Philadelphia Eagles 2013 Season Preview
By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - It was suggested the mood and atmosphere were becoming stagnant for the Philadelphia Eagles with Andy Reid as head coach.
It was even more evident after a 4-12 finish last season and a second straight year not making the playoffs.
Enter the touted college mind of Chip Kelly.
Kelly and his innovative, fast-thinking offense touched down in the City of Brotherly Love this offseason and many believe his presence will resuscitate the languishing effect left by Reid. Kelly is the first head coach of the Eagles since 1998 not named Reid and it's a mystery whether his up-tempo philosophy will work at the NFL level.
There are several college coaches who fizzled out in the league, but there are others who have thrived. The Eagles are hoping Kelly fits the latter category when the regular season commences next month. Kelly's first few months have been interesting with the Riley Cooper racial slur debacle and players still wondering who will be the starting quarterback.
Kelly is not in a hurry to appease his critics and it appears a starting quarterback won't be named until Week 1 nears. It has been a two-horse race between veteran Michael Vick and second-year QB Nick Foles. Kelly even made a trade on draft day to acquire former USC quarterback Matt Barkley, who could be the face of the franchise some day.
Pat Shurmer's head coaching stint didn't last long and now he's back with the Eagles as their offensive coordinator. Shurmer is very familiar with the franchise, having coached the tight ends from 1999-01 and quarterbacks from 2002-08. Shurmer has a lot of toys to work with in running back LeSean McCoy, wide receiver Desean Jackson and tight end Brent Celek. He lost a weapon in wideout Jeremy Maclin, who is done for the season with a torn ACL suffered during the first weekend of training camp.
Philadelphia's offensive line, arguably the strongest unit on the team, is back at full strength. Like all offenses, a strong offensive line can lead to greener pastures and the Eagles are hoping in time it will occur for them.
The Eagles' biggest area of concern is the defense. The unit is expected to switch to a 3-4 scheme under new coordinator Bill Davis, whose track record isn't that pristine.
Davis has some older players working in new positions, most notably former Pro Bowl defensive end Trent Cole moving to outside linebacker. Does Cole have the coverage skills and speed to cover on a regular basis? Will this lead to Cole's demise? All that will come to light in 2013.
2012 RECORD: 4-12 (last, NFC East)
LAST PLAYOFF APPEARANCE: 2010, lost to Green Bay Packers in wild card round
HEAD COACH (RECORD): Chip Kelly (first season)
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Pat Shurmur (first season with Eagles as off. coordinator)
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Bill Davis (first season with Eagles as def. coordinator)
KEY ADDITIONS: LB Connor Barwin (from Texans), S Patrick Chung (from Patriots), CB Bradley Fletcher (from Rams), S Kenny Phillips (from Giants), CB Cary Williams (from Ravens), LB Emmanuel Acho (from Browns), NT Isaac Sopoaga (from 49ers), DT Bennie Logan (draft), WR Arrelious Benn (from Buccaneers), TE James Casey (from Texans), RB Felix Jones (from Cowboys), T Lane Johnson (draft), TE Zach Ertz (draft), QB Matt Barkley (draft)
KEY DEPARTURES: CB Nnamdi Asomugah (released), DT Cullen Jenkins (released), DT Mike Patterson (released), LB Akeem Jordan (Chiefs), CB Dominique Rodgers- Cromartie (Broncos), T King Dunlap (Chargers)
QB: Vick (2,362 passing yards, 12 TD, 10 INT) seems to be the favorite to be the starter and added a few pounds of muscle in the offseason in preparation for Kelly's inventive offense. Kelly, who racked up 46 wins as head coach of Oregon, tends to go with a more athletic type of QB to run his show. Vick fits that mold, but does carry some baggage. Vick has played a full season just once in his career and is known for turning over the ball and not staying healthy. He has 24 interceptions the last two seasons and 32 fumbles in the last three, losing 12.
Foles (1,699 yards, 6 TD, 5 INT) showed signs of promise in his rookie campaign of 2012. Not as mobile as Vick, Foles is accurate and gets rid of the ball quicker. Barkley could even start toward the end of the season if Kelly has intentions of him being the QB for the future.
RB: It was common for Reid to throw the ball more than run, and that left a sour taste in the mouth of McCoy. A young, talented back, McCoy ran for 840 yards in 12 games and missed time with a concussion suffered in garbage time against Washington during a game that was out of reach. McCoy's shiftiness and quickness make him a dangerous commodity both between the tackles and catching passes out of the backfield. McCoy (373 receiving yards, 3 TD), who ran for 1,000 yards in each of the previous two seasons, had five total TDs one year after posting 20. If he's healthy McCoy makes Kelly's offense much more dangerous.
A change-of-pace back is always needed and typically teams go with two running backs nowadays. Bryce Brown is that man and he brings a mix of toughness and speed. With less finesse than McCoy, Brown (564 rushing yards, 4 TD) can shake up defenses when his number is called. Chris Polk and newcomer Felix Jones will battle for a job this preseason.
WR: Wide receiver is very important in Kelly's style of quick passes and getting back to the line in order to keep the defense guessing. When Kelly signed on in January, he had two wideouts who can succeed in the offense in Jackson and Maclin. Now Kelly's down to just Jackson after Maclin suffered a knee injury in what was dubbed a contract year.
Arrelious Benn was expected to move up the depth chart, but now he's done with a knee ailment. So it leaves the Eagles with Cooper, who needed to take a sabbatical after using a racial slur toward African Americans during a concert this summer. Cooper's story has faded and the Eagles will need him along with Jason Avant, Damaris Johnson and emerging rookie Russell Shepard to keep the chains moving.
TE: Whether Kelly uses the spread or West Coast style is unknown, but it's certain he enjoys multiple tight end sets. Kelly already had Celek (684 yards, TD) and bolstered the position by adding James Casey, a former Houston Texan.
Celek, Casey, Clay Harbor and rookie Zach Ertz will all compete for playing time. Both Celek and Casey have bulk and power, while Ertz may fit this offense best for his height and great hands. The former Stanford standout can create mismatches for the defense and could turn out to be a big-time player. The two tight end sets will also enable the run game.
OL: As previously stated, the offensive line is back together following a patched-up effort in 2012. Center Jason Kelce and left tackle Jason Peters were lost for the season because of injury and their absence proved to be huge in what the offense was trying to accomplish. Todd Herremans will now move back to his familiar spot at right guard, while Evan Mathis will play left guard and rookie right tackle Johnson is penciled in to start.
Johnson, the fourth overall pick in April's draft, will have a lot on his plate if the left-handed Vick wins the starting job and he most likely will. Offensive lineman enjoy run blocking more than anything and expect to see McCoy reach the 1,000-yard mark for the third time in his career.
Allen Barbre, Danny Watkins, Dennis Kelly and Dallas Reynolds are key reserves.
DL: No area of concern is larger than the Eagles' defense. One of the worst last season while using Jim Washburn's tortured wide-nine scheme on the defensive line, it's no wonder the Eagles lost 12 games a year ago and needed to make some changes.
Under Davis, Philadelphia is expected to unveil its variation of a 3-4 defense and has a young crop running the end spots in Cedric Thornton and Fletcher Cox (39 tackles, 5 1/2 sacks). Those spots could change of course with Vinny Curry pushing for playing time and Clifton Geathers battling for a roster spot. Cox has the most upside with his size and athleticism, while the rookie Logan showed he can penetrate up front.
The Eagles wanted to alter their defensive philosophy, so they released veterans Cullen Jenkins and Mike Patterson and added Isaac Sopoaga, who is well versed at the nose tackle position. Antonio Dixon is another space eater.
LB: Cole has to make the biggest transition from the 4-3 scheme to a 3-4, and is used to playing with one or both hands in the dirt. Known for his high motor, Cole is coming off a horrendous year in which he registered just three sacks. Cole had 10 or more in each of the previous three years and is entering his eighth season with the Eagles. Will age catch up to Cole in his new spot at right outside linebacker? It could, but the Eagles have others who can step up. Barwin (44 tackles, 3 sacks) will most likely be the top pass rusher from his LOLB position and brings a hard-nosed approach to the game.
Brandon Graham has plenty to prove and may even crack the starting lineup. If not, Graham (38 tackles, 5 1/2 sacks) will be a valuable sub behind Cole or Barwin.
Second-year linebacker Mychal Kendricks (75 tackles, sack) impressed during his rookie campaign and showed his speed and coverage skills. He got burnt a few times in 2012, but it's all a part of learning. Top inside linebacker DeMeco Ryans (113 tackles, sack) led the Eagles in tackles last year, but struggled when the Texans switched to a 3-4 a few years ago. In a 4-3 under technique, Ryans feels more comfortable and the Eagles could show that a few times.
Former Oregon star Casey Matthews and Jamar Chaney are the top backups.
DB: Defending the pass was a major issue for the Eagles last season even with Nnamdi Asomugah and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie playing opposite corners. The two of them appeared to be a recipe for success but proved otherwise and are now in different cities.
The Eagles added free agent corners in Cary Williams (75 tackles, 4 INT) and Bradley Fletcher, and the former made a negative impressive by skipping voluntary workouts for a myriad of reasons, one being the inside decor of his new house. Williams is a tough player. There's no doubt about that. He will have to back up his words and actions come Week 1. Fletcher (28 tackles, sack) flew under the radar and should have a spot locked up unless Brandon Boykin (31 tackles) makes a push.
Kurt Coleman (93 tackles, 2 INT) was awful at safety and he will be replaced by another Oregon Duck, Patrick Chung. Chung (45 tackles, 2 INT) isn't as aggressive as Coleman, but covers better and has a higher football I.Q. Nate Allen (73 tackles) hasn't lived up to his strong safety tag and could lose his job to newcomer Kenny Phillips. Phillips played just four games in 2012. Rookie Earl Wolff may even push some of the veterans for starting time, too.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Johnson appears locked in at kickoff return and excelled there in his collegiate days. Jackson is a dangerous threat returning punts and will handle those duties until it becomes a load.
Kicker Alex Henery made 27 of his 31 field goal attempts and made 11-of-12 from 40-49 yards in 2012. He handled all kicking duties, while longsnapper Jon Dorenbos is back for another season.
Donnie Jones is expected to battle Brad Wing as the punter, a spot held by veteran Mat McBriar for most of last season.
COACHING: Kelly, of course, is the biggest coaching change for the Eagles and whether his success from the Pacific Northwest will carry over to the NFL remains to be seen. He already raised a stir by not immediately naming a quarterback and if his offensive philosophy will be conducive with the speed of the officials, who dictate the pace of the game outside of the two-minute warning.
The up-tempo style in which Kelly lives by emphasizes a more involved ground attack and few drop steps for the quarterback. Even Kelly's practices were unorthodox with loud, fast-paced music blaring to keep the players in rhythm.
Kelly's alleged "cornball" antics may have worked in the sticks of the Northwest, but this is Philadelphia. Shurmer has to prove plenty of his doubters wrong after his head coaching career fizzled, while Davis may have more pressure than Kelly running the defense. For Davis' sake, it can't get any worse than what Juan Castillo and Company achieved in 2012.
THE SKINNY: Expectations are not very high for the Eagles considering the changes they have made since the debacle of 2012. Pegged to win maybe four or five games, the Eagles will not return to prominence any time soon and it could take Kelly three years to get fully settled in the NFL.
Reid needed his third season to get Philadelphia back on the map and overcome the types of bumps and bruises Kelly will surely experience. The defense will go through its share growing pains, too, and that's expected under a new regime.
08/16 14:57:46 ET