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NFC East camp preview: All eyes on Bradford as Eagles’ camp opens

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PHILADELPHIA — All eyes will be on the quarterback position when the Philadelphia Eagles open training camp at the NovaCare Complex on Sunday.

The Eagles will have at least 10, and possibly as many as 12, new starters this year. The most significant of those will be quarterback Sam Bradford, who was acquired from the St. Louis Rams in March.

Bradford has torn the ACL in his left knee twice in the last two years. But it didn’t dissuade Eagles coach Chip Kelly from swapping his old starting quarterback, Nick Foles, and a 2016 second-round pick for Bradford, who is entering the final year of his contract.

“It’s not easy to trade a young quarterback you had been developing (Foles) who had a terrific year the year before and got hurt last year,” owner Jeff Lurie said in March. “But you have to go on your evaluations.

“There was an opportunity to do an upside gamble with an outstanding young quarterback (Bradford) who you hope can become healthier throughout his career. It’s so hard to find a franchise quarterback. It sets the ceiling on what you have as a team. Do you want to take upside gambles or not? You have to make that decision.”

Bradford suffered the second ACL tear last August. The Eagles’ doctors feel there’s about a 10 to 12 percent chance of reinjury.

“That’s 88 to 90 percent (chance) of full recovery,” Kelly said. “That’s what we went with.”

The Eagles took it slow with Bradford in the spring. He wore a brace on the knee during OTAs and minicamps and didn’t participate in any 11-on-11 team work. But that is expected to change when training camp opens. Last month, Bradford said if he isn’t doing 11-on-11 work when camp opens, “there’s something dramatically wrong.”

Kelly has said Bradford will “compete” for the starting quarterback job with Mark Sanchez, who started eight games last year after Foles broke his collarbone. But Bradford has a $13 million cap number this season. If he’s healthy, he will be the season-opening starter.

“It’s always an open competition,” Kelly said. “You still have to go out and win your job. If Sam goes out in the preseason and throws 14 interceptions, and Mark throws 14 touchdowns, I can’t sit there and tell our team that Sam’s going to start and Mark’s not going to start. It doesn’t work that way.”

There are a lot of questions heading into training camp. Who will replace guards Todd Herremans and two-time Pro Bowler Evan Mathis, who were both released? Who will be the starting wideouts?

Will third-year tight end Zach Ertz show enough blocking prowess to wrestle the starting job from veteran Brent Celek? What’s going to happen at the crowded inside linebacker spot, where newcomer Kiko Alonso joins Mychal Kendricks and DeMeco Ryans?

Can Walter Thurmond make the transition from corner to safety? Can Nolan Carroll beat out rookie second-round pick Eric Rowe for the cornerback job opposite Byron Maxwell?

CAMP CALENDAR

Aug. 1: Rookies and veterans report.

Aug. 2: First practice.

–Team strength: Defensive line.

Ends Fletcher Cox and Cedric Thornton and nose tackle Bennie Logan haven’t missed a start in two seasons. They are one of the league’s best 3-4 lines. They are solid against the run. Cox and nickel rusher Vinny Curry are keys to a pass rush that put up 49 sacks last season.

–Breakout player: Tight end Zach Ertz.

Ertz is one of the league’s better pass-catching tight ends but has had his snaps limited because of his shortcomings as a blocker. He still managed to catch 58 passes last season and figures to benefit from the arrival of Sam Bradford.

–Work in progress: Offensive line.

Kelly took a major gamble by getting rid of both of his starting guards – two-time Pro Bowler Evan Mathis and Todd Herremans. Both were 33 but were still playing well. Center Jason Kelce and tackles Jason Peters and Lane Johnson all are Pro Bowl-caliber players, but the two likely replacements for Mathis and Herremans — Allen Barbre and Matt Tobin — have 15 combined starts.

Behind those five, there isn’t a lot of depth. The Eagles didn’t select an offensive lineman in either of the last two drafts. If they get another rash of injuries like last season, their offense could be crippled.


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