Twelve months ago, the Philadelphia Eagles were among the most exciting teams in the league. A quarterback searching for redemption, 2014’s rushing champion and the fastest Offense in the league threatened to take the rest of the NFL by storm as the team headed into training camp. Factor in the expensive addition of Byron Maxwell on Defense and the Eagles looked primed for a big year. But it didn’t pan out that way as we all know and now a year later, the Eagles are in a completely contrasting situation.
New coaches, coordinators and a complete roster rejuvenation see the Eagles head into next week in a completely new direction. One that looks to rediscover a lost identity on Defense and find a completely new one on the other side of the ball.
Chip Kelly’s Eagles drastically underperformed in 2015 after suffering from an abundance of problems. From the drops on Offense to the simply bizarre play-calling defensively and a complete neglect to adapt on both sides of the ball, it didn’t take long for what was left of the Eagles to fall apart.
One of the main criticisms Offensively however was that players were just pieces under Chip. The quarterback would make quick reads and short “checkdown passes” while there were only ever really 1-2 viable options on each passing play. The running backs would prove to be products (or failures) of the system and seen as nothing more..or nothing less.
When you take Chip out of Philadelphia, you’re left with what’s a widely regarded as an underwhelming roster..a roster that despite a complete overhaul including additions of former Schwartz standouts, low-risk, high-reward players and of course the long term franchise quarterback..still isn’t seen as talented enough to get the respect it so desperately craves.
Once again, the Eagles find themselves in the underdog position. The nobody is even giving them a chance position. The overlooked but quietly dangerous position. But those who follow the team intently see a very different picture.
Some of the biggest stars on the roster were tied down to huge contract extensions during the offseason while a deep free agency haul and a new “low-risk, high-reward” draft mentality was implemented. The roster may not have the Offensive firepower of the Panthers or the Defensive prowess of the Broncos..but it has something that Eagles fans have been crying out for, unity.
Sure, last year the Eagles looked fearsome heading into training camp. But as the nuts started to loosen and the road got tougher..there was a severe lack of leadership from all angles. Tensions in the locker room rose, the Coach was quick to blame the faults on a “lack of execution” and morale was at a new low for the Chip Kelly era. So surely coming out of it would be a slow rise from the ashes?
Doug Pederson walked into Philadelphia and made a statement. With Jeffery Lurie placing a huge focus on accountability and having “emotional intelligence”, the Eagles were clearly trying to relight the fires in the hearts of their players..but then the road got even tougher.
From the sporadic Sam Bradford controversy to Fletcher Cox holding out for a groundbreaking contract, a wide receiver facing “sexual abuse” allegations to a constant sense of instability, Doug Pederson has had to overcome more than most in his first few months as Head Coach..and he hasn’t even coached a full game yet.
It would have been very easy for the Eagles downward spiral to continue..especially with such a chaotic offseason, but it didn’t. Instead, we saw a sense of unity previously unheard of. Sam Bradford for instance, organized a “vacation” in San Diego with his teammates..including Carson Wentz.
When talking about Doug Pederson, players have only been positive in their responses. The workouts seemed a lot more intimate with plenty of one-on-one time, the atmosphere was reported as relaxed and the wounded group of “chess piece individuals” were slowly becoming a team once again.
The world couldn’t wait to see how the Eagles would perform last season. 12 months later, people seem to have forgotten about those birds in Philadelphia..but that’s not a bad thing. The Eagles are walking into the unknown. Nobody knows if Doug Pederson’s Offense will hit the ground running or if Sam Bradford will light the world on fire, just like nobody knows how Schwartz’s defense will perform with an arguably low on depth linebacker core and a very young group of corners. But they’re a team.
The Eagles are finally becoming a team of players who fit the mentalities, visions and physical demands of what both the Offense and Defense are trying to do. They may not be NFL poster boys or be surrounded by ESPN cameramen, but with a new focus, new schemes, new coaches, new players and a new hope in Doug Pederson..the future is bright.
The Eagles have somehow averted a complete rebuild despite scampering away from what was arguably the most system driven tenure in the NFL and yet managed to secure the futures of the likes of Fletcher Cox, Zach Ertz, Malcolm Jenkins, Vinny Curry and Lane Johnson. They’ve drafted their long-term franchise signal caller in Carson Wentz while somehow retaining the services of a now driven and somewhat proven Sam Bradford. They’ve shifted two of the most damaging contracts on the team in Maxwell and Murray while adapting to a new way of thinking.
The Eagles are one of the biggest unknowns going into Training Camp. With so many roster spots up for grabs and the word competition simply not doing the situation justice, the Eagles look set to turn what was almost a train wreck into something with plenty of promise. The underdog mentality is there just like it always has been..only now you have a group of low-round/undrafted rookies who have been through incredibly tough times to get to the NFL..competing once again with their backs to the wall.
The Eagles are no longer just a group of individuals. There’s a shared mentality. A hungry mentality. The aggression that Jim Schwartz is able to get out of his players is met with the methodical and strategic calmness of Doug Pederson’s Offense. There isn’t a unit that’s being neglected anymore, there’s no “star of the show”, no complacency.
Every single player on that roster believes they have a 100% legitimate chance of making the roster. It’s something Pederson instilled very early on..that competition is a fundamental part of training camp and the end result is a roster that has been pushed that one step further by the breath of someone who’s just one big play away from taking that role from you creeping down your neck.
Nobody really pays attention to the old burned down house down the street until it’s transformed into a beautiful mansion. That process doesn’t happen overnight. But the foundations have been planted, the structure is being built and the blueprint could well see this old rickety shack turn into one of the most glamorous houses on the estate.
Photo credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports