CH .. CH…CH… Changes. Turn and face the strange.
2013 was a season of change and novelty. New coaches, new players, new schemes, new practices, new hope. And as the 2013 season drew to a close, the fans gave up a collective sigh of relief and joy. The Philadelphia Eagles, under the tutelage of new head coach Chip Kelly, pulled off a completely unexpected about face, and changed a last place team into a first place division winner. As the season faded into the doldrums of the off-season, many expected the changes to pass and familiarity to settle in. But changes are a part of the Eagles mantra now. In the off season, familiar faces of wide receivers Jason Avant and DeSean Jackson, quarterback Michael Vick, safeties Patrick Chung, Colt Anderson, and Kurt Coleman, and defensive tackle Clifton Geathers all parted ways with the Eagles. So the familiarity of the fans with the 2014 version of the team is not quite as expected.
In 1972, David Bowie recorded the song Changes, a song that signified the rapid evolution of the early 70′s in the “anti-establishment” culture of flower power and hippies and Woodstock. But rapid changes are not exclusive to the 1970′s, as they are occurring right now in the Philadelphia Eagles. There are many ways to describe the Chip Kelly Philadelphia Eagles, but perhaps one of the best terminologies is “metamorphosis”. Metamorphosis is a process marked with a dramatic change of appearance, character, or circumstances. In two years of the Chippah at the helm, the Eagles have been no stranger to dramatic change. In 2013, it was a conversion to a 3-4 defense and from a west coast version to a run oriented quick snap offense. In 2014, it was the release of 2013 wide receiver DeSean Jackson, and the continued evolution of the 3-4 defense.
In some regards, the Birds are a clinic of football research. Chip Kelly and his coaching staff admittedly will make changes based upon what works and what does not work. The results can be phenomenal. In the early part of 2013, the team began with a pedestrian record of 3-5 and were all but left out of any post season discussions. But sliding quarterback Nick Foles in as the starter on offense, and nose tackle Bennie Logan in as the starting nose tackle to anchor the defense, and suddenly the team went on a 7-2 run that took them through the regular season and into the playoffs.
Fans seeing the changes are easily placated. “Give us more of that!” is the hope of those still surviving from the descent of previous years. But that’s not how the Chippah operates. By the time the season had ended, the film rolled and the discussions began of how to improve upon what the Eagles had. So where did the Eagles need to improve? If you base the question on the playoff loss to the New Orleans Saints, you will respond with run defense and special teams coverage. If you base the question on the first half of the season, you will respond with defense. If you base the question on the second half of the season you will likely respond with depth. And if you base the question on the players who were not retained by the team, you will respond wide receiver, quarterback, defensive line and defensive backs. But if you are Chip Kelly and the coaching staff, you will likely respond “everywhere”.
So with improvements targeting virtually everywhere, what are the Eagles doing to accomplish this? Well, the off-season of 2013, a team coming off of a horrific year of 4-12, the Philadelphia Eagles signed five free agents, traded for one player and signed another in a supplemental draft, drafted eight prospects, and nine undrafted free agents. So by the time the 90 man roster assembled, twenty - four new faces were in Eagles uniforms. That group of players whittled down to become the roster that performed at the best level of the NFC East football conference, and managed a 10 win 6 loss season.
So at 10-6, the Eagles roster should be set, correct? Well, when you look at six free agents, seven drafted prospects, traded for a player, and fifteen undrafted free agent signings, you might be surprised to see that this Eagles team has 29 new faces, four more than the number of a 4-12 team. If you factor in the players who were injured in 2013 and have yet to play during the regular season in an Eagles uniform, this year over a third of the 90 man roster is new.
New means opportunity to some, and fearful change to others. It’s part of who we are that gives us an ability to embrace the changes all about us or invoke visions of all that can go wrong by doing things differently. But to a fan base of a team that seems to be on the right track, how do the fans react to a roster with more unfamiliar faces than the previous year?
Well, that’s why I have asked you all here today. It’s time to discuss the elephant in the room. We’ve had the attention of the national media for months over the roster of the Philadelphia Eagles, and unfortunately, most of the attention included references to snowballing Santa Claus, unruly fan behavior, and a team still searching for a Superbowl victory. But the national media hasn’t figured out that the Philadelphia Eagles are a team that is embracing change. The Chippah does not have emotional attachments to plays he calls or formations. He simply wants to get the best out of the players on the roster each and every NFL game day.
So as fans, it’s time to put down the angst of “hey! you don’t have my favorite player anymore!”. It’s time to settle up with the “you didn’t make the right selections in the draft!” issues. It’s time to square away with the “we need to do what we used to do!”. Ready or not, here comes the Philadelphia Eagles of 2014. This is the new and improved version. This is a new set of plays, of strategies, of players, and of possibilities.
It’s said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. If that’s the case, these Philadelphia Eagles may be the sanest team in the NFL.