Leadership is a word that NFL teams banter around related to which of the players can get others to listen to them and buy in to the concepts that the coach puts forth. It’s a trait that can’t simply be assigned, but must earned and developed within the team’s fabric. The Philadelphia Eagles, in their second season under head coach Chip Kelly, have some leaders in the making, but must continue to develop new and upcoming players to take the reins. With the departure this off-season of wide receiver Jason Avant and quarterback Michael Vick, the Birds said goodbye to two very important leadership pieces. As the season begins in roughly two months, a lack of real leadership could allow even the smallest issue to dismantle this team’s progress.
Training camp officially begins on July 25, and eyes will be spread across the team as usual with a bunch of questions hoping to be answered. Can the offense continue to develop and increase their production over behind quarterback Nick Foles and his complement of offensive weapons? Will the defense, with draft additions, continue their development in being able to create stops when needed? And lest we not forget special teams and their ability to get great starting field position for Birds drives? These questions, while simple on paper, require the coaching staff to get every player ingrained in their system. That in turn requires the players buy-in. Each player will look to the team leaders for that direction. But who will these leaders be? Let’s look at two offensive and two defensive players will the most to gain from taking the leadership role:
Quarterback Nick Foles – spend any time watching or listening to Foles, and you wonder if he has the “it” qualities that make a leader? He comes across as intelligent and well-liked among the team, someone ready to step into that franchise quarterback role. He brings comparisons to New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning, a confident but soft-spoken leader who the team rallies behind. If Foles continues to produce on the field, the volume of questions will inevitable quiet down.
Running back LeSean McCoy – an Eagle for his whole career, McCoy picked up the reins from former Eagles running back Brian Westbrook, and has set team and NFL records en route to Pro Bowl honors. While McCoy can produce on the field, he has a history of some immature off the field issues, including a Twitter fight with the mother of his child. These types of issues deflate what could be a path to a stable leadership role for McCoy. With the loss of two veterans, the Eagles need other vets to step up and fill that void. McCoy may be one of those answers.
Linebacker DeMeco Ryans – brought in on a trade from the Houston Texans, Ryans solidified the middle of the old 4-3 defense, and has continued to leave his mark as the Birds transition to a 3-4. Along with Eagles cornerback Cary Williams, Ryans carries himself on the field with a bit of attitude. While some may view that as eccentric, a defense that has an attitude, playing within the rules, becomes infectious to the team. The Eagles appeared to get that swagger back on the field this year, thanks in part to Ryans and his defensive friends.
Cornerback Cary Williams - coming in from the Baltimore Ravens, Williams brought an aggressive attitude to a defense lacking a strong edge. While he still has rough edges, Williams contributed both on and off the field, helping to build a new identity for the defense. This season, he needs to learn when to temper his emotions, continue to develop his play within Kelly’s system, and become one of the de facto defensive leaders of the team.
Time will ultimately tell if any of these players take the opportunity to lead the team. Some already have, as is the case with Ryans and Williams. Foles has a role in the leadership puzzle simply out of the position he plays. However, having four individual leaders is much different than having a core leadership team. The Eagles showed last year that a strong leadership core can help them navigate problems on and off the field, one of the reasons wide receiver Riley Cooper is still with the team. That leadership core is one critical component to continued Eagles success.