The Eagles historically under then head coach Andy Reid focused on big guys up front, and a power-oriented version of the West Coast offense. Towards the end of Reid’s era, we saw glimpses of the dynamic introduced by smaller, faster players. With current Head Coach Chip Kelly’s offense, we see an almost complete reverse, and focus on speed versus power. Make no mistake, there are still big guys on the lines, but starting with the quarterback position, these Birds are leaner, and faster. QBs Nick Foles and Michael Vick are not built in the same mold as former Eagles’ QB Donovan McNabb. While McNabb had scrambling ability, he was built in more of a Ben Roethlisberger-type frame, able to absorb more punishment at the expense of speed (and unfortunately pass accuracy). But with the shift in focus to speed and finesse comes the inherent higher risk of injury, and the chance that bigger guys will hit harder, and be able to “push the pile” when the need arises.
In free agency so far, the Iggles began to address their defensive needs, picking up a cornerback, a safety, and a defensive tackle. They also took the steps to sign some of their own, while releasing receiver Jason Avant, an ever-present go-to receiver who unfortunately lost the numbers game. The most recent (and some say splashy) pickup on the offensive side was former New Orleans’ running back Darren Sproles. Dating back to his days with the San Diego Chargers, Sproles brought speed and shiftiness in a small frame. He brings a dangerous return capability to the Eagles, along with a solid backup to premier RB LeSean McCoy. Rumors that McCoy might be unhappy about losing carries seem to be just that. As McCoy approaches that critical age 30 wall for running backs, having a backup capable of stepping in without a beat is crucial. As others have said, it wouldn’t hurt the Eagles to pick up or draft a solid “push the pile” type of back, as neither Bryce Brown or Chris Polk have shown they can fit that role. In Brown’s case, he may unfortunately become another victim of the numbers when cut time comes around.
As the offense and defense gets faster, the question becomes, can they sustain a season injury-free? This past year, Kelly brought in a sports science coordinator to address nutrition as a component of the broader conditioning program. Maclin’s ACL tear aside, the Birds’ as a whole stayed relatively healthy. This becomes more critical as the players transition to a faster-paced assault on both sides of the ball. Customized smoothies aside, the Birds cannot afford to give up depth at any position, as that puts them one injury away from a potential derailment. They are in a great position within the NFC East, and even within the NFC itself. They play a first place schedule this year, but have the firepower to match up with most any team. But it comes down to chemistry, health, and longevity. Do the Eagles have what it takes in 2014? For now, as free agency continues, upgrades and depth are their keys to eliminating a potential achilles heel.