Training Camp Snapshot: Philadelphia Eagles
With the 2013 NFL season rapidly approaching, we’re taking a spin around the league for a closer look at all 32 teams. Track all of our Snapshots here.
This season is going to be different in Philadelphia. Possibly different in a good way, possibly different in a very bad way, but the Eagles are undergoing a dramatic refacing after a dreadful 2012 season.
One benefit to last year’s collapse came in the draft, where the Eagles landed several potential contributors, including RT Lane Johnson, TE Zach Ertz and DT Bennie Logan. Combine that haul with a busy free-agency run, and the Eagles are trying to rebuild on the fly.
Most of their outlook for the next couple of seasons, however, relies on one Chip Kelly. Due to the hype surrounding his hire, Kelly may not have much middle ground here: either he’s a rousing success or a total disappointment as an NFL coach.
• Biggest storyline: The Chip Kelly experience.
There were a host of intriguing coaching moves around the league this offseason — Chicago plucking Marc Trestman from the CFL ranks; Cleveland trying to piece together a Super Staff, with Rob Chudzinski flanked by Norv Turner and Ray Horton; Mike McCoy jumping from Denver to San Diego; Andy Reid landing in Kansas City after being fired by this same Philadelphia team.
None has generated the level of interest stirred up by Kelly’s arrival in Philadelphia.
That’s because Kelly’s offense could further push the limit of an already-changing NFL landscape, one that has tilted toward fast-paced offenses led by athletic QBs. Kelly took those elements to a new level at Oregon, running defenses ragged with a no-huddle, option-based approach.
Kelly has his skeptics at the NFL level. They will point to the fact that Kelly had a much bigger roster in college (so injuries, like the one suffered by Eagles’ WR Jeremy Maclin over the weekend, did not set Oregon back as much as they will Philadelphia), that the Ducks were better crafted for Kelly’s offense than the Eagles are, and that the ongoing QB competition will hold Philadelphia back.
Kelly also has to deal with fixing a Philadelphia defense that finished 29th in points allowed last season — and his rapid-fire approach on offense would put even more pressure on that unit.
People will be ready to judge the success of Kelly’s NFL move in the early stages of 2013. The truth is that we may not know if his approach can work for at least a full season or two.
• Most intriguing positional battle: Quarterback.
That answer is a gimme. The Eagles already had an attention-grabbing battle set to ensue following Kelly’s hire, with Michael Vick and Nick Foles on the roster (not to mention Dennis Dixon, one of Kelly’s QBs at Oregon). They added even more spice by trading up to nab the tumbling Matt Barkley atop Round 4 of the draft.
Vick clearly has the edge in athleticism on both Foles and Barkley, but his inability to stay healthy and his propensity for turning the football over could lead Kelly in another direction. Foles already has chipped away at any lead Vick had in the race, earning a healthy dose of first-team reps thus far. He has a cannon for an arm and is mobile enough to keep most of Kelly’s playbook in place.
Barkley is the longshot contender. He has the weakest arm of the trio, and his speed could limit what the Eagles’ offense can do in the option game. Yet, he comes out of a pro-style, West Coast scheme at USC, in which he threw for more than 12,000 yards and completed 64 percent of his passes.
• New face, new place: Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams, cornerback.
Talk about your all-time backfires. The Eagles thought they had created one of the league’s best cornerback combos when they brought in Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to pair with Nnamdi Asomugha last season. That dream never came to fruition, though. Philadelphia allowed the most TD passes in the league, despite facing less pass attempts than all but one team.
So, the Eagles jettisoned Asomugha and let Rodgers-Cromartie walk after the 2012 season, then signed Fletcher and Williams to replace them. Will the trade-off pay dividends? Hard to say, given that Fletcher was bumped from St. Louis’ starting lineup last season and that Williams often struggled in coverage.
Philadelphia also revamped at safety, bringing in ex-Patriot Patrick Chung and ex-Giant Kenny Phillips. They used a fifth-round pick on N.C. State’s Earl Wolff, too, so there is a lot of new blood in the secondary.
• Impact rookie: Zach Ertz, tight end.
The Eagles’ expectations for Ertz may have been elevated as of Saturday, when Maclin dropped with a season-ending knee injury. Without the dynamic wide receiver in the lineup, Philadelphia may need its tight ends — currently Ertz, Brent Celek, Clay Harbor and FB/TE James Casey — to take on a more central role in the passing game.
That may be perfect for Ertz, who caught 69 passes for Stanford last season but brings limited skills as a blocker to the table. Philadelphia may counter some of Ertz’s blocking deficiencies by utilizing him in two- and three-tight end sets with its more traditional mashers.
Even in a ground-heavy attack with Oregon in 2012, Kelly found a way to get the football to talented tight end Colt Lyerla. The prospective 2014 draft pick scored six TDs and finished third on the team with 25 catches. Ertz could be of similar value to the Eagles come September.
• Looking at the schedule: How long is it going to take Kelly to implement his system? Odds are he will need more time than he has — the Eagles open the year with a Monday nighter in Washington, then face a brutal three-game road trip in Weeks 4 through 6, with stops in Denver, New York (Giants) and Tampa Bay.
The second half of the year provides a little friendlier trek, including four of the final six games at home. Kelly and his Eagles may be hard-pressed to have anything to play for but pride by that point in the season.
That’s not to say that this team is anywhere near as bad as it was during a 4-12 meltdown in 2012, but the sea change the Eagles are undergoing on offense and a still-in-flux defense could put up too many obstacles in a competitive division.