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Training Camp Battles to Expect

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You know who the quarterback is going to be, at least for the next two years, and nine other positions on offense are pretty much set as well.

So when the Eagles open training camp at Lehigh University, July 26, what should you look for in terms of position battles?

Here are five starting jobs that no matter what they tell you will have at least somewhat of an open competition.
 
Center

Jamaal Jackson vs. Nick Cole: The only spot on offense that isn’t filled, assuming Stacy Andrews is healthy, has Jackson, the incumbent, taking on Cole in a battle of undrafted players.

Jackson, 6-4, 330, did not play as well in 2008 as he did in 2006 and 2007. Part of that could have been mental after the tragic death of his brother before the season. Then again, this will be Jackson’s sixth year in the league and perhaps his play is just starting to deteriorate. We’ve seen it before at this position with unheralded players such as Bubba Miller and Hank Fraley.

Cole, 6-0, 350, does not have ideal height to anchor the line, but certainly has the girth to do so. He was given a shot at right guard last year when both Shawn Andrews and Max Jean-Gilles went out with injuries and played well. He was noticeably better than Jean-Gilles.

Money could be a factor in this one as well. Cole just signed a one-year deal worth $1.54 million. Jackson will earn less than half of that this year at $725,000, and there are $7 million worth of playing-time incentives in his contract that runs through 2012.
 
Left Defensive End

Victor Abiamiri vs. Juqua Parker: Abiamiri, the second-round draft pick in 2007 goes in as the player the Eagles want to win the starting job. He’s a classic early-down run stopper at end, which would allow Parker to be the third-down pass rusher he is.

That would give the Eagles the perfect rotation it looks for in its defensive front.

Here’s the catch, Abiamiri, while loaded with potential, has yet to show anything. He couldn’t get on the field for whatever reason as a rookie and a wrist injury all but ruined 2008 for him.

When he did play effectively last year it was as an inside pass rusher on third down. That’s not what his role is supposed to be.

In his third year out of Notre Dame, Abiamiri needs to be the player the team thought he was when it selected him in the second round of the 2007 draft. If not, the pass-rushing Parker will win the job again.    
 
 Weakside Linebacker

Akeem Jordan vs. Omar Gaither: Jordan, who took over halfway through last season and seemed to make a difference in stopping the run, goes in as the starter. You have to think Gaither, the former starter, will at least get a chance to win back his job.

While the perception is the defense got better because of Jordan. That may have been a coincidence.

Jordan recorded 52 tackles last year, six behind the line, and did not have a sack, an interception or force a fumble. He did recover a fumble.

Gaither, in about the same number of plays, recorded 63 tackles, seven behind the line, had two-and-a-half sacks and also recovered a fumble.

Jordan may provide more consistency, but there’s little doubt that Gaither is more of a playmaker, which is kind of what you want on the weak side.
 
Cornerback

Sheldon Brown vs. Ellis Hobbs: In reality this might be Brown v Eagles Management. The outspoken cornerback made it clear this offseason that he was not happy with his current contract and before he was done complaining the team traded two fifth-round draft picks to New England for Hobbs.

Word also got out that the Eagles tossed Brown’s name around in trade talks before and during the draft.

We’ve seen this happen before with safety Mike Lewis and cornerback Lito Sheppard, who coincidentally were both part of the same 2002 Draft Class as Brown, where they lost jobs to lesser players.

If the fight is fair and the battle is waged on the field, Brown wins in a knockout and Hobbs becomes a good backup and the team’s kickoff returnman.
 
Free Safety

Quintin Demps vs. Sean Jones: Who replaces Brian Dawkins?

Demps, the second-year man who struggled at times as a rookie, is the starter as camp opens. Jones, signed as a free agent from Cleveland, will have to win the job at Lehigh.

Coordinator Jim Johnson, in his appearance during the team’s post-draft minicamp, said he viewed Jones more of a strong safety, even though he played free in Cleveland and made plays doing so.

Demps, who some scouts felt was more of a cornerback than a safety before the 2008 draft, needs a lot of work on fundamentals to be the starter. He has tools. He just needs the instructions on how to use them.