With a couple of weeks of practices in the books, I thought this might be a good time to talk about some of the things we’ve heard about the team. These are non-contact practices and the NFLPA limits what the players can do even beyond that, but you can still see the players in action so there are some general takeaways.
This is the time of year to feel good about your team. Optimism is high for just about everyone.
Due to Chip Kelly’s crazy moves this offseason it is understandable that some of you are nervous about the Eagles. I completely get that. I trust Chip. That doesn’t mean I don’t question the moves, but it does mean that I’ve got faith in his plan.
Chip wouldn’t blindly make these moves. He believes in them. You and I won’t suffer any consequences if this team goes 4-12. Chip’s reputation will be tarnished and his job status would be compromised. It would affect him forever. I don’t think he would have made these moves and risk all of that if he felt he couldn’t make them work. You can make the argument that he can just run back to college and get a huge deal there, but his legacy as a coaching genius would be tarnished. Chip is highly competitive. He doesn’t want to be Nick Saban or Steve Spurrier, college gurus who failed in the NFL.
Me having faith in Chip and him having faith in his ideas doesn’t mean anything. Sam Bradford could tear his ACL again. The Eagles could have the worst pair of OGs in the league. Walter Thurmond could make Nate Allen look like Brian Dawkins.
While my faith doesn’t guarantee anything, it does help me to see the potential of the moves. Bradford could finally show the talent that got him drafted #1 overall. We could find out that Allen Barbre and Matt Tobin are solid OGs in a run-heavy offense. Thurmond could find a niche as a playmaking Safety.
I can’t wait to see how Chip’s grand experiment turns out. It won’t shock me if this team goes 12-4 or 8-8. I think there is too much talent for 4-12, unless the team has a mixture of bad luck and lots of injuries. I see the upside in the moves Chip made, but I’m also realistic enough to know that some will fail.
The first test is 2015. Can this team win? Can this team have postseason success? Beyond that, who knows? These days the NFL definitely means “not for long”. 2 years ago the Niners were arguably the best organization in football and their roster was loaded with talent. Now they are a franchise in disarray. What you know changes in a friggin’ hurry.
For now, I feel good about the Eagles. I don’t see this as a Super Bowl front-runner, but I do see a playoff team. Of course, some Titans and Jags fans are saying the same thing. The difference is they’re delusional, while I’m completely rational and level-headed. Right?
The release of Evan Mathis opened up a roster spot. My sources tell me the Eagles considered trading for Aaron Rodgers, JJ Watt or Marshall Yanda, but decided that signing journeyman OL Jared Wheeler would be the more prudent move.
That’s a face only a mother could love. A blind mother, that is. (I kid, I kid.)
Wheeler played collegiately at Miami, where he was recruited by Jeff Stoutland. The reason that Wheeler chose Miami was because of Stoutland, who he said was “a great guy and a great coach.” Wheeler didn’t develop into the kind of players Miami hoped, but became a good backup and eventually started some as a Senior.
Wheeler has spent time in the NFL with Carolina, Buffalo and Seattle.
Why do the Eagles like him? Wheeler, who is nicknamed Hot Wheels (I kid you not), has the kind of frame the Eagles like in an interior OL. He is 6-5, 319. He can play G or C and has experience playing on both sides. The Eagles like their linemen to be as versatile as possible.
He has some athletic ability, but isn’t anything special.
Wheeler certainly sounds like a Chip Kelly type of guy.
You cannot think of Wheeler as the replacement for Evan Mathis. He is a young OL trying to come here and compete for a roster or practice squad spot. He is not going to be a factor when we talk about the starting OL.
LT – Jason Peters ….. Andrew Gardner …… Brett Boyko
LG – Allen Barbre …. Julian Vandervelde … Cole Manhart
OC – Jason Kelce ….. David Molk ……………. Mike Coccia
RG – Matt Tobin …… Dennis Kelly ………….. Josh Andrews
RT – Lane Johnson .. Kevin Graf …………….. Malcom Bunche
I don’t know if the Eagles will think of Wheeler as more of a C or G so I’ll leave him out for now.
In 2003 the Eagles had John Welbourn at LG and Jermane Mayberry at RG. That was a very good duo. Welbourn was a near-Pro Bowl type and Mayberry had been to one Pro Bowl. Both got hurt that year and the duo of Artis Hicks and Bobbie Williams ended up playing for them for part of the season. Hicks played well enough that the Eagles gave him an extension and intended to have him be a key backup. Williams got a big deal from the Bengals in free agency.
Just before the 2004 draft, Welbourn went on WIP and ripped the Eagles organization for not giving him a new deal. He had signed a contract extension 2 years before, but had outplayed that deal in his mind. He was being underpaid at that point, but had been overpaid at the beginning of the extension. The Eagles philosophy back then was to give out contract extensions quickly to avoid having to give huge deals to players once they were free agents and the market could set their value. Some players saw both sides of this. Welbourn didn’t. He wanted his money.
Andy Reid responded by trading Welbourn to the Chiefs. He got a 5th round pick in 2004 and a 4th rounder the next year.
The Eagles projected OGs were Hicks, with 4-career starts, and Mayberry, 31 and coming off a major elbow injury. All the talent and depth that had been there was gone. The team drafted OT Shawn Andrews in the 1st round, OT Trey Darilek in the 4th, OG Adrien Clarke in the 7th and OC Dominic Furio in the 7th. Andrews was not a knee-jerk reaction. Reid loved him and saw him as the replacement for Jon Runyan, whose contract expired after the 2005 season.
Andrews was inserted at RG in his second practice. He was too good to keep off the field. Mayberry slid over to LG. The Eagles thought they would be fine. Then Andrews broke his leg in the season opener. Mayberry battled injuries all year. Hick missed time. Things were so bad at one point that the Eagles played a key game with Steve Sciullo and Alonzo Ephraim as the starting OGs. The Eagles dominated in that game, scoring 47 points and piling up 542 yards of offense.
The Eagles finished the 2004 season by playing in the Super Bowl. Oddly, I can’t seem to recall the outcome of the game.
The situations are similar, but also very different. The Eagles got rid of a talented LG in both instances. Welbourn had to go because he made the situation toxic when he went on WIP and started ripping the team. That bridge wasn’t just burned, it was fire bombed.
Mathis never did anything close to that. He let it be known he wanted more money, but never ripped the Eagles publicly. For the most part, I thought he handled the situation pretty well.
We have come a long way in a year and a couple months, from releasing DeSean Jackson, who failed to show for his 2013 season exit interview, didn’t want to learn all the wideout positions, clashed with his position coach and had several priorities more important to him than team success, to releasing Evan Mathis, who sat out optional OTAs because he wanted a bit more money.
I think if you’d asked Mathis six months ago if he considered himself a Kelly disciple, he would have said yes. Keeps himself in top shape, owns a gym in Arizona, eats right, doesn’t do dumb stuff off the field. Made a point of not saying anything about his contract after he reported last year, to not detract from the team focus. Never grumbled about the pace of practice, or anything else.
As for Chip Kelly…
Chip seems to be building a roster of guys who will commit to what he wants exactly and unquestioningly. But that won’t last forever. At some point, at least a few of these players will want more money, or will otherwise get tired of being treated like 15-year-olds attending football camp for the first time. When that day comes, the Chipper had better be winning, and winning real, real, real big. Because players have choices in the NFL — unlike once they sign the letter of intent in college — and there are plenty of contending teams who offer an easier, more flexible atmosphere than Chipworld.
We’re going to find out this season whether culture really trumps scheme/talent, and we’re also going to find out a lot about maintaining culture, once it’s established.
There is some definite truth to this. Some players are only going to buy in to this if they think the reward is worth it. That means winning.
Other players will buy in because they think like Chip. I mean that in the sense of being competitive enough and desperate enough to be willing to try and do anything for an advantage. Bill Romanowski is probably the most extreme example there is. He used to send off his poop to be analyzed by a lab to tell him how to adjust his diet and vitamin intake so he could get his body to peak performance.
And Kelly can sell the idea of results. He has had multiple guys have career years under him. Nick Foles put up freaky good numbers. RBs and WRs have racked up big stats. Connor Barwin just got voted number 58 on the NFL Network’s Top 100 players list. Fletcher Cox has developed into an elite player. Vinny Curry has become a terrific pass rusher. Brandon Graham played well enough to become a starting OLB and get a big extension.
The big question now is whether Kelly’s methods can help turn some combination of Allen Barbre, Matt Tobin, Andrew Gardner and Dennis Kelly into a good pair of starting OGs for 2015. If that happens, Kelly will look all that much wiser and the team is going to be that much better.
The 2004 team got by with mediocre guard play and still went 13-3, finishing with a trip to the Super Bowl. Kelly isn’t interested in mediocre. He has high expectations for the guys on the roster. Kelly has seen these players look good for short stretches. The challenge is to get them to play well consistently, something Mathis did from 2011 to 2014.
Is Chip Kelly crazy? Dumb? Spiteful? That all depends on perspective.
Kelly obviously doesn’t see as big of a gap between Mathis and Allen Barbre, Matt Tobin or Andrew Gardner as the rest of the world. Mathis is more of a sure thing, but he’s also 34 and coming off a season where he missed 7 games. I’m not going to suddenly rip Mathis and act like he’s not a good player, but it is fair to wonder when he’s going to start declining. Father Time catches everyone.
Tra Thomas was 33 in 2007. He was a good LT, although he did miss 9 games due to injury. He was solid in 2008, at age 34. Until the postseason, that is. Thomas struggled in the playoffs. It was the first time you ever saw big number 72 on the left side and didn’t feel confident. He was a free agent after that season and the Eagles let him walk. Thomas went to JAX and started 3 games, the final starts of his NFL career. Thomas went from franchise LT to being a backup on a mediocre team in a short span.
I’m not saying the same thing will happen to Mathis. Thomas had started for a decade before he started to decline. That’s a lot of wear and tear. Mathis, amazingly, has just 78 career starts. To put that in perspective, Hank Fraley had 119 starts under his belt at age 32. Mathis might remain a quality starter for several more years. The Eagles either don’t think he’s all that good now or that he’ll decline quickly. Or some combination of the two.
Mathis now hits the open market. He’ll be able to pick his team, although I’m not sure he’ll find a scheme that fits him any better than the Eagles. I hope he gets the money he wants, but I have serious questions about whether that will happen.
The timing of this move is awkward. The Eagles got to see Barbre, Tobin and Gardner in action for a couple of weeks, but there was no contact so you can’t really get all that much from watching the OL. I doubt the coaches saw anything that made them suddenly feel Mathis was expendable.
Reports leaked earlier in the week that the Eagles had pulled an offer to Mathis off the table. Maybe this leak upset Kelly and made him just say “Enough is enough.”
I don’t know if the Eagles were holding onto Mathis in case they could somehow make a trade or as insurance in case someone got hurt. Whatever the reason, they changed their thinking today and released Mathis. There is a lot of risk for both sides. Mathis isn’t sure to get someone to pay him the $5.5M he was due from the Eagles.
And OG becomes the weakest position on the Eagles. There isn’t anyone who is a foundational starter. The Eagles need a CB opposite of Byron Maxwell and a Safety opposite of Malcolm Jenkins, but they do have those proven starters. Barbre, T0bin and Gardner have some starts, but none has the kind of track record you want in a player that you would build around.
If there is one benefit to the timing, the Eagles have the upcoming minicamp and all of Training Camp to get reps for the young guys and to find the best 5 starting OL.
Kelly and his OL will have the final say in how this situation looks. If Barbre is good at LG and one of the other players emerges at RG, this won’t be such a big deal. If a DL beats one of the OGs and gets a hit on Sam Bradford that results in an injury, Kelly and the Eagles will never hear the end of it.
One of the strangest offseasons in recent memory continues to be just that, strange. What’s next, re-signing Danny Watkins?
I am going to miss Evan. I hope things work out for him. Forget about the NFL, I’m talking about his desire for a date with Selena Gomez or Katy Perry. How they have resisted him to this point is beyond me.
Saw this on the ESPN Skins blog. The Redskins certainly could use more help — and more players to produce like Jackson. In the past, his big plays usually meant wins: From 2010-13, the Eagles were 16-4 when he scored … Continue reading →
Rick Minter was recently in Toledo, checking out an ILB prospect. This player is late round or UDFA material so don’t get too excited. The Philadelphia Eagles linebackers coach was among the representatives from 30 NFL teams at Toledo’s pro day Monday. … Continue reading →
You never want to make too much of the Penn State Pro Day. Since it is within driving distance, it only makes sense that the Eagles would send plenty of people out to State College to check out prospects. The … Continue reading →
This is kinda interesting. Representatives from 20 NFL teams attended San Jose State’s pro day on March 18. The offensive line coach from the Philadelphia Eagles and the defensive line coach from the Oakland Raiders were among those on hand to watch 14 players … Continue reading →
The Eagles sent DBs coach Cory Undlin to Miami OH’s Pro Day to work out Quentin Rollins. This shows a special level of interest. It doesn’t mean they love the guy, but it does mean they think he’s worth extra … Continue reading →
The Eagles like athletic OLBs who have the right frame. Ryan Russell from Purdue is a big, athletic LB prospect. The Eagles checked him out. Ryan Russell, the Boilermakers’ only combine attendee, decided to run the 40 again and timed … Continue reading →