As training camp comes into full swing, let's take a look at some of the position battles going on at Eagles training camp.
It is a shame that this has become a battle for the starter, as it wasn't a week ago when Stewart Bradley was healthy. Bradley is one of the best young linebackers in the league, and was probably going to make the pro bowl this season. Not only that, he was definitely one of the leaders on the defensive side of the ball, which is especially important now without Brian Dawkins, or Jim Johnson around.
Anyways, the middle linebacker battle seems to be between 2nd year player Joe Mays, Omar Gaither, and newly acquired Matt Wilhelm, who spent last season with the Chargers. Joe Mays appears to have the upper hand, as he has been taking all the reps at starting middle linebacker since Bradley got injured. Gaither has played middle linebacker for the Eagles in the past, and did a decent job there. Wilhelm also has plenty of experience, but was recently released by the Chargers. I personally am a big Joe Mays fan. The guy looks like a beast when you watch him play. He is a little undersized, but really attacks the ball and runs downhill. Mays should do a good job against the run, but needs to improve his play against the pass.
With Brian Dawkins no longer on the team, this position is almost impossible to fill, not only on the field, but also from a leadership standpoint. This battle appears to be very close, as is between Quintin Demps and Sean Jones. Demps started out taking all the first team reps, but Jones has been taking some of that action lately. Demps flat out was not good in the last game he played as an Eagle against the Cardinals. He got burned by Larry Fitzgerald on a long touchdown pass, and failed to wrap up Tim Hightower down at the goal line, which could have kept Hightower out of the end zone. The coaching staff has been talking about how good Demps looks, and I'm hoping he has improved. However, we give the nod at starting free safety to Sean Jones. Jones, the former starter with the Cleveland Browns has the experience, and has very good size, while still being fast. Jones also is a guy who picks off a lot of passes, something the Eagles need from their secondary.
Left Defensive End
The starting left defensive end battle includes in incumbent starter, Juqua Parker, along with Victor Abiamiri, and Chris Clemons. All three of these players contributed effectively last season, and should all see time this season. There isn't much to say about this position battle, especially since Abiamiri has been injured throughout camp. Parker has been an effective starter, but seems to wear down easily every season. Parker goes games without making a play. I was hoping that Abiamiri would come in and win the job, as there is still a lot of hype around Abiamiri. The guy is a monster out there, and can stop the run as well as get to the quarterback.
Third Running Back
The 3rd running back might not be all that important, as the Eagles rarely use two running backs during a game. This battle appears to be between Lorenzo Booker, Eldra Buckley, and Kyle Eckel. I believe that the Eagles are only going to keep 4 running backs/fullbacks. Westbrook, LeSean McCoy, and Leonard Weaver are locks. These three will see a lot of time during the regular season. Booker, and Eckel both saw time with the Eagles last season. From what I have heard and seen, neither Booker, nor Eckel have had a great camp thus far, while Buckley has been impressive. In my opinion, I like Lorenzo Booker, but he brings nothing to the team that you don't already have in Westbrook and McCoy. Booker is a smaller running back, and he is really small. He doesn't have the strength to break tackles, or pick up blitzes consistently. I thought Kyle Eckel looked very good when he played last year for the Eagles, and would have no problem with him making the team as the 3rd running back. I also am liking what I see out of Buckley, who spent last season on the Chargers practice squad. Buckley is a bigger back who runs real hard.
There is still a long way to go in training camp, and still all four preseason games to play, so these position battles should start shaping out as we get closer to the regular season.