rubber band wrapped around his waist.
But when the team ran 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills, Murray stood off to the side with head athletic trainer Chris Peduzzi. With former Oklahoma teammate Bradford running the offense, Murray watched as Darren Sproles took the first-team reps. Ryan Mathews worked mostly with the second team.
Before practice, coach Chip Kelly said, “All 89 guys are full go.” That included Bradford, who was not cleared for 11-on-11 drills during OTAs or the June minicamp. Kelly didn’t mention Murray.
Murray remained on the field throughout the entire practice. He did not get worked on by trainers or go back into the building.
Murray didn’t talk to reporters after practice. He is scheduled to talk to the media after Monday’s session. The Eagles had no information about any injury to Murray.
But Kelly’s reasoning means more than that.
“If Sam goes out [in the preseason] and throws 14 interceptions and Mark throws 14 touchdowns, I can’t sit there and tell our team that Sam’s going to start and Mark’s not going to start,” Kelly said.
What if Bradford’s knee keeps him from practicing at times, Sanchez throws 14 interceptions and Tim Tebow throws 14 touchdowns? Based on Kelly’s logic, Tebow would have to be the starter.
In reality, it seems more reasonable that Bradford and Sanchez are competing for the No. 1 spot while Tebow and Matt Barkley are competing to be the No. 3 quarterback. A great preseason by Tebow or Barkley could change that, but that’s the way it looks right now.
One Eagle had a different view. Outside linebacker Brandon Graham appeared on Detroit radio station WGPR (107.5 FM). Graham, a Detroit native, said he believes Tebow will play “a lot.”
“Tim Tebow is going to shock a lot of people, because he is going to make the team,” Graham told host Lauren Beasley. “And I think he will play a lot.”
Now it could be that Graham was simply going by speculation that was fairly common when the Eagles signed Tebow. With the NFL considering changes to the point-after touchdown rules (it adopted a rule that would give teams a choice between a 32-yard PAT or going for two from the 2-yard line), the thought was that Kelly saw Tebow as a possible two-point specialist.
That would mean having Tebow active on game days, which is not typical for third-team quarterbacks. Still, Kelly could be willing to try it.
Or it could be that Graham simply based his comment on what he saw of Tebow during OTAs. If Graham thought Tebow appeared capable of making an impact in certain packages and formations, then Tebow certainly would be a candidate to make the team.
Would that be a “shock?” A little bit. Tebow has been out of the NFL for two seasons after failing to make the Patriots two summers ago. Last year, he was a college football analyst for ESPN.
But Tebow has continued to work out and spent time with throwing-mechanics coach Tom House. He had some less impressive days during OTAs, but that’s typical for quarterbacks getting their first work in Kelly’s offense.
Kelly has seemed less than confident in Barkley, a fourth-round pick in 2013 who has been the No. 3 quarterback for two seasons. Last year, when the season finale against the New York Giants had no playoff implications, Kelly could have let Barkley play. He started Sanchez instead.
So it wouldn’t be shocking if Tebow, a former Heisman Trophy winner and first-round draft choice, beat out Barkley for a roster spot. It would be more interesting than shocking if Kelly devised some plays to take advantage of Tebow’s ability to run the ball.
PHILADELPHIA – NFL teams are reporting to training camp this week. The Eagles, who hit the field at the NovaCare Complex on Sunday (Aug. 2) are one of the last teams to start camp.
When they do, there will be a quarterback competition as well as a slew of new defensive players to watch come together. This week, as we count down to the start of camp, we’ll take a look at some of the less obvious issues that will be addressed this summer. Today: the state of the linebackers.
A year ago, Trent Cole and Connor Barwin were set to start at outside linebacker for the Eagles, and first-round pick Marcus Smith was expected to take his time easing into the rotation. Brandon Graham, meanwhile, figured to lose playing time as Smith’s increased.
It was, in short, a relatively clear picture. This summer, with training camp about to open, that picture is a lot harder to see.
Cole is gone, a victim of turning 32 and counting nearly $8.5 million against the Eagles’ salary cap. Graham signed a new contract and is in line to replace Cole at outside linebacker.
Meanwhile, the Eagles added inside linebacker Kiko Alonso in the LeSean McCoy trade. Alonso, 24, is expected to start. So are Ryans and Kendricks. Simple math tells you there are three players and only two starting positions. Something has to give and no one had indicated yet exactly what that something is.
Simply put, the Eagles have too much depth at inside linebacker and not enough at outside linebacker.
Ryans seems like the obvious odd man out on the inside. He missed the second half of the 2014 season with a torn Achilles tendon, his second such tear in four years. Ryans turned 31 on Tuesday. That makes him six years older than Alonso and Kendricks, who will both be 25 by the end of September.
But there’s one small hitch in the plan to start Kendricks and Alonso: Chip Kelly really likes Ryans, as both a player and as a leader. During the offseason, after trading for Alonso, Kelly reworked Ryans’ contract, adding another year to it. Ryans is now signed through 2016 and remains very much in the picture as a starter.
There are ways for defensive coordinator Bill Davis to get Alonso, Kendricks and Ryans on the field at the same time. Indeed, that strategy would minimize the issue of lack of depth at outside linebacker. Kendricks and Alonso are both able to line up outside and blitz the quarterback or cover a tight end or running back.
Can Smith do those things effectively? The answer to that question will determine whether he plays more in 2015 or whether he is simply a bust. Kelly’s gaining of power over personnel decisions could be bad news for players drafted earlier. Kelly didn’t select them so he is not likely to carry them for the sake of appearance. He has been very matter-of-fact about Smith’s inability to crack the rotation at linebacker. Smith just wasn’t as good as Graham or Matthews.
If Smith shows up for camp looking and playing like a prospect, there will be room for him. Graham played on 43 percent of defensive plays last season. That workload will be available, with Smith, Travis Long and Bryan Braman vying for snaps.
The mainstay is Barwin, who had a breakout season last year. Barwin’s 14½ sacks were the most by an NFC player last season. A similar season is likely as Barwin gets more comfortable playing alongside defensive end Fletcher Cox and exploiting the opportunities created by Cox’s play.
PHILADELPHIA -- It sure looks like Roger Goodell gave the Philadelphia Eagles a one-game disadvantage in the 2015 NFC East race.
The NFL commissioner upheld Tom Brady's four-game suspension on Tuesday. That means the New England quarterback will miss the first four games of the season, including the Patriots' Oct. 11 game in Dallas. That comes a week after New England's bye, but chances are, the Cowboys will be prohibitive favorites at home against Jimmy Garoppolo or Matt Flynn.
Brady will return for the following week's game against Indianapolis. He will be eligible to play in games against Washington and the New York Giants. On Dec. 6, when the Patriots host the Eagles, Brady will be behind center.
That means Brady will miss only one game against an NFC East opponent -- Dallas. He will play against the other three NFC East teams. Considering the division hasn't been won by more than a two-game margin since 2008, that is a significant advantage for the Cowboys.
That advantage could evaporate if Brady and the NFL Players Association contest his suspension in federal court. If that happens, Brady would likely be allowed to play while the legal system does its business. In that case, Brady may play out the 2015 season and face a possible suspension later.
PHILADELPHIA -- Let's start with a technicality. Sam Bradford did not tear the same anterior cruciate ligament twice.
Bradford tore his left ACL in November 2014. When Dr. James Andrews performed surgery on Bradford's knee, he built a new ACL out of tissue taken from elsewhere in Bradford's body. So it was a totally different ACL that tore Aug. 23 during a preseason game. And it is a third ACL, built from new tissue, that is helping to stabilize Bradford's knee as he returns to training camp on Sunday.
Why point that out? Only to underscore the medical details surrounding the risk Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly decided to take by trading Nick Foles for Bradford. It is a risk that some NFL teams would not take, a point made last week by ESPN's Louis Riddick. Riddick, who worked for the Eagles as a personnel executive from 2008 to 2013, told 97.5 The Fanatic that he wouldn't have traded for Bradford.
"Would I have traded for someone like that?" Riddick said. "My first inclination would be to say 'No.' I'm very much one of those guys who believes that someone who has an injury history before will have an injury history after. It's very hard to shake it.
"Especially when you're talking about that position and the nature of his injury, it's just hard to shake that history."
Kelly had a different view. He said the Eagles studied the history of players returning from two ACL tears. The study showed that there was a "10 to 12 percent chance" of re-injury.
"Everybody gets hurt in this game," Kelly said. "I don't know any quarterback that hasn't missed time. ... Our research in terms of dealing with guys with two ACLs, there's a 10 to 12 percent chance of re-injury. That's an 88 to 90 percent chance that they're going to be successful."
Kelly took those odds because he simply didn't see another way to upgrade the quarterback position. After two seasons in which Michael Vick and Foles missed games with three different injuries, Kelly felt it was time to try something new.
He looked around and saw that elite quarterbacks only occasionally changed teams. And when they did, it was usually because they were injured. San Diego chose not to re-sign Drew Brees after he badly injured his shoulder at the end of the 2005 season. The Chargers had taken Philip Rivers in the 2004 draft and felt he was ready to be their No. 1 quarterback. Brees signed with the New Orleans Saints and has been one of the NFL's premier quarterbacks ever since.
After Peyton Manning missed the 2011 season with a neck injury, the Indianapolis Colts were in position to select Andrew Luck in the 2012 draft. Manning was signed by the Denver Broncos. He hasn't missed a start in the three seasons since, and took the Broncos to the Super Bowl in the 2013 season.
"We looked at everything," Kelly said. "We knew we weren't going to pick No. 1 or No. 2 [in the draft]. If you're not going to pick 1 or 2, how do you go get a quarterback? Peyton Manning switched teams because of injury. Drew Brees switched teams because of injury. We went down that route."
No one has to tell Kelly that there's a risk involved with Bradford. He simply felt that risk was preferable to the risk of trying to take the Eagles to the next level with Foles as his starting quarterback.
"We know it's a risk, but it's a risk we're willing to take," Kelly said.
PHILADELPHIA – It’s a potent combination: intense passion plus relentless disappointment. That is what has shaped Philadelphia Eagles fans over the past 55 years.
Those fans were dubbed the “most hated” in the NFL by SI.com this week. That wasn’t all that surprising. And in a way, it’s almost a compliment. According to the SI piece, the “most hated” coach (Bill Belichick) and franchise (the New England Patriots) also happen to be the NFL’s most successful of this century.
If Eagles fans have distinguished themselves by annoying and offending opponents and their fans, then that is hardly an insult. It seems a little tired for SI’s Doug Farrar to open with a retelling of the 1968 incident in which Eagles fans booed Santa Claus.
But Farrar does get most of the story right. The Santa Claus in question, Frank Olivo, was a 19-year-old fan. He was asked to fill in when the original Santa Claus hired for the Eagles’ halftime show did not show up. Olivo was not a convincing Santa, but most of the fans’ ire was directed at a team that was effective on the field as it was at staging halftime entertainment.
Not only were the 1968 Eagles bad, they were bad at being bad. After losing their first 11 games, the team went on an absurd two-game winning streak. That knocked the Eagles out of contention for the No. 1 pick in the 1969 NFL draft, which was used on USC running back O.J. Simpson. They finished the season 2-12.
The Eagles have been to two Super Bowls. They lost both of them. After the first loss, popular head coach Dick Vermeil resigned, citing burnout. After the second loss, wide receiver Terrell Owens staged a campaign for a new contract that tore the team apart, embarrassed quarterback Donovan McNabb and ended with Owens being released in the middle of a ruined 2005 season.
That second Super Bowl appearance came after the Andy Reid-coached Eagles lost three consecutive NFC championship games. The team lost another NFC title game after the 2008 season and hasn’t won a playoff game since.
In many cities, that would mean an empty stadium or apathetic fans. Not in Philadelphia. Through decades in joyless Veterans Stadium and years in Lincoln Financial Field, they are always there. If their disappointment occasionally manifests as anger – at the home team or at the opposing team – that shouldn’t be surprising.
Covering the NFL for 30 years, I’ve seen fights in the stands and heard fans cheer opponents’ injuries all over the country. Nobody ever seems to make a big deal out of it unless it happens in Philadelphia. If Eagles fans are the most hated, it’s safe to say the feeling is mutual.
The Philadelphia Eagles open training camp on Aug. 2 at the NovaCare Complex in Philadelphia. Here’s a closer look at the Eagles' camp, which wraps up on Aug. 21:
Top storyline: Coach Chip Kelly declared an open competition for the starting quarterback job, giving Mark Sanchez a legitimate opportunity to win the job. But Kelly also invested Nick Foles, a second-round pick and $13 million in salary for one year of Sam Bradford.
The No. 1 story of this training camp will be Bradford’s ability to put his knee injuries in the past -- to get on the field, stay on the field and perform well on the field. If Bradford lives up to Kelly’s hopes and looks like an elite quarterback in the Eagles’ offense, then Kelly’s bold move to acquire him will look like a stroke of genius.
But if Sanchez is behind center for the season opener in Atlanta, it will be fair to wonder if Kelly’s tenure in Philadelphia will be forever hampered by his inability to identify a true franchise quarterback. That is what’s at stake during this training camp.
Position battles to watch: There will be competition for the starting guard positions on the offensive line, but good luck following that without being able to watch game tape with the coaching staff.
As far as battles to watch, there is the Bradford/Sanchez show at quarterback. And there is the secondary, where two of the starting jobs are wide open. Nolan Carroll will try to fend off second-round pick Eric Rowe at cornerback, and Walter Thurmond will attempt to switch from nickel corner to safety with Earl Wolff nipping at his heels the whole time.
In making so many changes to his roster, Kelly was determined to create competition for starting spots. He succeeded.
Veterans to watch: There are two subsets of this category. There is the group of players trying to return from serious injuries: Bradford and linebackers DeMeco Ryans and Kiko Alonso among them. And there are the veterans who have started for the past two years under Kelly but will be challenged in this camp.
That second group includes tight end Brent Celek, a Kelly favorite who could be overtaken by hard-working Zach Ertz, and Riley Cooper, who remains at the top of the depth chart after a disappointing 2014 season but could be displaced by Jordan Matthews, Josh Huff or first-round pick Nelson Agholor.
On defense, the Eagles gave Brandon Graham a new contract to succeed Trent Cole at outside linebacker. But 2014 first-round pick Marcus Smith will be fighting to secure a job. And Graham’s job is the one he has his eyes on.
Rookies to watch: Kelly likes to bring rookies along slowly. Agholor could accelerate the process because of the need to replace Jeremy Maclin. Agholor has all the tools. It’s just a question of how quickly Kelly feels comfortable putting them to good use.
With the logjam at inside linebacker, third-round pick Jordan Hicks might have to make his initial mark on special teams. It will take a strong preseason for Hicks to move ahead of Alonso, Ryans and Mychal Kendricks.
Bubble watch: Most of the veterans who were in jeopardy -- Cole, Todd Herremans, Cary Williams, etc. -- are already gone because of Kelly’s aggressive offseason. The ones who survived this long are liked enough by Kelly to survive right through the season.
But there are some well-liked vets who could be casualties during camp. If Ryans or Kendricks falter because of injuries or performance, either could be cut to clear the way for Alonso or Hicks.
If Celek and Cooper aren’t at the top of their game, strong blocking might not be enough to secure their jobs. Not when Ertz and Matthews are working hard to improve their blocking while continuing to be threats in the passing game.
On defense, time is running short for Wolff. Kelly seemed annoyed that Wolff's knee was preventing him from full participation in organized team activities. Wolff needs to make a strong showing in camp and show that he is better than Walter Thurmond. If he doesn't, he could be gone before the season starts.
The Tebow Factor: Whatever else is going on with this team, there will be a separate spotlight focused on Tim Tebow. That’s just the way it is. Kelly knew that when he signed Tebow to compete for the No. 3 quarterback spot.
Matt Barkley looked pretty good during OTAs, but Tebow adds an element that Kelly might find intriguing. Can the coach find a way to make use of Tebow’s talents as a runner? Can Kelly figure out a way to dress Tebow for games despite limited roster spots? Will Tebow’s hard work with throwing mechanics guru Tom House pay dividends?
It will all be answered over the next month.
For daily updates at camp, check out the Philadelphia Eagles clubhouse page.