Only The Beginning: Eagles arrive for camp

Friday marked the opening of training camp for the Philadelphia Eagles, signifying the beginning of the 2014 season.

2013 was a year of great progress for the Eagles, going from a 4-12 team to NFC East Division champions with a 10-6 record and narrowly falling in the playoffs to the New Orleans Saints.

It was year filled with many positives and a new beginning. But that was only the beginning for Chip Kelly’s Eagles.

The success swept the nation as the Eagles rolled out win after win after starting the season 1-3. With a 3-5 record after Week 8, the Eagles finished the regular season with a 7-1 record.

Nick Foles was one of the main reasons for the Eagles turnaround. He took over as starting quarterback in Week 6 – he missed the Eagles Week 8 game against the New York Giants – and emerged as the NFL’s rising star.

But questions of Foles place as a franchise quarterback were continually raised. Foles has more job security, entering the season as the starter instead of dealing with another position battle. But the speculation still remains. Foles remains positive about his abilities and has a way to ignore the hype.

"I think a quarterback and leader and anything it’s not necessarily what you do with the limelight or anything,” Foles said. “Obviously, handling yourself in an appropriate matter is very important for you and your teammates, but I’ve always believed that you need to be who you are."

Who the Eagles are is a lot more than just Foles. Another key part to last season’s success was having the NFL’s leading rusher in LeSean McCoy.

McCoy returns with a new mate in the backfield, Darren Sproles. Expected to be a short-game weapon for Foles, Sproles gives the Eagles versatily out of the backfield.

The Eagles running game may have improved on paper, but one of the questionable aspects of the Eagles offense will be wide receiver. Two members of the receiving core will be rookies – second-round pick Jordan Matthews and third-round pick Josh Huff.

One member of the group of receivers is entering his sixth NFL season. However, he is a rookie to Kelly’s offensive system.

The 2013 season was short-lived for Jeremy Maclin after a torn ACL sidelined him for the year. He returns in 2014 as the team’s top receiver on the depth chart and the most experienced on the roster.

"I feel good, healthy. I'm just excited to play football again," Maclin said. "I had to watch last year from the couch, from the sidelines. It wasn't very fun for me. I'm blessed to be able to play this game that I love playing and I'm looking forward to going out there and helping my team win.

"If they plan on me being a big part of the offense, like I think they are, then the numbers will come. I'm not going to get wrapped up in all of that. That's how I'm going to approach the season."

The clear weak link of the Eagles in 2013 was the defense, particularly in the passing game. The Eagles ranked last among NFL teams in passing yards allowed.

For the Eagles to succeed at a similar level in 2014, it’s about sustaining offense while improving defense. Some of those areas were addressed in the offseason with new personnel. Some are veterans, like safety Malcolm Jenkins. Others are new to the NFL, like top draft pick Marcus Smith.

Two defensive players spoke upon arrival at camp and addressed the goal of making progress on defense as a whole and improving upon a successful 2013 campaign that was dominated by a powerful offense.

"I would say definitely night and day," Connor Barwin said. "We’re so much farther ahead than we were last year at this point. Last year, we were still teaching people halfway through the season. Now, the older guys are getting taught more techniques on how to be more efficient."

"[Billy Davis] knows what to expect from us. We know what we’ve got to do," Trent Cole said. "That’s why we’re having this camp. We have to learn each other and improve on the things we’re not good at and go into this new year."

Kelly will make his first address to the media on Saturday morning. Foles and DeMeco Ryans are also expected to address the media.

Saturday marks the first day of practices and drills in preparation for the team’s first preseason game on Aug. 8, when the Eagles face the Chicago Bears

Kevin Durso is a contributor for Eagledelphia. Follow him on Twitter @KDursoPhilsNet.

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