Spring football is over. Next up for the Eagles is training camp at Lehigh. While the practices of the last six or so weeks were of the non-contact variety, the players are better off for having gone through them. Just ask the rookie classes of 2010 and 2011 who didn't have OTAs last year.
We didn't find out anything definitive in the OTAs because players weren't wearing pads or hitting. That wasn't real football. Guys running around in shorts and shadowing each other is very different from what will happen starting in late July when the pads go on. Still, there was a lot to see and take in.
Rather than go through every player or even every position, let's cover some of the things that stood out, good or bad.
Mychal Kendricks was the guy who seemed to generate the most buzz. He is the highest drafted linebacker since Barry Gardner, but those two players could not be less alike. Barry was a Big Ten linebacker that relied more on smarts than speed. Kendricks started outside and then moved to the middle. He can rush the passer, stuff the run, cover, and do anything else you can think of. Gardner's limitations were evident pretty quickly. Kendricks speed and athleticism stood out from the first moments he was on the practice field.
There are still concerns with Kendricks. He is the shortest SAM linebacker in a while. That might be a factor or it might not, but it surely will be a point that is closely watched. The defensive coaches did some blitzing in the OTAs and Kendricks really stood out. He had 13.5 career sacks so getting to the quarterback is something Kendricks can do well. We don't know if the coaches will blitz more during the season, but it is good to know the team finally has an outside linebacker who can be a good blitzer.
Kendricks was solid in coverage. He's still got a lot to learn, but there is no doubting his speed and movement skills. Rookie linebackers have not exactly set the world on fire under Andy Reid. Kendricks is off to a great start and could be the guy to break that trend.
The Eagles are rolling the dice on Mike Kafka as the backup quarterback. This has more than a few fans nervous. Kafka wants to impress the fans, but he needs to impress the coaches and his teammates. So far, so good. He didn't set the world on fire, but looked good enough for people to relax a bit. Kafka is bigger and stronger than last year. He got a taste of game action last September and that has fueled him through the offseason. Kafka now knows what regular season football is like. He's seen the speed of the game. That convinced him to work on his body. He's throwing the ball better than ever and has the look of a backup quarterback (as opposed to a young number three type who is still figuring things out).
Asante Samuel is gone and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is his replacement. DRC is off to a good start. He is an exceptional athlete so seeing him run around and make plays on the move is no major surprise. DRC needs to show he can tackle and be an effective run defender up at Lehigh. He also needs to show that he can handle life opposite of Nnamdi Asomugha. Teams will throw at DRC to avoid Asomugha. That will probably start at Lehigh and won't stop until January or February, whenever the season is over. While DRC should stand out in athletic practices, it is still good to see him do that. His confidence had to be a bit shaken after a wild 2011 where he adjusted to a new team, a new scheme, a new position, and had to deal with injuries. DRC is playing at a high level and looks all the way back to where he was last summer when life was good.
I was hoping Clay Harbor would really get it going this year and would be so good he would force the coaches to get him the ball. From various reports, Harbor had trouble catching the ball in the OTAs. That's not good. We know he can block, but his ability as a receiver is up in the air. He's shown good potential, but has yet to light it up. Now Harbor might be fighting for a roster spot instead of more touches. Brett Brackett had a good showing at the OTAs. He caught the ball and flashed good athletic ability. Brackett now has to show that he can block. He's a former wide receiver so that's a big challenge. Harbor and Brackett could have an interesting battle up at Lehigh.
One pass catcher that did shine in the OTAs is rookie Damaris Johnson. The diminutive receiver from Tulsa got everyone's attention with his quickness and speed. He caught the ball well and was very impressive on the move. The non-contact practices allowed a small guy like Johnson to shine. The question now is how he'll handle things when he's getting hit and tackled. He certainly did open some eyes. Good start for him.
Jeremy Maclin is a proven commodity, but there was a lot of talk about him anyway. Maclin had a down year in 2011 for a few reasons. He is back healthy and ready to go. He's added some muscle, but still has his speed and quickness. Maclin is a good player now. The question facing him is if he can take the next step and become a very good or even great player.
One of the real stars of the OTAs was rookie Brandon Boykin. He is fighting for the nickel corner spot with Joselio Hanson. By most accounts, Hanson played well and looked good, but Boykin stood out. You could see his speed and athleticism. He used an impressive vertical leap to break up some passes. Boykin has a realistic chance to be the Eagles nickel corner and primary kickoff returner in 2012. Great start for him.
The Eagles signed Trent Edwards with the hope that he could push Mike Kafka for the backup quarterback spot. So far, not so good. The Eagles decided to work on Edwards mechanics in a big way. That led to some really erratic (if not flat out bad) passing by Edwards early on. He did improve as the adjustments became more natural to him, but Edwards hasn't impressed by any stretch of the imagination. He'll need a sensational showing at Lehigh to be in the mix for anything. Heck, it wouldn't be shocking for the Eagles to cut him prior to even starting camp.
Rookie Nick Foles had a solid spring. Like any rookie, he had his ups and downs. Nick threw the ball well when he stuck with proper mechanics. The problem is that he's coming from the spread offense in college and his mechanics can get sloppy at times. That leads to sloppy throws. The more he practices, the more the spread will go away and he'll become accustomed to playing under center and using proper mechanics. The Eagles are very impressed so far and think he can start in the future.
One of the hot names this spring is Bryce Brown, the running back from Kansas State. Actually, that is almost wrong. He was barely there and only had three carries for the Wildcats in 2011. The Eagles opened some eyes when they picked him in the seventh round, but now Brown is the one opening eyes. He has looked very good, both as a runner and receiver. His combination of size and speed isn't something the Eagles have had in recent years. Brown is off to a great start, but must show he can stay focused and handle the business of pro football. Things were great in the spring, but there will be bumps in the road at training camp. Can he handle them?
There isn't much to say about offensive or defensive linemen based on non-contact practices, but Brandon Graham impressed everyone by coming into the OTAs in terrific shape. He is completely different than the guy who was rehabbing last year. Graham was overweight and highly frustrated at that point. He's now sleek and fired up to show what he can do. Graham did flash a good burst. He's showing no obvious signs of any problems with his repaired knee. The injury happened late in 2010 so he should be 100 percent ready to go by now. Graham is sick of hearing about Jason Pierre-Paul and wants to show the world that he is a good player and that the Eagles didn't make a mistake by taking him.
The OTAs are just part of the offseason process. Next up is training camp. Then there is preseason football. Player evaluations will change a lot between now and mid-August. Some players thrive in a non-contact setting. Some are really good in practice. Others show up best in games. By the end of it all, the Eagles will know who the best 53 are and those are the guys who will stick around.