The thought behind the 2004 Super Bowl team, at its most basic, is that you had a foundation of Donovan, Dawk and Westy and then the Eagles added TO and the Freak to put that team over the top. While that is true, the 2004 Eagles were also strong at the bottom of the roster. Tom Modrak, Tom Heckert, Mike McCartney and others had found contributors all over the place and they helped the team in a major way.
Think about the UDFAs that started or were key role players: Quintin Mikell, Artis Hicks, Rod Hood, Sam Rayburn, Reno Mahe, and Greg Lewis. There were players taken off the NFL scrap heap. Darwin Walker was a 3rd round pick by the Cardinals, but they cut him after one year and one game. He looked like a major bust. The Eagles scooped him up and developed him into a solid DT. David Akers was with the Falcons, Panthers, Skins and Berlin Thunder before landing with the Eagles and becoming a star kicker. Hank Fraley signed with the Steelers as a UDFA, but got cut and the Eagles signed him. He sat for the 2000 season and then started from 2001-2005. Dirk Johnson (aka Dirk Diggler) was the punter for that team. He had one NFL punt under his belt when the Eagles signed him. LB Keith Adams was a 7th round pick by Dallas that got cut early in his rookie year. He came over to the Eagles and was a good STer and even starting WLB.
Why bring this up?
The Eagles have made small moves in recent days.
The Eagles are signing former Alabama safety Nick Perry, per source. He spent last year on the Ravens' practice squad
The Eagles recently cut DT Derrick Lott and WR Jonathan Krause. They are tinkering with the bottom of the roster. None of this is a big deal by any stretch of the imagination. At the same time, you never know when the personnel department is going to find a player that will develop into a solid contributor (or even better). No one was excited when the Eagles signed Akers or Fraley. They were “we’ll see” kind of moves.
One interesting note about these two potential signings is that both players share connections to Philadelphia’s new vice president player of personnel Joe Douglas. Douglas originally signed Cherry to the Bears before getting hired by the Eagles. As for Perry, former Ravens scout and current Eagles assistant direct of player personnel Andy Weidl is familiar with him. These potential signings are minor, but we’re already seeing the influence of Philadelphia’s new player personnel executives.
Douglas did a terrific job with the Ravens of finding UDFAs and building up the bottom of the roster. With the Eagles trading so many draft picks away, it is crucial that the team find talent in other areas.
Back to the players.
Cherry is here to add depth at MLB. He is just over 6-1 and 237 pounds. Cherry runs well, but lacks top agility. You can see that in his highlights.
Put a play in front of him and Cherry will attack it. He has good straight-line speed. Good burst. He has stiff hips, though, and that will keep him from making plays sideline to sideline. Cherry could be a good STer. I like the signing because this is a year where the Eagles need to find and develop young talent. The Wide 9 tries to funnel things to the middle. Cherry can play between the tackles so he’s a good fit for this scheme. We’ll see how he does soon enough.
Defensive back Nick Perry (6-0 3/4, 201) ran the 40 in 4.62 and 4.65 seconds. He really looked good in the workout, and could go as early as the sixth or seventh round of the draft, or be a priority free-agent pickup for a team following the draft.
Good combination of size and speed. Perry impressed last spring and summer in Baltimore so you wonder why he got cut. Maybe he got complacent and didn’t make the kind of progress they were expecting.
Perry is another depth addition. The Eagles have a terrific pair of starting Safeties. Blake Countess looks like he could be a good backup. Chris Maragos is more of a STer than a DB. Ed Reynolds faces an uphill challenge. He is an inconsistent tackler in a scheme that requires DBs to be very good tacklers. There is room for another Safety to add to the mix.
The Eagles will keep cycling players in and out, looking for those hidden gems that can help put a team over the top. Hitting on the 1st round picks and the big free agent signings is still the key to building a great team, but don’t overlook the value of the guys who come from other places. If you have the right personnel guys doing the looking and a good coaching staff to develop those players, they can be a big help.
Life is so much easier when you have the benefit of hindsight.
I was not excited when the Eagles hired Andy Reid back in 1999. I was open-minded about him and definitely curious, but not excited at all. On the other hand, I was ecstatic when the Eagles lured Chip Kelly away from Oregon. Big Red did a great job and got the Eagles to the Super Bowl. Chip got the Eagles to the wild card round in his first year, but went backwards after that. There is no debate about who the better coach is/was.
So what do we make of Doug Pederson?
To me, he’s the biggest mystery on the Eagles. Seems like a genuinely nice guy. Good assistant coach. But is he the guy you want running your NFL franchise? I go back and forth on that issue.
I recently decided to compare Pederson to the best Eagles coaches of the last 40 years, Dick Vermeil and Andy Reid. I wrote about the comparison for PE.com. It is easy to judge Vermeil and Reid now, but what about when they were hired? Where had they come from? What was their background? Things like that.
Pederson turned out to be more similar to them than I expected. It was actually funny just how similar Vermeil and Reid were. I’d never really thought about comparing the two of them. Pederson’s background is different because he played so long while the other guys got right into coaching. I would say that hurts Pederson except that he spent so much of his career essentially as a player-coach. He stood on the sideline thinking about the game and advising the QB who came to the sideline after a series or during a timeout. This is very different from a Duce Staley or Greg Lewis who spent their time on the field actually playing and not just studying the game.
I’m still very nervous about Pederson. He could turn out to be a terrific coach, but he could also be a disaster. There are a lot of unknowns with him.
Having the perfect background guarantees nothing. Success will happen because of what you do and the decisions you make. Steve Spurrier was a phenomenal college coach. He came to the NFL full of hubris. Spurrier surrounded himself with cronies and didn’t exactly bring the greatest work ethic. He went 12-20 in 2 seasons and then got fired. Think about Marty Mornhinweg. He coached college football for a decade. He was the QBs coach in Green Bay when they won the Super Bowl in 1996. He then followed his friend Steve Mariucci to SF. Marty was the OC of an offense that did some historically great things in 1998. He was in SF for 4 years before getting the head coaching job in Detroit.
Marty hired a poor staff. His QB coach was a young guy from Lehigh. His OC was Maurice Carthon, who only had experience as a RBs coach at that time. His DC was Vince Tobin, who had succeeded Buddy Ryan with the Bears. Tobin did good things in Chicago, but was handed an elite defense. On his own, he was a mediocre coach. Marty didn’t have much at QB in his first season – Charlie Batch, Ty Detmer and late round rookie Mike McMahon. The Lions were poorly run back then, but Marty didn’t help himself. He was gone after 2 years.
Pederson followed the Andy Reid playbook.
Hire a strong, veteran DC
Draft a QB early
Sign a veteran QB you know well
Keep some key assistants from the previous staff
Hire good offensive assistants to help you
Build the offensive line
Boom, boom and boom. A lot of this is common sense, but for some reason, other coaches ignore it. They try to reinvent the wheel. Why do that?
Pederson is smart enough to know who he is and what his limitations are. He’s not trying to change the game of football. He’s trying to get the Eagles back to winning, partially by stealing ideas from the guy who previously had the team winning.
I still have my concerns when it comes to Pederson, but the more I think and write about him, the more comfortable I get. I will feel even better when he beats Dallas, the Eagles pitch a shutout or Pederson hoists the Lombardi Trophy…for the third year in a row. Nobody wants just one Super Bowl. Right?
Campbell was hired as the Eagles’ defensive coordinator in 1977 under head coach Dick Vermeil. Employing a 3-4 scheme, Campbell coached the Eagles’ defense into one of the best units in football. In fact, the Eagles allowed the fewest points in the NFL during his six-season span as defensive coordinator.
Campbell built and ran the defense that got the Eagles to their first Super Bowl. Can you imagine the Eagles allowing the fewest points over a 6-year span? That’s incredibly impressive defense.
He is one of only four people in franchise history to serve as a player, assistant coach and head coach.
That is pretty amazing.
Campbell won just 17 games as the Eagles’ head coach from 1983-85, but he left his mark on the franchise in a number of ways. Not only did he serve on the Eagles’ coaching staff for nine years, but he was also an All-Pro, two-way player for the Eagles from 1956-1961. A standout at the University of Georgia, “Swamp Fox,” as he was affectionately referred to, was a key member of the Eagles’ 1960 NFL Championship team. According to Ray Didinger in The New Eagles Encyclopedia, Campbell played most of that entire season with torn ligaments in his ankle, requiring pain-killing shots before and at halftime of every game. Still, he suited up for all 12 of the Eagles’ games, leading them to a 17-13 championship-clinching win over the Green Bay Packers at Franklin Field on December 26, 1960.
So Campbell helped the Eagles win their final NFL title and got them to their first Super Bowl. How is this guy not considered a saint or something like that? He really does have a remarkable place in franchise history.
There is another legacy for Campbell. The Eagles were a mediocre to bad defensive team for the 20 years prior to his arrival. Once he came in and established the Eagles as a defensive force, that stuck around. Look at the 1985 Eagles defense. Three of the best players were Reggie White, Wes Hopkins and Andre Waters. Ever heard of them? They went on to star for Buddy Ryan and Bud Carson. Mike Reichenbach, Buddy’s MLB for 3 years, played for Campbell.
Think of all the terrific defensive coaches who came after Campbell. Buddy and Ray Rhodes were head coaches. There were defensive coordinators like Wade Phillips, Jeff Fisher, Bud Carson, Emmitt Thomas and Jim Johnson. You had terrific position coaches like Mike Trgovac, Ron Rivera, Leslie Frazier, Steve Spagnuolo and Sean McDermott. That is a lot of defensive gurus. And they all came after Campbell.
The Eagles are at their best when the defense is outstanding. The 1980 team was #1 in the league in scoring defense and went to the Super Bowl. The 2004 team was second in the league in scoring defense and went to the Super Bowl. There just seems to be something in the franchise’s DNA that it needs dominant defense for the team to be special.
So now Jim Schwartz has a chance to add his name to the legacy of great defensive coaches. We’ll see if he can build the Eagles into a great defense. And if that happens…if…history tells us there could be another trip to the Super Bowl.
I’m curious how many fans understand The Swamp Fox nickname? That’s more of a southern thing and really takes someone with a good knowledge of history. Without looking it up, how many of you knew who the real Swamp Fox was?
I wrote a piece comparing Carson Wentz and Ben Roethlisberger on Friday. The two of them are quite alike. There is one huge difference and that is character. Wentz has a squeaky clean reputation. Roethlisberger has had to deal with multiple accusations of sexual assault. Obviously everyone hopes Wentz maintains his clean reputation. Money and celebrity can change people, but they usually enhance issues that already exist rather than completely changing a person.
Let’s get back to football for now. Big Ben was drafted 11th overall in 2004. The Steelers were coming off a 6-10 season. Veteran Tommy Maddox was projected to be the starter. He got hurt early on and Ben started the final 13 games of the season, going undefeated in those starts. The Steelers won by running the ball and playing good defense. They were first in rushing attempts and second in yards. The defense was first in yards and points allowed.
Ben was able to be a complementary QB. He didn’t have to carry the team, except in 2-minute situations. Only 4 of his starts ended with the opponent withing a touchdown of the Steelers. That team played at a high level and that limited the pressure on Ben. There were 5 games where Pittsburgh didn’t score 21 points. They won all of them, but that goes to show you that if Ben avoided turnovers and was just effective, that could be good enough to win.
When Maddox got hurt, Big Ben was thrown to the wolves. There was no Chase Daniel on that team. As it turned out, that worked out just fine for Ben and the Steelers. That team won big in his rookie year and then won the Super Bowl the next season. Ben came along slowly as a passer. He didn’t throw 500 passes in a season until his sixth year. In 4 of his first 5 years, he didn’t throw 20 TDs in a season. Over the years, Ben has developed into a QB that can throw a ton of passes and carry a team on his back.
“The way I look at it is this: As soon as Carson Wentz is ready to play—whether it’s Week 1, Week 5, Week 11 or next year—I think he’s going to play,” Mayock said. “I think it’s important that he gets some snaps this year. I’m bullish on this kid. But he only threw the ball 612 times, if I remember correctly, in his career. The kid from Cal threw it 1,000 more times. The kid from Cal has 1,000 more live reps at a higher level, so you kind of put that in perspective a little bit. But I think when Carson Wentz is ready to play, they’ve got to play him.”
Of course, there’s a caveat. When Wentz is ready, play him—but protect him from what NFL defenses have in store.
“If he gets some reps this year … they’ve got to protect him,” Mayock explained. “When I say protect, Ray, I’m not talking—not just the offensive line, pass protection—I’m talking about the run game and I’m talking defense. If you look at Joe Flacco, who only threw the ball about the same amount of times at the same level. He came into Baltimore and they had a run game and defense and he started all 16 games. I think that’s healthy. But until they can protect him with a run game and defense, I don’t think you can throw him in there. I think the franchise itself—it starts with Doug Pederson—has to have a plan. Regardless of the hell that goes on in the city the next day, they have to stick to the plan.”
Flacco and the Ravens. Let’s check out that comparison. The Ravens were coming off a 5-11 season. They drafted Flacco in the first round and had him compete with Troy Smith for the starting job. Smith got hurt that summer and Flacco ended up starting the whole year. Baltimore led the league in rushing attempts and finished third in rushing yards. The defense was second in yards allowed and third in points allowed. Flacco had the same edict as Big Ben…don’t lose the game for us. We can win by running the ball, playing good D and coming up with a big play or two on offense.
The Ravens went 11-5 that season and have been a good team since drafting Flacco. They were bad last season when Flacco got hurt and the team was overwhelmed with injuries.
Injuries opened the door for both Big Ben and Flacco to play as rookies. Both had the right situation to help them learn while playing. The Eagles are in a slightly different situation. They are not likely to have the #1 defense. And I can say with 98 percent certainty that the Eagles will not lead the NFL in rushing attempts, no matter who is at QB.
Should the Eagles try to force Wentz onto the field at some point?
I think the coaches have to view this as a fluid situation. How does Wentz look at the beginning of Training Camp? How does he look in the preseason? How is he later in TC? Wentz’s level of play will be up and down based on how the coaches use him and the complexity of the situations he’s in. He might look dominant in the 4th quarter of the preseason opener when he’s going against third and fourth stringers. He then could look terrible in practice a few days later when going against the starting defense. The coaches have to be able to see the real Wentz and decide where he’s at.
The real key to all of this is the big picture. I don’t care about what Wentz does in 2016. He is the future of the franchise. Aaron Rodgers sat for 3 years. Tom Brady sat for a little over one year. Tony Romo sat for 3 years. Drew Brees sat for one year. Philip Rivers sat for 2 years. Don’t rush the future. Play him when he is ready. If there are injuries, play Chase Daniel. Don’t force Wentz on the field to see where he’s at.
The flip side is that if Wentz plays at an extremely high level, don’t be afraid to play him just because he is a rookie.
Doug Pederson and his staff have a plan for Wentz, but it isn’t set in stone. You make the plan based on current data, which could change drastically once you start watching him in action every day.
If Carson can have anything close to Big Ben’s career, the Eagles will have made a great investment. The Steelers played in one Super Bowl between 1980 and 2003, losing to Dallas in 1995. They drafted Ben in 2004 and have been to 3 Super Bowls, winning a pair of them. Pittsburgh was a very good franchise before Ben got there, but they couldn’t get over the hump.
People love to talk about winning titles based on defense. Sure the Ravens did it in 2000 and the Bucs in 2002. Denver somewhat did that last year, although their offense was middle of the pack, not bad. But those tend to be anomalies. Ask Steelers fans of the 1990’s about trying to win the big game by running the ball and playing good defense. They couldn’t do it. Once they got their QB, the world changed.
I know there are some concerns with Carson. Will the jump from a small school to the NFL be too much? Can he learn to read defenses quicker? Does he hold the ball too long? Those were all concerns with Ben and he overcame them, although he still holds the ball too long at times. That weakness also helps him to create some big plays.
There is no doubting the fact Carson has a lot of talent. His potential is through the roof.
Now it is up to Doug Pederson, Frank Reich and John DeFilippo to take that potential and turn it into good NFL results.
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