It’s no secret that the Philadelphia Eagles secondary was downright awful during the first two year’s of head coach Chip Kelly’s tenure. That’s why the team focused on addressing the position this offseason in both free agency and the 2015 NFL Draft. Kelly gained control of all personnel decisions and elected to sign arguably the best free agent cornerback available in Byron Maxwell. Kelly also added versatile defensive backs Walter Thurmond and E.J. Biggers in free agency as well.
Then during the 2015 NFL Draft is when Kelly really made a statement. He elected to draft three cornerbacks including Eric Rowe, JaCorey Shepherd and Randall Evans. But the biggest move in the secondary may have been Kelly’s recent decision to trade cornerback Brandon Boykin to the Pittsburgh Steelers for a conditional fifth-round pick in 2016.
While many fans wanted to see Boykin get a chance to start on the outside instead of being limited to just the slot, that just wasn’t going to happen in Philadelphia. Kelly and his coaching staff have strict measurables they look for at certain positions and Boykin just didn’t meet the requirements to play on the outside. Now the team will have an open competition to see who will replace Boykin in the slot with Shephred being the first one up.
That being said, despite all the changes and the loss of Boykin, Bucky Brooks of NFL.com selected the Eagles as one of the most improved secondaries in the NFL. Philadelphia came in at #3 on his list, behind the Kansas City Chiefs and New York Jets. Here’s everything Brooks had to say regarding the Eagles’ improved secondary:
"While many remain skeptical about Chip Kelly’s extreme makeover of the Eagles’ roster, the third-year coach deserves credit for upgrading a secondary that struggled in every area a season ago. Philly’s secondary surrendered the most explosive passing plays in football (yielding a league-worst 18 receptions of 40-plus yards) and allowed opposing quarterbacks to average 7.8 yards per pass attempt. All of this despite the fact that the Eagles boasted one of the best pass rushes in the league with 49 sacks (tied for second).Consequently, the Eagles needed to overhaul their secondary and add more athletic defenders with superb man-to-man skills on the perimeter. Byron Maxwell comes over from the “Legion of Boom” to serve as the Eagles’ CB1. Although he is probably most comfortable on the quarterback’s blind side (RCB), Maxwell gives the Eagles a physical corner to challenge the likes of Dez Bryant, Odell BeckhamJr. and DeSean Jackson in the NFC East. Veteran Nolan Carroll and rookie Eric Rowe are fighting to start opposite Maxwell; right now it appears Carroll will get the nod, with Rowe manning the valuable nickel corner position. Offseason addition Walter Thurmond brings cover-corner skills to the free safety position. Even if he fails to cut the mustard as a starter, Thurmond gives the Eagles another sub-package defender to neutralize some of the three- and four-receiver sets opponents trot out in today’s game."
Brooks admits that while many are skeptical of the moves Kelly has made this offseason, it’s worth applauding his effor to improve the team’s woeful secondary. But one thing Brooks failed to mention regarding the Eagles’ new-look secondary is the addition of Cory Undlin as the unit’s new coach. Despite the high profile addition of Maxwell and all of the other moves, no other acquisition may prove more important than the addition of Undlin to Kelly’s coaching staff.
Players have already applauded Undlin’s coaching techniques and how he focuses on the smaller things like having the right fundamentals. Undlin also appears to be having players learn the responsibilities of each secondary player on the field for each play. That will allow the Eagles to have a ton of versatility on the back-end of their defense, allowing them to adjust to opposing offenses or throw curve-balls their way on game day as well.
While it’s easy to question how exactly the Eagles’ secondary will perform in 2015, there’s no doubt that they’ve improved this offseason. It appears as though the unit should be much better on paper, but that’s why they play the games. Sadly, the Eagles know all too well about having a dominant team on paper and it not working out during the season. Hopefully this upcoming season will have a different ending than the “dream team” had in 2011.
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