Three Things We Learned About the Eagles’ Offense

With spring practices over and done with, here are three things we think we learned about the Eagles’ offense in the past couple months.

1. We’ll be seeing plenty of 2-TE sets in 2013.

This one seemed pretty obvious from the personnel moves the team made this offseason. The Eagles targeted James Casey (All-22 here) in free agency and spent a second-round pick on Zach Ertz. Plus, they already have Brent Celek on the roster.

The reason for stockpiling tight ends now makes more sense. Chip Kelly wants to play fast, keep the defense on its heels and create mismatches. But remember, if the offense substitutes players, the defense has to be given a chance to do the same.

“The same personnel has to stay on the field as long as we keep our personnel on the field, and defenses aren’t used to playing that many plays in a row,” center Jason Kelce explained. “If we sub out, then they can change personnel. That’s part of the reason why we have so many tight ends. You can do so many different things formation-wise with them.”

Kelly has tried to boil it down to a simple concept. If the opponent brings a defensive back in, run the ball, and take advantage of the blocking matchup with the bigger tight end.

If the opponent sticks with a linebacker, pass the ball, and take advantage of the receiving matchup with the more athletic tight end.

“As a tight end, you have to be able to do everything,” Celek said. “You’ve got to be able to block. You’ve got to be able to catch. In this offense, you can line up pretty much anywhere so you’ve got to be able to do a lot of things. That’s why tight ends can be good in this offense because we can do a lot of things.”

2. The offensive line could be a strength.

It’s only June, but the Eagles got plenty of encouraging signs with this unit.

Under Andy Reid and Howard Mudd the past two seasons, the Eagles sought out athletic offensive linemen. They signed and developed Evan Mathis. And it looks like they may have gotten a steal by drafting Jason Kelce in the sixth round of the 2011 draft.

Kelce, Jason Peters and Todd Herremans are returning from season-ending injuries, but all three looked good in the spring. Kelce was dealing with a serious injury (torn ACL) for the first time in his life, but rehabbed hard all offseason and was a surprise participant in team drills last week. It didn’t help last year’s cause, but the fact that Kelce suffered the injury in the second game of the season and will have had almost a full year to recover when the Eagles take the field against the Redskins should be a positive going forward.

Peters, meanwhile, received nothing but glowing reviews from teammates and coaches. I kept listening for someone to say he wasn’t quite at 100 percent yet or that he still needed some time to get back to his old self. But instead, the critiques were pretty much all along the the lines of: You’d never even know he was coming off an injury.

Peters turned 31 in January and is coming off an injury in which he injured and then re-injured his Achilles’. Perhaps expecting him to return to his 2011 form when he was quite possibly the best offensive lineman in football is unfair. But the truth is, Peters at 85 percent is probably a Pro Bowler. He sounded motivated, looked to be moving well and believes he can get back to being a major difference-maker.

Remember, Peters said he could have come back at the end of last season, but the team decided against that since the playoffs were not a possibility. Come September, he will have had a full 16 months to rehab from the second Achilles’ injury.

Lane Johnson still has to prove himself, Herremans is moving back to guard, and Mathis suffered an ankle injury earlier this offseason. So of course there are still question marks. But based on what I saw and heard over the last couple of months, there is reason to be optimistic about this unit.

3. The QB competition is real, and a decision is not coming any time soon.

I’ll admit that when the Eagles brought Michael Vick back on a one-year deal and added Dennis Dixon and GJ Kinne to the roster, I thought Kelly was looking for a specific type of quarterback, one with a certain degree of mobility.

And looking long-term, that very well might still be the case.

But in 2013, the quarterback competition Kelly has set up is legitimate, and the starting job will go to whichever guy performs the best in late July and August. I truly believe that.

Vick turns 33 later this month. He has trouble staying healthy, has thrown 24 interceptions in his last 23 starts and has fumbled 32 times in his last 35 games.

Nick Foles, meanwhile, threw five interceptions in seven games and fumbled eight times. His 6.4 yard per pass attempt ranked 29th in the league, ahead of only Mark Sanchez, Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder.

In other words, of course Kelly isn’t sold on a starter. Neither player has done nearly enough to be awarded the job in June.

Kelly was content having Vick and Foles split reps all spring and that will continue into training camp. The guess here is that each guy will start at least one preseason game. Kelly has made it clear that he wants to see who can run his offense efficiently when the red jerseys come off and they’re faced with the threat of being crushed by opposing defenders. There’s a chance that he’ll use all four preseason games before making his decision.

I get the sense that Kelly doesn’t really care if players want a starter named sooner rather than later. By all accounts, he’s been up front and preached competition to all 90 guys on the roster.

This team finished 4-12 last year and had a point differential of -164, third-worst in the NFL. It’s perfectly reasonable to make players earn their jobs. And quarterback is no exception.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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