Eagles’ training camp is officially less than three weeks away. Former Chiefs’ offensive coordinator and now new Eagles’ Head Coach Doug Pederson will officially get to show what he can do with one of the most question filled franchises in the league coming into this season. Monday July 25th will start this new, post-Chip Kelly era in the city of brotherly love, with the rookies and quarterbacks reporting for duty.
Chip Kelly did a lot of damage in his few years with the Eagles. Most of this off-season was spent retooling the roster, and dumping almost everyone who had that “Chip Kelly guy” odor surrounding them. Kiko Alonso, aka the guy who was traded for star running back LeSean McCoy, was shipped to Miami. Along with him went Chip’s prize free agent cornerback, Byron Maxwell, who simply did not fit the scheme very well. Chip’s other prize free agent from last off-season, DeMarco Murray was sent packing to Tennessee, where he will be leading the charge in the backfield for the Titans.
The team has new coaches. The team has new players. And the team has a new hope. But there are still plenty of questions surrounding the team. Early predictions point to the team being right around a .500 team. The team needs quiet a bit to break right, but if it does, this could be a quality team that reaches the playoffs. But just as easily they could falter and win all of four games. With that said, let’s take a look at the issues that will determine which way the pendulum swings.
A smooth transition between vastly differing Head Coaches
Chip Kelly was known for his high power, no huddle offense. This lead to an uptempo pace that kept people on their feet, and no time to rest. Doug Pederson comes from Kansas City, which is home to one of the most conservative offenses in the league. Short passes, lots of running and a lot safer play calling when compared to what the Eagles players are used to the last few seasons.
With this comes a transition period. It is Pederson’s first job to make sure this transition is not a clunky one, as that could lead to unnecessary losses on the record. Nothing would be worse than losing to the Cleveland Browns in week one because the players have not adapted to a new system.
So Pederson needs to make things clear from day one, this is not the same team as last season. The plan will be different, and he is not Chip Kelly. I expect many of the remaining faces will be glad to see a new man in Kelly’s place, thus making them a little more accepting of the new system. This should be evident in the early days of camp. So keep an eye out for how Pederson’s relationship appears to be with his players from the beginning.
There needs to be quarterback certainty
This is the make or break part of the Eagles season. And it is as simply as this: There cannot be any form of quarterback competition. Pederson needs to set a quarterback hierarchy, and stick with it as long as he can. Ideally, Bradford starts, Daniel is named the backup, and Wentz is given the year to sit back and learn.
When Bradford is healthy, he can certainly fill the Alex Smith role of Doug Pederson’s offense. No need to take many big risks every other drive. But the extra benefit it, Bradford is more capable of taking those risks than Smith given his talent. But the overall safer play should help Bradford cut down on turnovers and keep the offense on the field.
The big if is of course his health. Bradford is notorious for getting hurt, and the offensive line will have a lot to say about that (more on them shortly). So if (when) Bradford goes down, it needs to be Daniel that takes over the starting role, not Wentz. Daniel is not going to light the world on fire, but he knows Pederson’s system. There is a reason the Eagles gave him a three year deal, and that is to step in when the starter goes down. Having him as the two as opposed to the big name rookie also should give Bradford some ease of mind. This way he can focus on opposing defenses as opposed to looking over his shoulder.
Carson Wentz, the second overall pick from North Dakota State, whom the Eagles gave up a ton to get, needs to sit this season out. It will only benefit him and the franchise in the long haul. His is a highly talented arm who is also extremely raw and coming from a small school. If he is given one or two seasons to learn from guys who have been around a while, his potential will be sky high when he is given the role. We all know how Aaron Rodgers turned out as a product of this system.
If you enter training camp saying it is an open competition, Bradford will likely come out of camp on top. However, he will constantly be reminding by fans about Wentz, and the boo’s will come pouring down with any bad play he makes. And sure enough, by roughly week eight, the kid will be in under center. Now you are throwing a rookie quarterback into the fire, and likely on a team that in underachieving big time. That is not the best way to build up a young quarterback.
So let Wentz take the backseat. Go out there and clear things up from the very beginning. Make the statement that Bradford is your guy this season. Come seasons’ end you can trade him if you are not happy with him, and give him one last season as he has two years on his deal. But the bottom-line is there needs to be certainty at the position from the start, as it will lead to a more successful season, plus a better outlook for the club for seasons to come.
The additions to the OL need to step up
The offensive line was probably the biggest culprit of last season’s debacle, behind Chip Kelly of course. Left tackle Jason Peters, who is supposed to be the leader of the line, has underachieved. He has battled his fair share of injuries, but his play on the field has simply been underwhelming. From off-season reports, all indications are he is healthy to start camp. A healthy and improved Peters would go a long way in helping the line.
In addition, there are some new additions to help bolster the line. The right tackle spot should go to Brandon Brooks, who the Eagles handed a five-year, 40 million dollar contract to in the off-season. The young lineman comes from the Texans organization, and is still at the prime age of 26 (27 come the start of the season).
Left guard is the one spot that is truly open. Matt Tobin held the role last season, but that will not be the case this season. The Eagles signed veteran Stefen Wisnewski to compete for the role. Their third round pick, Isaac Seumalo, out of Oregon State is also expected to be in the competition. Allen Barbre is another name that could be considered for the role.
The center and right tackle spots should be held down Jason Kelce and Lane Johnson respectively. A fifth round pick was also spend on TCU alum Halapoulivaati Vaitai to add some depth. Overall there appears to be more depth on this line than there has been for quite a few seasons. It will be their job to keep Bradford upright and healthy, as well as open up some holes for the running game, which should be more prominent now that Pederson is running the show.
Who is running the ball?
The Chiefs loved to use the run under Pederson, and it was evident that they still turned to the ground even when Jamaal Charles went down. Sure Pederson now has a quarterback in Sam Bradford who many will see as having better raw skills than Alex Smith. But the run will surely still be a prime part of the game plan.
The leads us to the question, who is running the ball? Ryan Matthews will enter camp as the favorite to start for the club. Matthews is a Chip Kelly guy, and also one who has yet to live up to his full potential since entering the league. Now the talent is surely there, and this means is the line plays well, he very well could run with the role. But if he struggles, or gets hurt like he always does, do not be surprised to see him permanently replaced given his Chip Kelly status.
Darren Sproles is an older back who can be successful. In moderation. He needs to be used more as a change of pace pace back who catches passes, not as a true backup who starts full time when Matthews goes down. Kenjon Barner is a speedster who could also have some value to the team. If he can make the roster that is. Barner likely needs to beat out un-drafted rookie Byron Marshall to return kicks in order to lock up his spot on the team.
Then there is rookie Wendell Smallwood, a fifth round pick out of West Virginia. Smallwood also fits that pass catching role that Pederson is sure to use.
So behind Matthews there is no true workhorse who could carry the load. It would be an alternating sysstem of Sproles and Smallwood. both of who can be used to catch passes. Not the worst thing given the West Coast-style of offense Pederson is sure to bring.
Jim Scwartz working his defensive magic
Jim Schwartz may not be a great head coach, but he sure is a good defensive coordinator. He has led the Titans and Bills to a top-10 defense in years he served as their defensive coordinator. He has the track record, and the team has made moves this off-season to help build the team to fit his 4-3 scheme.
Fletcher Cox, one of the most impressive players in the entire league, was locked up with a long term deal. Having him play under the tutelage of Schwartz can lead to some very enticing results.
The secondary was also given a major makeover. Maxwell was sent packing, while Leodis McKelvin was brought in to lead the secondary. Nolan Carroll was also brought in to offset the departure of Walter Thurmond. Malcolm Jenkins was also given a lengthy extension, as he will be a prime player at safety.
So will Schwartz be able to turn this defense around by getting more out of the players who have been kept around, while also fitting the new pieces into his scheme. The defense is not going to be seen as a force entering the season. But under Schwartz there is potential for this defense to be in the top half of the league.
The Eagles season is on that .500 trajectory. If Bradford can stay healthy behind an improved offensive line while Wentz is allowed to learn from the sidelines, this team will beat that mark. It will also help set them up for a brighter future, as Wentz will not be thrown right to the wolves. The coaches need to do their part as well. Pederson needs to make things as smooth as possible moving from a high octane offense to a a slow and steady one. Jim Schwartz gets to manage the opposite side of the ball, and if he can do what he has done for other teams in the past, this Eagles defense can be surprisingly good. The potential is there, now the Eagles just need to take advantage of it. Can they prove the doubters wrong, or will they crash and burn?