We’ll be offering up opinions and analysis about the Eagles as training camp nears in the coming weeks. This is our first installment exploring some of the hot topics and issues to keep an eye on.
Chip Kelly has breathed brand new life into the Eagles, a team that seemed to be on life support for the past three seasons under Andy Reid. The team suffered a myriad of setbacks, including poor drafts, bad free-agent signings and questionable coaching hires. The road to recovery starts when rookies report to training camp on July 22. Let’s look at some of the biggest issues facing the city’s football franchise:
1. Go Long » The Eagles’ secondary allowed the most passing touchdowns in the NFL in 2012, with a whopping 33. The team lost both of last year’s starters and replaced them with unproven commodities in Cary Williams (4 career interceptions) and Bradley Fletcher (5 interceptions). Second-year cornerback Brandon Boykin, the player nicknamed “The Candy Bar” by the Steelers will also get a shot. The new kids will be tested early and often. Until they prove they can stop it, opponents will continue to go vertical.
2. No Huddle » For the first time since 2000, the Birds will head to camp not knowing who will emerge as the starting quarterback. Mike Vick and Nick Foles are the favorites to win the job, but rookie Matt Barkley might be the most intriguing option. Kelly wants competition, and he’ll get it. What he won’t get is stability. The other NFL teams searching for new signal-callers — the Bills, Jets, Raiders, Jaguars — are either lost in the wilderness or stuck in rebuild mode. This battle must be decided early — not that early, Mike — for chemistry’s sake.
3. So Fresh and So Clean » The offensive line’s injury history has been well-documented. Jason Peters (knee), Todd Herremans (foot) and Jason Kelce (knee) are all coming off devastating blows, not a good thing in a system that requires fresh legs and supreme athleticism. Kelly’s offense averaged a play every 20.9 seconds at Oregon as he constantly rotated offensive lineman in and out. The starters will get gassed, healthy or not. Does he have the depth to make it work here? Danny Watkins, you’re on the clock.
4. Staying Grounded » One of the biggest knocks on Reid was his inability (read: unwillingness) to run the football. At Oregon, Kelly ran it every which way but loose, leading the Pac-12 in rushing yards and finishing third in the country (315.2 yards per game). That’s good news for LeSean McCoy — and it could be great news for Bryce Brown, if he can stop fumbling. Kelly had him carrying around weighted balls at minicamp. The Eagles will also try to resurrect first-round bust Felix Jones. The backfield has great potential, but so did the 2011 Dream Team.
5. Stay Calm and DeSean » DeSean Jackson might be the biggest enigma in the entire NFL. When his head is in the game, he’s like Superman. When it’s not, he’s more like Clark Kent, awkward and useless. Jackson has already been demoted in spring practices for not hustling, although he showed a rare maturity after the incident and quickly regained his spot. Keeping Jackson engaged — both mentally, as well as in the game plan (bubble screens anyone?) — is key. This guy is a supreme talent and Kelly will have to toe the line between coddling his superstar and challenging him.
Our take » The Eagles have many, many issues, yet it’s hard not to have optimism. Offensively, the talent is there — assuming they can get something out of the quarterback position. We don’t know how or if Chip Kelly’s offense will translate in the NFL — quite frankly, we’re skeptical — but after watching the Birds buzz around the field at minicamps, there is a renewed interest from players, a contagious energy. How long that lasts is anybody’s guess.