The Philadelphia Eagles can be accused of being overachievers, playoff chokers and, more recently, an overall train wreck. Some of these descriptions would probably be apt, but there's one thing this past offseason has made them: extremely interesting.
While this season doesn't carry with it the lofty expectations of the past two seasons, the Chip Kelly regime poses several questions that won't be answered until the season starts, but will be speculated about nonetheless.
Will Kelly's high-powered offense work in the NFL, or will the former Oregon coach be more Steve Spurrier than Bill Walsh? Is a revamped secondary the answer to Philly's defensive woes? Is this a bounce-back year for Michael Vick, or will Nick Foles or rookie Matt Barkley end up taking the majority of the snaps?
Here are some recent developments involving the Eagles and their eventful offseason that has the social media universe buzzing:
1. Trent Cole's Transition to Linebacker
After eight seasons (and two Pro Bowls) as Philadelphia's premier defensive end, Cole is being moved to linebacker thanks to the 3-4 defense Kelly is implementing. The Birds will not move completely away from the 4-3, but it is apparent that Cole will be spending most of his time this offseason learning a new position at the professional level.
There isn't that much doubt that Cole can pressure the quarterback from a new spot.
Dwight Freeney, formerly of the Colts and now ready to begin his first season as a San Diego Charger, is a success story when it comes to athletic defenders succeeding from different areas of a defensive scheme. Cole's four seasons of double-digit sacks (he's gotten at least eight sacks in six of his eight seasons in the NFL) display the nose No. 58 has for the quarterback.
According to Eagles blogger Sean O'Donnell, however, the Eagles' likely shift to a new base defense under first-year coordinator Bill Davis is designed to improve the corps' run protection. In addition to their statistically horrible pass defense, Philly's defense against the run was terrible, as Philadelphia ranked third-to-last in the league in total run defense.
Can a defensive line of Fletcher Cox, Isaac Sopoaga and Cedric Thornton (the latter of whom has just 19 total tackles in the NFL) show significant improvement from the team's debacle upfront last year?
Time will tell, but the amount of responsibility given to a line in which only one player was a regular starter last season certainly raises some eyebrows.
2. Vick? Foles? Who's the Quarterback?
The Eagles have a legitimate quarterback battle this season in training camp. While Michael Vick is the prohibitive favorite to win the starting job, he is coming off his worst season as a starting quarterback (12 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, as the Birds went 3-7 in games he started).
At 33, Vick's recent injury troubles, which have caused him to miss nine starts in the last two years, aren't likely to suddenly go away.
At the same time, second-year signal-caller Nick Foles is an unknown commodity at this point. Last season, as a rookie out of Arizona, Foles showed some glimpses of talent, including a game-winning, length-of-the-field drive to beat Tampa Bay on the game's last play, which was his only win as a starter. Foles, however, is not as much of a natural playmaker as Vick and is nowhere near as mobile.
According to ESPN's Ashley Fox, a final decision may not be made until midway through the preseason. Both quarterbacks feel like they've earned the job, as an assured soundbite from Foles in Fox's article proves:
" 'I don't go to sleep at night sweating, wondering where I am' on the depth chart, Foles said. 'What I can do is I can work hard, come out on the field, be a leader of these guys, execute the plays and make the guys around me better, and, at the end of the day, you know what? I did my job on the field. That's all I can do, and that's how I approach the game.' "
Vick likely has the inside track on the job for the short term, given his experience and skill set. If Vick's costly problems with turnovers continue, however, he could get the quick hook now that's he's playing in an offense that stresses quick decision-making in addition to maintaining possession.
A lot of Vick's troubles can be credited to the offensive line's struggles these past few seasons, but the pressure is now on Vick to show that he can still lead a winning team and serve as a top-flight quarterback in this league.
3. Will Kelly's New Offense Work at the Professional Level?
According to Fox's article, Kelly's offense at the University of Oregon ran eight more plays per game than the NFL's leading team, the New England Patriots, did last season. In the NCAA, this resulted in track meets breaking out on the gridiron, as the Ducks ran play after play against defenses that would get tired and confused with the offense's multiple formations and breakneck pace.
Professional-caliber defenses are quicker and more perceptive than the Pac-12 teams that Kelly has been facing for the past few seasons, though. Kelly's spread offense can work in the NFL, as the speedy Colin Kaepernick and the NFC-winning San Francisco 49ers proved this past season, but the coach who has never coached in the NFL before will need his players to pick up (and buy into) an offense in which they've never played before.
The Eagles certainly have the personnel to make Kelly's scheme work. In addition to playmakers at both running back (LeSean McCoy and Bryce Brown) and wide receiver (DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin), the Eagles drafted athletic offensive tackle Lane Johnson, who can potentially help a struggling offensive line adapt to multiple formations and provide agile and stout protection for whoever ends up behind center.
Philadelphia also drafted tight end Zach Ertz in the second round, a versatile blocker and pass-catcher from Stanford (who Kelly and the Ducks became well-acquainted with the past two seasons) who can also be used out of the tight end and fullback positions in various offensive sets.
The Eagles are now a buzz-worthy team again. As has been the case in the past two seasons, hopes are high for a team used to contending for division titles and playoff victories.
Unlike past seasons, however, the Andy Reid era is over, and a new regime is in place. The Birds now fly into uncharted territory, and neither this writer, nor the countless talking heads and pundits, know truly what to expect in 2013.
(Okay, fine, requisite predictions are what you want? Playing in a tough NFC East, this writer has them going 6-10. So there you go.)
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