As the Philadelphia Eagles prepare for their pre-season opener on Aug. 11, they are a team in transition. They are not truly a contender, nor are they rebuilding. Rather, the organization is distancing itself from the bygone Chip Kelly era, and restructuring the roster in order to allow Doug Pederson to succeed with his own personnel. As a byproduct, Philadelphia has had a training camp rife with competition. Here are the most compelling position battles going forward:
With Jordan Matthews coming off a breakout year playing in the slot position, the biggest competition among the wide receiver group has been for playing time on the outside. On one hand, Reuben Randle has been praised by Pederson for his impact on and off the field. However, while Randle’s production has stood out early, Chris Givens’ average of 16.6 yards per catch for his career, and Nelson Agholor’s flashes of brilliance will surely keep the hierarchy on the depth chart interesting as the pre-season moves forward.
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Ryan Mathews is, by all accounts, going to be the starting running back for the Eagles in 2016. However, the 28-year-old has been hampered by injuries for his entire career, including a groin injury that slowed him in 2015, and a sprained ankle that he suffered trying to prepare for training camp this year. Considering that Mathews has only carried the ball at least 200 times twice in his career Pederson will likely be paying close attention to the other options in his backfield, such as Darren Sproles, Wendell Smallwood, and Kenjon Barner.
In all likelihood, Leodis McKelvin will occupy one of the starting cornerback spots. The veteran cornerback provides Philadelphia with experience, and was brought over from Buffalo by Jim Schwartz. What is truly interesting is whether Eric Rowe, who fought his way into a starting spot last year, can earn that spot once more against Nolan Carroll, who is a veteran corner playing on a one-year contract. Beyond that, it will be intriguing to see if rookie Jalen Mills can keep up the production that has been turning heads at camp, and steal some playing time.
Connor Barwin, who had seven sacks last year, has been the presumptive starter at this position for some time. However, Brandon Graham is the better fit as a 4-3 end. With Barwin and Graham likely to split snaps under Schwartz, it will be interesting to see if Graham can overtake Barwin, who may be starting to decline as he ages, and get the bulk of the playing time.
After losing Cody Parkey to injury in 2015, the Eagles signed Caleb Sturgis to replace him. And while Parkey showed real promise in making the Pro Bowl at the kicker position early in his career, Sturgis rebounded after a rocky start to 2015, and finished strong, making this one of the closest battles on the depth chart.