The offseason is finally over. No more OTA’s, no more Training Camp, no more preseason. It’s football season. The Eagles travel to Washington this weekend to face their divisional rivals in the first game of the regular season and excitement levels are through the roof. But while we have some time to prepare for what lies ahead, let’s relax and recap the offseason that was.
Eagles enter new season with a clean bill of health:
Perhaps the most important takeaway from the offseason is health. Beau Allen, who tore his pectoral muscle earlier in the year returned in the team’s final preseason game and went on to make the roster. The only final 53-bound Eagle to enter the season with an injury concern is Sidney Jones, who was drafted with one. The former Washington cornerback will be inactive for the first six weeks of the season but after that, the Eagles may even be in a previously unforeseen position of strength.
With franchise quarterbacks like Andrew Luck having offseason’s of sheer uncertainty, and starting talent around the league including Julian Edelman suffering heartbreaking injuries, the Birds’ clean bill of health cannot be overlooked. The Eagles have run a physical training camp for two consecutive years and after Zach Ertz and Jordan Matthews ended up limping into the regular season just twelve months ago, it’s refreshing to see that the team are locked and loaded for the regular season.
Playing the long game:
If there’s one thing we learned from the building of the final roster, it’s that development is the focus. The Eagles didn’t create their roster to win straight away, but instead continued to the vision co-created by Joe Douglas and Howie Roseman with continuity at heart. There were several decisions that left fans and analysts scratching their heads, but the reasoning is easy to understand.
“I think it’s important for us when we make these decisions, we’re talking about the 46, the 53 and then the 63.” Roseman told the media after the roster cuts were announced. “We want to make sure our coaches have the best 46 guys that they need to go into Washington. And then from there, there are also guys that we want to develop. [There are guys] that we want to sit there a year from now and hope that they have taken another step. A guy like Marcus Johnson, who deserves a lot of credit for what happened with him developing in our off-season program and working with our guys.”
Trust. The. Process. If you would like some more clarification on specific moves or just how much a change of heart in the front office has transformed the Eagles roster, here’s an article I wrote after the roster was announced.
Mechanically speaking, Wentz looks polished:
For me, this is the most exciting part of the offseason. After a rookie year rollercoaster, the mechanics of Carson Wentz were often criticized. But without knowing what to look for, it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what the young buck needed to improve. However, Wentz sought out the coaching of Adam Dedeaux, a quarterback guru who has previously worked with both Matt Ryan and Tom Brady, in order to refine these intricacies.
After he took the field against Green Bay, the first chance that cameras hit Wentz since the season finale back in January, the difference was inherently clear, especially in his footwork and pocket presence.
I broke down the film in much more detail, comparing the differences between Wentz in his first taste of NFL action one year ago and how he looked exactly twelve months later. If you don’t have time to read it however, the bottom line is this. Wentz looks more relaxed, comfortable, and confident when navigating through traffic and stepping up to make a throw. This means that the passes that sail are reduced, accuracy is heightened, and the face of the franchise is primed for a big year.
Defensive line depth is ruthless…
Arguably the biggest area of strength on the team this year is the defensive line. Whether it’s a complete return of the DT grouping, only with the addition of Timmy Jernigan to replace Bennie Logan, or three complete pairings of explosive defensive end that includes first-round pick Derek Barnett, the line looks STACKED. Practice squad depth only helps add even more value to the most important area in the wide-nine scheme, but the Eagles front four groupings are filled with explosiveness and a balance of veteran leadership and a youth infusion. The pass rush is going to feast this year, there’s no doubt about it.
But the offensive line not so much:
Conversely, the team are only carrying eight offensive linemen this year, allowing them to go heavy in other areas. It’s not a huge concern for a franchise that has adapted a “build from the ball out” mentality, but after such incredible depth was showcased during Training Camp, there are some minor worries.
The first being that the only “tackle” behind the starting tandem Lane Johnson and Jason Peters, is Halapoulivaati Vaitai. Vatai didn’t exactly flourish during his rookie season and his development is a lot slower than the now starting LG Isaac Seumalo. Dillon Gordon, the former LSU TE who is learning the tackle position behind Jason Peters, was assigned to the practice squad after a disappointing preseason.
Versatility seems to be the focus, with both Wisniewski and Warmack able to play both guard spots, but it’s needless to say that for a team so focused on building continuity in the trenches, stripping away contingency plans may not be their best move.
Versatility is key in the secondary:
The cornerback position is in a similar boat, only it’s a little more important. At the start of the offseason, the Eagles secondary was among the worst in the league. The Eagles drafted Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas with the long-term in mind, but Douglas was always seen as a developmental cornerback, leaving Jalen Mills and an out-of-place Patrick Robinson to start…not exactly a strong tandem.
Mills was later joined by Ronald Darby after the Eagles traded Jordan Matthews to the Bills, sparking Robinson to move inside, his position of comfort and production from two years ago. The Birds only have five corners on their roster, but again it’s versatility that’s the key.
Jaylen Watkins forced his way into the safety rotation again after a strong preseason at both CB/S, while the fluidity in games of Corey Graham and Malcolm Jenkins has long been documented. Expect a lot of rotation from the Eagles corners this year as they await the arrival of their second round pick.
The resurgence of Mychal Kendricks:
If the preseason MVP award was a thing, there’s no doubting who the winner would be. With three interceptions in as many games and some impressive blitzing, Kendricks made a statement that he was going nowhere. But what suddenly surged the Eagles linebacker into a realm of production after a year in which he contributed so little?
Well, it all starts at the top. If Schwartz is confident in his secondary, it means he can send more rushers into the backfield to disrupt the play…and that has and always will be the calling card of Mychal Kendricks. If the Eagles can continue into the regular season with that level of confidence then it’s going to be a fun ride and a potential comeback season for Mychal Kendricks. Here’s a little more on how all the dots are connected.
Patience is a virtue, but just how long is long-term?
By this point, it’s clear that development is the name of the game. But in the days before the cuts there were three of the Eagles draft picks who were regarded as “bubble” players after individual struggles. All three made the roster while it was eventually Nate Gerry who missed out and landed back on the practice squad, but if development really is the key then it’s down to the coaching staff to really elevate those players who aren’t at a roster-ready level yet.
To some extent, the ability to bring back Billy Brown, Byron Marshall and Bryce Treggs on the practice squad to develop somewhat justifies putting all the chips down on Shelton Gibson, Donnel Pumphrey and only having three tight ends on the roster. But if the Eagles development factory is going to kick into life, it needs to happen fast as a brutal free agent class approaches that could see many starters leave the City of Brotherly Love having only just arrived.
Pressure on Pederson rises:
An army of offensive weapons
A franchise quarterback
An elite pass rush
A dominant defensive coordinator
The pieces are in place. Doug Pederson has been subject to plenty of unwarranted criticism during his rookie year, but now the excuses will run thin. If the Eagles fail to meet expectations this year, the second of an apparent five-year window, then Pederson will be on the hot-seat. There is no excuse now for failing to gameplan efficiently due to a lack of help on the field, and there is no excuse for an unbalanced offense. It’s time to see if Pederson can take the next step just as his quarterback will.
Trust the process:
For the Eagles front office, this is the most pivotal offseason in building a competitive team. Landing your franchise quarterback is all well and good, but how do you build around him? Do you become the Tennessee Titans, or the Indianapolis Colts?
This year saw very little in the way of drama. No arrests, no suspensions, no off-the-field embarrassment. Just Wentz and his teammates in Fargo working out, Howie Roseman and Joe Douglas slaying the Draft and approaching Free Agency with an approach that completely contrasts a trigger-happy past. The Eagles don’t just have a new direction, they’re moving in it. And frankly that is the most reassuring thing fans could have hoped for this offseason.
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports