Who’s excited to talk about sub-packages? I know I am.
What we’re talking about are different sets than the base unit. On defense this is the Nickel, Dime, or other variation. Could be 4-2-5, 3-3-5, 2-4-5, 4-1-6, or something we’ve never even thought of. On offense this would be a 3-WR set or 4-WR set or 2-TE set or something like that. The options get really crazy there.
Andy Reid was creative on offense, but I never thought of him as doing a good job with different packages. Think about the Saints. They throw to Lance Moore in the slot. They throw downfield to Joe Morgan (or Devery Henderson or Robert Meachem). Marques Colston gets jump balls. Darren Sproles is used on the perimeter. Jimmy Graham is the one guy that moves around all over. The Saints may seem to have defined roles, but due to good design by Sean Payton and good execution by Drew Brees, you can’t stop them with any consistency.
Think about the way the Packers spread the ball among several WRs, an athletic TE, and the other misc receivers. They’re able to involve a lot of skill players.
We always found ourselves asking why Riley Cooper, Clay Harbor, and the backup RBs weren’t involved more. Andy mixed in other players, but not with the kind of regularity that let them have defined roles and develop as hoped. The offense was great when it worked, but was highly erratic.
I expect Chip Kelly to be better with sub-packages. He has stressed that he wants players who can be used in a variety of ways. This desire for versatility leads me to think he’s hoping to mix in everyone and be less set in a base offense. I bring this up because it ties in to the Tavon Austin discussion we had.
Several people raised the concern that having Austin, Mac, and DJax on the field at the same time would mean the Eagles were really small. That would be somewhat true. But that assumes that Kelly would play them together most of the time. What if you line up James Casey and either Arrelious Benn or Riley Cooper out there? You could put Austin in the slot with 2 big guys outside of him and then run a WR screen to that side.
I expect Kelly to mix and match players to find the right combination. He could go big with Benn, Cooper, Casey, Celek, and Shady on the field at once. He could go small with Mac, DJax, and Austin out there. Heck, imagine if Damaris Johnson was there as well.
Chip wants mis-matches. Andy tried to get them by play design more than personnel combinations. I’m hoping Chip is better in this area than Andy was. And as far as going small…this is not such a bad thing if it is used right. Remember how deadly the Rams were with Holt, Bruce, and Az-Hakim? You need to get the ball to those guys quickly and let them take advantage of their RAC skills. Andy was slow to embrace the WR screen, but that did start to work well the last 2 years. I would hope the Eagles can continue that and maybe even get better in that area. It will help to have Jason Peters out there leading the way instead of Dunlap/Bell (the horror, the horror).
On defense, sub-packages will also be important. I’ve talked about how the Eagles could almost go with one set of players for the 3-4 pass rushers and another set in the 4-man fronts (base Nickel, Dime). You could start Connor Barwin and Brandon Graham in the 3-4 and then go with Vinny Curry and Trent Cole in the 4-3. Or you could switch that up to find the best possible duos.
Football is so specialized these days that you aren’t going to be in base sets but about half of the time. Heck, might even be less. This has to affect your personnel decisions. Think about the argument of Star Lotulelei vs Shariff Floyd. Let’s say we’re in the base 4-3 Under. Floyd would probably be the 3-tech DT. Fletcher Cox would be the 5-tech DE. Now you go to the Nickel, let’s say a 4-2-5. Do you have Cox as the NT and Floyd as the 3-tech in this set? Understand that the NT would play a shade alignment and would be attacking upfield, not eating up blocks.
If you draft Lotulelei, he would be the 5-tech DE in the 4-3 Under with Cox playing the 3-tech role. In Nickel sets, Lotulelei would be the NT and Cox would stay as the 3-tech. These are the kinds of possibilities you must consider as you make plans for how to build the team. Keep in mind…there is no right/wrong answer. You’re just trying to figure out who you want to add and then how you want to use your players.
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Chip mentioned ankle flexibility. What is he looking for? You need players who can bend and turn. This happens at the waist, knees, and ankles. Some guys have “table legs”. This is when the leg just doesn’t bend much. I don’t know how to describe what you’re looking for exactly, but you can usually pick out stiff ankles pretty quickly. Watch players get in their stance. You can see flexibility there. Watch then cut and turn. You can absolutely see who has stiff ankles.
How does Austin compare to DJax? Different players. DeSean is a pure WR. Austin was a WR/RB hybrid. He had 21 carries against Oklahoma this year. For his career, he was 109-1031-6. That’s a fair amount of run plays for a WR. While at Cal, DeSean had 24 runs and 1 TD. He was used strictly on end arounds. Austin was used on run plays and not just trick stuff. He’s much more comfortable in traffic and working the middle than DeSean.
If we trade down, could we go for a G? Possible, but doesn’t seem likely. Part of the attraction to drafting an OT is that he could replace Peters if need be. The OG would free up Herremans to slide to LT (with Kelly at RT), but you don’t get the overall value. If Chip/Howie think that Warmack or Cooper can be elite, maybe we go for them anyway.
What about Alex Okafor? The good version, I’d love to have. The guy from the bowl game was terrific. Unfortunately, he’s an inconsistent player and that is the big knock on him. Failed to stand out at the Senior Bowl. Struggled against top competition. Talented player, but underachievers from Texas rarely pan out in the NFL. Caveat emptor.
Competition at P/PK? The Eagles are very high on Alex Henery. He’ll have some camp competition, but nothing overly serious. Matt McBriar should get a serious challenge. I don’t know if they’ll draft a Punter, sign a top UDFA, or add a veteran, but McBriar needs good competition.