In the passed weeks, I have examined several players that will be crucial to the Philadelphia Eagle success in the 2014 season. Though those players may not receive the recognition they deserve, if they live up to expectations the team could find its way in Arizona next February. Looking at unsung heroes includes examining some players that may not show up in the box score or will not sell jersey’s, but will be just as important as the quarterback or running back. This final installment will look at players that will be X-factors for head coach Chip Kelly.
Brandon Graham (Outside Linebacker)
Everyone has waited for Graham to live up to the hype since his rookie season. But after struggling with injuries and now playing out of position, not much can be relied upon from the four-year veteran. Last season saw a major adjustment for Graham as a stand up linebacker, where he was not strictly asked to rush the passer. He is not strong playing in the open field and in pass-coverage.
If he can gather an understanding of his role and the outside linebacker position, there is a chance to find extra playing time. Though he does not have the natural fluidity to play off the defensive line, he does have a good motor off the edge. Graham can provide an extra boost when attacking the quarterback, best-suited for a situational role. If he exceeds his career high in sacks (5.5 in 2012) in 2014, the Eagles defense should be drastically better.
His possible emergence could take attention away from others in the front seven, freeing up the strong middle core for the Philadelphia Eagles. It would also relieve pressure on first round pick outside linebacker Marcus Smith II. Smith could be eased into a rotational role, if Graham can prove he is worthy of regular playing time.
Donnie Jones (Punter)
It may be odd to add a punter to a list of unsung heroes, but he will be a great asset as an extension of the defense. With the fast-paced nature of the Philadelphia Eagles offense, there are times when the defense is asked to quickly return to the field. In those situations, Jones must be able to pin opponents deep in there own zone.
With a defense that will likely see a lot of time on the field, they will need every advantage they can get. Winning the field position battle was one reason why the Philadelphia Eagles can follow the “bend but don’t break” mantra. The defense may tire but if Jones can continually keep opposing offenses in bad starting positions, they will struggle to consistently score touchdowns instead of field goals. Repeating his performance of averaging almost 45 yards per punt may be the biggest benefit to the team’s defensive success of the course of a grueling season.