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August 28, 2015

Breakfast with the Birds: The Eagles’ key players are healthy… so far

Although the Eagles acquired a bunch of players with injury histories during Chip Kelly’s whirlwind first offseason calling the shots, they’re doing OK from a health standpoint as we wrap up the third week of training camp. JaCorey Shepherd and Travis Long both suffered torn ACLs, but they were depth pieces. Zach Ertz’s “core muscle injury” is concerning, but he should be back when the regular season starts or shortly after.

As for the key players, Kelly has generally been cautious and they’re still on track to play in the opener. Mark Saltveit, who has written a couple of books about Kelly, writes over at FishDuck that taking it slow is part of the Eagles’ philosophy when it comes to rehabilitation:

So how do you plan for injuries? In my new book Controlled Chaos, I discuss the Eagles’ new “reconditioning” approach, and include an exclusive interview with Bill Knowles of HP Sports, a high performance rehabilitation center. Knowles was free to speak openly because he didn’t work for the Eagles at that time, but not long afterwards he was hired to rehabilitate Sam Bradford, using badminton games, among other unusual strategies.

Knowles’ philosophy can be seen in two elements of Bradford’s rehabilitation. One is the absence of a full knee brace, a tool Knowles disfavors. As Bradford told reporters recently, he reinjured his ACL last year while wearing a brace, so what’s the point? The other is the cautious pace of recovery. Knowles told me that the reconditioning approach often takes longer than traditional rehab, and the Eagles held Bradford out of the first preseason game entirely, a full year after he re-tore his ACL.

The Cowboys lost Orlando Scandrick. The Giants are without Will Beatty for a while. Washington won’t have Junior Galette and Niles Paul. Odds are, a major name from the Eagles will eventually join this list, but so far they’ve managed to avoid the costly injury.

Special teams magic

Every year, Dallas Morning News writer Rick Gosselin compiles NFL special teams rankings, and in 2014, the Eagles came in first. This wasn’t a surprise, as the Birds excelled in every area of special teams. They tied an NFL record with seven special teams touchdowns and also blocked a league-high six kicks.

Chip Kelly spends a lot of time on special teams, but it wasn’t like he didn’t do the same in 2013 when the Eagles finished 18th in Gosselin’s rankings. So why was there such an improvement? Over at Iggles Blitz, Tommy Lawlor thinks that there isn’t always a clear answer. One thing is for sure, though: The team’s overall talent level has improved quite a bit since Kelly came aboard in 2013:

There is no magic answer. If it was as simple as getting the right coach, Bobby April would have done a much better job in 2011 and 2012. It isn’t just talent. Jeremy Maclin was a great returner in college and very good receiver in the NFL, but he was lost as a returner in the pros. Lost. It isn’t just about time and energy. Plenty of coaches have tried to emphasize STs, only to see their team struggle in the kicking game.

The Eagles STs might be even better this year. Kenjon Barner has 2 return TDs already this summer and he’s the backup to Sproles. Raheem Mostert has electric speed, but hasn’t been able to return a kickoff yet. Huff and free agent Ryan Mathews look to be the primary KORs right now. The Eagles do have to replace Brandon Boykin, who was very valuable. But they have Seyi Ajirotutu, Eric Rowe, Walter Thurmond, Jerome Couplin, Jordan Hicks, Nelson Agholor, E.J. Biggers and some others to add to the mix. There should be no shortage of talent.

Speaking of special teams, good piece by Josh Paunil over at Birds 24/7 on the intricacies of special teams play. Here is E.J. Biggers talking about blocking a gunner on a punt return:

"The first people to normally get down the field are gunners, so my number one job is to not let him get down there as fast," said Biggers, who's a corner. "You try to make him turn a bunch of times and hold him up as much as you can to give your returner the space to make plays. They're little things you learn playing a couple of years that you can get away with. The refs let a couple of things go; it's kind of like a fight out there."

Thursday recap

1. Man (or men, to be specific) down: The Eagles have a pretty easy schedule this year by the numbers (which is another reason for the high expectations), and that is even before you account for all of the guys they’re going to miss due to injury, suspension, etc. It’s quite a list.

2. Bradford’s status: Surprise, surprise. Chip Kelly isn’t saying how much his starting quarterback will play on Saturday night in Green Bay. There seem to be two conflicting interests here, keeping the oft-injured Bradford upright and healthy before the regular season and getting a new signal caller reps in order to better acclimate to an up-tempo system.

3. All-Eagles fantasy team: If you: a. believe the Eagles are going to score a lot of points this season b. generally fare poorly in fantasy football trying to play the normal way… I actually don’t think this is a half-bad idea. OK, that’s not true, but it was a good thought exercise.

What they’re saying

Joe Banner joins ESPN as 'Front Office Insider’: Jeff McLane, Philadelphia Inquirer

Just the other day, I was complimenting Banner in this space on his excellent and somewhat surprising Twitter feed. Now, he’ll take his talents to television and deliver some takes of the spicy variety. Also from the piece, it’s good to see that Banner and Brian Dawkins still get along, as well:

"There's a fairly limited number of people that actually have all those things as part of their resume," Banner said. "So hopefully it will give me the ability to have some insights and be able to share with the public some perspective they'll find interesting and maybe don't have yet."

12 players who could take home the MVP trophy this season: Alex Marvez, Fox Sports

Marvez ranks DeMarco Murray tenth on the list.

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann