10 Philadelphia Eagles Poised to Break out in 2012
The Philadelphia Eagles seemed poised for a special season. The talent was already there. What wasn't there last season was chemistry. Too many times last season players didn't know their assignment.
Last season was Juan Castillo's first season not only as the Eagles defensive coordinator but also as any type of defensive coach in the NFL. Add that with a new blocking scheme on offense and a new defensive line scheme and the 2011 season was one giant learning curve for everybody involved.
2012 just has a different feel. Players know what their roles and assignments are supposed to be. There is less thinking involved. When you don't have to think so much, it's easier to just go out there and do your job. Confidence eliminates self-doubt.
Last season was also a disappointing year because a lot of players had down years. The key to having a great season is getting the majority of your players to have good seasons. You don't win just four of your first 12 games with the majority of your players having career years.
The Eagles are plenty of players who look poised to break out. It's important to note that there are several different types of breakout players. Some players break out after having done nothing in their careers like a Jason Babin or Victor Cruz.
Some players are already quality starts, but they become elite players after a breakout season like Eli Manning did in 2011. The Eagles have plenty of both. Here are the 10 most likely players to break out in 2012.
1. Michael Vick
In the last two seasons since Michael Vick earned the full-time starting quarterback gig with the Philadelphia Eagles, Vick hasn't really been much more than a quality starter. He has made his share of players, but he has also made plenty of mistakes. You can't call Vick an elite quarterback just yet.
This is why 2012 is such a huge year for Vick. 2011 was such a mess that he almost gets a free pass for all the turnovers and blown fourth quarters. The defense is now on the same page. The offensive line is perfectly built for Howard Mudd's scheme. Most importantly, Vick and his offense get the whole summer to build chemistry.
If the Eagles are going to miss the playoffs again in 2012, it will fall on Vick. The coaches got a lot of flack last season for missing the playoffs. That won't entirely be the case this season. The head coach will always get some heat during a bad year no matter what the circumstances, but every loss will really fall on Vick this season.
Staying healthy and turnovers are the obvious keys to Vick having a breakout season. They are obvious for a reason. Quarterbacks who turn the ball over around 20 times in one season don't consistently win the big games. If he gets that number closer to 10 or 12, he will give the Eagles a chance to win every single game this season.
Injuries also plagued him in 2011. Vick managed to start and finish 10 games healthy last season. The Eagles were 7-3 in those games and just 1-5 in games where he either didn't play, got knocked out or should of been taken out of.
If he takes care of the football and himself, look out NFL. There will be another elite quarterback to contend with.
2. Dion Lewis
Dion Lewis had a pretty easy rookie season. He was the third-string running back behind a veteran player and a elite back in LeSean McCoy. He didn't have to be anything special in his first season. He just needed to soak up the offense and adjust to the speed of the game.
Year two will prove to be a bit more challenging. He only had 24 total touches the entire 2011 season. He should break that before we get to October. The Eagles will be looking for a complement to McCoy in order to keep him healthy and fresh all season long. Lewis is the perfect candidate for a McCoy complement.
Lewis is a similar type of back to McCoy, which makes him an ideal backup. They both have really quick feet and hit the holes with authority despite being listed under 200 pounds. Lewis is a lot smaller than McCoy. He is about 5'8". Running back is the only position on offense where height doesn't matter as much.
I like Lewis as a breakout candidate for a couple of reasons. One, he has a pretty strong lower body. He has the ability to fight for extra yardage despite the fact that he gets labeled as undersized. He also has the advantage of playing in the Eagles offense for a full season. Bryce Brown is the more physically gifted back, but he has no idea what he is getting himself into just yet. The college game has a lot of great athletes. In the NFL, everyone is a great athlete.
For Lewis to break out in 2012, he doesn't have to steal the McCoy's job, he just has to be that No. 2 in the Eagles one-two punch in the backfield. From what I've seen in Lewis so far, he definitely has the potential to do just that.
3. Jeremy Maclin
When you think of Pro Bowl NFC wide receivers, the name Jeremy Maclin probably isn't the name that comes to mind first or even 20th. But Maclin was on pace for 1,212 receiving yards through the first eight games, which would have ranked him seventh in the NFC wide receivers. Not bad for a guy that was finally over a cancer scare just a couple weeks before the season started.
Shoulder and hamstring injuries really limited Maclin's production over the final eight games. He had less than 300 yards during that stretch. This season he looks even better than the players who had 606 yards through the first eight games last season. He is healthy and has added some serious bulk this offseason. He should be around 205 pounds once the seasons gets underway.
Maclin has a real advantage that very few NFL wide receivers with his talent level have ever had. He is the third most dangerous player on the field. After LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson, Maclin is the third best player in the Eagles offense.
This allows Maclin to be the most consistent. Defenses can't play too far off the line of scrimmage because McCoy is almost impossible to get a hand on in the open field while Jackson is far too fast not to keep the safeties back 15 yards off the line.
Defenses can't afford to pay any extra attention to Maclin. That means he will get favorable matchups all season long. It's very likely that Maclin could finish with somewhere around 90 receptions, 1,300 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2012.
4. Riley Cooper
Riley Cooper is a breakout candidate because the coaches want him to be. This season will be about finally figuring out if Cooper can be a consistent red zone threat or not. The Eagles could have spent an early round draft pick on a bigger receiver to help in that area but they didn't. That alone speaks volumes to the coaches confidence in Cooper.
Despite making three starts and getting plenty of opportunities in the red zone, Cooper had just one touchdown last season. The biggest knock on Cooper is his lack of aggression for the football. Some receivers like to wait for the football while others come back to the ball to make sure they haul in the pass. Cooper needs to become the latter. He doesn't have the speed to make up for being a timid receiver.
His lack of production inside the 20 is a serious concern. He had just one catch, his lone touchdown, in the red zone last season. The Eagles don't need another receiver to make plays between the 20s. They need a physical wide out who can haul in touchdowns while in traffic.
If he can be that consistent receiver inside the 20, he will be incredibly valuable for the Eagles Super Bowl run in 2012.
5. Jason Kelce
The Philadelphia Eagles offensive line is full of breakout stars and it all starts with Jason Kelce. Kelce was a sixth-round draft pick last April who ended up winning the starting center job in a very limited amount of time. He had his ups and downs in 2011, but he ended up starting all 16 games and allowed just one sack.
Kelce still has his flaws, His biggest was a clear lack of upper body strength last season. He could get the necessary push needed on inside runs. He played around 282 pounds in 2011 so that isn't a big surprise. When you compare his size to the rest of the league's starting centers, he is very much undersized.
The good news for Kelce is that he can easily add more to his frame. The Eagles have a great strength and conditioning coach in Barry Rubin who has already helped bulk up Brandon Graham, Nate Allen and Jeremy Maclin this offseason. I expect Kelce to play closer to 295 pounds this season. We won't know if that will be the case until we see him at training camp.
He will also get the responsibility of making the line calls for the Eagles offense. That was something that he wasn't always asked to do as a rookie who was thrown into the fire very quickly. This shouldn't be too difficult for a player who has a full season under his belt.
He improves slightly from year one to year two, and he should be a top three player at his position in 2012.
6. Danny Watkins
The Eagles didn't make the most popular first-round pick in last year's NFL draft, but it appears that they made the right one. Danny Watkins had a nice first season with the Eagles when you consider the circumstances. Watkins didn't start playing football until he was in junior college at age 22 and he didn't play offensive guard until last season with the Eagles.
Watkins went from never playing football to playing left tackle for a couple seasons in college to learning how to be an interior lineman in a very short offseason. He didn't crack the starting lineup until Week 5. The Eagles were 7-5 when Watkins started.
Watkins was criticized for much of his first season, but for the most part it wasn't deserved. He didn't allow a single sack in his rookie season. At times it looked like he wasn't as confident as he could of been, but that is pretty typical for a rookie.
A full summer to work with Howard Mudd, who is back with the team during this week's full team minicamp, will greatly benefit him this season. He got off to a slow start last year partly because of the lockout and he missed the start of training camp while his agent was negotiating his contract. This year he has all summer to just focus on gaining more chemistry with his linemates and improving his technique.
7. Demetress Bell
If you could buy stock in any player in the NFL right now, Demetress Bell would be one of the better investments in the NFL right now. He is labeled as a below average starter who is injury prone. That was before he went to the school of Howard Mudd.
Bell has a similar to story to that of Jason Babin and Evan Mathis. Both players had potential that wasn't fully realized under their previous coaches. Jim Washburn turned Babin into a sack machine while Mudd turned Mathis into a Pro Bowl-caliber guard.
Mudd should do the same for Bell. Bell is a very athletic offensive tackle who played in a blocking scheme that better utilizes bigger offensive linemen who don't move as well as he does. Bell is going to feel like a completely different player in 2012.
Mudd already likes what he sees from Bell during the team's minicamp. He isn't the type of coach to just blow smoke in order to create a positive environment. He is old school. If he praises a player in the media, he generally means it.
If Bell takes well to Mudd's coaching and picks up on the blocking scheme very quickly, he could make Eagles fans forget about Jason Peters in 2012.
8. Brandon Graham
Brandon Graham might be the hungriest and the most focused player in the NFL right now. He isn't playing for a new contract or starting job, he is just playing to shut people up. He understands why people think he is a bust and he wants to break that label in 2012.
Graham tore his ACL late during his rookie season in 2010 and was a shell of his former self in 2011. He showed up about 20 pounds over his original playing weight last summer and it wasn't added muscle. Now Graham is back down to 268 pounds and he looks ripped.
He has been a monster in the weight room all offseason and is now benching over 465 pounds. That's scary for a player as technically sounds and as athletic as Graham is. Add that to the level of intensity and hunger he has brought to camp already and we could be looking at a major bounce back season for the third-year defensive end out of Michigan.
He needs to have a great summer just to be a part of the rotation at defensive end. Remember he is competing with Vinny Curry and Phillip Hunt for snaps at defensive end behind either Trent Cole or Jason Babin this season.
9. Derek Landri
Derek Landri is quickly becoming a fan favorite in Philadelphia. On paper he might be the fifth most talented defensive tackle on the Eagles roster, but he just keeps him making plays in the backfield. Landri just his a knack for getting into the backfield and making plays. He isn't the biggest or the quickest, but he just consistently gets the job done.
Landri was cut by the Eagles before the regular season last year but was brought back after Antonio Dixon was lost for the season. He should have never been let go. Landri had 21 tackles and two sacks as a reserve in 12 games with the Eagles. Those numbers don't begin to do him justice.
Landri doesn't have a high motor; he has a motor that never dies. It's contagious for the rest of the line as well. You can't measure that skill by any combine or any stat sheet.
Landri has a chance to improve his numbers from last season. There is even more talent around him this season and he will have a full year under his belt in Jim Washburn's wide-nine scheme. Expect even more player behind the line of scrimmage from the Energizer bunny.
10. Nate Allen/Kurt Coleman
It's important to look at the Eagles safeties in a different way than you normally would. It isn't about individual talent with Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman. It's about how well these guys play together. Chemistry is key for safeties. They can cover more ground if they know where they other player is going to be. Missed assignments and communication breakdowns are killers for a position that is always the last line of defense.
The Eagles went 7-3 when both Allen and Coleman started in the 2011. They also recorded all six of their total interceptions when they both player together. Jaiquawn Jarrett has more potential than Coleman but he doesn't have the chemistry with Allen right now. That alone will keep Coleman in the strong safety spot in 2012.
Both these players will be greatly benefited by the players around them. The Eagles have two stud outside cornerbacks in Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. They have at least one really good slot corner in either Joselio Hanson or Brandon Boykin. They also have good coverage linebackers. DeMeco Ryans will cover the backs in the nickel packages while rookie Mychal Kendricks will take on the tight ends.
Both safeties will get to play more help coverage and really roam the deep middle portion of the field. They can play more center field and less strict zone coverage. They don't have to be great to get the job done in 2012, they just have to be solid. One of these players will have a great shot at making the Pro Bowl this season.