We’re deep into the task of opening the doors on TFQ’s NFL Draft Advent Calendar! This is our Christmas – when NFL teams get to decide what sort of new toys they get under the tree to play with next season.
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Door #21-The Eagles
2012 finish: 4-12; missed playoffs
TOTAL PICKS: 10
6 (212) (from Browns)
12 (218) (from Buccaneers)
20 (226) (from Bears through Buccaneers)
33 (239) (compensatory selection)
To say that this is a team in a transition period would be an understatement. Just two years after a slew of high profile transactions had then-backup QB (now backup strip club regular) Vince Young proclaiming the Eagles as a Dream Team, the team experienced one of its worst nightmares of a season in franchise history.
Gone is head coach Andy Reid, who guided the franchise to an impressive six NFC East titles, four Conference Championship appearances and one trip to the Super Bowl over 13 years. Gone too are players like CB Nnamdi Asomugha and CB Dominique Rogers-Cromartie, who helped raise the expectations to dreamy heights before this team fell to earth faster than a Michael Vick fumble.
In comes new head coach Chip Kelly – he of the fast-break style of offense that lit up scoreboards at Oregon University – who has presided over a dizzying amount of roster changes to an Eagles team that mustered just four wins last season.
Describing Philly’s current state as “in transition” can be viewed positively, since it’s also one way to describe the atmosphere that Kelly brings with him from college. This works in two ways: He forces his players to play at a tempo that is closer to a transition pace in basketball than other any NFL team currently plays at, and he is known for thumbing his nose at tradition.
First – the speed. For anyone who watched the Ducks play in the BCS during Kelly’s tenure in Oregon, the breakneck speed at which his offense runs and executes plays needs not be explained. For those who haven’t been so fortunate, understand that this is a head coach who pushed his players towards the goal of running ninety plays from scrimmage per game (last season the Ducks ran a breathtaking 83.3 plays per game). Eagles WR DeSean Jackson has already admitted that Kelly has his new team running at “100 miles per hour” – and that’s just during the spring practices that precede training camp. Expect Philadelphia to waste no time in between snaps. Expect them to be fast on the field too – the elite speed of athletes such as Jackson, QB Michael Vick and RB LeSean McCoy should be on full display, regardless of the initial outcome on the scoreboard.
Second – the unconventionality. Witness one of the early stops in the Chip Kelly Magical Mystery Tour that has been rebuilding the Eagles. To shore up the wide receiver position, the coach made an eyebrow raising signing: 6’ 7” Ifeanyi Momah from Boston College. That’s one tall-ass receiver. If he can play enough snaps, Momah could be a nightmare for defenses. But that’s an “if” nearly as big as the wideout himself.
Kelly’s personnel moves thus far have many observers wondering what he’s up to. What’s more, it seems like the Kelly-run Eagles might bring a new set value metrics to employ while building a roster, in a way reminiscent of when the Jimmy Johnson era began in Dallas. Obviously time will tell if Kelly’s methods are successful or not (and no one has ever equaled the draft success Johnson had making savvy picks while building a dynasty), but the similarities are there. Johnson drew criticism upon entering the NFL as a head coach in 1989, rebuilding the franchise by filling his roster with players that were viewed as too undersized to gain the physical edge needed to win games in the pros. But Johnson knew what everyone already knew, yet had failed to put together a team that focused on it: Speed kills. Those “small” players dominated the league en route to three Super Bowls in a four-year span. They were also conditioned by a head coach who was as energetic and intensely demanding a coach as the NFL has ever seen. (During a pregame speech at University of Miami Johnson used one of my favourite sports quotes about the rewards of hard work: “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.”) Kelly might not end up setting himself apart from the way the rest of the league currently swings, but some of the changes he will try to bring to Philadelphia sound a lot like Johnson’s early attempts to turn around a struggling franchise.
Now if only Kelly had Herschel Walker to trade away….
(It should be mentioned that, much like the rebirth of the read-option offense, Kelly’s scheme is only new if viewed through an ahistorical lens. Check out this outstanding account of Oregon’s offense by Chris Brown for Grantland to understand how the Ducks merely dusted off fundamental football, nonetheless catching defenses off-guard with it.)
The aforementioned tempo this team will play at speaks to Kelly’s stockpiling at positions like wide receiver. Expect the Eagles to substitute often on offense, but it will be to maintain the lightning-fast pace at which plays will be run; the subs will not slow the team down but rather serve as much-needed fresh bodies, in the same way that defenses have been rotating fresh players into the lineup to keep up with offense for years.
Just try to keep up with the Eagles, on the field, and on the roster. I dare you. I haven’t mentioned much about draft strategy yet for that reason. Honestly – who the fuck knows what Kelly will do with this team? Many people see him opting for QB Geno Smith with the fourth overall pick. Then again, many people question Smith’s value as a first-rounder in general. For that reason I don’t buy the Eagles taking a quarterback with their first pick. Nick Foles and Michael Vick are too good already to use up such a high pick on that position in one of the weakest QB drafts in recent years. (Hell, who knows – if Kelly can do what no man has done yet, and teach Vick not to hold the ball right where blitzers like it when he’s in the pocket, maybe number 7 could have another resurgent season.) Given that many of Kelly’s signings on the defensive side of the ball thus far have indicated a switch to the 3-4 – in particular LB Connor Barwin, who is as well-suited for the 4-3 as I am to writing short blog posts – it’s not hard to see the Eagles opting for Alabama CB Dee Milliner (is there a more underrated role in the 3-4 than cornerback? Ask the Texans…) or Utah’s DL Star Lotulelei. I like Lotulelei as a guy who could move back and forth along the D-line, freeing up space for his linebackers. Obviously former Duck LB Dion Jordan would be a godsend for Kelly, but I just don’t see him falling out of the top 3. And I just don’t see anything clearly in terms of this team’s war room strategy. Give Kelly and GM Howie Roseman credit – for the amount of press their team has had since Kelly’s hiring, the front office has been very good at keeping their cards close to the vest.
And there you have the early stages of the Kelly era in Philly – a confusing and clandestine shitstorm of possibilities. But sometimes that is how greatness begins. It’s also often how dark ages begin, and you can bet the unforgiving fans in the city of brotherly love will be ready with the guillotines at a moment’s notice.
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STAY TUNED FOR THE REST OF THE DAYS LEADING UP UNTIL THE 2013 NFL DRAFT. WE’LL TAKE A LOOK AT EACH TEAM, AS WE OPEN THEM UP IN THE ADVENT CALENDAR. WE’LL ALSO BE DOING A LIVE TWEET-UP DURING THE DRAFT.