Fly Eagles Fly: preview of the Philadelphia Eagles 2011-2012 season
The Philadelphia Eagles are poised to have a great season. During the offseason, they have signed numerous free agents that will give them some solid firepower to an already talented team. This is different from years past as they would normally stockpile draft picks and just sign a few veteran free agents, instead of going a bunch of high caliber free agents. There are plenty of young pieces and veterans led by solid coaching. This season is different than previous seasons as this year the Eagles have new coaches and a shortened offseason due to the NFL lockout. The team has a new defensive coordinator, new offensive line coach, defensive line coach, linebackers coach, and secondary coach and it will take the players time for them to learn this system. The question is, can they learn fast enough and can the new and veteran players mesh and gain chemistry without much offseason time in minicamps and offseason workouts.
Last season was a surprise as it was thought that Kevin Kolb would have been the future of the Philadelphia Eagles and Michael Vick would be a backup while coming in a few times for some wildcat plays, then Kolb was injured and Michael Vick took the reins of the Eagles as starting quarterback and never looked back. It is now the Michael Vick era for the Eagles and Kolb is now with the Arizona Cardinalls. Former Colts offensive line coach Howard Mudd was brought in to help improve the Eagles offensive line, which needs help in improving blocking for Vick to pass.
The quarterback is the most important player in football and is the leader of the team. He makes the calls and needs to make the right passes decisions to get the ball into the endzone. The Eagles west coast offense depends on passing, and Vick and company will provide the base of that offensive firepower. Backup veteran qb Kevin Kolb is no longer with the team with Vince Young and Mike Kafka serving as Vick’s backups. The Eagles will miss Kolb’s leadership and his ability to come to play if Vick gets hurt, but Kafka and Young will be ready to play.
Michael Vick (starting qb): Last season, Vick had a huge comeback and had career highs in touchdowns and yards, as well as improving his accuracy. He is able to extend a play when the play breaks down with his legs and is able to scramble to escape rushers, and buy time to make a pass or rush for more yards. Even though he had a remarkable season last year, he is working to make this year even better. Vick needs to get the ball out quicker when passing and make better reads to deal with blitzes and rushes, as well as call out better protection schemes and hot routes for his receivers. There are concerns about his durablility as he tends to put his body in harms way as he scrambles to make a play, and needs to learn to depend on the pass more to stay healthy. He has a strong arm and likes to hit fast receivers on deep routes, but needs to work on improving on hitting short routes and passing in traffic. Sometimes he tries to thread the football through too many bodies and hands and forces a pass too much, but has an ability to adapt and not allow bad times to discourage him. He was able to mature and improve upon his passing mechanics, as well as become a better leader and role model for the team. Vick is not afraid to make a play, even if that means he will be put in harms way, but he needs to make better decisions and save his body from big hits.
Vince Young (second qb): Vince Young was brought into the Eagles as a suitable backup for Vick. The key to Vince’s play is his mobility and strength, which is good for the Eagles since they don’t have to adjust as much as they have another mobile quarterback to use. His big size and strength allows him to fight through tackles and allows him to see up the field with defenders in his face. The only question with him is his maturity and his lack of experience in the West Coast offense. He has some maturity issues as he had some problems with handling rough times when he was with the Titans. He is looking to redeem himself with the Eagles as he can look to Reid, Vick, and company to improve. He needs to work on making better reads and better passing as he had trouble passing and recognizing defenses during the preseason, though in the last preseason game he had improved from his earlier mistakes. While this can be attributed to the lack of minicamps and a shortened training camp while adjusting to new teamates and new system, he will have the luxury of learning from the bench and learning from Vick.
Mike Kafka (third QB): Kafka was drafted last season to be the Eagles quarterback of the future and to be a solid and reliable backup. In preseason, he has shown great poise and was able to hit the right receivers at the right times and great pocket awareness. He has shown to make the right reads and was able to pick up most of the plays quickly. If need be, he does have the mobility to scramble but is able to get off a quick pass. Unfortunately, lack of minicamps and shortened offseason may have stunted his preparation to become better and will have to reside in being the third string QB since he’s not as experienced as Vick and Young. Nevertheless, he will be able to step up and make plays as a dependable backup. He needs to not force the ball into traffic and improve upon on his deep ball to stretch the defense and make big plays.
Running Backs and Fullback.
In any offensive football system, running the ball is as important as passing the ball and ideally there should be a balance in passing and running. Even though the Eagles love to pass the ball more than running it, they do value their backfield and have ran the ball effectively last season as well as making some catches and pass blocks. This year, they have more depth at the RB position and perhaps are able to have a three headed running attack. The acquistion of former Miami Dolphins RB Ronnie Brown from free agency and the drafting of Dion Lewis will give starter LeSean Mccoy some added help while fullback Owen Schmidt will do the dirty work making blocks and receiving in traffic with a few carries here and there. Unfortunately Leonard Weaver is no longer with the team due to his knee injury last season and isn’t strong enough to play, but the backfield has plenty of firepower. The running game was the most consistent part of the offense during the preseason and hopefully that running game will be utilized more this season than previous.
LeSean McCoy (starting RB): McCoy had a breakout season as his first year as a starter. He has a strong combination of being a tough runner through the tackles, agility to dodge defenders, great hands to catch the ball, speed blow by defenders as well as run solid pass routes, and an aggressive attitude to make plays. Last season he had over a 1000 yards rushing and improved upon making the right reads on when running and receiving, such as setting up the blockers to find the right holes to go through. He is able to get open for a dumpoff checkdown as well, when the other targets are covered. His pass blocking is improving as he was able to help the offensive line pick up any rushers, but still needs work in blocking on his own in the backfield as he missed a key block in the preseason game against the Steelers and made Vick have to scramble too early and an interception was thrown.
Ronnie Brown: (2nd RB): Ronnie Brown comes to the Eagles from the Miami Dolphins where he was their star RB. He will provide some steady firepower to this Eagles RB core and will spell McCoy with tough carries and catches. His veteran leadership will help McCoy develop better and channel his explosiveness the way he channels his. If McCoy gets hurt, he’ll be able to step in and make plays. Brown can be used in short yardage and goalline plays as well if they need some tough yards He is a tough blocker as well and isn’t afraid of contact. He can line up in the wildcat formation and make a few passes during trick plays, though perhaps he won’t do many of those as teams are aware of him passing the ball. He’ll have to improve upon passing routes and moving in space to catch the ball as he’s now on a team that likes to pass the ball, whereas he’s mostly been used to running the ball. While gaining Brown was great as he can make plays, he is getting older and losing a step. He also had many injuries in his career also, so durability can be a concern though as a backup he can do fine since he won’t have as many hits.
Dion Lewis: (3rd RB): Dion Lewis was drafted this year. He will give the Eagles a quick change of pace back who is speedy and shifty, but does have some explosive power. He is able to return as well, and will return kicks this season and perhaps field a few punts. Since he does have a short stature, he is able to hide behind big offensive linemen during a running play and make it harder for defenders to spot him and tackle him as he makes a run. Lewis will be useful on screens and passing routes as well due to his speed and agility. Since he is a rookie, he probably won’t get too many touches with McCoy and Brown ahead of him on the depth chart and he’ll take time to learn the playbook and scheme due to the lack of minicamps and shortened offseason. He will make a few plays here and there and do well in special teams as he learns from the bench. His small size is a question since he’ll face strong defenders and will he be able to pass block strong rushers, as the Eagles tend to use their backs as blockers. He will probably be able to bulk up and one day start or even be involved as a backup, but right now he’ll just come in for a few snaps as he develops.
Owen Schmidt (FB): Owen Schmidt is on the Eagles to mostly block and make a few catches. While he is not the fastest or strongest of any of the backs, he is willing to contribute and will do what is asked of him. Even though the Eagles don’t utilize the fullback too often in their plays, he will add some instant energy off the bench if the Eagles need to plow through in the run game or as an added blocker to buy time for a better pass and better routes. Schmidt needs to get up the field and take out the second level of defenders for the running game and needs to run better routes for receiving passes. He needs to work on bringing in a pass, even if the pass isn’t thrown well. Schmidt needs to get the most of his carries, such as getting through the line of scrimmage to get the first down or even the goal line in short yardage situations where he may get the ball.
Tight Ends are vital to any team as they are asked do some heavy blocking in the passing and running game as well as run routes to get passes. Last season, there were problems with the offensive line blocking and both tight ends had to stay on the line and help block instead of running routes to get open for passes. At times even when they ran out for passes, they couldn’t bring in the ball or the timing was off and the pass wasn’t in their area. Vick has stated that he will try to get the TE’s more involved this season, and this preseason has shown some shallow crossing routes by them in order to get the ball out quicker during a rush. This year there are just 2 tight ends, but both have been on the team last year so they’re familiar with the system and the offense. Hopefully a better offensive line under new coach Howard Mudd will allow them to run more routes without staying in to help more.
Brent Celek (starting TE): Celek is an aggressive tight end who is able to find ways to get open and make plays. He will be called upon to get open and become a better receiver, whether it’s in the short middle or even in some deeper routes. His blocking improved last season and he was able to block some defensive ends on his own and sometimes some linebackers to allow more time for Vick to throw, as well as to help out the running game. While his improved blocking and unselfish team first attitude makes him a great player, his effectiveness is in catching balls. At times, he couldn’t get open enough and bring the ball in when a pass was thrown to him. Perhaps doing more blocking affected his hands from catching the ball better as well as his focus, but he’ll be available in the open field and find those spots in coverage.
Clay Harbor (backup TE): Clay Harbor will be called upon to do more this season. Last season he was very raw and didn’t have too many touches, but will be expected to contribute now that he has a year under his belt. He does have plenty of athletic ability and is physical, doing the dirty work that isn’t listed in the stats. While aggressive in blocking, he needs to block with better effectiveness and resolve since backup TE’s tend to be used more for blocking. The Eagles don’t run many 2 TE sets, so he’ll have to make the most of the few times he is used to give Celek a breather and on special teams. He’ll have to improve in fighting for the ball in traffic and getting open to catch passes, but the few times he did catch a ball he was effective. Harbor needs to run better routes, especially to get in Vick’s vision when there’s plenty of pressure on him.
One of the strenghts of this Eagles team is their wide receivers. They have the right combination of speed, strength, and timing that allows this offense to move very quickly and put points on the board. This year is a little different with the wide receiving corps as there are only 5 wide receivers on the roster and they had to deal with injuries and illnesses and a shortened camp. They are seasoned veterans so they are able to deal with adversity and making plays. Maclin and Steve Smith were dealing with injuries and illness in training camp, so it will take them a while to get back in football shape and make plays. More will be expected from the backup WR’s as Vick will need other targets to get open to deal with blitzes and pressures. The Eagles like to use multiple wide receiver formations to spread out a defense and have more options to throw to.
Desean Jackson (starting WR): Desean is one of the fastest players on the team and is an explosive playmaker. He has the speed and agility to get open and get the ball. Since his speed stretches the field, many other targets can get open as he draws defenders away from the line of scrimmage. He is aggressive when he plays and not afraid to make the big play. While he is a great talent and a star on this team, sometimes his attitude can get the best of him and he lets himself become his biggest enemy. In the offseason, he didn’t attend training camp on time since he wanted a bigger contract extension and that missed time with a shortened offseason could have affected his rhythm with Vick. Even though Desean wants a bigger contract, he’ll show up to play. Desean needs to improve in running short and intermediate routes and catching in traffic, as well as blocking. He also makes plays in punt returns.
Jeremy Maclin (starting WR): Maclin is a rising WR star on the Eagles and in the NFL. He has the most receiving TDs on the team last season and is always looking to improve. He is looking to catch in traffic and improve upon bringing the ball more securely and running better routes. Maclin is also a great blocker as well as he is unselfish in making plays for the team, even if he’s not getting the ball. During the offseason, he suffered from illness and lost weight which didn’t allow him to be much involved in training camp. Luckily, he was able to practice with Vick as the Eagles players organized their own makeshift practices in the summer so he was able to get more in rhythm with the Qbs and will pick up in practices. Maclin needs to become more of a leader and improve upon running shorter routes, especially during blitzes to get open for Vick.
Jason Avant (slot WR): Avant is valuable to this team on it’s 3rd Down and multiple WR sets. He’s very durable and is aggressive in going in traffic to fight for a ball. He also isn’t afraid to block for his teammates. Sometimes he couldn’t hang on to the ball last season and let the ball slip through his hands, as well as having trouble getting open in Vick’s passing view. In the offseason he had more time in training camp to work with Vick, with Jackson and Maclin out for most of camp, in catching passes and getting used to his rhythm. Avant needs to make better plays now and become a force on this team as opposed to just being a 3rd Down WR. Avant is great in special teams and will make more special teams plays.
Riley Cooper (4th WR): Cooper will have more of an impact this year than last year, now that he has a full year to learn the system. He has great size and decent speed to make plays. In preseason against the Ravens, he was able to fight for the ball in tight coverage and pull in a tough catch near the endzone. This year, he’ll be depended upon to make more plays and will be more involved in the offense in multiple WR sets. He will be looked upon in the redzone as a big target to throw Tds to, and create mismatches with his size and speed. He needs to run better routes as well as find ways to get open in Vick’s vision, especially during blitzes. Cooper will still be a big part of special teams. He was able to get more reps in training camp due to Maclin being ill and Jackson coming in late.
Steve Smith (5th WR): Steve Smith was picked up as a free agent from the Giants. He has a knack for getting to the open spots and catching those tough third down catches and is a solid veteran with lots of experience. On mulitple WR sets he can be used as an option to Vick and can help spell Avant and Cooper and maybe even Desean and Maclin, in rotation. He will take time to learn the system, but he is a veteran so he will be able to adapt to the offense. There is concern about his knee as he had microfracture surgery in the offseason and the Giants weren’t willing to resign him since he might get hurt again and not be as effective as before. While there is concern about his injury, signing Smith is a win-win situation. If he can’t perform well or perform at all, there are other targets to throw to. If he does well, then he’ll be able to contribute whether it’s just for a few plays or for great plays. He could push Avant for the slot WR role.
Offensive line is probably the biggest concern of the offense. Starter Kevin Kolb got hurt as he was chased out of the pocket by a linebacker during last season’s opening game, and Vick took plenty of hits as teams sent in pressure and blitzes to overwhelm the line. This year, the Eagles have Howard Mudd to fix the offensive line since he was the offensive line coach of the Indianapolis Colts that helped protect Peyton Manning. Mudd wants to revamp the line with his own unique brand of players: athletic, quick, and highly mobile whereas the lineman that Juan Castillo chose when he was the OL coach in previous years were massive and strong. Veterans such as Mike McGlynn, Nick Cole, and Max Jean-Gilles are gone from the team. Since there was a lockout and limited time to get the players into new offensive line coach Mudd’s system due to lack of minicamps, the lineman on the team will have to adjust and learn on the fly. The line has been shuffled due to the poor play in preseason, and one of the guards that will start just joined the team a week before the season starts. The only question is how well the starting line connect and gel with each other in such a short period of time, especially when they haven’t played a series together in preseason.
Jason Peters (1st LT): Peters is a great left tackle and provides stability on that side of the line. He is mobile and able to get in front of defenders and uses his hands wisely to keep them from getting past him. He does well in pass blocking and gets nasty in run blocking as he loves to move forward and crash into defenders to open holes. Sometimes, he’ll have problems in holding blocks against quicker and stronger rushers, but most of the time he’ll be able to block enough. He does have a problem with false starts, but has reduced that problem. Speedy rushers can give him a hard time blocking, as well as some linebackers in the 3-4 defense, but he has shown to be mostly stable in holding his ground and getting the right blocks. Peters will be one of the leaders to lead the new line.
Evan Mathis (1st LG): Evan Mathis is a journeyman guard and has been on many different teams during his career. Mathis was brought in as a free agent to give this line depth, but will start now that Todd Herremans is moved from LG to RT He has plenty of experience to teach the younger players and is very coachable and adaptable. He is very capable at run blocking and pass blocking. When he was a starting LG for the Bengals, he never let a sack occur 2010, so he should be solid next to Peters. The question is will he be able to fit in with Mudd’s system and blocking scheme and will he be solid with Peters on the left the way Herremans was. He may be vulnerable to defensive line stunts, as well as some inside linebacker blitzes between the center and left guard, but can improve on that in the season as the linemen get more familiar with each other. Mathis can play both guard spots, so he’ll be able to adapt if more changes are needed.
Jason Kelce (1st C): Jason Kelce was drafted this offseason and Mudd chose him to be the starter in the center of the line due to his excellent training camp performances. Kelce is the perfect ideal lineman for Mudd’s system: athletic, quick, and mobile. For instance, he was able to pull from the center spot and lead block around the left side of the line to allow a running back to score a touchdown in preseason. He will be in charge of making the line calls and protection schemes for Vick. Luckily, he’ll have plenty of veterans around him on the calls on the line, as well as experienced backups to help point out things to him. During preseason, he seemed confused and lost in making the right calls and going into making blocks as well as making the right snaps. He’ll have to learn to hold his ground against more experienced and tougher defensive tackles, as well as linebackers. Kelce has been able to improve each week and is building an aggressive reputation in blocking.
Kyle DeVans (1st RG) Kyle DeVans was picked up by the Eagles as he was cut from the Indianapolis Colts a week before the opening of the 2011-2012 season. DeVans has been coached by Mudd and was on the Colts team that was the superbowl runners up during the 2009-2010 season, so he has plenty of game experience and will be a huge help for Mudd. DeVans is aggressive and is willing to fight to the end with each block he makes. His experience under the system will help others improve and get used to Mudd’s system as the team gels during the games. The running game will be better on the right side with Devans being able to block on the right. The only question is that will he be able to mesh with the current linemates without playing a preseason game with them. There are also concerns on how well can DeVans last as he is getting older.
Todd Herremans (1st RT): Herremans is one of the most dependable players on the team and is probably the Eagles best OL. He will be the one to protect Vick’s blindside as he is left handed when he throws. He has a nasty mean streak to him and is able to stay with defenders to block them out of the way of passing and running lanes. In run blocking, he loves to get up the field and get to the second level defenders. At times, he has trouble with speed rushers and can get out of position when blocking, especially on stunts. While he has played tackle before, most of his playing experience is at guard and being moved to RT so soon just before the regular season starts is a big concern, as there isn’t much time for him to get used to being on the right end of the line and getting accustomed to the guard next to him. He has never played at RT so, it will take some time to get adjusted.
King Dunlap (2nd LT): King Dunlap is a reserve OT that will play on the left side as a backup. He mostly played on the right tackle as backup for Winston Justice, and has started a few times. His experience with the team will give them a solid backup prescence. Dunlap is known for being massive and applying lots of power and force into his blocks, though he has a tendency miss key blocks on the outside and let defenders get past him. He can run block well at times, though usually the runner tends to go on the other side of the line. Being a backup will help him learn Mudd’s system better as he will be able to backup both sides of the line. He has plenty of size and will use that size at times to overpower a defender.
Julian Vandervelde (2nd LG): Vandervelde is a drafted OG in this offseason and will contribute greatly to the depth of the offensive line. During preseason, he was able to hold onto his block and protect the middle of the pocket from being overrun. He has good hands and can move well, though is a rookie and has lots to learn from Mudd. He might not play much at first, unless there are injuries.
Jamal Jackson (2nd C): Jamal Jackson has plenty of experience as he was the starting center for many years. He can make great line calls and get the team into the right blocking position. On his blocks, he will be able to hold his ground and get to the linebacker or defensive tackle before he gets through the pocket. During runs, he is able to hold onto a defender as a guard pulls or moves and even bulldozes people over. Unfortunately, he’s had injuries the past few seasons and is getting older so he won’t be able to start unless needed. Nevertheless, he’s a solid teammate and will be able to give great guidance to Kelce from the bench as Kelce learns to become a great center. If Kelce doesn’t pan out or gets hurt, Jackson will be ready to play.
Danny Watkins (2nd RG): Danny Watkins is a drafted G in this offseason who was brought in to improve the right side of the offensive line. He is able to lock onto a defender and has the quickness to move and counter a rusher. While relatively new to the game of football, he has been able to pick things up and has improved each preseason game he was in. The problem is that he played tackle in college and was moved to guard where he had little to no experience. He also showed up for camp late as he took a while to sign his contract and is taking time to adjust to Mudd’s system. Since there was no minicamps and a short offseason, he wasn’t able to fully understand the blocking assignments and probably won’t get much playing time until he does. In preseason, he was unsure of where and who to block and let some rushers in between him and the center Jason Kelce but learned to fix that problem. For now, he’ll learn from the bench and practice as DeVans will start in front of him to give Kelce a solid vet presence to his right and protect Vick. Perhaps later on this season or next season Mudd will allow Watkins to play some snaps to get him some gametime experience in the regular season.
Winston Justice (2nd RT): Winston Justice is a veteran RT on this team and has plenty of experience. Justice is quick to move to the outside to counter any linebacker or rushing DE, as well as adapt to stunts and other rushes. While he might not be the best tackle out there, he is willing to continue scraping and clawing until the play is over. He has plenty of size and has been known to use that size to keep rushers away from the quarterback. Sometimes he has problems holding onto a block long enough for the pass play to occur, as well as being consistent in his blocking. Justice is coming off of knee injury so it’ll take a while for him to get back to playing shape. As a backup, he’ll be able to give Herremans some advice on playing right tackle and fill in if need be.
The Eagles defense last season had trouble with coverage and, to an extent, getting pressure on the QB. Defensive Coordinator Sean McDermitt was replaced this season by Juan Castillo. The Eagles are looking to a different direction from the Jim Johnson style of defense, which depended upon bringing pressure through various blitzes from many angles and personnel. Juan will still bring on pressure, but will not rely on as many blitzes. There is concern about how the defense will be as effective without as many blitzes, as the Eagles have been known to bring pressure in blitzing. Defensive line coach Jim Washburn was brought in to help transform the defensive line to get better pressure with the front four. There are questions about Juan Castillo being hired as defensive coordinator since he was an offensive line coach for 13 years and he never did any defensive coaching in the NFL level in any position before being chosen as the coordinator in the offseason. The good news is that he played as a linebacker and coached defenses in college before coaching offensive lines in the NFL, as well as was consulted by Jim Johnson during defensive staff meetings on how offensive lines will adjust to his defensive schemes. He’ll have to get used to calling defensive plays, as well as making adjustments on the fly during games.
The base of any defense is the line is football is fought at the line of scrimmage. This season, Jim Washburn is the defensive line coach who wil help in getting the Eagles defensive line to cause lots of pressure on its own. By getting better pressure from the line on it’s own, there won’t need to be as many blitzes as before and more people can be dropped into coverage instead of being sent in to rush the passer. Even when blitzing, the line will be able to make blitzes more effective. Washburn likes to spread the defensive linemen wide from each other so they can have more space to get to the quarterback. The wide spacing allows for for speed rushers to attack from a variety of angles, which the offensive line will have trouble trying to help each other block as they have to spread out to meet them. He prefers speedy and athletic lineman as opposed to massive and powerful ones. There is concern about the line being wide can make the defense vulnerable to runs and some short passes, but that can be overcome if the speed of the linemen can get through the blockers to attack the runner as well as getting the rest of the defense in great run support.
Jason Babin (LDE): Jason Babin rejoins the Eagles as the starting left defensive end. Babin has the combination of speed, size, and technique in rushing the QB. He led the league in sacks and will give the left end a solid pass rusher that this team has been missing for years. Babin has experience with the Eagles and was coached by Washburn so he’ll be beneficial in getting the line playing great and understands his teammates. At times Babin overpenetrates and can miss a tackle and needs to improve against the run. He needs to shed blockers better as well.
Mike Patterson (LDT): Mike Patterson is a veteran Eagles defensive tackle and will start at the left defensive tackle position. He does well against the run at times and can pressure blockers enough so that the linebackers can fill up any holes. At times he can get to the QB and RB, but he needs to be more consistent in getting through the offensive line. Tough and athletic offensive guards can block him well and at times doesn’t have enough impact on his own as he lacks some size and doesn’t have the speed to compensate. During training camp, he had a stroke so there is some concerns about his health. He won’t be able to play most downs throught the whole game on his own, so he needs a strong backup DT in rotation to help keep him fresh.
Cullen Jenkins (RDT): Jenkins was brought in as a free agent from the Super Bowl winning Green Bay Packers. He is versatile enough to play either defensive end or tackle, but will see most of his time as the defensive tackle. He was brought in to pressure the inside to collapse the pocket in the middle and to stuff the run inside. He will take time to get familiar with his new teamates and playing in space being lined up wide from the other linemen. He needs to get off the blocks quicker to get to the passer and the running back. Jenkins has had a bunch of injuries throughout his career, including 5 games last season, so health can be a concern as he gets older.
Trent Cole (RDE): Trent Cole is the leader of this defensive line. Cole is one of the team’s sack leaders and is always drawing blockers to open up space for other rushers. He is active in getting to the quarterback’s blindside as well as pressuring the pocket. Lining up wider in Washburn’s scheme will allow him more open space to get around blockers as he causes pressure. With Babin cauing more pressure from the left, blockers won’t be able to double team Cole as much. He is getting better against the run but needs to learn to shed blockers better to get to the RB as well as try to funnel a runner back to his teammates.
Juquai Parker (DE): Parker is a reliable backup DE that is brought into rotation as a pass rusher. Coming off of the bench will allow a fresh rusher with instant energy on third downs, which will keep the defensive line pressure fresh. He has been coached by Washburn before, so he’ll be able to mentor the others about Washburn’s scheme. Parker has great running strength and can bulldoze blockers if necessary to collapse the passing pocket. He is getting older and worn out, so there is a concern how effective he will be further into the season. Parker had trouble when Brandon Graham went down to injury last season as he had to start and play most of the snaps, so he may wear down more if he has to start due to injuries. Sometimes he struggles against strong offensive linemen and needs to play the run better.
Antonio Dixon (DT): Antonio Dixon is a massive and powerful tackle who was strong against the run and was able to move upfield to pressure inside the pocket to get a few . He was a great surprise last season and quickly became a starter. He might start again this season. Dixon’s massive power during a pass rush draws in blockers to open things up for his teammates. He does have health concerns as he was injured in camp and didn’t play during preseason. He might have been relegated to the bench as Washburn prefers more athletic and quicker players, but he’ll still have an impact when the team needs to stuff the run and extra power to crush the pocket in the middle. Dixon needs to become more assertive and aggressive, and become a better leader.
Trevor Laws (DT): Laws is a veteran backup defensive tackle on the team and he usually comes in on 3rd down for a great pass rush inside. He has improved each year and is working to get better. Laws has made plays to get to the quarterback and get some timely sacks and pressures. He’s getting better against the run, but needs to show more consistency in his play. Sometimes Laws isn’t consistent and will need to be more consistent in case he has to start at DT.
Philip Hunt (DE): In preseason, Philip Hunt showed tremendous speed and power in attacking the pocket during a rush. In a backup rotational role, he’ll be able to pressure and strike quickly which will give the team a spark plug on long 3rd downs as well as some different looks on certain plays. There might be concerns about him facing powerful blockers and getting past some quick linemen, as well as playing the run. He doesn’t have much size to be an every down DE and is only good in rotation. His quickness and agility will allow him to become a challenge to powerful offensive tackles, as well as RB’s and TE’s that have to stay in and block.
Darryl Tapp (DE): Darryl Tapp is an experienced veteran that will add some great depth and added energy on the defensive line. Last season, he had a big impact coming in rotation as he was able to generate pressure, such as on 3rd down plays. He can force fumbles and cause disruptions due to his big size and physical tenacity, as well as his speed burst in accelerating very quickly in a short time. At times, he can be lined up inside for some extra pressure from the defensive tackle position, as well as behind the defensive line as a linebacker for another rusher up the middle. Tapp does need to improve upon playing the run in dealing with run blockers and get to the running back more efficiently. He also needs to become more of a leader to this defense. He has to stay healthy as well as he had to deal with injuries.
Linebackers are the biggest concern of this defense. The starting linebackers are young and inexperienced for the most part, and are learning to play in a different defense this year with a shortened offseason. It will take time for them to learn and get into the right positions and attack at the right angles, and many mistakes will occur as they have to learn on the job. There is concern about the lack of size in the linebacking corps to stop a power runner with agility, as well as covering tight ends and pass catching running backs. Another concern is that there isn’t a true backup strongside LB and most of the depth players are weakside linebackers. Since the defensive line will be lining up wide with lots of space in between each lineman, it is key that they will be able to step in and fill any holes that running backs run as well as any passing targets that come in the middle of the defense. They will also have to improve on getting past offensive linemens’ blocks. Veteran middle linebacker Stewart Bradley is no longer with the team and the linebackers will miss his leadership and aggressive play. Juan Castillio was a linebacker himself, so he will help them grow tremendously. They have improved with each preseason game, and hopefully more game experience will help them make better plays.
Moise Fokou (WLB): Moise is entering his 3rd year as a linebacker on the Eagles. He started last season as the strongside LB, but will play the weakside this season. He is great at blitzing and attacking the RB, but lacks consistency in coverage. Fokou is improving on tackling and working on taking better angles to tackle and cover from. Sometimes he over-pursues and gets past runners and pass catchers, as well as gets himself blocked off from attacking the ball carrier. He’ll have some trouble adjusting from playing the weakside spot, since the weakside is more open in space as opposed to playing close to the line of scrimmage and locking into a tight end or running back in traffic though he’ll still bring plenty of force in helping stop a run or on a blitz.
Casey Mathews (MLB): Casey Matthews has been named the starting middle linebacker for the Eagles and was drafted this year. Matthews is a strong tackler and is usually able to get to the ball. His coverage skills are adequate at times, but needs to improve as he doesn’t have as much speed and limited agility. He can get from sideline to sideline and has plenty of hustle giving support to his teammates in swarming the ball. It is risky for him playing as MLB as he has to make all of the defensive calls and reads with virtually no NFL experience as he will make plenty of mistakes in his rookie season. Fortunately, he has plenty of veterans and skilled teamates for support to learn from. Matthews has had trouble shedding blockers and getting to the right spots to make plays, but he is able to improve and make adjustments as the game goes on.
Jamar Chaney (SLB): Jamar Chaney is an up and coming solid LB. Last season he started at middle linebacker when Stewart Bradley got hurt and was able to make many plays. He is versatile enough to play all 3 LB positions and take over at MLB if needed. He’s very solid at tackling and blitzing and is getting better at coverage utilizing his speed to make a key play. In preseason, he was able to cover a running back on a passing route and deflect a pass from becoming a touchdown. Sometimes he tries to do too much and ends up not being in the right position or makes the wrong choices, but that can be fixed with more experience as he is still learning the game at an NFL level. Chaney is playing a new role as the strongside linebacker whereas he’s always been a middle or weakside linebacker, so it will take him a while to play the strongside which mostly covers tight ends and running backs.
Brian Rolle (WLB): Brian Rolle will be an excellent backup LB that will be brought in during nickel and dime packages. During preaseason, he gave the team some extra speed and range in coverage and a quick strike option on blitzing and rushing the passer. His speed and tenacity will be crucial as he provides a change of pace in the LB position on this team. Rolle is inexperienced since he is a rookie drafted this year, but he will be able learn and grow from mistakes. He will need to learn to shed blockers better as well as becoming a leader. He will have to learn to play the run better, as well as not over pursue or get out of position. Rolle doesn’t have much size or bulk, but is still a strong tackler with his explosive speed. Rolle will be useful in special teams.
Akeem Jordan (MLB): Akeem is the veteran LB of this team and will serve as a backup. He will give some guidance to this young LB corps with his experience in the league and his time with the Eagles. He can play all 3 LB spots so he gives the team a backup they can depend on in case of injury as well as some needed strength in certain packages. While not great at any particular skill or have much speed or strength, he is a dependable player that the team can lean on and will be a big part of special teams.
Keenan Clayton (SLB): Keenan is a key reserve, as he will be used for covering and some different looks on defense. His best attribute is his ability to play fast and cover lots of ground, but needs to work on getting to the ball on coverage. Most of his plays will come on nickel and dime packages as well as special teams. While he will play at strongside, he can play at weakside as well if the Eagles need to move Fokou at strongside at certain plays. Clayton needs to shed blockers and get to the run better, as well as become more aggressive. He’s in his second year now, so he probably will be more confident and poised with more NFL experience. Clayton needs to bulk up as he will need more strength in tackling.
Secondary: Cornerbacks and Safeties
Last season, the Eagles secondary has been their main problem on defense and might become a strength this season with the addition of key free agents. There are better cornerbacks this season and that will give the defense some better flexibility with the front 7. Since there is better CB’s for coverage, the safeties can play closer to the line of scrimmage for run support or even blitz and not have to help cover as much though there will usually be one safety in coverage. With the change in defensive philosophy of not calling as many blitzes to cause pressure, coverage will improve as there will be more people in coverage. A stronger secondary will allow the team to play better defense as the front 7 will be allowed to play the run better, as well as give different looks on defense. The safeties are mostly inexperienced and raw, which will take time to improve, but having great CB’s will allow safeties to develop during the season.
Asante Samuel (LCB): Samuel is the leader of the secondary. He is a game changer with his ability to play the ball in the air and his coverage skills. He puts fear into most QB’s with his ability to intercept balls and cause turnovers. Samuel does well in zone coverage and can be adequate in man coverage at times. He can even be lined up at safety to be free to roam and attack a pass. His tackling is average and needs to improve, and he can have trouble with physical receivers. Sometimes he gambles too much in trying to make interceptions and loses coverage when he doesn’t get to the ball. Asante also can fall for pump fakes, which can allow a receiver to change direction and get open. He is getting older and might start to lose a step.
Nnamdi Asomugha (RCB): Nnamdi was brought to the team as a free agent to help solidify the right cornerback spot. He is known as one of the best corners in the league and will help greatly in pass coverage. He has great physical play and shadows receivers very well, to the extent that passes aren’t thrown in his direction. Asomugha is physical and jams the receiver at the line of scrimmage to throw off timing, as well as a sound tackler and can play some run support or corner blitz. Sometimes he’ll get too physical and get penalized for pass interference. He needs to improve in zone coverage and needs to make plays on the ball. It will take him a while to adjust to the new defensive system and his new teammates.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (LCB): Dominique, also known as DRC, was received in a trade with the Cardianls for QB Kevin Kolb. He is a rising young corner and is great in making plays on the ball and covering. His tackling is solid for the most part and has the speed to keep up with most receivers. DRC can come in for Asante and Nnamdi for certain plays and can play some nickel CB at times. He will learn to play the inside WR better and become more physical as a nickel corner will have to use more physical play covering in traffic than covering the outside in space, though the concern is it will take time to adapt to playing nickel since he’s always been lined up on the outside. Sometimes he can have trouble with speedy and agile receivers and can allow the deep pass to occur.
Joselio Hanson (RCB): Joselio Hanson has longtime been the team’s nickel CB and will called into play on nickel and dime packages. Hanson was resigned as veteran depth after being cut so he’ll be able to be a reliable backup. While not overly talented or fast, he is able to cover and jam the wide receiver enough for the pass rush to succeed. Hanson tackles reasonably well, but needs to become more aggressive and forceful. Teams are using muliple wide receiver sets more often, such as the Packers, Patriots, Saints, etc, so it helps to have another veteran corner for depth. He can do well on one on one at times, but is much better when there’s a safety or sometimes a LB out there for help coverage.
Curtis Marsh (LCB): Curtis Marsh was drafted in the offseason to give the secondary some depth and a developmental player. He has some size to help cover the bigger WR’s in the league as well as some physical play. Most of the time he’ll see action on special teams and a couple of nickel or dime packages. He won’t see much action since there is plenty of depth in front of him at cornerback and is still raw.
Kurt Coleman (FS): Coleman had a great rookie season with his aggressive play and physical style. He is great at hitting and wraps up tackles pretty well. His coverage needs work as well as his positioning and pursuit angles, especially on one on one man coverage. Coleman is great at blitzing and causing pressure when he plays in the box. Sometimes he is overzealous and can be a bit reckless, but he’s learning to become more effective and poised. Coleman doesn’t have great speed or range, but can be utilized for his ability to make a play and is explosive in getting to the ball. He’ll improve with more experience and more time as he develops an eye for making reads.
Jarrad Page (SS): Of all of the free agents that the Eagles picked up, Jared Page might be the most underrated. He is a veteran safety that was signed in this offseason and will be a great mentor in this young and mostly inexperienced safety corps. He can cover well enough, but needs improvement and will give the corners some great help back there in coverage. Very solid tackler, but needs to be aggressive and make more of an impact in the game as a strong safety. He needs to become more of a leader and playmaker this season. He might not be exceptionally fast, or strong, but he is able to become a great player in this Eagles secondary.
Nate Allen (SS): Nate Allen was drafted last season to improve coverage in the secondary and made a few plays during his rookie season. He had the range and speed to cover lots of ground in coverage and was decent at times in zone coverage to cover the deep end as well as providing some help coverage. Unfortunately, he had problems in man coverage and in tackling at times, as well as getting out of position. He had a knee injury late last season and will take him a while to heal up to be in playing shape, so he’ll won’t see much action early in the season. Allen needs to become aggressive in tackling and blitzing, as well as becoming more physical and getting mentally tougher. Since Page is now the starter, he’ll probably see most time in nickel and dime packages as well as long yardage situations.
Jaiquann Jarrett (FS): Jarrett was drafted in the offseason to give the secondary some added firepower. He is known as a great hitter and will be useful in run support and blitzing at times. His covering is about average, but he’ll improve as the season goes on as he made a nice interception in preseaseon. He’s very focused when doing man coverage and will be provide some great help coverage. Jarrett is still very raw and will take time to develop, but he’ll be able to learn and contribute in rotation.
Colt Anderson (SS): Colt is on the team mostly for special teams and for depth at safety. He doesn’t play many snaps, but will be a key reserve and a mentor for this young safety corps. He’ll mostly play in some zone coverage on dime packages and a few snaps here and there to rest the other safeties. Anderson won’t be much of a playmaker or get many great plays, but he will be able to fill in as needed and be used in coverage and special teams.
Special teams are vital to any team as they can add the vital field positioning to any defense or offense as well as getting to those field goal and extra points, as well as some game changing plays. The special teams is different this season with longtime kicker David Akers and punter Sav Rocca is gone, as well as a new kickoff returner.
Kicker– Alex Henery Alex was drafted to be the Eagles new placekicker since he has a very strong leg that allows him to kick the ball very far and accurate. He has big shoes to fill in with David Akers gone. His inexperience in the NFL can be a factor, especially in close and clutch games but he should do well as he has a great special teams teamates around him. He’ll need to work on kicking offsides and be willing to make a great tackle if need be during returns.
Punter– Chas Henry Chas has a strong kick and should send the ball far as well as keep it at the endzone to pin it deep. He needs to work on some directional kicks and work on range when the team is pinned near the endzone and have to kick it deep for the defense to have great field position. Chas is a rookie so it will take a while for him to become a consistent punter. Besides punting, he also holds the snap in place for the kicker to kick the ball. He fumbled the snap one time and a kick couldn’t work, but that can be fixed.
Long Snapper– John Dorenbos John has been an underrated player in the Eagles special teams, but is very consistent in snapping the ball quickly and able to block on special teams for any punt, field goal, or extra point. It might take a while to adjust to snapping and blocking for the new punter and kicker, but so far he seems to be doing well. Brent Celek will be his backup in case he gets hurt, which should be fine except his long snaps might not be as consistent as Dorenbos.
Punt Returner– Desean Jackson will return as punt returner for the Eagles. Last season, he shared punt return duties with Jorrick Calvin and later on didn’t return as much unless they needed a spark plug return for a great play. Desean is very quick and agile, and has a knack of finding a hole in the special teams kicking teams to get a great return. This year, he’s back to do more returns for the season. There is concern about the Eagles overusing Desean as he is one of their primary receivers and he can take a nasty hit during a return. Most likely, he’ll just waive for the fair catch to save himself for receiving and that punters will probably try not to kick it directly to him. Jeremy Maclin will also field some punts to help out Jackson. He’s reliable in fielding the punts, but not as fast or explosive as Desean.
Kickoff Returner– Dion Lewis is the new kickoff returner this season for the Eagles. He has the speed and agility to return kicks and his small size allows him to hide behind blockers as he makes some agile cutbacks to change direction. Lewis will improve in being patient to set up his blocks and making better judgements in getting a good return or just letting the ball go out of bounds for a touchback. The new starting kickoff being moved from the 20 to the 35 yard line means that kicks will end up being close to the endzone to minimize kickoff return yardage and there have been an increase of touchbacks as more kickoffs have ended up in the endzone. Ronnie Brown will be the backup kickoff returnman and he has plenty of experience returning kicks with the Miami Dolphins. While he isn’t as explosive now as he was in the past, Brown can still make a good return.