Back in 1995 the Eagles got off to a 1-3 start. New coach Ray Rhodes benched franchise QB Randall Cunningham and the team went 9-3 the rest of the way. Rhodes had a variety of role players step up for him that year. It remains one of my favorite Eagles teams and football seasons because of how strange it was. That roster was as unique a group as I can remember.
This year the Eagles have a new coach. They started 1-3. The franchise QB didn’t get benched, but a new QB took over and the team got hot behind him. This roster is much more stable than the 1995 team, but still is an interesting, diverse group.
Both coaches were able to get good performances from a variety of players. There is one huge difference. Rhodes caught lightning in a bottle. He had a veteran roster that was built for the short term. Kelly has a young team. He’s getting production from young role players. These are players who can be part of the future as well as the present.
Rhodes brought in 31-year old Kurt Gouviea to be his MLB. The Eagles added 30-year old Daniel Stubbs to be a backup pass rusher. 34-year old Ed West was the TE. I won’t even go into all of the role players.
Kelly brought in a handful of veterans in Isaac Sopoaga, Connor Barwin and Cary Williams. Only Sopoaga was over 30. And he was added to help with the transition to a new scheme. Kelly has added young talent as well. Guys like Roc Carmichael, Najee Goode and Jeff Maehl have helped on offense, defense and special teams. These guys can be part of the future. There are no guarantees they will become starters or anything like that, but if they can be reliable role players in the future, there is real value in that. You build a really good STs unit that way. And the 1995 Eagles were awful on STs. Awful. No group in the Reid era was anywhere close to that bunch.
To really see the differences in the teams, look at in-season WR additions. Rhodes added Art Monk. Kelly added Brad Smith. Monk was ancient. He was a slow possession receiver, but Rhodes saw value in a veteran with his pedigree. Kelly added a versatile player in Smith that can step in and be a core STer right away. Monk was 38 years old when the Eagles signed him. Smith will turn 30 in a few weeks, but is still in excellent shape and deserves to be on an NFL team. The only reason he was available was injury. Monk was on the street because he was old and slow.
Rhodes got instant results with his methods. The Eagles went 10-6 and won a playoff game. They went 10-6 the next year as well. They won only 9 games in the following 2 seasons combined and he was fired. You simply can’t rotate in guys that are in their 30’s and expect to maintain success. You must be able to get young players who can develop over time.
Look at the QBs for each coach. Rhodes had 29-year old Rodney Peete. Kelly has Nick Foles. Rhodes did draft a young QB named Dave Barr in the 4th round, but he didn’t even make the roster. I honestly don’t remember much about Barr, but that must have been one awful draft pick. Kelly already had Foles, but still drafted Matt Barkley.
There is value in having veterans on the roster. Sopoaga helped young guys like Bennie Logan and Damion Square. Jason Avant helped Russell Shepard quite a bit. Avant was also crucial in getting the team through the Riley Cooper situation. Michael Vick is a very good teammate. He’s said and done the right things in front of the camera, but also in the locker room. Young players can see how Vick is handling a frustrating situation and learn from that.
I doubt the 2013 Eagles will win 10 games like the 1995 Eagles. That would require a great finish. I do think the 2013 Eagles are better set for the future. Kelly has mixed in young players and given them a chance to show what they can do. Those that play well get more snaps and more responsibility. You can’t just throw a bunch of young players on the field and say “Show me watcha got.” You need players to earn playing time.
Football is a tough balancing act in terms of age. You don’t want to sacrifice today for the future. You don’t know what will happen in a given year. Just ask the Atlanta Falcons. You also can’t overdo with a “win now” mentality because football is a young man’s game. If a team gets too old at the same time, it can really fall apart. Just look at the Steelers.
Kelly has done a good job of mixing young and old. He’s trying to win now, but has plenty of young players helping this team to win. That’s what you want.
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Najee Goode has played well in his 2 games of ILB action. I don’t think he’s stolen Mychal Kendricks’ job, but Goode has shown enough that he deserves to get on the field.
I would love to see Bill Davis come up with some creative way to use Kendricks with Goode getting snaps at ILB. Maybe Kendricks could get some snaps at OLB. Maybe you could find a way to use him as a Safety. Goode is a pure ILB. Kendricks is a gifted athlete that could be interesting in some different roles.
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I’m curious to see how Brad Smith gets mixed into the offense in the future. He only got one snap last week. Smith won’t be a significant player at WR, but could be mixed in to some packages effectively. Might be good to see him as a Wildcat QB when the team is trying to protect a lead in the 4th quarter. That lets you run the ball and have an athletic QB on the field.
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This isn’t about Barwin the LB, but Barwin the person. He is a fascinating guy. He’s exceeded my expectations on the field and I’m becoming a big fan of his off the field. You need the right guys to build a strong locker room. Barwin seems like a valuable piece to have, on and off the field.
I also have to like a guy who I’m sure has had his share of PBRs.