After the Eagles most recent loss on Sunday night to none other than the Dallas Cowboys, the focus and excitement of those fans die-hard enough to stick this season out to the very end centered on the continued growth of Bryce Brown and Nick Foles.
And of course, this is with good reason.
Brown ran with strength, balance, vision, and a decisiveness we haven’t seen out of a running back in many years. He and McCoy combine to give Eagles fans hopes of a dynamic 1-2 punch in the backfield that, fingers crossed, whoever the next coach ends up being will make the focal point of the offense going forward.
Add in that Nick Foles looked calm, focused, physically capable and efficient and there was plenty there to be happy about, even as the inevitable wave of resigned anger washed over those of us still watching as the clock ticked down on consecutive loss number 8.
Of course there were other bright spots as well from the next generation of Eagles; like Damaris Johnsons punt return touchdown in the waning moments, Brandon Grahams active play in place of the recently released Jason Babin which resulted in 4 “stops” and 1.5 sacks, and Riley Coopers continued evolution into, at the very least, a strong number 3 wide receiver and red zone threat.
But to my eyes, the greatest development for the Eagles has to be Dennis Kelly’s continuously improving play at right tackle.
I’m not going to go overboard and claim him to be the next Jon Runyan, though as Sheil Kapadia pointed out earlier today there are some comparisons to be made.
I prefer to take a more long-term view of the situation.
Which essentially is this: with the expected return of both Jason Peters and Todd Herremans next season, Kelly could possibly fill a King Dunlap sized hole on the roster. No one is going to pretend that Dunlap, though he played well in this most recent loss to the Cowboys, is the player the front office would prefer as the swing tackle, and first guy off the bench in case of an offensive line injury.
He’s got size obviously, but his height makes nearly all his movements seem awkward and difficult, which allows both speed rushers to angle their bodies so that his inability to bend his knees renders him nearly useless as they run right around him (this is why he had those hands to the face penalties in the first game against the Cowboys), and leverage guys to easily get under his pads and push him around.
Kelly is big, but not in an awkward sense. His frame is bulky, but he’s clearly got a lot of strength to his lower body, allowing him to anchor. He essentially neutralized Anthony Spencer on Sunday night, holding him to 5 tackles and no sacks.
The best part about Kelly’s development is that it gives the Eagles flexibility. It’s still early, but if you search out mock drafts at this point of the year, many of them have the Eagles taking someone like Luke Joeckel, a tackle out of Texas A&M.
And while Joeckel is very talented and a prospect I wouldn’t be upset to see the Eagles grab, especially considering that Jason Peters will be 31 and Todd Herremans will be 30 by the time the 2013 season starts, if Kelly proves that he’s at the very least a competent back-up, it frees the Eagles to allocate draft resources elsewhere.
Like say, on a defense that’s become historically bad, allowing opposing quarterback’s to roll up a 152.4 rating on third down in the past six games.
There’s even the off chance Kelly’s development could take him into starter territory, allowing Herremans to return to his original NFL position of guard and further strengthening a unit that has become a serious liability this season, lessening the need to spend an early draft pick on an offensive lineman.
Of course, all of this is projection and there’s no telling where Kelly will end up or what type of player he’ll turn out to be. But there’s one thing for certain; this 2012 draft class has the chance to be a once in a lifetime group, with Dennis Kelly just another in a line of guys with bright futures, hopefully, in Eagles green.