Philadelphia Eagles: 5 Glaring Holes Going into the 2011 Season
“To excel is to know your greatest strengths and passions, and to emphasize them while honestly admitting and managing your weaknesses.”
Robert Cooper is the fine man who uttered the above phrase. I’d like to come across as philosophical and tell you that I was able to pull that quote from the depths of my mind after reading one of Cooper’s long-winded books on emotional intelligence, but that’s why we have Google.
We all know that this team has strengths. It’s also fun to exalt upon them and glorify them as legitimate reasons as to why the Eagles are going to walk off the field of Lucas Oil Stadium seven and a half months from now with the Lombardi Trophy in their hands. The versatility of Michael Vick, the *insert synonym for insanely, insanely fast* speed of DeSean Jackson, and the growth of running back LeSean McCoy are all formidable strengths of this team.
However, I think it’s only right that at the same time, we recognize and try to dive into what exactly the weaknesses of this team are going into the 2011 season. Let’s not fool ourselves, all 32 teams in this league have their holes and it’s no different with the Eagles.
As I currently see it, without free agency and trades able to take place due to the lockout, there currently lie five major question marks that presently plague the team.
It’s not necessarily a position that one would think would be vital going into a season, but it’s the little things that count. Have we really seen the end of David Akers with the drafting of Nebraska booter Alex Henery? Akers missed two crucial kicks in the Wild Card playoff game against Green Bay, which may have finally pushed Andy Reid to the limit. Keep in mind that Akers is a free agent as well.
It’s so hard to imagine the team splitting ways with Akers, who has been with them since 2000. However, you do not take a kicker in the fourth round, stash him on the bench for a year or two and have him learn like you would with a quarterback.
I’m not sure what is going to be weirder: Having Akers not be a member of the Eagles or watching a right footed kicker handle the duties.
4.) Right Tackle
Right tackle basically serves as our left tackle slot and “blindside” considering starting quarterback Michael Vick is a southpaw. Winston Justice is not only coming off of a lackluster season, but he’s coming off of knee surgery as well.
The entire offensive line will need a tune-up from its performance last season. Vick’s athleticism was able to mask a lot of it, and I honestly think that’s why Andy Reid decided to ride with Vick and ditch Kolb after the first couple of weeks. He realized that there were severe holes on the offensive line that only Vick’s speed could mask. There’s a reason why they decided to draft Danny Watkins in the first round, hoping that he becomes the team’s official right guard.
Justice’s health and performance next season is essential. The less starting time that King Dunlap sees, the better off all of us will be.
Similar to the secondary spot, the Eagles are relying on a bunch of relatively younger players to make it work. Everyone outside of Stewart Bradley is essentially unproven such as Moise Fokou (who actually had an exceptional season starting on the strong side last year) and Jamar Chaney. Both of whom were seventh round picks. The Eagles haven’t really ever taken a priority to invest a higher round draft pick in a linebacker. That’s what will typically happen when you waste a second round pick on Matt McCoy which was the case in 2005. Perhaps that’s where Reid’s taste aversion with the position comes from!
This year’s fourth round pick Casey Matthews will probably have the best chance of making an initial impact on the starting rotation. The weak side spot should be an open competition in camp between the likes of Matthews, Ernie Sims, and Akeem Jordan who saw great success in the second half of 2008, yet has declined since.
The biggest thing that new coordinator Juan Castillo is going to have to do is find consistency with a starting three. Former coordinator Sean McDermott was notorious in switching the three positions around, especially when Stewart Bradley was hurt before the season even started in 2009 (that’s what happens when you have a meaningless scrimmage at night for spectators to see!!!). I don’t really think anyone can concretely say what the starting linebacker rotation will be come September. If I were to venture a guess, it would be Bradley in the middle flanked by Fokou and Matthews on the outside. That would be the best case scenario if Matthews could show off his athleticism at the position.
If I were to bet, I believe that the first splash this team makes in free agency will be for a linebacker. Chad Greenway and Thomas Davis would be at the top of the prospect list if it were up to me.
The confusion at this position is why it is essential that the defensive line needs to step up big time and mask some of the inefficiencies that may exist in the middle of the defense.
Technically, three of the four positions in the secondary could occupy three spots on my list. For the sake of mixing it up and not sounding redundant, I’ll combine it into one of the main points for this write-up.
To this day, I still think that the 2002 draft was the finest of the Reid tenure. Nevermind the fact that they were able to steal Brian Westbrook in the third round that year, but the first three picks of that draft were essential to keeping the momentum of this team alive. It’s one of the reasons why they were able to keep the energy going after Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor left the team in 2003. Lito Sheppard, Sheldon Brown, and Michael Lewis were all Pro-Bowl caliber players that not only helped maintain the success of the secondary, but actually improved it with veteran Brian Dawkins. In fact, three of the four members made the Pro Bowl in 2004.
A similar transition is imperative in order for the secondary to stay afloat. Asante Samuel isn't necessarily a problem, despite his tackling ability that makes Sean Considine look like Sean Taylor or Steve Atwater. However, the other three positions that make up the last line of defense need to step it up.
Second round draft picks such as Nate Allen from last year and Jaiquawn Jarrett this year need to have immediate impacts with the play of Quintin Mikell declining. You can also throw 2010 seventh rounder Kurt Coleman into the mix as well. Of course Allen is coming off of a knee injury, so we really don’t know what will happen with him. It’s a crapshoot as far as I’m concerned. That’s what makes Jarrett’s presence even more important. He will need to fill in for both positions at safety if needed.
Right cornerback is the other glaring hole in the secondary. The team failed to find a legitimate replacement to Sheldon Brown after they told him to ship his bags and move to Cleveland in 2010. Ellis Hobbs was the assumed inherent, however, lackluster play and a career-ending neck injury put an end to that vision. The problem with this position is that Andy Reid and company refused to invest a high-round draft pick in it. They passed up on the likes of Devin McCourty and Jimmy Smith the past couple of years, and instead are rolling the dice with later round picks such as Trevard Lindley and now Curtis Marsh who was recently drafted in the third round. There really is no hope for current corners on the roster such as Joselio Hanson and Dmitri Patterson. Hanson doesn’t have the ability to play on the outside, and Patterson was very, very inconsistent last year. You know you have an issue when an undrafted player out of Tuskegee is your best option.
Because of this reason, it gives me a smidgen of hope that the highly sought after unicorn that is currently out there named Nnamdi Asomugha may still be in the cards. One can only hope though. He would obviously have a high price tag, but sometimes you have to overpay for needs.
1.) Juan Castillo
To be fair to Juan, I won’t necessarily declare him a bust or a weakness going into the season. None of us know what he is really capable of as a defensive mind, but the main reason for that is he has spent the majority of his coaching career with the offensive side of the ball, more specifically the offensive line. In fact, he hasn’t coached the defensive side of the ball since he was with Kingsville High School nearly 20 years ago (Yikes!). That essentially makes him at least a giant question mark going into the season.
This move, to me at least, reeked of Andy Reid trying to show the world that he is smarter than everyone else. He’s done it before with other experiments such as moving defensive tackle Dan Klecko to fullback, trying Greg Lewis out as a punt returner, and drafting a skier in Jeremy Bloom to handle kickoff duties, only to have him not even make the team going into the season. Reid loves doing these experiments, heck, I’m sure he feels like a mad scientist given how he concocted the magic elixir that finally made Michael Vick a dual threat quarterback when everyone shunned the signing in August of 2009.
Reid’s most admirable, yet debilitating trait that he has as a coach is his dependability and loyalty to his players and coaches. He stayed with Donovan McNabb longer than most would have, especially after Jeff Garcia’s 2006 campaign. He handed a hard-working Sean McDermott Jim Johnson’s job after he passed away, and he relied on Jeremiah Trotter for three campaigns to hold down perhaps the most important position on defense in middle linebacker.
I know I can’t speak for the leash that Reid will have with Castillo, but I know the patience in the “faniverse” will be wearing thin if the defense gets its doors blown off the first quarter of the season.
You don’t hire architects to sell securities on Wall Street, and it’s the same situation here. Let’s hope that Castillo is able to adapt to the current defensive state of the NFL that he has missed out on the past two decades.
And yes, I did cringe while typing that up. Now somebody please console me as to how we will go 14-2 next year en route to the number one seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs ASAP.