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After surprising year, Eagles have high hopes

(AP Photo/Eugene Tanner, File)

By ROB MAADDI

AP Pro Football Writer

PHILADELPHIA (AP) After a worst-to-first season that far surpassed expectations, the Philadelphia Eagles finished with a bitter taste because of a first-round playoff loss.

It also made them more determined.

Chip Kelly's team opens training camp Friday with lofty goals, looking to not only repeat in the NFC East, but make a run at the Super Bowl.

That's why every player took part in all the offseason workouts. They're more familiar with Kelly's system going into his second year, and this training camp will be spent on improving instead of learning.

"What I have seen is a real dedication to what we want to get accomplished here," Kelly said. "They want to improve. They have got a great work ethic. They have a thirst for improvement, and I think that's what we are looking for. We want a bunch of guys that like playing football, not what football gets them."

Here are some things to know about the Eagles going into camp:

NICK THE FRANCHISE: Nick Foles' emergence from backup to Pro Bowl MVP was the key to Philadelphia's success last season. It also was one of the year's biggest surprises, considering Foles lost the starting job to Michael Vick in training camp, and wasn't thought to be a fit for Kelly's up-tempo offense. But a guy who throws 29 TDs and only two interceptions and has a 119.2 passer rating will fit into any system. Foles works hard and is eager to prove he's no fluke. He's eligible for a contract extension after the season, so another big year will put him in line to get a $100 million-plus deal.

"I think if you start worrying about numbers, you stop worrying about what you're doing," Foles said during minicamp. "That's where you mess up. I'm happy for those guys who do well, but my most important thing is being successful with my teammates. When I'm playing out there, there's no dollar sign on me when I'm throwing a ball."

J-MAC BACK, D-JAX GONE: Replacing DeSean Jackson's 82 catches, 1,332 yards and nine TDs won't be easy. The Eagles are counting on Jeremy Maclin returning to form after missing last year with a torn ACL. Maclin, a first-round pick in 2009, averaged 64 catches, 863 yards and six TDs in his first four seasons. They'll also need Riley Cooper to follow up his breakout year and get contributions from rookies Jordan Matthews and Josh Huff. Do-it-all running back Darren Sproles could end up getting some of Jackson's touches.

"I think we'll be fine," Maclin said. "Obviously, DeSean's one of the better playmakers in this league, but we're moving forward."

GRITTY O-LINE: Jason Peters, Evan Mathis, Jason Kelce, Todd Herremans and Lane Johnson started every game last season. Continuity and consistency helped them develop into one of the NFL's top units. They paved the way for a record-setting rushing attack and helped Foles have an excellent year. But Johnson will miss the first four games because of a suspension for violating the NFL's policy on performance enhancing drugs. Veteran Allen Barbre is expected to replace Johnson the first month of the season. Still, it's a blow for the offense.

"He played well as a rookie and you only imagine seeing him as a second-year (player), just the great shape he is now," running back LeSean McCoy said. "He's got the playbook down and he's a heck of a player. That will stink losing him for that many games."

SAFETY SHUFFLE: The Eagles filled a major need at safety by signing Malcolm Jenkins away from the Saints on the first day of free agency. Jenkins should bolster a pass defense that was the worst in the NFL. The Eagles have had a revolving door at safety since former All-Pro Brian Dawkins left Philadelphia. Nate Allen will likely start opposite Jenkins, with second-year pro Earl Wolff pushing for playing time. None of these guys is Dawkins, but Philadelphia has more depth and stability at the position.

UNDERRATED D-LINE: Cedric Thornton, Fletcher Cox and Bennie Logan had a promising first year together as starters in a 3-4 defense. They were particularly strong against the run, helping the Eagles finish fourth in yards-per-carry allowed. Each guy worked on improving as a pass rusher in the offseason and Logan bulked up to provide a bigger presence in the middle. If they can improve in their second season in Billy Davis' defense, it'll set a tone.

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

Follow Rob Maaddi on Twitter: https://twitter.com/AP-RobMaaddi

Updated July 20, 2014

w4 © 2014 by STATS LLC and Associated Press.
Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and Associated Press is strictly prohibited.

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