Friday, May 29, 2015

Bradford, Sanchez...even Tebow in line to Start at Quarterback in Eagles' Opener

The Eagles held their first round of OTA's this week at the NovaCare Complex and one of the biggest topics of conversation gravitated around the quarterback situation. It was assumed by just about anyone who follows this team that when head coach Chip Kelly traded quarterback Nick Foles to St. Louis for Sam Bradford that these two teams simply exchanged one starter for the other. As far as I can tell, Foles is firmly in place as the Rams' starter heading into training camp, but I cannot say the same thing about Bradford with a great deal of confidence.

It was reported this week that the former No. 1 overall pick of the 2010 NFL Draft is still a long way from being 100 percent after undergoing surgery for a torn ACL he sustained before the start of last season. Add in the fact that Kelly has appeared to leave the door open for Mark Sanchez to be his starter on opening day and we should have a full-blown quarterback controversy on our hands when the Birds open camp in late July.

If you really want to stir the pot you might as well throw Tim Tebow into the mix after Kelly decided to give the former Heisman Trophy cast-off a chance to revitalize his sketchy NFL career. The Eagles still have Matt Barkley on the roster and GJ Kinne is there to round-out a fivesome of signal-callers that are all fighting for position in one of the most interesting depth charts on the team.

My gut feeling is that if Bradford is healthy and ready to go he will get the start against Atlanta in the season opener, but given his past history with injuries that becomes a very big "if". You do not get drafted first overall for the fun of it and, when healthy, Bradford has been able to live up to all the hype. While I cannot turn a blind eye to all the injuries he has sustained in his first five seasons in the league, I also have to be optimistic that he can stay on the field all 16 games and hopefully into the playoffs.

Sanchez has already had his turn to run Kelly's fast-paced, up-tempo offense when he took over for an injured Foles last season. On paper, he surprisingly played rather well; however gaudy stats do not win games. I just cannot see this former No. 1 pick leading the Eagles back to the NFC East Division title they won in 2013 after finishing two games behind the Cowboys under his watch last season. He still fills a huge role as a viable backup in a league filled with quite a few mediocre players at his position, but Sanchez is not the long-term answer and as already mentioned the short-term one either.

Could Tebow actually be reborn as a legitimate starting NFL quarterback after taking the past two seasons off to work on his game? If you believe in miracles then you might want to say yes. I actually do believe in miracles but this one would have to be seen to be believed. I love the fact that Kelly decided to go way out on a limb to see what a new and improved Tebow can add to his team, but I am not about to jump on that bandwagon site unseen. Still, I can picture a scenario where Bradford goes down and Sanchez starts stinking up the joint in a losing cause at the Linc only to hear the entire crowd start chanting TEBOW, TEBOW, TEBOW!

Friday, May 22, 2015

Eagles 2015 Projected Depth Chart-Defense

In my last post I took a closer look at the Eagles' 2015 projected depth chart on offense according to Yahoo Sports, so this time around I am going to turn my attention to the other side of the ball. The following is Philadelphia's projected depth chart on defense:

• Left Defensive End
1. Fletcher Cox
2. Brandon Bair

• Nose Tackle
1. Bennie Logan
2. Beau Allen

• Right Defensive End
1. Cedric Thornton
2. Vinny Curry

• Left Outside Linebacker
1. Connor Barwin
2. Marcus Smith II

• Left Inside Linebacker
1. Mychal Kendricks
2. Jordan Hicks

• Right Inside Linebacker
1. Kiko Alonso
2. DeMeco Ryans

• Right Outside Linebacker
1. Brandon Graham
2. Bryan Braman

• Left Cornerback
1. Byron Maxwell
2. Eric Rowe

• Right Cornerback
1. Walter Thurmond III
2. Brandon Boykin

• Strong Safety
1. Earl Wolff
2. Chris Prosinski

• Free Safety
1. Eric Rowe
2. Chris Maragos

There is little doubt that the Eagles' defensive has been the Achilles Heel of this team during Chip Kelly's two-year tenure as head coach. You cannot place all that much blame on this new regime considering the mess that Andy Reid's staff created with this unit in his final few seasons at the helm.

The main problem has been a defensive secondary that gives up too many big plays. The Eagles have also had major problems getting off the field on third down as well as giving-up points late in the game. All of these things added up to a defense that was ranked 28th in the league in average yards allowed (375.6) and 23rd in points allowed (25.0) in the 2014 regular season. This unit was ranked 15th at stopping the run with an average of 110.7 rushing yards allowed, but it fell all the way to 31st in defending against the pass with 264.9 yards allowed.

Kelly has obviously made it a priority to address the situation through both free agency and the draft. He brought in veteran defensive backs Byron Maxwell from Seattle and Walter Thurmond III from the New York Giants. He traded for inside linebacker Niko Alonzo while resigning outside linebacker Brandon Graham. The biggest surprise in Kelly's defensive makeover was using all five of his draft choices after the first round selection of wide receiver Nelson Agholor on this side of the ball.

The upgrade in talent is pretty obvious, but I still have to question how quickly will all of these new faces come together to play as an effective unit under the guidance of defensive coordinator Billy Davis.

As a collective whole, I would give this defensive depth cart a grade of B-. It is solid up front with a defensive line that helped Philly rank second in the NFL in sacks last season with 49. They Eagles are loaded at linebacker especially on the inside, but they are going to need some solid production from Marcus Smith II on the outside as last year's first round pick.

Many experts are calling Maxwell a bit overrated as a cover corner and Thurmond III is still a question mark as a bona fide starter at the other corner position. Any kind of significant improvement in one of the porous secondaries in the league could hinge on just how quickly Kelly's three draft picks at the defensive back position develop at the next level with an extra emphasis on second-round pick Eric Rowe.

My overall assessment for Philadelphia's defense heading into the new season would be cautious optimism. I believe that Kelly has done a good job filling some obvious needs on this side of the ball if all of the new additions can play to expectations. The only thing that is definitely in this unit's favor is that is really has nowhere to go but up, especially when it comes to defending against the pass.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Eagles 2015 Projected Depth Chart-Offense

Courtesy of Yahoo Sports, I recently came across the projected depth chart for the Eagles' offense heading into the 2015 season as copied below.

• Wide Receiver
1. Nelson Agholor
2. Josh Huff

• Wide Receiver
1. Riley Cooper
2. Jeff Maehl

• Wide Receiver
1. Jordan Matthews
2. Miles Austin

• Left Offensive Tackle
1. Jason Peters
2. Andrew Gardner

• Left Offensive Guard
1. Evan Mathis
2. Dennis Kelly

• Center
1. Jason Kelce
2. David Molk

• Right Offensive Guard
1. Matt Tobin
2. Josh Andrews

• Right Offensive Tackle
1. Lane Johnson
2. Allen Barbre

• Tight End
1. Zach Ertz
2. Brent Celek

• Quarterback
1. Sam Bradford
2. Mark Sanchez

• Running Back
1. DeMarco Murray
2. Ryan Mathews

My first thought was that things look pretty good... On Paper!!!! My next thought was that this unit should be able to put some serious points on the board if all the No. 1's on this list can stay on the field for the full 16-game regular season schedule. Most importantly this would include the Eagles' new starting quarterback Sam Bradford and running back DeMarco Murray.

Bradford has been injury plagued for most of his NFL career and before Murray had his break-out season in 2014, he also missed time due to injury. The other concern from a health standpoint is the offensive line. In Chip Kelly's first season as head coach, the starting five lineman played as a complete unit almost the entire season. Last year this was more like a MASH unit as multiple injuries took their toll as the season wore on. The starting five on this year's list looks pretty solid, but depth remains a major concern seeing how Kelly decided not to address this need in the recent NFL Draft.

The Eagles' receiving corps has also been altered over the past year with the departure of DeSean Jackson in the 2014 offseason and Jeremy Maclin this offseason. The Birds have to hope that second-year vet Jordan Matthews continues to develop as an emerging star in this league and that first round draft pick Nelson Agholor can make an immediate impact right out of the gate. The tight end situation remains solid and the Eagles still have Darren Sproules as another weapon.

Like I already said, things look good on paper and if everything goes according to plan I would expect this unit to once again be one of the highest scoring offenses in the NFL. Next week, I will take a closer side at the other side of the ball with a defense that has also gone through somewhat of a makeover especially in the secondary.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Eagles 2015 Draft- Final Grades

I decided to take an entire week to go through all the facts and figures of last week's NFL Draft before releasing my official report card for the Eagles in Chip Kelly's first foray as both head coach and as the team's director of personnel. I broke things down by a few general categories as well as issuing an overall final grade.

Meeting Team Needs: B+

I really like the first round selection of former USC wide receiver Nelson Agholor. This position was a pressing need with the departure of Jeremy Maclin through free agency. One knock on Agholor is his overall speed, but he does bring a high-level of versatility to the table that should work perfectly with Kelly's inovative offensive scheme.

Moving-up to get cornerback Eric Rowe from Utah in the second round also helped this grade, especially since he was considered to be first-round talent by many draft experts. This also helped to fill a pressing need to add some immediate depth into a recently revamped defensive secondary that has been a thorn in the side of this defense for the past few seasons.

Kelly decided to stick with defensive players with his next four picks. While you cannot go wrong by adding even more depth to this side of the ball, Kelly missed-out on getting an easy A in this category by not picking-up at least one offensive lineman.

Creativity: C-

This was Kelly's lowest grade simply because of all the hype he created heading into this draft. Some experts had him trading away all his picks and half his current starters to go out and get his former quarterback at Oregon, Marcus Mariota. Instead, he decided to play things pretty much by the book in what turned into a very methodical seven rounds of picks.

Diversity: C+

Once again, I like the fact that Kelly used most of his picks to add some key depth to the Eagles' biggest weakness during his tenure with this team. However, adding three cornerbacks may have been one two many and inside linebacker was not a pressing need given the depth and talent of the players he already had on the roster at this position. I do like the fact that Kelly decided to draft players on the criteria of what they can bring to the team instead of the actual position they play, but lets hope that he can move some of these new additions around to make an immediate impact this upcoming season.

Adding Character Players: A

I may be getting a bit ahead of myself in this category, but on the surface, it appears that all six draft picks are players that not only have a high motor on the field, but also have the ability to be quality additions to the locker room. Kelly has already shown his complete lack of patience for guys that are more concerned with their overall stats as compared to the final score of a game. The release of DeSean Jackson was a prime example of this philosophy last season and the departure of LeSean McCoy this year continues to prove that there is no "I in Team" in Philadelphia.

Overall Grade: B+

Taking everything into consideration, I really like the direction that Kelly took in this draft. While some Eagles' fans may have been disappointed that he did not make a huge splash by pulling-out all the stops to move-up to get Mariota, I took Kelly at his word that he would not mortgage his team's future to make this deal happen. Love him or hate him, Chip Kelly continues to mold this team into his vision of what it will take to bring a championship to this title-starved franchise. Lets all hope that the six players he just added to the roster turn out to be a big step in the right direction to finally achieving this lofty goal.