2012 was a year to forget for the Eagles as they only managed 4 wins all season, despite starting out the season 3-0. Injuries ravaged the offense as the offensive line was missing four starters, many for most of the season. Michael Vick, LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson all missed significant time as well. Defensively the team completely imploded and dealt with plenty of infighting, and saw the team release former double digit sack defensive end Jason Babin before the year was out. The Eagles parted ways with longtime coach Andy Reid after the season and went with Oregon’s Chip Kelly as their replacement. It’s a bold move, but one that probably needed to be made after how last season went.
Chip Kelly’s hiring was the best thing that could happen for Michael Vick‘s career as it made him the front runner for the starting job in Philly. Vick’s running ability will be highly valued in the offense, and his big arm should allow him to make teams pay for being fooled by the misdirection in the offense. Vick could be primed for a season nearly as good as his 2010 campaign. Behind Vick the Eagles have a pair of young promising quarterbacks in Nick Foles and Matt Barkley. Foles isn’t a great fit for this offense, but he proved last year he can play at this level. Barkley will need some time, but he gives the Eagles a young capable back-up if the Eagles look to trade Foles next season.
LeSean McCoy struggled last season as he ran behind a line that was missing for much of the year four starters. Things were made worse for McCoy when Vick went down with injury putting all of the defensive focus on him. He made the most of it, still managing over 1,200 yards in 12 games last season. With a new offense that figures to feature the run prominently, McCoy should be in line for a career year. Behind McCoy the Eagles have a pair of promising young backs. Bryce Brown should be their number two, and he showed well in replacing McCoy last season. He’s got big play ability, but his ball security is an issue. Chris Polk, also figures to get into the mix as well. He isn’t as dynamic as Brown, but is probably more reliable as a blocker and receiver.
The Eagles suffered a major loss with Jeremy Maclin going down early in training camp. The Eagles still have a solid group of guys with DeSean Jackson, Jason Avant, Riley Cooper, and Damarius Johnson, but it’s definitely not as good of a group as it would have been with Maclin. Jackson figures to have an expanded role in this offense, as the Eagles will probably try to utilize his open field ability with more screen passes and even some runs. Avant will remain the consistent slot option, while Cooper is the possession guy and red zone target. The interesting guy to watch is Johnson. He’s got exceptional quickness and speed, and Chip Kelly will surely find ways to get the ball in his hands on a consistent basis this season.
The real interesting thing will be to see how the Eagles tight ends are used. Philadelphia decided to keep four tight ends in veteran Brent Celek, hybrid free agent James Casey, rookie Zach Ertz and top blocker Emil Igwenagu. It’s a really talented and versatile bunch as guys like Celek, Casey and Ertz can split out wide, while Casey and Igwenagu can line up in a fullback role. They will likely use a lot of two and three wide receiver packages and find ways to create mismatches for this group.
The Eagles had arguably the league’s best offensive line in 2011, and quite possibly the league’s worst in 2012 after they were ravaged with injuries. This year the Eagles line is healthy again and with the addition of first round pick Lane Johnson they are expected to be one of the stronger units in the league. With multiple players coming back from serious injuries there is always a chance of a guy coming back at less than 100%. The Eagles should also be a bit concerned with their lack of veteran depth for this group. If any of their starters were to miss significant time, the Eagles would have some issues replacing them. The good news is after last year’s performance things can only improve this season. Even if they aren’t fully healthy they should provide far better protection for Vick and the Eagles running game.
The Eagles are moving to a 3-4 and will be featuring a much different defensive line than what they had last season. Second year DL Fletcher Cox, figures to feature prominently in this new defensive alignment. Next to him the Eagles have solid nose tackle in Issac Sopoaga, who should help limit the run this season. At the other end spot, Cedric Thornton has won the spot and has shown some nice promise. Behind the starters the Eagles have some really impressive depth with a group that features 2nd rounders from the last two years, Vinny Curry and Bennie Logan, to go along with a solid Clifton Geathers. It’s not a great group overall, but they should be pretty good for the Eagles this season.
This will be an intriguing group to watch, depending on how Trent Cole takes to his new position. He should still be able to rush the quarterback effectively, but he may see a drop off in run production or if he’s asked to go into coverage. Opposite him the Eagles are hoping that Connor Barwin improves upon his disappointing 2012 season with the Texans. Inside the Eagles look to be pretty good between DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks, who both project to be at least good starters. Depth wise the Eagles are a bit thinner, relying on Brandon Graham, Jake Knott, Casey Matthews, and Najee Goode. There is a little promise in the back-up group, but for the most part there would be a pretty big drop off from the starters.
The Eagles completely revamped their secondary depth chart, bringing in new starting corners Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher, to go along with nickel corner Brandon Boykin. While there isn’t a star in the group, that is a solid top three corner group for the Eagles. Unfortunately their depth was completely decimated with preseason injuries. Currently the only corner behind the top three the Eagles can even consider relying on is 7th round rookie Jordan Poyer. While there is some concern with this group it is still a better situation than how the safeties look.
Philadelphia already cut free agent signing Kenny Phillips, leaving them very thin at free safety. Currently incumbent Nate Allen is expected to start, but he could be pushed by 5th round rookie Earl Wolff. At strong safety the Eagles should feel pretty confident in the play of Patrick Chung, but he has had some injury concerns in the past making depth a key. Kurt Coleman and Colt Anderson are the two remaining back-ups, but neither figures to be a good option if they are needed for more than spot duty.
Second year kick Alex Henery had a good year making 87% of his kicks, though he did miss two field goals shorter than 40 yards which can be killer for a team. The Eagles brought in Donnie Jones to handle their punting duties this year, and should see at least a mild improvement to their average distance. The return game should be primarily DeSean Jackson as the punt returner and Damarius Johnson as the kick returner, with guys like Brandon Boykin and Jordan Poyer also in the mix. Jackson and Johnson both have game breaking ability and it would be surprising to see this unit have 2-3 returns for touchdowns this season.
The Eagles probably won’t make it out of the cellar of the NFC East this year, but it should be a much closer race. Chip Kelly’s offense with its fast pace and creativity should get the most out of playmakers like Vick, McCoy and Jackson. The real test for this team will be their defense. Can they consistently get enough pressure on the quarterback and will the secondary hold up, are the two things likely to keep this team from making any sort of playoff run. While it won’t be the season most Eagles fans are looking for, it should be an improvement and possibly set up a promising future.