NFC East training-camp reports

Posted Aug. 15, 2011 @ 8:44 p.m.
Posted By PFW staff


Juiciest story line: The lack of juice has been interesting, even with Rob Ryan. The new defensive coordinator has lived up to his name by being bombastic and fiery, but he hasn't been the lightning rod many expected. Instead, his juice mostly has been in his innovative system, which will use different personnel packages, unusual looks and pressure schemes. His comments about an "all-hype team" might not have been aimed only at the Eagles, but also at his brother's team, the Jets.

Player to watch: Most eyes are on first-round ORT Tyron Smith, one of the younger players in the NFL who is slated to start from Day One. But the team already is helping him by moving Kyle Kosier from left to right guard to be on Smith's hip with Montrae Holland currently out injured, and you can bet there will be a lot of multiple-TE formations to help Smith.

Strongest position: Linebacker could be scary good, especially with Ryan pushing the buttons. We know about DeMarcus Ware, and the other returning starters (OLB Anthony Spencer and ILBs Bradie James and Keith Brooking). But Sean Lee could unseat Brooking, and Victor Butler might be Ryan's most interesting toy. He has used Butler in a variety of spots: over the nose in a three-man line, standing up and rushing from different gaps. A few undrafted rookies — Oklahoma State's Orie Lemon and Boston College's Alex Albright  also have flashed. When second-rounder Bruce Carter gets on the field, look out.

Weakest position: The backups on the offensive line have no experience whatsoever. With Holland and C Andre Gurode hurt, Phil Costa (four NFL games) is a starter along with Smith (zero starts). Kosier is at a new position, and OLT Doug Free has only a year of starting under his belt. David Arkin, impressive as he has been in camp so far, is the best-looking backup. No one else has started an NFL game, which is frightening. Expect them to comb the waiver wire for help.



Juiciest story line: Clearly, the team needs some calm here, and it has to mend fences with DE Osi Umenyiora. Head coach Tom Coughlin doesn't want to compromise his values, but he also knows he can't have too many more bad vibes rippling through this team. Umenyiora, even when he wasn't completely satisfied last season, also turned in a monster campaign. They need him to play and play well.

Player to watch: Second-year DT Linval Joseph might be first in line to replace Barry Cofield, but second-round pick Marvin Austin will play a lot as a rookie if healthy. A hip flexor has set him back a bit in camp, but even missing last season hasn't dwindled the team's hope that Austin will be a big contributor in Year One. He might not be as stout as Joseph but is more athletic and could be a quality penetrator.

Strongest position: With receiver taking a hit with the loss of Steve Smith and the offensive line in transition, it's probably the offensive backfield with RBs Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs leading the way and some interesting depth with D.J. Ware, Charles Scott, Andre Brown and Da'Rel Scott. Not all of those backs will make the team, but they provide different styles and could make the run game more dynamic. It might have to be if the receivers are not up to par.

Weakest position: It remains linebacker, which was the weak spot last season. The move of Mathias Kiwanuka to a stand-up position on first and second downs should help put another playmaker on the field, and the team almost certainly will play with only one or two linebackers on the field in nickel and dime situations. It's just not an overly talented, deep or versatile position.



Juiciest story line: One of the more intriguing situations is at cornerback, where three Pro Bowlers still roam. Is there room for all of them? On the opening defensive series of the first preseason game, Asante Samuel was the left corner, and Nnamdi Asomugha was the right corner, with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie coming on at nickel. Depending on how the linebackers play, they could use their nickel package more often than not.

Player to watch: Casey Matthews is the starting middle linebacker until he's knocked from his spot. He has handled all the defensive signals from his first training-camp practice and so far has been impressive. Considering the linebackers are considered the most questionable spot on defense  and, of course, considering his last name  Matthews will be a man in focus this preseason.

Strongest position: Samuel might be a gambler, Asomugha might have only 11 career picks and Rodgers-Cromartie has been up and down since entering the league, but whom are we kidding? This kind of depth and talent at cornerback is rare. If you also consider that the Eagles have an experienced nickel back in Joselio Hanson and two recent draft picks in Trevard Lindley and Curtis Marsh, the depth is exceptional. Don't be shocked if Hanson  not Samuel  ends up on another roster.

Weakest position: Matthews might prove to be a quick study, but will he make plays? The same can be asked about the other projected LB starters, Jamar Chaney and Moise Fokou, both of whom are in new spots. The team doesn't value linebacker as much as other positions, so you often will see only two 'backers on the field.



Juiciest story line: Clearly, the QB battle will be the story of August. It appeared to be John Beck's job to lose, but Mike Shanahan since has softened that stance and hinted that Rex Grossman very much is in the mix. Grossman stunned some folks when he predicted the Redskins would win the NFC East, but we hear the bravado went over well in the locker room.

Player to watch: OLT Trent Williams, who had an up-and-down rookie season, showed up to camp looking more svelte and ready to go. Now he must master the all-for-one zone scheme that favors athleticism and precision over sheer power, and the sky could be the limit.

Strongest position: Chris Cooley's left knee injury isn't considered serious  yet. So, assuming he's healthy, tight end is in good shape with Cooley, Fred Davis, Logan Paulsen and Mike Sellers (who has moved from fullback). The secondary also could be a strength if some depth is found and the cornerbacks are more consistent. LaRon Landry, the Redskins' best defender last season, is still out with an Achilles tendon injury.

Weakest position: Until someone steps up, it's quarterback. There are myriad issues all over, but Beck and Grossman are questions until they step up and make plays  and do so in regular-season games. Beck has not taken advantage of a golden opportunity, having been slowed by a groin injury.