With less than 3 weeks until the 2014 NFL Draft, it’s a great time to take stock at the mid-point of the off-season. After the draft, all eyes will look towards July and the start of training camps. This off-season has been a roller coaster of sorts of the team, locking in some core players, cutting ties with others, and picking up a few other pieces that can help the Birds achieve the ultimate football goal. All sides of the ball have been impacted: offense, defense, and special teams. We’ve even seen some minor shake-up in the coaching staff. With all the changes, there doesn’t appear to be any event or combination of events derailing the team-first mentality that Head Coach Chip Kelly instilled upon his arrival in early 2013. Here’s a quick mid-point report card for the Iggles’ off-season:
Nothing splashy here, and no major changes with the exception of Bill Musgrave taking over as Quarterbacks coach. The coaching staff took many of the players from the end of the Andy Reid era, put in a new system and training philosophies, and got the team back to the playoffs. True, it was a “one and done” for the Birds to end the year, but a far cry from the 4-12 record in the previous season. With a majority of the coaching staff returning intact, we should expect to see more great things from Kelly and his crew.
In terms of weathering the storm, Quarterback Nick Foles cashed in on a golden opportunity when Michael Vick when down with an injury. His oft-mentioned 27-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio, along with his record-tying 7 touchdown game, put him squarely in the driver’s seat for this offense. The team resigned Wide Receivers Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin, making a big statement that production on the field carries a lot of weight. Maclin comes off a torn ACL, while Cooper returns after a racially charged comment off-the-field almost cost him his career. The Eagles do lose Michael Vick to the New York Jets, but picked up Running Back Darren Sproles from the New Orlean Saints. Sproles brings a dual-threat, shifty option to a backfield already featured All Pro LeSean McCoy. The only other major acquisition was Quarterback Mark Sanchez, although at this point, Foles is the de facto starter. This offense is charged for another stellar season, led by Foles, but with increasing depth for the team to rely on should problems arise.
The defense has been relatively quiet so far, with the exception of Safety Malcolm Jenkins, another former Saint. He’ll definitely help a depleted secondary, and should fill that role nicely. But it’s obvious the Eagles need more help. This is one area where the team can easily build during the draft. Linebacker DeMeco Ryans found his grove as the defensive leader for this team, and played an instrumental role in helping the unit mature throughout the season. While the defensive line for the most part returns intact, and ready for another year, the secondary, especially the Safety and Cornerback spots, are opportunities to add depth. Expect the Birds to go after defensive players more so than offense.
Special Teams: B
It was no surprise that the team locked up Punter Donnie Jones, who had a great season overall, giving the Eagles solid field position on most possessions. Kicker Alex Henery however, should be expecting a challenger at some point before training camp. His consistency wasn’t where the team needs it to be going forward, especially with some potential rules changes on PAT’s in the works. The unit as a whole was much improved from the previous season, but again, no major signings or changes throughout the off-season.
While the Eagles made some important additions to add depth to a solid offense, they simply must address their defense. Looking at the end of last season, having a defense that can bail them out when, not if, the offense sputters is critical to winning playoff football. The trap for the Birds will be to avoid complacency when it comes to upgrading their talent. Free agency was the first step in that process. The NFL Draft is the second step. All eyes are now set squarely on the draft to see how the Iggles look to grow from a barely playoff-ready group to a championship caliber team.