With only five days to go until the Philadelphia Eagles report to the NovaCare Complex for training camp, here are the Top 5 things to keep your eyes on as the 2014 NFL Season begins:
- NO INJURIES! Let me repeat that – NO INJURIES! This is probably the single most important wish throughout the entire season. Last year, aside from the loss of wide receiver Jeremy Maclin to a torn ACL, the Eagles remained relatively healthy. Some of that could be considered luck, while the rest could fall on head coach Chip Kelly and his new sports science coordinator Shaun Huls. Whatever the combination, the Birds needs science and magic to come together in the right proportions again.
- Speed – In the opening game last year against the Washington Redskins, the Birds unveiled Kelly’s new offense, which some pegged “warp speed” or “blur” offense. Essentially, the Eagles kept a very small window of time between plays, limited personnel changes to keep the defense on the field, and continually pounded plays out one after the other. While the offense didn’t always have an edge in time of possession, the effect on the opposing defense was obvious. By the final quarter of the game, Redskins’ defenders looked gassed. The Iggles need to practice the fast-paced play again in training camp, and ideally shorten that window between plays even more.
- Quarterback Nick Foles – Consistency and accuracy are key for the second year starter, his first as the uncontested starter going into camp. Last season, Foles showed tremendous poise and a cool confidence in racking up impressive numbers, including Pro Bowl MVP honors and a Hall of Fame mention for his 7 touchdown passes against the Oakland Raiders. Simply put, we need more of the same this year.
- Quarterback Mark Sanchez – You’re probably wondering why a backup quarterback gets a #4 mention in this list. See #1 above, and then consider any kind of injury to Foles. Can Sanchez step in, pick up the offense, and keep the Eagles on an even keel until Foles returns? During his days as a starter for the New York Jets, Sanchez had good days and bad days, but did help his team reach the AFC Championship in back-to-back seasons. The infamous butt fumble aside, this is his chance at redemption, and ideally an insurance policy for Kelly should Foles suffer either a serious injury or a complete breakdown.
- Innovation – While most of the innovation won’t show up until meaningful football begins in August, training camp is an opportunity for Kelly to implement more unorthodox and unique practice drills. Eagles fans were used to very hard-hitting, tough practices under former head coach Andy Reid, but Kelly brought his own form of toughness through rapid skill drills in between teaching periods. The results spoke for themselves on the field as the Eagles executed an impressive turn-around season.
As the excitement builds to the start of the season, all eyes are on the Eagles and how high they can set the bar this year. While some analysts predict a slight drop-off from last season, most observers and fans expect the team to exceed the one-and-done Wild Card playoff appearance and go deeper this year. Will it be a Super Bowl year? A lot of that depends on how well the team matures at all three phases of football. The NFC East is ripe for the picking and the Eagles can be the 2014 vultures to claim it as their own.