ARMED AND DANGEROUS
As expected, the Philadelphia Eagles returned to organized team activities (OTA’s) on Tuesday, May 27. But for some, the return was a new look to a familiar cast of characters. Players hit the gym in the off-season, and many noteworthy players were particular favorites of mine: nose tackle Bennie Logan, defensive end Vinny Curry, offensive tackle Lane Johnson and cornerback Brandon Boykin, and more. They were more than determined, there were ripped. Notice is going out to the NFL this month – the Philadelphia Eagles are armed and dangerous.
Much of the talk throughout the off-season focused on the defense. And the talk was not a stream of praises nor of accolades. The Philadelphia Eagles defense finished the 2013 season last in yards allowed via the passing game. It was that vulnerability which caused the Birds to focus on stopping the pass in the playoffs – which they did against a very dangerous Drew Brees – but which allowed the New Orleans Saints to run at will. But to place it all into perspective, while the offense was a shift of philosophy, the defense had to scrap their entire scheme and start from scratch. By the second half of the season, the team began to gel and the resulting 7-2 run illustrated that fact. Still, the early season confusion lingered in the statistics and haunted the team into the off-season. In a disposable economy, where we no longer repair but simply toss and replace, the general consensus took that same approach to the defense and to the players who grasped the 3-4 concepts in approximately 7 months time. With free agency and the 2014 NFL draft looming, and with that toss and grab mentality, many scenarios played among the mock drafts including retooling the defensive line, the defensive backfield, linebackers, offensive line, wide receivers, and even some far out mocks where the Eagles would target one of the media darling quarterback prospects. Pundits and fans alike pointed to the 2013 statistics to justify their projection of a complete overhaul of the defense. But the Eagles wisely did not take such an extreme approach, nor should they have done so.
Since 2013 was a new system, it was wise for players to come in with enough flexibility to fill whatever roles came their way. But by the end of the season, fans forgot the challenges to a first year team, and began to expect seasoned performances out of a group of players who far exceeded any pre-season hopes. Despite coming into the season uncertain of the role he might play, Bennie Logan played very well as the nose tackle for the Eagles. In spite the uncertainty of whether he would play defensive end or upright as an outside linebacker, Vinny Curry put in a great body of work in 2013. It seems many of us had forgotten that it was a year ago that the Eagles players were getting their first look at the new approach, but more importantly, it was the first look of the coaches with the players. As such, players were only now projected to fill a role with the new team. Trent Cole was given an outside linebacker role, while Vinny Curry was slotted at defensive end. Going into the season, nobody could do more than guess where they would be positioned. As the season progressed, players learned their roles and coaches learned their players. By season’s end, all ambiguity was gone and introductions were behind them. So 2014 set up the team for production, no more introductions.